Perceiving & Becoming

Joy of Wet
The clouds hung over the summit like a wet towel and, as if the bathroom fan were broken, my eyeglasses fogged up. Photo by Tim Graves

The clouds hung over the summit like a wet towel and, as if the bathroom fan were broken, my eyeglasses fogged up. My first hike to the top of Washington’s Wind Mountain was ill-timed for taking in its views of the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams.

Though I appreciate new trails, I often visit the same trails multiple times. And so it was that two days after my initial hike I was back on this challenging, though relatively short trail. Unless I’d time traveled between seasons, the weather could not have been more different. On my first journey my focus was on small details. A myriad of miniature suns lining the trail lifted my mood. The drops of rain collected on vegetation while moisture saturated my skin and clothing.

A foggy view toward the northwest from the top of Wind Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves
A foggy view toward the northwest from the top of Wind Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves

Conversely, my attention the second morning was drawn to expansive vistas peeking through tall trees. My yellow mini-suns seemed duller and fewer as Sol peeped through trees. Upon reaching the pinnacle of my journey, rather than a windowless penthouse, I arrived in a glass house affording phenomenal views of the river below and snowcapped mountains above.

Each journey afforded me perspectives I needed to intimately know my new friend, Wind Mountain. Both trips around switchbacks, under and over fallen trees, and along its rocky, muddy, and packed dirt surface taught me something about its character. While each perspective is true, neither one fully reflects the who of the mountain. Two summer mornings spent with my new companion do not wholly inform me of the mountain’s nature either.

Approaching the thirty-fifth anniversary of our wedding, I know my wife better than any other human being. Yet, I do not know her

thoroughly nor she me. Part of the challenge in understanding and empathizing with others — even those we’ve known for decades — is that we are moving targets. I am not the same person at this moment as I will be this evening. Like Wind Mountain, we are each living, growing, and evolving life forms.

A view Photo by Tim Graves
A sunny view  toward the northwest from the top of Wind Mountain. Photo by Tim Graves

Change is inherent in our nature. If we are undistracted, we perceive it in ourselves, our relationships with one another, and with the Divine. For many, it is in Nature that this universal characteristic is most obvious.

Gaia, our living planet of which we are a part, is in the continual process of becoming. As part of the living body that is creation we, too, are becoming. Consequently, as I re-hike a trail or relate with my wife, we influence one another. We have a novel experience.

And, so, I wonder. I wonder why we insist on quantifying one another. Why do we label ourselves and others? When we label or quantify, we seek to define the indefinable. We seek to control the Divine mystery when all we can really do is be. All we can do is be present with each other. All we can do is become together.

Perhaps this is why each trek on a particular trail inspires me. Each pilgrimage affords me another opportunity to experience the essence that permeates all that is,  the One I call God. Each hike is about being and becoming an integral part of the unfolding realm of extravagant love.

 

 

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

Doing CPE: The Marriage Version

Maggie and Tim at their home in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo by Dawn Kolakoski.

Our conversation began innocently as I prepared dinner and she caught up on Facebook at the end of her workday. I’m not sure how comments about our days resulted in a deep conversation. Regardless, I confessed my feelings about being the emotional caretaker and nag to a woman with chronic asthma and other health issues.

One of the roles I play in our marriage is to nag Maggie to take care of herself. Sometimes it’s necessary; much of the time it’s not. I’m also a sounding board when her too-often struggles to breathe do not fit with her desire to lead an active lifestyle. For example, she struggles with the likelihood that there are places I have hiked that she may never be able to see firsthand.

But this conversation was more about my psyche than hers and, with my permission, Maggie was “doing CPE” on me. (CPE refers to clinical pastoral education. CPE is a touchy feely part of pastoral education in which delving into a deeper understanding of motivations is idolized. It’s a form of deep communication, listening to your inner voice, and helping others to do the same.)

“I often feel like I can’t share my needs because you’re sick so often.”

“What would it be like if you did?” she responded.

As I pondered my response I felt tears welling up. Tears are simultaneously a gift of the Holy Spirit and a psychological sign that I’m close to my core feelings. I replied that, “A good husband places the needs of his sick wife before his own needs. Some of my needs conflict with your health.”

