Tag Archive | kindness

Joseph of the Tomb

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Luke 23:50-53

50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.

*****

He asked for the kingdom of God.

He received instead a lifeless, bloodied, soiled body;  

but a body, nonetheless, so, good man that he was,

he took that body and wrapped it in fresh linen;

sprinkled spices of disappointment across the

shroud, then laid the bitter remains of his dreams on a

shelf in the dank darkness of his new rock tomb. 

He had been tempted, yes he had, tempted to

simply walk away and leave that corpse on the cross

for others to dispose of, but, surely, he reasoned,

surely this man, disappointing as he turned out to be,

surely he deserved—simply as a human being—a final,

quiet dignity.  One more caress for the shrouded

remnants of his dream; one more sigh, and then he left to

close the tomb and seal away forever all his kingdom hopes.

 

But then…that curious rumor in the air that sent him back to

tidy up his now strange-emptied tomb; and there the lingering

scent of myrrh and aloes, mixed with something

new and strange, ethereal, it seemed, almost like

angel breath; and, too, that mystifying luster

glimmering ever just beyond his sight; those

linen wrappings, stained and stretched across the shelf…

 

Could it possibly be?  Could his cave have been the

womb in which the costly kingdom pearl had been

laid to rest and then had birthed new life beyond this life?  

And were his muted actions somehow part of all of that—

his futile disagreement with the Council? his binding of that

mangled body in his linen winding sheet?  He hoped, but

sureness hovered just beyond mind’s reach; so quietly he

folded all his questions into the empty creases of the

shroud, and quietly he left his silent tomb.

 

Yet heart emboldened by that hushed and holy emptiness,

mysterious Presence filling gaps and pauses nestled in the

restless aching of his soul, he asked for rising faith to

live—wrapped once again—

in kingdom hope,

in kingdom love,

in kingdom joy and peace.

In Remembrance of Her

Anointing-Jesus-head

(stained glass window from a chapel in France)

Matthew 26:6-13

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this good news[b] is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

***

          Whatever prompted me to be so bold?!  In my dotage now, I quite startle myself as I think about what I did at Simon’s dinner party so long ago.

          Jesus had just recently made his triumphal march into Jerusalem.  Now we were all just waiting.  Waiting for that moment when he would clear the political decks, declare the Roman occupation over, and take the destiny of our nation into his own hands.  Simon had spread a festive table in anticipation of that coming moment of triumph, and I was so pleased to be one of the guests.  My eyes mirrored the shining hope that sparkled in the eyes of the disciples, and we were all just a little bit giddy.  All except for Jesus, that is.  Very quiet.  Very solemn.  I went over to tease him a bit, get him to smile and join the party!  But as I drew closer to him, I saw the profound sadness in his eyes, a sadness so cavernous it seemed to enfold every sorrow, and I do mean every sorrow(!) that earth had ever known.

          My heart cracked open a bit when I saw those eyes, and I simply could not help myself.  I didn’t know what that pain was all about, but I knew that words could never touch it.  So without giving it a second thought, I simply took the vial of expensive ointment I wore around my neck, and in one quick motion, I opened it and poured it all—yes, every drop of it!—over his head.  I remember hoping it would somehow seep into his very soul and ease a bit the pain I had seen in those eyes.

          Immediately the air in the room became heavy with the rich fragrance of the ointment.  Heavy, too, with a stunned silence—everyone shocked at such a bold act.  And then that dark hostility which I can never forget.  Coming especially from the corner where the disciples were standing.  “What a waste!  We could have sold that ointment and used the money to help the many poor who will doubtless come flocking to Jesus’ new kingdom!  A pox on her and her stupidity.”

          My cheeks burned a fiery red, and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me right then and there.  It didn’t, of course.  Tears ran down my face as I stumbled towards the door.  But through my sobs, I heard his gentle voice: “Why do you trouble the woman?  She has done a good service for me…By pouring this ointment on me, she has prepared me for burial.”  I froze.  His words were truly a gift, but a gift that sliced into my very soul.  Burial?  But he was far too young to be thinking of his death!

          I ponder it all now, years after the fact, and I am so grateful that I followed my heart that night.  Grateful I could offer him that tiny bit of consolation before the agonies of his final earthly days with us.  Grateful for his kind words that still echo in my soul when winter rains come and cold winds sweep across my aging dreams.

