Troubled Waters by George Merrill

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Ever watch a bird bathing? It’s delightful.

The other day a yellow finch descended from a tree onto the rim of our bird bath. The finch looked around hesitantly, the way kids look to see who’s watching them before they dive in a pool. The bird hopped in.

The bath is a total experience for a bird, no question about it.

The finch ducked his beak into the water, not to clean it but to drink. We should post disclaimers. Heaven knows where that bird may have been, including the other bathers before him and what might be in the water.

He flaps his wings. Not just a perfunctory flutter or two; No. He cranks his wings up full bore, wings rising and falling with a dizzying velocity that raises a fine mist at least a foot in the air above him, like spray from an aerosol can. I didn’t mention the day was hot; he certainly enjoyed a cool down, too.

Apparently caged birds do not bathe like birds in the wild. Whether that’s because the bird’s owner doesn’t provide a proper bird bath or the bird doesn’t get that dirty in the house, isn’t clear. I’ve wondered whether caged birds quietly despair, lose all sense of personal dignity and just don’t care about personal hygiene anymore.

Several woodpeckers live around our house –they bore holes in the house’s fascia boards – but I’ve never seen woodpeckers in the bird bath. Woodworking is laborious and I would imagine after a day’s labor they would work up a considerable sweat. How woodpeckers manage their personal hygiene remains a private matter.

Bathing is more than just staying clean. Birds also stay cool by bathing. Watching babies in the bathtub is a little like watching birds in a bird bath – they have a great time splashing around. I remember my granddaughter was ritualistic about it; sitting in the bath, pouring water carefully from one paper cup into another, uttering inscrutable incantations, as her eyes focused on infinity. Then she’d slap the water and beam a beatific smile of a saint.

Bathing habits change. It has to do with what stages of our lives we’re in. During our infancy, we bathed in tubs under the watchful eye of mom and dad. In time, showers superseded baths as the preferred way to bathe. Showers are typically a solitary affair but not always. As youngsters age and become lovers, they may enjoy showering together. As the delicious glow of erotism diminishes, showering returns to a solitary exercise, purely functional, cleanliness being the issue rather than fun. Then, as time progresses and we age, we shower again with a companion, not to have fun this time but as a safety precaution. Having someone close by can be a life-saver.

For ancient Greeks and Romans, baths were a social phenomenon, like today’s malls or spas where people gather in large numbers. In the case of ancient baths, people gathered to recline in pools of water and chat – some heated as in the ancient Roman bath still remaining in Bath, England. There they’d meet friends and neighbors, socialize and catch up. I’ve read that some ancient baths grew fetid, as birdbaths can when left unattended.

Water has always been, in its various iterations, a social lubricant. People sun together seaside. They ski snow covered slopes on mountains and build homes around lakes. Water has inspiring aesthetic properties as well: Poets rhapsodize about the morning mists rising from meadows and one describes how fog rubs against windowpanes the way cats scratch their backs on stationary objects.

Any discussion of water must include its healing qualities as well as its metaphorical use in spiritual discourse and practice.

Almost all our wounds, whatever treatments they receive, are first washed.

Baptism, the rite of Christian initiation includes ritual uses of water; a couple of drops for Catholics and Episcopalian does it. For Baptists, deep water for total immersion is standard procedure. Jews perform moves in water for achieving ritual purification. Jesus was Baptized in the Jordon River.

Body and soul are, from a spiritual perspective, all about water.

I heard a Biblical story as a child. It enchanted me. I’ve never forgotten it. I knew it as the pool at Siloam. It reads like this:

“Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, (near Siloam) having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water (sometimes rendered, ‘troubled the waters’) then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.”

Afternoons I may sit on my dock and write. Part of this essay was written there. I’m a sun freak. There, in the sun, I can overlook the creek. The creek is often as still as a millpond when I first arrive. Heat becomes oppressive but if I wait long enough, I’ll see the water slightly shiver and then ripple, and soon the breeze comes. When the water is troubled, I’ll feel comforted, released.

The angel troubles the water.

In the last couple of months, I’ve crossed the water go to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore for medical services. Where we enter, there’s a large courtyard. Patients come and go. They are a myriad of different peoples: racial, ethnic, young and old, some deeply wounded, others appearing fit. As I make for the doors I feel I’ve arrived in the third world. I’ll imagine I’m at one of the porches by the ancient pool at Siloam where once “a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed” came to see the troubled waters with hope for healing. They came with the same hope for healing as I and the crowd at Hopkin’s have, now. I pray all of us will be there when the angel stirs the water. All of us may not be made whole, but we can rest assured that we’ll be aided and comforted in our afflictions.

A long way from a bird bath? Perhaps, but it’s those very tenuous connections that reveal significant parts of the human story. The reality of our universal connections is undeniable. Water, particularly, is the connective tissue of all of life. I think of that when I see the water ripple.

I would offer this thought: the fact is we are broken people living in a broken world. Look for the angel who stirs the waters. Be alert for the ripples the angel makes. Watch and wait and hope for healing. It will come when the time is ripe.

Still waters run deep; troubled waters offer hope.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

The Big Picture by George Merrill

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Of late my mobility has been limited.

The more anchored I am in one place the more I see of it. What’s been revealing to me is that my front yard, which should be as familiar to me as my toes or my fingers, I’m seeing as if for the first time. Just sitting still isn’t so bad, after all.

And so, the other day I put a chair where I could overlook my yard and the cove. I sat there just waiting. Waiting for what? That’s the thing; I didn’t know for what, but I did know I was waiting.

