The Keystone

In 2015, twenty-five parishioners and I traveled to Ireland to study Celtic Christianity and visit sacred sites.  We spent three days in Glendalough, the site of St. Kevin’s ancient monastic village and one of my favorite places on earth.  “Glen-da-lough” valley of two lakes.  It is almost unbelievably verdant, and if one cannot detect the presence of God there, then God doesn’t exist!  It is no wonder that St. Kevin was enthralled by Glendalough in the early 600s, and it is no wonder that pilgrims have traveled in droves to the valley ever since.

With the exception of the stunning round tower, most of the stone monastic buildings at Glendalough are in ruins.  Even so, these were so well constructed that in every ruin the archways still proudly and solidly stand.  When we made the trip in 2015, among our Cathedral group was Charlie.  Charlie is genteel and soft-spoken.  He is also a brilliant architect and viewing the stone structures of Glendalough alongside him was a revelation.  As we moved prayerfully and in awe among the buildings, we stopped before one arched doorway.  Pointing to its top, Charlie said, apropos of nothing, “See that keystone?”  I’ll finish his thought in a moment, but first, let’s consider Charlie’s first three words.

Glendalough Archway, Wicklow, Ireland Poster Effect1a Digital Art ...

Glendalough

The web resource Grammarist defines keystone thusly: “A keystone is the central stone placed at the top of an arch. The keystone is the apex of an arch; without it the arch would not stand. The keystone is placed last when constructing an arch, locking all the other stones into place. It allows the arch to bear its own weight. The word keystone is often used figuratively to mean the central idea of a philosophy, process, business proposition or principle upon which the entire philosophy, process, business proposition or principle stands.”[i]

Though often the terms keystone and capstone are interchanged, they are not the same thing.  A capstone sits atop a structure and may be protective or even just cosmetic, something to make the thing more attractive.  But a keystone is structural and central.  Without it, everything falls apart.

Except…back in Glendalough in 2015, we stood in front of that stone wall with its arched doorway.  Charlie pointed up to the top and said, “See that keystone?  Under very unusual circumstances, there have been arches in which the keystone has been removed without the arch collapsing.  The forces around where the keystone was begin working together, pushing and pulling.  It’s rare, and it seems mysterious, but it happens.”

I looked at Charlie, and then I looked around for wisps of the Christians who had built these sacred buildings a millennium ago.  And I saw the disciples of Jesus with whom I’d traveled from Houston halfway across the world, who yearned to know God more deeply.  And Charlie’s words were, indeed, a revelation.

In our scripture readings today, Jesus leaves the disciples.  We read these passages today because last Thursday was the Feast of the Ascension, when we celebrated the Resurrected Jesus’ return to God.  But here’s the thing: on Ascension Day two thousand years ago, the followers of Jesus didn’t celebrate.  They knew, and Jesus himself had told them, that Jesus was the keystone.  Biblical translations often say “cornerstone” or even “capstone,” which, as we’ve already said means something different altogether.  “Keystone” is an equally accurate translation and one that makes much more theological sense.  A capstone isn’t essential.  It is sometimes cosmetic.  And even a cornerstone is often ceremonial rather than structural.  If Jesus is only that for us—window dressing or an excuse for our pomp and circumstance—then he’s not worth keeping and we should be glad he ascended out of view.  But Jesus is, in truth, the keystone.  He bears the weight of the world.  Jesus is central, and as he takes his leave today his followers have visions of everything collapsing around the void.

Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture:keystone

These days especially, I understand that feeling.  At first glance, for us, everything does seem to be collapsing.  COVID-19 still has us mostly confined to our homes; unemployment is projected to reach as high as 25%; West Texas crude is selling at $33 per barrel; we haven’t been able to worship together in person in almost three months.  Jesus showing up, actually and in person, would be welcome.

But each time I begin, like the disciples, to lapse into despair, I’m drawn back to that cool Irish day five years ago, standing next to Charlie, and looking at that arch:

Under very unusual circumstances… it’s rare and mysterious…the keystone can be removed and the arch still stand.

