Monday, June 01, 2009

Through the Wringer

Grace Episcopal Church
Madison NJ
The Messenger
June 2009

“Through the Wringer”

Recently I had the privilege and joy of officiating at my first wedding. A few months ago a good friend of mine from college called and asked if I would “marry” her and her future husband. I agreed on the condition that we go through the normal pre-marital conversations – which might mean talking about difficult and personal issues. They both agreed, and in fact seemed eager to have the opportunity to talk about the often difficult journeys that brought them together. My friend and her new husband have experienced serious illness and much loss in their lives. Talking with them, I became increasingly moved that despite everything they had been through they were still willing to make this serious commitment to one another and to have so much hope for the future.

For their wedding they chose to read a passage from the Letter to the Philippians. St. Paul writes, “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 known to God.”

In my wedding sermon, I mentioned that, much like the bride and groom, St. Paul had been “through the wringer” when he wrote these words. He was writing from prison and had experienced all sorts of painful setbacks in his attempts to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Yet, despite having been “through the wringer” – or maybe because of this suffering – Paul’s commitment to his mission and his confidence in God was stronger than ever. And as I’ve thought more about this image, I’ve realized that, like my friends and St. Paul, many of us have been “through the wringer” lately.

Just since the fall we have endured an intense presidential election – with a result that elated some and disappointed others. Our country has faced a seemingly sudden and nauseating economic collapse, pirate attacks, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a loss of stability in Pakistan, “swine flu” and news about a foiled terrorist plot in the Bronx.

Here at Grace Church, many of us have grieved over the death of a family member or a friend while others have worried about their own health or the well-being of a loved one. Some of us have lost our jobs and many more are anxious about their future employment. Those who have retired or are nearing retirement have been dismayed by the loss of their investments. The increasing number of empty storefronts along Main Street in Madison is vivid testimony that this community has been seriously affected by the recession. Yes, we have been “through the wringer.”

As is true with my friends and St. Paul, these difficult experiences can make the bonds between and among us – and our relationship with God – stronger. The longer days and (hopefully) somewhat slower pace of summer offers us an opportunity to reflect on what we have been through during this difficult year of being “through the wringer.” With a little effort we can use summer as a chance to reflect, to deepen our relationships with one another, and to make room for God’s power within us.

In terms of making room for God, maybe this summer we can try to set aside just a little bit of quiet time for personal prayer and reflection. Even just five minutes can make a huge difference in our lives. Maybe this summer we might do some reading to challenge or nourish us spiritually. There are a few books I find myself going back to over and over. One is a book of Christian spiritual exercises called Sadhana: A Way to God. It was written by an Indian Jesuit named Anthony de Mello and offers a user-friendly approach to various prayer techniques. Another book I frequently dip into is Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. In this book Kathleen Norris offers brief, thoughtful reflections on religious and theological terms such as “Grace,” “Trinity” and “Hospitality.”

And, of course, Grace Church is still going strong during the summer. Maybe this summer you can make time for one of the weekday services. Many of us are excited that this summer “Mass on the Grass” returns on Wednesday evenings after last year’s hiatus caused by the construction. Later on Wednesday evenings we are going to have a summer-long reading and discussion of an excellent book, What Jesus Meant, by Garry Wills. Plus, our “First Fridays” potluck and speaker series will continue in June, July and August!

I am planning to use this summer to take a breath and to reflect on “the wringer” we have all been through this year. My prayer is that we can take advantage of this summer to strengthen our relationships with one another and to make room for God.