Today is a celebration for me. It is the sixth anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. That means six years of "free" time, six years of life, six years of overflowing abundance. This will sound odd to some, but I am so thankful for my cancer, in part because it has shown me how precious the people in my life are, how wonderful the world is, and how much love surrounds me. In life before cancer, it was all too easy to take for granted all the wonder that supports and enfolds me. Now I know that I live a rare and valuable life. All that has happened has been gift and grace. And today I celebrated by remembering all the care that came my way in those early days of diagnosis, surgery, surgery, surgery, surgery, and treatment. I celebrated by giving thanks for all those, known and unknown who tended to and cared for me. I celebrated by planting many flowers in my garden, by cooking a lovely supper, and by saying "I love you" to at least some of the people who are dear to me.
It was a good day -- but then aren't they all? Thank God!
May 18, 2008
The First -- and Last -- Word
Genesis 1:1 - 2:4
In the beginning when God began to create the world, God did that work by speaking the world into being. Have you ever noticed this?
“God said, let there be light” and there was light. “God said, let the dry land appear” and it did. “God said, let us make human kind in our own image” and man and woman came into being.
Where there was absolutely nothing, or so it seemed, there was this word from God calling forth everything, the heavens and the earth, all living beings -- you and me. What power was contained in those words!
But that was then and this is now, and whenever the beginning happened, and who really knows, it was a long time ago. And if we are honest about it, God’s ability to speak a new creation into being seems to us like a fairytale, a myth, something that might have happened once upon a time in a faraway place but just seems impossible now.
It is hard to see how God’s word still brings a new world into being. After all, the old world seems pretty entrenched. And we are awash in words, even if they aren’t from God. Billboards fly past us on the highway full of words, the radio is on, the television is on pouring words into the air around us. Our computers have made words ever present, instantaneously transmissible, plentiful and cheap.
It might be that we have minimized the impact of words by their proliferation, but I wonder. I think there is still great power in the words we speak - life-changing, life-creating power. Just consider the impact of these words:
I love you.
Congratulations, you have been admitted.
Will you marry me?
You have cancer.
You’re having twins.
In the instant those words are spoken, someone’s life is changed forever, recreated on the spot. And if there is such power in our words -- we who are human, only human -- then how much more so is there power in God’s words.
You know, we think of the Bible as the word of God and so it is. But is the Bible the record of all God has ever had to say to the world? Is this it from beginning to end, all done, so to speak? Has God fallen silent? Is the bible the last word that God spoke? I don’t think so. I think God is still speaking a powerful creative word in our world. But I think it is harder for the world to hear that word now than it was in the beginning when there was nothing. We are surrounded by distractions and noise, by conflict and war, by death and destruction, and all that makes it hard for us to hear the eternal word that still dwells among us.
The poet, T.S. Elliot, understood this dilemma:
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise
and deny the voice
(T.S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday,” The Waste Land and Other Poems.
Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich: New York, 1962, p 64)
Well, we will never have enough silence, will we, and no question about it, we walk among noise. Do we also avoid the face, as Eliot says? Do we allow our rejoicing to be drowned out by the world’s noise? Do we deny the voice?
It does not have to be this way. Let me suggest one approach to hearing the word of God’s creative voice. In the Hebrew, “word” is dabar. And while dabar is usually translated as word, it also has the meaning of an action or a thing. I think that is how we can hear God in our world, through actions and things.
When someone shows us an unexpected kindness; when people reach across racial and cultural lines to offer aid and assistance; when the pain of another’s loss becomes our pain; when we pray and give and work and act on behalf of the world, all of that is the word of God. And when we take the things of the earth – bread and wine, water and oil -- and celebrate God’s presence through them, that also is God’s word.
We are surrounded by the power and presence of God’s word, but these days, that word may not be so likely to come as a clear and unmistakable voice in our ear. Instead, listen for the word in the actions of the faithful. Listen for it in sacramental love. Expect God to speak in unexpected ways, like out of the mouths of little ones. The psalmist says that it is out of the mouths of babes and infants that God builds a fortress against all that would attack our faith, our belief, our sense of the presence of God.
Think about that for a minute. When we baptize these twin boys this morning, these little babies are speaking God’s word to us. Here they are, created out of nothing, nothing except love, and it is through them that God can speak to us of love. It is their gurgling and cooing and crying and babbling that somehow can keep the enemies of God at bay. They are, after all made in the image of God -- and so are we all.
You are made in the image of God. You are God’s reflection in the world. And you are a word spoken by God. You have in you the potential to be life changing, life creating. You have the potential to bring into being the goodness that God intends for our world. You have the power to speak God’s word in the word. Claim that power and act God does: loving, creating, transforming, bringing light and life to the dark and dead places.
And here is the last word from God, or perhaps I should say the lasting word. It comes to us from Jesus, the one who is also called the Word, the eternal Logos. His last word to his disciples -- then and now -- is this: “Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Dear friends, this is the good news of the gospel. Believe it, trust it, and let your life speak it.
(c) Martha C. Highsmith
May 14, 2008
I watch this terrible, terrible news from China -- we all do. It is so hard to see but harder still to hear. These are families who have put all their hopes into one child, and now that child is lying dead outside his (and yes, most of them are boys) school, or worse yet, buried under rubble. The mothers wail in an almost unbearable cry. And I know it doesn't quite apply, but all I can think of is Rachel weeping over her children and she would not be comforted because they were no more. It breaks my heart.