Eternal Resilience: A Prayer Remembering the Armenian Genocide of 1915

Tags

, , , , ,

Soothing Spirit,
Whose gentle winds hovered over the Euphrates,
Surround our souls with support in these days of remembrance.

Strengthen our resolve to never let anyone forget
The atrocities of April 24 and beyond –
The genocide of the Armenian People.

They wanted to kill all of the aunts and uncles and grandparents
And place the very last one in a museum to show their sordid victory.

But they did not win.
Hate was not victorious.

We remember the spirits of our ancestors,
Of our sisters and brothers in Christ,
Marching through the mayhem
Of death, confusion, loss.
We remember their steps on the march to Deir-Zor
Their empty stomachs and heavy hearts.
Their lives chipped away
As they lost their mom, or baby, or brother,
and endured violations of body, mind and soul.

In gratitude, we remember those who defied their people,
The Turkish and Kurdish souls who rebelled against the powers-that-be
Saving the lives of kin.
We are grateful for those who stand against the powers today
And refuse to call these events anything but a genocide.

Heal our hearts as the deniers’ speeches become
Louder and louder.
Their words will melt into the pool of justice one day.

We give voice to the trauma that lingered in survivors’ hearts
From the days they left their homes in the ‘Old Country’
To the moment when they saw the face of God.

Help all who carry the stories of the past into the future
So that we will not forget,
And we will not stand by,
As more of God’s children are massacred.

We pray for the survivors of all genocides that burned our earth
And stole our siblings-
Armenia, the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, Darfur, and then some…
And then some more…
Knowing that God will give them resurrection from the ashes of the yesterday,
rising into the winds of tomorrow.

 


Armenian Genocide Centennial Forget-Me-Not
http://armeniangenocide100.org/

 

Azad’s Story: A Child’s Experience of the Armenian Genocide

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

I wrote the following essay in 1993 after interviewing my grandfather Azad “Fred” Torigian.  This essay was included in my 1995 undergraduate synthesis “Authentication of History: The Armenian Genocide of 1915.”  

Azad Torigian passed away on November 8, 1996.

Azad

A certificate hangs on the wall in a small, two-bedroom apartment in Belleville, Illinois, reminding the immigrant of his experience on Ellis Island.  The certificate states that he entered America by way of the island.  His name is engraved on a wall in this gateway to America.  He was an immigrant from a country called Armenia.

Black and white photos of the little boy are scattered all over the dwelling.  The boy is about eight years old in the pictures which were taken in Russia.

Experiences in America have not always been the best for him.  He never received the chance to attend college, but he always told his children and grandchildren “Get a good education, honey.”  In fact, his son became a history teacher who chanted George Santayana’s quote “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Embracing this reference as a family motto was quite fitting, considering what the teacher’s father experienced.

Every day, the immigrant remembers the ordeal of the past.  He remembers mothers tossing their babies into a river.  He remembers corpses swelling under the sun.  This is not the past to him.  This genocide is the present.  It is the future.

*****

azad cropped“My name is Azad Torigian,” states an eighty-three year old man.  Torigian sits on the end of a couch, hands folded on his lap.  As we prepare to talk, he clears his throat.  With pain in his eyes, Torigian proceeds to tell his history.

“I was born in a little town known as Darman in Turkish Armenia in the state of Ezermun in 1909, November 25.”  Torigian then explains a little about his family: “Mother had seven children.”  All seven children, Arman, Rose, Elizabeth, Bill, Azad, Vincent and Sammy were born in Turkish Armenia.  “One of them took ill and died.  I wasn’t born yet,” commented Torigian.  “And one of my sisters was burned,” Torigian said referring to an older sister, Elizabeth.  “She had beautiful long hair.  She played with fire.”  In a matter of moments, her hair caught on fire and scalded her body.  She died as a result.

