Thursday, September 28, 2006

Healing the Bent Over Woman

A First Person Imagining from the Gospel of Luke 13:10-17

The road was dusty and I noticed every pebble, every crack under my bare feet. I saw the claw marks of chickens, the hoof prints of donkeys as I passed the empty marketplace, plodding to the synagogue. I heard the chatter of voices, of my family, but no one spoke to me. The youngest skipped ahead to throw stones along the road, my son and his wife walked stick straight ahead of me. I could not see above their legs, their smooth gait, a rhythm I couldn’t follow.

I slunk into the back of the synagogue, with the women, the old women, widows and outcasts, because my condition brought dishonor to my family. If I were righteous, they said, I wouldn’t be bent over. God was punishing me they said, for some transgressions rooted so deeply in the underbelly of my soul that I did not know what they were.

I couldn’t believe that was true and if any one looked into my eyes, they would’ve known that. But no one looked into my eyes. I was only the top of a head, someone to be looked over and ignored. It must have been two years since I’d spoken, and I was the only one who noticed, who mourned at all the absence of words. I had nothing to say and no one to say it to. The spirit that had crippled my body had paralyzed my soul.

When I was a child I’d loved synagogue, the chanting, the prayers, the burnt smell of candles and sacrifices. I was sure that the rabbis and priests kept God alive there. I came, always came. My family was devout, a model for our community. But I’d felt nothing for years; only the claustrophobia of the women’s section, the smell of perfume, the oppressive heat, and the whine of babies.

That morning I felt Jesus’ eyes bore into me. How he saw me, how he noticed me, I never knew. I’m sure my son wondered the same thing, and worried our family’s status would suffer as a consequence.

“Woman, come here,” said Jesus.

The dormant spirit in my heart leapt awake at his command and I obeyed. His hands on my shoulders were like lightning striking rock, breaking me open, and searing something black within me until it disintegrated, became ash and blew away at the sound of his voice.

“My sister, you are healed.”

I stood straight, like a curled new sprout of grain that opens tall. Then I said, “Praise to you, Lord, who heals body and soul.” My rusty voice traveled through the synagogue and echoed in the faces of the men and women. I stood tall, my voice no longer swallowed into the ground, swallowed into silence.

There was a clamor among the rabbis but I didn’t hear them. I stood by Jesus and there in his sphere of light, I felt whole, I felt cherished. I felt that God had loved me all along, especially in my suffering.

Then the crowd cheered and my son and the men from our village descended upon Jesus, ferrying him from the synagogue into the sunlit outdoors, the Sabbath disrupted with celebration. I stood straight as a pillar while the crowd swept past. The leaders fumed and rattled about in the synagogue until the last of us stragglers, the infirm, the outcast, shuffled and blinked into the daylight.

I stood, staring at the treetops I hadn’t seen in so long. The wondrous sky was dotted with clouds and the sun glowed like a golden crown. I stepped onto the path toward home. It was exactly the same, yet entirely new, as I was myself.

©Cathy Warner 2006

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Creativity Isn't Optional

This essay originally appeared in The Santa Cruz Sentinel November 2002

My husband recently took up woodturning and received a supply catalogue last week that announced, “The woodworking season is fast approaching.” Being new to the endeavor, he hadn’t realized it was a seasonal activity. As I thought about it, it made perfect sense. How better to chase away the winter doldrums than coaxing something new and beautiful into existence with a lathe and a block of walnut?

Our creativity feeds our spirits. But, all to often we diminish our creative endeavors, saying, “They’re only hobbies,” and push them aside like half-empty paints and partially finished needlepoint to make room for real life: jobs, bills, laundry, homework, meetings, sports, Scouts and church. When we ignore our creativity, our spirits suffer. We say no to the joy and abundance our creator intended for us. In the New Testament, Jesus says, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

We are offered this abundance and countless ways to be creative every day, if we open ourselves to it. My family is full of creative types who are passionate about their interests. My grandfather collected cacti and worked with wood, my grandmother always has a project, from gold-leafing picture frames to making birdhouses, my mother-in-law built a house, carves gourds, sketches, paints, sews, weaves pine needle baskets, my mother propagates plants, designs landscaping plans, and creates metal garden art with a plasma cutter, my step-father is a champion wood-turner, my father writes short stories, and the list goes on.

My family doesn’t see their creative acts as hobbies tacked onto life, the first thing to get dropped when there are too many demands. They make time to pursue the activities they love, and every Christmas give away their labors of love. My relatives let their light shine, allowing the work of their hands and hearts to be a blessing for others.