Jesus says today in his conversation with God, “Now [the followers of the Way] know that everything you have given me…I have given to them and they have received it all…I have been glorified in them, and [though] I am no longer in the world, they are.”

The forces around where the keystone was begin working together, pushing and pulling… 

Like the new sight I received that day in Glendalough, I look at our world today, and the way we as the Cathedral are engaging it, and it is a revelation.  We gather online by the hundreds each Sunday (and each weekday at noon) for worship and Sunday school.  We come together throughout the week for bible studies and other groups so large that the computer screen can’t accommodate all the Zoom squares.  Our 100+ Cathedral Good Neighbors are checking in on us, to make sure we aren’t left in need.  We are sewing facemasks for our community.  Next Sunday we will donate more than 30 pints of blood.  The Beacon’s good work among our homeless sisters and brothers continues unabated.  And, we are at work even now imagining new ways that we can connect, and comfort, and strengthen the lonely and the lost.

It is clear that, though Jesus the keystone has ascended to the Father, his church has not collapsed.  It stands, with integrity and strength, walking the Way of love and extending grace.  How is that so?  The mystery is that Jesus, though ascended, is not gone.  As he says in John’s Gospel, Jesus has given his very self to us.  In and through us Jesus is present, even now.  When we look into one another’s eyes—even when a mask covers half our faces, or we see each other through a computer screen—the eyes of Jesus look back at us.  So it was fourteen hundred years ago when St. Kevin and his followers walked over the Wicklow Mountains to Glendalough, and so it is today, as we meet the great challenges the world has set before us.  We lean on one another like the stones in an archway, knowing that together we will not, we cannot, fall.  Everything Jesus has, he has given to us.  And that is everything.  We stand together, and we rejoice.

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[i] https://grammarist.com/usage/capstone-keystone-or-cornerstone/

Apollo 8, and what really matters

The Reverend Lane Hensley once told me that as a kid, he watched the launch of Apollo 8, the first manned mission to orbit the moon. As the giant Saturn V rocket burst forth from the surface of the earth, Lane was awestruck by its power and grandeur.

Six days later, Lane saw footage of the return of the three Apollo 8 astronauts, and he was confused and dismayed by the tiny capsule that splashed down in the ocean. Where was the rest of the rocket? Where was that enormous expression of power, might, ingenuity, and promise that he’d seen take off a week earlier? Lane couldn’t conceive that the little capsule was all that mattered in the end, that it was the bearer of human hope for the mission, that it was the real thing worth caring about.

Forbes on Twitter: "50 years ago, Apollo 8 lifted off from Kennedy ...

Lane said it took him a long time to realize that most of the Saturn 5 rocket, and indeed the most impressive and memorable parts, existed only in service to the small capsule. It was the capsule that made it to the moon. It was the capsule that saw Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders to the dark side of the moon and safely around to the light. It was the capsule that shepherded them through the void of space, protected them on their fiery reentry to earth’s atmosphere, and held them on the surface of the murky and deep ocean while they awaited the U.S.S. Yorktown.

Lane’s story came to my mind this past week, and I considered for the hundredth time all the things that I once assumed were most important, indeed essential, in my life prior to the emergence of the coronavirus. There were big things, flashy things, things that drew my attention and, thus, my commitment. But this spring, we’ve all had the blessed chance — and it is a blessing — to look again at our lives and see with greater clarity that most things are (or should be) in service to a very few things.

What is truly essential are the things in our lives that carry us along the journey, that see us through darkness to new light, that protect us through fiery tests and buoy us when the waves rise and crash.

What are those, but our relationships with one another and with our God? In normal times, these things may seem so small that, like Lane’s childish eyes blind to the capsule atop the Saturn V rocket, we may fail to take adequate notice of them. But just as when the other stages of the rocket inevitably fall away the capsule remains, our relationships with one another and with God remain with us now, and they preserve our lives through every trial.

Apollo 8 - Wikipedia

This Easter season we’ve been studying the Book of Acts, which chronicles the earliest followers of Jesus at a time when all they had to sustain them was the Jesus’ Gospel of grace and love. That Gospel redefined for them what was important, the bearer of human hope and the real thing worth caring about.