Torigian recalls the sights of Darman: “In the front of our house was a pond.”  Water from a nearby fountain ran into this pond.  “People would bring their cattle for watering.”  Torigian remembers Sundays in Darman.  “We used to go to church and watch the buffalo fights and rooster fights, and my father’s mother used to take us to the field to get greens.”

Torigian narrates vivid childhood memories.  His face lightens.  “During the mealtime, the mothers, wives, would prepare the meal for their husbands and the elders in the house, and then they would sit at the table and then the wives… would serve.”  He continued, “The ladies would sit down separate from the men.”  What did Torigian think of this practice?  “That’s their custom!”  He replied.  “Naturally, I was born over there.  I was supposed to like it.  I had no other choice.”

“And they always had the visitors come… people to spend their evenings with.”  According to Torigian, the people would “play cards and eat and the youngest ones would sing.  That was the custom there.”

It was the calm before the storm.

Torigian sits on the end of the couch, somewhat restless.  He continues with his story…

“Daddy was over here before the war – before 1914,” states Torigian, referring to World War I.  “He came to the United States with my uncle Pete to work, earn some money, and go back to the ‘Old Country’ again.  They didn’t have the chance to go back because the war had started.

“Mommy had Rose, Bill, Vincent and Sammy.  I was taken by my aunt.”  He explained, “She came over… and told my mother that she liked to have Azad.  If those three boys were massacred, at least she’d have one.”  Torigian mentioned that his aunt said “’We’ll carry the Torigian name in the future if I can save it.’”

When the Turks were deporting the Armenians, Torigian’s mother, brothers and sister were forced to march to Deir-Zor, a desert in southern Turkish Armenian, with the people of Darman.  “They moved us town by town, village by village.”  While Torigian’s mother and siblings were asleep one night, Turks stole Vincent and Sammy.  “During the night, the Turks would come into the caravan, and they took the youngest ones for their babies.  They took them away and they raised them as their children,” claimed Torigian.

His mother, brother, Bill, and sister, Rose, were fortunate to find a way out.  “A Kurdish family came and took my mother and brother and sister because my grandpa had done a favor for them, keeping their boy until he got well.”  The three worked in the Kurdish family’s orchard until the war was over.

Azad was on an entirely separate journey.  He points out to me that “my Aunt Hanoon that saved me is my great-aunt, and Lucy was grandpa’s sister.”  He continues, “When they moved Aunt Hanoon’s village’s people, I was one of them… She came over before moving and took me back to her village, so I hadn’t been with my mother and brother and sister until I met them in the United States.”  Torigian was not to see these members of the family until 1922.

“As I said, they moved my aunt’s village separate from my folks’ town.  Every town they moved two or three days apart from each other so they didn’t get mixed up together.”

A tension rises in Torigian.  “What I really remember… we were going over the bridge over the Euphrates River.  They were taking us to the desert and they were going to leave us in that desert so we would die.  Now, as we were going over that bridge, many of the mothers – they couldn’t take care of their babies anymore and they hate to see the Turks take their babies, so they threw the babies over into the river.  And some mothers took the babies into their arms and then they threw themselves into the river with their babies, jumping in with them…”

Torigian focuses for a moment.  “I was with my aunt and then babies were screaming, screaming, screaming.  And I was also screaming with them.  Babies were screaming over the river.  I was also screaming with them.  My aunt took me under her skirt and covered me, almost sitting on me, so the Turks wouldn’t see me to take me away.  And once a while, she would lift her dress up a little bit so I could get some fresh air.  As I hear the screaming noises, I start screaming with them.  Then she would push me under her dress again, cover me and she said ‘Don’t cry baby!  Don’t cry honey!  I won’t let anybody take you away.’”  He claims, “That screaming voice is in me as long as I am alive.

“Then we went over the river.  They were taking us to Deir-Zor, desert.  They were going to leave us over there so we would perish for good.”

“Nothing to eat,” he says.  “On our way to that desert we would see the corpses laying on the ground… swelling under the sun.  I remember very well.”

