Reflections on baptism and new life: themes for this Sunday’s baptismal sacrament

For some reason, there was something painful for me about the idea of being loved completely apart from what I do or do not do. It’s perhaps all we really want in life, and yet the prospect of it, stung. I’m not even sure why. Maybe because it only highlighted how much being loved apart from what we do or don’t do is so rarely something we ever encounter. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo. ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Sunday’s texts for baptism:

Questions to consider:

  • What am I trying to control, all by myself, that I could give over to a love bigger than me? (We are partners in transformation, but we cannot do it alone.)
  • Of what must I let go— in order to allow love to simply hold me and cherish me— just as I am?
  • What part of my life, my self, my past needs to die away to make space and room for new growth, new identity, new connection?
  • What does it mean to be adopted into this messy-but-beloved, sometimes-healthy, trying-to-be-holistic, always-imperfect-human faith community?
  • What am I doing now that I think is obligatory in order to be worthy of love and grace? What if I chose to do these things, knowing I cannot earn love and grace? (Holy love and grace are gifts, freely given.)
  • What do I think needs to be forgiven in myself?

Blessing prior to Mikveh or Jewish ritual cleansing bath:

Barukh ata Adonai Elohenu melekh ha’olam asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’tevillah.

Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us concerning the immersion.

בּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְשָׁנוּ בּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל הַטְבִילָה


What was in that candle’s light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?
Come back, my Friend!
The form of our love is not a created form.

Nothing can help me but the Beauty.
There was a dawn I remember
when my soul heard something from Your soul.
I drank water from Your Spring
and felt the current take me.
— Rumi

The energies of mindfulness, concentration and insight can liberate us from our anxiety and worries. We let go of the past and the future, and come in touch with the wonders of the present. — Thich Nhat Hanh

On Baptism

Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. — Book of Common Prayer

The Church does not dispense the sacrament of baptism in order to acquire for herself an increase in membership but in order to consecrate a human being to God and to communicate to that person the divine gift of birth from God.― Hans Urs von Balthasar, Unless You Become Like This Child
 

It is a symbol of your new life …. We bury the ‘old life’ and we rise to walk in a ‘new life’. Baptism is like a wedding ring, it is the outward symbol of the commitment you made in your heart, a commitment that has to be followed through and lived out on a daily basis. … It’s meant to show the world that that you love, trust, and have put your hope in Christ. — Hillsong International

Accept the past as the past and realize that each new day you are a new person who doesn’t need to carry old baggage into the new day with you. … For example, if ever I feel foolish or guilty about something I’ve done, I learn from it and attempt to do better the next time. Shame or guilt serves no one. Such feelings actually keep us down, often lowering the vibrations of those around us, as well. Living in the present moment is the recurring baptism of the soul, forever purifying every new day with a new you. ― Alaric Hutchinson, Living Peace

Once you have grace, you are free. — Thomas Merton

We have to learn to live our life as a human being deeply. We need to live each breath deeply so that we have peace, joy and freedom as we breathe. — Thich Nhat Hanh

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love.  ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Simple, powerful, poignant, the Sign of the Cross is a mnemonic device like the Mass, in which we sit down to table with one another and remember the Last Supper, or a baptism, where we remember John the Baptist’s brawny arm pouring some of the Jordan River over Christ. So we remember the central miracle and paradox of the faith that binds us each to each: that we believe, against all evidence and sense, in life and love and light, in the victory of those things over death and evil and darkness. ― Brian Doyle, Credo

Baptism is one of those more effective rites that come in with the new covenant … And the fact that baptism does the miraculous work of binding diverse flesh into one body means that baptism is one of the rites that effects the social salvation of humanity. ― Peter Leithart

