Monthly Archives: February 2014

And It Came to Pass

Is nothing sacred

Genesis 39:7-9

  1. And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

  2. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

  3. There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Humans don’t like being told that there is something that we cannot have, that something is held back from us.  We want it all!  Or, at least, we want to be able to choose from everything what we want for ourselves.  Knowing this about us humans, imagine, then, being told that you cannot have children… and that you cannot have a place of your own… and that you cannot enter a building that has stairs.  Well, you would probably be very upset and overwhelmed.  Your anger and frustration would become heartbreak and sorrow, and maybe even despair.  I know because this is my life, my life of limitations.  My list of “can’ts” is very long.

Unable to walk, unable to take care of myself, unable to enter into a physically intimate relationship, unable to bear children – unable to even sit upright for very long each day – there are some people who, in my position, would think that life isn’t worth living.  I’ve never thought such a thing.  When diagnosed with my motorneuron disease at the age of 2, the doctors told my parents that I wouldn’t live to be a teenager – well, I’ve tripled that, and counting….  The point is that, never in all that time, have I wanted to end it all.  I understand that life is a precious gift, as frustrating as its earthly limits may be, it is terribly beautiful.  And I gratefully accept the gift of life with all of its limits because, though painful and tedious, and often marred by horror, life is good, divinely created for goodness sake.  So, I lovingly receive the gift of life.

In accepting the gift, we accept everything that the gift is – and everything that the gift is not.  Not everyone who thinks that he or she would like to be a doctor has the actual ability to be a doctor.  Not everyone who dreams of competing in the Olympics will actually have the skills to get there.  I mean, hey, not everyone who runs for president becomes president.  There are limitations in life.  For everybody.  Does that mean that life is not worth living?

A man is put in charge of an estate while his master is away.  This master trusts this man with everything and gives him free license over everything in the estate – everything except the master’s wife.  There is one limitation to this man’s power, one place where he is not allowed to go.  Should he go there?  I know that there are some people who will answer this question with, “Yes!  If the wife is willing, why not?”  It’s as though we have forgotten about the existence of honor.  It’s as though we consider trust, like rules, as something to be broken.  After all, we are supposed to look out for number one, right?  Whenever we are presented with a situation in life we’re supposed to ask the question, What’s in it for me?  But, I ask these people, Do you truly love anything?  Is nothing sacred to you besides your own self-centered desire?

Someone who loves you gives you the key to his mansion for your use while he is gone.  He only asks that you don’t open one box.  Do you open it?  Your curiosity is intense and it feels like it’s killing you.  But it’s not really killing you.  It’s just trying to kill you.  If you give into that feeling, then a part of you will die.  The part of you that is honorable, the part of you that is trustworthy, the part of you that is loving will die a little in that moment when you open the box because you couldn’t handle a simple limitation.  You couldn’t take being told, No.  You weren’t strong enough.  You were selfish and feeble.  And, yes, it is a big deal.  If you abandon your honor and trustworthiness in favor of a momentary satisfaction of the flesh (in this case, curiosity) then you have sold your kingdom for a bitty chunk of fools gold.  And your capacity to give and receive love will be filled up with dust.

It took me many years to be able to accept the fact that the men that I would desire to have would not have me.  By “accept the fact” I don’t mean acknowledge it intellectually.  I mean that I no longer tried to fill the void left by this unfulfilled desire with indulgence in an active fantasy life or consumption of fictional literature, TV shows and movies.  And I didn’t even attempt to fill the void with some other pursuit or relationship, not even a spiritual one.  (For a true relationship with God is not a substitute for anything – it’s the real thing itself.)  Rather, I accepted my loneliness, my longing and my sorrow as essential components of my life.  No need to distract myself away from what I can’t have or waste time with pretending.  I am who I am.  The things that I cannot change in my life cannot be changed because they are my life – they are my life just as much as all of the happy abilities and situations for which I am so grateful.  Nobody is perfect.  And we are all different in our own unique ways.  What is it that Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina?  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Or, to quote the Facts of Life theme song: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

There is such a thing as wanting too much than is good for us.  Everybody can’t do everything.  And, if we truly love one another, then we accept each other’s limitations.  And, if I truly love God, then I also accept the limitations given to me with this great gift of life.  And so I pray,

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things that I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

