Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My CPAP

This past summer, I had a routine colonoscopy. Afterward, the anesthesiologist asked if I had sleep apnea, because of the way I breathed under general anesthesia. I told him I hadn't been diagnosed with that condition. So I found a sleep specialist, discovered I had SEVERE sleep apnea, dealt with what insurance would and wouldn't pay for, and now beside the bed I've this continuous positive airway pressure ventilator, aka CPAP.  


I remembered a post on "sleep" that I wrote a few years ago. When my family and I visited a museum in Ireland--in Waterford, I think---we passed an exhibit of historical bedroom furnishings. The description included a quotation from poet Isaac de Benserade: “In bed we laugh, in bed we cry; And, born in bed, in bed we die. The near approach a bed may show Of human bliss to human woe."

Talk about Christian discipleship usually focuses on things to do, attitudes to develop, ways we fall short of Christ-like love, and so on. But a very large portion of our lives (and a large range of our emotions) revolve around the privacy and vulnerability of the bedroom.

There, we sleep for a third or a fourth of our 24 hour days. Add another hour or two hours a day (or thereabouts) getting ourselves ready for the day or ending the day. Typically, people have sex in the bedroom. When we're sick, we're in bed even more. And at the beginning and ending of our lives (as de Benserade puts it) in bed is where many of us will be. My mother was not ambulatory at the end of her life and spent most of her final years in bed if she wasn’t in her wheelchair.

When I was in school, I studied on my bed, with my books spread over the covers. That was the way I did my first committed Bible study, working on my college courses in Bible content, New Testament Greek, and other classes. I still study that way sometimes.

God, who is never absent from any portion of our lives, is our caregiver and sustainer as we lay, sick or asleep, or sexual, or reading a book, or (in my recent situation) ceasing to breathe several times an hour during the night. Many of us carry our problems into bed and we lay sleepless worrying about things. Psalm 6 expresses this kind of sorrow and distress:


I am weary with my moaning;

every night I flood my bed with tears;

I drench my couch with my weeping (Ps. 6:6)

God sustains us whether we are distressed or whether we are sick:

The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;  

in their illness you heal all their infirmities (Ps. 41:3)

Sleep is even a divine gift:

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives sleep to his beloved (Ps. 127:2)

Psalm 63:6 is another good verse:


....when I think of you on my bed,  

and meditate on you in the watches of the night…

Joyce Rupp speaks of the moments before she drifts off to sleep and the moments between waking and rising. She considers these as wonderful prayer times when she can fall asleep mentally communicating with God in trust and peace, and then when she wakes up, God is in her first conscious thoughts and she can give her day to God. Our daily discipleship is sustained by prayers offered in our PJs to the Lord.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mary's Advent Visit with Elizabeth

from United Methodist Memes on Facebook
Here are Advent thoughts that I've shared before. In our lesson today from Luke's Gospel (Luke 1:26-56), Gabriel visits Mary and announces that she would be mother of "the Son of the Most High" (vss. 26-38). The text continues that "In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth" (vss. 39-40).

To paraphrase that On the Town song "New York New York," Nazareth is up and Judea is down--quite a way down, over eighty miles. One wonders if Mary traveled with a caravan or by herself. A map that I found online shows a possible route from Nazareth over to the River Jordan, then down the river banks to the Jericho area, then over to Jerusalem which is just north of the Judean hill country.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’ (vss. 41-45).

Several things we can gain from this story, including the lovely words of the Ave Maria, Benedicta tu in mulieribus et benedictus fructus ventris tui, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” When I wrote about this passage elsewhere on this blog, I wrote about Elizabeth's gift of the Spirit. In those days before the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered only certain people to prophesy, and when Elizabeth heard Mary coming, she was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (verse 41). By the Spirit’s power, Elizabeth preached the Gospel of Jesus before his birth! She recognized Mary as Jesus’ blessed mother. She interpreted her own physical discomfort as God’s sign.

