About Me

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Faithful to Being One People

I read widely in order to be informed and to let new, different information form me.  If we only read the stuff with which we agree and from people we know, we effectively put ourselves in a rut.  We develop what the psychologists call “confirmation bias.”  The more we read that agrees with how we think, the more we think we are right and that we have truth.  Of course, I don’t deny that some things I think are true.  I just want to be open and be humble.        

I especially like to read about people doing things I never did or, perhaps, that I don’t have the courage to do.  One category of people like this is the monastic crowd.  I like to read about what monks and nuns are up to.  Of course, I know a fair number of people who have taken a monastic vow.  As I first began to get to know them, I was surprised how “normal” they were!  Obviously, this says much more about me than about them.          

One such person I recently read about was Sister Patricia McCormick.  She joined the Sisters of Loretto some fifty years ago.  I know a little about this particular group since there is a Loretta house quite near the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Kentucky monastery of Thomas Merton, about whom I have written a great deal.  Another thing I know is the mission focus of the Loretto Sisters.  This is where the story of Sister Patricia enters the picture.      

The title of the article I read speaks for itself: “Q & A with Sr. Patricia McCormick, preaching peace for 50 years.”  The now eighty-one-year old has spent much of her life in Central America and, now, in Denver.  Interestingly, she was a close friend of Daniel Berrigan and has been involved with young members of Black Lives Matter.  She shares that she became involved in peace work because of what she witnessed in Central America.  We know that the American government had some complicity in supporting repressive regimes in a number of the Central American countries.  As she claims, we were not always there because of justice.  The power of her life for me is the radical attempt to live as Jesus lived.  That is more than I manage most of the time.         

She became involved in anti-nuclear protests in this country.  Again, I applaud her witness and the courage that underscores that witness.  Even if I were to disagree with her, I admire the clarity of her position and the appeal to the gospel that witness represents.  I must admit, I find it hard to imagine Jesus being pro-nuclear arms.  I am confident he would talk about security in different ways than most of the people I know.  Sister Patricia is a good challenge for me and my own complacency.         

I very much liked the question the author of the article, Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, posed to Sr. Patricia.  She asked, “Where do you see the Holy Spirit in the peace movement?”  And I like Sr. Patricia’s answer.  She begins by noting, “The fact is, they always say diversity brings out opportunity, diversity makes us more creative, and I think that creativeness is from the Holy Spirit.”  Let’s unpack this sentence.  She talks about diversity, opportunity and creativity.  
In the first place, she says that diversity brings out opportunity.  Oddly, Sr. Patricia underscores what I shared in the beginning about reading people different than I am.  We all know there is diversity in our world.  In fact, there is usually significant diversity in our local communities.  Those of us in the majority---in my case a white male, etc.---can overlook diversity.  We think the world is “ours.”  Indeed, it is “ours,” but the “ours” is bigger than we typically think.  We can learn to appreciate how important it is that diversity does bring opportunity.  We need to learn how to take advantage of opportunity.         

Secondly, diversity makes us more creative.  I know first-hand this is true.  Much of what I think about and write about springs from the time I spend with people different than I am.  They provoke new ways of seeing myself and my world.  I am grateful for that.         

Finally, she says that creativeness if from the Holy Spirit.  I trust that is true and hope it is true.  I certainly see God as creative.  And I see God hoping that we can be creative, too.  After all, I join the theologians who teach that we co-create this world alongside God.  Of course, all too often, our creativity makes a mess of things instead of making miracles.  Maybe this is what war and violence do: they make a mess instead of miracles.         

At the end of her interview, Sr. Patricia approvingly cites the work of Amy Goodwin.  Goodwin asks big questions.  One of these questions Sr. Patricia offers us is great: “How are we really going to be faithful to being one people?”  The “one people” is not just those people from my own tribe.  The “one people” is the large, global community of which I am a miniscule part.  The call to be faithful is a bigger call than the call to be American.  It is a call to be faithful to all of God’s people.         