If you decided to open that box in your loved one’s mansion, you may think that you were being brave.  But, you were only being stupid.  You lacked serenity.  I’m sure that Eve and Adam thought that they were being courageous and even wise when they ate that apple – that one fruit in all the great expanse of paradise that they were told not to eat.  But, look where it got them: naked and afraid.  So, let’s accept our real limitations as part of this real life that we have received as a terribly beautiful gift from the One who loves us most.  By accepting our limitations (and the limitations of others) we are freed to explore and enjoy all of the great qualities and abilities that are part of our lives.  We will not be blinded by distractions, denials, and make-believe substitutes as we pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful.  We will not strip ourselves of honor and trustworthiness – and therefore we will be more readily able to embrace the gift of life and prove ourselves worthy of the sacred trust that is given to us in the sacrament of baptism, deepening our capacity to give and receive love – which is the fullness of life.  By the grace of God, my limited life is a truly full life because I hold my whole life, and life itself, as sacred.

Christina Chase

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Cut to the Heart

Who likes to hear that they are wrong?

Acts 7:52-54

52. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

53. Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

54. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

I like being right.  I like knowing the answer to a trivia question when no one else around me does, I like being able to explain something to someone who is confused, and I like being recognized and praised for a job well done.  Who doesn’t?  Now, I don’t like flattery or pretty lies, and I don’t like being patronized with compliments or winning a competition or game because someone let me.  I like being right – not being told that I am right.  But, of course, there are many, many times when I am wrong.  Most times, I don’t know the answer to a trivia question and am unable to explain something to someone who is confused.  I don’t do that many things well and I know it – I know it and own it freely.  I am flawed, as all human beings are, very far from perfect.  And, in my own human particularity, I have many, many faults and have made many, many mistakes.  I know this and I don’t hate myself for it at all.  But, still, I really hate being wrong – I hate that feeling that I get when my answer is incorrect or my understanding of something is totally off.  It does feel very much like being cut to the heart for a split second.

With years of maturing and becoming more fully myself (a human in need of grace) I’ve learned to get over this infuriating blow of being wrong and the feeling stabs much, much less – though I am no less often wrong.  But, I have to continually guard myself against anger at the person who shows me to be mistaken; I have to perpetually remind myself that I should be grateful to those who show me where my faults lie, how I need to improve so that I can become a better person.  Because life isn’t just about knowing trivial knowledge, facts and figures, but about living in relationship with others.

To be my true self, to be who I am created to be, I must always seek right and good and true relationship with my fellow human beings, with Creation, and with our Creator.  If my relationships are not right (which also means not good, which also means not true) then I myself am not right.  I can be the most ignorant person on the planet when it comes to knowledge of the world – but, if I have love, then I am enlightened in the ways of truth and goodness, far wiser than the smartest person in the world who has no love.  The smartest person might think that he is loved by the world for his knowledge and, being honored and praised, think that he has love.  But, love is not something that is possessed.  Love is given and the moment that love is received, it is given again – to the one from whom it was received and/or to others, without end.  For true love can never be stagnant.  And the only reason, the only way, that we human beings can love at all is because we are first loved by our Creator, by God.  Receiving God’s love and then giving that love is the first and most essential right relationship.  If I can do this, if I can let God love me and then love God and God’s creatures in return (for if I am to truly receive God’s love then I must give it away) then I am relating to Creation, to the universe and every being, every creature, within it in the fullness of truth.  The truth is that we are all loved into existence.  And so, without loving, we will always be out of order, out of step, out of touch – we will always be wrong.

Next time somebody points out any kind of error that I have made, whether it be in the knowledge of information, or in the loving of God and God’s Creation (which includes myself and my fellow human beings) I will try very hard to remember not to kill the messenger.  I may not like the feeling of being wrong, but if I try to defend myself against the feeling with anger and deflection and excuses that are lies, then I will be even more deeply and painfully wrong.

I am a human in need of grace, as each and every one of us is, and if that grace comes through the form of a rightfully correcting teacher, preacher, or loved one, let us not be afraid.  It is Christ, who knows all of our hungers and shares all of our sufferings, who is helping us.  We may feel hurt by the human style or tone, but we must not let that harden us to the truth of the message.  What is true is true.  And the truth will set us free.  So, let us not gnash our teeth at each other, but, rather, learn how to love.

Christina Chase

Not Avenge

What do we want most from others for ourselves?  I think it’s mercy…

Leviticus 19:18

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

I am human and I make mistakes.  A lot of them.  Not being God and, therefore, not being perfect, I am bound to have flaws, to get things wrong, and to do things that I wish I wouldn’t do.  Sometimes, as I am responding to my loved one, I will hear the words coming out of my mouth and wish them back just as they hit the air.  My words can be mean – petty, spiteful, downright cruel.  And in that moment, with my murderous speech hanging between the two of us, my heart drops down into the pit of my stomach and I hold my breath, begging silently for mercy.

