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Being Jairus’ Daughter: What Was It Like?

The Raising of Jairus’ Daughterpl

William Blake (1757-1827)

***

A note:  I wrote this piece before the tragic shooting in Las Vegas several nights ago.  So while it’s not a response to that horrible event, the question I believe must have been in the mind of Jairus’ daughter as she lived through her life is a question we all share.  And it’s a question that becomes more urgent after a tragedy like that in Las Vegas.  The question is simply “what is the meaning of life?”  What is the meaning of life for those who were killed or wounded in Las Vegas?  What is the meaning of my life?  Of your life?  So I offer this piece in quiet memory of those who were killed and trust that it will offer hope to their loved ones and to all of us who grieve with them.  

***

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying…While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.’ When Jesus heard this, he replied, ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, ‘Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead.  But he took her by the hand and called out, ‘Child, get up!’ Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat.  Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened. (Luke 8:40-56, selected verses)

***

          I’ve often wondered.  Whatever happened to this unnamed girl whom Jesus raised from death when she was but 12 years old?  We never hear of her again in any of the gospels or in the story of the early church, so I suspect her life was probably quite ordinary.  But ordinary as it may have been, I suspect that it may not have been either a very easy or a very comfortable life. 

          I imagine that many of the people of her village were eager to name her as their village saint, and I suspect that with such elevation came many high expectations of how she should live her life and of what she might be able to do for them.  Some perhaps even now and then gingerly tried to touch the hem of her robe in hopes that something of the power that had brought her back to life would rub off on them. 

          And then I’m sure there were others who did not see her as a saint at all.  They saw her only as a reminder that the Miracle Worker hadn’t chosen to save their loved ones, and they were angry and jealous of her.  Was she so much better than their sons and daughters who had been left to die?  Why had she alone been brought back from the dead?  They wanted to have nothing to do with her.   

          Not easy!  But through all of this, I hope she had her moments of joy.  I suspect she did, but I’m also quite certain that, like all of us, she also experienced difficult times of personal illness and loss.  And I can’t help but wonder if during some of these times she may have wished that Jesus had just let her be.  What, after all, was the meaning of her life?  Why had she been brought back to life when others had not been?  What did it all mean? 

          “I simply don’t know,” I imagine her thinking often to herself.  “I don’t know why I was given a second chance at life when I was 12 years old.  I don’t know if God expects something extraordinary from me.   I know many fellow villagers expect something extraordinary from me.  Think I ought to be perfect, think I ought to be able to perform miracles for them, save their children, whatever.  And my father, God rest his soul, I know he certainly expected my life to be extraordinary.  I don’t know the specifics of his hopes, but I often saw the gleam in his eye when he would look so tenderly at me in my teens and early twenties and whisper those words the Master had spoken to me as I lay deathly cold and still, ‘Child, get up!’

          “Lots of expectations.  But do I expect an extraordinary life for myself?  Sometimes I have hoped I would accomplish something very special in my life, but I haven’t, and much of the time I simply go about my daily tasks.  What I do know is that those words, ‘Child, get up’ left a permanent scar on my soul.   A positive scar.  A profoundly deep sense that my life, tiny and ordinary as it is, is a life treasured and valued.  That my life matters to God and to the Master who spoke those words to my lifeless self.  I’ve heard that some are saying that Master was actually God wrapped in our human flesh.  I don’t understand about all of that, but I do know that God was with him.  That in that moment, God scarred my soul with a searing love.”

          Theologian Emil Brunner in The Christian Doctrine of God writes of God regarding each of us “from all eternity, with the gaze of everlasting love.”  An eternal gaze, he says, that gives to each of us a sense of “eternal meaning,” a sense of “eternal dignity.” 

          Maybe something like that is what Jairus’ daughter felt.  That gaze of everlasting love focused on her.  That gaze of divine love infusing her days with a sense of extraordinary meaning and dignity, ordinary as they might have been.    

