Friday, September 12, 2014

Pettiness or Profundity

In a reading for class I hit a line in Kathleen Norris’ book, The Cloister Walk, that struck a chord in me.  I know I had read the passage before, but somehow it never hit me like it did this time.  It is in a chapter Norris calls, “Generations.”  The chapter talks about how there are generations of monks within a monastery, just like there can be generations within a family.  I never thought about that, but it rings true.           

Norris begins a paragraph with these words.  “Monastic storytelling is a form of gossip, and like the best gossip, it often serves a moral purpose.” I had to laugh at that thought.  Most people I know probably do gossip (as I confess to doing on occasion), but probably most of us would deny that we do it!  Norris then moves on to indicate there are some dangers in the monastic life.  And I don’t doubt that.  Then she writes the line that I very much liked.  Norris says, “Monks and nuns are not all sweetness and light---they’re ordinary human beings---and I’ve been told by Benedictines that one of the greatest dangers in monastic life is to succumb to pettiness.”           

As you probably know, pettiness is being preoccupied with the little things in life.  To be petty is to be concerned with the narrow or the unimportant things in our lives.  It is to be so preoccupied that we miss the bigger picture and the important things in life. To be petty is like clutching the penny when we could have had the dollar!  Once more, I wish I could say that I don’t know a thing about being petty, but that would be a lie.           

I can best understand pettiness when I relate it to another issue.  To be specific, my pettiness is probably related to my ego.  My ego is usually revealed in the pronouns, “I” and “me.”  Of course, you cannot assume everything about the ego is bad.  It is appropriate to think about things like, “I should take care of myself.”  Self-care is certainly important.  And it would be better if more of us did self-care well.  So not all ego focus is bad.           

But ego focus can be less than good or appropriate.  I typically get at this less-than-good aspect of the ego when I realize I am being egocentric.  Fairly early in life I would hear someone say, “Oh, he is so egocentric!”  A comparable statement would be something like, “Oh, I just wish she would get over herself!”  To be egocentric is to think the world revolves around me.  Put more literally, I am the center of the world---ego-centered or egocentric.  To be egocentric says that I am the most important---or, perhaps, the only important one.  You don’t count!           

If pettiness is a less than desirable characteristic, how can we get beyond or around it?  That is a spiritual question and deserves a spiritual answer.  In a word I believe we can get over being petty when we learn to be profound.  Let me be clear how I am using the term, profound.  To be profound is in one sense intellectual.  But it is not intellectual in the sense of IQ.  Some of us have average IQs and others may be a genius.  Allow me to coin a term.  Profundity is more a measure of PQ: profundity quotient.             

PQ probably has more to do with wisdom, not simply intellectual IQ.  We all know the high IQ type, who really is an idiot in real life.  A profound person is someone who always seems to have an answer, a suggestion, or even “opening” into a better way.  The profound person often has the insight into the big picture and just the right approach to make things different or better.           

Indeed, the idea of insight is a chief characteristic of the profound person.  Profundity strikes us as so insightful or perceptive.  When someone says something profound, I am left thinking, “how did you come to know that?”  In this sense Jesus and the Buddha were really profound human beings.  No one would describe them as petty!  I am pretty convinced those true followers of Jesus or the Buddha, as well as the true Jews and Hindus and others, are not petty either.  I am sure that any true believer who “gets it,” cannot possibly be petty any longer.  To become a believer is, at the same time, to become a doer.  We give up our petty ways and enroll in the “life of profundity” program.           

Finally, I am confident that profound people are deep people---or are on the way to becoming deep people.  Of course, this suggests that petty people are shallow people.  They probably don’t think of themselves that way (why would anyone who is egocentric think he or she is shallow!).  But I would argue all egocentric people and behavior is ultimately shallow.           

If it can only be “me,” then there is no place for “we.”  I think profundity is too big, too deep, for just me.  Profundity is big-picture insight.  Egocentric---just-me thinking---cannot possibly be big-picture.  But now comes the trick---the spiritual trick.           

