Thursday, July 31, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Lapidaries tell us of the Chelydonian stone that it will retain its virtue and luster only as long as it is enclosed in gold: a fit emblem for a hypocrite, who is only good while he is enclosed in golden prosperity, safety, and happiness. An unsound Christian, like green timber, shrinks when the sun of persecution shines hot upon him.
Unsound hearts, they will be righteous among the righteous, and licentious among the licentious. They will be as the company is amongst which they are cast. With the good they will be good, and with the bad they will be bad; with the zealous they will be zealous; and with the superstitious they will be superstitious; and with the lukewarm they will be lukewarm. They are like the chameleon, ready to change their hue with every one they converse with; or they are like actors in plays, that will play any part; they are as fit for one society as another; such as acting princely parts, wear royal apparel, keep state, and demean themselves gravely and soberly, so long as they are in public view upon stage, but they pass presently into another habit, and retain neither their princely behavior nor apparel, but are most beggarly, base, and debauched, either in private among themselves, or among their companions like themselves.”
Thomas Brooks - Photo by Franz Sauer
These pleasures of the palate the man of moderate means can only enjoy in brief seasons or at long intervals. It may be doubted, however, whether the very rich man gets any more pleasure from his palate and his organs of smell in the course of a year than the man who is compelled to follow the change of the season in the selection of his foods and drinks. Strawberries in January are not so good as strawberries in June, and strawberries for two months of the year, changing to raspberries, currants, blueberries, and blackberries, may give more gratification on the whole than strawberries for six months of the year.
The very rich man can order from some florist a profusion of flowers for all the rooms in his house through the entire season. These beautiful objects will adorn the very rich man’s rooms the year around, and their fragrance will penetrate every part of his house. He and his family will enjoy them; but it is doubtful whether he will get so much pleasure out of all this hired decoration as the owner of one little garden and one little glass box window will get out of his few beds, pots and vases filled with only seasonable blooms, all of which he has worked over and cared for himself. At any rate it is a different kind of pleasure, and not so keen and inexhaustible. Money indeed can buy these beautiful objects, but money cannot buy the capacity to enjoy them. That capacity may or may not go with the possession of money.
George Eliot -Photo by rinaldo romani
Monday, July 28, 2008
"That obedience that springs from faith is the obedience of a son, not of a slave;it is a free, voluntary, obedience, and not a legal, servile, and forced obedience: Ps. 106:3, 'Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness;' Also in Ps. 27:8, 'When thou saidst, Seek ye my face, my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.' Now, no sooner had God given forth a word of command for the psalmist to seek him, and to seek his favor, but presently his heart did echo to that command: 'Thy face, Lord, will I seek.' Every gracious soul hath the duplicate of God's law in his heart, and is willingly cast into the mould of his word: Romans 6:17, 'Ye have obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine that hath been delivered to you'. They did not only obey, but they obeyed from the heart, their hearts were in their obedience: Ps. 40:8, 'I delight to do thy will, O my God! yea, thy law is within my heart,' these note the tenderest of affections. Oh! but now a true child of God, he has the law of God written, not only in his understanding, but also in his heart and affections, Ezek.36:25-27; and this is that which makes his obedience to be pleasing and delightful to him; so that if he might be free from the injunctions and directions of the word, like with the servant in the law, he would not value such a liberty, Exod. 21:4-6.
There is a principle within him agreeable to the precept without him, which makes all religious performances to be easy and pleasurable to him. Look, as the eye delights in seeing, and the ear in hearing, so a gracious heart (except when it is under a cloud of desertion, or in the school of temptation, or under some grievous tormenting afflictions, or sadly worsted by some prevalent corruption) delights in obeying. Actions of nature, you know, are actions of delight; and so are all those actions that spring from a new nature, a divine nature."
One thing I like about the Puritan writings is they are so practical; note how as he reveals the heart of devotion, he does not fail to include the realities of seasons of distress, temptation, afflictions, etc. I have found this to be lacking in the pulpits where I have attended. The lack of it can make those in the midst of a season of discouragement feel even worse.