It was one of those grand days that have visited the Shore in the last week or so. Not too hot; a hefty breeze and a deep blue sky filled with clouds, but uncharacteristically different kinds – the wispy ‘mare’s tails’ of the high-altitude cirrus, and in the distance cumulus clouds – I never think of them as celestial bedfellows – I’ll typically see just one or the other in the sky, separately. Everything shimmered with vitality while I just sat. I laughed at myself; “What a slug you are,” I thought, while shamelessly enjoying my immobility. I call it a no-agenda moment, not going from here to there as I always do – but just nesting here.

A small plane flew overhead. It circled around in the sky in broad swaths, like hawks do, not appearing to be going anywhere in particular but just out for a spin. I thought the pilot and I were both enjoying the same landscape; the pilot’s take on the landscape, however, would be far different than mine

Perspective alters perception.

I thought about the way I assemble my world view by shuffling around the disparate pieces life throws at me. I arrange them into customized compositions of my own. From there, I conduct my affairs as if my constructs were a reality. At best, perceptions of reality are an iffy business, usually hits, misses, and many course corrections.

Reality, like a freshly caught fish, is slippery, hard to hold firmly for any length of time. It slips from your hand or you get pricked by its spines. Reality keeps slipping from my hand; it pokes me, too. Once having held it for a minute or even less and it has poked me, I know how it feels before it gets away.

My wife, Jo, is a jig-saw puzzle enthusiast. I am not. For Christmas, she received a two-thousand-piece puzzle. The thought of two thousand pieces intimidating, but the enormity of the number of pieces energizes her. Different perspectives. To me, the complete picture displayed on the box lacked distinctive shapes and colors. Both color and form just morphed from one to another without boundaries. I considered the puzzle ominous and fiendish to put together since all the pieces seemed to lack identifiable distinctions.

Generally speaking, Jo creates a visual reality from defining the boundaries first – initially completing the puzzle’s edges and then, finding a place for a particular piece within those boundaries.

As an essayist, I put together a big picture differently. My mind seizes some scrap, disembodied, if will, not apparently connected to anything else. I will have no idea what it is. Then I try to hook another fragment up to it, something which seems likely to fit. It’s hit and miss, and frequently I stall out. When I occasion to make connections and the connections form a larger and coherent picture, I feel euphoric. I’m reassured once more, that my world, however fragmented it can seem, is of a piece, made of trillions of other pieces. I guess I like composing a spiritual ecology.

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century Christian mystic, said some remarkable things, particularly about connections and the big picture.
She said: “(God) showed me a small thing . . . a hazelnut . . . round as a ball . . . I looked at it with the eye of my understanding . . . What might this be? . . . and it was answered thus: it is all that is made. It shall ever be for God loveth it.”
Seems like a stretch, at first, but, looking closely, it’s a portrait of connections.
How can anything so small and still be so wholly inclusive, leading us from a tiny nut to the outer limits of the universe. All we know about are beginnings and ends. Do you suppose the universe has no boundaries at all?

For a minute I thought I was the earthbound nut (hazelnut, I mean) and the pilot high above me was comprehending all that there is. We belonged to the same reality, viewing it from different places.

A day later I sat on my dock. I watched a jellyfish. They go with the flow (current) and yet constantly try to ascend vertically, slowly flapping their gelatinous bells so they ever so gently break the water’s surface. That’s as far as they get. I’ve thought that they too, deep down, know that they belong to a universe far larger than the creek they inhabit. They strain to see beyond the constraints by making their vertical ascents. They never fully succeed but then, they never quit, either. Do airplane pilots feel that way? Astronauts? Is seeing the big picture what drives them?

I’ll bet the whole world yearns for a glance of itself beyond the familiar boundaries that contain it.

I think that’s what yearning is; I think it’s a universal hunger, and a hunger for the universal.

I lost an old friend recently. A nun. I knew her as Maria, her professed name. We were faculty together at Loyola. We became intimate friends. I thought of her as one of those ‘spirit people’ whom you sense instinctively walk closely with God. I’ve found such people infinitely approachable, even earthy, but there’s no doubt that they keep their eye on the big picture.

I underwent several medical diagnostic procedures recently. One included a bone scan for which I wasn’t greatly concerned. I felt mostly inconvenienced.

During the procedure, but of nowhere, I had a powerful sense of Maria’s presence, so much so that I felt of rush of goose bumps and an urge to weep, not from fear or distress; I had the distinct experience of momentarily grasping a reality, namely that when we are loved and love others, we can never be separated from this love despite, as St. Paul says: “life or death, principalities and powers.”

The big picture’s total far exceeds the sum of its parts.

The pilot made one last lazy pass over where I sat and headed north, disappearing from sight. I was alone – not really alone but solitary in the small space that I, at least for this duration, I call home.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Bless My Soul by George Merrill

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I’ve often talked about death with aging folk. Invariably the subject of an afterlife comes up. The discussion soon revolves around ideas of a soul and whether such a thing survives after our death. The soul’s been talked about forever. It’s tricky to define and mysterious.

As a child, I recited this prayer as a nightly ritual. I knelt by my bed, reverently placed my folded hands on the covers while saying:

Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Next, I prayed for all my deceased relatives, asking God to look after them. I didn’t want them to feel abandoned, the way I did when they died.

Their souls, I imagined, were like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Like wafting smoke in its incorporeal state, my soul would one day go through walls and closed doors like Casper unconstrained by any physical obstacles and soar between heaven and earth as it chose. I wasn’t frightened in imagining the soul’s ghostly mien. In fact, I thought it was really neat.

I believed that the best time for actually seeing souls during the day was when cumulus clouds rolled overhead. Their cotton-like configurations took various forms. I believed them to be the heavenly host, particular those recently deceased. Heaven, I noticed, had a lot of old men with long white beards and there were always loads of sheep. Like the childhood myths that I once treasured and that served me well, they became less credible as I grew older. The feeling that I somehow possessed a soul, however, I never lost. I had only vague notions about what it might be.