Profundity is not simply something to know.  Profundity is something to be and to do.  That is the spiritual part.  The spiritual part is learning to be profound and, then, doing my life profoundly.  That is my choice and my chore.  Christians call it discipleship.  Jesus says, “Follow me.”  Choosing the chore of following him is profound!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Shelter Me, O God

Recently I was in a worship service where I noticed the music.  Now for many people that would not be surprising, but I am not very good with music.  I like it, but I don’t sing that well and I am not even sure I appreciate music in effective ways.  Perhaps some day when my working days are finished, I will take an appropriate music appreciation class and develop that ability.  I look forward to that.           

As I sat in worship listening and, then, singing the music, I knew immediately the words were taken from the Psalms.  I certainly don’t know the Psalms like the monks who recite the whole Psalter every couple weeks.  I know I have read all 150 Psalms, but I don’t do it every two weeks.  And I certainly don’t keep going through the Psalter time after time after time.            

The refrain of the song we were singing went like this: “Shelter me, O God; hide me in the shadow of your wings, You alone are my hope.”  Interestingly the song sheet we were using did not reference the Psalm.  And I was not sure which Bible translation is being used.  In a sense, all that does not really matter when one is at worship.  It might matter if it were a Bible course in college or seminary.  But in worship it does not matter.           

Let me simply suggest one locus for the music’s lyrics is Psalm 17.  You may not know that Psalm, but you may have heard of the imagery used in 17:8.  In that verse the Psalmist says, “Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”  Of course, this is the Biblical background for the saying that you and I are “the apples of God’s eyes.”  I believe in that claim and in that claim I put my hope.  I love the fact that I am the apple of God’s eye.  And I think it is good that you are an apple, too!           

So let’s assume that is the Biblical text for the song that develops.  A little more searching reveals this hymn has a popular history.  A number of people have recorded it and it appears in worship services often.  In fact, I may have sung it before, but don’t remember.             

Again, the refrain petitions God to be sheltered.  It is reassuring to think of God as the Protector.  When we were children, we needed protection.  As we become adults and may have children, we take on the role of protector.  As I think about it, I realize I have been both a protected child and a protector of children.  Thinking about it even further makes me realize that I never become too old to need protection.  That is where God comes into my theology.           

I ask God to shelter me.  Hide me in the shadow of your wing, I could ask.  I know I am never that poetic.  When in trouble or wanting something from God, my usual prayer is, “Help!”  And I know many others probably are just like me.  Perhaps we can learn from this short hymn.            

Maybe the trick is to learn to pray at times when we are not desperate.  We could learn the habit of prayer and supplication when the sun shines in our lives.  It would be good to develop this as a habit.            

The other line in that refrain is a good reminder, too.  “You alone are my hope.”  I know that is true ultimately.  And I suspect it is true even in my daily, non-ultimate routine, too.  Of course, there are many others in my life who also give me hope and bring me hope.  Included in this list are my kids, my friends and family.  But behind all of them is the God of hope.           

So in this meditation we have found two themes.  God is my protector.  I can hide under the wings of God and be sheltered.  This brings me hope.  Whatever the world and circumstances come at me, I can find solace, protection and hope in God.  I am sure this is true in those little daily threats.  I am even confident this is true in those days ahead when I may have to suffer.  And of course, we all know at some day ahead of us, we will have to face the ultimate test, namely, our own death.     

I want to find ways in this day and the days ahead to practice this hymn.  By practicing, I don’t mean I want to find times to sing it, although that would be appropriate.  I mean I want to take occasions to pray that God shelter me.  I am sure there is an independent streak in me that is not healthy.  Too often, I am sure, I choose to go it alone.  I want to recognize my own dependency on God and ask God to shelter me.          

I want to ponder what it might be like to nestle into the shadow of God’s wings.  Of course, this cannot be taken literally.  I am not going to work and find some Divine Wing in the parking lot.  I want to figure out metaphorically where and how I take my place in the shadow of that wing.           