Thomas Brooks - Photo of willing service by Gaby Gobou.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I heard on the radio the other day, a story about some men talking about the type of translation of the Bible that each liked. The first said he liked the King James Version; it was poetic, the highest English and easy to memorize. The second said he liked the New American Standard for its accuracy of translation to the original text. The third liked the NIV, and how it is read with such ease and captures the Biblical thought so well. Then an older man said, 'he liked his grandmothers translation'. The others asked which one it was. He simply said, 'her translation of it into life.'
Photo by Lars Gunnar Svard
Henry David Thoreau - photo by rinaldo romani
"The morning, which is the most memorable season of the day, is the awakening hour. Then there is least somnolence in us; and for an hour, at least, some part of us awakes which slumbers all the rest of the day and night............ Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me." Henry David Thoreau.
I like this thought; and I have always loved the morning hours, but till I read this piece I have been unable to define my emotions. I think this captures it as nearly as words can. The morning is when my senses are alive, both physically and spiritually. The Bible speaks clearer in morning light than at any other time of the day. If I were to write a letter or poem, the words come in the morning hours that somehow hide from me at other times.
Photo by Indranil Kar
"That silence is one of the great arts of conversation is allowed by Cicero himself, who says there is not only an art, but an eloquence in it." Hannah More.
I love this picture because it captures the fondness and enjoyment of friendships. Developing this kind of friendship is difficult for most of us and often our Christian faith unnecessarily divides, instead of bonds us to others. I think we all need to feel appreciated and approved of in order to open up and take the risks that friendship demands. As Christians, although we should have the fragrance of Christ's love and acceptance, we can often be judgmental and appear as though we have all the answers. The pride of man will not be drawn to that, be it stranger or family member. If our agenda is to teach them, correct them, or come across as we have the answers to their life, I doubt we will be embraced and any true ministry will be subverted. "Honor all men", is good advice in approaching others.
Photo by Mehmet Akin
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
"It is only a poor sort of happiness that could ever come by caring very much about our own narrow pleasures. We can only have the highest happiness, such as goes along with being a great man, by having wide thoughts, and much feeling for the rest of the world as well as ourselves; and this sort of happiness often brings so much pain with it, that we can only tell it from pain by its being what we would choose before everything else, because our souls see it is good."
George Eliot - Photo by Corbis Bettmann
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
"Be sure to maintain a secret trade with God.
You know many men come to be very rich in the world by a secret trade. Take it, friends, as an experienced truth, there is no such way under heaven, to be rich in spirituals, as by driving of a secret trade heaven-wards. It is true, it is good for men to attend upon this and that public administration; for in all divine administrations God shews his beauty and glory. Ay, but such that delight to be more upon the public stage than in the closet, will never be rich in spirituals. They may grow rich in notions, but they will never grow rich in gracious experiences. Ps. 63:2,3; 27:4; 84:10 Oh! God loves to see a poor Christian shut his closet door, and then to open his bosom, and pour out his soul before him. God hath very choice discoveries for souls that drive a secret trade; the best wine, the best dainties and delicates are for such. And I never knew any man or woman in my life, that was richer in grace, than those that were much in closet communion with God. Oh! let God hear often of you in secret. Christ is much delighted and taken with secret prayer; Song of Solomon 2:14, 'O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs,' that art got into a hole, 'let me hear thy voice, let me see thy countenance; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is lovely.' Secret meals are very fattening, and secret duties are very soul-enriching. Christians! set more close to this work, and if you don't thrive by it, trust me no more."
Thomas Brooks - photo by Jose A. Gallego
Monday, July 21, 2008
"How wonderful is the human voice! It is indeed the organ of the soul! The intellect of man sits enthroned visibly on his forehead and in his eye; and the heart of man is written on his countenance. But the soul reveals itself in the voice only, as God revealed himself to the prophet of old, in "the still, small voice," and in a voice from the burning bush. The soul of man is audible, not visible. A sound alone betrays the flowing of the eternal fountain, invisible to man!
Longfellow - photo from Internet
Sunday, July 20, 2008
When I first ran across this picture and studied it, I began to ask myself, 'who am I in this photo?' I started by considering worship; then just enthusiasm in general; then rearing children and the uproar it can cause; then I couldn't help but apply it to the legalist in religion.
The two prominent girls, with hands reaching out, are fully engaged in what ever it is that is going on. The balance of the spectators are each taking a different posture. I should be more like the two reaching girls, less like the woman in the rear.
