Friday, May 22, 2015

Josiah discovers Grandfather Michael and the Communion of Saints

After my Uncle Stephen's funeral and burial, to which Josiah proudly accompanied me, we gathered for a luncheon. He parked himself at a table amongst his first cousins once removed, and proudly declared, "You know, my mom's last name is Wilcox, too!"  And without skipping a beat, my cousin's son, replied "We know!  That is why you are here."

And that is why you are here.  Yes, my father's brother died a few weeks ago and I traveled to Connecticut to be with the Wilcox side of my family. Josiah's statement is most revealing in that he had never met any of the Wilcoxes, outside of our nuclear family. With my father dying at age 34 and with me growing up without him, we were in touch with the Wilcoxes as children. But, once the matriarch died, it was harder and harder to keep family gatherings a part of our regular routine. Add to that we have many cousins, we all moved to different parts of the country, got married and incorporated those families into our lives, and we added kids. ..Well, I bet you know the drill. It is hard to co-ordinate large families.

So, Josiah's innocent discovery was a real one. I have a mother who is connected to all you people in some way. And, yes, the time with the Wilcoxes was a painful gift of remembering my heritage, and tracing the life of my beloved father, and mourning the loss of my uncle with his devoted wife and children. In those short days, Josiah discovered he had a Grandfather Michael, whom he has never met.  He finally put together that Grandfather Michael was Bibi's late husband.  It was a time of recounting stories about my uncle and hearing in those stories echoes of my father and who he was.

I knew being a part of the funeral and burial would be important for me as a priest and a niece and as a goddaughter--a gift in some ways to the Wilcox family and a gift in some ways for my father. But I had no idea the degree to which the grief of 40 years would burst forth out of my eyes and my throat as we watched my aunt bend down on her knee to put the ashes of her husband in the ground. Just five feet away sat my father's grave. Forty years of absence, forty years of longing, forty years of normalcy, too. After all, grief for someone whose face you can only conjure with the help of a photograph, whose voice you never knew, but you were told sounded just like Uncle Stephen's, a story you could cling to, but never a story you could never own. This was the kind of grief that spilled out that day as I absconded a Kleenex from my cousin. 

On top of that I learned that there was a palpable grief that my uncle carried with him his whole life. He missed his little brother. In the last days of his life, he reported seeing his brother again and felt delighted to think of them being reunited.  After all these years, he still treasured a worn photograph of my father dressed up in his clericals, which my uncle stored on his dresser.

As a priest, I must admit I remain gnostic about what happens at the time of death. I don't know how Michael and Stephen will be reunited. I don't know how their ailments were healed. I don't know what they can or will share with each other. But, I do know that the communion of saints is that beautiful community in which there is no more pain or sighing. And, I do know that even at the grave we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. God's love was manifest in the tale of these two brothers, Michael and Stephen.  Their lives and witnesses are carried on in all of us--seven children and nineteen grandchildren for Stephen and two children and twelve grandchildren for Michael. 

Yes, Josiah learned an important thing that day: His mom is a Wilcox and she came from a father whose name was Michael, and he was Bibi's husband. And all of that is gift, even though that gift was not without pain.  And someday in this great communion of saints, beyond our understanding and our logic, Josiah will greet his grandfather when he enters into the fullness of eternal life and he might say, "You know, my mom is a Wilcox."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Eavesdropping on Jesus

Have you ever thought what it would be like if others heard your prayers? 
You know, if someone could dial in and listen to the requests, needs, and thanks that you shoot up to God?
Truth be told, when I was a teenager I thought that you shouldn’t pray to God unless the issues about which you were praying were substantive ones:
 In that time those issues were a plea to God to end the Aids crisis, a prayer for my friend’s brother who suffered from hemophilia or a prayer asking God for some way to get the Soviets to slow down the arms race a bit. 
 I seemed to be allergic to the idea of praying about the everyday, the mundane, or even more interestingly, praying for things that I thought I needed—or even wanted.
 Perhaps, years in the church had made me internalize loving thy neighbor at the expense of recognizing that part of a real relationship to God starts with a real prayer life. 
A prayer life that is not fully sanitized.
A prayer life that is open to God in honesty.  

In today’s passage from John’s gospel, we become interlopers or eavesdroppers, on Jesus’ final prayer to his Father before he has to leave both his disciples and the earthly world. 
Jesus' own prayer life is made wide open to us--open and brutally honest.
This prayer is an intense one and it gives an idea about some of the things Jesus is worried about before he leaves his earthly ministry. 
To start, in simple terms, we hear that the world is, and often can be, a difficult place. 
Jesus says this in his prayer to the Father.
He prays, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they do not belong to this world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of this world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”
Clearly, Jesus knows that this world that his Father has created, while perfect in the fullness of time, is imperfect in Jesus’ own life. 
Jesus does not pussyfoot around the difficulties that both he and his disciples have faced along the way. 
 But, Jesus also does not ask God to remove these problems from the world or more importantly, remove us, from the world itself.

