Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Looking Backward at Forward, February - April 2014

A tiny pamphlet comes out every three months called Forward Day by Day, giving readers a short daily meditation on a passage from one of the day's readings from scripture assigned by the Book of Common Prayer.  Our own church published such a pamphlet for Lent, so I didn't read all of this booklet, but some of what I did read stands out.  Dates refer to the dates to which the meditations were assigned.

The readings in February are by Bo Cox, who takes off on a line from Hebrews 12:11 about the painfulness of discipline (Feb. 7).  We "just don't feel like" doing some of the things we want to make a part of our self-discipline, but Cox writes, "Letting our feelings dictate our behavior is like trying to steer a car with the back wheels."  Act instead, he writes, and feelings will change.

Cox, who served time for murder, writes that he regretted the consequences of his crime long before he became truly sorry for it (Feb. 8).  But he also needed to hear from a farmer who volunteered at the prison: "Boys, you can't put manure back in the horse."   This is in a response to another line from Hebrews, "He found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears" (Hebrews 12:17).

A line from Isaiah 58:9b refers to speaking of evil.  After repeating the familiar advice to say nothing if you can't say something good (Feb. 9), Cox admits how good it feels to join in on gossip and finger-pointing.  It gives us feelings of power and fitting in.  Cox concludes, "I'm learning to smile and step away -- living with myself is preferable to fitting in."

A family squabble over well water in Genesis 26:19-21 leads Cox to the observation that "sharing is about so much more than objects or possessions" (Feb. 11).  Not sharing, he says, is a sign of fear, the lack of faith.  This leads to another observation, that "protection of self becomes promotion of self," seeing oneself outsized.  "Seeing ourselves as right-sized can be a lifetime process," he concludes (Feb. 12).

Cox's prison experience and ministry among violently disturbed people gives him some dramatic illustrations, including one with a cute dog.  A man felt that all the negatives in his life added up to an insurmountable obstacle, so he put a loaded gun in his mouth -- when his little dog jumped in his lap, licking his arm and wagging her tail (Feb. 13).  A day or so later, telling this to Cox, he burst into tears, finally admitting, "I shouldn't say this but -- I'm afraid."  With each tear, Cox writes, he looked more hopeful.  This was Cox's response to the familiar saying "the truth will make you free" (John 8:32).

What is Psalm 100's  "joyful noise?"  A choir?  Hand-clapping?  NASCAR engines revving?  Squeaking rubber on gym floors?  The "still, white silence of new snow?"  The point is to listen for it and to "allow others the freedom to do the same" (Feb. 18). 

When I recently said something about respecting others of different religions, someone observed superciliously, "I suppose you don't believe Jesus when he says 'No one comes to the Father except by me.'"  I pointed her to that day's hymn, which lists ways we "read" God in the world before saying in verse three, "We read Him best in Jesus."  But I could have shown her a page by Cox (Feb. 20), taking off from this in 1 John 2:29:  "If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him."  Cox tells of a fellow-prisoner who bowed to Mecca five times a day, but who also went to the Episcopal service.  "Muslim literally means 'one who surrenders,' Bo.  You're a Muslim too, on your good days."  Cox remembers that man fondly, and ends, "I can't wrap my mind or my heart around a religion that would exclude his righteousness, either here on earth or in the hereafter."

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