Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tears, Seeds, Yeast and the Benedictus

I didn't expect to be crying.

There I was praying with 80 other men and I started to snivel. My eyes filled up and the overflow started running down my cheeks and dripping onto the floor. One of the men had cancer and we were praying for him. As the first petitions ascended to Heaven I was back in the Nursing Home with my Mom watching her die.

I have only ever seen one person die. And that death has colored and changed the word cancer for me. The word used to be an abstract concept - sure I knew people who had dealt with it - but I hadn't experienced its stark cruel reality. So as we prayed for this man I was transported back to my mom's bedside, watching in sadness, grief, horror and many other emotions as this woman, who had held on to life until my brother and I walked in the room, finally embraced death with one last tremor and vomit of her cancer ridden body.

That was four and half months ago, and the ripples of that event still rock the boat of my life.

As we prayed in staff worship we read the Lectionary for today.

Luke 13:18-21

Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches."
Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

It used to be that when I thought of 'The Kingdom of God' I saw fierce armies, men with banners and swords cutting brutal swathes through the enemy.

But here we have a seed and some yeast. The seed takes time to grow, many years for a it to be strong enough to support the weight of birds nesting in it's branches. Yeast is fragile - mix it with water that is too hot and you kill it - mix it with water that is too cold and it will not rise and the bread will remain flat.

The Kingdom of God as something small and fragile, that takes time to grow within me and needs careful nurturing. That fits how I feel right now - God feels like the smallest ember within my heart that needs to be tended. The 'God' I had before Mom's death has passed away along with her and a new one is carefully growing.

At the close of worship we read The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79). We don't often read this, but in the traditional Morning Prayer it is read every day. It closes with these words:

"In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

I used to think that the 'Shadow of Death' was the darkness of my own mortality. Now I know it is larger - watching death embrace someone I love has changed that for me. But I still believe in 'The Tender Compassion of our God' even though His kingdom seems tiny and fragile and insignificant in my life right now.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.

In the darkness of winter comes the light of Advent.

And in the Shadow of Death comes the Light of the World.


Jerry said...

Peter, your reflection moved me deeply. Thanks for taking a step "beyond the map" with it. I've worked recently with the mustard seed and leaven in my own journey, as well as with that line from the Benedictus, reflecting on my own life "in the shadow of death." I was grateful to read how you were working with it on your path. Your insight and thoughtfulness are always helpful for me. And I'm glad for our friendship which allows me to be witness to the seed growing within you. Thanks.

Ginger said...

This is lovely, Peter. Thank you for sharing. I always appreciate your wise and reflective insight, and you always use the exact right image or phrase to illustrate feelings that the rest of us have trouble rationalizing.