An escape route was in sight.  “One day we noticed gypsies were traveling from town to town, and my aunt saw one of the gypsies and said ‘If you can take us back to our town, we have cans full of gold we buried.  We can give it to you.’  So the gypsies kidnapped us, my great-aunt, my aunt Lucy and myself with them.  They took us back to our town.  As we came to our town and a few days after, the Russian army came in.  The gypsies ran away.  We were there all by ourselves – three of us in our town.”  Torigian mentions that most of the soldiers in the Russian army were Russian Armenians.

He continues, “So Russia Armenians took us back with them.  Not a very long time later, the Russian Revolution came on.  Everybody was going wherever they wanted to go.  Some of those Russian Armenian soldiers went back to their country and took us with them.”

Torigian then describes what seems to be a state of purgatory.  “We went to Russia for a while, from town to town we went again.  And not very long, the Russian Revolution came on.  Then we have to run from town to town to save our lives.”

While fleeing from forces that wanted to take their lives, Torigian remembers that he was “hungry – very hungry.  Nothing to eat.  And then I remember those things and then later on we settled close to a little village town close to the city of Ani, that used to be the old Armenian capital.  I remember one little incident.  There was almost nothing to eat in that little town; there was hardly anybody just immigrants over there.  I didn’t see bread for pretty close to a year.  We lived on greens.  We used to go to fields and get a certain kind of green.”

Torigian’s face communicated his past experiences of true hunger.

Through darkness and death, Torigian tells a happier tale.  Once, the three found a mill on a little river.  When the mill stopped grinding and the wheel ceased to move, Torigian recalls collecting a fish on the wheel.  As it wobbled in his hands, “I screamed, scared.  Finally I got it.  I threw it on my shoulder and carried it to the house.”

To make money, Torigian used to “go to the market and get us some kind of fruit, like tangerines, peaches – stuff like that, and I used to go from door to door and sell it.”

At that time, Russia did not have a stable government and still used the Czar’s money.  Torigian fretfully recalls “one morning we got up and the money was no good… I started crying.”  Aunt Hanoon comforted Azad during this crisis.  “My Aunt Hanoon says ‘Don’t cray baby, don’t cry.  We’ll get… some different money… make it good.’”

Torigian then describes the next step of their journey: “From there we came over the Black Sea to Constantinople… The water was so black, just like coal.”  Unfortunately for him, the waters were rough.  “I got sick on it.”

Torigian stayed in Constantinople for almost a year.  “They had an Armenian school there.”  Torigian’s aunt “sent me to Armenian school for about six months.”  He recalls barely learning his alphabet while attending school in Constantinople.

Finally, life turned around for Torigian.  “One of those Armenians from the United States came over to Constantinople to find a wife for him.  My uncle told him to see if he can bring me with him when he comes back to the United States.”  Since his uncle was the only family member who was actually a United States citizen at the time, he had adoption papers made.

Both of Torigian’s aunts stayed in Constantinople.  “We came over on a Greek ship,” claims Torigian.  He continues, “we came back the Aegean sea into the Atlantic Sea.  We have to pass by the Greek Aegean Sea… so we went to Athens… and saw the buildings.”  As Torigian mentions “we went there as tourists.”

Torigian remembers the rest of his trip to the United States.  “From Athens, we came on the Atlantic Ocean and we passed by Mt. Vesuvius in Italy – smokes all year round.  The minute we hit the Atlantic Ocean, I got seasick – until we came to New York.

“From there we came to Ellis Island as we reached New York.  I believed we stayed two or three days until my uncle… made the special papers and sent it to Ellis Island, and I came from Ellis Island to East St. Louis.:

*****

After passing through Elllis Island, Torigian never returned the ‘Old Country.’  He crossed the Atlantic for the only time in his life as a child and lived decade after decade in North America.  In his new country, he has seen weddings and babies being born.  But to Torigian, the past coexists with his present and future.  “Those things like going over the river, and those piles of dead bodies in Russia… burning up, and those corpses I saw lying all over – dead corpses and the incidents in the Russia Revolution” are events Torigian still lives through every day.  He experiences these events in his mind.

