Saturday, December 22, 2012

Loving much

December 22, 2012

Dear Friends,

I heard one of the reporters say that the horrific loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the worst act of terror and violence we have experienced as a nation since 9/11. I don’t know how we measure such things, but I understood what the reporter meant. I understood because of the deep familiar feelings both evoked: shock, sorrow, grief, the inability to process any of it, and the desire, powerless as it initially feels, to help and change things – to hope we can change things. To believe it: we can change things.

Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling with being part of a society that could get to the point where this could happen. What have we done wrong? Where have we lost, whatever we have lost? And as a minister, I’ve been struggling to respond to the same questions and more that others have of us who serve. One answer that comes easily is that more violence and more guns is not the answer.

From there, not so easy…

I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and remember thinking that could never happen again, only to lose Robert and Martin a short time later.

I remember thinking after the murder of Matthew Shepard that no one could ever condone violence or homophobia again.

I remember the chaining and dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., sure that we would wake up to the inhumanity of racism, segregation, discrimination. Surely, after his death things would change.

And, I could add more…so could any of us. The prayer and hope we have is that out of tragedy some great change of heart and nation and world will come. Something will come of the pain and sorrow to honor those who suffered. Who continue to suffer…

The lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School have dulled me. It is the way of mourning, which I feel from this distance – far from being able to imagine the grief of the families and the community of Newtown during these days and those to come. We all now carry the loss of the children and adults with us. Distance, geographical or otherwise cannot be a balm to assuage our own sorrow. As hard as it may be to “stay close” in whatever ways we may – it is our responsibility to do so, or these lives lost will become part of what we once hoped for. That loss has already happened for the families. Let it not happen to us as a nation.

For many of us, this is a time when we remember the birth of a child who would live into and suffer his own great violence. As with so many traditions, the message he carried of peace, hope, resurrection, and a loving God was a radical one and a message that others sought to expunge, protecting their own interests and power. We face some of those same interests and powers now; those who seek to quiet what needs to be done, letting the news cycle add these lives to those too many lost before. Arming and protecting ourselves so that love becomes a quaint idea in an ever more violent world – is not an answer.

For me, this Christmas, especially, is a reminder that Jesus died loving us, knowing that he was loved, and promising the same to all of humanity. It occurs to me that the children and the lives lost in Newtown died loving, as well, filled with their joys and laughter, loving their families because they were loved by their families and their God. There is peace in that truth.

From there, we will all have to search our hearts about what we will do. As part of those seeking welcoming and inclusion in our church and this world for sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender – we know the violence and marginalization; we know the societal illnesses of others directed at us. We also know that our response has always been to love others, as difficult as that might be, to get to know one another, come together, and discover that what we share is greater than any of our differences. And it begins like that…

Whatever we may do to end the violence and change this society on broad local or national scales, whatever we may do to try and somehow honor the great loss of our family in Newtown and in countless other places, let us begin by loving each other. If there is reconciliation that has been put off – let it be embraced and healed. Let every prayer and act be an act of love and kindness. Even when we don’t get it right, the attempt itself is an act of love. From there, change will happen.

In our faith, we believe that God welcomes us home in the glory of true resurrection. We believe that all those who have left this world, however they have left this world, are embraced in Love and Joy and Wonder beyond our imaginings. They are now with the Child we remember at Christmas, helping us in a different way. A much needed way.

Let us ask God and them, in all the Love they are and all the ways we know God – to be with us and guide us this day and in all the days to come. We have much to do and we are not alone.

In this Spirit and embrace, with these thoughts, promises and more in our hearts, and loving you very much,

Merry Christmas from us all.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister Evangelist
That All May Freely Serve

Friday, December 21, 2012

Longest Night, Shortest Day

We pray into the darkness
seeking the light
Not expecting to find it…
Hoping that it finds us.
            In spite of us.

Shortest day, longest night:
But – only for us.

For the night it is just that. Night.
                                 And the light, is just light.

It is, in fact, about us.
It is we who call the shadows such, and ourselves lost.
It is we who call the light to us, declaring we are found.

Or are we just seen.

We see ourselves more easily in the shadows than the bright light overhead.
            The human condition?
                        More comfortable with our shortcomings than our gifts?

It is true. Shadows do show more of us than the light, at times.

Shortest day, longest night.

Maybe we miss the light in our sorrow and sadness. The malaise the angst.
Are we hurt – or afraid of being hurt – again.
Do we carry it all, the pain and sorrow, as a bulwark against fear, thinking:
“Surely, no more…”

And then, no matter how much we carry,
                        “there is more…”

Even the light is not welcome,
                For we cannot bear to see the children we have lost.
                           We lift the covers to protect ourselves,
                                   only to imprison ourselves in the sorrow; the sorrow without warmth

 Longest night, shortest day.

It is the time. The day. The juxtaposition of heavens…

There is talk of a child. The birth of the one we await.
There is no talk of this child without his full story coming to mind. 