You know the one thing I love most about the Baptism of our Lord text is not just that God the Father says “This is my son, the beloved with whom I am well pleased”, but that God says this – before Jesus had really done anything. Think about that.  God did not say “this is my son in whom I am well pleased because he has proved to me that he deserves it, he has quiet time with me each morning and always reads his Torah and because boy can he heal a leper.”  Nope. As far as we know Jesus hadn’t even done anything yet and he was called beloved …That’s God for you. … Because in your own baptisms, God proclaims that in you his beloved children, God is also well pleased. In the waters of your baptism, God claimed and named you as God’s own. Whether it was as an infant or a youth or an adult. Whether your baptism happened in a church you can’t even remember, or in a river at Summer Camp or in a church you love or one that no longer allows you to take communion, your baptism, not matter the circumstance, was most certainly an act of God upon you. Not an act of faith that you or someone else was giving to God. Baptism, is God’s act of Gospel Love. And as is my tradition whenever preaching about baptism, here’s my standard offer: if you have never been baptized, we have water…right here, plenty of it. Come find me during open space and we’ll do it right now because you already belong to God. You are already God’s beloved … That feels like the kind of love that heaven can’t contain  … A love that is yours quite apart from what you do or don’t do … Beloved. Be loved. Just sit and be loved. Even if it hurts.  Just sit and be loved and be the beloved of God. For this is what pleases him.  — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Jesus did not begin to be loved at the moment of his baptism, nor did he cease to be loved when his baptism became a memory. Baptism simply named the reality of his existing and unending belovedness. ― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

I don’t know of any greater baptismal challenges that you and I face than to seek, serve and love Christ in all persons; and to strive for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being.  As Chris Keating reminds us, “Jesus’ baptism leads him straight to the world’s misery.”  If the fact that Jesus’ baptism leads him, and each of us as well, straight to the world’s misery and tragedies doesn’t cause you to rethink the meaning of your baptism, then I don’t know what will.  — Bob Burton

Bath (excerpt) — Stuart Dybek
(full text at this link)

She mops a washcloth down his spine and scrubs
until his bones glow with the inner light of porcelain
and when his Haloed hair bursts forth into foam
he holds his nose and dunks beneath the soapy gloom
ears flooding with signals …

He swipes abstractions in the sweat, finger painting night
while Busha towels his hair
as if reviving a drowned sailor
the sea has graciously returned.
Don’t worry, Busha, your grandson is clean
for Saturday night: ears, navel, nails, inspected,
teeth unstained, cleansed as baptism
leaves the soul, pure enough to sleep
—as you instruct him—
with the angels,
cleaner than he’ll ever be again.

Meditations on lighting lamps: faith as seen and unseen, expected and surprising. Themes from Hebrews & Luke.

You are the community now. Be a lamp for yourselves. Be your own refuge. Seek for no other. All things must pass. Strive on diligently. Don’t give up. ― attributed to Buddha

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Sufi tell of disciples who, when the death of their master was clearly imminent, became totally bereft. “If you leave us, Master,” they pleaded, “how will we know what to do?” And the master replied, “I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon. Perhaps when I am gone you will see the moon.” — As retold by Joan Chittister

Blessing of Light
—Jan Richardson

Let us bless the light
and the One who gives
the light to us.

Let us open ourselves
to the illumination
it offers.

Let us blaze
with its
generous fire.

Gospel Song: This Little Light of Mine (refrain)This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine.

Questions posed by author Jan Richardson:

  • What do I hide, and why?
  • What parts of my created self have I sent underground?
  • Is there anything I’ve left too long in the dark?
  • Do I harbor any passivity that I need to … turn into persistence?

Lighting Lamps

Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy–all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside. ― Cassandra Clare

The lamp burns bright when wick and oil are clean. — Ovid

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino

Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. ― Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993 

America is known as a country that welcomes people to its shores. All kinds of people. The image of the Statue of Liberty with Emma Lazarus’ famous poem. She lifts her lamp and welcomes people to the golden shore, where they will not experience prejudice because of the color of their skin, the religious faith that they follow. — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

[T]he ground directly beneath the lantern is always the darkest. ― Yom Sang-seop

Being the light of the world is about being a broken, exploding, scarred star and shining a light of hope and inspiration to everyone around you. ― Ricky Maye

Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another’s heart, or its flame burns low. — Henry Ward Beecher


Gifts & How to Use Them

The old and honorable idea of ‘vocation’ is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted. — Wendell Berry

The atmosphere, the earth, the water and the water cycle – those things are good gifts. The ecosystems, the ecosphere, those are good gifts. We have to regard them as gifts because we couldn’t make them. We have to regard them as good gifts because we couldn’t live without them. — Wendell Berry

Treasure is stored in the ruined places. Do not break the hearts of the poor and heartbroken people. — Rumi

When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game. — Toni Morrison

On Faith

Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth. ― Rumi

As Brené Brown puts it, “I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away . . . But church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife . . . I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort, but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.'”― Rachel Held Evans