“I always bend down, close my eyes until I get to the other side of the river,” says Torigian, referring to crossing the Mississippi River only miles from his home.  “Babies on the surface (of the Euphrates) will always stay with me to this day when I sit down…

“I imagine those things all the time.”

 

 

Not My Mom’s 42

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

imageNow that I am about to be 42 in the next couple of hours, I think about where my mom was at the same age.

Mom had been married for nearly 20 years.  She lived 700+ miles from her parents, and had two children around the ages of 16 and 13.  She taught elementary school and chauffeured us around to the multitude of activities in which we were involved.

I’ve never been married and do not have children.  I have never owned my own home and have lived in multiple cities in the past 20 years, including a city 1000 miles away and some towns much closer.

I always saw Mom as an adult, and she always seemed mature for her age.  I’m pretty sure that Mom has always seen me as a 16 year old, and I probably have a mild version of the Peter Pan complex.

Part of me wished I had the life of my mom at the age of 42.  She had a supportive marriage and two children.  Things seemed “normal” and “ordinary.”  She followed a path taken by most people and it brought her much joy.

But my life didn’t work out that way.  And that’s just fine.

I have a phenomenal life of love, friendships and purpose.  I birth sentences and paragraphs, sit with people as they begin to transition to  the other side of heaven, and embrace adventures.  Predictability is not the life for which I enrolled, and in the chaotic moments on this path less travelled, I have seen the presence of God quite frequently along the way.

My mom’s adult life path and mine diverged at some point – maybe around our early 20’s.  But our paths are equally valuable and sacred, whether we spent our days mothering our own children or the children of the world.

Thanks, Mom, for all that work you did for me 42 years ago… And since then.

Image

Jesus in Hell

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

From The Garden of Earthly Delights – Hell Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For a few years now, I haven’t really believed that Jesus descended to hell in those 40 hours between his death and resurrection.

I don’t believe he was a ransom for souls or was victor over some evil force.

But what if the Divine in Christ was the Divine which follows us into the depth of shadows, to Sheol like what was mentioned in Psalm 139:

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

I like to believe Jesus didn’t go to Hades in some afterlife escapade like it mentions in the creeds but, rather, experienced hell as he walked the earth.  He went to the depths of Sheol every time he touched the unclean, ate with people who had little dignity, and healed the expendables.

So Jesus went to hell… and Jesus brought heaven… each day in his ministry.

A Note from a Pastor to Loved Ones During Holy Week

Tags

, , , , , ,

imageDear people who I care for the most,

As you definitely know by now, it is Holy Week.  For those of us in the clergy/ministry business, we are attempting to accomplish in one week what we usually accomplish in about three or four ordinary time weeks.

In this process, our ideal selves are not shining this week.

I will want to stare at stupid reality shows, binge watch Netflix, play 60 consecutive games of Bejeweled Blitz, and surf the computer for hours in the evening.

I may eat one too many brownies or have an extra glass of wine this week.

I will want to pamper myself somehow… maybe a massage, a haircut and color or a mani/pedi.

I will either not sleep enough or I will sleep too well.

I will be Rev. Crankypants until Sunday morning is over.

I will be Super Crankypants if I am approached about taking care of something that can obviously be completed well after Easter Day.

There will be tears. Guaranteed.

There will also be an impromptu dance party at least once per day.  And I will be breaking out in song – most likely something from my college days and reminding me of a much simpler Holy Week.

The house will have extra clothes on the floor, the dishes will sit in the sink a little too long, and I will not have vaccuumed as I usually do.

I will remind people of things over and over again because I’m truly hoping not to drop one of my many balls in the air.