We know the tale woven with truth,
the annunciation,
the leap in a womb,
a manger,
Stars, one special…
the wise folk, 3. 

A ruler calls for the death of newborns,
                                      Hoping “to get” the newborn

 Longest night, shortest day.
From the shadows of the stable, into the first light,
of his first day,
And we smile, because our hearts smile first.

 The heart that already knows the darkness and the light – chooses Love.
                  For it knows Love above all;
It was loved into being you know,
from the first day the first cell
beckoned the beats to follow.

 How the heart wonders, it must
                  When we will learn its song..
                            When we will resound with its song..

Still, it knows that the one born in the stable,
the Love,
will die a horrible death,
loving even as he died. 

Longest night, shortest day.
It is all about such Love.
There is nothing more to seek; whether lives are short or long.  

There is no other healing power
 more than the Love of God,
the Promise of Jesus,
the Spirit that understands not boundaries of shadows
nor light
nor anything else
– just Love.
It must be trusted, we know.
              We must trust this Love
                        that fears no shadows,
                              no cold, nor the heat of the hottest sun.

There is no balm other than this Love
              that makes longest nights and shortest days;
                           darkest shadows,
                           and brightest lights;
                                   deepest sorrow or most grievous of loss… 
                                                                                                       all pale in its midst.
There is no hope other than this Love and its forgiveness,
            its patience,
                    it gentleness
                      Even when we are not,
 and its eternal presence beyond the ways we count,
the eons we study;
          or the mysteries that engulf us. 

This is the Love --the Peace that exceeds all understanding, 

The Love that seeks us – now;
and is unrelenting. 
                                                           Give in the voice says,
                                                           maybe the heart
                                                                    maybe both.

Move with the Love that created universe and more,
              ask in this way:
Come, God;
Come, Love.
Come; Jesus and Spirit;
God and Wonder;
Counselor and Creator, Come… 

             or ask another way.

And wait; set fear aside;
                and wait.

We are in the advent of Love, always. 

An advent where shadows will lose ground;
 even brilliance will lose its shine;  

for Love will surpass it all. 

As it does now.
As it does always.
(c) Creative Commons 2012 Ray Bagnuolo

Friday, December 14, 2012

Even broken hearts can love...

Children. Five to ten years old.

I thought of my two nieces within those ages. Couldn’t imagine what it would be like to never see their smiles again, hear their wonderful giggles, look at them and be reminded why I still have hope. It’s always in the eyes of the child, you know. Hope. And, tonight, families in Newton, CT have had all this and more, lifetimes of promise, taken away on what was a mid-December Friday for all, and the next to last Friday before Christmas for many. It made it hard for me to even think of wrapping gifts for those nieces of mine; it made me feel like everything should just be canceled. Maybe if we stopped the holidays, maybe if we held our breath a little bit longer – the pain would lessen.

Truth is, there is no stopping the holidays and it feels as though there isn’t enough air to breathe right now, let alone hold my breath. And the pain, the pain I feel is nothing compared to our friends and their families, who with all of America mourn their loss.

Yes, as President Obama said, “Our hearts are broken.” Again. But, somehow more this time. Somehow, more.

I will not attempt to make sense of any of this. Truly, I haven’t a clue as to how I might do that. Without question, the one man who did this was terribly ill, and his actions beyond horrendous. The lives that were shattered today did not need to be broken any more than our hearts; yet, we all would take a broken heart and more to undo what has been done.

We know that once sleep finally comes for those who grieve - and with waking what was thought to be a nightmare is again real – we have to find ways to help. We need to. This is not voluntary; this need to help is from deep inside us.  And, honestly, each of us will have to find a path to be there in our own ways. Alone and together, we will need to find some response that embraces our greatest fears, so that those who suffer are not alone.

For those of us of a faith tradition, we will rely on community, prayer, readings, and other practices, knowing that these children and adults have been embraced in a special way by the loving God who grieves with us. Still, even with a deep and abiding faith, many of us will ask, “Why? Why, God?” I will be one of those who will lament with those words, as well as seek comfort for others and me in the God who knows what it is to lose a son -  and a son who knows the glory of resurrection in which these young ones and the adults who cared for them now find peace.

Our peace will come more slowly. Still, each of us can overcome the power of such sick acts by not letting the illness take us, as well. We can reach out and be present, if not to anyone in Newton, CT then to each other. We can care a bit more for the ones closest to us, the ones we otherwise would not see, those with whom we need reconciliation – or the ones we wish to avoid.

We can still love with our broken hearts, and it is the loving that will mend us and others.

It is the Love that many of us remember in Advent, as we await the birth of a child that has changed the world through the same power of God’s Love. It is the most important thing we have now, just as it always is – but, especially now. If we share it enough with one another, even these wounds will be bound up and healed. Yes, even these.

And then, however we can, we have to make sure this or anything like it ever happens again. Ever.  Love can do that, too.

Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
December 14, 2012
Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, Stated Supply Pastor