Many people believe the soul survives our bodies. The specific formulas vary with religious and cultural traditions, but the belief that there’s life after physical death is remarkably persistent throughout all traditions. Is it a wish? Is it a fact? On our spiritual journey, at some point, we’ll wonder about it.

As children, we see the world with a clarity we might never have again. A child is always curious. What he or she hears, sees or touches is approached with an anticipation filled with wonder. The child’s fascination at Christmas is a case in point. In childhood we live expectantly, anticipating the next wonder to appear. I believe that as children or early childhood, we are closer to what I understand a soul to be. To see deeply. The locus of a soul is in the imagination. I don’t mean this dismissively, like “It’s all in your mind,” but, yes, it’s really all in our mind. I would add “and heart” to that.

There’s a spiritual tradeoff when going from childhood to adulthood. The adult mind becomes conditioned by information that, rather than enlightening us about what we see, often skews the clarity of our perception. The greatest receptor in a child’s mind is his or her curiosity and imagination. A child’s curiosity is voracious and its imagination boundless. A child encounters the world by wondering. There’s a purity in that way of seeing that’s hard to retrieve as we grow into adults. By the time we are adults, we have developed “opinions.” Opinions are the gatekeepers of our imagination. These gatekeepers admit into our awareness only what has been first thoroughly vetted or censored. The imagination is quickly compromised. I believe that the search for our souls will lead us back to our imagination. We’ll find our souls, but only after having rummaged through all the opinions that have kept them hidden from us. Our souls are the elusive agency by which we see to the heart of a matter.

Einstein, one of history’s geniuses, changed the world because he had an insatiable curiosity, a florid imagination and some wacky ideas. As a child, he loved to imagine that he was riding on a light beam. This product of his imagination became the impetus for eventually developing his theory of relativity. He liked playing with his imagination – he called it “Gedankenexperiment,” the German for “thought experiment” or what some might call head-trips. The head-trips, however, were deeply rooted in the seat of his imagination. To say the revelation he had was all in his mind is not an understatement. The mathematical computations eventually validated the science of the idea, but the revelation of it came first; it appeared to him as an image, in his imagination.

In the spiritual life, the same phenomenon is called revelation.

An old tale gets at this mystery in another way.

The gods in their celestial abode convened an emergency meeting. Human beings were increasingly encroaching on the gods’ divine attributes and they were anxious that they’d lose their powers to humans. Humans had invaded heaven with their space rockets, decoded DNA, developed computers that speak, transferred hearts from one person to another and made new limbs for the lame to walk. “They think they’re god,” one minor divinity grumbled.

The gods decided they must hide their divine spark where humans would never find it. A variety of proposals were made: hide it in the earth’s core; lose it in black holes; or place it on the highest mountain. They finally agreed on this proposal: hide the divine spark deep in the human mind (I would add, heart) and they’ll never guess in a thousand years that’s where to find it.

Ever since we first walked the earth, we’ve been searching for our souls and, bless my soul, they’ve been right there within us the whole time.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Servant Leadership And the Fourth Of July by George Merrill

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I had an uneasy reaction when President Trump recently announced he was planning a more spectacular July 4thcelebration this year in D.C. Bigger than ever, he described it: a major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite president, me!”  

Might Trump crash the party? It’s a strong possibility.

Whether he does or not, his proposal offended me. I couldn’t see Trump as remotely reflecting American ideals, particular our ideal of servant leadership. The recent funerals of Senator McCain and President Bush were poignant. Both events surfaced collective mourning for our loss of inspired leadership and revealed a national yearning to reclaim its ideals.

When nations face dire adversity, servant leaders act in the interests of the people they serve. When Japan and Germany surrendered in 1945, I recall photographs circulating at the time, two in particular. One was Berlin’s destruction, the other the Japanese delegation signing the surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri.

I was an eleven when the WWII ended.

It was a jubilant time. America rejoiced. So, did I. Bubble gum and Hershey Bars were available again, butter was back on the shelves and rationing ended. Best of all, my father returned from two years at war in Europe.

I remember how The Stars and Stripes, magazines and newspapers were filled with photographs of the desolation that Germany and Japan sustained at the war’s end. The draconian devastation of Berlin, Hiroshima and Nagasaki eventually became visual commentaries on the horrors ofwar. But how each ended the war revealed the consequences of servant leadership and of those of a dictatorship.

At least two years before the war ended many Nazi leaders knew they could not win. Some advisors urged Hitler toconsider surrender. He would have none of it, essentially ensuring an apocalyptic defeat with devastating c0nsequences for civilians. In fact, a discussion of surrender Hitler regarded as treasonous, carrying the death penalty for anyone proposing it. Even as the Soviet and American troops were entering Berlin, Hitler authorized small children to fight and defend the capitaleven as it was being overrun. The Hitler youth were massacred. What became clear to me only years later was that Hitler had no feeling for the German people but onlyhis maniacal vision of a thousand year Reich. I recall my father commenting on the terrible material destructionand civilian suffering he witnessed when his division entered Aachen. I’ve included a picture of Berlin’sdevastation.

Hitler didn’t lead, he dictated. Dictatorships are efficientoften effective but only until things go bad. His stylespawned unnecessary suffering. The people became pawns in his appetite for power and control. Interestingly, Hitler liked huge military parades and making rousing speeches, usually about his greatness. During his rants, he especially liked excoriating Germany’s ‘Untermensch the German equivalent of losers or undesirables. He vowed to rid the country of them. Sound familiar?

When the inevitable end came, Hitler blamed everyoneelse for his defeat. He and many of his key advisors committed suicide, leaving no functional leadership in place effectively abandoning the German people to suffer the brutal consequences of defeat alone.