This is the call---the call of Jesus---that Sr. Patricia has answered.  It makes me ponder what call I have answered.  I want to share her call: the call to be faithful to being one people.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Love is not a Marketing Tool

I continue to read further in Ilia Delio’s wonderful book, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being.  This Franciscan Sister is trying to show how to start with evolution as the way to understand how our world and ourselves came to be.  She wants us to realize evolution is a process and the process is still unfolding.  Human beings are not over against or outside the natural world, but rather we are a part of it.  And finally, she wants us to know that God is a part of this whole process---whether we know it or not. 
I have learned so much from the book and am still trying to absorb the teachings and figure out how to incorporate it into my heretofore ways of understanding God, the world and myself.  Key to the whole enterprise is love.  That appeals to me.  I have always liked how the writer of John’s gospel and epistles said that God is love.  That appealed to me as a description of who God is and how God works in our world.  I think that it is true, even if I cannot fully understand or articulate it.  Delio is helping me.
Let me share a few lines from her book.  Sharing these helps me think about it and, hopefully, enables you to have some tidbits for inspirational reflection.  The first couple sentences set the stage for what Delio is doing.  She tells us “Love is the law of evolution written on the human heart.  We are created to love and to evolve love.”  I find it intriguing to know that love is the law of evolution.  Effectively, Delio says love is what it is all about!  If the universe has a “why,” it is love.  How did the universe come to exist? Love.  Why does the universe exist? Love.  Where is the universe heading? To more love.
Furthermore, this law of evolution is written on human hearts.  You don’t need to ask if it is written on your heart.  It is.  Of course, you can neglect it or deflect it.  That is called sin.  Most of us know enough about sin.  Maybe we can say that sin is love gone wrong.  This is what humans can do.  We can deform love, instead of letting love reform and transform.  When we screw up love, we get devolution instead of evolution.  Delio is correct.  We are created to love.  That is the “why” of our existence. 
We are created to evolve love.  How’s that for a purpose statement.  I think I will adopt it as my vison statement for my life.  The purpose of life is to evolve love.  Talk about a mission!  I can agree to do it.  That is the easy part.  Ok, I will evolve love.  Now the question that is more pressing is: how do I do it?
Delio offers some helpful advice at this point.  I will share a lengthier quotation that begins to talk about how to do it.  She notes, “Love lives in the depths of evolving life, but to know this love we must withdraw from the busy world, enter quietly within ourselves, cherish solitude, and return to nature as our kin.  Conscious love requires the space of simplicity where love can dwell by letting go of what we try to possess.  It needs the peace of solitude, coming home to ourselves where we find the love that creates and sustains us in our innermost being.  We must surrender within where God is seeking to be born.”
This process appeals very much to me. To discover this love means withdrawing from the busy world.  In fact, sometimes I find this busy world to be crazy.  To discover the love that lives in the depths of evolving life means I have to withdraw.  We must enter quietly within ourselves.  This is countercultural for so many of us.  Our culture has a form of SDHD.  It is driven, distracted and, often, disordered.  We will need to cherish solitude. 
Solitude is not an extravert-introvert thing.  All of us can do it.  Solitude means to be with myself long enough and quietly enough that I can discover the love that lies deep within. If we do that, we have a chance to return to nature.  Most of us live in a world that is so artificial, we never have a sense for nature.  We live in an unnatural environment.  Personally, I know the stark contrast of my own life having grown up on a farm and now only occasionally being in nature.  Most of the time, I see it from my window.  When it is dark, I change it by turning on the light.  When it is cold, I change it by turning on the heat.  And so it goes.
She continues by saying we need the peace of solitude to find this love that lives in the depth of evolving life.  I like the image of coming home to ourselves.  It is within that we discover that God is seeking to be born.  Let’s give birth to that God who will turn out to be love.  Delio is saying that love is seeking to be born in us.  Let’s not abort it.  And then she makes her final point for this inspirational piece.
“Love is not a marketing tool; it is a form of worship, a transcendent spiritual power.  It is the deepest creative power in human nature.  It is bearing life as a gift.  It responds to the rich fullness, the variety, the fecundity of life itself. It ‘knows’ the inner mystery of life and enjoys life as an inestimable fortune in a way that materialism or consumerism could never fathom.”  This is profound.  But I like her claim that love is not a marketing tool.
It is time for the profound inner work of giving birth to love.  And in giving birth to love, we will participate fully in the work of evolution, which the is work of God who is love.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Love as Embrace