It’s not often that the dagger slashes of my tongue are received with warmth and kindness – okay, not ever.  My loved one feels the pain, I hurt her, I hurt him, and the love they feel for me gets locked down inside of them and they harden with anger, putting up their defenses, whipping out weapons of their own.  Often, in the deadly speechlessness of their heavy, raging sigh, arrows shoot out their eyes and I feel myself cowering.  But I don’t cower.  I don’t apologize or try to console or make it up somehow.  I just want – need – to be forgiven.  More than anything I want to be spared the wrath of vengeance I have spurred.

Yet… What do I do when someone is mean to me?  What do I do when someone’s rash words cause me pain or, worse, when someone’s willful act of cruelty slices through me?  I’ll tell you what I do – I give it right back.  They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and I well believe it.  Though, to be fair and clear, I have inherited from my father a violence of temper unmatched by my mother’s in tamed and deep-seated force.  Please don’t misunderstand me – my family is not physically violent in any way.  I thank God there is no abuse of that kind in my home.  Even if, however, our angry responses don’t rise to the level of abuse, physical or verbal, we still find ways to seriously hurt each other.  The only thing that saves us from dysfunction and despair is the depth of our love – not only for each other, but also for ourselves.  We know how to be cruel, but we also know how to be merciful.

To “love thy neighbor as thyself” is to follow the golden rule by treating one’s fellow human beings the way that one wants to be treated oneself.  If we want to be forgiven by our loved ones when we say or do things to hurt them, then we should be ready to forgive them when they hurt us.  We react and respond too often out of anger, frustration and irritation.  We let our fears get the best of us and we irrationally take it out on the people who love us the most.  We are sorry when we do this, sometimes right away, sometimes several days later, and sometimes not until our loved ones show us the harm that we have done.  We bump against and batter each other, causing damage.  Efforts to minimize the friction and to repair the breaks and dents are good.  But, really, sometimes a person can be so hurt by another’s willful act of cruelty that only God can repair the damage.  My friend, who has suffered from every kind of abuse, once told me that there are some wounds that only God’s love can heal.

It’s God’s healing love that we truly want more than anything.  We want that divide between flawed humanity and perfect divinity to be bound up so that we may know wholeness.  To be who we are created to be, we cannot wallow in worldliness, we cannot inflict each other – and so inflict ourselves – with vengeance and destruction and violent dominance.  We must look past pain to the source of all joy.  Every tongue lashing is the scourging agony of a whipped back.  Every act of selfishness is the piercing of a crown of thorns.  Every cruel twist is a spike driven through the flesh.  God knows.

To stand one’s ground in the face of cruelty is not an act of unkindness.  To let the mean one know the pain that the meanness is causing is the right and kind thing to do.  But, what is one’s ground?  Is it vengeance?  Is it to give back as good as one gets?  Or is one’s ground love?  When my loved one meets my cruel words with silence and a look that tells me how wrong I was, I feel more penitence than I do when my unkindness is met with matching rage.  There’s something within me that will not allow me to learn or grow or improve under force and aggression.  That something is the divine image in which I am created.  That something is my soul.  I was created by God with the gift of free will.  I was created by God to reflect divinity into the world.  Not to reflect my own self, my offended pride, my insulted ego – but divinity, I am made to reflect God.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made, exquisitely beautiful in the eyes of the Infinite Eternal One and I will love myself as He loves me.  I will love my God-given ability to love, I will love my God-given capacity to forgive, I will love the gift of healing that God has given me.  And then, and only then, will I love, forgive, and heal.  I am not the Lord.  I shall not lord myself over anyone.  I shall receive, rather, the Lordship of God deep in my heart and through my whole being, becoming the person that the LORD created me to be.  Merciful.  Merciful is God, giving me perfect love when I do not deserve it.  And merciful am I created to be.

To forgive is to not forget that another person is capable of cruelty, but, rather, to remember that I am likewise capable.  To forgive is not to condone the hurtful behavior of another person, but, rather, to foster love and healing behavior within me – and so the world.  To forgive is to receive and share God.

Christina Chase

With My Whole Heart before the gods

There are gods and there is God.  There are words and there is the Word.  There is strength and there is strength.

