O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

O come, O branch of Jesse’s stem, unto your own and rescue them! From depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’er the grave. 

O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind.  Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

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“Victory o’er the grave?”  Is it possible?  Absolutely!  Ask any addict who has been saved from the hell of his/her addiction, the death sentence of a spiritual abyss, and you will be told,  “Yes, yes, yes!  I have been raised from my personal hell on earth, my living grave, and we, my Higher Power and I, are victorious over death.”

That is what the gift of Immanuel, the spirit of God made incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, has done for mankind.  This is an inexhaustible gift which can never be used up, discarded, put in the attic, or trashed before next Christmas.  But, it can be repurposed and shared with other hungry, dying souls.  I like sharing gifts.  How about you?

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”    1 Corinthians 15:55

O come, O come, Immanuel

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Jesus in disguise

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest beckoning me.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me.

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“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger………

The fiercely defiant woman holding her travel bag refuses to release the arm of a small child, her 6 year-old son.  Guards surrounding her now, she screams profanities at the men who are attempting to take the child from her.  They understand her Spanish words and react more harshly to accomplish the mission of the border agents.  Since three days before, when a new government directive ordered that children crossing the border with their families be separated from parents  and confined for further relocation, detention centers were created from abandoned retail centers to house the detainees.  Within those buildings fenced cages housed the children.  Their only offense was escaping with their parents from hostile and dangerous conditions wrought by political and social turmoil in their native homeland.  They sought to start anew in a land they perceived as a place of opportunity and freedom.

………or needing clothes or sick in prison…….

Since going into hiding on 6 July 1942 with her parents and sister in concealed rooms behind a book case, the young girl remembers a previous life of respectability and shared community in the Netherlands.  A gifted writer, she passes her time keeping a diary.  They are joined later by the van Pels family and Mr. Pfeffer, a dentist.  The eight of them share the cramped quarters for two years.

Then on 4 August 1944, “Shhhhh, they are here, don’t move,” whispers their father.  The noises and sounds of footsteps grow closer and the Gestapo storms the door which has concealed their whereabouts, their hiding place.

On 3 September 1944, Anne, her sister Margot and their parents Otto and Edith were boarded on a cattle train to their final destination at Auschwitz where the Nazi government’s solution to the disposition of unwanted elements in Aryan society was carried out.  The men were separated from the women by the SS. Those deemed able to work were admitted to the camp; those deemed unfit including children under 15 years of age were sent directly to the gas chambers.  Of the 1019 passengers on that train, 549 were immediately dispatched to death. Mother Edith died later of starvation, Anne and Margot died of typhus.  Father Otto survived the death camp.  He returned to Amsterdam where, having received his daughter’s diary and notes from a friend, he realized the significance of Anne’s writings and proceeded to publish them.

……and did not help you?”

His half-frozen body hangs from the fence crossing the barrenness of the cold October prairie.  Small in stature, boyish in appearance, he has been brutally beaten and left to die by his abductors.  It is many hours after the assault before he is discovered and rushed to a nearby hospital, where he will die six days later from severe head injuries.  A bright young man, fellow students remember him as a friendly face in the college classroom where he has attended classes.

Stories detailed the events leading up to his death.  Some wanted to believe it was a drug deal gone bad, others said it was a hate crime directed at his sexual orientation.  In the end analysis, it truly did not matter to his mother and loved ones what reasons were responsible.  The boy was brutalized and left hanging on a fence in Wyoming to die.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for the least of these…..

The man standing on the corner holding his tattered cardboard sign looks longingly at motorists passing by hoping that someone will roll down the car window and pass enough money to him to feed his growling stomach.  Nobody stops.  They don’t seem to notice.  He reflects on the times he also was that motorist who ignored beggars standing on the corner with their cardboard signs.  The times back then were better.  He had a job and a family who depended on him, loved him.  But, addiction stole all of that, made him an unbathed, ragged homeless man who now lives in the nearby woods with others like him.  Different stories to tell, but all of them now hungry and destitute.

…..you did not do for me.”  Matthew 25:44

I open my eyes in a sweat-soaked bed, my pulse racing.  I recognize the man with the sign on the corner in my dream.  It is me.  I recognize the motorists passing by ignoring the man’s needs.  They also are me.

I am the one who stands along the rail tracks leading to Auschwitz wondering where the human cargo is heading, knowing where they are going, too frightened to be involved.

I am the border guard seizing the child from his mother.  My conscience tells me this is not right, but I have a family to support, I need the job.

I am the one who watches the frail boy being bullied after gym class.  They are calling him a sissy, a wimp.  I watch as the bigger boys punch and poke him.  They make fun of him because he is different.  I turn and go to my next class not wanting to be the next target for their taunts and abuse.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

ELIE WIESEL

GENA TURGEL

NAMASTE       

 

“Truly I tell you that whatever you have done to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have also done to me.”