I continue to read Ilia Delio’s, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being.  Her subtitle is also instructive: “God, Evolution and the Power of Love.”  It has proven to be a remarkable book.  I have never met Delio.  I know about her.  She is a Franciscan Sister who is both a scientist and theologian.  That in itself is a rare combination.  It takes some real smarts and some significant time to be able to learn all you need to do in both science and religion arenas.  I know people who know her and they all talk about how sweet her spirit is.
Her book takes absolutely seriously all that science teaches.  Of course, it is always possible to find particular scientists who disagree with the prevailing truths, but for example, the consensus that evolution is the way the world and we came to be seems pretty solidly true.  Whatever I want to think about the Genesis creation accounts of the world and humanity, the truth of science has to be a factor in that interpretation.
And so I appreciate how Delio is able to help me be scientifically sound and see the theological implications.  She helps me see that some of the ways God and our world have been viewed are probably outdated.  It does not mean they are wrong; they simply don’t make as much sense in the new worldview.  It is like saying the horse and buggy days are not wrong; they are also dated.  Most of us prefer cars.
In the chapter I just read, Delio cites another theologian whom I find instructive.  Mirolav Volk teaches theology at Yale Divinity School.  He is a native of Croatia and his experience of that sometimes war-torn country gives his theology a power I find significant.  Delio finds Volf’s 2002 book, Exclusion and Embrace, to help her talk about how God is love and how the world is an expression of God’s love.  When I read Volf’s book, I was fascinated with how much he was able to do with the word, “embrace.” 
This is where Delio picks up the theme.  Let me cite a couple sentences from Delio to set the stage.  She says, “Am embrace, Volf writes, begins with opening the arms.  ‘Open arms are a gesture of the body reaching for the other.  They are a sign of discontent with my own self-enclosed identity and a code of desire for the other…’  Open arms signify I have ‘created space in myself for the other to come in and that I have made a movement out of myself so as to enter the space created by the other.’”  Let’s unpack this and explore the provocative themes.
Volf says an embrace commences with open arms.  This is true, as all of us know.  The more normal language I hear is “hug.”  And embrace is a hug.  We open our arms and invite in the other.  As Volf rightly claims, the embrace is a gesture of the body reaching for the other.  I love how he elaborates that the embrace is a code of desire.  It says we don’t want to be alone---self-enclosed identities, as he puts it.  And I am confident he thinks this is true not only for people, but it is true for God as well.
The embrace means I have created space in myself for the other person to come in.  And reciprocally, they make a space for me to go into them.  The symbolism of the two is powerful---unity out of diversity.  It would be easy to develop this thought even further, but I want to add another thought from Volf, which Delio offers.  She writes, “A genuine embrace entails the ability-not-to-understand but to accept the other as a question right in the midst of the embrace, and to let go, allowing the question of the other to remain mystery.”
I find it insightful that the embrace does not mean we necessarily understand the other.  Understanding is not the pre-condition nor necessary result of embrace.  Delio suggests, instead, we accept the other person as a question---a question right in the middle of the embrace.  And furthermore, we let the question remain as mystery.  I love this idea. 
The other person is there---and there to embrace---not in order to understand and, surely, not to control.  But they are mystery.  And so it must be with the God who is also Other.  God, too, we can embrace.  And God can be taken into us and we taken into God.  Mystery loves mystery.  But it is not automatic.
Delio speaks to that when she notes, “Every effort to love---every embrace---has the possibility of refusal and resistance...”  Here she explicitly links love and embrace.  I like this; it makes a great deal of sense.  It means all we say about embrace is really a declaration about love.  Importantly, Delio recognizes all embraces and love can be refused or, at least, resisted.  We all have experienced this with hugs.
This is important to me because it is a growth point.  I know it is easy to embrace those I like.  And to be honest, it is really difficult to imagine hugging someone I don’t like.  When I see myself this way, I realize how far from God this feeling and thinking is.  I don’t get down on myself.  Rather, I see it as a growth point.  It is the same feeling I get when I hear Jesus talking about loving our enemies.  This is an easy theory to talk about.  But it is incredibly difficult to imagine implementing.
Maybe it begins with seeing love as embrace.  If I can’t hug, maybe I can at least shake hands!  And maybe this can grow in love.  Maybe love as embrace is the handshake growing into a hug.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Faith and Belief