Psalms 138:1-3

  1. I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.

  2. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

  3. In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.

 

In our material lives we live in the flesh, solid and “real”, we direct our gazes upon the bright and shiny and our ears upon the brash and the loud.  This is our survival instinct, we do it to survive.  And we look for the symmetrical and are drawn to this beauty, and listen for the soothing and are drawn to this comfort.  This, too, is instinct, we do it to thrive.  All instinct is geared toward pleasure, the material comforts of life, the pleasing sensations of flesh.  And when this goal is achieved and we thrive successfully, we remember our choices, like patterns, and follow those patterns repetitively expecting the same results.  Being all human, when we follow the same patterns, those markers, those things chosen stand out as things to be much sought after, much desired, as things worth sacrifice in order to have.  We set them up like gods.  They bring out division among us, jealousy from within us, yielding strife, discord, wars.  Appease the gods of materialism, the gods of greed, the gods of lust, prostate your dignity before the temples of sex and money and receive the demigods’ rewards.  We are willing to pay the price because we don’t know the cost.

What is human dignity?  Is it the absence of embarrassment?  And, therefore, is it the presence of pride and honor?  If one does not have material wealth, material beauty, material health, if one does not have independence, attraction, or any physical strength, is that person undignified?  What if someone steals prescriptions from her own father or child in order to feel less overwhelmed by anxiety and more focused on things that need to be done in order to survive?  Is she not simply appeasing the gods?  What if someone dresses alluringly and uses the talents of her body to gain protection or promotion and prestige?  Is she not merely another worshiper practicing the rites?  What if someone beats or maims or murders in order that his life may look bright and shiny and his whims of pleasure answered or so that he may gain protection or promotion and prestige?  Isn’t he just surviving and thriving, praising the desirable goals as he puts an end to whoever stands between him and the gods?  Should these people not be considered role models and heroes?

We often measure strength by the ability to move one’s body in desirable ways, to push things out of one’s way, or to forcibly get one’s way.  We look at the physical.  And seriously, what else are we supposed to look at?  With our eyes we can only see what can be seen with our eyes.  Objects of beauty, comfort and praise are visible.  Words of guidance, comfort and praise are audible with our ears – for what are we supposed to hear except for what can be heard with our ears?  And we embrace and hold onto the material, as well – for our muscles for grasping are physical.  So we have gods, and words, and strength… But we have not holiness.  Holiness – the quality of a true God, and therefore of true worship – is “other”.  It is not something that we see in ourselves with our eyes, nor hear in ourselves with our ears, nor hold close to ourselves with our bodies.  Holiness is other than.  Other than mere survival.  Other than animal instinct.  Other than material wealth.  Other than physical health that is physical strength or even aesthetic beauty.  Other than worldly prestige, honor and praise.  Holiness is other than independence.

What is “real” is what comes from ultimate reality.  Ultimate reality is about being, while what we call “real” is about forms.  We think that if we cannot see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, then it isn’t real.  Even love, which causes many to wax poetic and is the subject of much romantic sentiment and ideals, even love is easily reduced to forms.  Love has pieces and parts and is reduced to the sum of its parts: instincts of attraction, protection, attachment caused by brain chemicals and hormones; hugs and kisses; formulaic words; gifts of tribute and sacrifices as proof – for love itself is just another little god, and our instinctive or conditioned worship is to seek the little god’s blessing, reward that is felt in the flesh and that dies with the flesh.  Though the truly successful, whether they worship love or wealth or control of others, are deemed successful if they are remembered after their bodies are buried in the dirt.  If some words can be written down about them, in poems or history books or on the sides of stone buildings, or, at the very least, in newspaper eulogies and on tombstones – if these words exist, then this is all that we can know of eternity.  Certainly, it is all that we can know in the flesh.

What of the word that is other…?  The wordless Word that is not uttered with a mouth or written in any form.  The Holy Word.  The Word that is ultimate reality, that is being itself, that is the source of all forms and yet not contained within any of them.  The Word that is irreducible and imperishable and, therefore, stronger than strength – actually eternal.  The Word that we can only see with our eyes shut, the Word that we can only hear in silence – that which cannot be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched.  The Word that can only be communicated through a communion… The Word that can only be received without possession.  The wordless Word of the one, true living God who is Ultimate Reality, who is what always was, what is, and what always will be.

And… if this Word were to assume our human nature, were to take on our human flesh… well, then, and only then, through this divine initiation of communion, could we be able to experience Ultimate Reality in forms and come to know holiness, and truly worship with true dignity, true praise, and true strength for all the days of living – days beyond forms, the day eternal.

Christina Chase