Aware that I wasn’t yet done, she remained quiet. I continued, “I genuinely worry about you. At times, though, I feel like I have to play the role of ‘the good husband’ just as I played the role of ‘the good son’ for my mother growing up. Sometimes I feel like I cannot do things for me because of your health.”

Like a good therapist, Maggie waited attentively as I processed both internally and aloud. To even name my needs feels selfish, I thought. A pivotal moment came when I said, “I’d feel vulnerable if I shared my needs.”

“Tell me more about your feelings of vulnerability. What’s that about?”

Of course those pesky tears showed up again. To even name my feelings and needs that conflict with my wife’s health needs, would tarnish my self-image as the good husband, as the perfect husband, as the one who has it all together.

We both laughed out loud at the absurdity. Feelings are real. Needs are real. Naming feelings doesn’t give them power; it allows us to problem solve and work together to find ways to meet both of our needs. It is when we shove those feelings and needs deep inside that they are more likely to sneak out in destructive ways.

I sighed and smiled. Here we were after thirty-three years of marriage still learning and growing and working together.

See Also
The Core Secret of Our Marriage
Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s God! No That’s My Wife

Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In

I was pissed. If I didn’t feel it emotionally, my hoarseness revealed it. The children had scattered to their rooms. Even Isaac who was foolishly brave during “knock-down, drag-outs,” had retreated to his bedroom. That’s when it happened. I yanked the suitcase out of the closet. 



How had it reached the point that, even a small part of me, would consider breaking covenant? How could I possibly survive without my beloved? 


I looked at the suitcase in my hand and slumped down to the floor; all energy draining from my body. I became uncharacteristically silent. 


It was in that moment that I was finally able to hear the loving pleading of my wife. “You need help.” Yes, she was right. Yes, I would call first thing Monday morning.


***


Nearly thirty-three years ago, my wife and I publicly entered into covenant with one another. With the covenant revealed in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) between God and the Israelites informing us about how to live in relationship, we were married. We covenanted with one another, and with God. (See “The Core Secret of Our Marriage for more about covenant.


The dripping humid day when we committed our lives to one another was only the beginning. Maintaining a relationship takes emotional energy and regular time spent focused on one another. Human beings are constantly evolving and changing. We have ups and downs. There are times when we’re not so much fun to be around.


The challenge for two people in a covenantal relationship is to choreograph growth and change. Finding ways to dance through the stormy weather is perhaps the most intricate choreography. The steps are not always obvious.  Uncomfortable emotions tempt us to leave the stage entirely.

This is the second in a series about living in
covenant with another person.

Living in Covenant Series
The Core Secret of Our Marriage
Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In
It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, It’s My Wife!

That morning when I pulled the suitcase out of the closet was not our finest hour.   We’d bought an old 1850s house (think Tom Hanks’ Money Pit) in upstate New York. Both children were still living at home. I was working multiple jobs. We were both working too much. Our lifestyle was not sustainable. I know I was not fit to live with during those years. 


I was also unable to see that I was making poor choices. 


***

An unwavering commitment to one another–even during times when we’ve felt distant from one another–is indeed central to our long marriage. Our success is more than that, however. We truly like each other. We allow–no, we embrace–one another’s evolving growth and change. We truly want the other to be who they are called by God to be. 


We revel in one another’s joys and always have one another’s back. Yet, when one of us is not living into who we’re called to be as a unique human being, we speak forthrightly. That is, we call one another out.


During those years, my wife could see clearly that I was making poor choices. She knew I was working too hard and that I was physically exhausted. I couldn’t see it and would hear none of her pleadings.


Living in a covenantal relationship requires sticking it out when things are not going well. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel angry with one another. It doesn’t mean you don’t have good reason to dislike the other person. Likewise, part of a loving covenant – which includes God – is that we must each take care of ourselves. (There are times when leaving the relationship is the most appropriate thing to do. I will write about abusive relationships in a future blog.)


I was not taking care of myself during those times. The result was that I was taking it out on myself and those I loved the most. I am quite certain that my wife was irritated with me. I am quite certain that she was angry and worried about me.


