Greetings from my Thursday night newsletter on Saturday night! I began piecing this together Thursday evening still feeling jostled and unsettled by the debate, only to wake up Friday to even more surprising news. Perhaps the one thing on which we can all agree is that last week was not what we expected. I found this scripture Thursday night, and I have to say that reading Eugene Peterson’s version made me chuckle:
Lamentations 3: 22-24 (from The Message)
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.
Slowly, slowly, I learn to rely on God. In terms of this endeavor, we’re switching up our rhythm every week based on your feedback, and taking turns curating news some weeks and offering contemplative and creative practices others. This week, we’re sharing ideas of ways we can practice encouragement and healing together (but safely apart) during these challenging times:
It’s been done and said before, but this week I want to point back toward centering prayer as a vital and anchoring practice during these turbulent times. After many (many) years of trying to build a practice I’m finally hitting a small stride, largely because the last month so overwhelmed me that many nights I don’t feel like I have a choice: I simply have to sit still before an altar and lay it all down. The centering aspect helps guide the prayer for me, though I do feel the need to verbally lay out all sorts of thoughts and context to God before I can actually get to the centering (external processor here). Try not to let perfectionism hinder the healing practice of just sitting for 10-20 minutes at a time in silence and prayer, however that looks for you. This video of Father Thomas Keating was encouraging that way, and these guidelines to approaching centering prayer provide breadcrumbs for your journey.
Something we can do together, apart:
Jim Cotter’s Healing continues to draw me back over the course of the pandemic, and a section about anointing with oil caught my eye. Cotter mentions a passage from Bede of Jarrow that describes oil being blessed in church then “taken home by the people, where they administered anointing to one another.” A small use of oil has become part of my daily prayer practice, and I wonder if it could be adapted for use from minister to congregants or incorporated in group prayer practice. Cotter’s commentary felt particularly rich to me as I’ve watched a number of people I care deeply about suffer intensely over the past 7 months, one friend as a result of a freak accident, a few friends in difficult and prolonged struggles with mental health issues, and others with the constant barrage of re-ignited racial trauma our country is being called to engage and heal. Each suffering intensely in their own way, and the whole world suffering around us with the implications and ramifications of the pandemic. Here Cotter speaks of the what it is to support, acknowledge and anoint each person as they engage suffering, and the role of those outside of this suffering (affirming, anointing) to support one moving through it:
We cannot follow one another into these places. There are depths which even the wisest cannot plumb. When someone we love is so suffering, we are like the disciples of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We cannot go with him in his unique struggle. The most we can do is to watch and pray. “I will be here for you, on the edge, and I may even fall asleep, but I will be here.”
The anointing with oil can then be understood as a consecration on the way of one’s deepest truth, going through a Gethsemane alone. To be anointed is to seek the courage to lay oneself open completely to the love and will of God, even if it involves a cup that you would choose not to drink.
Faith may strengthen us in such circumstances, trust in the reliability and grace of God, faith that we shall touch no ground where Christ has not been. We have to go our own way of the cross, but the depths of pain and loss have been sounded for us. And in the midst of it all we may sense Christ’s sustaining presence. So the oil of anointing becomes the oil of gladness and rejoicing. Lamps are lit in the darkest of places, in the deepest of dungeons of all, where maybe even Satan yearns to become again an angel of light.
And the one who is anointed may be the one to anoint us in our turn. The sufferer may heal us, a thought which hardly ever crosses our minds in the days of our strength. The trust and openness of the mentally disabled may bring a grieving widow out of her isolation, and together they may know something of the peace which passes understanding.
Little more can be said. We are on holy ground. We have reached the point in our praying where we fall silent before a great mystery, that of suffering redeemed, not by being taken away, not by magic, but by going through it until it yields to joy.
Engaging our hearts and brains on the journey:
This week’s verse: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
This week’s poem: Rabindranath Tagore published this poem in India in 1910, but it felt like the song our country might need this week….
Rest well, enjoy a peaceful Sunday-
Grace and love,
PS- this is a bottle of oil from a groovy apothecary in Germany and has proved an ideal (and pretty long lasting) take-home size