The Japanese leadership handled defeat differently.

The Japanese held out hope for victory until Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The handwriting, was on the wall. They knew defeat was inevitable.

Their leadership mobilized to accept defeat, and the surrender was conducted with statesmanship, discipline, unusual humility and dignity. The Japanese people were included as a significant piece of the experience at that critical moment in their history. Their emperor publicly expressed compassion for them during the nation’sgreatest humiliation. He spoke directly to the people: “We must now endure the unendurable, and suffer what is insufferable.” It is believed to be the first time the emperor spoke directly to the common people. What I find remarkable is the “we in that declaration. The emperor, including the political and military leadership did not abandon the people at their darkest hour. Together, they united to “endure the unendurable.”

Our enemies can teach us.

Why I find this particularly poignant is how critical saving face is in Japanese culture. The Japanese delegation hadassembled on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri (see image.) The vanquished were surrounded by the victors, the ultimate humiliation. Japanese government officials dressed impeccably in morning clothes, white gloves and top hats and the military in full dress uniform. The leadership took full responsibility for their failure. Humbled, they remained in solidarity with their people, whom they represented honorably and with dignity.

July 4th is America’s birthday party. It’s our national blast, yours and mine. We celebrate our ideals and the famous men and women who are and have been our nation’sservant leaders.

I don’t like the idea of someone grabbing center stage at my country’s birthday party, someone uninvited and who, in my opinion hasn’t the vaguest notion of what thecelebration represents to the country.

We don’t hire bouncers at our national celebrations. We’re better than that. It could be that on this fourth, if Trump should speak, that we will have to “endure the unendurable.” As an inclusive people, I know we will be gracious, and maintain our sense of dignity and solidarity as only the American people can.

Should he not speak, he will have served his country well.

Best and Happy Fourth of July.

 

For The Bible Tells Me So by George Merrill

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As a boy, my religious life was shaped by the King James Version of the Bible (KJV) and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Both were written and spoken in exquisite and inspirational prose characteristic of Elizabethan English. Growing up I loved how the stories fed my imagination. I never felt dogmatic about them. I was fresh meat for any Jehovah’s Witness.

I have fond memories of hymns like:

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so.

The Holy Bible, one of the sacred artifacts of our western world, hasn’t always brought out everyone’s best. The ways people can talk about the Bible, you’d never guess Jesus loves us. Literal interpretations invariably lead to dead-ends. Like political rhetoric, the Bible can polarize.

I don’t believe all of the Bible’s renditions necessarily reflect the mind of God.

I discovered that in the year 1631, Robert Parker and Martin Lucas, printers to the crown in England, were commissioned to make reprints of the magnificent King James Version of the Bible.

For a word, or more accurately, but for the omission of one word – what you and I would call a typo – this lofty commission was doomed to perdition, marking this effort as a milestone in religious infamy. This had to be the mother of all typos.

In the printing of the fourth of the ten commandments that reads: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” the word ‘not’ had been omitted, leaving the commandment to read: “Thou shalt commit adultery.”

Not long after the Bible was circulated and its fateful omission discovered, the edition became known as the Wicked Bible, the Adulterous Bible and the Sinners Bible. Today’s “X” rated would be only a slap on the wrist compared to the crown’s reaction and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s swift response to the discovery.

Shortly after the printing, Marcus and Lucas were fined three hundred pounds, the equivalent of today’s forty-nine thousand pounds and any copies that could be found were burned. The printers, although their typo may have garnered a new but limited following, the printers lost their shirts on the job.

A curious side note: the few extant copies command hefty prices. Just why one might wish to pay exorbitant amounts for a flawed edition is anyone’s guess except perhaps for those who read scripture as the literal word of God. This omission certainly would have given them a free hand to indulge the forbidden thoughts they’d frequently entertained, although reluctantly disavowed.

Unlike the Italians or French whom we regard as sexy, the Brits have a reputation for being stuffy and reserved in matters of human sexuality. Of the three or four copies of the Wicked Bibles existing in libraries worldwide, the English uncharacteristically displayed their copy at the British Museum during the four hundredth anniversary of its printing, the way institutions honor great moments in their history. The Bible was displayed, the offending page open for all to see like the centerfold in a girlie (British spelling) magazine.

I understand the Bible to be read, not as the literal word of God, but as inspired narratives from people who have discovered the wonder of Holiness. There are rules and prohibitions but far more documentations of sacred moments in people’s lives. These narrative stories, when read for inspiration have afforded men and women hope and comfort over the years. Some words of Jesus, when understood in the language in which he spoke them, assume not only deeper meaning than much of the KJV translation communicates, but suggest meanings very different from those of the English text.

Like the KJV that renders texts from Greek into English, many inspiring messages are lost from reaching the heart while others can lead us to dead ends.

Scholar, Neil Douglas-Klotz, has made a study of the teachings of Jesus. He translates texts directly from the Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, not the English translations from the Greek – the source from which our KJV Bible was written. The difference is stunning and the meaning more far reaching.

In one fascinating example, he cites Matthew 7:17, which reads (KJV): “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” Read that way it’s tidy, clearly establishing two types of trees, good ones and bad ones. Polarizations like that, contrasting opposites, pitting this against that, is the mother’s milk of literalists and politicians; it neatly defines which kind of tree you’d better be or find yourself another orchard. It’s transparent moralism and doesn’t help us to deepen or grow spiritually or even guide us in discerning what’s needed to bear the kind of fruit that is life-giving for ourselves and others.

The Aramaic language is nuanced and less legalistic than Greek. Aramaic takes this matter of good and bad trees from being just another exercise of black and white thinking, to a place of hope and possibility.

In Aramaic, the words read like this: “A ripe tree brings forth ripe fruit, and an unripe tree brings unripe fruit.” This changes everything.

