These moments of awe remained with me today during my walk. I feel closer to God than during times of formal prayer.
I continue to be awed by the sense of God’s presence as I lie on the couch in the sun reading. Sometimes I stop and let it wash over me. Other times I feel compassion take center stage, compassion for every character. I can usually find a piece of myself in each one, part broken, part loving. Isn’t that the way we are, filled with both?
These moments of awe remained with me today during my walk. I feel closer to God than during times of formal prayer.
I am posting the following both there and my acottagebythesea blog. I want to emphasize here that my reading for compassion project is God’s work.
The other day when I told a spiritual friend about the project, she unequivocally felt God’s grace and power. Here was God, working in God’s wonderful and mysterious way. I feel that too, which gives me the best ever reason to keep going. This isn’t just a good idea, it is a God idea.
I have been pondering the birthday gift of book titles I received from Face Book friends and from those of you who read this blog. What began as my participation in the 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge, quickly morphed into an antidote to political negativity, accompanied by my desire to read for compassion. What I am pondering today, a month and a half into the project, is the effect it is having on me, my gift-giving friends, and, dare I believe, the wider world.
My reading began as intellectual learning--different lifestyles, points of view, periods in history--but then expanded to include feelings of compassion, first for the particular characters and situations, and then to something more universal--a feeling without words deep in my heart.
I know very little of the effect this gift has had on my friends. I am sure that those who sent a suggestions spent time thinking about perfect book for me. I have thanked a few personally, and made a few general post on FB and here, but that’s about it. And yet, I still feel a personal connection with each of them.
As far as the effect in the wider world, I am certain this project is making a difference; after all, I believe the world is always a more faithful, hopeful, and loving place when we live from compassion. Reading these books enables me participate in just that.
(You can read how this got started on my posts at the end of December 2016 and beginning of January 2017.)
I’ve added a few feature to my Cottage By the Sea blog. It’s entitled “Compassionate Reading.” Here’s my description. If you’re interested, check it out at www.acottagebythesea.net.
Compassionate Reading may sound strange, but that’s my purpose in joining the Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge. A book a week seems like a reasonable goal. Maybe I’ll read 52, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll read 32, but probably not 520.
Number goals appeal to me, especially ones connected with the calendar. As a teacher, I loved the definitive school year. There is nothing like a Monday morning every seven days to give me another jump start. The first of every month I take delight in turning the page of my wall calendar. I like numbers.
However, this reading goal isn’t about adding books to a list. My goal is understand lives different from mine. Up until now I have read through the lens of my own life, one of ease, privilege, freedom and advantage; they never promised a rose garden, but I was given one. Now I want to wear the lens of the authors and their characters. I want to step into their feelings and experiences without comparing them to mine. I want to observe without judging. I want to appreciate the nuances rather than put everything into categories. I want to I want to read with my heart more than my head.
My plan is to post how each book opened my heart to compassion.
Today is my birthday. On Face Book I asked my friends to send me the title of a book they thought I’d enjoy. I’m on a reading binge and am planning to join the Goodreads Reading Challenge, committing to reading 52 books in 2017. I’ve received many suggestions and if any of you want to send me a title, I’d love to hear from you either via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or as a blog comment. Later in January I’ll post the list.
I’ve already begun, finishing THE CLASS CASTLE and starting HALF BROKE HORSES, both by Annette Walls. These two books, along with the provocative titles suggested by my friends, are leading me toward new spiritual insights, specifically toward compassion. Not more compassion but compassion from the heart rather than the head.
Life isn’t about getting it perfect, but doing the best we can with what we’ve been dealt, which is never a full house. The people we read about in story, be it fiction or memoire, show us how to cope, overcome and be resurrected. They find God in the midst because God is there for them. Jesus didn’t have it easy, so why should we ever imagine we will live in a glass house? But by his example as the Resurrected One, we can have such moments in our own life when there is light and clarity. We play with the hand we’re dealt, but Jesus is there to give us new cards. He’s the best dealer I know.
What about all the children, all the children around the world? Praying the news always, has to include them. The children effected by the bombing of the aircraft over the Ukraine; the children in the Middle East; the children coming across the borders in the U.S.
This from my denomination, the United Church of Christ.
"The National Officers of the United Church of Christ and the Council of Conference Ministers — the leaders of the denomination’s regional conferences — share this pastoral letter addressing the tens of thousands of young refugees fleeing Central and Latin America and seeking safety in the United States. In a unified voice, UCC leaders declare their support for these children that are leaving their homelands out of fear. This is a unique moment that tests the church’s commitment for justice and peace .