Photo by Tomasz Pluciennik
Saturday, July 19, 2008
There are two kinds of people on the earth today,
Just two kinds of people, no more, I say.
Not the rich and the poor, for to counts a man's wealth,
You must first know the state of his conscience and health.
Not the humble and proud, for in life's little span
Who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.
Not the happy and sad, for the swift flying years
Brings each man his laughter and each man his tears.
No; the two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift, and the people who lean.
Wherever you go, you will find the world's masses
Are always divided in just these two classes.
And oddly enough, you will find, too, I wean,
There is only one lifter to twenty who lean.
In which class are you? Are you easing the load
Of over taxed lifters who toil down the road?
Or are you a leaner, who lets others bear
Your portion of labor and worry and care? Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Lifting the veil of ignorance statue at Tuskegee College.
"A race like an individual, lifts itself up by lifting others up." - Booker T. Washington
Thursday, July 17, 2008
"First, That though many weak gracious souls do not enjoy communion with God in joy and delight, yet they do enjoy communion with God in sorrow and tears.
Hos. 12:4 : Isa 38:3; Ps. 51:17 A man may have communion with God in a heart-humbling, a heart-melting, and a heart-abasing way, when he hath not communion with God in a heart-reviving, a heart-cheering, and a heart-comforting way. It is a very great mistake among many weak, tender-spirited Christians, to think that they have no communion with God in duties, except they meet with God embracing and kissing, cheering and comforting up their souls. And oh that all Christians would remember this once for all, viz. that a Christian may have as real communion with God in a heart-humbling way, as he can have in a heart-comforting way, John 20:11-19 A Christian may have as choice communion with God when his eyes are full of tears, as he can have when his heart is full of joy."
Thomas Brooks - Photo by Emrach Icten
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
"Some Christians are apt to judge of themselves, and to try themselves, by such rules or evidences as are competent only to those that are strong men in Christ, and that have grown to a high pitch of grace, of holiness, of communion with God, of spiritual enjoyments and heavenly attainments, and sweet and blessed ravishments of soul; and by hearing of these, they come to doubt the work of the blessed Spirit in them, and to perplex and disquiet their own souls with needless fears, doubts, and jealousies......
So, when considering the evidences to try and determine our spiritual and eternal estates, there are two rules for ever to be minded and remembered; and the first is this, That he that propounds evidences of grace, which are only proper for eminent Christians, and presents them as though they should belong to all true Christians, he will certainly grieve and sadden those precious lambs of Christ whom should not be grieved or saddened.
Look, as there is strong faith and a weak faith, so there are evidences that are proper to a strong faith and evidences that are proper to a weak faith. Now, he that cannot find in himself the evidences of a strong faith, he must not conclude that he has no faith; for he may have in him the evidences of a weak faith, which with time will grow. In Christ's school, house and church, there are several sorts and ranks of Christians, such as babes, children, young men, and old men; and accordingly ministers, in their preaching and writing, should sort their evidences so that babes and children may not be found bleeding, grieving, and weeping, when they should be found joying and rejoicing." Thomas Brooks
When I was a young Christian I was commonly disheartened by older Christians that made me doubt as if God had really done a work of grace in me, when compared to their "holy" conversations. It seemed as though it were almost a competition. When, with a little care and caution, they could have been great encouragement, and instead left me "bleeding, grieving, and weeping."
Photo by Nour Eddine El Ghoumari
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
“I wanted nothing more than to fall on the ground and scream and sob – wailing to God on this little girls behalf. All I could see was a future without the guiding love and support of the parents who had brought her into the world. Where was the daddy who would be her protector? Where was the father who would swing her into the air and listen for her squeals of delight? Where was the daddy who would stand proudly at her wedding, giving her in marriage? Where was the mommy who would cuddle her in the night and sing her back to sleep when she had a bad dream? Where was the mommy who would teach her how to be a woman? I barely contained my sobs until I got back to our van, where I cried and cried. My friend and colleague Elizabeth and I clung to each other in terrible grief. Being seriously disturbed was becoming a way of life.”
After leaving Africa and coming home to the US she explains a little more about being “gloriously ruined.”