          I wish we knew more of her story.  But perhaps we know enough, just enough, to help us ponder our own lives, our own stories.  Just enough to help us realize anew that our tiny lives, too, are steeped in that loving gaze of the God who has looked upon us from all eternity.  Just enough to hear the voice of that God calling to us in every moment of our lives, “Child, get up.”

 

 

 

Lest We Forget-5; A Monthly Reminder

(A father cradles his dead child after a bombing raid in Aleppo in 2016)

his arms full of emptiness,

his mind blank,

his heart shredded

in a thousand pieces

mirroring the rubble

of his shattered life

          Let’s not let ourselves forget the horrors that so many refugees experience.  Aleppo.  With all the terrorist attacks around the world, Aleppo now seems so long ago and far away.  But the ruins of Aleppo remain, reminding us of the 4 years of horror and devastation endured by the citizens of this ancient city.  It is estimated that 31,000 people were killed during the years of fighting, until Aleppo finally fell to Syrian government forces, aided by the Russians, in December, 2016.  Thousands more citizens of Aleppo became refugees in search of a new home, a new life.

          Let’s remember to pray for these refugees.  Remember to encourage our government to be responsive to the needs of these desperate people.  Remember to share some of what you have with those in need.  Here again are some agencies through which you can offer help:

               Church World Service     cwsglobal.org/our-work/refugees-and-immigrants/

               International Rescue Committee     https://www.rescue.org/

Growing Season

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk so that by it you may

grow into salvation I Peter 2:2

          Summertime.  Growing season. 

          I’m remembering a summer day long ago now.  The memory is still so vivid.  I stood behind my desk at the Williston Park Reformed Church on Long Island, and I felt so small.  I had arrived the day before, fresh from a beautiful ordination service in Michigan, and I felt so blessed to be starting down this new road of pastoring.  But I remember calling a friend on the phone and saying, “I feel as though I’m wearing a dress that’s two sizes too big for me.”

          I thought of that time recently as I read St. Peter’s encouragement to the recipients of his first letter to “grow into” their salvation, to “grow into” their faith.  “Grow into.”  In that little phrase, Peter reminds us that faith is not a stagnant commodity.  Not something we either “have” or “don’t have.”  Faith is more like a dress or a suit that we put on—one that is two or three sizes too big.  Faith is something that requires our constant “growing into.” 

          I think I grew a bit into that two-sizes-too-big-for-me dress during the years I served as a pastor, but I know I never fully grew into it.  I think, too, that I’ve grown into my dress of faith over the years, but I know I never have and never will fully grow into it.  There’s always so much more of God to learn about.   So much more of God’s creation to learn about.  So much more of Scripture to learn about.  So much more of myself to learn about.   (And please forgive all those sentences ending with a preposition!) 

          It’s always been interesting to me to note how eager most people are to grow in so many different areas of their lives.  Eager to learn new skills.  To hone old skills.  To develop new interests.  To read more.  To listen more.  To travel and/or explore more.  But all too often I’ve also noticed that many people remain “stuck” in a faith they learned in their childhood but have not really explored and developed in their adulthood.  For so many, as J.B. Phillips reminds us, their God is simply “too small.”  And the problem is that a “too small” God often disappoints us.  Such a God “will often prove inadequate in the tests of real life.”* The problem also is that a “too small” God does not challenge us to be all that God intends for us to be.

           “Growing into salvation.”  Growing into faith.  Not just a summertime task, but really the task of a lifetime.  A task that requires honesty, diligence, commitment.  A task that calls for patience  and humility.  A difficult task.  At times a heavy task, because of all the questions and doubts we must confront.  But nevertheless, a most rewarding task.  For it’s a task that calls us into an ever deepening relationship with ourselves.  Into an ever deepening relationship with others.  And most especially, into an ever deepening relationship with the immensity of the God of our faith, a God who is always so near, yet always just beyond our grasp.

