Only the Young are Healthy

Youth
One of the gyms I visit regularly is covered with inspirational murals. While the gym serves people of a variety of ages (many are decades older than I am), not one of those images reflects someone over thirty years old. Photo by Tim Graves. 

Only the young are healthy. Only the young are worthy of respect. Admit it, the older burden and annoy those who are doing the real work. They play their TVs too loud or keep closed captions on (as I do). They don’t understand modern technology or culture. They wear frumpy clothes and walk too slowly to keep up.

 

True. They can be amusing in their quirks, forgetfulness, and their little dances. (Google “old people dancing” if you don’t believe me.)

If I were to believe the dominant images of western culture, I’d believe all of this and more. I wouldn’t value the men and women with whom I minister in rural eastern Oregon. I’d detest my father, my sister, and even my younger brother. I might even divorce my wife because she’s not twenty-something.

I wouldn’t value myself. I’d be panicked about the worthlessness of my very existence as I approach yet another birthday.

Sigh. The truth is sometimes I do feel unworthy. It is hard not to feel less-than when you’re told you are no longer needed.

Thing is, there is not one experience I’ve had that I would give up to gain a year or two. Each of my adventures — the challenging and the exhilarating  — have made me who I am, and I like me.

Yep, I like me! Not only do I have awesome memories and experiences but I have so much more to do. I have dreams, new ideas, and creative abilities that will yet benefit my corner of the world. I am am not closed minded. I grow and change. Daily.

I am valuable. I have feelings, heart, and mind and so I won’t let our culture’s negative images about aging stop me from becoming who I was created to be. And if someone else finds my little dances funny, they should quit spying on me.

They will bear fruit even when old and gray;
they will remain lush and fresh in order to proclaim:
“The Lord is righteous.
He’s my rock.
There’s nothing unrighteous in him.” Psalm 92:14-15 CEB

 

Does God Play Favorites?

Does God Play Favorites?
Is is a Rodent Apartment or Swiss Cheese? Photo by Tim Graves
Is is a Rodent Apartment or Swiss Cheese? Photo by Tim Graves

When I saw it, I thought apartment building. When she saw it, she thought Swiss cheese.

Climbing the ridge I paused at the tree stump and exclaimed internally, Rodent Apartments! Moments later my hiking companion came up from behind and exclaimed audibly, “Swiss Cheese!” 

So, who was right? Were either of us right?

In my thinking, I noted the multiple holes. I proceeded to think about which creatures might be using this old stump. Then, I overlaid my conception of a place with multiple residences to describe it as Rodent Apartments. Of course, I did this in seconds.

She? I suspect she reacted to the visual appearance of the stump. In her mind, she then went through objects with multiple holes. Donuts, nope not quite. Golf course, not so much. Finally, her mind arrived at Swiss cheese. She, too, did this in microseconds.

Each of our descriptions use pre-existing understandings of the world around us. Each of us lay previous learnings on top of a new experience.

We all do this. A lot.

We use our own frame of reference to describe and understand things we encounter. The words and pictures and thought patterns we use when we do this reflect as much about us as the object or event. In other words, how we describe and understand things reflects who we are. It’s true of tree stumps, of our politics, and of the Bible.

***

The Bible.

There is no such thing as a fully objective reading of scripture. We can mitigate the risks of eisegesis. Eisegesis is the fancy term for reading our own ideas or desires into the Bible rather than allowing the meanings of the text to be drawn out.

That is, we impose our ideas on the Bible instead of letting it speak to us. 

We can lessen but never eliminate these personal and cultural biases from our understanding of the text. This is one of the reasons it is helpful to read scripture together in diverse community. Each of us hear slightly different things.

By bouncing thoughts off of one another we can more accurately hear the voices of our ancient kindred describing how they understood God.  We also — and most importantly — can more accurately perceive God’s still speaking voice and dream for our lives in the twenty-first century.

***

I tell you this because too often our personal history and our preconceived ideas block us from the power, the depth and the radicalism of God’s dream for humanity.