So it can be for us. Darkness, trial, and drowning waves may all be a part of our COVID-19 experience, but surely so is the renewed recognition of the capsule of grace that preserves us, that carries us, that empowers us to go places and do things otherwise unimaginable. We are apostles and astronauts, borne by the Gospel. We are drawn in love to God and each other. When all else falls away, that remains, and it is all that matters.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”

In the late 1990s, I was a graduate student in Chicago.  Jill and I lived in Wrigleyville, but I went to school on the south side.  To get there I took a circuitous route.  I boarded the Brown Line L a couple of blocks from our house and rode to the Loop, where I got off the L, walked a block to the train station, and hopped a shoreline train to the 59th Street depot, where I’d walk into Hyde Park with the lake at my back.

During that time, I had a recurring dream that I would hurriedly board the train just as it is leaving the station, take my seat, and settle in relief that I haven’t missed the train and therefore been late for class.  But in the dream, just as my breathing calms, the conductor enters the car and yells, “Tickets!” and I’m aware with a new sense of foreboding that I don’t have one.  As the conductor makes his way down the aisle, punching tickets along the way, I search every pocket, my backpack, the seat next to me…but there is no ticket to be found.  When the conductor reaches me—every time—the look on his face makes clear that he knows I am ticketless even before I admit it.  His look reveals that I don’t belong on this train.  The seat in which I sit is not mine.  At the next stop, I am ushered off the train, onto a platform in a neighborhood I do not know, left alone to find my way.  It is fearsome and shameful.  And then I wake up.

Conductor punching the ticket for Polar Express - Picture of Polar ...

Another story.  An actual one this time; not a dream. Fast-forward a few years.  I’m in seminary in Austin, and I’m engaged in a summer of student hospital chaplaincy.  A man is in the hospital who has had a stroke.  He’s not bouncing back, and in addition to the severe physical effects of the stroke, he has aphasia: he can’t craft sentences that make sense.  There is a disconnect between his brain and his speech.  The man’s wife is afraid for his life, both present and eternal, and one day in agitated desperation she asks me, the student chaplain, to come into his hospital room and coax him into repeating the words after me, one-by-one, “I. Accept. The. Lord. Jesus. Christ. As. My. Personal. Lord. And. Savior.”

What is the connection between these two stories?  In the second story, the wife worried as I did in my nightmare of the first story.  Her husband’s life was almost over.  He was about to board the train to whatever is next, and she feared that he didn’t have a ticket, the password, the map key to get him where he needed to go.  Lacking a ticket, he’d be kicked out, in fear and shame, into some other place where he would not be able to find his way.

This is a prevailing understanding of Christianity, perhaps especially in the United States, and it is undergirded by our Gospel reading this Sunday, in which Jesus discusses with the twelve disciples that he must soon depart from them.  The disciple Thomas is apprehensive, and he says, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  To which Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

There is an exclusivity and a finality to Jesus’ words.  Standing alone, they seem crystal clear and unassailable.  Jesus is the ticket, and without a ticket, we are lost.

But here’s the thing: Where this interpretation prevails, despite a veneer of grace and mercy, despite forced smiles and upbeat music, despite outwardly confident testimonies of one’s faith, such flavors of Christianity are often characterized by shame and fear.  God becomes the abusive father in whose presence we flinch, to whom we choose what we say with trembling care, hoping we’re stringing together the words that are acceptable and that do not betray our crippling inner doubt.  Indeed, many who leave Christianity behind altogether are leaving this Christianity behind, having recognized that it smothers and in no way fulfills Jesus’ other claim, which we read just last Sunday, that he “came that [we] might have life, and have it abundantly.”[i]

As is so often the case, if we let scripture interpret scripture and read Jesus’ words today in their context, we come away with an altogether different understanding.

First, let’s parse Jesus’ central sentence itself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  The order of words here is not incidental.  First and foremost, Jesus shows us a Way.  Indeed, the Book of Acts tells us that before followers of Jesus were ever called Christians, they were called people of the Way.[ii]  And “Way” here means a way of being in the world, a path, a manner of life.  Truth and life in Jesus’ statement are derivative of this Way.  In other words, Jesus’ words might best be translated, “I am the Way, which is truth and life.”