Because you are alive, everything is possible. ― Thich Nhat Hanh

Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it. — Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. — Corrie ten Boom

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Some things have to be believed to be seen. — Madeleine L’Engle

The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s indifference. — Elie Wiesel

Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof. — Kahlil Gibran

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps faith is so hard to define that it’s better to use examples, to share stories, than to write a lot of theoretical things about it (not that that has deterred many theologians). It’s the experience of real people in a real relationship with God that can help us to grasp the meaning of faith, more than a precise or scholarly theological definition. — Kathryn Matthews

The problem of the nature of faith plagues us all our lives. … How do we explain to ourselves the journey of getting from there to here, from unquestioning adherence to institutional answers, to the point of asking faithful questions? It took years before I realized that maybe it is belief itself, if it is real, that carries us there. Maybe if we really believe about God what we say we believe, there comes a time when we have to go beyond the parochialisms of law. Maybe, if we are to be really spiritual people, we can’t afford the mind-binding of denominationalism. In order to find the God of life in all life, maybe we have to be willing to open ourselves to the part of it that lies outside the circles of our tiny little worlds. — Joan Chittister

Meditations on treasures & legacies: what we cherish — themes from Hosea & Luke.

Seek not greater wealth, but simpler pleasure; not higher fortune, but deeper felicity. — Mahatma Gandhi

You are searching the world for treasure, but the real treasure is yourself. — Rumi

When he returned home to France, [Lafayette] lived on his big estates and did very well. He was in the same social class as the rich man in Jesus’ parable … In 1783, after a poor harvest, Lafayette’s workers were still able to fill his barns with wheat. “The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat,” said one of his workers. “This is the time to sell.” Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the surrounding villages. “No,” he replied, “this is the time to give.” — A story about the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped the American colonists during our War of Independence from Britain, 18th century (published as part of UCC commentary on Luke 12)


Questions on which to reflect about themes from Hosea 11 & Luke 12:

  • What are idols? (PS: Rev Gail says they are: obsessions, addictions or passions that are out of balance in our lives because we focus time and treasures in ways that prevent us from putting energy and love where it belongs: with Godself, in just and compassionate human relationships [family & neighbors as defined by Christ] and into sustainable connection to creation.)
  • What idols has faith and ethics — holy Love — helped us give up?
  • What idols still have a hold in our individual and communal lives?

… the parable … doesn’t warn against money, wealth, or material abundance … warns against greed, about the insatiable feeling of never having enough. And the parable … illustrates this. The farmer’s problem isn’t that he’s had a great harvest, or that he’s rich, or that he wants to plan for the future. The farmer’s problem is that his good fortune has curved his vision so that everything he sees starts and ends with himself. — David Lose

Treasures: What Do We Cherish? 

Stories hold us together. Stories teach us what is important about life, why we are here and how it is best to behave, and that inside us we have access to treasure, in memories and observations, in imagination. — Anne Lamott

I find that it’s essential during the day to actually note when I feel happiness or when something positive happens, and begin to cherish those moments as precious. Gradually we can begin to cherish the preciousness of our whole life just as it is, with its ups and downs, its failures and successes, its roughness and smoothness. — Pema Chodron

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed. — Mahatma Gandhi

Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you. — Oscar Wilde

It occupies me … to exhaust the fund of sentimental treasure, which the Divine spirit poured into my mind. it was, indeed, a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. — Zilpah Elaw

… the problem isn’t … money but our penchant to look to money, rather than to God and each other, for life. — David Lose

I’d like to live as a poor man with lots of money. — Pablo Picasso

There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

There is no wealth but life. — John Ruskin, The King of the Golden River

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. — Epictetus

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. — Socrates

He who is greedy is always in want. — Horace

To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace. — Confucius, The Analects

Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of our breathing. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Legacy: What Do We Leave Behind?

Are we really planning prudently? What gives our life meaning now, and what will give it meaning then? — Culpepper

At the end, all that’s left of you are your possessions. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been able to throw anything away. Perhaps that’s why I hoarded the world: with the hope that when I died, the sum total of my things would suggest a life larger than the one I lived. — Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

Fear of death increases in exact proportion to increase in wealth. — Ernest Hemingway

God’s people are not to accumulate stuff for tomorrow but to share indiscriminately with the scandalous and holy confidence that God will provide for tomorrow. Then we need not stockpile stuff in barns or a 401(k), especially when there is someone in need. — Shane Claiborne, Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?

