Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Chronology of Paying Attention (14): All Who Enter Here

In this chronology of paying attention, I've entered the middle school years.  Oh, joy.  I haven't actually written much about that yet, except for pages and pages of uneasy prose in the diaries I've locked away in a Rubbermaid container under my bed.

Certainly one of the very best parts of my middle school and high school years were the sunkissed pond days we spent at my grandparents' cottage.  I've written one of my all-time favorite essays about that place here.  I'd love to share the words with you again. 

All Who Enter Here




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In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  For me to ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, to keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.


Won't you join me?  
I'd welcome your company along the way.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Resurrection Day


Albrecht Dürer

Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike


Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.
And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Tamara Hill Murphy (Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!)

Last night we attended the Good Friday service that Christ Church holds together with the hospitable Hope Chapel. On Thursday,  we wash feet and eat the Lord's supper before stripping the altar bare.  On Friday we sit in the dark, sing a few hymns and listen to stories.  Suffering stories framed in with the seven last sayings of the dying Christ. Each storyteller practicing the vulnerability of the exposed Christ, lifted up for all men to see the glory of the Father.

Today I share again what I wrote last year.  
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit 
         Tamara Hill Murphy, Holy Saturday 2013

Because I've heard -- and haven't seen--

I know the end of the story.
Someone said this means we'll be 
stronger
than the twelve --
well, eleven.
Because I know the end of the story, 
I have a hard time seeing
grief.
It's too easy to skip that day
and say
Sunday's coming!

I need to hear middles of stories.

So I can see.  Maybe not hear or
see, but feel.

In the dark church last night, the woman

following her walker to the podium, she
told us she lost the ability to hold onto things
so a man carried her words to her (later, in the dark,
I saw him put the straps of her purse over his own shoulder).

She lost the ability to hold tightly
but not to laugh, or 
be held.
Another woman told us her mama's deathbed was the first time she said
"Your love was enough, mama." 
And then with a last look, two women
beheld.

The middle of the story for the twenty-something,

perched on a stool as if her body were so light it might
slide onto the floor, assaulted by uncommon infection and
the still-celebrated church man whose side of the story weighed
more than her 
body.

All week I heard stories here --

some beginning, some end, some
middle.
The middle of Sharon's
story, so nearly-capsized,
she must speak in boat metaphors (as I have just done).

In church, the six-foot-six bald man raised

up the microphone to get it close enough to his (surprisingly) 
quiet voice.
I  thought about Sharon then, when the man told his story with
boat metaphors -- the rolling on the floor in anguish 
like a riptide
of leukemia engulfing
his six-year-old
little girl.

The safe harbor of hope where
she just turned nine.

I gave up my house for Lent.  And certain intimate pleasures

my body is too wounded to enjoy.
It's a story middle.  And like every year on this 
Saturday,
I will write a letter.

I will use a pen to dig into the mounded death of
friendship, scooping for signs of life
onto a peace paper;
prayer of resurrection I do not expect any time soon.

A eulogy to an ex-friend:
I've given up hope for now, but let's put a pin in it --
until the One holding that first breath of 
once-dead for all the coming-alive-again in His 
unbloodied mouth
breathes hot life on us in the new city,
the new garden where we get to try again.
Forever.

My pen a double-edged sword, pierces my own hypocrisy,
frees the spirit -- my spirit! --
the one I gave
to the wrong person.
I will pen-stab dead love with death-defying weapons:
I'm sorry,
I was wrong,
Please forgive me.

Even then, I'll suck in Saturday breath
for alive-again life I do not expect,
 am not sure I really want, now that I've figured out
the end of the story means death.
Worse than death --
mis-treatment.

Still, I listened to the stories all week, the ones

that remind me grief is not terminal.
The woman who made us laugh at Parkinson's, the mama who cried tears for 
her preschooler to catch -- a too-soon old man growing young again,
watered by his mama's tears.

The boy sitting on a bar stool drunk on his daddy's words,
This is my son.  Pass him the peanuts.


The story of the cool cloth

on the orphan's forehead, the poem finding hope in 
hanging by a thread.  
The airplane confessional, a woman committing
her mother's spirit to the sky --
maybe looking out the porthole window,
hoping to cross paths up there in the clouds.

The six-foot-six man standing on the church carpet like a blue wave,

shouting into his tall microphone so that we jumped from our pews --

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!

And I didn't see Jesus' friends catch him -- raggedy and shredded --

off the wood.  Gauzing him up like a 
bloodied toe.
Burying him deep into virgin ground.
I didn't see it with my own eyes, only heard.
Maybe that's why -- when the scared story teller asked last night, 
"Christ Church will you catch me?"
I said -- Yes! As loud as I could so she could hear me.
But also, maybe, God,

to remind you in case you forgot -- 

what with your back turned and all --
that's what Good Fathers --
brothers
sisters
friends
airplane strangers --
do.