I sometimes wonder what would have been my journey if I had taken the other fork of the road?  I am not being flip.  I assume that we all have come to numerous forks in the road.  We have to choose and when we do choose, heading down one particular way, we know the other road at the fork that we did not choose is lost to us.  We will never know what life would have been like if we had chosen that other road.  I don’t lament lost choices.  I don’t regret any of my choices---although they certainly have not all been good choices!  But I do wonder.

One of the good choices I made was to continue being a reader.  Clearly there were choices in my life, where if I had made them, would effectively have meant that I would have quit reading.  Oh, that does not mean I never would have read anything.  There probably are many jobs that people do that entail no reading.  But most people working those jobs are literate.  They can read. 

They have to read to pass the driver’s test and get a license.  They have to read enough to order from a menu.  They may read the sports’ page---but less necessary in our ESPN world!  They might read a book to their little child.  But reading is not something they would choose to do.  And certainly, they would not do it for fun.

I am different.  I am a reader.  I love to read newspapers---even the newspaper that you literally hold in your hands and, sometimes, get ink on your fingers.  I read magazines and Twitter.  I read online.  I read things that seemingly have nothing to do with my life or my job.  Maybe that is the source of some new ideas.

I like to read things that turn out to be surprising.  Recently I read an op ed piece in a famous national paper.  I recognized the author’s name, T.M. Luhrmann.  I remembered that she is a professor of anthropology at Stanford.  I also recall that she has just written a book based on her observation among evangelical churches.  The title of her op ed was “Belief is the Least Part of Faith.”  I was hooked and read on.

Essentially, she distinguishes faith and belief.  Given my job as spirituality professor, that was not new.  Quickly, I realized she was more focused on faith and thinks faith is primary; belief is secondary.  I would agree.  But I liked even more how she was developing her thoughts.  Her argument is not based in heady scholarship, but rather based in the life experience of folks she has observed and whom she has come to know.  That makes sense to me.

One thing she noted interested me.  She says, “you can argue that religious belief as we now conceptualize it is an entirely modern phenomenon.”  That probably is quite true.  She continues by citing one of my graduate school professors---famous, but now deceased.  She writes, “as the comparative religion scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith pointed out, when the King James Bible was printed in 1611, ‘to believe’ meant something like ‘to hold dear.’

She continues by quoting Smith: “’The affirmation ‘I believe in God’ used to mean: ‘Given the reality of God as a fact of the universe, I hereby pledge to Him my heart and soul.  I committedly opt to live in loyalty to Him.  I offer my life to be judged by Him, trusting His mercy.’  Today the statement may be taken by some as meaning: ‘Given the uncertainty as to whether there be a God or not, as a fact of modern life, I announce that my opinion is yes.’”  These are significant words from an old friend that are really words about faith and not belief.  Faith is a bet with my life.  Belief is cognitive principle.  There is a difference.

I like how Luhrmann talks about faith.   She says, “it is more helpful to think about faith as the questions people choose to focus on, rather than the propositions observers think they must hold.”  I very much like the idea of faith as questions.  For example, I might say that I believe in God, but it could very well make no difference in how I live life.  On the other hand, to have faith in God is to begin living life “faithfully.”

Belief affirms that there is a God.  Faith seeks to involve that God in my life and attempts to live my life following the Divine Desire for me.  And my faith journey is enriched if I can find a community of people also living out of their faith.  They might say a creed to affirm their beliefs.  But more powerful will be their communal effort to know God, love each other as their selves. 