If you can not find me I will be at one of the following places: (1) church, (2) Michael’s, (3) the ice cream store, or (4) curled up in a corner somewhere as I wail and gnash my teeth.

My throat will start feeling scratchy by Thursday which brings on the added stress of extra needed sleep, gargling with salt water, and remembering to take any and every kind of vitamin that could possibly work.  Otherwise, I have to carve into my day a good hour and a half for a trip to the clinic.

Easter morning will be full of caffeine, adrenaline, and pure Holy Spirit joy.  And then once noon hits on Easter, I am a complete zombie.  Not normal Sunday afternoon zombie but full zombie-apocalypse walker.

I am so exhausted that I might as well post a “Do not disturb until the Thursday after Easter” sign on my door.

Holy Week Michelle is not typically who I am.  Well, sometimes it is – especially in the two weeks preceding Christmas.  And I will apologize over and over and over again as I try to keep everything moving forward.

All I ask is a bit of grace, a bunch of prayers, and maybe, a pint of double chocolate ice cream.  Thank you for loving me through the valley of the shadow of Lent and every other day of the year.

A Parkinson’s Prayer

Tags

, , , , , ,

parkinsons walkAs some reading this may know, my dad has Parkinson’s disease.  For the past few years, he’s been struggling with this neurological and movement disorder.  From what I’ve seen and know, Parkinson’s is an illness that progresses with time, and it has increasingly gotten worse in the past two years for my dad.

And that is why I pray for those struggling with Parkinson’s.

God of each movement and moment of our days,
In times of stiffness and shakes
And as bodies grow slower and slower,
enliven the souls of those struggling with Parkinson’s Disease.

Their tremors won’t end
And bodies resist movement.

As they wait for medicine to kick-in,
Walking becomes a privilege.
As muscles and nerves rebel against the norm,
Voices become soft and shaky.

Nothing is the same.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken the bodies of those we love?
Or did those bodies forsake themselves?
Why has Parkinson’s taken root in small fingers
And caused legs to be as rigid as two tree trunks.

Creative Creator –
On the days our loved ones feels like giving up
Lead them to a new path
And a innovative ways to live.

As their autonomic nervous systems swirl in the sea of chaos
And their minds become a little less clear,
We ask for you to guide them in their movements forward.

Steady their feet when they are about to fall.
Smooth the emotional roller coaster that’s whirling in their heads
And lift what little spirit that remains within them.

In their corners remain loved ones-
Wives and husbands.
Children.  Grandchildren.  Friends.
God, infuse them with the energy they need
To nurse and walk alongside of those they love.

Spirit of Healing and Health,
Spirit of New Starts and Future Graces,
Open doors that have slammed shut
And give them the resurrection they desire.

May their dry bones and muscles and nerves
Dance among us once again.

 

The Big Release

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Jesus answPhone Sept 2014 2052ered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

John 12:23-25

It’s easy to cling to the status quo, the wheat stalk in our midst.

It’s easy to play it safe.  It’s much simpler to allow the voices that stagnate to overrule.  It’s much less complicated to keep lives and institutions in their current shapes.

But here’s the thing: if we keep gripping to the stalk on which we grow and not allow ourselves to die to the old and be reborn, we are going to die anyway.

If we cling to our current ways of living, the unhealthy will overrule our well-being.  If we cling to a destructive friendship or relationship, our soul begins to shrink.  If we cling to a rigid way of thinking about a subject, we will cut ourselves off of a still-speaking God in our midst.

This also applies to the way we are the church.

If we try to keep people happy, preventing anything from changing and anyone from grieving, we think to ourselves “well, at least we aren’t dying.  All must be well!”  We’ll remind ourselves that we aren’t shrinking.  We’re retaining members!  Instead, we’ll foolishly affirm to ourselves and others that we’re stable.  But we’re far from stable.  We are clinging to a dying stalk of wheat.