I am the Way

And what is the Way of Jesus?  Is it stringing together the right magic words?  Is it testifying to a specific belief that gets our tickets punched?  No.  The Way is the life that Jesus himself has demonstrated and into which he has called us throughout the Gospels.  The Way of Jesus is the life that embraces the leper, listens to the voiceless, shares table with those the world would call unworthy.  The Way of Jesus is the life that looks upon every fraught situation not as a battle to be won with an enemy to vanquish but as an opportunity to extend and receive grace.  The Way of Jesus is the Way of love.

Importantly, this is not merely a program for good deeds, and it is not a doctrine of earning salvation.  (That’s worth saying again: This is not merely a program for good deeds, and it is not a doctrine of earning salvation.)  Rather, and as Jesus himself says in the Gospel today, living the Way of Jesus is how we come to know God.  That word—Know—is a crucial one.  In scripture, it almost never means “to know about.”  It isn’t about collecting datapoints and compiling facts and figures.  Rather, it almost always refers to a deep and intimate understanding.  It can even mean sexual intimacy: to know “in the biblical sense,” as you’ve undoubtedly heard someone joke at some point in time.   But that gets at it.  To know God, to really know God, is to have a depth of connection, understanding, and trust with the divine ground of being that is as real as our relationships with our spouses or lovers, that is as intimate as our awareness of our own souls.  That is what it means to know God, and Jesus teaches today that we can only come to know the God who is love when we live the Way of love.

Think about it this way: I can tell my spouse that I love her—I can string those words together—but the words are meaningful only when they are a verbal expression of a life of love towards her and with her.  Only as I walk that way with her does my life become the love that I claim for her.  And so it is with the Way of Jesus.  Any words we might say about Jesus, or God, or our faith are just words.  They are not magic.  They hold no weight, and especially no weight toward our salvation.  The Way of Jesus is not about words.  It’s not about getting a ticket punched.  It is about living grace—extending it and receiving it—until we are transformed into being different people, until we are transformed by love into love.

Spiritual Counseling | Your Lighted Path | Forest landscape ...

That is what Jesus means when he says no one comes to the Father except through him.  Jesus means that we know the God who is love only when we walk the Way of love.  And that is self-evident.  When we begrudge, or hate, or dismiss, or undercut, or tear down, we shut out love.  When we bind up, reconcile, and extend and receive grace, we are transformed by love into love.  And then, we have life abundantly.  Then, we know God.  Then, we are never lost.  We know the Way because we have walked the Way until we have become the Way.  No shame; no fear; only love.

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[i] John 10:10

[ii] Acts 9:2

Reawakening

In our contemporary world, distractions abound that allow us to ignore questions of ultimate meaning and purpose.  Our material abundance, including the endless string of gadgets that supersede one another every year; our access to infinite information that prevents us from any idle moments in which to ponder and dream; our freedom of movement, both physical and virtual, which enables us to experience new places whenever the usual gets stale all provide means by which to elude the deep questions of existence.  Or, perhaps more accurately, all of these things grant us the pretense that the ultimate answer to life’s ultimate question…is us.  We tacitly believe that we are the center of the universe; everything revolves around our wants and needs.

Prior generations didn’t have this luxury.  As Robert Nicholson recently pointed out in The Wall Street Journal, “Our ancestors’ lives were guaranteed to be short and painful.  The lucky ones survived birth.  The luckier ones made it past childhood.  We now float in an anomalous world of air conditioning, 911 call centers, acetaminophen, and pocket-size computers containing nearly the sum of human knowledge.  We reduced nature to ‘the shackled form of a conquered monster,’ as Joseph Conrad once put it, and took control of our fate.”

That is, until now.  The past forty-five days have reminded us of our contingency and fragility.  A virus has emerged against which we have no natural or pharmacological defense.  In our efforts to stave it off, we have cloistered ourselves in our homes, sundering virtually all physical human connection.  We have shut down our economy.  These actions, in turn, feel as ominous to our long-term well-being as the virus itself.