What I do know, is there under that wing is my hope.   There is my hope and, ultimately, my hope eternal.  Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Everything I Need

I don’t know why I am always surprised to find rich possibilities for spiritual musing within the worldly, secular realm.  It happens frequently and I am always surprised!  I should not be surprised because I think almost all of us Americans live most of life in the midst of secularity.  Maybe the monks and the recluses don’t, but most of us do.  I know I do…and I am a professor of religion!           

Living life in the midst of secularity is not bad.  But it is not spiritual either.  I don’t think the Spirit is missing from the secular world.  But in the secular world, most of us are not in touch with the Spirit and, probably, most of us may not even be looking to get in touch with the Spirit.             

This is what hit me as I was doing the most secular task of all.  I was reading the business section recently in my daily newspaper.  Of course one does not expect to run smack into the Holy Spirit in the business section!  That happens on Saturday when the paper runs a special page devoted to faith stuff.            

But as always and everywhere in the secular world, the Spirit lurks.  It is always ready to lure us into that special place of encounter.  That is what happened to me when I was innocently reading a story about Walmart and Target.  Some of the article was interesting and some of it seemed funny to me.  Like most Americans, I have been to both stores.  I don’t have a preference for either one.  Throw in Kmart, Kohl’s or any of the rest and I don’t experience any excitement.           

The article told me that 80% of the stuff in both Walmart and Target is identical stuff.  And it is virtually the same price.  I laughed when a report from a recent Bloomberg Businessweek emerged that said the two retailers were 46 cents apart on $100 spent in each store on the same articles!  (Go to Target if you want to save the 46 cents!)  I laughed and read on in the article.          

Then I hit the sentence where the Spirit lured me.  Some woman, Natalie Gutierrez, is portrayed as the “average customer.”  She was interviewed in some store in the Washington, DC area.  “I already have everything I need,” Gutierrez said.  “But I always like to come in and see if there’s something I may want.”  That is so American!           

I give Natalie credit for knowing the difference between needs and wants.  I suspect most of us confuse those things.  Probably most of us do, indeed, have everything we need.  But we think we need some more things we just want.  I am sure I am guilty of this at times.  And this is where it becomes a spiritual issue for me.           

Central to my spiritual belief is the conviction that I am a child of God, that God loves me and that my relationship with God is unique and special.  And I think that is true for you, too, even if you and the other seven billion people in the world don’t know it.  And obviously this fact about you and me is not a commodity to be bought at Walmart or Target.  In this sense I already have enough.           

Of course, I need food and shelter to live.  And we all need a certain amount of care, love, support, etc. to make it through life.  That is a legitimate need.  Like Gutierrez, I already have enough.  But I also know the culture in which I live tempts me always to stop by to see if there is something I may want.  Putting it this way fascinates me.             

Gutierrez is saying that she does not even know if she really does want something else.  She is drawn to shop in case she might see something “I may want.”  This suggests that she is a sitting duck for someone (Walmart or Target) telling her what she might want!  This may seem harmless.  Or it might imply an unhealthy dependency.  My relationship with the Spirit causes me to be cautious of this vulnerability.           

I am cautious because another aspect of my spirituality tells me that anything other than the Spirit is not ultimately satisfying.  This is not only true of material stuff.  Most of us know that material stuff is not ultimately satisfying.  It is also true of immaterial stuff, like relationships and commitments.  I think this is what the biblical and historical witness means by differentiating icons and idols.  Icons connect us with the Spirit and idols separate us and set us up ultimately for failure and dissatisfaction.           

So what?  This does not mean I will quit going to Walmart or Target.  They are not the problem.  The problem is always myself.  The spiritual journey is a journey of self-discovery and Spirit-discovery.  I will find neither in Walmart or Target.  I know I have everything I need.  God has blessed me with a mind, heart and soul.  They are gifts, just like my life is a gift.           

This gift of life is all I need.  But it is appropriate to have wants.  I want to grow more and more into my awareness of this gift and to deepen more and more into my appreciation of this gift.  Finally, I want to find ways to give this gift to others.  Because this gift really is love, I cannot possibly give it all away.  That is very different from Walmart and Target.  But they are not giving away love.  I am.  God is.     