Our life experiences change what we think the Bible says regardless of what meaning was intended by the original writers. The only way around this is to build our own self- and cultural awareness within diverse community.

***

Consider, as people of relative means, when we hear Luke’s report of Jesus preaching,

Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. Luke 12:33 CEB

As people of relative means, when we hear Jesus preach this, we tend to view it as a suggestion or as hyperbole because it demands a lot of us. It demands that we live differently than our culture and capitalism tell us to live. And, so, we interpret away our obligation.

Sometimes, we talk about spiritual poverty and pretend that Jesus was more concerned about how you and I feel about God than about physically feeding the poor or economic injustices in our world.

OR.

OR we say it is unrealistic and surely SURELY God doesn’t expect us to give up everything, not really. Sometimes we act like Jesus said, “clean out your kitchen cabinets and give the canned goods to the poor.”

Not bad to share food but not exactly what Jesus said.

OR.

OR we just dismiss it because, well, because we don’t want our faith to inconvenience us.

We can intellectualize away passages like this if we are not poor. However, it is more than just being able to intellectualize passages away. We actually hear what Jesus is saying differently because of our relative wealth.

Imagine if you can, how this same event sounds if you’re impoverished. Imagine you work three jobs and still keep falling behind on your bills.

Imagine that people look down their noses at you on the street.

Imagine your body is growing old before its time because you’ve lived most of your life without adequate health care and it’s hard to take a sick day even now because it means losing pay.

Hear how Jesus’ words might sound if you were poor. Listen as the poor person I described. I’m reading from Matthew’s version of the event this time.

Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.”  Matthew 19:21 CEB

I don’t know about you but I hear Jesus affirm God’s favor for the poor.

And this is just one passage. Depending upon how narrowly or widely you define the terms, the Bible either addresses the needs of the poor and needy three hundred times or over two-thousand times. Either number is significant.

Either number is far, far above the number of times the Bible talks about, oh I dunno, homosexuality or abortion (zero) or unfaithfulness in marriage. The significance of the number is true no matter how widely we define our terms to do the counting of references.

If the biblical witness reflects the experiences of our ancient kindred with God, than God is deeply concerned about economic injustice in human society.That is, if our claim that the Bible is a collection of the stories, experiences, and theologies of our ancient forebears and that God speaks through the scripture, shouldn’t one of our chief concerns as Christians be the poor?

Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez calls the Bible’s sheer numerical and thematic concern for the poor God’s “preferential option for the poor.” Says Gutiérrez:

But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible.

***

Does God play favorites? The short answer is yes. Jesus didn’t make this stuff up himself, though he clearly taught and preached it.  God’s concern for the poor is embedded in Jesus’ lived Judaism. It was ingrained in his day to day faith.

Recall that as a good Jew, Jesus’ own Bible was roughly our Old Testament. Not only would Jesus have known what we number as Psalm 113, scholar James L. Mays points out that as a traditional psalm sung at Passover,

The psalm would have been the first sung by Jesus and the disciples in the celebration of their last supper… (Psalms: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching by James L. Mays, Kindle loc. 7104)

Listen again to the first two verses:

Praise the Lord!

    You who serve the Lord—praise!
    Praise the Lord’s name!

Let the Lord’s name be blessed
    from now until forever from now!

Psalm 113:1-2 CEB

As you may recall, the Book of Psalms is a collection of writings and songs. More than any other book of our Bible it directly reflects the words of the people in relationship with God.

This particular psalm is a praise hymn that, along with 114, would be sung at the start of Passover. Notice how as this hymn progresses, the writer not only calls the people to worship but also gives reasons for doing so.

The LORD is high over all the nations;
God’s glory is higher than the skies!
Who could possibly
compare to the LORD our God? Psalm 113:4-5a CEB

Then in this hymn of praise, God’s particular concern for the poor is restated. Imagine as you hear this, Jesus and his disciples singing this on that last night of Jesus’ life.