DAWN Trial May Lay Groundwork for Extending Treatment Window for ...

But God redeems all things, and I believe God is weaving redemption through these challenges by reawakening us to three things essential to our humanity:

Relationships are central to who we are.  Whether introverts or extroverts, we are created to be in one another’s presence, not to live in isolation.  The doctrine of the Trinity reveals that even in God’s own nature relationships are essential, and that essence overflows into humanity.  We are created to gaze into one another’s eyes, to share laughter, to embrace in sorrow.  Our lives intertwine, and when the threads are pulled apart we are diminished. We are built to need one another, and that need is a blessing from God.

We find our grounding in sacred spaces.  As we have posted Cathedral worship services online, I have received many emails from parishioners saying, in some version, “Seeing the Cathedral makes me yearn to be in that holy space.”  Some who have not been regular churchgoers in years have remarked that they didn’t realize how much they missed the Cathedral until they could not be there.  Holy Scripture teaches us that sacred spaces, set apart, call us like a lodestone.

Almost two centuries of Christians have been baptized, married, and buried within the Cathedral walls.  It has been the location for innumerable holy moments of hope and sorrow.  The stained glass, the rood screen, the high altar: all communicate God’s grace.  We rightly cherish the sacred space entrusted to us.  God is surely present there.

And most importantly, our source, our center, and our end are God.  Once we are stripped bare of the many distractions in our lives, and once the earthly things in which we place our confidence are proven unreliable, we remember that our lives truly are contingent, and our mortal future is never sure.  But that is no reason to fear!  We are created by a God who loves us more than we can ask or imagine.  Our meaning in life is to know God as closely as we know the very air we breathe, to recognize that the veil between God and us is so thin as to be porous.  And our end is a return to God, who awaits us as the father waits upon the Prodigal Son.  God will meet us with joyous abandon.

These days of COVID-19 have reawakened us to these truths of human existence.  When we are on the other side of the coronavirus, as we surely will be, I pray that we will stay awake.  I pray that we will cherish one another, gather again in joy in sacred spaces, and know the one great truth: that we find our very lives in God.

Forty

In Holy Scripture, the number forty appears again and again: The Great Flood lasts for forty days and forty nights, the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years; Jesus is tempted by Satan for forty days.

In biblical speak, the number forty is not an exact extent of time. Rather, it means “a really long time,” and it always refers, whether in terms of days, weeks, or years, to a duration that taxes those enduring it almost to the breaking point.  Those in the midst of such a period yearn for relief and deliverance and often call upon God for help.

I learned this week that the etymology of the word “quarantine” comes from this notion of forty, especially the forty days of Christ in the wilderness.[i]   This gives a new depth of meaning to our experience of physical distancing in these days, to our collective self-enforced quarantine, because on the other side of every biblical forty is some new grace: A renewed earth for Noah, the Promised Land for the Hebrews, and Jesus’ own ministry of healing and reconciliation for all people.

Noah - OrthodoxWiki

The Great Flood lasted forty days and forty nights.

We are already experiencing grace in unexpected places.  Each week hundreds upon hundreds of people are participating in online worship, more people, in fact, than usually attend the Cathedral in person.  Our Cathedral Good Neighbor program is reaching out to our entire parish family, creating webs of community.  Our Acts in Easter bible study is engaging scores of parishioners in formation together.

What might the other side of our quarantine, our time in this wilderness, look like?  God only knows, but I hope we have a hint in Psalm 40, when we read the words of one who has emerged from his own time of trial:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
The Lord lifted me out of the pit,
out of the mud and mire;
The Lord set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
The Lord put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.

God is with us in our “forty.”  God will weave redemption through our experience of these days.  We will encounter new grace, and in times to come, we will add our own story to the wilderness journeys of our biblical sisters and brothers.

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[i] https://www.etymonline.com/word/quarantine

Who will you meet on the road?

