Perhaps We’ll Listen

On a recent drive, somewhere along a lush tree-lined road where wildflowers bloom, I “lost” a big-city classic rock station.  As Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers faded away, I channel surfed for other music I’d enjoy.

Wherever I was at the time, nothing tuned in clearly for miles, until I heard Paul Simon singing, “Loves Me like a Rock.”  As I drove further, The Archies followed with “Sugar, Sugar.”  I couldn’t help singing along.

Then, Don McLean began his haunting, beautiful elegy, “Vincent,” one of my dad’s favorite popular songs.  In a moment, I was transported to a time in my childhood when Dad, an artist himself, tried to share some hard-earned wisdom.  Often, when he wanted me to pay attention, he would say: “Listen.  Your Daddy wants to tell you something.”  When I did, I discovered abundant treasures in his insights.  Sometimes, they saved me from going down roads of pain and heartache.

I like to imagine that all the biblical prophets and the wayshower, Jesus, wanted to do the same.  They hoped to share their profound message of God’s unconditional love, infinite compassion and ever-abiding grace, as well as their worldly experience with the people of their time — and by extension, the rest of us now — just as Vincent Van Gogh attempted to share the beauty and wonder he saw in God’s magnificent world.  As some art historians note, Van Gogh believed his first calling was to preach the word of God.

Perhaps this is why McLean’s lyrics tug at our heart strings as much as Van Gogh’s starry night, sunflowers and wheat fields do.

Now I understand, what you tried to say to me

And how you suffered for your sanity

And how you tried to set them free.

They did not listen; they did not know how.

Perhaps they’ll listen . . . now. . . .

For they could not love you, but still, your love was true.

Perhaps some did listen.  Though sometimes, we don’t want to listen.  Or can’t.  Not necessarily because we don’t know how, but because listening takes a lot of faith, patience and spiritual strength.  Because sometimes, listening hurts.  We don’t want to know what we’re being told.  We don’t want to experience our own pain, let alone someone else’s.

If we listen, we believe, we might have to do something.  Or worse, we might not be able to do anything.  Except be present.  To an elder’s wisdom.  To a friend’s deep, dark secret.  To yet another family story.  To an outpouring of emotion we don’t understand.  All of it shared in love – even when we can’t listen.

Few people understood Van Gogh’s gift in his lifetime, though now he is one of our most revered artists.  Few people understood the wisdom and love Jesus and all the prophets attempted to share, though we still endeavor to live as they advised.

Perhaps, no matter what road we’re traveling now, we’ll stop — and take some time to listen.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

To Everything, a Season

One of the blessings of ministry — and of life, if we’re paying attention — is how fortunate we are to share our journey with so many others.  Sometimes, we travel together a long way.  Sometimes we meet at a particular juncture, then move on again, each in our own direction.  Either way, when we’re present to the experience, it can transform us in rich and wondrous ways.

Such was the case for me recently when I received a referral from a colleague to officiate a funeral.  I had never met the deceased or her family before.  She was the friend of someone my colleague knew.  The service turnaround was quick.  It was Wednesday evening, the family was arriving in town on Thursday morning, and they wanted to celebrate her life on Friday afternoon.

As we planned the service, I learned about this woman’s abiding faith, her devotion to God, her love for her family and friends, her longing for justice for all people, and her zest for life.  I heard about how she called everyone in the family on their birthday to sing to them and how often it was off-key.  I discovered that she served Kentucky Fried Chicken at an important family event and got caught trying to pass it off as her own recipe.

As I perused my notes and contemplated how to tell her story, I realized the depth of her faith and strength as she lived each season of her life, including her preparation for death.  And I turned to Ecclesiastes 3:1-9:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.  A time to be born, and a time to die.  A time to plant, and a time to harvest what is planted.   . . . A time to break down, and a time to build up.  A time to weep, and a time to laugh.  A time to mourn, and a time to dance.  . . . A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.  A time to get, and a time to lose.  . . . .  A time to be silent, and a time to speak.  A time of love, and a time of hate.   A time of war, and a time of peace.

I learn much on my journey through ministry, and one thing is clear: To everything, there is a season.  Some we enjoy, and some we don’t.  Yet, if we’re aware of what’s occurring — a child being born; a loved one dying; one team reaching the playoffs at another’s expense; a dispute settled; a crop planted, then harvested later — we remember that life vibrates in us, as us, in the celebrations as much as in the sorrows.  We discover, on the way, that no one really cares who fried the chicken.  What we remember is that in at least one season, we ate the chicken together.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.

Pick Up Your Mat

Having faith in God — and in ourselves — can be a continual challenge.  Travelling faithfully requires that we flow with life, guided by our inner vision even as we heed activity in the outer world.

No matter what may occur in our lives, faith in God and God’s power and presence within us always leads the way.  Though sometimes, we get it backwards.  As in the story of the man Jesus meets at the pool of Bethesda {See John 5:1-9}.

At the pool, many ill people — blind, crippled, paralyzed — wait for an Angel of the Lord to stir the water at certain seasons.  Those who step into the water are healed.  One man, an invalid, has waited by the pool for 38 years (mystically, 38 can represent spiritual discernment).

When Jesus sees the man waiting, he asks: “Do you want to get well?”

At this point, the man doesn’t know who Jesus is.  He replies: “Sir, I have no one to help me into pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get in, someone else goes ahead of me.”

Then Jesus says to him: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once, the man is cured; he picks up his mat and walks.  Because he hears Jesus tell him that he can!

Sometimes we need to wait for assistance.  And sometimes we need to lift ourselves up and move, of our own accord.  Even when we’ve been previously blinded by anger, crippled by shame or paralyzed by fear.

Sometimes we wait for someone else to “heal” us, never realizing all the while, that we have the power within us to heal whatever needs healing.  For days, weeks, months, even years, some of us have held false beliefs — in our hearts — that we are somehow broken or unworthy.  We’ve erroneously believed that a power outside of us would one day come along and change our circumstances, instead of understanding that we have all the inner power we need to rise and walk.

When we choose to pick up ourselves and our “mats,” whatever they may be, we align ourselves with God and allow an Angel of the Lord, sometimes called Holy Spirit, room to move.  Without Holy Spirit, we labor, struggle and limit ourselves and others — even though the power and presence of God with us and within us is limitless.  Yet, with Holy Spirit — the thing which stirs the water, our inner well of faith — we’re healed in whatever way we need healing most.

The Truth is: We always have the power to discern whether we want to wait by the pool, attempt to get in the water, or pick ourselves up and move in another direction.  We always have more strategies than we first imagine.  At any moment, we can pick up our mats and walk — as soon as we’re ready to believe that we can.

© 2016 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks.  All rights reserved.