What Greek and English render as good and bad, the Aramaic speaks of as ripe and unripe. Ripe in Aramaic is the equivalent of what’s considered goodness. It’s not static, it’s a process. It reads like an invitation to developing discernment, the wisdom of recognizing the right time for just and appropriate actions. It’s all about developing the ability to live wisely, or to use the Buddhist phrase, skillfully.

I see exploring scripture as a way to deepen our understanding, not as a manual for judging others, or even legitimizing and delegitimizing claims.

As an octogenarian, I often spend time reminiscing about my life. I’ve found that my deepest regrets are in how I’ve dealt with my children and other loved ones. Over the years, I can now see how I was anything but skillful. I don’t think it was because I was a bad tree. I wasn’t ripe enough yet. I needed to live more to achieve the kind of fullness that time and ripening naturally bring.

Ignorance is endemic in the human condition; not ‘ignorant’ in the flippant sense, but in the sense, that, at the end of the day, we know so little. The upside of learning more is recognizing how little we really knew in the first place. Ripening is a natural process we see all around us in living organisms. In the spiritual world, ripening leads us one step after another from ignorance to understanding and with understanding, to love and humility.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”

The right words at the right time, or rather the ripe words spoken when they need to be heard (when the time is ripe) can help us break from the constraints ignorance to become agents of grace. Our troubled world desperately needs agents of grace who act in the fullness of time.

In the beginning was the ‘Word’, John wrote. At the right time the ‘Word’ can illuminate our lives.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Caring by George Merrill

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It’s morning and I am sitting on my porch. The wind is strong, out of the south – twenty knots maybe – and the trees on one side of the cove undulate and heave as if dancing to the rhythm of a silent lullaby. A beautiful day in the neighborhood. It feels good to be alive.

It’s in odd time I confess, but I am thinking about suffering – neurological pain in particular. It has dominated my life recently. I’m thinking about pain and suffering in a general sense, too, since both have plagued humankind from the time of Adam and Eve. Why must it be? A punishment? I think not, but it is a puzzle. I imagine at times it’s a design flaw, like God didn’t think his creation project through as thoroughly as he might or maybe left a wrench in the gears. In any case, suffering is nothing new. We’ll never know why. When we are visited with pain in any of its endless forms, we suffer.

I am now coming out of three months of pain. I write not to elicit sympathy – I do that well on my own. My intent is more to explore my experience to see what it might reveal about being human, and find some meaning in what so often seems meaningless and senseless.

Suffering is a given – part of life’s package. It can be as confined as a spider phobia or a fear of flying. It can be as universal as the loss of a loved one or all encompassing like the mother with her two children living in a bomb crater in Afghanistan, seeking respite from the burning sun and foraging for food and water. Suffering attends many physical aberrations.

As I’ve thought about this in search for some meaning, I’ve found it helpful to consider what happens to us generally in any kind of pain or suffering. Might there be a ‘red thread’ common to the experience of suffering that helps us endure it although not end it?

In the last three months, I’ve had the growing sense that one of the poignant aspects of all suffering is its capacity to leave one feeling alone and vulnerable. I think of the widow finding herself in a world surrounded with couples. Grief is the suffering of loss.

Suffering is as much a part of the human condition as breathing. It’s ironic to consider that what’s so common to us all, can isolate us from one another as well as join us in solidarity. Suffering does both.

Weeks ago, I wrote some reflections about my experience with lower back pain, a common complaint, but it can be a rough one. Subsequent to publishing that piece, I received an email from a man I didn’t know – let me call him, ‘Steve ‘. He wrote to tell me that he, too, had been the victim for years of excruciating pain and like the man in the Biblical epic, “suffered much at the hands of many physicians, but it profited him naught.” He’d tried everything to no avail. After years of searching, and at the edge of despair he found healing. This man understood immediately how I was feeling and reached out.

That he took the time and the care to tell me about his struggle and eventual good fortune touched me. He thoughtfully sent documented information that I could easily access, motivated by his wish that I might find the healing he had. This is a form of compassion. It can mean so much. Compassion is a feeling (often turning to action) that suffering surfaces in others.

I received some notes from friends. They offered thoughtful reflections on my circumstances
A woman called me. I have not known her along time. I knew that she had sustained a neurological injury years ago. It never really healed and for years she has had to endure excruciating and unremitting pain. During her call she said two things, one of which I didn’t first understand. She reassured me that in time I would find the help I need. She seemed confident about that and I welcomed her words. She also said, “Don’t panic.”

I didn’t get it at first. A few days later when the pain came back with a vengeance, I understood. I felt pure panic like there was no place to hide from it. I was trapped and a despondent voice kept saying to me that this will never end. The pain did mitigate some and I then understood what she was alerting me to. There is an atavistic inclination how, when we’re fearful and vulnerable, our mind keeps insisting it will never end.

Her words were simple and direct, without any flourish. They were born of personal experience. Knowing her history, I invested her words with an authority that calmed me. It made a difference. I remember, while we were on the phone, how in my mind’s eye I kept seeing her piercing, unblinking blue eyes that always appeared serene and hopeful.

This is a long way around of sharing with readers a small incident of personal suffering. I offer it with the thought that none of us is exempt from suffering and at one time or another it will come to us. Pain and suffering come in all kinds of shapes and sizes – one size does not fit all, but the characteristics of suffering have some things in common; they often arrive with a suddenness that’s devastating, knock us off balance and leave us scrambling to find some means of equilibrium. Suffering has a way of wrenching control from our lives, leaving us with a heightened sense of vulnerability and helplessness.