And in the best scenario, they are willing to try to love their enemy.  If they can begin to pull off that feat, they will become transformers in this world.  In this sense they will participate in the building of the Kingdom about which Jesus spoke.  This has a great deal of attraction to me.  I want to have the faith to be part of the process.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Religion of Evolution

I have been working my way through Ilia Delio’s book, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being.  It is not an easy book and challenges the belief with which I grew up.  But it is very rewarding and pulls me into thinking about God, myself and the world in fresh ways.  Delio is a Franciscan Sister who is Senior Fellow in Science and Religion with the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.  She is a trained scientist, a theologian and a Catholic Sister.  What a combination!
Many people would simply not read her.  Too many folks I know still are simply religious, but give no truck to science.  In fact, they are not even interested in science.  Of course, I am sure they hope their personal physician paid attention to the science they were learning in order to make it through medical school!  People like this, I am afraid, do know understand the world in which they live. 

It is ok not to understand the world in which we live.  I am convinced I don’t understand that much.  But I think it is important.  Let me explain.  Stated simply, I think my world has to correlate with the God in whom I believe.  It seems clear to me that I cannot read the Genesis creation account in a literal sense.  There is nothing about the way scientists talk about the world that suggests it happened in seven days.  Most reputable scientists adhere to some form of evolution to explain a world---our world---that is some 13 billion years old.  

And so Delio is helping me tie together the world as scientists understand it and a view of God that makes sense with this picture of the world.  I appreciate this process.  Even as a kid, it did not make much sense to sense a God “up there.”  I am sure it made sense when I was three or four, but when you send men to the moon, “up there” takes on a different sense.  And now we know there are many universe---galaxies beyond galaxies and soon my mind is blown!

About half way through Delio’s book, I found a nugget that helps me put together a picture of God and the world.  She says, “Christianity is a religion of evolution in that it anticipates a new creation that is not individual but communal, the unity of all persons and creation in God.” (123)  I very much appreciate the way she describes my own tradition: Christianity is a religion of evolution.  This can be a tenet of belief for me, even if I do not know everything there is to know about that.

For sure, I am a kindergartner in my understanding of evolution and its scientific process, etc.  But I also do not know much about how the motor in my car works, but I have no trouble having faith it does and taking off to some place down the road.  I trust the world is evolving---whether I understand it or not!  And I think God has a hand in that process---whether I understand it or not!

Let’s follow Delio’s argument in that one sentence I quoted.  Christianity as a religion of evolution anticipates a new creation.  That sounds much like the end of the New Testament book of Revelation.  There heaven is portrayed as a new creation.  I sense that Delio is saying that new creation is evolving.  God is part of the process and so are we.  In this way we truly are co-creators.  That is exciting to me.  Talk about having something to do!

Delio's next point might be a little threatening.  She says the new creation coming to be is not individual but communal.  There probably are ways I can misunderstand this, but I am confident she means that the new creation is not about me---at least not solely about “just me” in a self-centered way.  Rather, the new creation is about us.  But the good news is I am not discounted; instead, I am counted in.  I am included in the community.  I think her vision of this evolutionary, creative, communal process is big.  

The aim of all this new creating is the unity of all persons.  Furthermore, it is the unity of all creation in God.  I am intrigued by two little words that make a big difference.  In the first place she talks about the unity of all persons.  This might make some people mad; others will be disappointed.  Some of our religions don’t want everyone to be included.  Some of us truly want some others to “get what’s coming.”  

From God’s perspective, we are all going to “get what’s coming.”  This is truly where our view of God is at stake.  If I were God, some people would really be in trouble.  But then, I find it hard to love all people.  However, I am willing to understand God is bigger and better than I am!  I can imagine somehow in faith God can pull it off.