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

True Self

In class yesterday I was having a discussion with some students about life, meaning and purpose.  I don’t believe that our lives come with a ready-made meaning wrapped within.  Finding meaning in our lives is not like going to the Christmas tree and picking up a “meaning package!”  I suppose some people might wish it were this easy.  But I don’t want it this way.
           
I believe meaning can come to us in a couple ways.  In the first place, I do think we can “find” meaning.  But meaning is not the Christmas package simply laying there waiting to be picked up, opened and, voila, we have our meaning.  Meaning can be found, but even this finding process takes some work---sometimes hard work.  Finding meaning presupposes that we are seeking.
           
This form of seeking can take us into many different venues.  For example, we might find meaning by reading books.  Reading is one form of seeking.  We might also find ourselves in serious conversations with others who have traveled the spiritual path further than we have.  This person might be a sage or spiritual guide.  However, to get advice---even good advice---does not automatically translate into meaning in our lives.  We have to figure out how to apply it to our own particular situation.
           
The other way meaning comes to us is by us creating it.  I do believe we can create meaning in our life.  This is a different approach and process than “finding” meaning.  When we create meaning in our life, this presupposes that there is no original meaning to be “found.”  Rather we create meaning.
           
We could use the image of a building when we think about creating meaning.  First, it is wise to lay a good foundation.  There are many good ways to lay the foundation.  Again, it might be through reading.  It can include many of the other classical spiritual disciplines, like prayer and meditation.  Study is a great foundation because study brings some worthwhile knowledge.  Ignorance is not a very solid foundation.  Ignorance makes us vulnerable to the harsh winds of change.
           
On this solid foundation we build the structure of meaning.  My particular way of making meaning includes a belief in God---a creative God.  My meaning is structured around the notion that I (and you) am a child of God.  I am alive with a purpose to love and to be loved.  I am created to live and to love and to serve.  We are created for each other.  I call this community.  In my meaning structure there is no place for the spiritual loner.  Finally, it is not about me, but about “we.” 
           
At the core of the spiritual journey is the notion of the true self.  God created me to find and to create this true self.  I realize the spiritual journey in its early segment usually is dealing with the false self that most people have come to be.  My false self is not necessarily bad---it simply is not true.  You can understand your false self when you examine your self-image.  My true self is not the same thing as my self-image.
           
Put simply, I will be called to die to this false self in order that the true self be discovered and/or created.  Jesus says as much in the gospels.  He routinely talks about dying to the old self.  Writers throughout the centuries have talked about it in similar ways.
           
I like how Richard Rohr puts it in a recent piece of writing.  Rohr says, “I promise you that the discovery of your True Self will feel like a thousand pounds have fallen from your back.  You will not have to build, protect, or promote self-image.  Living in the True Self is quite simply a much happier existence, even though we never live there a full twenty-four hours a day.  But you henceforth have it as a place to always go back to.  You have finally discovered the alternative to your False Self.”
           
We notice that Rohr uses the language of “discovering” our true self.  I can appreciate he understands it this way, although I still think some of us understand it more in the sense of “creating” the true self.  In any case, we come to know that true self.  And when we know this true self, we are free.  We are free of the weight of the false self---that self image that must look just so, must behave perfectly, etc. 
           
We are free no longer to build, protect or promote that false self.  I cringe at the efforts I have made to promote my self-image.  I am appalled at how much money, for example, some people spend on their self-image.  Beauty products, clothes and so on can be huge expenses to look just right.  Clearly I have nothing against beauty.  But quite a bit of what we do to ourselves in the name of beauty is artificial.  Some go to drastic measures to hide their true self.
           
The true self is always a beautiful thing because it is a God-given thing.  My discussion with the students yesterday may have been about life, meaning and purpose.  But the bottom line is, the discussion was about the true self.  If you find that, you have found the treasure in our earthen vessel.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Spiritual Hesitancy

On my good days I like to think I am on a spiritual journey.  I feel more comfortable putting it this way, rather than saying I am spiritual.  Simply to say I am spiritual seems arrogant to me.  I would say that I know some people whom I consider to be spiritual.  I look at their lives and actions and it is a no-brainer.  I even know a couple folks who can be seen as spiritual masters.  I feel like I am on the other end.  Some days I feel engaged on the journey.  Other days I am not sure I have even begun.