“Everything looked different; everyone seemed strange. I looked at my possessions differently. Suddenly a full refrigerator was an insult. The crowded grocery store shelves were excessive. The displays of fashion at the mall were trivial. Television was disgusting and moronic. Politics made me sick. Church was superficial. I was a mess.
Elizabeth wrote me an email shortly after we got back from Malawi and South Africa. In it she told me, “Thanks a lot! I’m ruined --- gloriously ruined.” I nodded with sudden understanding. “That’s it – that describes what has happened to me.” I was ruined for life as I had known it before, but gloriously ruined! Life will always hold a “Before AIDS” and an “After AIDS” classification for me now. I’m simply not the person I used to be, although who I was before wasn’t a bad person. But I’ve been shaped by these new experiences, and I will never be the same. Moreover, I don’t want to be the same. I can’t have seen what I’ve seen, met the people I’ve met, experienced what I’ve experienced, only to turn away and return to life as usual. I now look at life through a different set of lenses.”
I think there are many applications to the words of Jesus where he says,
”Blessed are those that suffer for my names sake.” Surely the persecuted Christians are among those, martyrs, of course, defenders of the faith against opposition as well, but for many of us in the US, we will not suffer in those ways, but we will in the way that Kay Warren suffers. Choosing to sacrifice ourselves, our money and our time for the suffering in the world. Mourning over the suffering, and choosing to sacrifice for the good of those without, is a practical application for us.
Sara Groves song “I Saw What I Saw” is all about being gloriously ruined.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
"Make the most of what there is good in institutions, in opinions, in communities, in individuals. It is very easy to do the reverse of this, to make the worst of what there is of evil, absurd, and erroneous. By so doing we shall have no difficulty in making estrangements more wide, and hatreds and strifes more abundant, and errors more extreme."
Dean Stanley - photo by mehmet alci
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Now to actually engage the mind and write something from the heart is no small task for a teen boy. But it is a very important skill to acquire. I have found initially kids are at a loss as what to say, but with a lot of help at first, they can turn out a pretty good letter.
This is the technique I have used – I have the child imagine that the person they are writing to has suddenly gone; alien abduction, sudden war, death, whatever it takes to get them in the frame of mind to begin to remember. So, then I have them imagine themselves walking in the person’s house, finding it empty and abandoned, and I ask them, ‘what comes to mind as you enter the family room, or the dining room, kitchen or back yard?. What are the memories each place brings to mind? What did you do together that was fun, meaningful, silly, scary and of course heartfelt. Now, make a list of those things’. It may be games, movies, beach trips, backyard tag, picnics, confiding in one another or whatever they think of in association with this person. I try and focus on the things that they will think about in the years to come.
Now with this list of, say, ten or more things begin to use these memories to weave a simple letter that may look something like this ---
To my cousin Bill,
I’ve been thinking about you and I, and all the things we have done together. Like the night we snuck out to Old Mr. Rodgers house and filled our bellies with his grapes till his dog heard us and chased us off! We have had a lot of good times together. I remember last year when you fell into the river and it was so cold you could barely breathe!
Well, gotta go, my ipod needs charging,
As the child matures, and with the basic skills we teach them, and as they practice more in school writing short stories, essays and the like, hopefully by the time they are an adult, they will have communication skills that will go on to serve them for a lifetime. Many young adults don’t have a clue about communication, and they, as well as those they love, will suffer because of it.
Painting by William Bouguereau
Friday, July 11, 2008
"Blessed influence of one true, loving human soul on another! Not calculable by algebra, not deducible by logic, but mysterious, effectual, mighty as the hidden process by which the tiny seed is quickened, and bursts forth into tall stem and broad leaf, and glowing tasselled flower. Ideas are often poor ghosts; our sun-filled eyes can not discern them; they pass athwart us in their vapor, and can not make themselves felt. But sometimes they are made flesh; they breathe upon us with warm breath, they touch us with soft responsive hands, they look at us with sad, sincere eyes, and speak to us in appealing tones; they are clothed in a living human soul, with all its conflicts, its faith, and its love. Then their presence is a power, then they shake us like a passion, and we are drawn after them by a gentle compulsion, as flame is drawn to flame." George Eliot
When I first read this it was difficult for me to grasp, but after re-reading it I think it is a simple statement, eloquently written --When help comes to us in the flesh, by someone who is genuine and we can sense they have our interests at heart, they have a power over us, and draw out our affection for them more than a thousand lofty sentiments, intentions or ideas from afar. This is how I saw Jesus working in the world, person to person.
