Lisa Nichols Hickman serves at New Wilmington Presbyterian Church, teaches part-time at Westminster College and writes regularly for the 'Call and Response' blog on the 'Faith and Leadership' website. Her book, 'The Worshiping Life', is used by seminaries and small groups. This ON Scripture post appears via the Odyssey Network, through a grant from the Lilly Foundation. Follow ON Scripture on Twitter @OnScripture.
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Lent: Remembering Those in Transit
All too often, Lent is about ‘my’ personal journey to the cross:
I’m giving up…
My Lenten discipline is…
During Lent, I’m trying to….
During Lent, I’m fasting from...
But Psalm 107 will have none of that “me, my, and I.”
Even when we make attempts to live beyond this presumption of self, we still land all too often in our own backyard. Instead of giving up chocolate, we add compassion ... on my terms. Instead of detoxing from coffee, we add a spoonful of caring ... when we have the time. Instead of abstinence from alcohol, we try — as Pope Francis encourages — to “fast from indifference.”
As much as these invite us to reconsider our hearts, at the end of the day these are still “our” hearts.
Psalm 107 nudges us from our backyards to imagine the hearts and lives of those in transit: the refugee, the wayfarer, the pilgrim, the immigrant, the sojourner, the alien, the wanderer — all of those en route to the cross from the four compass points of the north, the south, the east and the west.
The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that every 4 seconds someone is forced to flee. Whether along the border of Mexico, in Syria, the South Sudan, or the Ukraine — this statistic is staggering. Psalm 107 asks us this Lent to remember those in transit — in all their fear, their grief, their suffering — and to pray to the Lord to save them from their distress, and to trust in the Lord who will lead them from places of stress and violence toward a story of redemption and liberation.
This Lent, Psalm 107 begs us to remember those in transit. Whether it’s the 4.3 million “removable aliens” from America who wait a Texas judge’s decision after rising to Obama’s referendum of hope, or the Jews in Europe packing their bags toward a mass exodus to Jerusalem in fear of persecution, or whether it’s the sojourners at the Holding Institute in Laredo, Texas comforting an exhausted child, or Syrian Christians finding refuge for their dying mother or dehydrated newborn — these pilgrims from north and south and east and west must journey along with us this Lent.
Rewrite Those Epitaphs
Sunday, April 6 is National Epitaph Day.
Reading through a list of bizarre and unique holidays is fascinating for any month. Looking at this list during Lent can provide new perspective. We know “April Fools Day” unfolds as March gives way to April. But the first week of April provides ample opportunity for celebrating events such as National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, Don’t Go to Work Unless its Fun Day, Go For Broke Day, National Sorry Charlie Day, No Housework Day, and Draw a Picture of a Bird Day. Which of these holidays do you want to celebrate?
National Epitaph Day stands out amid the myriad of options in its simultaneous opportunity for solemn reflection and humor that defies the grave. Epitaphs provide an opportunity to have the last word, to exert one last bit of control, to imagine the poetics of our lives summed up in just a few words of prose. One calendar of observances provides this invitation: “[National Epitaph Day] day is a chance for control freaks everywhere to plan out what their gravestone is going to say.”
On Scripture: Happy are Those Whose Help is the God of Jesse (Psalm 146:5-10)
After learning about Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old who died in the Sandy Hook shooting a year ago this Dec. 14th, I’m thinking about scratching out the name Jacob in Psalm 146 and writing in Jesse.
Psalm 146, verse 5 says, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” I’m wondering if scratching out Jacob and writing in Jesse, at least in these upcoming weeks, might be a way of praying to transform anger and resentment into love and forgiveness.
Jesse was a pretty amazing six-year old who loved adventures, mud, a golden yellow bear, and his big brother. His mom says he was “full of courage and strength,” so much so, that in the midst of the unfolding tragedy Jesse stood still and told his classmates to “Run!” In so doing, he lost his life.
Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mom, returned home after the unthinkable tragedy only to find something wonderful Jesse had scratched onto the kitchen chalkboard: "Norturing, helin, love." His mom knew immediately these were Jesse’s last words to her: Nurturing, healing, love. In her book, Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope & Forgiveness, Scarlett tells the story of her journey to forgiveness and hope as a legacy beyond anger and resentment. She begins, of course, with Jesse’s story.
On Scripture: Frankincense, Myrrh, and a Toothbrush? Matthew 2:1-12
In As I Lay Dying, the main character Anse appears self-absorbed when at his wife’s death he says, “God’s will be done. . . . Now I can get them teeth.” His character will certainly not be remembered for altruism. But Anse will be remembered for the physical effects of poverty: feet marred by labor, a spine permanently bent, skin unable to sweat from sunstroke suffered tending the fields, and a mouth without teeth.
To be clear, poverty itself does not cause dental issues. A local dentist reminds me, “Ancient skulls have minimal tooth loss. Rough grains cause more wear. For the most part rich, processed, sugary, and poorly nutritious foods destroy teeth.”
Dentistry may feel far removed from Epiphany: astronomical sighting, magi from the east, and three extravagant gifts. But I wonder, given the knowledge of these precious gifts and their use in that time for dental care, if perhaps that frankincense and myrrh would protect that winsome smile of Christ for the next three decades of his life. With these rich gifts in hand, the trio Mary, Joseph, and Jesus could leave to the safety of Egypt before Herod would threaten the life of Christ and every other young boy under two.