Tag Archives: kindness

On righteousness, misunderstanding, and weakness

In our church, we do epiphany stars every January.  We select stars with words on them out of a basket and reflect on them over the year, seeking to be open to what God might be teaching us.  Usually there’s some sort of reversal: the meaning of the word originally seems straight forward, obvious, or even kind of narrow, but as the year goes by the star often becomes imbued with a deeper meaning or revelation.

My word for 2014 was righteousness and to be honest, it kind of repulsed me.  When we think of a practical, secular application for righteousness, we’re left with something like self-righteousness, and the theological definition, while presumably positive, brings to mind zealots, judgment, and unattainable holy perfection.

Jersey shore, May 2014.  Photos by Evan Schneider.
Jersey shore, May 2014. Photos by Evan Schneider.

It occurred to me recently that we all spend a lot of time reacting, rather senselessly to one another rather than living with intentions such as kindness, gentleness, and patience.  So much pain and hatred that is spewed is not about us, but very much about the private suffering of others.  The question then becomes, do we choose to spend our time arguing over the validity of that suffering or rather enter into it?

I think Jesus was different because he entered into the suffering of some of society’s seemingly most “deserved”–tax collectors, thieves, and prostitutes, to name a few.  He did not judge their worth by the pain they may have inflicted upon others or the validity of their suffering, but rather, their need for him.  This is a theme I was meditating on a bit a month ago–that it is in our neediness, in our weakness, that we are made holy.

I’m wondering if it is we who misunderstand righteousness to be an elevated, holy ground, whereas it is God who humbles us by making us righteous precisely in our weakness.  I am trying to adopt an intention of kindness, gentleness, and patience in the new year, remaining aware of the illogic of deservedness and the wisdom of grace, the reality of suffering, and the opportunity to be made low and righteous and whole.

Clouds

Amen.

The kingdom of love

Kunming, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
Kunming, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

A friend of mine compiled this prayer of approach from various sources for last Sunday’s service, and something about the compassionate being expected and the kingdom of love on its way touched me deeply.

May you experience the kingdom of love this week wherever you find yourself:

Come into this place, where the ordinary is sanctified,

The human is celebrated, the compassionate is expected.

Come into this place.

Together we make it a holy place, with our every act of worship.

God, help us to listen to our inner spirit;

To the inner yearning to belong to something greater than ourselves.

Help us to listen to our inner spirits

And find there the presence of your good encouraging spirit.

The kingdom of love is coming because:

Somewhere, someone is kind when others are unkind.

Somewhere, someone shares with another in need.

Somewhere, someone is patient- and waits in love.

Somewhere, someone returns good for evil,

Somewhere, someone serves another, in love.

Somewhere, someone is calm in a storm.

Gentleness

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” –Philippians 4:4-7

Last night as I was reflecting on this verse and preparing for some silent prayer, I was recalling three words I had scrawled in magic marker on pink construction paper six years ago in Puerto Rico: kindness, patience, gentleness. That pink swatch of construction paper served as a bookmark in my Bible for many years, reminding me of God’s greatness and my own weaknesses. You see, kind, patient, and gentle are three things I was not (and probably still am not), but three things that I had committed to praying for, to becoming through God’s work in me.

It is quite recently, however, in this past year, through weekly talks with a soul friend of mine, that I have been learning that truly experiencing God’s grace requires dealing gently not only with others, but first with oneself. After all, how can I impart grace to others if I do not embrace that promise of grace first myself?

Reading through my devotional last night, it reminded me that a prayer word in silent prayer serves as a gentle way of coming back to God. “Free from thinking,” J. David Muyskens writes, “we enter a profound rest.”

It is a small thing, but I recalled a moment during yesterday when I was genuinely fatigued, but I couldn’t figure out a way to rest. I felt convicted that I should have been doing something, and so I was restless, which I am becoming convinced is an unnatural state for humans created by a God who made a day for rest! A friend of mine also recently sent me this article on clergypeople who are not taking time to rest, and for whom it is causing great consequences.

It sounds simple, but I think learning to rest, and being gentle, are two qualities which usher in the fullness of the humanity for which God intended for us.

In what ways do you resolve to deal gently with yourself, and how does it bring you nearer to experiencing God’s peace?