January 27, 2013

The Wonder of Touch

So far in this Epiphany season, we have seen the Wonder of following the star to the Perfect Light. In exploring how to see that Wonder and Light, we’ve been examining what our senses can tell us about Wonder. There is the Wonder of Seeing. Not just physical seeing, but seeing the importance of putting God first in this new year. Last week we considered the Wonder of Hearing and the need to find quiet times to really be still and listen for God’s voice.

Today, we look at the Wonder of Touch. Throughout his ministry, Jesus very often used Touch to heal. One instance of this is the leper that he touches and says “I will be made whole.” (Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:2-4, Luke 5:12-16) It was against Jewish law for anyone to touch a leper. They were exiled outside the towns and had to live as beggars. That Jesus, a rabbi, willingly touched the leprous man probably sent waves of shock through the disciples and the crowd.

Touch is related to the sense of feeling. Lepers lose that sense as the disease affects their fingers and skin. They are unable to tell if something is hot or cold or hard or soft. Imagine how hard that must be. Every day we touch hundreds, even thousands of objects without even giving any thought to the fact that our fingers are sending messages to the brain saying, “that is hard”, “too hot, pull back!”, “nice and comfy”. We get a sticker in our finger and immediately want to get it out because the senses are sending messages of pain to the brain.

Even more important than being able to feel if something is hot or cold, hard or soft, is the comfort of real, loving, physical touch. We touch a baby’s skin or kitten’s fur and are soothed by how smooth and soft it is. A friend touches our shoulder in sympathy or we cuddle with our spouse. All these are important to our mental health (say the experts). The leper had lost both the ability to feel anything, but also the important comfort of having people, even family, touch him lovingly.
Jesus’ action when he “stretched out his hand and touched him” was as important as the words “I will, be clean.” The compassionate, loving touch of Jesus’ hand was the beginning of healing for the soul and body of this outcast.

Have you ever felt you are so sinful that God couldn’t possibly want to touch you? Repeat after me: There is NEVER a time when our heavenly Father doesn’t want to gather us in. There is NOTHING we can do to make us less beloved to our God. There is NOT a time when God will turn away from you or me. God will ALWAYS reach out and touch us while saying “I will, be healed!”

When I was a little girl, part of the pre-bedtime routine was to sit with my Daddy in a big green chair while he read bedtime stories. Whenever I think of God holding me in love, I tend to have that image in mind. What comes to your mind and heart when you think of God touching you and holding you with loving arms? Can you sit in God’s embrace and let God’s love wash over you to heal whatever feels ‘wrong’ in your relationship with God?
Next time we will consider the sense of Taste, in relation to God...

January 20, 2013

Wonder of Hearing

Stop for a moment. Sit quietly. Listen. What do you hear? Wind? Traffic? Children? Birds? Sirens? As I sit here preparing to type this blog, I hear the furnace blowing, a car going down the street, the rustle of leaves, a snoring cat, the hum of appliance motors…

I wonder how often we really pause to listen and hear the sounds around us. Are we too focused on whatever we are doing to really hear sounds? Do you find yourself so familiar with the sounds, that you don’t really hear them? People that live near railroad crossings soon learn to tune out the train horns nearby. Have you ever been in your house when the power goes off? Suddenly it is much quieter because all the appliance sounds we take for granted are missing.

The same can be true in our spiritual listening, too. We can (and I speak for myself) get so caught up in the accomplishing of ‘God’s work’ that we can forget to stop and listen to hear what God might be saying. We can get so familiar with the sound of the Christian music on our i-pod or car radio that we don’t really pay attention to the words. The rhythm of our prayer is rote and we don’t even listen to what we are saying. We become deaf to the Wonder of God speaking to us.
Sometimes we need help with our hearing. Modern medicine gives us ways to help those who cannot hear, or to assist those who have trouble processing what they do hear. One of my grandchildren went to a couple of weeks of extensive therapy for her language processing. She can hear just fine, and speak-just not understandably. One of the little synapsis in her brain wasn’t connecting properly to let her repeat what she heard. It is amazing what science can accomplish.

In Mark 7:31-37 we meet a (probably) Gentile man who is brought to Jesus. The Gospel doesn’t say who exactly brings the deaf man to Jesus, but “they begged him to lay his hand on him.” Interestingly, Jesus takes the man “aside in private, away from the crowd” to heal him. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

Perhaps there is a lesson in this for us. Maybe we, too, need to come aside in private when we’ve lost the ability to hear God clearly. Megan had to sit with headphones for half hour stints to help that brain synapsis work. Jesus took the deaf man aside, away from the crowds, where the man could hear only Jesus. Only in the private, quiet place can God breathe the word “Ephphatha” so we can hear and speak plainly. Remember Elijah (I Kings 19:11-12) did not hear God in the fire or wind or earthquake, but rather in the “still, small voice”.

Elijah was beset by many worries and feared for his life. He has run away to hide from Jezebel who threatens to kill him. No wonder he is assaulted by wind and earthquake and fire. His own fears are consuming him. But “God is not in [these],” but is in the still, small voice.