In Judges 10, God is so frustrated with the Israelites poor behavior, with their breaking of covenant, that he laments, “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV).  God was tempted to break covenant with God’s people. Who could blame God? The people had left and worshiped other gods until they were under attack by the Ammonites. Then they came running back begging for God’s help.


Ultimately, however, God honors covenant. Because God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV), God responds compassionately. I imagine this was not unlike my wife’s experience. She had every rational reason to break relationship. Who could blame her? But in the end, her compassion and her commitment, reigned supreme.  



During that difficult time, my wife offered up the truth about me, sometimes with a little sugar and sometimes with a little vinegar. But still I could not hear her. Still, she hung in there with me. My wife saw the imago dei (image of God) through my armor of hurt, fatigue, and nastiness. Her patience and compassion and her commitment – our covenant – waited for a time when I could hear her pleading.


***


I looked at the suitcase in my hand and slumped down to the floor; all energy draining from my body. I became uncharacteristically silent. 


And I sobbed. Her arms around me, I felt God’s presence in our covenant. Then, I could hear God in the voice of my wife. “You need help. You can’t keep this up. I love you.”


***


God of Covenants,


Thank you for the extravagant love,
   that puts up with us no matter what.


Thank you for the love that forgives,
   even when we’ve ignored gentle pleadings,
      and angry pleadings.


Help us to include you,
   to accept your presence,
      to hear your voice in our relationships.


Help us to see the imago dei,
   in ourselves,
      and in one another,
          that we might be more loving.


In the name of the love which flows,
   within and throughout creation.


Amen.

The Core Secret of Our Marriage

The Core Secret of Our Marriage

My wife and I have been married for almost 33 years. I’m often asked, “What’s your secret?” Typically my answer is about being realistic, accepting highs & lows, or about a sense of humor. The core secret is about the covenant we made with one another on a sweltering midwest summer day.


About Covenant


The term covenant has a strong association with the Judeo-Christian tradition as a model for relationship. If you read the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), you are privy to a love story between God and the Israelites. 


Even when the people are unworthy of God’s love, and God has every reason to abandon them, God ultimately honors covenant. For example, in Judges 10, after years of idol worship, the Israelites seek God’s help when under threat from the Ammonites. God is rightfully angry with their newfound faith: “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV). 


Despite rightful frustration, God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV). God responds in compassion and honors covenant. It is this covenantal relationship that serves as a model for our human relationships, including marriage.


The core success of our marriage, then, is that we stood before family, friends, and clergy on that day, publicly entering covenant. We invoked the Divine blessing and covenanted to work at our relationship. Our marriage covenant is with one another and with God.


Divine Presence


Created as physical and spiritual beings, to live into the image of God requires that we open ourselves to the spiritual. Life is an arduous, challenging experience. It is evidence of divinity when any of us are able to connect with other human beings.


A UCC minister and his wife, friends of my parents from their days at seminary, gave us a simple but powerful wedding gift thirty-three years ago. The physical gift was a golden cross with two rings. 

This is the first in a series about living in
covenant with another person.

The physical cross, however, was not the gift. The gift was the comment from Uncle Harold that our love and marriage are a gift from God. The implication being that we must treat our love and marriage with reverence.


My beloved Maggie and I have both sought to remember that our marriage is a sacred covenant. We seek to afford one another the respect that we afford God. For example, I know that Maggie doesn’t rake me through the coals with co-workers. Likewise, her most sensitive secrets will never appear in one of my blogs. 


We have both made mistakes. (God knows I have!) But to have slept with another woman or man, would be no more a failure to keep covenant with my beloved than if I betrayed our private conversations. As such, neither of us -regardless of temptations – have strayed or long-avoided the hard work of living as a married couple.


Keeper of Covenants,


Thank you for your love,
   that flows within all of creation.
Thank you for the forgiveness,
   even when it is undeserved.


Flow through my relationships with others:
   with Maggie,
   with those whom I meet at the market,
      at the gas station,
         or who are begging on the street.


When I fail to be who you,
   created me to be,
      forgive me,
         and empower me to confess,
             and make amends.


For it is in following your loving lure,
   that the world reflects you.
It is in your love,
   that I am who you desire me to be.


Amen.


This is the first of several blog posts about what it means to live in covenant with another human being. The next will be about dealing with change and growth in one another.