***

*Robert Corin Morris, Wrestling with Grace

 

 

 

Lest We Forget-Monthly Reminder #4

Alan Kurdi, September 2015

          This is a picture we are likely never to forget.  Alan Kurdi’s family was fleeing from the chaos and fighting in Syria.  They tried to reach one of the Greek islands in a small rubber inflatable boat designed to hold eight people.  But, tragically, there were sixteen people in that small boat, and it capsized shortly after leaving Turkey.  Alan’s three-year old body was later found washed up on the shore.  The bodies of his brother and his mother were also found washed up on the shore.

          There is understandably much debate and disagreement about how best to respond to the vastness of the needs of the refugees fleeing from so many ravaged places in our world today.  But perhaps we can all agree to remember these people as we go about our daily lives. 

          Remember them and offer daily prayers for them.

          Remember them and pray, too, that our government will be wise and compassionate in deciding how best to respond to this global crisis. 

          Remember them and contribute to an organization that is working to help refugees.  Here are a couple of suggestions if you would like to make a donation:

               Church World Service     cwsglobal.org/our-work/refugees-and-immigrants/

               International Rescue Committee     https://www.rescue.org/

***

Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”  Luke 9:48

But Why, God?

The Baptism of Jesus, by He Qi

(contemporary artist who blends Christian images with Chinese folk art)

(used with permission: www.heqiart.com)*

18The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Luke 7:18-23

***

          “But why?” was little Andy’s perennial question to any member of our family.  Andy was a long-ago young neighbor whose mind was persistently bursting with questions.  And he wanted answers.  Why was his world the way it was?  Why did people do what they did?  We’d all try to come up with reasonable answers, but often Andy’s response to our answers would simply be another “but why?” 

          John had a similar question for Jesus, the one for whom he had prepared the way.  The one whom he had baptized.  The one on whom he had seen the Spirit descend.  The one whom he had identified to his followers as the Son of God and the Lamb of God.  In those early days, John had been so sure of Jesus’ identity.  So certain that here at last was the One.  Since then, it was true, he had heard some good things, many good things, in fact, about the ministry of Jesus.  He’d heard about the healings, the exorcisms, the powerful teachings.  But he had also heard some disturbing things.  That Jesus ate with sinners.  That Jesus’ disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath.  That often they didn’t observe the prescribed ritual laws of washing their hands before they ate.

          Jesus simply wasn’t acting the way John the Baptist had understood God’s Chosen One would act.  “But why, Jesus?  Why are you doing these things that are so contradictory to our Jewish laws?  Why aren’t you insisting that your disciples be as ritually clean as good Jewish people are supposed to be?  Why are you mingling with sinners and allowing yourself and your reputation to be tainted by them?  I was so sure you were the One we all awaited.  But now I’m not so sure.  Did I prepare the way for the wrong person?  Were my preaching, my baptizing, and my faith in you all miserable mistakes?”  John was in prison when he asked these questions of Jesus, and he was no doubt experiencing a dryness in his soul, a shriveling of his faith, a desert emptiness of his spirit.

          John was well accustomed to desert life.  He had lived and preached in the desert and knew its harsh terrain.  But this “inner” desert was different.  Much more uncomfortable than any actual physical desert could ever be.  John didn’t like the barrenness of not being sure.  Didn’t like this lack of clearly defined answers.  Didn’t like that Jesus wasn’t behaving in just the ways John thought he should be  behaving.  This desert called for a stretching of his faith far beyond his comfort zone.  But why, Jesus, but why?

          So it so often is with us, is it not?  We have a positive faith experience, and God’s love and presence seem so very real in our lives.  And then difficulties strike.  Questions arise.  God’s absence hovers all around, and we lose our footing in the shifting sands of uncertainty.  God is not acting, not “performing,” in the ways we had expected.  Questions haunt us and chase us through the deserts of our doubts.  And so, with Andy and with John, we cry out, “But why?  But why, God, are you not behaving in the way we had hoped, in the way we had expected?  Why does my friend have to live with cancer?  Another with Parkinsons?  Yet another with double depression, while I, meanwhile, can do so little to help, as I’m coping with this CFS/ME day after day after day?”