"When an asp stings a man, it doth at first tickle him, and make him laugh till the poison by little and little gets to his heart, and then it pains him more than before it delighted him. It is so with sin, it may tickle the soul at first, but it will pain it at last with a witness.
I have read of a gallant addicted to uncleanness, who at last meeting with a beautiful dame, and having enjoyed his fleshly desires of her, he found her in the morning to be the dead body of one that he had formerly been naught with, which had been acted by the devil all night, and left dead again in the morning; so that the gallant's pleasure ended in no small terror. And thus it is doubtless with all sinful pleasures."
Rather vivid illustration wouldn't you say?
Thomas Brooks - Photo by Wojciech Grzanka, "Call me now."
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
"As to people saying a few idle words about us, we must not mind that any more than the old church steeple minds the rooks cawing about it." George Eliot.
Photo by Rokebola
Ay, but tell me, Christians, will a little grace enable a man to live up to this principle? I judge not. You are to stand ready to change your employment from better to worse, if the Lord shall be pleased to order it so. You are to be ready to change your crown for a cross; to change that employment that is honorable for that which is mean and low; and that which is more profitable, for that which is less profitable; as it were from the ruling of a province, to the keeping of a herd; from being a lord, to be a servant; from being a servant to great men; to be a servant to the meanest servant, yea, to the poorest beast. Certainly a little grace will never enable a man bravely and sweetly to live up to this principle. Their hearts that are poor in grace, are like a wounded hand or arm, which being but imperfectly cured, can only move one way, and cannot turn to all postures and all natural uses.
Weak Christians are very apt to three things, to choose their mercies, to choose their crosses, and to choose their employments. They are often unwilling that God himself should choose out their way or their work. But now souls that are rich in grace, they are at God's beck and check; they are willing that God shall choose their work and their way; they are willing to be at his dispose; to be high or low; to serve or to be served; to be something or to be nothing.
Thomas Brooks -photo by Lars-Gunnar Svard
Saturday, July 05, 2008
“My hosts from World Relief were eager to take me to meet men and women who were HIV positive. We piled into old Land Rovers. As we drove I plied them with questions, but they were wise enough to ask me to just observe and listen to the people I met. They told me in time I would begin to understand.
Before long we parked and then walked through low greenery toward a tree with spreading limbs.
At first, a faded piece of fabric was all I could see.
Under the canopy of leaves, this piece of fabric turned out to be a dying, homeless woman named Joanna. I was told that when people in her village learned that she and her husband had AIDS, the villagers asked them to leave. A distant relative offered to care for her and her husband, and so they moved. But when their new neighbors heard their diagnosis, the tiny straw hut they had built was mysteriously burned. The day I met her, Joanna was living under the large tree. She had no shelter, no cooking pots, no blankets, no extra clothes –just a sheet of plastic to lie on. She saw us approaching on foot and made a valiant effort to pick herself up off the ground to greet us, but with unrelenting diarrhea and an emaciated body, she was unable to stand. She crawled toward us on her elbows and knees. At one point, she collapsed in a heap, and her auntie scrambled to lift her onto the piece of plastic, which served as a welcome mat for the visitors. Joanna arranged her thin body in a dignified pose and waited to greet us. She was just a bag of bones.
I was stunned.
I know how to talk to people who are stressed about their careers, discouraged with their parenting, upset because they can’t lose weight they want to. But nothing, absolutely nothing, in my experience of my faith had prepared me to speak to a homeless woman dying of AIDS and living under a tree. I smiled on the outside, but on the inside I was in a total panic – angry at God, angry at the brokenness of our world, searching the dim recesses of my mind for something halfway spiritual to say. I choked; I couldn’t come up with anything other than “My name is Kay; thank you for your hospitality to us.”