Chapter 25 in the book of Matthew shows humanity a blueprint for us to follow into a world dedicated to compassion and peaceful co-existence.  The lives we live can be a powerful testimony to the one we call Lord or they can be complicity with a world run amok.  It’s our choice, yours and mine.

Gena Turgel died on June 7 in London, England.  She was 95.  As a survivor of the Holocaust, she witnessed Nazi horrors at the death camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Bergen-Belsen.  She said at a tribute recently in London’s Hyde Park:

“Maybe that’s why I was spared – so my testimony would serve as a memorial like that candle that I light, for the men, women and children who have no voice.”

She once told BBC of her time providing comfort to 15 year-old Anne Frank dying from typhus:

“I washed her face, gave her water to drink, and I can still see that face, her hair and how she looked.”

What is my testimony today?  Would it be pleasing to the one I call Lord?  So much that is happening in today’s world is abhorrent and evil and it is so easy to feed into the hatefulness and violence that we see everyday on the news media.  But, it is also happening next door, in my neighborhood, in my community.  The horror of homelessness and hunger is not a distant problem in a foreign country.  It is a daily struggle for people living in the woods down the street.

Drug abuse is rampant.  My county is termed as a “rural area”, yet it has the 2nd highest drug abuse problem in the state.  Poverty and absence of job opportunities feed this drug use.  Good men turn to illegal activity in an effort to support a family.  Addiction does not discriminate.  It accepts the poor and wealthy, men and women, illiterate and educated, gay and straight, black and white.  Unfortunately, jails fill with men and women who don’t really have a drug problem.

It is a heart problem from which they suffer.  Empty, bitter hearts need to be filled with something.  For many alcohol and drugs are the solution.  The recovery fellowships which bring addicts and alcoholics to a better way of living are filled with stories of forgiveness and redemption.  Mine is one of them.

But is my sober testimony adequate recompense for the miracle allowed to me by the grace of a Higher Power?  Perhaps Jesus would say, “Depart from me, I knew you not.”  Gena Turgel believed she was spared from death at the hands of the Nazis in order to tell the world again and again and again what happens when good people don’t care enough to protect and nurture the “least of these”.

The least of these could be you and I someday.  In a tumultuous world society, we don’t know when we could be the next target of racism, bigotry or hatred.  I see my life as a day-to-day blessing from God.  I am not assured that I will have food tomorrow or a roof over my head.  I do not know that my freedoms of today will be here tomorrow for me to enjoy.  But I do know that what I do unto the least of these, my brothers and sisters, today will have eternal consequences.  How about you?

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meditation

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“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God……..”  from Step 11 of ” TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS, Alcoholics Anonymous

Did we ever meditate when we were drinking or drugging?  Probably not too much.  My meditative thoughts encompassed the vintage of my bottle of wine and whether I had enough to get a good buzz.  Oh sure, sometimes when suffering a debilitating hangover I would meditate on why I was such a weak person unable to control my drinking and enjoy alcohol like my non-alcoholic friends.  That process usually ended with me saying, “Oh, what the hell,” as I headed to the liquor store for the next round of fortification meditating on whether it would  be Colt 45 beer, Cutty Sark scotch or a few bottles of Chablis or all three.

Seriously, for most of us newly sober drunks, meditation was something only the Buddhist monks did while chanting.  It was a new and foreign activity which did not come naturally.  But, we tried, we practiced, and we did not give up until some results were realized.  I learned to appreciate the fleeting peaceful moments and the clarity of thought following 10 minutes of meditation.  I knew that something within was being manifested which I had never known before.  Not sure if it was a God thing or mind manipulation, I nevertheless pursued this newly discovered tool of sobriety because it often countered the insanity and chaos filling my head.

Many years later meditation and prayer are mainstays of sobriety happening sometimes in the quiet of a darkened room, sometimes under a bright blue, sunny sky, often in a straight back chair listening to soothing music such as that of classical masters, and occasionally chanting with the Buddhist monks on YouTube.  I have also done meditative walking.  Now that’s a trip which can transport a person out of this universe within less than a mile of step-ping, step-ping, step-ping.  For me the variety of settings prevents the repetition which can lead to boredom and mental distraction.

I am by no means an expert.  However, when I learn a new habit which enhances my sense of wellness, I try to incorporate that habit into a daily routine.  As with all experiences in sobriety, I pursue spiritual growth rather than perfection.  When I was searching for the “proper” way to meditate, I tried to emulate those whom I saw sitting in lotus position straight-backed and legs crossed.

“Oh no”, my body said, “we cannot sit that way.”

