Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this coming Sunday: the first is the usual sermon preparation eMo, and the second is intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's work among the poor and those who suffer through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
Get up and do not be afraid.
Are you scared about it? my friend asks over our coffee. We have just finished lunch on a trip down memory lane to a place near our seminary. Besides the coffee, we are also sharing a Brownie All the Way. Nothing in a Brownie All the Way* is in my eating plan, but I haven't had one since 1979, so it's probably okay.
Well, sort of. But I really feel fine, so I'm just taking it day by day. We are talking about my latest neurological diagnosis, which is a long time coming. I have hydrocephalus -- water on the brain -- for no apparent reason and with, as yet, no protocol for treatment. Its end result, if treatment is impossible, is dementia. Its only treatment is a shunt, draining the excess fluid safely away from the brain to the abdomen. Not all hydrocephalus can be treated with a shunt. We're trying to find out if mine can. I hope so.
But actually, I am more interested than afraid. In illness, one learns a great deal about the body and its mysteries, and this is a change to learn more about the brain, easily the most mysterious of the organs. I knew hearts pretty well, but brains are not my area of experience. Not yet.
I do know illness and disability, though. I know fear. What I have learned from fear is this: you can walk through it and come out on the other side. You can see beyond the worst thing that can happen into a reality beyond that worst thing: this is not all there is, this world with its joys and sorrows. To have been here at all is a tremendous blessing for each of us. Disability doesn't undo the blessing, although people who don't have disabilities always think it surely must.
So the end result is dementia? We have left a corner of the Brownie All the Way on the plate -- neither of us is willing to take the last bite.
Yup. I'm going to have repeated tests in which they ask you who the president is and make you count backwards by sevens.
Can you count backwards by sevens?
Sort of. I can't remember where I was last weekend, though.
Well, who can? True enough. Everyone I know is worried about short-term memory loss. Maybe we all have hydrocephalus.
Maybe we do. It is time to get back to work. He pays the bill and we leave the place.
Life itself is a process of Transfiguration -- we are being changed, all our lives long. The final change takes us out of this existence and into the larger one, but all our changes change us. None of us is what she was. Or what she will be. You might as well get up and see what's going on, while you still can. And nothing is to gained by being afraid, and much is lost: all delight in what remains, enjoyed only by those who will pay attention to it and drink deeply from the bittersweet chalice of life.
* A large very fudgy brownie, topped with hot fudge, Haagen Daz vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, slivered almonds and a cherry. Served for at least a quarter century at the Empire Diner on 10th avenue at 22nd Street. I also had a chili sundae: chili topped with sour cream, salsa and shredded cheddar cheese, served in a sundae glass, with tortilla chips on the side.
And here is the ERD meditation....
I have suffered the loss of all things...
In India, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka: loss all things by water, tons of it, millions of tons, loss of all things in an instant. But in Northern Burundi, the opposite: the gradual horror of years of drought: day after day and month after month of blinding sun, the people searching the sky for rainclouds. Or sudden bursts of rain, too much rain, and at the wrong time, washing away all the young plants before they are established, leaving the fields as bare as before. And then, more drought.
In the Northern Burundi provinces of Kirundo, Muyinga and Ngozi, 20,000 children are malnourished right now. 350,000 people of all ages are in danger of starving to death in the near future. Cattle also, dying and in danger of dying, taking the hope of food for the future with them.
In each of these places, stricken by such different tragedies, the same thing is needed: local leadership needs resources for doing the work its knows best how to do. In Burundi, seeds that can resist the ravages of drought. In Indonesia and Sri Lanka, No-Fly treated tents that combine temporary shelter with protection against insect-borne disease. In both places, emergency food and medical kits for use by families themselves.
The suddenness of the tsunami and the subsequent worldwide outpouring of aid has provoked soul-searching in the many countries throughout the world in which development needs compete with emergency needs for precious dollars and resources. Emergence from poverty is a slow process, while a drought or a tsunami eats dollars quickly, leaving nothing left over for the slower task of developing a society in which it is possible to live and thrive.
Partnering with local churches and the emergency and development leaders they know, Episcopal Relief and Development supports both: immediate aid and long-term development. In the short term and for the long haul, we can remain at the side of the ones who need help now and in the future.
To learn more about ERD's work with the suffering, visit www.er-d.org or call 1-800-344-7626, ext 5129.