It was an amazing way to begin the day. I slept in! Usually I’m awake and up by 6:00 AM and often earlier but this morning I was relaxed, perfectly content, confident I wasn’t going experience what I had the night before, a kind of panic and physical weakness combined with a high pulse rate triggered I think now by failing to eat most of the day. In addition, my BP had been a little higher than I like, slightly above my maximum of 150/90, which I was already worried about. On top of that, I was puzzled at why this was still happening with my practice of God’s presence. But here I was, in a state of fear, worried about this sudden uptick, so worried that I took Susan up on her invitation to spend the night at her house. I didn’t want to be alone should my condition worsen. Midway through the restless night, I was able to bring myself back to normal, overcoming the worry and panic by deferring to the resources at my disposal. First I started with deep breathing, inhaling on a count of eight, holding my breath for a count of four and then exhaling slowly, repeating the count until I relaxed enough to move to the next step which was, for me, to visualize what I have come to believe about myself. As a child of God I began to acknowledge that I was, therefore, beloved of God. God’s love for his creation is at the heart of my heritage as a Christian but I often struggle with it. This time I was able fully, in faith, to accept this love as applying specifically to me. I am beloved. God loves ME. The minute I accepted personally this mystery, I fell into a deep sleep lasting until Susan got up to let the dog out. I’m prepared to think now that the chances of succumbing to this fear again are less as I build on what just happened. For one thing, I am beginning to connect what happened at Susan’s with other personal events. I remember one time particularly when I was walking alone early one morning on a dirt road south of LaConner when suddenly I felt grabbed from behind, my arms pinned against my sides. Nobody there. I shook my arms and a few steps later, again, the same thing. Ultimately – against my own judgment- I took it as being embraced by God, God acknowledging me as one of his own. It was too real, too physical, to put off or ignore. I was grabbed and held. No doubt about it. I couldn’t talk about it for three days without breaking into tears. And then I put in on a back burner, letting it simmer and finally evaporate. But here it is again, brought back into play, on a front burner now. The mystics often talk about the mystery of God’s love as something to cherish. And I’m okay with that. I can live, have to live, with what I don’t know and maybe will never understand.
The wonderful start to the Sabbath was followed later by a short walk in a gentle rain to the First Presbyterian Church about midway between my place and the Santa Fe plaza. Back in the sixties, my family and I were members there. I also taught the adult class on Sunday mornings and was ordained there as a church Elder. Walking in the door, I was impressed with the elegance of the sanctuary. Soft green pew cushions and light green carpeting against the wooden pews and walls was welcoming as was the music coming from the organ, its chrome pipes standing tall on the back wall, emitting those deep, melodic notes associated with organs of old. The space smacked of age, wisdom and wealth. How wonderful over the course of worship to discover its spiritual energy reaching into the world, matching its substance with concern for its brothers and sisters elsewhere around the globe.
As a case in point, a husband and wife missionary team residing in Indonesia amongst an Islamic majority spoke about their emphasis on cooperating with the Islamic leaders in meeting the needs of the impoverished. But then the husband, an American professor teaching at a university in Jakarta, spoke about the particular challenge of today. He related how he was asked by one of his doctoral students to speak at an upcoming event on campus which he agreed to. It was only when he got there that he realized he was one of three speakers. The first was a young, articulate, Islamic radical who gave a lengthy and impassioned powerpoint presentation about the ills of western civilization beginning with crusades and the inquisition and then going on to include in excruciating detail America’s treatment of blacks and other minorities and other evils of a capitalist society. This was then contrasted to the beauty of Islamic teachings. The professor said he was not prepared for the young radical’s onslaught and so chose to present the talk he’d prepared which had to do with his role, and his wife’s, as Christian missionaries. The third speaker, an elderly Iman, spoke quietly about his perspective on Islam and its importance in today’s world. When the professor was asked publicly to respond to the young radical’s powerpoint, he was led to say the only thing he could think of, namely, that it was even worse then the young man had described and, at the same time, much better. The professor then went on to ask the audience if it was really fair to contrast the worst of Western civilization and America with the best of Islamic teachings. The professor concluded his remarks with a question: “I’m an American and a Christian. Am I really your enemy?” The elderly Iman, in response, said “You are not an enemy of Islam”.
After the service had concluded and I was headed out the door of the church, I told the professor how proud I was of him. His response had been exactly the right response under the circumstances, speaking to the question of fairness. That’s often the issue behind the issues we find ourselves faced with everywhere today. We have trouble getting anywhere in our body politic because we’ve lost the nerve to be fair-minded, to consider the other’s view in order to arrive at anything resembling a possible resolution.