It was difficult to find my place surrounded by such talent. I felt compelled to find a hobby. After several instances of sewing in zippers backward, I stopped making my own clothes. When I took a drawing class and wasn’t the next Picasso at the end of eight weeks, I quit. I dabbled in beadwork, photography, and watercolor. None of it took. Then I took up cross-stitch, mainly because no one in my family did. But I had an urge, an unsettling twitch to do something more that I kept pushing into a broom closet in my mind. I was busy remodeling our house with my husband, raising two children, volunteering in their classrooms, serving on church committees and teaching Sunday school. I didn’t want to take on something else. Each December I wrote an eight-page holiday newsletter, complete with photos and top ten lists, and the twitch quieted for a while.

Then the twitch turned into a tap, God poking me in the shoulder, tugging on my ear and scolding like an irritated teacher, “Write.” “Maybe, in a few years, when I have time,” I said, which translated to no, which it turns out, wasn’t an acceptable answer. I was afraid that my abilities were too small and insignificant to make a difference, to God, or to the world. But God wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I began to write.

Realigning myself was terribly difficult. I had to bind and gag my inner critic in order for my creative self to sit at the computer and write sentimental drivel each day. I had to trust that my writing was necessary and important, even if no one else ever read a word. I made time to write; I never would have “found” it any other way. Despite my fears of doing too much, I still had time for my family and my church; in fact the time I had for them was better, because I was pursuing my passion.

For me, saying yes to writing was saying yes to God, the creative force that dwells in all of us. In her book, Seeing in the Dark, United Methodist Bishop Beverly Shamana says, “We are the offspring of a creative God whose hand print is stamped indelibly on our soul, marking us for continuing creativity in the world.” The more each of us say yes to our creative longings, the more joy and abundance we experience, not only within ourselves, but in our actions and interactions with the world.

Creativity isn’t optional; it’s a requirement for a whole and meaningful life. So, pick up a needle, a hammer, a crochet hook, a violin, or a block of walnut. The season is fast approaching.

©Cathy Warner 2002

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Need a Little Help, God Bless

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells of a time when the blessed will be invited to, “inherit the kingdom,” because, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

The righteous respond confused, “But when did we see you thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick or in prison?

The answer, “When you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.

Jesus’ words challenge me. Recently I had to tell a homeless woman she couldn't camp in the church parking lot. I offered her prayer and money for a tow truck. Hardly enough considering her great need. I keep a handful of Powerbars in my car and offer them to the men I see with cardboard signs reading: “Need a little help. God bless,” at the freeway exits. I know it's not enough? What is, or could be. I wonder.

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the man standing at the freeway off-ramp with a cardboard sign?
Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the single mom with a blown head gasket and no way to get to work?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the son agonizing over his mother in the nursing home?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you my friend’s aunt booked in county jail for drunk driving? “Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the latchkey kid with a can of spray paint a blank wall and all afternoon?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you my shut-in eighty-five year old neighbor with no children and an arthritic cat?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the orphan in West Angola eager for a hot breakfast and the alphabet at the Methodist school?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the Tsunami survivor, the Katrina survivor digging her possessions out of the mud?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

When did I see you Jesus? Are you the shopkeeper in Iraq with the shot out windows?
“Need a little help. God bless.”

“Need a little help. God bless.”
O Jesus, you are everywhere I go. In everyone I meet, you turn up with your empty hands and starving heart, wanting, needing. Your need is so great, I’m afraid it will consume me, will take everything I have until I’m all given out.
“Need a little help. God bless.”

Dear Jesus, how can I be faithful, how can I call myself Christian when there are times my compassion runs dry and I turn away? Those times I just can’t see you, just can’t know your pain. It is too much to bear.
“Need a little help. God bless.”

“Need a little help.”
And Jesus, you answer my questions with your life. You calm my fears with your words. You gave what you had––healing power, stories, parables, that pointed the way toward full living. You opened yourself to receive––meals, lodging, blessing. You said to give what I have––time, prayer, cash, compassion, my story––whatever it might be and I will receive an overflowing portion in return.
“God bless”.

You pressed your followers, your friends, your family into service for God, Jesus, but you didn’t send them alone. You sent them in twos and threes and later the first church communities were formed to do your work, together. Shoulder to shoulder sharing and bearing the burdens and the blessings.
“Need a little help. God bless.”

So Jesus, here I am, and not just me. Here we are. Jesus, we are here because of you. You have marked our lives, called us your own. You have left us with more to do than can ever be done. But you have also left us with indelible hope stamped on our hearts. In faith we thank you and offer our prayer.
“Need a little help. God bless.”