Texas oilman Dick Bass was, by his own admission, larger-than-life.[i]  A combination of Teddy Roosevelt and Yogi Bera, Bass adventured around the world while spinning both poetry and aphorisms.  His dad, Harry Bass, developed portable oil drilling rigs and became one of the largest natural gas producers in the United States, providing Dick Bass the means to live his exaggerated life.  With a wink, Dick said of his dad, “I chose my father very carefully.  He gave me the perfect launching pad.”

When Dick Bass became bored with the flats of Texas, he almost single-handedly developed Vail, Colorado as a ski town, owning the Snowbird ski resort until a year before his death in 2015.  It was that affection for the Rockies that led to the thing for which Dick Bass is best remembered: He was the first man to scale the Seven Summits: the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents, including Antarctica.  In fact, it was Bass who gave the name to that accomplishment.

Dick Bass never stopped.  He never even slowed down.  And, the only thing that outpaced his movements was his mouth.  By his own proud admission, Dick Bass loved to talk about Dick Bass.  He was his own biggest fan and greatest advocate.  And so it was, in a story Bass loved to tell, that one day on a cross-country flight he settled into his first-class seat and struck up a conversation with the person seated next to him.  For hours, nonstop, Bass regaled his seatmate with his exploits, explaining the nuances of risk-taking and adventure, filling the hours and the airspace with his wisdom.

As the plane landed and passengers stood up, Dick Bass realized that he’d not learned anything at all about the man sitting next to him. About to lose his chance at an introduction, Bass offered, “Sorry friend, I didn’t catch your name.”  “That’s o.k.,” his seatmate said with a slight smile, offering his hand, “I’m Neil Armstrong.”

Dick Bass and Neil Armstrong

Dick Bass and Neil Armstrong

Can you imagine?  Moving and talking so incessantly about everything you’ve done and known that you miss the chance—right in front of you—to listen to the first person to set foot on the moon!

We are accomplished, interesting people.  Our lives are often fast-paced and maybe even adventuresome, and we have a lot to share that is worthwhile.  At other times, perhaps like the days in which we are presently living, we have, instead, much worry and anxiety to fill our time and keep us relentlessly pacing the floor.  But in either circumstance, what do we miss when we do all the talking, when we fill all the space, when we fail to pause, recognize, and listen to the stranger who may give us a word that opens our eyes and changes our world?

In Luke’s Gospel today, it is Easter afternoon.  Two followers of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem, where they have just been caught up in a frenetic, whiplash series of events.  It began a week before when the itinerant preacher from Galilee rode into the city on a donkey.  Crowds spontaneously gathered along the road, singing songs and laying palms at the preacher’s feet.  It ended five days later, when that same preacher was killed on a cross just outside the city walls.  Or so they at first thought.  Then, this very morning, word has crept through the poorer sections of the city—the sections where the preacher’s followers live—that he isn’t dead after all.  Numerous people have seen him, spoken to him, interacted with him.  The dead coming back to life?  Is that good or bad news?  These two don’t know what to make of it, so they do what a lot of people would do: They check out.  It’s too much to deal with, so they leave town quickly.

The two disciples are walking the road to Emmaus as fast as they can, and I suspect their chatter is as quick as their steps.  Back and forth in a closed loop they fill the space to confirm one another’s experience and feed one’s another’s anxieties.  A stranger approaches and falls in with them, but they ignore him, content in their preoccupation with themselves.  We aren’t told what causes the pause, whether like Dick Bass these two disciples suddenly realize their rudeness, or else the stranger ultimately elbows his way into their talk, but eventually the stranger speaks.  And it is his introduction into their conversation that breaks the cycle, reframes the pattern, makes room for a new understanding of themselves and what is happening in the world around them.

The story ends with the two disciples inviting the stranger into much more than their conversation.  They invite him into their home, into the very heart of their lives, where they are most vulnerable and most themselves.  And only then do they recognize him.  Forget the first person who set foot on the moon; this whole time they’ve been walking and talking with the one who defeated death and opened for us the way to new life!

I’ve always wondered how close the two disciples came to passing Jesus by, to ignoring his greeting altogether.  I wonder how often we do the same.