The second little word I liked was Delio’s note that the unity of all persons is accompanied by the unity of creation in God.  This means religion is not just a human thing.  It is human and cosmic---the world is included in the evolution of religion.  Obviously, this has tremendous implications.  It argues that we care for our world, just as we are to care for each other.  I know I have much to learn and to put in action on this point.

I appreciate what Ilia Delio is offering me.  She offers me a way to understand religion as evolution and invites me into the process of a new creation.  It’s exciting.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Life is a Gamble

My friend, John Punshon, died some months ago.  I came to know John in the very early 1980s.  He had been appointed a Quaker Tutor at a Quaker college that is part of the University of Birmingham in England.  I spent a sabbatical year at that college and came to know John fairly well.  John helped me understand British Quakers and he taught me many other things as well.
John was a very bright guy.  He was educated at Oxford and enjoyed some of the privilege that goes with that.  But he was never arrogant and was able easily to relate to common people.  After all, John’s own family and upbringing were not wealthy, upper-crust kinds of folk.  With his upbringing and education, he was able to straddle two worlds. 
After coming to know him fairly well, John joined me throughout the 1990s and others on the faculty of the college I taught.  It was wonderful to have his collegiality and his friendship.  He was fun and funny.  He embodied the British humor that is different than our American humor.  John was a popular teacher and wrote a fair amount.  Much of what he wrote grew out of conversations he had with me and countless others.  So when we would read his next article or book, there were always the familiar parts and, then, the surprises that we had no idea he was including in the writing piece.
John was asked to offer the lecture at a very special annual Quaker lecture in Great Britain.  That lecture grew into a small book, which John entitled, Testimony & Tradition.  I have my own signed copy from John, which I now cherish even more.  When I learned of John’s death, memories flooded through my mind.  And within a few days I was asked to write a memorial reflection that will be included in a special journal honoring his life and work.  This invitation provoked me to pull some of his writings from the shelf and look through them.
One of my favorite stories from John comes at the end of that Testimony & Tradition book.  John shares some memories of his grandfather.  He begins by saying, “My grandfather was enormous.”  John tells us that his grandfather taught him many lessons in life.  I like how John nuances his grandfather’s pedagogy.  John says his grandfather taught him, “not through what he said so much as by what he was.”  I never met John’s grandfather, but it is easy to begin imagining him.  But none of this is worth much until we see what comes next.
I smiled when I read a little further and came upon this sentence.  “One of these lessons is that it does not really make sense to watch a sporting event without gambling on the result.”  You can imagine how some Quaker ears would hear this passage!  Quakers are not known for their gambling prowess.  So I am confident John told this story to get the audience’s attention and, no doubt, to poke some fun at his fellow Quakers.  And it is really a set up for where he wants to go.

John gives his reason why you gamble on sporting events.  “The reason is that much sport is ritual, and not sport.  In rituals, unseen changes of a very serious nature are taking place, and are of great importance to the participants.  To observe rituals for enjoyment is a species of sacrilege.  You cannot watch boxing for fun.  You have to have something riding on the result.  You have got to stand to lose.”  In clever fashion John has gone from boxing to ritual.  Very quickly he is talking about sacrilege, which implicates the sacred.  Almost magically, through boxing John has shown us that life has something riding on it.  You can lose!  Life is risky.

This is where John really wants the reader to go.  Inherently, we know that life is risky.  In fact, most of us try to eliminate or, at least, minimize risk.  Many of us are risk-averse.  I think institutional religion becomes this way.  And to become risk-averse is to risk losing the Spirit.  I am confident the Spirit is always doing a new thing---sometimes in the form of renewing.  And this often calls for change, but too many of us want nothing to do with change---especially when it comes to religion.

It is at this point John allows that he does not watch boxing or gamble.  But he has set us up to make what will be the final point.  He says, “The principle I am trying to illustrate is that there is all the difference in the world between playing a game yourself and watching other people play.”  In this sense religion is like sport.  You play; don’t become a spectator. 

This is exactly where John wanted to take us.  “The same principle holds good in religion.  Many people think they are practicing religion when they are in fact only thinking about it.  They do not realize that knowledge of religious truth comes only through practice and is inaccessible to thought alone.  This is because religion is an activity and has to be done to be understood.”