Two elements are necessary for a consistent spiritual journey.  They are simple elements, but are necessary.  The first element is commitment.  Commitment includes the initial “yes” to a relationship with God.  And then it is locking in that “yes” in a daily living out of the relationship.  This is where the second element comes into the picture.  That element is discipline.  Discipline is the means by which we live out the “yes” in our daily lives.

When I do not feel like I am on a spiritual journey, I check these two elements.  I ask whether my commitment has waned?  Has it become lukewarm or half-hearted?  Do I need to re-commit?  Re-commitment is not an unusual step in long-term relationships. This would be true with people and, I’m confident, with God, too.  To re-commit should not be an embarrassment.  Rather it should be seen as a new opportunity.  To re-commit does not mean I have failed; it means I exercise my will to get back at it.  That’s good news!

Discipline is a very different category than commitment.  I think of commitment more like an event.  It is a decision.  It happens.  I do not get up every morning and decide whether to be committed to the people and things to which I was committed yesterday.  Typically, commitments are “made” and they stay that way.  Even if I begin to see a commitment wane, it usually does it over time.  Discipline for me often has to be re-decided.  I have long had the discipline to exercise---usually run.  But discipline does not mean I automatically do it.  I have to re-decide to do it today and will have to do it again tomorrow.

Discipline does not have to be hard.  But it does have to be consistent.  Perhaps that is where my discipline of exercise is different than my spiritual discipline.  For whatever reason, I have always felt like the physical exercise was easy.  Spiritual discipline has always required a higher level of intentionality.  I have to monitor that spiritual discipline.

I don’t think I am unusual.  Too often for Christians, spiritual can mean some beliefs.  I can say I believe in God or in Jesus.  Too many times, we assume belief is enough.  We get lazy in assuming if I believe correctly, then I have a relationship with God or Jesus.  That is all there is to it.  If I don’t change my belief, my relationship is intact and healthy.

As I type those last lines, I know that is not true.  Of course, I am not against beliefs.  But simply to believe in God does not make a relationship.  That is true of God and of other people.  A relationship is built on connection, experience, interaction, conversation, etc.  I don’t just believe in my daughters.  I have experiences, have conversations and so forth that make relationships.  The same is true for grandkids as they come along.  I don’t usually think about discipline in this case, but there is a form of discipline.  And that is grounded in my commitment to them.  

This leads me back to my spiritual journey.  I am confident I have the necessary commitment to God.  Perhaps it does not feel as easy as my daughters, but that is not surprising.  They are easier to see.  I have their cell numbers and can call them.  They use FaceTime to connect with me.  I can see grandkids dancing on my cell phone.  It is a bit tougher with God.  I don’t have God’s number!

That is precisely where discipline comes into the picture.  Because I don’t have the Divine cell number, I will need the discipline to practice the old, classic ways to touch base with God.  Ignorance is not my problem.  I know spiritual folks for centuries have found disciplines like prayer, meditation, study, etc. have proven to be effective means to sustain and deepen their spiritual commitment.

I know there is no other way.  As far as I know, God does not do FaceTime.  But God is available any time for what we might coin is HeartTime.  This is different than believing in God---as valuable as that can be.  I want to be less hesitant and more constant in my discipline.  Wanting to do it is the first step.  Putting it into practice is the next step.

I deal with my hesitancy by taking small steps into discipline.  Discipline does not have to be heroic.  Crawling is an acceptable form of moving for babies.  Almost never does the crawling stage get skipped by going straight to walking.  Maybe praying for five minutes is a spiritual crawl.  But it is movement.  Even if I hesitate, I can commit to five minutes.  I am back on the journey.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Metaphorical Language

I am enjoying a new book given to me.  S. Brent Plate wrote A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects.  The subtitle is intriguing: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses.  It has been a challenge for me as a Quaker.  My own Quaker tradition, as it often gets interpreted, suggests that objects, things, ritual, etc. are not important.  I probably would have assumed that my five senses played little role in my own spiritual tradition.  This book is challenging this assumption.          