God lifts up the poor from the dirt
and raises up the needy
from the garbage pile
to seat them with leaders—
with the leaders of his own people Psalm 113:7-8 CEB

As they sang it, they would have appreciated the poetry in the language in ways which we lose in English. The Hebrew verb yashav which is repeated in verses five, eight, and nine

suggest[s] that when God condescends from on high to raise up the lowly, God is exchanging some part of God’s nature and character with the humans that God is saving. (Beverly Roberts Gaventa & David Petersen, Eds., New Interpreters Bible (One Volume) Commentary, p. 341)

Jesus and his disciples understood God’s “preferential option for the poor” and reflected it not only in their teaching and healing and other daily actions but in their liturgical practices.

***

Does God Play Favorites? Yes.

It makes me squirm as it should you. It means that my wealth is a hindrance to my faith. It means that I ought to be doing more to unravel the sinful tapestry of our economic system, the one that keeps too many citizens of our world in poverty.

It means Jesus was serious.

We are called to live with less — to give away our possessions — and share with the poor. We’re called to follow the teachings of Jesus, to mimic his life by living like and among those without. In so doing, the poor, the needy, and the oppressed will be lifted up.

Jesus was serious. God is serious. It’s time that the church get serious about fundamental social change that benefits the oppressed and impoverished.

This is our great sin. This is our great hypocrisy. We sing songs of praise but too often leave out the verses that talk about how God comes down from on high to lift up those in need. We gloss over or forget that we are called to be God’s hands and feet in the world.

We keep waiting for God to fix the church or lift up the poor or end all manner of sins in the world but fail to respond to God’s beckoning voice calling us to be God’s hands and feet in the world.

We ignore what it means for God to play favorites for the poor and oppressed while we ignore the the teachings of Jesus calling us to let go of our wealth and dismantle the systems of oppression under which poor people are trapped.

We fail to do what the prophet Micah tells us God requires of us,

“to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6:8b CEB)

Sometimes we fail because our wealth and preconceived ideas keep us from hearing God’s still challenging voice. Sometimes we fail because we don’t like what Jesus teaches or what our ancient kindred heard God saying.

Often, it is just too much for us — me included — to admit that God favors the very people who we feel uncomfortable among. And, so, we alleviate our guilt by alleviating the symptoms.

But God calls us to radicalism.

Jesus teaches a new social order in which the poor are lifted from the dirt and the needy are raised from the garbage pile and seated among the leaders, the very leaders of God’s own people. (Psalm 113:7-8 CEB)

In the words of Gustavo Guitiérrez,

the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.

Does God play favorites? Yes, yes God does. The difficult question is the next one: what are we going to do about it?

Are we prepared to align our interests, our favorites with God’s priorities?  As individuals and as community, as church, are we prepared to embrace the radicalism of the faith we profess?

Amen.

___

This sermon was preached at the Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ on Sunday, July 5, 2015.

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Wiped Memories

Horror.

Like a science fiction storyline, my memories were wiped from my brain. All I can do is feel a sense of disgust and fright.

Apparently, it wasn’t enough that the strange hands had moved inside the walls of my abdominal cavity or that things were placed into every orifice of my body while I was drugged. They — those I’d feared in my narcotic painkiller-induced paranoia —  had shaved parts of my body that should not be shaved. Even slicing my very body open and removing part of a vital organ was not enough of a violation of my person.

My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories. Photo by Tim Graves
My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories. Photo by Tim Graves

My very thoughts have been taken from me. I cannot trust my own memories.

***

Weeks after the surgery in which my right colon was removed, I had an epiphany during a discussion with my wife. In a moment, I realized I had been conflating my experience of the surgical suite before my colonoscopy with another surgical suite before my two-day later colectomy.

Horror descended.

Try as I might, I could not pull up those memories. I’d been doing a mashup of two events in my head, believing them to be accurate memories, for nearly three weeks. Ten-weeks post-op, I still cannot find those memories.

They are gone.