Feet firmly on floor, sitting alert in a straight back chair, with hands opened upward in my lap is my position of choice.  The position is not set in stone.  Other meditative trekkers have different approaches.  For me it is not the body position, the mantras or the music that matters.  It is where we go, God and I, during that time of quietness and introspection.  It is what God and I accomplish during that half hour of communion.  How’s your good heart today?

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no longer strangers

NAMASTE

 

 

LUKE 15:11-32

The PRODIGAL SON in the book of Luke in Christian scripture is undoubtedly my favorite of the parables taught by Jesus.  It is my story.

I was raised within the love and protection of a community of hearty, salt-of-the-earth farmers.  Their lives were dedicated to raising families and raising crops.  Very simple needs, even simpler desires.  I often have reminisced that we were the prototype for the “Waltons” of television fame.  Indeed, it is true.  My extended family of great-grandparents, grandparents, mother and two aunts lived in an early 1900s house with 9 upstairs rooms which could be used as bedrooms when necessary.  During the years previous to my arrival in 1947, the household consisted of numerous children and a full live-in housekeeping staff plus an assortment of farm-hands.  During the harvest season Mammy (my great-grandmother) assisted by her daughters prepared a lunch table groaning with several meats, 2 or 3 potato dishes, vegetables fresh from the garden and at least 4 pies for dessert.  They fed 6 to 12 hungry men.  As was customary, the women folk ate after the men had finished.

But it was a hard life.  I was earning a wage by the time I was 12 years old, had after-school chores, and during the summer worked long days in the fields as well as helping to tend the cattle, pigs, and chickens.  It was a very hard life.  I determined early in my youth that I was not going to be a farmer.  When my friends from town came to visit they were awed by my lifestyle.  I, on the other hand, was envious of their freedom to join social groups and participate in extracurricular school activities.  They enjoyed the farm chores which to me were onerous.

Church attendance was mandatory.  Through the eyes and ears of this thirteen year-old, the preaching was ominous and the threats of a punishing God were overwhelming.  I finally accepted that anything which felt good was probably a sin.  When I turned sixteen I was no longer required to attend services or participate in my family’s religious tradition.  When I turned seventeen, one of my multiple addictions had already consumed much of my life and another two, smoking and drinking, kicked in with a vengeance.  By nineteen I was fully controlled by substance and behavior addictions.

My grandfather, who raised me as his own son, offered me his farm.  I ridiculed the offer saying that no way in hell was I going to be a farmer.  Fifty-two years later I am still haunted by the look of rejection on his face.  We never recovered that father-son relationship.  My last remembrances of him are of a sickly man sitting in his favorite chair which offered a view of the highway.  Reading his Bible he would look up to see who was driving by.  Sometimes it would be the community’s undertaker, a solemn man named Lawrence.   Looking at me with his clear blue eyes, Grandpa would quip in his Dutch accent, “Well, maybe next time Lawrence will be coming for me.”

I had an idyllic upbringing and a wonderfully simple life surrounded by people who loved me.  But, I thought something was missing.  I thought that those city folks living in the midst of glitz and excitement were offering a dream which my community and my family’s traditions could never provide.  And at age nineteen I chased after that dream.

Drinking, smoking, drugging, and carousing assured me that finally this farm boy had arrived.  Life was going to be grand and lavish.  Partying every night, trashing relationships became the norm and for a few years I loved it.  Never looked back on what had been sacrificed.  Lost my job because of drinking, failed college because of my drinking, destroyed a military opportunity because of my drinking…..”Aw what the hell?  That wasn’t the life I wanted anyway.”

Then the blackouts began.  The car wrecks, the addiction-imposed poverty, the broken promises to friends and family stirred within me memories of a much simpler life, a life of hard work, joy, and focus.  Like the prodigal in the book of Luke, I asked myself if I could go back home.  Could I return to age sixteen and redirect?

Of course my answer was no.  The farm had been sold, my family was cautious of their wayward son, no eligible prospects for a relationship wanted to take a chance with me, and my faith walk had virtually dead-ended.  I was spiritually, morally, and physically bankrupt.  I was a broken man at age 34 with no hope for redemption.

With nothing to lose except my wretched life, I arrived in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Something about those AAers sparked hope within me.  Their message of sobriety through a Higher Power and a fellowship with kindred sober-living drunks offered a glimpse of a new life through recovery.  I latched on to the enthusiasm and promise which I discovered in those rooms and held on to it for dear life.  Unspeakable joy interspersed with debilitating depression controlled many of the early days getting sober.

My Father welcomed me with open arms as if we had never separated.  He told me that those arms were wrapped around me all of the 17 years spent in the far country.  I finally understood that God walked that trek every step of the way protecting and loving me while patiently waiting for me to return.  The parable of the Prodigal tells me that Father was overjoyed to have me home.  He prepared a feast and a celebration for my return.  The celebration continues.  We are no longer strangers, I have come home.smiley 3