That is ok with me.  It would be pretty silly to assume things after we find out there is little basis for those assumptions.  Part of the reason for learning and experience is to gain a sense of the world and ourselves that is as close to reality as it can be.  Why would we prefer to live in illusion or delusion?  So I am open and engaged with the material.  I am reading the book very slowly; no need for urgency in this instance.           

Early on in his book, Plate introduces the idea of metaphor.  I like this.  I know metaphors use language appropriate to one thing to describe another thing.  For example, we might say something like “war is a chess game.”  Obviously war is much more serious than the game of chess.  But if we think of chess, we have an insightful way to imagine how wars are waged.  Chess is much more sophisticated and complicated than checkers.  Hence, it is a better way of expressing the complexity of war.           

Plate and I both know it is impossible to think about and talk about religion without metaphor.  I have never directly seen God.  I even doubt that anyone has.  So we search for good metaphors to describe the God we think we have “seen.”  It is already interesting how I have just used sensory language in this metaphor.  I talked about “seeing” God, but confessed that I have not literally “seen” God.  Seeing is a metaphor. Plate develops this insight in interesting ways.           

He places a great deal of emphasis on our physical existence---our embodied lives.  We are not spirit alone.  We are embodied spirits.  The physicality of our world and our own bodies are crucial to our perception and understanding of life.  Plate says, “Our bodily experience and engagement with physical reality is so permanent, so all-pervasive that our language can only come back to these most elemental interactions.”  Then he points to the metaphorical language we use that is drawn from our senses.           

One of his sentences makes this point in remarkable fashion.  He claims that “ideas are grasped or they might go right over our heads; good friends are close, but sometimes even our partner feels far away and we drift apart; some days we wake up feeling up and other days we are down, even though our height hasn’t changed.” As I type this sentence, I become amazed at how tied into our senses and the physical world our language is.           

Plate uses the image of a bridge to talk about how metaphor functions.  Metaphor builds a bridge from what we know to what we are trying to describe.  This sounds pretty sophisticated and, at one level, it is.  But on another level, it is actually pretty normal and simple.  Moat folks run around using metaphors all the time.  In fact, they may be using metaphors and could not define the word, metaphor, if you forced them to define it.  As such, metaphor has become such a commonplace in our speech, that we don’t even recognize it.           

I was rolling along nicely with Plate’s book.  I still had a kind of Quaker reservation.  I was still with him as he talked about the metaphorical language calling God Father.  I have done this a zillion times.  I know God is not a “real Dad,” but metaphorically it makes some sense to use parental language to describe the God I experience.  Then Plate pushes a little further.           

“But even the down-to-earth dimensions of religious discourse are based on our physical-sensual environment: Evangelical Christians gather to discuss their ‘walk with God’; the most basic prayer in Judaism begins with the sensual injunction, ‘Hear, O Israel…’; Quakers seek an ‘inner light…’  He just got me!  Apparently, my Quaker reservation is misplaced.    I know the phrase, “inner light,” is a metaphor.  But I never really thought about how it is drawn from the physical realm.           

I am enjoying the book because it makes me think.  It makes me more aware---aware of myself, my language and my world.  Language is revelatory.  I would claim I have experienced the Holy One as a “Light Within.”  Somehow that makes perfect sense to me.  It is a good metaphor.  The Light Within is a non-personal metaphor.  When I experience God in this fashion, I feel “enlightened.” Probably you have your own metaphorical language.           

So what’s the point?  Plate is helping me understand how I have to bridge my experience with some kind of language so I can tell you something about my deeper truths.  And you need to do the same thing.  I know language can be leading and misleading.  If I can be more careful, I am going to be an effective communicator.  That will help my teaching, my ministry and probably my life.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Healing the Hurt

I learned a long time ago (as most adults do), that life inevitably hurts us from time to time.  Even though we know this will happen, it always is a tough and lousy situation when it happens.  Even though we know we will make it through, the “making it through” is not a fun experience.  I know the old saying assures us that “time heals,” but it often takes a lot of time!           