It’s never a question of skin pigmentation. It’s never a question of just culture or sexual orientation or civilization. It’s what kind of human being you’re going to choose to be from your mama’s womb to the tomb and what kind of legacy will you leave. — Cornel West

I get asked a lot about my legacy. For me, it’s being a good teammate, having the respect of my teammates, having the respect of the coaches and players. That’s important to me. — Peyton Manning

Humanity’s legacy of stories and storytelling is the most precious we have. All wisdom is in our stories and songs. A story is how we construct our experiences. — Doris Lessing

I’m not interested in my legacy. I made up a word: ‘live-acy.’ I’m more interested in living. — John Glenn
 
I think the whole world is dying to hear someone say, ‘I love you.’ I think that if I can leave the legacy of love and passion in the world, then I think I’ve done my job in a world that’s getting colder and colder by the day. — Lionel Richie

Reflections on neighbors, living in community, and Good Samaritan: themes from Luke 10

On the parable of the Good Samaritan: “I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Link to the text for this week: Luke 10: 25-37
  Questions to consider:

  • With what families, kindred, groups, teams, clubs, faiths, organizations, tribes, nationalities, ethnicities, regions, businesses, workplaces, unions, schools, etc. do you affiliate, connect, identify and/or hold membership? Name them. How many ways do you belong to communities?
  • When have you felt like a ‘stranger in a strange land’ or an ‘other’ vs a friend or neighbor or a community member?
  • What changed helped you connect?
  • In a well-known story like this one, with thieves and a person knocked down and robbed on the side of the road, plus public figures who walk around the problem and leave the victim unattended as they make excuses, and another person from an reviled neighboring nation who pays attention and helps the victim by the road, plus an innkeeper who continues to care for the victim, with whom do you identify in the story? Who do you want to be? Who do you think you are right now?

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
(song lyrics)
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor, Would you be mine? Could you be mine?   It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood, A neighborly day for a beauty, Would you be mine? Could you be mine?   I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.   So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, Since we’re together, we might as well say, Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Won’t you please, Won’t you please, Please won’t you be my neighbor?

Learn more: Cooperative models of evolution in natural world.

Learn more: About your own implicit biases via this Harvard site! Different tests/surveys for different topics.

Defining Implicit Bias (from Kirwan Institute, Ohio State University): Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.  These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages.  In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.

A Few Key Characteristics of Implicit Biases

  • Implicit biases are pervasive.  Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs.  They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.
  • Implicit biases are malleable.  Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.

Thoughts on Neighbors & Good Samaritans

It’s good to remember that in crises, natural crises, human beings forget for awhile their ignorances, their biases, their prejudices. For a little while, neighbors help neighbors and strangers help strangers. — Maya Angelou On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ― Martin Luther King Jr.

… and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side… — Quran 4:36 (excerpt)

To be truly good means more than not robbing people …To be truly good means more than being righteously religious …To be truly good means being a good neighbor … And to be a good neighbor means recognizing that there are ultimately no strangers … Everybody is my neighbor! … Everybody is my brother! … We’re all connected. ― Brian McLaren

Like the Good Samaritan, may we not be ashamed of touching the wounds of those who suffer, but try to heal them with concrete acts of love. — Pope Francis

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. — Rumi

The Prophet, , said: “By the One in whose Hands my soul is, no slave of Allah has true faith unless he likes for his neighbor what he likes for himself.” — IslamicHadith

When we love and make loving commitments, we create families and communities within which people can grow and take risks, knowing that hands will be there to catch them should they fall.— Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one. The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people. Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant. Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by 10,000 acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the ”ordinary” efforts of a vast majority. We have a duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honor the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses, when an unprecedented act of evil so threatens to distort our perception of ordinary human behavior — Stephen Gould

So by all means let us name evil for what it is, let’s root out the sin and racism within us, let us fight for justice, but then let us turn the cameras toward the light, lest we become so consumed by the effects of evil that we miss the chance to be kind to a stranger, and we miss the chance to stop and read to our kids and we miss the chance to notice how acts of beauty and kindness out number acts of evil by the thousands, because in so doing we hand evil a bigger victory than it earned when in fact it has already lost. See, in the same 24 hour news cycle that only can speak of evil –