This is not the kind of memory loss that can be jarred by others who were present. It doesn’t feel the same as walking into the next room and forgetting why you went into the room. When I walk into another room, I immediately know that I’ve forgotten. I do not replace a lost thought with another.

I imagine a cavernous space in my head.

In a typical reaction to certain kinds of anesthesia, surgical patients often lose memories before and after administration of the necessary medicine. All this was explained to me by the anesthesiologist before I left pre-op. Or so my wife assures me.

My knowledge that I’ve endured this type of memory loss frolics with doubts about trusting my own mind. It holds hands with my other feelings of personal violation following major surgery. It’s not that I’d have wanted to have my belly cut open with a local, but…

But it is unnerving to have lost a memory so fully and completely. My humanity has been violated.

***

I thought again yesterday about the nature of memory. Memory is a subjective view of an experience. It is fickle. Trying to catch a memory can be as elusive as the butterfly that flits from bloom to bloom.

As I struggled to climb Dog Mountain, I was reminded a little late of the trail’s steepness. Dog Mountain is a popular Washington State hiking destination along the Columbia River just west of Hood River, Oregon. The difficulty of this trail flooded back into my consciousness through straining muscles and heavy breathing. Either I was in better shape when I last climbed Dog Mountain or I’d forgotten the challenge of the ascent. Both are distinct possibilities.

Photo by Tim Graves
Much too close to the trailhead, I found a rock to catch my breath upon. Photo by Tim Graves

Much too close to the trailhead, I found a rock to catch my breath upon. I pulled out the small book in which I jot down notes and thoughts when hiking.  Turning through the pages I read what I’d written when I last hiked this path.

“No vistas [yet]. Just heavy breathing and ears filling up,” I wrote.

In a moment, memories of that hike returned. Yes, I was in better shape last time but even in better shape, I remembered. I recognized the pilgrimage as “challenging.”

Though memory can be fickle, a few written words and my thoughts returned. Details of that particular journey were fresh.

I thought about other times when I remembered forgotten things. Sometimes, the re-membering is triggered by a place, a smell, a song, or a similar experience.

Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity. Photo by Tim Graves
Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity. Photo by Tim Graves

Often re-membering comes about in the midst of relationship. We need one another to maintain our memories and stories. Our stories are prompted when another begins to talk about that-time-when. Usually, we each recall only a part or single perspective. Together two of more folks piece together the most complete memory.

I typically find comfort in re-membering. Even remembering difficult times holds some comfort as the distance of time allows a kind of self-reflection from which I can learn and grow. I never know which memories will hold potential for enlightenment. The tiniest of memories sometimes hold significant revelations.

***

The memories removed from my mind by anesthesia will not return. I have been robbed of any potential learning and growth from those moments.

The horror of wiped memories is real.

As I mark the ten-week anniversary of my surgery, feelings of violation and being out-of-control of my own thoughts remains. Lurking just beneath the surface, tears of loss and invasion of my body and mind threaten to burst forth when I think about it.

Still.

Still, time has lessened the intensity of the trauma. The rawness of my shock has become its own memory. The memory that something is missing which was intimately mine, my very thoughts, has begun to open itself up to more than emotional outrage.

In my own personal science fiction drama no cure that miraculously returns my memories will be found. This is my reality. Though my body and mind were violated, I owe my health and, in the long term, even my life to the removal of my right colon.

Photo by Tim Graves
As the rawness of shock continues to fade, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other as I climb up the mountain. Photo by Tim Graves

The feelings of loss, dismay, and violation are mine now. The ambiguity of not-knowing — of not remembering — belongs to my life journey.

As the rawness of shock continues to fade, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other as I climb up the mountain. Climbing the steep trail, my muscles may ache and I may wonder. Journeying to the promise of wildflowers at the mountain’s peak, I will learn to embrace this ambiguity.

It is mine.

My heart pounds in my chest  because death’s terrors have reached me. Fear and trembling have come upon me; I’m shaking all over. Psalm 55:4-5 CEB 

___

This is the sixth of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

 

Unnatural

Unnatural
Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

There is a feeling that comes over me when I’m hiking. Even in the extremely short post-operative shuffles that I’ve been taking each of the last three weeks.