          Jesus does not give John the answer that John was hoping for.  John would no doubt have been more than satisfied if Jesus had simply said, clearly and emphatically, “Yes, John, I am the One for whom the world has waited.  I am the Messiah for whom you prepared the way.”  But that’s not what Jesus says.  Instead he asks John to simply notice what’s been going on around Jesus.  To look and listen to the stories of all that Jesus has been accomplishing.  To look and listen and then to determine for himself just who Jesus was.

          God so often responds to our “but why’s” in the same way.  Like John, we would prefer decisive answers to all our questions.  Explanations that are clear and definitive, answers that leave no room for questions or doubts.  Instead, “Look and listen,” God says.  “Look and listen to all the stories of my activity in the Scriptures.  Look and listen to all the stories of saints down through the centuries who have sung of my reality in their lives, in spite of their deserts of hardship and persecution.  Look and listen to the many different ways I have been active in your own life and in the lives of those around you.  Look and listen and let these stories nurture and enrich your faith.  Look and listen and let these stories renew your confidence that I am indeed with you and for you.”

          Poet Mary Oliver tells us that “there are so many stories more beautiful than answers.”  Her words so clearly echo the words of Jesus to the disciples of John, the words of God to us.  Much as we might want definitive answers, perhaps we can learn instead to find courage and see the beauty in the stories that are given to us.  A beauty that expands our horizons.  A beauty that deepens our awareness.  A beauty that helps us live with all the questions we carry with us throughout our lives.

***

*HeQI@2014 All rights Reserved

**Snake,” by Mary Oliver, House of Light,1990

 

Lest We Forget-3

          As we approach Holy Week and then Easter, it might be a good time to remember gratefully not only all that Jesus accomplished for us, but also to remember that Jesus came for us, lived for us, died for us, rose again for us—all because “God so loved the world.” 

          Our government is talking of cutting the State Department budget and cutting aid to millions of people living in the midst of poverty and violence, with many, especially in South Sudan, now facing starvation.  At the same time, our government talks of spending more to build up our military in order to keep America Safe and First.

          But I wonder.  Will we really be stronger and safer in our world if we have an ever-stronger military?  Or will we be stronger and safer if we reach out to help other peoples in need, letting them know that America cares about their plight?

          Once again, I am posting a monthly picture to remind us of the needs of people around the world.  I hope as we look at this picture, we will hear God’s reminder that “God so loved the world” and will do what we can to urge our government not to neglect these needy people.

 

child in South Sudan

(picture from the BBC)

Five Long Months

detail from The Visitation

Domenico Ghirlandaio

(1449-1494)

Note:  March 25 was the church’s celebration of the Annunciation to Mary of the coming birth of her son Jesus.  My focus this week, however, is not on Mary, but rather on Elizabeth, Mary’s older relative whom Mary visited right after the angel’s announcement to her.  Elizabeth was 5 months pregnant with John the Baptist at the time of “the visitation.”  The following passage tells us that during those first five months Elizabeth had remained in seclusion.  I found myself wondering why.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” Luke 1:24-25

***

          Five long months.  The longest five months of my life.  I know.  I expect you assume that I was very excited and very happy during those first five months of my late-in-life pregnancy. 

          But there was so much more to it than simple happy excitement.  Part of me was happy, to be sure.  Part of me really did believe that God had looked favourably upon me, and I did feel a deep gratitude to God.  But a part of me was pretty skeptical too.  Was God really at work in my life, in my body?  We had tried for so many years to have a child, and now, at my age, was it possible that I was to birth a very special child who was to prepare the way for the Messiah?  I found it difficult to let myself really, really believe that it was all true. 

          Where was my faith, you ask.  Quite honestly, it was buried under years of disappointment.  There had been a few hopeful times when I had been “late,” and we had let ourselves get excited.  Back in those long-gone days, I had even dared to whisper once to a few of my women friends that maybe, just maybe, I might be pregnant.  Only to be disappointed one more time. 