  • babies were born
  • and people feel in love
  • and someone put an old lady’s shopping cart back for her
  • and caseroles were bright to the home-bound
  • and prayers were said
  • and little girls made brand new friends
  • and someone paid for the coffe of the person behind them in line
  • and flowers were brought to the Dallas police department
  • and children made perfectly mis-spelled protest signs
  • and people made up
  • and someone in the coffee shop let me hold their baby because they could tell I needed it
  • and when … car broke down in the middle of nowhere during his vacation, someone came along at just the right moment and towed it 126 miles …

and Every second of every day our God arrives unannounced in the merciful and loving kindness of other people … — Nadia Bolz-Weber

A prospective convert to Judaism asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. Hillel replied: “That which is hateful unto you do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole of the Torah, the rest is commentary. Go forth and study.” — Robert Avrech

Poem posted by ‘onlylovepoetry’ on hellopoetry.com:

I inquired of the holy dark where god hides
why my existence was just one unending question?

… could hear Him smile and communicate:
if not You, then who?

… love thy neighbor as thyself

… then, smiling, god extended his only finger, touching each of mine eyelids:

sleep, friend for we need your questioning dreams,
your faith unfurled unfulfilled
for in your unending inquiry
is all of our “in the beginning,”
the holy dark

Commentary on Good Samaritan Story

Locating our … inclinations … from the perspective of the different characters can be one … way to go — the priest, the Levite, the guy left in the ditch, the Samaritan, the innkeeper. We all want to be the Samaritan, but truth be told, we aren’t — at least, not all of the time. And, every once in a while, it does our faith good to stand in the shoes of the people whom we do not want to be (or hope we are not). — Karoline Lewis

Deep wounds are not easily healed. But the Good Samaritan poured oil and wine into the wounds of the stranger who lay helpless on the road to Jericho, and set him on the road to recovery. Each one of us can go and do likewise. ― John LaFarge

We have to go through life behaving as if we love each other. We can behave ourselves into love. This training of love for the world can start small. We might not start out by stopping for every stranger in need that we see or giving away all of our money and possessions or moving to the streets in solidarity with the homeless. We can start where we are. We can help out even when we don’t have to. We can stop keeping track of who has done what to wrong us or who is taking advantage of the system. Instead of keeping track of our losses, we can keep track of gratitude. We can share with people who haven’t had the lucky breaks that we have had. It’s not enough, however, to love the people who are easy to love. It’s much harder to love those who are have behaved in horrible ways. But we must love them too. In fact, it might be the more important task. — Kristen Berkey-Abbott

What does the Good Samaritan do? Three things, I’d suggest. First, he sees the man in need, when he was invisible to the priest and Levite who passed him by. Actually, they did see him, and then promptly ignored him. They saw him, but not as a neighbor, perceiving him instead to be a burden, and perhaps even a threat. …  Second, the Samaritan not only sees the man in need as a neighbor, but he draws near to him, coming over to help. The other two gave this man in need a wide berth, creating even more distance between them. But the Samaritan instead goes to him, and becomes vulnerable in that closeness. Vulnerable should it indeed be a trap, but even more so, vulnerable in opening himself to see his pain, misery, and need. … Third, after seeing him and coming close, the Samaritan has compassion on him, tending his wounds, transporting him to the inn, making sure he is taken care of. Seeing is vital, drawing near imperative, yet the final and meaningful gesture is that the Samaritan actually does something about it. Compassion, in this sense, is sympathy put into action. And these three inter-related moves – seeing, drawing near, and having compassion – offer us an example of what it is to be Christ-like … — David Lose

And so Jesus brings this home by choosing the most unlikely of characters to serve as the instrument of God’s mercy and grace and exemplify Christ-like behavior. That’s what God does: God chooses people no one expects and does amazing things through them. Even a Samaritan. Even our people. Even me. Even you. — David Lose

Instead, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, the point of which seems to be that your neighbor is to be construed as meaning anybody who needs you. The lawyer’s response is left unrecorded. — Frederick Beuchner

It seems to me, contrary to our culture that is obsessed with all things “spectacular”, that it is when we are engaged in the most mundane activities that we make the most difference in another person’s life. When you get right down to it, that’s the only place we can really make much of a difference in the life of another human being. We mortals rarely achieve the level of influence that can truly make a difference for hundreds or thousands of people out there. For the most part, we have the opportunity to touch a life here, a life there. It is through the quality of our character, not anything “spectacular” that we may do, that we make a difference in another life. It is through the way in which we conduct our relationships, not through any great “achievement,” that we really have an effect on another human being. — Alan Brehm

