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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stare

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Lord God, mercy is in your hands, pour me a little. ~Mary Oliver

The weather was hot and dry, the way a summer day in August should feel. To beat the heat a young family decided to spend one of the final days of summer at the local swimming hole. The popular pool was crowded with sunbathers, swimmers, and picnickers. Within minutes, as mom and dad found the perfect spot to set up, the kids were running and splashing in the refreshing water.

Laughter mixed with the sound of splashing was peaceful until suddenly there was a cry—a voice from somewhere among the crowded swimmers creaming, “Help! Please Help! Help!” The voice was urgent, terrified, and piercing.

Quickly the father stood up and began scanning the water until he located the boy’s distressed face, tilted upward, barely above the waterline, fearfully screaming. As he looked on with panic, he noticed other parents and teenagers stood a few feet away, watching in shock, watching in uncertainty, watching…and yet doing nothing to help the screaming boy.

Why wasn’t anyone helping this kid?!
Quickly a big burly man, with white water exploding from his knees and his own child tucked under his arm, crashed and splashed his way through the water towards the little boy. As parents pulled their kids back out of his way he shouted “Somebody help that kid! Somebody grab him!”

But for some reason…no one was wiling to act.
As they stared the courageous bystander, now waist deep, bent forward straining against the thick water, stretched out his one free arm, yanked the boy out of the water, and brought him tight against his chest. The boy, desperately relieved, wrapped both arms and legs around him and clung tight. Then slowly, gently they made their way to the beach and the man sat the boy in the sand. He knelt down and comforted the young lad until his parents arrived.

***

Life is scary. We humans are small, fragile, and limited. Like the boy in the lake, many of our prayers often begin in fear or confusion—many of them are some version of “Help me!” or “Have mercy on me!” Sometimes our prayers are so filled with our own worry and anxiety that we forget to stop talking and just listen to what God is doing. But when we do stop and listen, even though our prayers are filled with cravings and needs and sufferings and loneliness, we notice that God responds to us with rest and peace and love and comfort.

It is as if we can feel God wading through the waters, stretching out an arm and calling to us, “Hang on! I’m on the way!”

There are many scary situations occurring throughout the world right now. Perhaps you are asking, “What can I do, in small-town U.S.A., about these much larger issues?” Or maybe you do your best not to turn on the nightly news because the scenes of violence are too much. Both responses are reasonable, since we often react with a “fight or flight” mentality.

So what are we to do?
Listen.

As Christine Sine, contemplative Christian and gardener has said recently, “Listening and giving full attention to those who have been victims or perpetrators of violence means that we do not run from it. We do not pretend that violence is not happening and we do not pretend that it does not involve us. We recognize its horror and we gird up or spirits to take a stand.”

We need to listen to the pain and the grief that creates violence, listen to the stories that tell of the results of violence and listen to the stories of how God’s reconciling love can and has been shown in the midst of that. We also need to listen to the hopes and dreams of the victims of violence. So often these reflect the cry for a more just and equitable society in which peace, equality and justice is shown to all.

By responding out of love not hate or indifference to, we welcome a stranger who is often very difficult for us to embrace. And in so doing we can often find that we are embracing and welcoming Christ into our midst.

***

Have you ever seen a small child cry when they are scared? Have you noticed that when their parents come and hold them, they cry harder at first, releasing all the hurt and fear? Eventually the cries slow down and get quieter and then at the end, just before the crying stops, the children take a deep breath and let out a long sigh, a release of all the tension and fear.

This is what it means to pray—we cry out [with fear or joy], we wait for the One who loves us, we allow ourselves to be held, we empty out our real fears and need [or our real joy and gratitude], and then we rest, knowing our lives are held in the hands of love.

I invite you to take a few minutes in silence to contemplate the following prayer from

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God!


Friends, may we continue to pray for people in Ferguson, Iraq, Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine--and for those suffering in the house next door.

[Pastor Adam Quine of First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln]

 

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