We allow ourselves to forget about all of the others that may come our way once we shed our status quo.  We will die in the lie of stability because stability doesn’t really exist.  And people-pleasing is only an illusion.

But everyone’s “happy.”  Or so it seems.

Here’s where I fall short: being a Christian isn’t about making others happy.  Jesus refused to make others happy.  Instead, he threw over tables in the Temple, healed on the Sabbath, touched the unclean and associated with expendable people.

I’ll be honest- as I give this more thought, I no longer believe it’s really about making God happy but, instead, allowing God’s call to draw us into life.  We are called to live the Christ-filled journey by releasing the old ways we in which we exist.  It requires us to stop the people-pleasing, cease clinging to the old and let go.

The path of Christ means free-falling into the air… wondering where we will land and having faith that we will land in soil that will nourish us.

Those who love their lives exactly the way things are right now will eventually lose it sooner or later.  We will get old and our bodies and/or minds will cease to work.  As we die we’ll wonder why we didn’t take more chances in life and free-fall into the call of God.

Likewise, those who love their churches exactly how they currently are and work to keep the status quo will eventually lose their church.  Our members will age.  We won’t have the bodies and monies to continue to run our current church structures and buildings.  As we cling to the old, the life and energy stirring around the church building will drift away.

Eventually, the church will die.  Only the hollow, echoing building will stand.  No more ministries.  No more worship.  No more laughter at 9:45a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Nothing.

Now, if we are willing to throw everything to the wind – our old perspectives, our old structures, our old procedures – just as this grain of wheat that Jesus spoke of, we have the potential to grow.  In this great release of the old, we may feel like we are killing off the past.  We may be tossing away everything we know.  And, yes, this means deep grief.

Living this wild life of instability forces us to stop the rigidity and start on the winding road to who-knows-where.  But the possibilities of growth are endless.  The laughter and energy may dwindle for a bit, but then begin to build.

Remember Jack’s magic beans after he sold the cow?  Without releasing the old (and maybe sacred) cow, a beanstalk wouldn’t have blossomed.

Just like many churches will sell their buildings, merge with other churches, advocate for something new… Basically everything they are into the wind…  Selling the sacred cows for magic beans.

But most of the time, when the seed releases and falls, the ground catches it, nurses it, and allows the seed to take root…

…And the buds of resurrection break through the ground.

The Kingdom of God Is Like a Glee Club…

Tags

, , , , , , ,

By Glee (Screenshot from a Glee episode.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Kingdom of God is like a Glee club where young people of all ethnicities, races, gender identities and expressions, economic levels, religions and perspectives come together to join their voices together in song…

Where the pregnant cheerleader, the rebel misfit, the disabled student, the girl with the stutter, the girl with a larger than life ego, the gay young man and the football player who lacks direction can unite in joy and share their gifts…

…Or so Jesus would say if he was telling a 21st century parable.

Now, I haven’t had much chance to watch Glee in the last couple of seasons.  But this year, I’ve revisited the show a few times and watched some of the last episodes including tonight’s finale.

Back in the fall of 2009, my group of fellow seminarians would get together each Tuesday night during our last year of seminary to watch Glee.  It was our ritual, joining with the diverse Kingdom of God to watch a show about the diverse Kingdom of God.  The weekly Sabbath hour of watching Glee became our time to fellowship together before the eventual parting of ways at the end of the year when we were called to different corners of the world to serve.

Glee was something to which many of us could identify.  Some of us had been bullied as young people.  Others had come out to their friends and family.  I think on some level, most of us felt like outsiders who came together with a common love and sense of call – just like Will Schuester and the Glee club.

In tonight’s finale, Rachel explains that Glee club is “Somewhere safe” and a place where people “learn from each other and be who we are including those who are different than us.  When we look back on our time here, we should be proud of what we did and who we included.”