This is a strange time for acting as actual neighbors. But that doesn’t change the point of the parable. It cuts through all our excuses about our customary practice, our usual public statements, and asks if we are doing mercy. Or not. — Richard Swanson

Meditations on bearing each other’s burdens: themes from Galatians 6

Have you heard the phrase, “Share the load?” This week’s themes from Galatians reflect being in community by recognizing each other’s challenges and issues, and finding ways to work on them together. Link to scripture: Galatians 6: 1-10. — Rev Gail

You live in me; I live in you. — Richard Rohr

Questions to consider:

  • Whose burdens do you already help to share?
  • When do you feel overwhelmed by serving and giving of yourself, and do you take time for self-care?
  • What does self-care look like for you?
  • How is your community part of your self-care?
  • Do you feel responsible to solve all of the problems about which you are aware, or can you prioritize, and give your time and energy to specific concerns or causes that kindle a passion in you?
  • Who has helped you to carry a burden?

Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing. ― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Call Me by My True Names (excerpt)
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Call me by my true names
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

…  My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom
in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can. — John Wesley 

Love is the bridge between you and everything. — Rumi

Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious. ― Ruth Reichl

When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death. ― Clarence Darrow

Judaism … For us, faith is the redemption of solitude. It is about relationships – between us and God, us and our family, us and our neighbours, us and our people, us and humankind. Judaism is not about the lonely soul. It is about the bonds that bind us to one another and to the Author of all. It is, in the highest sense, about friendship. — Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

As we continue our earthly journey, if we learn to bear each other’s burdens and to exchange the rich patrimony of our respective traditions, we will see more clearly that what unites us is greater than what divides us. — Pope Francis

I know that part of the mixed blessing of getting older is that you have lost somebody. You’ve lost more than one person maybe and you get that message that life is really short and to be here for it. And second of all, you’re seeing people who were given such an excruciating burden to bear and they did it, and they did it with a lot of support, and they did it one day at a time, and they did it against all odds and they came through. And there are certain losses you never get over, of course, but they’re not broken bones anymore. There are things that are going to make you limp for the rest of your life, but they’re weight bearing again. And when you’ve seen that up close, when you’ve seen people come through, it just changes everything you know about life. — Anne Lamott

He [author of Galatians] speaks to the plural, the Us of the community. A community which does not give up to self-indulgence reaps a good harvest. That community cannot depend on the efforts of a few; the community as a whole needs to use its freedom well. — Andrew Prior

And I say to you, I have also decided to stick with love, for I know that love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn’t popular to talk about it in some circles today. And I’m not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love; I’m talking about a strong, demanding love. For I have seen too much hate. […] and I say to myself that hate is too great a burden to bear. I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we aren’t moving wrong when we do it, because … God is love. — Martin Luther King

What I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he identified the poor as blessed and the rich as needy … and then he went and ministered to them both. This, I think, is the difference between charity and justice. Justice means moving beyond the dichotomy between those who need and those who supply and confronting the frightening and beautiful reality that we desperately need one another. ― Rachel Held Evans

When we do good for someone else a strange thing happens. We help someone thinking we are doing something for them, but in the practice of it we find that we are the one who is blessed. When we extend our heart to someone else, it is our heart that is filled. — Church for All People

Now human beings can begin to revel in what is meant by growing to full stature as a responsible and participative spiritual adult whose work on the planet really, really matters. Life, suddenly, is more a blessing both to the universe and to the self than it is simply a test of a person’s moral limits. To be alive, to be a person in the process of becoming, it becomes clear, is a blessing, not a bane. We are, alone and together, significant actors in the nature of life and the strengthening of the fibers of humankind. — Joan Chittister

You (and every other created thing) begin with your unique divine DNA, an inner destiny as it were, an absolute core that knows the truth about you, a true believer tucked away in the cellar of your being, an imago Dei that begs to be allowed, to be fulfilled, and to show itself. … This is your True Self. Historically, it was often called “the soul.” … Every Sacrament, every Bible story, every church service, every sermon, every hymn, every bit of priesthood, ministry, or liturgy is for one purpose: to allow you to experience your True Self—who you are in God and who God is in you—and to live a generous life from that Infinite Source. — Richard Rohr