We catch the slip-sliding spirits falling out of the suffering.
And hand them over to
be held.

Since it's only Saturday, and we haven't yet 
really seen the Sunday (haven't beheld him in the clouds),
all we can do now
is hope you'll open your hands

and catch us from the
ground.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Sharon O'Connor (It Is Finished)

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.  This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  


An introduction to Holy Week Lament:

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

Brian and I know too many people who have suffered from cancer – including today’s storyteller.  From across the country, we’ve watched her embody beauty in suffering.  It’s because of Sharon and other dear people (including two who passed away since I last posted Sharon's story) that we began praying the audacious words:  God would you cure cancer?!?  If Jesus' death and resurrection means anything at all, doesn't it mean He's defeated dreaded disease? What does Sunday Resurrection look like for Friday sufferers?

In the meantime, good people are in pain.  And we will keep praying, keep hoping that the cry of a dying Christ hell-bent on defeating the curse of death means Good can come from this awful Friday:  It is Finished.



O'Connor family in 2010 before Sharon's first round of chemo

We sat in a medical office after learning the cancer had returned. I was weary of being offered only three medically approved options: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The doctor expressed hope that there might be something new to offer patients like me in, say, two years, if this second treatment gets me through that long. If? I grieved leaving the calm waters of being “clear” for the past eleven months. The conversation moved to what the progression of illness would look like if treatment proved unsuccessful. I listened, lamenting over the roadmap of a hypothetical hostile takeover by cancer. We were being thrust out of port towards roiling waves. Treatment choices had to be made.


I had mentally processed life with cancer in rolling tempests of grief. Towering whitecaps, each higher than the last, threatened our frail family boat navigating rough waters. We were scrambling to stay lashed to the mast and not be thrown overboard. My husband Tom and our girls had moved with me from one unsettling and all-consuming physical challenge to another. Just as we would get our sea legs, a new wave of surgery or treatment would threaten to capsize the vessel.


Many times I was too sick to notice how close my loved ones came emotionally to being tossed out of the barge. Our teenage daughters grieved from a distance. It was more bearable for them to spend time anywhere but home. I was often recovering from surgery; present but unable to actively participate in their daily activities. God lovingly provided safe havens for each of them. Tom drove me to treatment each morning. He held my hand in the waiting room then watched me walk through the doors for radiation twenty-eight times. Took me home. Went to work. Life had to go on. He felt helpless to change the hard new normal that was our daily routine. The only peace to be found in our humanly hopeless situation, and the only peace that still matters today, was fully trusting God.

I grieved the extension of this wretched journey through cancer. I longed for something different. Healing from disease should be achievable, shouldn’t it? The One who could calm storms and Who defeated sin was my God. Instead of healing, the grueling work of going through treatment had begun. Again.

“Look, I don’t mean to be disrespectful,” I hedged. I wanted none of the medical options being offered. “I’m not afraid of dying. I know where I’m going after this life.”

The doctor surely thought I was just an overwrought patient in denial. He checked his smartphone and looked back at me. I was not going along with a cut and dry visit schedule. I was being a little too blunt about my lack of appreciation for the options. I blubbered on.

“It is the suffering, because of ‘treatment’, that I dread. Not death. By the way – again, no disrespect intended – you doctors don’t go through your own treatment.”

The doctor patiently went on to explain what he thought best for treatment. The course he was charting included radiation and chemo for the second time in two years. There were no words for our grief.

Three months have since passed. Radiation and chemo are, again, complete. More tests lay ahead, but the view from our battered vessel shows a sliver of sunlight breaking through the stormy horizon.

Easter will arrive in a few days. I’m thinking of a far different treatment and earth shattering suffering. What must Christ have been thinking so long ago? Was He dreading the mistreatment He would endure? Did He grieve the details of what was ahead?

I am grateful for Christ’s sacrifice. He was perfect. God’s Son. Sent on a mission He knew would end in disaster from a human perspective. But it was a stroke of genius… and holy sacrificial love… that would redeem us from the disaster of sin. Christ endured undeserved treatment to free us from sin and heal our relationship with God.

It’s Easter. Grievous journey. Eternal cure.

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:4


A brief update from Sharon:

While only the Lord knows what the future holds, Sharon is grateful to share that her last two scans (August 2013 and February 2014) revealed “no cancer detected at this time.” She attributes this to the power of prayer, a high commitment to a wellness plan that includes juicing and raw foods, and also to the targeted radiation and chemo pill during her second round of treatment in January 2013. She continues to blog about the cancer journey in hopes of pointing others to the only real “cure” (Christ) for the disease of our souls. Readers interested in the various nutrition and wellness strategies Sharon has found useful on her personal cancer journey are invited to visit the page titled “What I Did that Helped” at www.sustainme.net.