Fortunately, Debbie Dortzbach, international HIV director for World Relief and my host, was experienced. She had seen hundreds of women like Joanna, and her faith was strong. She showed me how to greet Joanna with warmth and kindness, how to kneel down next to her and look her in the eye, how to place my arms around her and hug her, how to pray and ask for God’s comfort, strength and help to be given in this terrible situation. She spoke of the hope of heaven – that while this world held pain and sorrow and sickness for Joanna, there is a better world she could be a part of through faith in Jesus, who loves her. Debbie offered a few anti-nausea pills that she carried with her to alleviate some of the discomfort Joanna was feeling, but even as inexperienced as I was, I new this woman was only days away from death.
I left Joanna under that tree, but she remains with me. Her picture hangs on the wall of my office, and I look at her every day. She gave AIDS a name; she gave it a face.
I could have gone home after the first day; I had enough experiences to occupy my mind and heart for years to come. But there were more people to meet and love, more scenes to disturb me.”
To the great tree-loving fraternity we belong. We love trees with universal and unfeigned love, and all things that do grow under them, or around them – the whole leaf and root tribe! Not alone when they are in their glory, but in whatever state they are – in leaf, or rimed with frost, or powdered with snow, or crystal-sheathed in ice, or in sever outline stripped and bare against a November sky – we love them. Our heart warms at the sight of even a board or a log. A lumber-yard is better than nothing. The smell of wood, at least, is there; the savory fragrance of resin, as sweet as myrrh and frankincense ever was to a Jew.
Under this oak I love to sit and hear all the things which its leaves have to tell. No printed leaves have more treasures of history or of literature to those who know how to listen. But, if clouds kindly shield us from the sun, we love as well to couch down on the grass some thirty yards off, and amidst the fragrant smell of crushed herbs, to watch the fancies of the trees and clouds. The roguish winds will never be done teasing the leaves, that run away and come back., with nimble playfulness. Now and then, a stronger puff dashes up the leaves, showing the downy under-surfaces that flash white all along the up-blown and tremulous forest-edge. Now the wind draws back his breath, and all the woods are still. Then, some single leaf is tickled, and quivers all alone. I am sure there is no wind, the other leaves about it are still. Where it gets its motion I can not tell, but there it goes fanning itself, and restless among its sober fellows. By and by one or two others catch the impulse. The rest hold out a moment, but soon catching the contagious merriment, away goes the whole tree and all its neighbors, the leaves running in ripples all down the forest-side. I expect almost to hear them laugh out loud.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
“When I think of heroes; people who embody dangerous surrender; I think of Mother Teresa. For me, probably more than anyone else in the twentieth century, she represents a life yielded to God. She determined from an early age to allow God to use her gifts, talents, and passions for his kingdom, and what he did through this tiny little woman is astonishing.
Because of my admiration of her selfless service to the “least of these,” I decided to visit her Home for the Dying in Calcutta, India, in October 2004.
Not many people have spent time in one of the Missionaries of Charity’s homes around the world, especially non-Catholics, so I thought I was doing something pretty wonderful. I felt noble, even virtuous, for what I was about to do.
There are two volunteer shifts a day at M.C., and my friends and I chose the morning shift. Volunteers are required to attend Mass with the sisters before beginning the workday. We knelt on the hard wooden floor of the Mother House and prayed, sang, and listened to the homily for the day with nuns in their white cotton saris. After tea and rolls, we headed to M.C. Once again, I was completely unprepared for the experience.
The sisters stay extremely busy tending to the women and men in their care; fifty on the men’s side and fifty on the women’s side; and don’t have time for cozy chat with new volunteers. When I asked one sister briskly walking past me what I should do, she barely glanced at me and said, “Do what you see other’s doing.”
I don’t know if I expected her to stop, look me in the eye, and shower me with words of praise for showing up that morning, but it certainly wasn’t the reception I anticipated! I noticed other volunteers grabbing gloves and surgical masks out of a metal bucket, but by the time I made it to the bucket, the only masks left were extra large; useless for me. Gloves? None that I could find. My friends Mary, Judy, Cisco, Steve, and I just looked at each other, and with a resigned shrug of our shoulders, we plunged into serving the dying men and women.