I feel connected. I feel literally grounded to creation and the creator that flows through each of us — butterfly, blade of grass, snake, and human. Sometimes I pause in my hiking and just sit for a while and take in the sounds, smells, and images around me.

I feel a part of nature. I experience the divine around me and within me. I sense connections between myself and the tiny bug crawling on the flower.

As I hiked through Cottonwood Canyon yesterday, that feeling of connectedness came over me. The warmth of the sun and exercise — no matter that my pace was still slow — resulted in feeling overdressed. I slipped off my hoody, tying it around my waist. I untucked my t-shirt and flapped it so a cool breeze touched my sweat moist skin.

Bam! That pesky feeling consumed me.

I felt tainted and unnatural. Looking at my incision site, I felt distant from nature. With the neat scar, with its train track motif above my belly button, and the still-scabby area (the result of infection) below, I felt different than that which surrounded me. I felt unnatural.

I feel unnatural.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

That feeling remains and twists itself into a spiral with feelings of bodily violation. I am still grappling with what it means to have foreign hands within me removing my right colon. I perceive and imagine a cavernous emptiness within my abdominal cavity.

I am still struggling with the feeling of violation upon having things inserted into every opening of my body while I was asleep. In the course of screening and healing me, a camera was inserted into my anus, a tube was slid down my throat, and even my urine function was controlled through a catheter tube.

The violation went beyond natural openings in my body. I have two tiny laparoscopic scars one on the left at my waist line and the other just above my pubic bone. The most noticeable, however, is the 2-1/2 inch opening (I measured) that was cut from above my naval to below it. All these things were done to my body while I was asleep, while I had no chance to give or deny permission.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, though, I owe my very health and life to the doctors and other medical staff who cared for me, there is a sense of trauma that I feel that I am only beginning to sort through. Much of the time I repress the feelings to enable me to cope with recovery and resuming my daily routines. It is in the quiet moments that horror washes over me! My body twinges or tightens up in an effort to protect itself from that which occurred nearly eight weeks prior. Sometimes the tears come slowly and quietly. Other times I sob horrified at what my mind and body remember and imagine.

The medical staff to whom I feel a great gratitude have nearly completed their task of healing my body but it is the Divine manifest in nature, in the routines of life, in friendships, and in those who love me to whom my further healing depends. It is the Holy Spirit that gently holds my hand, wipes my tears, and patiently listens to my laments to whom I turn now.

Photo by Tim Graves
Cottonwood Canyon State Park, Condon, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

And, though being among the dragonfly and sage offer a healing salve, I still have a way to go in accepting myself — my very body — as natural anymore. But I feel hope.

My life experiences thus far, nature, and the narratives of healing, deaths, and resurrections of my faith assure me that I will not always feel this way. In my becoming I have many partners. In my becoming what is to be, I journey with the divine manifest in each creature, spring flower, and snowflake.

I lie down, sleep, and wake up
    because the Lord helps me. Psalm 3:5 CEB

___

This is the second of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2013
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

 

 

 

God Hides God’s Face From Me!

The tears formed faster than the words as I looked out the window, yearning to see Mt. Adams, who hid behind a four-day expanse of grey. “God hides God’s face from me,” I weeped.

***

Eight weeks ago tomorrow I had my first colonoscopy, a screening procedure for colon problems including cancer. Two days later, the surgeon performed a colectomy in which my right colon was removed. I am just now feeling like myself despite a still-not-quite return to my full energy level.

In my fifty-five years, I’ve been blessed by remarkably good health. Yes, I have the occasional cold, spring allergies, and the typical aches and pains related to aging beyond twenty-five. This was the first time I have been hospitalized since my tonsils were removed as a child.

So, for me, six days in the hospital was a jolting surprise. After enduring clear liquids and the colonoscopy preparation, I was planning my first meal following the screening procedure only to have that hope dashed. While still recovering from anesthesia, the doctor told me that I would need abdominal surgery. I am told — though I do not have a clear memory of this — that my response was a concise, “Oh, f**k!”