I believe that the appearance of caring people during personal suffering cannot be underestimated. In the throes of pain, someone’s caring has a way of seeping into our consciousness, and it has a potent analgesic effect. Pain works to isolate us. Caring works to bring us closer. In the larger picture believe a few caring people can change the world, and have kept it from spinning out of control. Mr. Rogers immortalized just such a thought when, after the carnage at the Boston Marathon, said,” When we’re scared and feel alone, “look for the helpers, they’re always there.” And they are.

It’s now late morning. I feel good although, as always, I ache some. The wind has died down and the trees, exuberant only an hour ago, have stilled. The glory of the morning remains. As I finish up this essay, a squirrel “scampers along past me only feet away from where I sit. He stops, and for a moment looks quizzically at me as if curious about what I’m doing. He remains still for a moment. His tail quivers, he scratches his ear and then off he goes, meeting the same challenge that all of us must – the challenge of living.

Our greatest challenge living is to care for one another.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Of Geese and Golden Eggs by George Merrill

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Early spring this year, we put in a new lawn. It lies between the porch and the creek. One morning, from the porch I saw two geese standing on the lawn just by the shoreline. They looked furtive, eyeing me sideways, like shoplifters.

I went to shoo them off. They didn’t retreat an inch, but viewed me with sidelong glances of suspicion, as if to ask just who did I think I was. They honked intermittently, their tones hushed, as if they were grumbling. Then, shamelessly, they began feeding on the grass.

Enough!

Even as I chased them, they’d move slowly, waddling away with an air of defiance. It was the way pedestrians, who like to stick it to drivers, saunter at a snail’s pace making street crossings.

Geese have no business here. If they were behaving properly like Canada geese should, they’d be long gone along with their kin, off to northern climes. Instead, these two settled for the land of pleasant living, where the green grass grows all around, offering succulent fare to sate their insatiable appetites. Incidentally, this amounts to putting away a staggering 10 percent of their body weight in grass daily. And then, too, when compared to goose poop, human waste smells like Chanel. A muddy field chock full of goose droppings is the stuff of nightmares and even Rotor- Rooter, no stranger to unsavory challenges, wouldn’t touch the stuff with a ten-foot pole.

With regard to a goose’s characteristic ‘honking,’ seasonal changes and numbers can affect their repertoire. In the summer, the population is sparse and so we have mostly solos, a few duets, and occasionally, but rarely, small ensembles. There aren’t that many choristers around. In fall and winter the populations swell so we hear choral extravaganzas, geese performing in casts of hundreds. Just who is on key and who’s off is hard to tell. Individually geese sound binary – as though there were only two tones in their vocal range; a preliminary warm up and then a sort of vocal crescendo, as if successfully expunging a hairball, or in this case, a feather ball. They repeat it over and over again. It’s hardly melodic. Some Shore hunters, even if they can’t hold a tune, may grow remarkably proficient in imitating the ‘honk,’ even snookering some geese into thinking he’s the real McCoy.

Honking is distinctive if not alluring. Oddly, the phenomenon of honking earned recognition as an expression of piety some years ago. I began seeing bumper stickers that read, “Honk if you love Jesus.” This was a strategy of identifying the faithful while driving cars. In the absence of any other identifiable qualities like faith, love, patience, kindness, long suffering, forgiveness and the like, by just leaning on their car’s horn, believers could proclaim their faith. If one driver’s horn became too insistent, his piety could be misconstrued as road rage. Whether for man or beast, a honk is more than just a honk.

But to return to the two geese feeding on my new lawn . . .

The geese presented a moral dilemma for me, a challenge to my core beliefs. I say I believe in the sanctity of the natural world and all its creatures, whether I like them or not. I like to believe I do unto others as I would expect from them and offer hospitality to the stranger. I have helped others in trouble, and, at least on a few occasions loved others as I knew I was loved.

No matter what I tried with the geese, nothing worked; they might waddle off after I fussed at them, but only to return a few hours later and eat the grass. I was furious. My wife and I erected dowel sticks and stretched strings along the shoreline – surely the string would prohibit their huge bodies getting through. They simply flew over it.

I knew of a man in the neighborhood who loves guns. We call him Rambo because he relishes shooting at whatever moves . . . or doesn’t. One day in a snit about the intransigent geese, I caught myself engaged in an imaginary conversation with Rambo about dispatching these geese. I really got onto it; How much per goose? What about the carcasses? What about DNR’s legal restrictions? What if a neighbor saw it? What about anonymity? In this imaginary conversation, not once did I feel shame.

In a moment of truth, my imagination exposed me to the superficiality of my own moral pretentions; an imaginary gun had stripped me of any moral pretensions, and it was still smoking. I was settling for cheap grace, by practicing a morality of my convenience.

I want to make a point: morality is not a sound bite. It’s an inner conviction of value, an innate understanding of what is worthwhile. It’s like a GPS; it shows the way but I still have to make the choice.

Sure, I could contract with Rambo at 100 dollars per goose. If the geese could not be persuaded otherwise, and if I decided to go with Rambo to solve the problem, I’d dodge the expense of planting a new lawn – a formidable sum – for the cost of roughly two hundred dollars.
It is not on earth as it is in heaven. On earth two-hundred dollars is good deal, but in heaven’s exchange, the sum is valued only at thirty pieces of silver.

Making boundary violations for birds and animals an offence punishable by death, is morally bankrupt. It betrays what I ultimately value, the truths I wish live by. It also betrays a failure of imagination. Belief and action aren’t necessarily the same. The exercise of moral courage is never convenient. It’s not popular because when seriously practiced, it comes with personal cost.

Circumstances, not moral courage, got me off the hook. I was not forced to make a decision about the trespassing geese. They had stopped showing up and so I never had to contend directly with my darker side.

