Sunday, June 28, 2009

Chesed-filled

Yesterday we celebrated our one year anniversary. All year we've worn these precious bands engraved with three, simple letters. Together they form the Hebrew word chesed, which is translated several ways.

It's God's steadfast love and the mercy that lasts forever. It's the patient faithfulness at work in God's promises to us. Chesed is the way God intends for us to live in the covenant of marriage.

It's good to see these three, loaded letters on my finger every day. They preach marriage in the everyday law and gospel of being together. Chesed is a good reminder to fight fair and communicate well. It reminds me about the length of God's promise to us and the journey that our promise will become in time.

This first anniversary makes me especially grateful for the marriages we have witnessed growing up. We are blessed to know parents who share power and love fiercely. They argued in front of us and we got to watch them work it out, learning that discord can be healthy and normal. They've handled their marriages with great care, speaking well of each other and living with mercy. I'm sure that our marriage is stronger for the way they practice God's loving faithfulness in their own marital promises.

Whatever you celebrate and cherish this summer - whatever promises you have made and strive to keep - be inspired by the divine example of God's perfect covenant with us. May it teach us steadfast love in all the ways we are called to be faithful people.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I hold you in my heart.

I rarely open the Book of Occasional Services in my ministry. While it means well, I've found the pages too formal for the grief I encounter among solemn strangers or new parishioners. The liturgy is too high for small hospital rooms or quaint living rooms filled with antiques and family photos.

Still, I clutch it when I am called into the unfair and unfortunate places. It brings me comfort to know that others have also held it while they wish for the right words or patience during the long silences of sorrow. And though I rarely open it, the book is usually there.

I found it in my hands the other day and opened it to the black bookmark - the consolation of the dying - before going to see someone I am going to miss. Out tumbled scraps of paper and post-it notes filled with names, illnesses, hopes and idiosyncrasies. I sat down on the floor in my office and read through them one by one.

While I cannot connect some of their faces with their names, I remember how holding the hand of a dead person first felt or the holiness of gathering family around a bed to share their love and say goodbye. I remember baptizing a dwarfed and stillborn baby named Jose - not because it was theologically correct, but because it sealed his broken mother with new promises and affirmed her role as Life Giver. I remember walking out to my car in the monsoon rains one night and sobbing in my humid car with the death of a saint aching within me. I remember painting the fingernails of a swollen stroke victim who needed to feel beautiful before she passed. I remember burying people without knowing much about them at all.

While some of these notes are only a name or room number, they are filled with promises from God and moments that have sealed the unfamiliar and acquaintance in my depths. And so I could not discard John, Ruth, Jose or the phone numbers of families I met with to plan funerals. They remain in the book where I will find them written, occasionally or rarely, though I always hold them in my heart.