Sue concluded with the following:

“It takes a lot of bravery to look around you to see the world, not as it is, but as it should be.  A world where the quarterback becomes best friends with the gay kid.  And the girl with the big nose ends up on Broadway. Glee is about imagining a world like that, and finding the courage to open up your heart and sing about it.”

The way Jesus explains the kingdom of God is this idyllic place, a place where all people are respected and given dignity.   All are experiencing the justice and peace that flows from God.  Through Rachel’s and Sue’s words, we are reminded that the ideal kingdom of God is a safe place where we learn from one another and where we appreciate each other’s gifts.  It’s a place where people who are extremely different from one another can join together to share life and build up our neighbors.

The Kingdom of God is like Glee, reflecting all of the similarities and differences between people – and the unity between them – joining together to make a melodic world.

Buddhism Reshaped My Easter

Tags

, , , ,

IMG_0185Let’s face it – Easter tends to be the most Christian holiday of the year.  Besides anything that’s bunny, egg, chocolate, or flower-related, the holiday centers around the resurrection of Jesus, the heart and head of our faith.

But last year, I adopted a Buddhist view of Easter… at least in my sermon.

I recalled that each year right around this time, I head over a park on the other side of town.  The entrance to this park is lined with trees that, when they bloom, look like paradise.  I find sadness that this lasts only a short while.  Fortunately, I was able to visit the park right after they started blooming.  When I was over there yesterday, the pinkish-white petals had disappeared, and small buds of greened hung where the blooms had been.

There is sadness that fills my heart when I see the blooms gone for the year.  There’s a part of me that wishes the first days of spring could last all year, and the blossoms on the trees could last forever.

Of course, logically, I know this is part of the life cycle of the tree.  The trees are no longer in its beautiful spring state.  The petals drop to the ground, finding their death.  But in their death, the tree find its next phase.

We embrace much of our lives like we do like the blossoming trees.  We want life to stay a certain way, frozen in time.  But life is always changing.  Life starts, life ends.  Our bodies and our world are in constant motion.  From the mountains to our trees to our hair and our souls, we transform.  It’s concurrently beautiful and sad.

One of my best friends practices Buddhism.  When we have a chance to visit with one another, we have the best conversations about faith.  In reflecting on my sermon for last year’s Easter, the Buddhist principle of impermanence came to light. This principle is meditating on and deeply understanding that everything is impermanent, in a constant state of change and that everything will deteriorate.

She read to me excerpts from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book You Are Here which explained that impermanence and change is the heart of life and makes life possible.  When we reject impermanence, we reject life.  For hope lies in impermanence.

And in a roundabout way, we see that hope in resurrection story.

Mary Magdalene is weeping outside of the tomb, and Jesus the Christ calls her by name.  She then recognizes the risen Christ in her midst.  And then remembering all of the great times with Jesus during his earthly life, she wants to keep that with her.  She wants everything to be the same, and she clings to him.  Maybe she’s thinking “he won’t go away again.”  Maybe she’s thinking that “if I do something differently this time, he won’t die.”  I can’t say exactly what she was thinking, but she wanted the old ways of being with Jesus the Christ again.  But the Christ says otherwise – “do not hold onto me.”

What it says in the text is “do not cling” not “do not touch.”  We see later that it was ok for Thomas to touch Jesus.  I don’t think that it was a problem that this Christ was touched.  But what she was doing was holding on with all of her might in order to keep the pre-crucifixion, pre-resurrection Jesus with her.

In letting Jesus in his previous embodiment go, leaving the garden and running to spread the good news, I believe Mary embraces the hope that lies in impermanence.  She embraces the great change that happens with the Christ – from the original human body format to a format that transcends space and time.  That Christ goes with us wherever we go, and that Christ changes as the ways our life and world change.  When we meet new people or experience life in a new way, we understand Christ deeper.

It may seem odd that I speak of a Buddhist principle on Easter Sunday, but I wonder, how are we with changes in our lives, of letting things go, and then looking at embracing change as hopeful.