Come away to a quiet place and listen to what God may be saying. You may hear “Ephphatha” and find your ears and tongue loosened to offer praise and be like the people of the Decapolis who though, Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” (Mark 7:37)

It is difficult to turn off the sounds in your mind and heart and surroundings, but in that stillness, you could just be blessed. At the very least, you will be refreshed. Perhaps, like Elijah, when you quiet the noise inside and hear that ‘still, small voice’ it may be telling you to “Go…return…anoint” (I Kings 19:15). Or maybe it will be “go…make disciples...” (Matthew 28:19)

Next week, the importance of touch.  (Oh, and my granddaughter...each day her speech is a bit more understandable.)  

January 13, 2013

Epiphany-the Wonder of Sight

This Epiphany season we are exploring some of the wonder around us that speaks of God.  Each week we’ll take a different sense (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste) and consider a Bible story that emphasizes that sense. This week, ‘sight’ is the focus. Like the Magi, we see Wonder all around and it tells of God in action. For the Magi, the star told of the birth. What do you see in your world that reminds you of God? A sunrise? Snow on the mountains? A bird flying by? Friends? Family?

But…what if you couldn’t see all those things? In the Gospel of Mark, (Mark 10:46-52) we meet Bartimaeus of Jericho. This man was sitting by the side of the road, begging for handouts to support himself. In the culture of the time, his blindness was a sign that he or his parents were sinners, so the only thing he could do to earn a living was beg. People passing by could get credit for a good deed (a mitzvah) by giving him something.

Clearly the son of Timaeus (that’s what Bar-Timaeus means) was not content with his lot in life. When he hears that Jesus is near, he starts shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Despite rebukes by the crowd, he continues to shout for attention. Jesus hears him and calls for him.
What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.
Bartimaeus responds, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Jesus’ response is compassion. “'Go; your faith has made you well.' Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way."
Notice that Bartimaeus has not always been blind. Somehow, he has lost his sight and knows what is missing. He can’t see the beauty around him, his wife’s face, his children’s smiles, the sun in the sky, or the dust of the road.
We, too, can lose sight of what is important. Perhaps it’s busy-ness that keeps us from really seeing our loved ones. Maybe it’s depression or sorrow that has made us blind to joy and beauty. Could be that we’ve just quit looking for God in the day-to-day?  
Suddenly, we can come to the realization that something is missing. Whether we are physically blind or just blind about something, we call out to Jesus. Then we might just hear Jesus ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” If your answer is, “Lord I want to see,” then you will discover that the eyes of your heart will be opened to see God all around once more.

If you are feeling like you’ve lost sight of your relationship with Jesus, and are floundering around blindly-don’t hesitate, call out because Jesus hears us when we call and ask to regain our sight. This new year could be the perfect time to quit sitting by the side of the road and start seeing again!

Next week it’s the sense of hearing that we’ll think about.

January 6, 2013

Epiphany-Star of Wonder

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

We all know the favorite Christmas hymn that is really for Epiphany: We Three Kings. It was written by John H. Hopkins, Jr. in 1857 for a Christmas pageant at General Theological Seminary in NYC. The refrain, to me, speaks of the attitude we all should have toward God, esp. during the season of Epiphany when we hear of the many ways God in Christ is made manifest to the world. An attitude of amazement and awe that God has come among us and is still with us!
The magi of old saw a sign in the stars and followed it to Bethlehem where they found a child who was the King of Kings. Henry van Dyke’s classic tale, The Other Wise Man, tells how Artaban and his companions realized that the time was fulfilled:
Artaban answered: "It has been shown to me and to my three companions among the Magi--Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. We have searched the ancient tablets of Chaldea and computed the time. It falls in this year. We have studied the sky, and in the spring of the year we saw two of the greatest planets draw near together in the sign of the Fish, which is the house of the Hebrews. We also saw a new star there, which shone for one night and then vanished. Now again the two great planets are meeting. This night is their conjunction. My three brothers are watching by the ancient Temple of the Seven Spheres, at Borsippa, in Babylonia, and I am watching here. If the star shines again, they will wait ten days for me at the temple, and then we will set out together for Jerusalem, to see and worship the promised one who shall be born King of Israel. I believe the sign will come. I have made ready for the journey. I have sold my possessions, and bought these three jewels--a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl--to carry them as tribute to the King. And I ask you to go with me on the pilgrimage, that we may have joy together in finding the Prince who is worthy to be served."*

In Van Dyke’s story, the rest of the Magi refuse to believe Artaban and he sets out alone to join Caspar, Melchoir, and Balthazar. Along the way, he pauses to help an injured man and so misses the rendezvous. Then he spends his life seeking the Child, always a step behind, using his gifts to help others, until at the end he comes to the Cross and learns that “The Other Wise Man had found the King.”*
Many times, I find myself more like the magi who stayed behind, too concerned about the day-to-day routine to pause and see that there is a “star of wonder, star of light” leading to the wonder of God incarnate as a Babe in a manger and in the beauty of a stormy sky and in the eyes of the tired clerk at the store…
During this Epiphany season, until Ash Wednesday, on February 13, come explore with me some of the glory around us that tells of the wonder of God. From a pristine snow fall to a homeless man; from a tree starkly bare in winter to a child’s first prayer; from hymns sung by choirs to the caterwauling of a cat fight; from the scent of a new blown rose to raw gasoline; from rough waves to a tender touch; from the majesty of cathedrals to the poorest of hovels-God is present. Perhaps like Artaban, in these weeks of Epiphany we can see in each of these and more the perfect light foretold by the star of wonder. Come let us adore him.  
*The Other Wise Man, Henry Van Dyke, 1895