"Recognizing that the influx of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America requires a robust humanitarian and advocacy response, UCC leaders call on all settings of the church to “care for the stranger in our midst."
This heartfelt situation forces me to confront my beliefs, particularly as a Christian. Of course I welcome the stranger, of course, in the abstract I can say that. But truth be told, I do it better in theory than in practice. I don’t often allow discomfort and upheaval to come through my front door, through the border of my home. Saying that I don’t know how to welcome the stranger can be an excuse to nothing. And then there are all the political, practical ramifications. Can we really care for the children that have already come across? Will our caring encourage more to step over the border? Will we be able to care for ‘too many’? What about the children born into poverty in this country? When I ask those questions it becomes clear to me that welcoming these children calls for a paradigm shift in the way we distribute wealth and services in this country.
All of this, however, has to be beside the point for me. Why? Because I have opted out of delving into the politics of the news, and of voicing an opinion of what leaders should do. I have chosen to apolitical. Instead, I have chosen to be prayerful, to see life through a God lens, to listen and take heed to what Jesus said,
"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' Matthew 25:40
Amy Carmichael spent her life as a missionary, living in South India from 1895 until her death in 1951. I am often inspired by her words of faith published in Edges of His Ways: Selections for Daily Reading. Yesterday it was this:
We must learn to pray far more for spiritual victory than for protection from battle-wounds, relief from their havoc, rest from their pain. We must reach the place where we bend all our prayers that way, or (for I want to be honest) our chief prayers.
We are so eager to pray for a specific, tangible outcome, often a physical cure or personal material gain. But we can’t all be healed, we can’t all win the game; for someone to win, the other must lose. It is oh so human to pray this way, but that’s not the path God asks us to follow. To even assume that I know what God wants sets me far from God.
I do know, however that God wants a spiritual victory for everyone I pray for, and for me, too. Perhaps my best prayer is to lift up my concerns to God, pray thy will be done, and then get out of God’s way. Anything more is hindrance or at the least superfluous.
And yet, today I am praying for physical healing for three people. Yes, I’m definitely asking God that they get better so they can go on with their lives. If I don’t plead with God in this way, I lose compassion. So thank God for today’s comment by Carmichael:
Yet He has told us to ask for what our hearts desire and so it is right to ask, and to ask earnestly, only with this :if” in the depths of our hearts, ‘If it be Thy blessed will, if it be for Thy glory.”
I keep coming back to (and posting) my belief in the unique power in praying for people I don’t know. At the moment I am praying for six such individuals and the situations that surround their needs. Three are requests from friends who know I pray in earnest, the other three were spoken at church during Joys and Concerns.
What is this power in praying for people I have never met and am not connected to in any personal way? I believe it is in the clarity of prayer; clarity as in no judgments, no ideas about what they should do, and no excessive hope for the right outcome. Pretty much, “Thy will be done.”
That being said, I do ask God to intervene when I dare believe that God and I would want the same outcome. I have to believe that God wants the mother of three young children to survive cancer surgery. But my prayer isn’t limited to survival/cure; I also pray that faith, hope and love will surround the entire family.
When I pray for strangers, I pray as a compassionate human being, minus the agony, fear, anger, worry, you name it, of family members. They have enough to deal with! Whether they know I’m praying for them or not, I know that my prayer lifts some of their burden, and places it in a hopeful perspective as I carry some of the load to God.
I haven’t seen the lady in red, as I call her, since that first encounter a couple of days ago on my walk. I keep looking and praying for her. Although I felt okay about my response, I have been wondering where I am on the good Samaritan continuum—somewhere in the middle, not able to claim priest or Levite nor good Samaritan status.
Regardless, Jesus’ parable give me much to ponder. I definitely had some excellent reasons not to get involved with the woman, but I didn’t cross to the other side, either; I didn’t ignore her. I had some acceptable Samaritan tendencies, but I didn’t take her to to the inn. My involvement was a smile and prayer, which is to me is mighty powerful. But was it enough all by itself? The answer is, “Yes and No.”
This story isn’t over for me.
The other morning, while walking along the sidewalk to the beach, I passed a women who was shuffling along. As she turned to look at me I saw the saddest face. More than that, a face of despair. She look right at me as though she recognized me and was trying to come up with my name.
I blurted out, “I don’t think I know you.” She tried to respond but all that came out was a silent expression of grief.
I put my hands together and said, “I will pray for you.” She nodded in relief, and I went on my way.
What a moment! Christ was present in this woman; Christ was present in me; Christ was present between us. I didn’t feel I should stop, hear her the story, get more involved. But I have prayer for her and will continue to do so. Her ‘name’ written in my prayer book.