Mt. Adams emerges from behind the clouds on day six of my hospitalization.  The view is through the window of Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. Photo taken with my iPad.
Mt. Adams emerges from behind the clouds on day six of my hospitalization. The view is through the window of Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. Photo taken with my iPad.

***

The six days in the hospital, followed by nearly seven-weeks since have been filled with experiences that can in turn be described as humbling, frustrating, confusing, painful, discouraging, and sad. I’ve felt blessed, joyous (when the biopsy results came back negative), guilty, reliant on the skill and ethics of medical personnel, and extremely dependent upon my wife who was my primary caregiver. Fear, embarrassment, gratitude, bewilderment, and even a healthy dose of paranoia (presumably the result of narcotic painkiller) have visited me. Feelings of bodily violation initially washed over me as I emerged from the first thirty-six hour post-operative fog.

My iPad in hand, I began searching online for the experiences of others from my hospital bed. I wanted empathy. I wanted to know I was not alone. I wanted assurance that my feelings of trauma were typical. Though  I could infer that to be the case, from the blogs and articles I found, explicit sharing was hard to find. My plan is to process my experiences here for selfish reasons and in hope that someone else may find camaraderie in my words. (This is the first of multiple posts.)

***

As a Christian minister, you might expect that I would have been constantly aware of God’s presence. I was not, at least in name.

The Divine One was present with me throughout surgery and recovery whether or not I was cognizant of it or not. I felt the warm embrace of friends across the nation (and a few in other countries) via social media. Though I interacted little, “likes” and comments sustained me as digital evidence of love. I felt wrapped in a divine embrace, whether called positive energy or prayers.

I felt the empathy of medical staff even when they disturbed me from sleep to draw blood. The presence of my children who flew and drove great distance to surround me in my bed assured me that I was loved. And, of course, I felt the kindness of my wife who slept in a chair in my room during my entire hospitalization. The touch of her hand on mine and her loving stroke across my head was God’s loving presence with me. It was in her voice and eyes that I was grounded. It was she in whom I  trusted even when I woke from a painkiller-induced paranoid dream.

And, so, on that fourth day in the hospital when slight movements still caused me excruciating pain and I craved water and real food, I called out to God. Mt. Adams, serving as metaphor for the One who sustains and journeys with me, failed to respond. Hiding behind heavy grey clouds, Mt. Adams avoided my gaze. Tears gushed from my eyes faster than my words, “God hides God’s face from me!”

On the fifth day of my hospitalization, the sky began to lighten and though Mt. Adams did not emerge, sun peaked from behind the clouds periodically. On day six, my final day in the hospital, the divine peak showed its snowy face to me.

God’s face peered at me.

The snowy smile reminded me that God was always with me, feeling each of my many emotions  with me,  even when I could not see Mt. Adams. The Divine One had never abandoned me even when my thoughts were Maslowian in their focus on survival.

I cry out loud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy mountain. Psalm 3:4 CEB

___

This is the first of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face from Me May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

A Prayer from Those Living in a Powerful Nation

God of all peoples,

We come before you today, a hardy but small group gathered in your presence, gathered to worship you and thank you for all that you have done and will do for your people.

We rely on you because you are a steadfast God. And, yet, God…

And yet, God, we turn on our televisions and read the news online. We hear of more violence and impending war in Ukraine. We pray that Russia does not escalate matters in the Ukraine but we know our righteous indignation is hollow.

As Americans we know we have intervened in the affairs of sovereign nations when it has suited our purposes. As beneficiaries of power and wealth, our nation has manipulated matters in places like Guatemala not as a matter of helping but because it suits our country’s needs.