These days, we are unable to do many of the things we are accustomed to doing.  We are unable to go many of the places we used to go.  Our movements are restricted, and that means we can either race in an ever-tighter circle, both physically and emotionally, or we can pause and listen to one who wants to walk with us.

The former option is the closed loop in which the two disciples set out on their way to Emmaus, doing all the talking and filling all the space with themselves.  If we make that choice—and it is a choice—we learn nothing.  We gain no new insight.  At best, we simply keep telling ourselves our same old stories, pretending that the world hasn’t shifted irrevocably beneath our feet.  At worst, we increase our anxiety and raise our blood pressure, making the circle in which we move more and more frantic.

The latter option is what happens when the disciples pause to hear Jesus.  Because they stop their own voices, because they recede to make room for Jesus, Jesus reinterprets the world for them and their role in it.  He quells their anxiety; he transforms their despair into hope; he reveals to them that, through him, God has defeated death and the powers of death, so that they can have confidence in the face of anything.  In wonder, the two disciples say, “Were not our hearts burning within us when he was talking to us on the road?”

Pin on Icons - Feasts

Even in the midst of the major challenges and minor inconveniences of the coronavirus, this time of physical distancing provide us with that particular grace, if we’ll take it.  It grants us the chance to pause, to let go of our need to fill the space around us, to silence our own voices—including the voices in our heads—and allow the Jesus who may have been, even for us, mostly a stranger to draw near to us and speak.  When that happens, we might find that the lens through which we frame this crisis, our world, and our place in it changes.  Our priorities might alter.  Our understanding of who is important and what is valuable might shift.  We might discover that our hearts are set afire as Jesus speaks, that we awaken to his Good News of God’s overwhelming love, that we invite him into our vulnerability, and that our confidence and hope resurrect into new life.

Texas oilman Dick Bass traveled and talked to the top of the world, but he was stopped in his tracks when he encountered one who had reached the heavens.  The disciples on the Emmaus road have seen highs and lows and are anxious and confused, but they are stopped in their tracks when they meet the Lord of heaven and earth.  We are experiencing a topsy-turvy world in which up seems down and down seems up, but who knows who we might encounter; who knows what he might say; who knows how our hearts might be transformed, if we pause and listen.

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[i] https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-0730-richard-bass-20150730-story.html

Laughter is the Best Medicine

When I was a kid visiting my grandparents’ house, Boo and Pop always had copies of Reader’s Digest everywhere: On the kitchen cabinet, on the coffee table, even behind the toilet.

Reader’s Digest was, generally speaking, more than my child’s concentration could maintain, but there was one section to which I immediately turned: “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”  The jokes were funny, easy to get, and clean (or, if they weren’t, they went over my head).  I also never forgot that title: “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”

Of course, today we know that’s true, emotionally, psychologically, and physiologically.  The Mayo Clinic reports that laughing can help lessen depression.[i]  Further, Hara Marano reports in Psychology Today that laughter reduces pain.  We now know laughter even affects the inner lining of blood vessels, causing them to relax and expand, increasing blood flow.  In other words, laughter is good for both heart and brain health.[ii]

Individuals who can laugh at their own foibles are more forgiving of themselves and others.  Relationally, those who laugh together form bonds of trust and communion.

Divine Humor: How Laughter Benefits Us Spiritually | Guideposts

God and the people of God also commend laughter.  When the Jews return from their long exile in Babylon, the Psalmist reports, “Our mouth is filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy!” (Psalm 126:2).  And the teacher of Proverbs makes this specific instance general when he says, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

At George H.W. Bush’s funeral, retired Senator Alan Simpson said, “Humor is the universal solvent for the pervasive abrasiveness of life.”  Healthy laughter is not escapism from reality, but rather a recognition that life is to be held lightly, taking joy in life as a precious yet ephemeral gift and proclaiming through our laughter that God’s love for us is deeper and truer than anything that may assault us.

So, in these days, remember to laugh.  Laugh at yourself.  Laugh with those you love.  Laugh at a good joke, a silly T.V. show, a slapstick gag.  Laugh, and be of glad heart.

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[i] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

[ii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200504/laughter-the-best-medicine