Some readers of John’s gospel view the world as a problem.
But, if we listen to Jesus’ prayer to his father, we see that the world is not a problem to be solved, but it is a place in which the disciples can make known the presence of God when given the assurance that Jesus is present to them. 
You see, if we perceive the world as nothing but a problem we lose the opportunity to present to the world the notion that “God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son”
In Jesus’ prayer, the world, and how we navigate and negotiate it, is central to our understanding of the whole Christian life.
But as Jesus acknowledged in his prayer to his Father, the world can be a hard place. 

As Christians, we often face confusion about how to respond to this reality as people of faith.
 I remember years ago listening to one of my professor’s speak about his son.
You see, his son was unable to speak and he was very limited in any movement except that his eyes could follow a face or a figure around the room.
One of my professor’s daily practices was to sit next to his son in the early morning sunlight as he prayed his daily prayers; this time with Matthew, his son, brought much love and life to their relationship despite their limited ability to communicate with each other. 
However, one day in sharing with another Christian about Matthew and his struggles in this world, this Christian intimated that my professor needed more faith.
As my professor pushed him on this, the person said, “If you had more faith, your son would be healed.”
And without missing a beat, my professor said “You must have forgotten the faith of Mary who stood at the foot of her son’s cross while he was crucified. She was full of faith and yet she still sat in the shadow of the cross”

Yes, indeed, there are those who believe that once you have faith you should no longer have to contend with the problems and challenges of this world.
That in some strange way, your faith will protect you from the world’s abiding troubles. 
 But there are others, like Jesus, who say that there will always be the troubles of the world, but it is our call as Jesus’ disciples to make known that we are never alone in the challenges of this world. 
God did not remove Jesus’ struggles with powers and principalities, God does not remove ours.
But God does provide us with Jesus’ presence in the form of the Holy Spirit to remind us we are never alone when we contend with the evil one.
In fact, Jesus’ prayer to the Father reveals that while he goes and leaves us behind, we remain in the world for a reason.

We remain in the world so that we can rejoice in God’s good creation.
As every day Christians, we can choose hope instead of sarcasm.
We can choose forgiveness over bitterness.
We can choose love over apathy.
Each and every moment, we have the opportunity to revel in this world, while not being overcome by it.

We are in this world because we are part of God's good creation. 
God did not make this creation as a problem to be solved. 
God made this creation and God reveled in it on the Sabbath.
God declared this creation good, so good.
And yet, we are also in God's fallen creation. 
We could see this fallenness almost immediately upon Adam eating that forbidden fruit.
When God came and asked about the forbidden fruit, Adam responded by blaming Eve, and blaming God for giving Eve to him.

We live in a broken creation, and we live in a blessed creation.

And Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to this world, but we belong to God.
As those who dwell in this world, it is our life-long vocation cling to, and witness to, the love of God in Jesus in this blessed and broken world.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Now that I am five

Now that Josiah has turned five, life is changing. He is pulling on socks and even getting on tops and bottoms.  He is charting new territory as he has assumed the job of filling waters for dinner, which includes getting the glasses out of the cupboard, not breaking them, standing on a little chair, filling them up, and walking them to the table. And yesterday I even saw him take out his new stomp rocket, play with it, put it back in the box, and return it to the front porch. I almost fainted.

You see, the month leading up to his birthday, he was out of control like a puppy frolicking with his brother from the moment those feet touched the ground off the bottom bunk. The two of them would egg each other on and then somebody would end up in tears. In addition to this behavior at home, he was having trouble keeping his hands to himself at school, too.  In the midst of all of this, he requested to attend a school where he would learn how to stop picking his boogies and he didn't want to turn 5, but 5 1/2.  Oh, what an uneven month.

But, the day of his natal feast, he was all smiles.  He had a lovely day complete with cupcakes for school, a festive party with five boys with lunch and playtime at the local park, and then a simple family dinner complete with a cake. He was bursting with pride over his new Ninja Turtle pjs and was pleased as punch to own a new cup from Target that comes with a built-in straw.  As I put him to bed he said, "When I am grown -up will you and Daddy be dead or will you be a very old man and a very old woman?"

Josiah all grown up is hard to imagine. But, if he is anything like he is now, we would call him our id child. He feels intensely and he lives with lots of energy.  He is still "mistakenly" drawing on things he shouldn't...even his brother's homework.  But, he is also responsive to correction and cries big crocodile tears when he is corrected. Josiah is incredibly funny. The other day I told him how handsome he was and he queried, "Even with these dried up boogers under my nose?" Each day Josiah gives me a good laugh. If I allow my phone out of sight I will find all kinds of videos of Jed singing away. He loves to sing anything from "Fly Eagles Fly" to " Rocking my soul in the bosom of Abraham.." Jed likes to be read to and he likes to be out of doors digging, climbing, and making messes. Little Jed, how happy we are that you are five. Our baby is now readying himself for kindergarten.