Recently, there have been a number of people I know and hold dear that have been hurt.  Unfortunately the hurting was not of their own making.  This can make the hurt even more biting.  It is one thing to hurt ourselves; it is another to have the hurt inflicted upon us.  Finally, it perhaps does not matter how the hurt happens, but in the beginning it is tougher when the hurt is inflicted upon us.          

Hurts come in various forms.  Probably the initial and the basic hurt is the physical.  I remember very well going to the doctor’s office when I was quite young and getting that shot.  I am sure I was given shots before I was old enough to know about it.  But that early memory of the nurse grabbing that syringe and coming at my arm still makes me cringe.  Of course, I have had many shots since that time, but it is never fun!          

Those kinds of physical hurts often pass fairly quickly.  A minute or two after the shot, the pain is gone and life goes on.  Certainly, there are other serious physical pains that can go on for days or even quite a bit longer.  Aging often makes us vulnerable to those aches and pains that may become chronic.  We begin to accept that some physical hurting may be a “fact of life,” as some folks put it.           

There are other levels of hurts.  No doubt all of us have experienced emotional hurts.  Emotional hurts are more complex than the physical pain.  Physical pain usually hurts in one place, i.e. we have a stomachache.  Emotional hurts are non-specific, but just as real.  People don’t talk about having a “broken heart” for no good reason.  Doubtlessly, most of us can tell you what a broken heart feels like.  Our literal, physical heart may be beating just fine, but our metaphorical heart is broken.           

Very often the emotional hurts that come our way are done unto us.  For example, we don’t generally break our own hearts.  Someone else breaks our heart.  Normally this means we have a vested interest in someone and that someone divests his or her interests in us!  That divestment breaks our hearts.           

Hurts are always tough when someone or something does it to us.  And the hurt seems compounded when we think it is unfair.  “It’s just not right that I was hurt that way,” is a lament that I have heard recently.  It is not the first time in life I have seen this kind of hurting, but that makes no difference in the moment.  Hurt is hurt.  It does not need to be unique.  It does not matter that it happened before or if it never happened before.  When hurt happens, hurt happens.          

Emotional hurts are more difficult to deal with, it seems to me.  You cannot take an aspirin and feel better.  Healing emotional hurts takes time and patience.  That is never good news in a culture that deals with time in warp speed.  So how does the healing happen?           

That has been a question I have posed to myself many times.  My basic assumption is that healing does happen.  When I am with others, I trust that the healing process happens.  I am clear I am not a healer, although there are times it might appear that way, as it probably has been true for each of you.  I am happy to become involved in the healing process because I trust that healing happens.  For me this basic assumption is built into the Divine fabric of our universe.  In this sense when healing happens, it appears “normal.”           

There are a number of things we can do as “healers” participating in the healing process.  We can be present to those who hurt.  Our presence often is a soothing balm.  We can be a sign of peace within the cauldron of anger the hurt one is experiencing.  We can listen to the hurts.  Communication is one of the time-honored healing venues.  We can be active listeners.  This is a specific form of presence to the hurting one.  Listening does not remove the hurt.  But it does become a salve to apply to the wound.           

Another thing we can do is be patient.  The healing process seldom happens on our timeline.  Just as we usually are not in charge of the hurting process, we certainly are not in control of the healing schedule!  It is likely true that the healing process will take longer if the person thinks the hurting is unfair.  In effect, this is a double hurt: the hurt itself, and the “unfairness of it all” hurt.  Healing a double hurt takes longer and even more patience.          

Healing hurts is a wonderful ministry for all of us.  If we are willing to be vehicles of the Spirit, we can be used in gracious and graceful ways to heal the hurts of those around us.  And the good news is, when I am hurt, there should be many of you out there who are ready and able to join in the healing process.  Thank God!