          All these memories will soon be buried with my bones.  Jesus said I would long be remembered wherever the good news of his life and death and resurrection might be proclaimed, and that’s a pleasant thought in these my final days.  It will indeed be nice to be remembered.  But I hope I won’t be remembered just in the telling of my story.  I’d really rather be remembered by people…

  • taking the time and care to look into another’s eyes to see, to really see, the aches and longings hiding there; by people

  • opening their hearts in gestures of love, no matter how foolish those gestures may appear; and by people

  • pouring vials of rich, costly heart-kindness into the lives of others, not to solve all their problems, but simply to brighten and cheer and remind those others that they are not alone.

          Time now for me to put away my pen and close my eyes for sleep.  I pray God soon to call me home, and I pray God’s peace to any who may chance some day to come upon what I have written.

Advent Darkness and Light

latour61

“The Newborn”

Georges de la Tour (1593-1652)

Georges de la Tour’s painting calls me to a profound stillness before his riveting portrayal of the stark contrast between the darkness and the light.  The darkness is so deep.  The light is so bright.  And while there is some debate as to whether or not the artist was actually depicting the Christ child with his mother and St. Anne or simply a French village birth, we certainly can see the gospel story of Christ’s birth imaged in this intense focus on darkness and light.

There is so much darkness in our world today as we approach the holy season of Christmas.  Not just the darkness of the shortened days huddled around the winter solstice, but a deeper darkness.  Wars continue to rage across the globe.  Illness and financial worries darken many of our personal lives.  Poverty persists behind the bright rich facades of so many cities.

I recently read the 2012 National Book Award for nonfiction, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo.  It’s a book that tells the story of teen-age Abdul and his family and neighbors, and it powerfully depicts the darkness of life in Annawadi, a wretched slum in the shadow of the airport in Mumbai, India. Abdul’s “job” is to collect, sort, and sell the recyclable garbage scraps thrown out by the airport and the luxurious airport hotels.  Alongside these hotels, flashy billboards advertise elegant tiles that promise to be “beautiful forever” for those who can afford them.  Abdul’s mother longs to have some of these tiles for her tiny slum shack.  Instead, she daily sweeps her uneven stone floor, not-so-beautiful, knowing that, no matter how hard she works, she never can sweep away all the forever grime that seeps into the lives of her family.  Life is dark and difficult and ever so precarious for the citizens of Annawadi.  As it is for so many who live in the slums of big cities around our world.

As it was in that murky stable so long ago when Mary cradled the infant Christ and watched with wonder as Light shone into the gloomy darkness of her world.  Shone and continues to shine, as it shines so vividly in de la Tour’s beautiful painting of the newborn.  Shines in the love we share with each other in these holy days of Advent and Christmas.  Shines in the joy and hope that Christmas renews in our lives.  Shines in every act of kindness, in every step towards justice for which we work and pray.  Shines and points the way to a world in which Abdul will no longer awaken each day to the dark bleakness of his poverty.

Christmas lights cannot hide the darkness lurking behind all the “beautiful forevers” of our world.  Christmas carols cannot muffle the anguished sighs of Abdul and those like him around the world.  But neither can all this darkness extinguish the Light that we celebrate with our Christmas lights and carols.  For “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

It can be so disheartening to look across our broken world and see all the dark shadows that cloud so many lives. We know we won’t be able to right all the wrongs or cure all the maladies.  But maybe we can learn anew to focus on the Light that shone in Bethlehem’s stable long ago.  On the Light that de la Tour so hauntingly portrays.  On St. John’s sure promise that darkness will not overcome that Light.  And as we focus on that Light and celebrate all that Christmas means in our lives and in our world, maybe we can once again bring to the manger the gift of ourselves and offer “our hearts and minds as channels of the Light that wants to flow through every available opening” (from Robert Corin Morris’ Wrestling with Grace).

Kindness

“Every kindness I received, small or big, convinced me that there could never be enough of it in the world.  [Kindness] can change the lives of people.”

Aung San Suu Kyi in her speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on June 16, 2012

The prize had been awarded to her 21 years ago, but she has been under house arrest and was not allowed  to leave her country, Myanmar.  Recently she was freed, and she is now a member of Parliament in Myanmar.