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Moses died high above the Jordan River … o rock a my soul

by davesandel on August 11th, 2021

Wednesday, August 11, 2021                         (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint Clare, Virgin

Moses died high above the Jordan River … o rock a my soul

Since then no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He had no equal in all the signs and wonders the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, and for the might and the terrifying power that Moses exhibited in the sight of all Israel.

For years Margaret and I traveled from Urbana to the Chiara Retreat Center in northeast Springfield, on the old grounds of a tuberculosis asylum, safely outside the city limits of Illinois’ capital city. Not many people felt safe around TB patients, but the nuns who called themselves the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis cared for them anyway. Of course, some of the nuns caught the contagious disease, and they died too.

Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, and the Lord showed him all the land. Gilead and as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, the circuit of the Jordan with the lowlands at Jericho City of Palms, and as far as Zoar. And he said, “I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over.”

Today the Chiara Center is adjacent to the St. Clare of Assisi Adoration Chapel, a beautiful, old, tranquil sanctuary both for the sisters who live there and for retreatants of every stripe, some of whom are Catholic, many of whom are not. Margaret and I spent two years in spiritual direction classes (2012-2013) taught by a Presbyterian woman and a Franciscan priest.

We slept in cozy rooms, gathered in ecumenical groups, read books and wrote papers, practiced our new skills with each other and just plain got educated in the ways of spiritual companionship and direction. On Saturday mornings we gathered in the Canticle Prayer Room to watch the sun rise through stained glass and pray. Always we were invited to find our way to the chapel for solitude and silence.

There in the land of Moab, Moses, the servant of the Lord, died as Yahweh said he would. He was buried, but to this day no one knows the place of his burial. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.

The sisters are getting older and it’s difficult to find young folks these days to join them. In 2020 the covid catastrophe led to the permanent closure of the Chiara Center. What will happen to this beautiful place, built so recently in 2007?

Well, St. Clare herself died but her religious order, joined with the order of her best friend Francis, has thrived. Moses died, but the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River and soon the walls of Jericho were falling down. Life goes on. God’s creation continues to host humans and animals and plants. I will die, and another will rise out of what is left of me.

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing praise to the glory of his name. Blessed be God who filled my soul with fire!

Then the fire fades, settles into coals, fades to ashes. Therefore it is well for me to learn the art of living with sorrow and pain. The Psalms have much to teach us all.

Psalms of lament are powerful expressions of the experience of disorientation. They express the pain, grief, dismay, and anger that life is not good. They also refuse to settle for things as they are, and so they assert hope. – Walter Brueggemann from Praying the Psalms

St. Clare slept on the floor for forty-one years, often in great pain. Long before the day Moses died, God told him he would not go with his people into their promised land. My friend Ken has been living with a sometimes chronic, sometimes critical cancer for several years. My friend David’s wife has lung cancer that is inoperable and uncurable, but like Ken’s it is manageable with meds for a few more years. How then should they live? How should I? Because … we all are going to die.

Most of us have not been told that we could or should “complain” to God, but lamentation might be the most honest form of prayer. It takes great trust and patience to remain stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events. – Richard Rohr

There is nothing simple about the first half of my life: planning it, living it, coping with the contradictions to my plan, learning one day after another that I’m simply not in charge. Because of my fallen human nature, I usually pick up planning things again, as if I learned nothing from my disappointment.

But actually, I did. In the second half of my life, I slowly surrender and discover God’s gift of peace, which has been there all along. In priceless moments of sadness and joy, blended like ingredients in a splendid French dessert, I realize the essence of God’s presence.

This is the life that does NOT end.

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. And where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

(Deuteronomy 34, Psalm 66, 2 Corinthians 5, Matthew 18)

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  1. Susan Jakoby permalink

    This expresses something I’ve struggled with for years. I keep trying to “find the balance” between hope and despair – planning and giving up – once and for all. But just like God IS the relationship of the Trinity, in some way life IS the constant finding of the balance – like standing in a kayak. The standing is the finding. Is that right?

    • davesandel permalink

      I want to ride standing up in a kayak! And I think that’s a great metaphor for hope and despair. But the “finding” might be easier on a kayak than in my life. Maybe the God-life in me IS the struggle to find balance, or at least it starts there and I don’t have to wait for any finding at all. Thanks, Susan.

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