Life is a gamble.  Thanks to John, we know we should bet on it!

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Moment of Poignancy

Most of our lives are lived in the middle of routine.  That is certainly not bad.  In fact, my routine life is very good.  I cannot claim it is an emotional high---exciting day after exciting day.  I enjoy my life.  I have been given much more than I ever will give.  I have learned the meaning and lessons of grace.  Grace is gift.  I have learned to recognize small gifts, which come from people and from nature---things I see as gifts that others might not consider anything special.
Apparently in our day, the word “blessing” is not seen as a useful, preferred word.  I am not sure why.  I still find the word useful.  It seems to me there is no other way to describe what happens to me when I am gifted except to say I have been blessed.  I suppose I could bless myself, but essentially I see a blessing as something that comes from without.  God has blessed me; friends and strangers have blessed me; and nature certainly has been a blessing.
And so it was in the midst of routine that I received an email.  It was authored by a friend, whom I don’t see very often.  She is one of those people whom I would even call a good friend, although we don’t see each other very often.  But that does not seem to matter.  When we connect, it is good and fairly deep.  So I was glad to hear from her. 
Sadly, her message was not good news.  The husband of a good friend of ours had died in the middle of the night.  The widow I know fairly well.  She used to be a colleague of mine and was part of a group I lead at my university.  The group meets for the entire year, so I was with her week after week for a few years.  I had heard countless stories of her husband.  And now was dead.  And he leaves a twelve-year old daughter who probably wonders why her dad did not wake up?
When I got the email, naturally I was quite saddened.  I did not know the guy very well, but I was sad that my friend has been thrown a major curve ball in her life.  Last night was the time to go to the funeral home visitation.  I’ll spare you my mixed feelings about open caskets, etc.  What I contemplated, as I joined the long line which was a parade to the grieving widow, my friend, was what would I say? 
Her job was not an easy one.  Person after person came to her and said how sorry they were.  Soon that would be me.  What do you say?  If it were not so sad, I would laugh.  I am one who basically deals all day long in words.  I am fairly articulate.  Yet, as I approached the widow, I know there were no adequate words.  What do you say?  “Sorry?”  That is a puny word for a profound occasion.  I could add an adverb: “very sorry.”  But that’s little help. 
Fortunately, I knew the power of presence would outweigh any impotent words I might utter.  And she will never remember exact words, anyway.  I took solace in the fact that just being there was the best thing I could give.  Maybe I can be a momentary gift.  Perhaps in some unknown way I can even be a blessing.  Who knows, maybe God can use me as an instrument of an early stage of healing.  There is no pride here.  All I am called to do is to be me.  Who I am has a history with the widow.  So whoever I am to her, I become that---and more---in the moment.
As I neared the widow, I prepared myself.  I did not rehearse the words I would use.  I trust the words that would come out of my mouth.  What I prepared was how I would be present to her.  As we engaged each other, she simply called me by name and we embraced in a hug.  In fact no words were exchanged.  We embraced in what I would call a moment of poignancy.  Poignancy is an expressive word.  It means to be “deeply affected.”  Often it is linked to pain or sadness, so it was a good word for the situation.  Typically, poignancy is felt rather than thought.  It is a heart word.
In that moment of poignancy, there was no need for descriptive words.  But I was part of a parade of people and the moment of poignancy had to give way to the moving reality of folks behind me wanting to be with her, too.  So we shared some words and assurances that I would be there when the funeral was history and everyone in her life returned to their normal lives.
I think this was the guarantee of that moment of poignancy.  It is the residue of the power of presence.  I did not make promises and, I'm sure, she did not expect promises.  I doubt that verbal promises would be remembered anyway.  In one sense the only promise I made was friendship, which we already have.  I don’t know what specifically it means, nor does she.
All I know is I gave the only gift I know to give in that moment.  It is to give myself.  Others have done it for me.  In a moment of poignancy the power of presence is the most amazing gift that can be offered.  And it is always a blessing.