Colossians 3: 1-2 (The Message)
So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ - that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.
I want to tell you a story of Robbie Risner. Risner was an army general who was captured in the Vietnam war and forced to live in a POW camp, called the Zoo, in Hanoi for seven and a half years. Dirt carpeted the floor. Rats scurried beneath a vented grate. Cockroaches roamed the walls and crawled over sleeping prisoners. The only source of light peeked through three holes near the fifteen-foot ceiling. The cell offered no bunk, no chair, no table and no way out.
Solitary confinement, starvation, torture and beatings were routine. Risner says this: “Everything was sad and dismal. It was almost the essence of despair. If you could have squeezed the feeling out of the word despair, it would have come out grey, dull, and lead coloured, dingy and dirty.”
How do you survive over seven years in such a hole? Cut off from family. No news even from your own country. How did Risner survive mentally? He stared at a blade of grass. Several days into his incarceration he wrestled the grate off the vent, stretched out on his belly, lowered his head into the opening and peered through a pencil sized hole in the brick and mortar at a single blade of grass. Aside from this stem, his world had no colour. So he began each day with head in vent, and heart in prayer, staring at a blade of grass. He called it a blood transfusion for the soul.
What you see, whether with your physical eyes or your soul, often defines who you are. As it says in Matthew:
Matthew 6: 22-23 (The Message)
"Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!
Jesus is talking about the eyes of our heart – our attitude, our outlook, our vision, not of things but of life. We, like Robbie Risner, make daily decisions. Do we set our eyes on grey harshness or search for the blade of a different colour?
If we look hard enough, we can find something to complain about in everything. Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, which reflects a feeling of discontent. Surrounded by everything they could possibly need, they set their eyes on the one thing they were told was not theirs. They found something to complain about.
The followers of Moses did. They could have focused on the miracles: The Red Sea becoming the Yellow Brick Road, manna reflecting the morning sunrise and quail waltzing into their camp at night. Instead they focused on their problems. They daydreamed of pyramids and complained that life in the desert wasn't for them. They found lots of things to complain about.
What about us? Do we focus on the one fruit we can't eat or the millions we can? The manna or the misery? God's plans or our problems?
My favourite verse from the bible comes from Philippians.
Philippians 4:8 (New Revised Standard Version)
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Nobody says it's easy to do. After my father had a stroke that limited his balance and therefore, his ability to live on the farm, it was hard for me to see colour amid the walkers and wheelchairs and assisted living at the nursing home he lived in. My father was aging and becoming frail.
Then I tried to practice the message of Philippians. I saw the unsquashable enthusiasm of Ivan, a middle-aged Down's syndrome person, who followed my dad at a distance when my father would go for a walk. Ivan knew Dad was unsteady and was ready to go back to the home for help, if Dad fell.
I saw the loyalty of Elaine, who was 87 and sat next to a woman who could not handle her food well. Elaine would cut the food into tiny bite sized pieces for her table mate. I saw Paul, who had difficulty speaking, who always stood by the nurses' station and greeted everyone as they passed. I saw Agnes, nearly 80, who in spite of arthritis in both knees, offered to pour the morning coffee every day. I used to see disease, age, disability and faded vigour. Now I see love, courage and unflappable unselfishness.
Do we see the grey walls of a cell surrounding our lives? Or do we see the blade of fresh green grass in the midst of the day that surrounds us? As Robbie Risner taught us, peer through the bricks, past the rats, to find the blade of grass. And once you find it, don't look anywhere else.
Lenten Prayer---March 2020
Heavenly Creator, hear our prayer.
We thank you for the diminishing snowbanks, the softer rains, the growing puddles and the promise of spring to come.
We seek comfort in this time of great uncertainty and stunning changes in our society and around the whole world.
We know that the hardships we face will not be easy, but we have faith that you will give us strength to endure.
Help us come to grips with the pandemic, to remain calm and to be especially kind to one another in this extended period of worry.
For the sick, the isolated and the lonely, help us envelop them in care.
For our family members and dear friends, near and far, may they be kept from harm and travel in safety to return to their homes in good health.
For the vulnerable people in shelters and on the streets, help us take care of them and provide them with warmth and safety.
For the children and families, may this time of trouble be an opportunity to grow closer.
For the fearful and anxious, may your love comfort them and bring them peace.
Help us reach out and be a support during these difficult times.
For those who are losing their livelihoods, give them hope for the future.
For the health care workers and social workers, equip them with the tools they need to stay healthy and protect them from harm.
For the scientists, give them wisdom, focus and speed in their search for solutions.
For the governments, we pray that they make good decisions in the best interests of all.
Spirit of our being, Spirit of the universe, enlighten us so that we may encourage those who sustain others, just as we ourselves may need to be helped and supported as the contagion continues.
Guide us to be thoughtful and loving to one another and not to give up.
We have faith that this will eventually pass.
We are all in this together.
WE ARE NOT ALONE.