In other words, Elizabeth was a prophet, in a long line of Hebrew prophets which, most believed, had ended centuries before. One wonders: if the Spirit came to a person who previously had been perceived as disfavored by God (as childlessness was then believed to be), doesn’t the Spirit now comes to all kinds of persons, whether favored or disfavored in society? What might the Spirit be up to in our present, distressing world that might startle us and give us hope?

Our lesson also includes the famous Magnificat, set to music by so many composers, when Mary herself preached the Good News.

And Mary said,
"My soul magnifies the Lord, 
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, 
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever."

Our pastor preached on this passage today, and she noted how many echoes we find between the Magnificat, and Jesus' teaching when he visited the synagogue in Luke 4.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Landscape: Guzhavin

Mikhail Markelovich Guzhavin (1888=1931), "Wild Flowers in a Field" (1927).  From Twitter: History of Painting‏ @AHistoryofPaint Dec 1


First Sunday of Advent

On the Christian calendars, today is the first Sunday of the Advent season, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and also the first day of the liturgical year. Advent, in turn is the Western Christian season of waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus and anticipation of his future return.

Traditionally viewed, Advent is a time of longing for Christ. We symbolically anticipate his birth but look toward his second coming. Then at Christmastide, we celebrate and honor his birth as well as the revelation of his divinity (Epiphany, or Theophany in the eastern churches).

But in actuality, we expend our celebratory energies during Advent, culminating in the multiple Christmas Eve services. Afterward, many of us begin to take down and box up our holiday decorations, and many pastors (at least in my own circles) take well-deserved time-off during some portion of Christmastide. Right in the middle of Christmastide are New Years Eve/Day, a pair of secular holidays mixing festivities with resolutions for self-improvement.

Rather than feeling guilty about the way we observe Christ's birth, I wonder if we should simply recognize that our holidays have evolved to this point. Advent and Christmas are, already, a complex assortment of traditions: Christian, non-Christian religious, and secular/economic. The Christian liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent with the anticipation of a big, festive season, and then we can move into our new year with a fresh sense of Christ, even if we're a little tired  and let-down for a while.

This prayer from St. Anselm’s Proslogion reflects the "seeking" quality of the Advent season.

"Insignificant [person], escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.

"Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.

"Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here where shall I look for you in your absence? Yet if you are everywhere, why do I not see you when you are present? But surely you dwell in ‘light inaccessible.’ And where is light inaccessible? How shall I approach light inaccessible? Or who will lead me and bring me into it that I may see you there? And the, by what signs and under what forms shall I seek you? I have never seen you, Lord my God; I do not know your face.

"Lord most high, what shall this exile do, so far from you? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and cast so far from your face? He yearns to see you, and your face is too far form him. He desires to approach you, and your dwelling in unapproachable. He longs to find you, and does not know your dwelling place. He strives to look for you, and does not know your face.

"Lord, you are my God and you are my Lord, and I have never seen you. You have made me and remade me, and you have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet done that for which I was made.

"Lord, how long will it be? How long, Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face away from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself back to us?

"Look upon us, Lord, and hear us and enlighten us, show us your very self. Restore yourself to us that it may go well with us whose life is so evil without you. Take pity on our efforts and our striving toward you, for we have no strength apart from you.

"Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you and love you in finding you."

From The Liturgy of the Hours: I, Advent Season, Christmas Season (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Corp, 1975), 184-185.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ghost Signs: Vandalia, Illinois



Bible in a Year: Returning in 2018

This calendar year, I’ve been reading through the Bible and taking informal notes on the readings. Since we so often read verses and passages and passages of the Bible without appreciating context, I’m especially focusing on the overall narrative and connections among passages.

Lord willing, this project will continue a little past the calendar year, into Lent 2018. I've been interested in discovering ways that the New Testament continues and connects to the Old Testament (which was the subject of my Lenten devotional published a couple years ago)--and in discovering points of rapprochement between Christianity and Judaism. But to help me with those goals, I purchased eight or nine wonderful books at the recent Society of Biblical Literature meeting, and now I need a few weeks to study them properly. Rather than rush things just to fit the project into 2017, I'll be back with these notes at the end of December or the first of January.