I remember what Thich Nhat Hanh says: “hope lies in impermanence.”  The tomb could not seal off the Christ from the rest of the world.  And while the death was traumatic, without the change in the form of the Christ, I don’t believe the good news would have gone beyond that small part of the world.  Would people know of the radical love of Jesus, of the way he validated the lives of those who were in the margins?

If Mary Magdalene would have staying in that garden right outside the tomb and kept holding on to the Jesus she once knew instead of sharing the Christ in its newest form, we wouldn’t have known the Good News of new life and resurrection.  That’s hope.  Maybe there were still tinges of sadness that resonated within her.  But I believe the privilege of sharing the good news of life and hope helped her to let go of Jesus the Christ in his previous form.

I’d like to think of Mary releasing Jesus like any of us releasing the beauty that leaves with the end of a season.  There is a tinge of sadness that still remains in me when the blossoms drop from the trees.  But with the changing trees and the falling flowers comes rich greenness for all to enjoy, full trees for people to rest under during the warm months.  If the trees didn’t change throughout the year, they would die.  That’s like us: if we don’t change constantly – our cells, our thoughts, our churches – we die as well.

So each year, when trees bloom and Easter rolls around, I recall the Buddhist principle of impermanence.  It’s given me the gift of seeing the transitions and changes that come with the death and resurrection of Jesus with a new depth and greater hope of new life.

This post was written as part of Synchroblog’s March 2015 theme “What I Appreciate about [Other Religions].”  Below are other blog posts that have been written as part of this theme.  The links do not necessarily reflect my perspective.

Finding the Grace in Divorce

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Abraham banishes Hagar and Ishmael; Sarah and Isaac look on. Engraving by R. Parr after G. Hoet. Iconographic Collections

In seminary I researched the Malachi 2:13-16 text:

“And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand.  You ask, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.” (NRSV)

A portion of my work on the Malachi 2 text was studying the word “divorce.”  The Hebrew word for divorce as seen in Malachi 2 is found two other places: when Abraham banishes Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness and when David’s son Amnon throws David’s daughter Tamar out after he rapes her.

Divorce in those cases has to do with one person who has the privilege (usually the man in Biblical times) not taking care of the other person, leaving them destitute in body, mind and soul.  Likewise, the Malachi text pertains to abandoning one’s wife and leaving her to survive with little resources.

Divorce happens.  Sure, God dislikes divorce – nobody likes divorce.  We don’t head into marriage expecting that our covenant will end.  We truly hope that our marriages and relationships will triumph over the statistics.

But sometimes, divorce is inevitable.  The covenant is broken through abuse, infidelity and other trust issues.  Sometimes, after much counseling, a couple will divorce because the relationship is no longer healthy.  People will change over the years, and couples will try their hardest to make the relationship work, but in the end will find peace in the dissolution of the marriage.

Yet there can be faithfulness even in divorce.  When we see divorced couples working together for the sake of their children or amicably splitting property in divorce settlements, we see two people loving God and neighbor the best they can through a challenging time.

Lastly, God gives grace in divorce.  God wants us to find happiness and mercy in our lives, and I believe God wants us to abide in hope and find love again.  Even in the case of Abraham and Hagar, both were given God’s gift of descendants through both Isaac and Ishmael.  We will find that blessings in our lives as well.

A prayer for those divorcing or divorced:

God of the coupled and uncoupled,
You sit with us in the shadows of our souls.
Your hope feeds us and your grace quenches our thirst,
And through your nourishment, we find movement towards tomorrow.

Bless those who are currently journeying through the wilderness of divorce.
Help them to see their estranged spouse as a person created in your image.
Bless their efforts in amicable settlements and custody arrangements.
Help them find new ways of being family, even if family has taken a new form.

God, we know your grace is always pouring upon us
And so we ask that you help us see that grace
In the moments when hope seems far
And shame seems too close to us.

Amen.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 148 other followers