Moral concerns like these, in far greater magnitude, are being savaged in today’s political climate. The Environmental Protection Agency has been put in the service of Mammon, not the environment for which it was founded. The agenda is being driven by power and profit and few seem to exhibit shame, and worse yet, even care. ‘Losers’ (the vulnerable, like the environment and its inhabitants) don’t have a voice. I know this will sound naïve, but imagine if we (I) could consider matters of our mutual life together with greater imagination. Imagine we could explore boundaries as ways to include and not alienate or get rid of. Imagine that we could explore gender differences with humility without fear and retribution, all with the ultimate objective of understanding and acting wisely as members of a shared creation.

One of America’s great environmental visionaries, Aldo Leopold, once wrote: “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free.”

In the human story, our fatal flaws keep haunting us; we manage to kill the geese that lay the golden eggs.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Hug An Evangelical Today by George Merrill

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In a TV clip I watched recently, a reporter is at a barbeque somewhere in the western U.S. It’s an assembly of evangelicals. The camera pans the scene. We see a burly man in a ten-gallon hat with others around him standing in front of a grill. Steaks are on. The men look rugged, outdoor men like farmers or cattlemen. The camera points to the waist of one man showing that he’s packing a gun.

The reporter asks someone in the crowd if, in his Christian faith, he sees any moral conflict supporting a president who is unfaithful in his marriages. The man shakes his head solemnly and says to the effect that nobody is perfect and Christians don’t condone extra-marital affairs. However, he said emphatically that’s a different thing than being homosexual. I understood his point to be that being unfaithful may be sinful, but a misdemeanor compared to being gay.

Even though I’m a life-long Episcopalian, I’m here to say some evangelicals deserve a break today. Since Trump’s ascendency to the presidency, they’ve gotten bad press. I’d like to affirm some of my kinder and gentler evangelical brothers and sisters. If you say there are not any left, you’ve been looking in the wrong places.

Turns out secular evangelicals are less tolerant than church going evangelicals, according to Emily Ekins, researcher at the Cato Institute. Church going Trump voters have more inclusive attitudes toward African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, and immigrants compared with secular evangelical Trump supporters. Seeing one evangelical is not like you’ve seen them all. Technically speaking, evangelical refers to a person, church, or organization that is committed to the Christian gospel message that Jesus Christ is the savior of humanity.

Evangelical writer and pastor, Ed Stetzer, writing in Christianity Today, says emphatically, “No! Evangelical does not mean just ‘white Republicans who support Trump.’”

There are African-American evangelicals, Hispanic evangelicals and other church going white evangelicals – many of whom believe that God likes loving us more than judging us. You can tell by how they behave. They seem less strident.

One example is how the National Association of Evangelicals urged Trump to create a better U.S refugee resettlement program and end family separation at the border because it was traumatizing children.

The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution urging Trump to consider pathways to citizenship and keeping families together at the border because of the biblical mandate to “act compassionately toward those in need.”

The Mormons, perhaps the most conservative of all evangelical bodies, although don’t consider themselves such) expressed alarm at the harm the administration is doing to immigrant families.

There are evangelicals who have a heart.

To define ‘Evangelical,’ Stetzer says we need to think theologically, not politically. He identifies four religious tenets to which evangelicals hold. They are the following:

The Bible as the highest authority.
Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross removes the penalty for our sin.
Only through Jesus can one gain eternal salvation.

The National Association of Evangelicals was formed in 1942. It was a loose coalition, but became organized enough to agree on the four-point definition.

In 1978, some evangelicals took a more aggressive political direction, establishing a movement called the Moral Majority. Founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell the movement was political from the get-go, promoted with a veneer of religious piety. The movement aligned itself intentionally with the Republican party. It foundered over time. In 1989, Televangelist Pat Robertson hoping to revive it, organized the Christian Coalition that was committed as much to serve the Republican party as to serve God. Both movements were considered evangelical.

The movements had a hard edge to them and communicated an uncompromising moral superiority that energized some evangelicals but appalled others.

Jimmy Carter’s ascendancy to the presidency is significant in any discussion of American evangelicals. He put the word evangelical in the public mind as it had never been. Carter spoke of his Baptist faith unashamedly and said he was a confirmed “born again Christian.” I don’t believe any of our presidents made such transparent or intimate disclosures about their religious convictions in such a sectarian way.

I think President Carter brought an inspiring witness to what some evangelism is all about; he practiced evangelism capturing the heart of its spiritual message, one far different from the kind demonstrated by televangelists.

Sadly, Carter had a controversial presidency. On the other hand, he demonstrated what an effective humanitarian heart looks like. He is a model Christian, different from any of our nominally Christian presidents. Most ex-presidents wrote autobiographies, dedicated libraries and made a bundle in speaking engagements.

Carter wrote many books and never worked the speaking circuit. He returned to his roots, in Plains, Georgia, to do works of charity. He lives modestly. His humanitarian efforts working with Habitat for Humanity are well known and, as of the year 2013, the organization (ministry) had built 800,000 homes world-wide for the poor who’d never be able to afford one otherwise. He also has been a tireless advocate for reconciliation and world peace.

Interestingly, he and Rosalynn live in a two-bedroom rancher assessed at one hundred and sixty thousand dollars. Each of the three last ex-presidents have cost the American taxpayers roughly one million dollars a year. A one term president, the Carters cost Americans, less than half as much.
Carter is a principled man. A life-long Southern Baptist, and Sunday School teacher, he could not go along with his denomination’s most recent teaching on gender. He left in protest when the denomination voted to support the biblical and Pauline exhortation that wives should remain subject to husbands.

One of Mother Teresa’s favorite texts in the Bible, which she often quoted to describe her ministry to the poor, is: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine (the poor and marginalized), you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45).

Carter is an evangelical. However, he doesn’t just talk the talk, but walks the walk.