          This time, I was simply going to keep to myself at home, busy myself with my daily household routines, and avoid, as much as possible, the ever-present grin that haloed my dear husband’s trusting face.  I decided not to go out to the market or the town well (let my husband take over those chores), as I simply couldn’t face the questions I knew would await me there.  Why was my usually rather dour husband so happy, even after he had lost his ability to speak?  And what was he trying to tell them in his silly pantomimes?

          Yes, I did watch my waist-line give way to a bit of a bulge, but wasn’t that what happened to all women who were my age?  And yes, my breasts did become a little fuller, but there, too, maybe I was just putting on a little extra weight, without my usual exercise of daily walks to get our water and food.  I remained skeptical. 

          And, to be quite honest, I was just a little bit angry with God as well.  I mean, why couldn’t God have given us this child when we were young and energetic and so eager to be parents?  Would that have been too much to ask?  Why did I have to bear years of scorn from my neighbors because I had never been able to bear a child?  It all seemed so unfair.

          So for those five long months I sat in my house and simply waited.  Alone.  Dubious.  Anxious.  Angry. 

          And then that moment of spiritual transport in the early days of my sixth month.  It happened on the day my relative Mary came to visit me with her news of the angel’s promise that she was to give birth to the “Son of the Most High,” a child who was to sit on the throne of David in a kingdom with no end.  Clearly our Messiah!  I had always been devout, but never before had I experienced a time when I simply felt overwhelmed by God’s Spirit and felt God’s Spirit actually speaking through me.  But I did feel a certain ecstasy as I cried out to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?  For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

          I was genuinely happy that day.  Happy for Mary with all of her good news.  And happy for myself also, for when I felt my baby give me a swift kick that day, I finally knew it all was so very real. 

          At the same time, if I’m really honest, I have to confess that along with all that happiness, I did feel just a bit of jealousy.  I mean, why was this young teen-age girl called to be the mother of our Messiah, when I, with all my maturity and wisdom of age, had been called only to be the mother of our Messiah’s forerunner?  Ghirlandaio captured some of my ambivalence, I think.  Mary is gently looking right at me, but my eyes are just a bit averted.  Trying to take it all in–the enormity of what was happening, as well as the weight of all my emotions.  Oh well, my jealousy was pretty fleeting, and overall I really did feel blessed.

          But with all my lack of faith, my anger at God, my short-lived jealousy, I certainly want to confess that I was no saint.  I know.   I was declared a saint by the early church, and my feast day is still celebrated 2100 years later on either November 5 (Roman Catholic Church) or September 8 (Greek Orthodox Church). 

          But the reality is that I was simply an ordinary woman with lots of doubts, questions, jealousies, angers, and fears.  A saint?  I hardly think so!

          Or was I?  I’ve been talking to the apostle Paul through these centuries since my life on earth, and I think he has me almost convinced that all Christ-followers really are saints.  He spoke of this so often in his letters to the churches back in the first century, and he’s still hammering away at that idea all these centuries later.  Trying to convince me that, even though I certainly didn’t wear a halo, even though I was far from perfect, I was, in God’s eyes, a saint because God was at work in my life.

          He does agree with me that I was a pretty muddy saint, to be sure.  All of us are, he tells me, as he ticks off his own failings.  Lots of clay feet and dirty toes.  Lots of mistakes in all our lives.  But I think he has convinced me that we are all saints simply because God truly is at work in each of our lives.  He likes to quote for me what he said in his letter to the Ephesians.  “We are [God ’s] workmanship (the Greek word here is “poiēma,” which can also be translated as “poem” or “masterpiece”),  created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”   I quite like that image.  God sculpting the soiled clay of our lives into a lovely vase or chalice.  God taking the alphabets of our lives to write the rhythms of a lyrical poem.  “Masterpieces” that carry the ancient, ongoing silhouette and song of God’s love for all of God’s creation.

          So call me a saint, if you will.  And celebrate my special day, if you will. But please be sure to call yourself a saint too.  And please celebrate each day of your muddy life, believing, in every moment, that God is carefully and lovingly at work in you, molding and writing beauty in all the messy contours, all the soiled nouns and verbs and adverbs of your not-so-saintly, saintly life.