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Sharon O’Connor is a cancer “surthriver” who was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of forty.

Sustain Me: Notes on Cancer captures some of Sharon’s experiences weathering life with cancer. Her hope is that others facing illness will be encouraged to stay focused on the Creator.

Sharon is a graduate of Davis College. She is married to Tom, an athletic director, professional athletic chaplain, and life coach, who makes her laugh and is her best friend. They have two daughters and reside in Binghamton, New York.


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What mourning stories have formed your life
 and your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?
Tell us about it in the comments below.
If you've written your own post, share the link.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Nancy Gilmore Hill (I am thirsty)

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life. This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  


An introduction to Holy Week Lament:

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

On a few holy occasions I've watched firsthand the deathbed ministrations of crushed ice for the parched suffering.  Priest-like, caretakers spoon feed the dying, hoping this trickle of melting wetness tastes like love.  In today's mourning story, we remember the request of the human Christ -- the Creator of the seas hoping for a drop of comfort on his dried-out tongue.  Only a day before -- the day we recognize now as Maundy Thursday -- He'd lavished liquid love over the lowest, achingest parts of His friends.  Squatted on the floor with towel and bowl He showed them (and us) a new way to be human. The next day He died, parched and dirty, with no comfort for His lament:  I am thirsty.

The story my mom tells today echoes this ordinary care for extraordinary need, made possible for us by the common grace of a thirsty God.


The year was 1957 and the grass was just starting to grow over my father’s grave. With the stop of my father’s heartbeat, my mother had been thrust violently into the role of breadwinner, and during that summer of my tenth
year, she sat at a desk miles away from home working on a teaching degree.


For those six weeks, my two teenaged sisters were left to care for my younger sister and me. In their bobby socks and pony tails, they spent their summer feeding us from cupboards that were too often bare, hanging our clothes on
the line to dry, and keeping us safe at night.

In the afternoon of the day of my memory, I was taken to the doctor’s office 
with a dangerously infected toenail. Dr. Barrall bent his head, with its blazing red hair, over my foot, injected a shot of Novocain into my big toe, and
proceeded to rip off the nail. My screams shot down the hallway and filled the waiting room.

That evening I lay alone in my rumpled bed. There were no pictures on the 
walls of my bedroom; there were no curtains at the window to sway in the breeze. This was the house we had escaped to after our house on Main Street
had been taken away from us, after my father had sat down in the living room chair and died.

With my leg stretched out in front of me, I watched the stain of red seeping 
through the fat wad of gauze around my toe. The aching pain moved up my leg, and I sobbed. I had no mother; I had no father. I felt so very alone, in a house on the edge of town, with no pictures on the walls and no curtains at the window.

My sisters’ friend Flossie had stopped by the house, and the three girls were 
whispering nervously in another room. They should have been giggling together, like teenagers do on hot July evenings, but instead they were responsible for a wailing, inconsolable child.

Quietly, Flossie stepped into my room carrying a pan of cool water and a 
wash cloth. She sat down on the edge of my bed and placed the pan on the nightstand. As she reached into the pan to saturate the cloth, she started cooing soft and soothing words.

I can still see her hands—dipping the cloth in the pan, wringing out the water, 
wiping my face, my damp forehead, my swollen eyes. Her hands—dipping the cloth in the water, wringing it out, wiping my face, my forehead, my eyes. Making soft, soothing sounds.

My sobs stopped, my body relaxed, and now it was just the murmuring of 
Flossie’s voice, the swishing of the water, the cool cloth to my face.

A gentle grace-filled quiet entered the room—and I slept.




Nancy's dad and two older sisters on a family vacation
 a couple of years before he died

Epilogue:  When I first wrote this story, my daughter Kaley emailed this comment:  "I did my share of crying as well--it's a beautiful, painful story. What struck me is that her actions affirmed your pain--which is what you needed at that time more than anything."

And over 50 years later I can still see Flossie's hand dipping into a bowl of cool water...

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soothing and story telling
(yes, that's me, age  3?)

 My mother, Nancy Gilmore Hill, says that the kind deed of a teenager left a life-long impact on he. All six of her children and sixteen of her grandchildren want to thank Flossie for showing our mother and grandmother the beautiful, healing powers of a cool cloth on a troubled forehead. 

When my mom's not soothing suffering faces of her family and friends, she is telling stories to her English-as-a-second language students and anyone else who wants to listen.  

Would you like to listen?  
Click play to hear my mom read today's story:





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What mourning stories have formed your life 

and your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?

Tell us about it in the comments below.

If you've written your own post, share the link.


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