Help us to hear the words of the prophet Micah through the ears of the Guatemalan and Ukrainian people as the prophet calls out,

Hear this, leaders of the house of Jacob, rulers of the house of Israel, you who reject justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with injustice! Micah 3: 9-10 CEB

Help us to hear the voices of the Guatemalan and Ukrainian and so many other peoples through the Psalmist who cries out,

“Don’t let the feet of arrogant people walk all over me; don’t let the hands of the wicked drive me off.” Psalm 36:11 CEB

Help us to hold our leaders accountable to your ways of love, your ways of justice, your desire for peace for all of your people not just those of us who live in powerful nations. Lead us toward personal and communal actions that respect and honor the dignity of all peoples within and outside our own nation.

In our worries, in our feelings of guilt, in our feelings of helplessness, we turn to the One through whom we know you best. We turn to you through Jesus.

Amen.

***

I offered this prayer at the Condon United Church of Christ on March 2, 2014.

Service of Scripture & Prayer (In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston)

Service of Scripture & Prayer (In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston)

Service of Scripture & Prayer

In Empathy & Solidarity with the People of Boston

Condon United Church of Christ

April 19, 2013

The stained glass window at Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ. Photo by Tim Graves
The stained glass window at Condon (Oregon) United Church of Christ. Photo by Tim Graves

The People Gather

Prelude When Night Becomes Dark (Taize Community)

Call to Worship (Please say responsively)

L: We gather this evening to express our anguish and horror at what our sisters and brothers are experiencing in Boston. Connected as one human family, we feel their fear, their anxiety, and share the urge to hold our children and one another tightly.

P: We are speechless and horrified by what has become of our world and our nation. 

L: Our Lord and Savior, too, experienced grief in our human condition saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that. Luke 13:34 CEB

We gather in the presence of friends and neighbors to console one another and to reach across the continent in prayer and solidarity with your people in Boston.

Invocation (Please say together.)

Make yourself known in Massachusetts, in Texas and Florida, in Oregon and every place in between. Heighten our senses that we might focus on your love that transcends evil in this world. Remind us tonight that we are one human family across the globe. Amen.

The People Express their Woe to God

Music In Our Darkest Hour (Taize Community)

Ancient Words of Terror

My whole body is completely terrified! But you, LORD! How long will this last? Come back to me, LORD! Deliver me! Save me for the sake of your faithful love! I’m worn out from groaning. Every night, I drench my bed with tears; I soak my couch all the way through. My vision fails because of my grief; it’s weak because of all my distress. Get away from me, all you evildoers, Psalm 6:3-4, 6-8a CEB

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

Today’s Words of Terror

L: We stare at the television, yearning to know what is going on in the East. Our anxiety grows and we wonder, “could it happen here?” We empathize with our those in Boston. while the announcers speculate and chatter.

P: The announcers seek to explain but it is inexplicable how one of our fellow citizens could blow up children and runners. We don’t understand; we’re afraid. We hear the words and see the pictures from our homes. 

L: We went about our daily routines while our kindred were confined to their homes for fear of a young man’s anger. We’re afraid. We feel the terror of a world filled with anger and hatred. Hear these words from Facebook, from a daughter talking about her mother in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

“My mother, who is 81, lives in Cambridge, just a few blocks from Memorial Drive. Some of last night’s events happened near her home. She’s at home, with food and water and is “fine”. But on the phone with her this afternoon, she started rambling about cars that have come down her street sounding funny (one of which she reported to the police), about how it feels like during WWII when there was a neighborhood air raid warden who would come around to check if your black out curtains were letting any light out, about how many suspects there are and where they are (not agreeing with the news coverage). And alot more.

It brings home to me how HUGE a shock it is to have this attack happen. Mum can ramble some, but it was much worse this afternoon – a sign of how this is really affecting her, even though she is safe. Feels a little like the canary in the mine – we are all affected, but it just shows in different ways. Let us all be extra kind to each other, reach out to our Boston friends and family, and remember our elders – who may be having flashbacks to another time of war..…”

P: The safety, the security, and all that we thought was possible within the borders of our great country have once again been shattered by hatred and violence. We weep as children and runners are victims of gun violence and bombs.