I think we would have to agree that there is something built into the very nature of a life of sacrificial love, a life of bearing one another’s burdens, a life of loving your neighbor as yourself that is “wearying.” You give and give and give some more, and never really know if any of what you’re giving is doing any good at all! But Paul recommends that we take a longer look when we find ourselves getting discouraged. We need to look at things from a broader perspective when we feel that our work is insignificant. In a very real sense, our “bigger” perspective of the vastness of the universe and our place in it needs the “broader” perspective of the Kingdom of God that continues to grow and produce fruit until the final harvest day. — Alan Brehm

Emptiness and compassion go hand in hand. Compassion as transaction—me over here, being compassionate to you over there—is simply too clunky and difficult. If I am going to be responsible to receive your suffering and do something about it, and if I am going to make this kind of compassion the cornerstone of my religious life, I will soon be exhausted. But if I see the boundarylessness of me and you, and recognize that my suffering and your suffering are one suffering, and that that suffering is empty of any separation, weightiness, or ultimate tragedy, then I can do it. I can be boundlessly compassionate and loving, without limit. To be sure, living this teaching takes time and effort, and maybe we never entirely arrive at it. But it’s a joyful, heartfelt path worth treading. — Thich Nhat Hanh

The Bridge
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I stood on the bridge at midnight,
   As the clocks were striking the hour,
And the moon rose o’er the city,
   Behind the dark church-tower.

I saw her bright reflection
   In the waters under me,
Like a golden goblet falling
   And sinking into the sea.

And far in the hazy distance
   Of that lovely night in June,
The blaze of the flaming furnace
   Gleamed redder than the moon.

Among the long, black rafters
   The wavering shadows lay,
And the current that came from the ocean
   Seemed to lift and bear them away;

As, sweeping and eddying through them,
   Rose the belated tide,
And, streaming into the moonlight,
   The seaweed floated wide.

And like those waters rushing
   Among the wooden piers,
A flood of thoughts came o’er me
   That filled my eyes with tears.

How often, O, how often,
   In the days that had gone by,
I had stood on that bridge at midnight
   And gazed on that wave and sky!

How often, O, how often,
   I had wished that the ebbing tide
Would bear me away on its bosom
   O’er the ocean wild and wide!

For my heart was hot and restless,
   And my life was full of care,
And the burden laid upon me
   Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,
   It is buried in the sea;
And only the sorrow of others
   Throws its shadow over me.

Yet whenever I cross the river
   On its bridge with wooden piers,
Like the odor of brine from the ocean
   Comes the thought of other years.

And I think how many thousands
   Of care-encumbered men,
Each bearing his burden of sorrow,
   Have crossed the bridge since then.

I see the long procession
   Still passing to and fro,
The young heart hot and restless,
   And the old subdued and slow!

And forever and forever,
   As long as the river flows,
As long as the heart has passions,
   As long as life has woes;

The moon and its broken reflection
   And its shadows shall appear,
As the symbol of love in heaven,
   And its wavering image here.

Where Will I Find You
— Yehudah Halevi,
translated by Peter Cole


Where, Lord, will I find you:
your place is high and obscured.
And where won’t I find you:
your glory fills the world.
You dwell deep within—
you’ve fixed the ends of creation.
You stand, a tower for the near,
refuge to those far off.
You’ve lain above the Ark, here,
yet live in the highest heavens.
Exalted among your hosts,
although beyond their hymns—
no heavenly sphere could ever contain you,
let alone a chamber within.

In being borne above them
on an exalted throne,
you are closer to them
than their breath and skin.
Their mouths bear witness for them,
that you alone gave them form.
         Your kingdom’s burden is theirs;
who wouldn’t fear you?
And who could fail to search for you—
 who sends down food when it is due?

I sought your nearness.
With all my heart I called you.
And in my going out to meet you,
I found you coming toward me,
as in the wonders of your might
and holy works I saw you.
Who would say he hasn’t seen
your glory as the heavens’
 hordes declare their awe of you
without a sound being heard?

But could the Lord, in truth,
dwell in men on earth?
How would men you made from the dust and clay
fathom your presence there,
enthroned upon their praise?
The creatures hovering over the world
praise your wonders—
 your throne borne high above their heads,
as you bear all forever.