It’s heartening these days to think of a president, maybe a born-again evangelical Christian like Carter, as the kind of president my grandchildren (some Catholics in the mix) might look up to one day and be inspired to greatness.

Know any real evangelicals like Jimmy Carter – Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t really matter?

Make sure you hug one today.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

It’s a Real Pain by George Merrill

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I have been thinking about that day I walked to my mailbox. Iwrote about it recently. I called it ‘Back Talk.” I was fussingabout unruly back pain that returned with a vengeance

I’d found consolation in my neighbors that day, one of which turned out to be a turtle. If my pain made me feel useless, thisturtle offered me an occasion to feel helpful. Another ‘neighbor’ was a conifer tree. Its bark enthralled me enough so for a moment I hugged it. It was my first hug . . . of a tree, that is. I needed to feel close. It worked. Then there was a plain looking butterfly which my presence wasn’t able to scare off. That made me feel, in my unhappy state, that I was still an easy guy to hang out with.

In short, as awareness of the natural world impinged on me, my pain mitigated significantly, at least for a time.

Reassurance is helpful when you’re not feeling good. Never be fussy about where it comes from.

This led me to thinking about comfort and solace amidst suffering. What graces are always available to us in times of woe? There are two that are well established and verifiable: family and friends. Personal presence is a healing and consoling mechanism. There is a power to presence; just showing up can be healing. But what about nature, the kind always surrounding us; the nature still remaining of the created world that we have not yet destroyed?  Its mantel is woven from the fabric of our own lives. Nature’s got to be more than just a prop, some stage dressing for showcasing ‘man’.  We’re part of the tapestry, threads in the fabric. What about the natural world whose existence is inextricably bound to you and to me?

In my personal struggle with pain, recently it’s been with the more aggressive kind. It seizes my attention. Neurological pain has a way of making its presence known by doing what it does best; striking like lightening, demanding my attention and then sustaining it by making me unable to think about anything else.

That’s when I’ve noticed the healing dimension of the natural world becomes significant. It, too, has a way of making its presence known, not aggressively, but subtly, the way we notice sounds carried great distances over water.

The sounds are hard to distinguish at first. I listen more intently. The sounds begin taking on audible formsperhaps words, tones or leaves rustling. It might be twittering (the bird or bugkinds). It can be the gurgling of small brooks or the cascade of breaking waves on a beach. It might seem like music.

This phenomenon occurs visually, too. Some motion may arrest my attention. I may notice how the breezes make the crowns ofthe conifers wag and sway in broad swaths across the sky, as if singing jubilantly. In any case my attention is engaged, but not invasively as pain does, but more like hearing a whisper in a crowd; it invites my attention irresistibly, but not doesn’tdemand it.

Nature is always there; pain just makes her hard to heed.

Psycho-spiritual pain is equally as debilitating. It arrives more insidiously; not usually sharp and piercing. Psycho-spiritual painpermeates our environment the way atmospheric inversions trap smog, keeping it close to the ground. In conditions like that, just breathing the surrounding milieu feels like suffocation. I’ve heard this psychospiritual pain described as a kind of heaviness that sets in after the nightly news is over.

Pain performs a critical function. Truth be told, none of us willget through life without pain. Its absence is not always desirable. Take the problem of leprosy; it’s lethal because the limbs it is destroying register no pain at all. Pain signals that something is wrong and needs our attention. Without pain, we’re left unawareand vulnerable. This is the problem with insidious cancers and strokes that give us no clue they’re about to do us mischief.

So, I cannot reasonably protest pain.  I can only complain about my own even though it makes me look like a wuss.

My pain behaves like guerilla fighters concealed in my neural transmitters or like snipers hiding in bushes. After making that fatal decision to move my butt this way or that, or suddenlybend forward backward, the snipers open fire on me. In the case of lower back pain, most rounds hit me below the belt. A few strays will land above it along the spine.

Do I feel sorry for myself? You bet. Sometimes I shake my fist against the universe long enough to blow off steam and let God know I’m not a happy camper. I don’t worry about God; he has a thick skin and, since the creation of Adam and Eve, has taken more heat from his children than hell generates, or is ever able to. The only thing my snit earns me is more spasms along my back. Eventually I calm down enough to be, if not happy, at least reflective. In reflecting on my misadventures in personal pain management I’ve had some recurring thoughts. Pain is, after all,part of being human. It goes with the territory and it wears a million different hats, customizing itself to individual circumstances.

Do I know what pain others are suffering?  The more humanely we treat our own suffering, we will treat others accordingly.Personal suffering can leave us angry. I can’t really say I know what others are suffering. That kind of knowing is best understood from the inside out. Even though I may have walked in the same moccasins, and since there are no two feet exactly alike, the suffering I incur has its own personalized contours. With regard to suffering, I can be compassionate, and be moved to help in some way, but can only imagine what others are goingthrough.

But, enough about me.

The matter of pain goes far beyond my aching back. St. Paul makes a remarkable statement about suffering, not only human but global. He sees both as inextricably connected. His comment suggests that human suffering is linked to nature’s. Both visibly bear the scars from the pain we have inflicted on one another and have visited on our sacred spaces, specifically, the streams, the air and forests of our planet. Living life informed by the bankrupt vision of consumerism, we behave like the malignant cells that can’t seem to do other than consume the body on which they depend. In his letter to the Romans, Paul puts it this way:

For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also . . . even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body

Paul understood the church to function like a human body, cooperatively, and that if one body part presumed to be better than another, it was talking nonsense. Each has its place and functions for the good of the whole.

As of the moment, I pray that my back would heed St. Paul’s counsel and start doing what it’s supposed to; helping the rest of me function properly. After all, an entire body gets up and goes best when its chassis is sufficiently lubricated and well in place.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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