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

The People Plead for Help

Ancient Words of Pleading

LORD, hear my prayer! Let my cry reach you! Don’t hide your face from me in my time of trouble! Listen to me! Answer me quickly as I cry out! Because my days disappear like smoke, my bones are burned up as if in an oven; my heart is smashed like dried-up grass. I even forget to eat my food because of my intense groans.  My bones are protruding from my skin. I’m like some wild owl— like some screech owl in the desert. I lie awake all night. I’m all alone like a bird on a roof. All day long my enemies make fun of me; those who mock me curse using my name! I’ve been eating ashes instead of bread. I’ve been mixing tears into my drinks because of your anger and wrath, because you picked me up and threw me away. Psalm 102: 1-10 CEB

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

Today’s Words of Pleading (Please say responsively.)

L: Enough! Put an end to this now we beg you, God. Enough is enough. We endured 9/11 and said, “no more.”

P: And yet there have been more.

L: Enough! Put an end to this now we beg you, God. Enough is enough. We endured the separation from our sisters and brothers as they fought for ten years in Iraq. We continue to endure separation from our sons and daughters as they fight in Afghanistan. We say “no more.” Put an end to this now we beg you, God.

P: And yet evil continues. Evil is still in our midst. 

L: Children are killed in their schools and at the Boston marathon. Our countryfolk huddle in their homes afraid to venture out. Our children are traumatized.

ALL: We don’t understand.

Silent Prayer

Response (Please say together.)

   Lord have mercy upon us.

   Christ have mercy upon us. 

   Lord have mercy upon us.

God Reassures the People

Words of Assurance

L: Though we live in a world in which it too often seems like evil has the upper hand, our holy texts remind us that this existence is temporary. Our Savior who roamed the countryside, the villages, and Jerusalem teaching and healing was rejected. He was killed on the cross by our ancient kindred.

P: All seemed lost.

L: Ah, but on the third day, when the women went to the tomb they found it empty. Our Lord and Savior lives! The extravagant love of our God is not contained by terror, by fears, or by hatred. The unimaginable and undeserved love of the One overcomes even death.

The apostle Paul writing to the Romans reminds us,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;

we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 NRSV

P: Praise be to God!

Hymn Amazing Grace #547

Scripture Psalm 23 NRSV (Please say together.)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

Benediction

Postlude Make Me a Channel of Your Peace

Tall Majesty, Tiny Majesty

Tall Majesty, Tiny Majesty

It does not surprise me that our ancient kindred perceived mountaintops as the place where God resides. There is something mystical in the jutting face of mountains. There is something that calls to me when I am within sight of snowy peaks.

I often worry that I will drive off the road when in view of the snow-covered mountains of the Cascade Range, especially Oregon’s Mt. Hood. I struggle to keep my eyes on the road and off the divine curves of the rising rock..

Perhaps, the allure is stronger for me because, though I spent some of my childhood under its watchful gaze, most of my growing up years were in the mid-south and mid-west. Those regions of the country have much beauty but snow-capped peaks are not among them.

As I was hiking and climbing the rocks of Horsethief Butte in Washington state this morning, I tweeted that,

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Any trail with a view of Mt. Hood is a good trail.

I always feel safe hiking and climbing when I know that Mt. Hood is watching over me. When I nearly lost my way, when anxiety began to well up while hiking Mt. Defiance late last summer, my mood changed once I glimpsed Hood. I immediately knew where I was. I was no longer lost; Mt. Hood was with me. This parallels the comfort and relief I feel when I perceive God is with me.

Climbing and hiking this morning, the craggy rocks demanded my attention. The flowers that graced cliff face and meadow alike beckoned me to remember that though my mountain god watches from afar, God is within all of creation. God is in the resurrecting flowers of spring. God is in the buzzing flies and the rattlesnake who calls Horsethief Butte home.

God is in the tiny lavender flowers and the purple mountain. God is within me, within you, and between all that is.

Send your light and truth— those will guide me!
Let them bring me to your holy mountain, to your dwelling place. Psalm 43:3 CEB

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