Steve and Cisco headed to the men’s side, while Mary, Judy, and I went through the doorway for the women. Fifty small cots were lined up in rows, and there was a flurry of activity as volunteers, nuns, and patients mingled together. I quickly figured out that there was a system; women were fed breakfast, given a bath, and dressed in clean clothes; their bed coverings were changed; simple medications were dispensed; and then they sat on their beds or slept. We joined the brigade of volunteers. Some of the volunteers come for weeks or months at a time, so there were a few veterans who took pity on our ignorance and gave us specific tasks to do; “Feed that woman over there. Be careful; she gets nauseated easily and throws up.” “Here, help me get this woman into the bathing area. She can’t walk by herself.” “No, I’m sorry; there isn’t any hot water to wash your hands. Just use the faucet and dry your hands on your pants.” “Medication? Well, someone donated aspirin and a salve for fungus. The sisters are handing it out right now.” “What is wrong with this woman? Maggots got into the wound on her head, and that awful-looking open sore is actually healing.” “Clean that bed; no, there aren’t any more gloves. Get some disinfectant from the kitchen and put it in that bucked of cold water. You’ll find a piece of cloth that you can scrub the diarrhea off the mattress.” “You really should put on a mask; I’m certain the woman you’re holding so close to your face probably has tuberculosis.”
Within a half hour of arriving, my romanticized notion of “serving the poor” had evaporated into the stench of diarrhea and disinfectant, the screams of a man suffering as maggots were pulled from his wounds. The sight of injuries that made me feel sick and the stillness of a woman passing from this life into the next jarred me. “What a fool I am!” I thought to myself. Why did I ever want to come to this horrible place? When is my shift is over? I can’t wait to get out of here. I can’t handle much more of this.” I was a wreck.
The morning routine was finally finished. Women were fed, bathed, and dressed in clean cotton dresses. Their beds had clean sheets. Some had received simple medicine, and now we waited; waited for them to die. That’s what you do in a home for the dying.
I retreated to a quiet corner to gather my shell-shocked emotions and to allow my stomach to calm down from the sights, sounds, and smells. An alert nun saw me hiding and called for me to start folding donated newspapers into makeshift bags to dispose of soiled bandages. I am a klutz at art projects, and folding newspaper in the precise ways the sister hurriedly demonstrated was harder than it looked. I was relieved that I could still be useful without interacting with any more of the women.
But then I saw her.
As my eyes wandered aimlessly, they met those of a woman sitting by herself on a cot on the other side of the large room. I silently scolded myself for making eye contact; hadn’t I already earned my “nice person” stripes that morning? I felt as if all of my senses were on overload and I couldn’t handle one more disturbing encounter. But she motioned urgently for me to come to her. I got up grudgingly and walked slowly to her side, where she drew me down on the cot next to her.
Instantly, tears streamed down her face, and in Bengali she began a torrential flood of words. My first thought was “I have absolutely no idea what she is saying,” but then in a moment of clarity, I knew exactly what she was saying! This woman was pouring out her life story to me. She told me in the most vivid words she could muster how she ended up sick, alone, and dying in Missionaries of Charity. She mourned that her family was either too poor to care for her in her illness or too uncaring, or perhaps family had been lost long ago. I’m sure she told me of the hopes and dreams for her life that were dashed by circumstances and disappointments. Her grief grew by the minute, and her body trembled with emotion. We sat side by side on her tiny cot; an Indian woman approaching death and an American woman who didn’t know how to help her.
All at once I was full of compassion for her, my sister.
I threw my arms around her and drew her very close to me so that our faces were just inches apart. While she was speaking in Bengali, I spoke in English, believing that the God who made her could help her understand, if not my words, the love with which I spoke them. “I am so sorry you hurt! I’m so sorry that you are here, alone and dying in this place. I’m so sorry that your family is not here with you; that they abandoned you to face your last days by yourself. But you are not alone! God is with you! You matter to him, and you matter to me. My arms around you are his arms; as I am wiping your tears away with my fingers, these are his fingers; as I touch your face, know that it is his hands lovingly reminding you of how dear you are to him. He loves you so much he sent his Son, Jesus, so that you could spend eternity with him! And he has sent me to you today to hold you and tell you one more time how special you are to him.”
I couldn’t assure her that she would leave Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying and be restored to full health. I couldn’t guarantee her that her family would be outside, waiting joyfully for her to come home to them. I couldn’t promise her that there would be adequate pain medication to make her death easy and comfortable. I offered the one thing I had in my power to offer --- my presence, my very self. I offered her the gift that everyone can give – the gift that costs more than our money or even our energy, and time --- our very presence.”