Homily at Funeral of Paula Vanderpool

Paula Vanderpool

April 29, 2019 Ruebel Funeral Home with Committal at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Columbarium

We are gathered here as relatives and friends of Paula Vanderpool to share our grief and also to express our gratitude: grief at our loss, at the empty space already we feel in our lives, gratitude for everything Paula meant to us, and everything she continues to mean. It is a day for tears and smiles. /Many of you know Paula much better than I.

When I talk to Paula’s family, they cannot in their sorrow stop the overflow of the love they want others to know about Paula, their gig ee,/ ice cream suppers, wearing your cameo PJ’s, visit to the race tracks when you are 7, especially on Good Friday, visits to St. Louis for birthdays, the butterfly house, movies, purple hull peas, chicken and dumplings, her amazing work ethic, Halloween costumes we may see today, Canasta with Elvis/ and whenever you see the Cone Heads. Andy talks about when he was young that his mom gave him a computer instead of a video game, and it changed his life, leading to his life’s work in computers. Paula’s sister Micki talks about Paula’s love of music and how it gave her an appreciation of music she never knew.

Wendy talked about how just in the past year she and her mom started hugging when they saw each other and how good this felt. She loved going to concerts with her mom and remembered one special time at Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside of Denver and their laughter together. Wendy described her mom as her go to when she had a problem she could not figure out. She described her mom like a little engine that could figure out anything.

Paula’s cancer was diagnosed two weeks ago. Since then her family and friends have never let her be alone. Paula especially had amazing midwives constantly at her bedside these last two weeks, most especially Wendy, Mary Jim, Micki, and Vicki who helped birth her into a new life. They all talked about the morning Paula died when they opened the door to the garden outside her room. They heard a chorus of birds singing loudly, as if they were singing her home./

What do we say to Paula’s precious 11 grandchildren, especially Andrew, Jayden, Wilson, A liss a, Caitlin, Avery, Hayden about someone they so loved and loved them who has gone on to eternal life?/ How do we explain about this next life, some have called the Alsolife?

How do you explain that eternal life is different from immortality? Immortality means you never die. That is what we believe when we are teenagers. Eternal life is a new life, moving into a new room, different from the past. Eternal life is new life, LIKE A new BIRTH, not more of the same old life.

I have already told you this several times, but I will repeat one more time.

The God of my understanding does not give us a loving relationship such as you had with your mother, sister, grandmother, friend and then abruptly stop it. That relationship is still there is some form we cannot understand. It is a mystery. Death is not a period at the end of a sentence but more like a comma where we die and are born, delivered into a new relationship with God AND also with those we love. At times you will feel Paula’s presence, her prayers, her love for you.

Our only clue about what eternal life is like are the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection. The disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection did not always recognize him. He came and went through closed doors. The resurrected Jesus cooked meals and ate dinner with his friends. He did not leave his friends and loved ones abandoned. He told us we were now his body on this earth. Like Mary Magdalene, like those on the road to Emmaus, we will experience knowing and feeling both Paula and Christ here with us, but for some reason we often will not recognize them. We will talk to them in prayer, especially at meals that were so important to Paula. Sometimes we will truly feel them both beside us. Sometimes it will be more difficult, but they are here. Those we love are always near, in death sometimes more than in life. Their love, never, ever dies.

The love of God reached out to you in the life of Paula and will still embrace you in her life beyond death. /

Paula in her living taught us all so very much about hospitality, giving, caring and doing for others. In her DYING she and her radiant smile and twinkling eyes also taught all of us how to LIVE, to live valiantly, courageously, a warrior to the end. /

It is impossible to believe that Paula, her strength, her love and her magnificent hospitality are extinguishable. The God of our understanding would not do this. There is something about a person like Paula that no cancer, no blast of wind can blow out. / In this mysterious universe we know that those who mean most to us mean EVEN MORE to God. In God's way, God will keep them… and because God keeps them, we will never be separated from them,/ or they from us.

So, what do we say to Andrew, Jayden, Wilson, A liss a, Caitlin, Avery, Hayden? Think back to several years ago when you first started to school, maybe preschool or kindergarten, or maybe the first grade? Remember that first day of school and how new and exciting everything was? You were the same boy or girl, but all of a sudden, everything in your life was quite different. Death too is the beginning of something very new and different. That's what it is like right now for your Gig ee, like starting something very new, actually more like a birthing. She will be in a new life, changed,/ in a house with many dwelling places. But she will also be present with you every time you give a hug, laugh together, figure out a problem you previously could not solve, you go to a concert, have an ice cream dinner or eat purple hull peas or chicken and dumplings, or go to the zoo, or the wineries outside St. Louis, or grants farm, or Table Rock lake, or a Cardinals game, or go to the races, or listen to the music she sent you, or see the beautiful costumes she made for each of you. /

Some say that when the body dies, life goes. Our experience is when the body dies that life goes on. This was Christ's gift to us. We know this is true because he has told us/ and we also know it because he has shown us in his life and in the lives of so many others that are still going on.

Today we give thanks for the life of Paula Vanderpool, who to us was a tower of strength, who so graciously cared for us and helped us; who loved us in her hospitality and giving and encouraged us by her example; who looked not on the outward appearance, but lovingly into the hearts of men and women and children; who rejoiced to serve others; whose loyalty was steadfast, whose friendship was unselfish and secure; whose joy it was to be of service. May Paula find abiding peace in God's heavenly kingdom; and with God's help, may we carry forward her unfinished work on this earth. Amen.

Theodore Farris, Death and Transfiguration. (Forward Movement 1998).

Edward Gleason, Dying We Live, (Cowley 1990).

J. B. Bernardin, Funeral Services (Morehouse 1980), p.117.

Joanna Seibert

Good Friday Sermon, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, AR, April 19, 2019

Good Friday St. Mark’s April 19, 2019

We are a resurrection people,/ but for today/ we are a crucifixion people. We have come to church in the middle of this day, in the middle of this city, on this most solemn day of the Christian year, to keep watch this holy hour with our Savior on the cross, dying. Today we try to remember Jesus’ suffering and the why of it all as we stand beside Jesus at the foot of this cross. We remember that by his death we learn about a life BEYOND the cross…. Yet Peter Go/mes1 reminds us that Jesus is teaching us that the only way BEYOND the cross is to stand by the cross and GO THROUGH IT.

The story we have just heard from John’s gospel is so familiar that it is difficult to experience it/ and know what going through the cross,/ beyond the cross really means. Perhaps if we look at two of Jesus’ statements in John, we can better identify with this scene.

Jesus’ first words from the cross are to his mother: “Woman, here is your son.” And to the disciple.. “here is your mother.” (John 19: 23-27) Barbara Brown Taylor2 asks if Jesus is looking out for his mother or for his disciple? When the beloved disciple takes Mary home, and when the other disciples come crawling out from under their rocks, they will find themselves in the presence of someone whose contact with the Holy Spirit has been far more intimate than theirs. While the principalities and powers believe they are tearing his family apart,/ Jesus is quietly putting it back together again. /My experience also is that Jesus constantly does this for us. When our sister or brother or mother or father or child is separated from us, Jesus gives us a new and different relationship with them// as well as with another mother or sister or brother—if only we have eyes and ears to see and hear and accept it./

Living through and beyond the cross./

As we try to stand at the foot of this cross with Jesus, I also hear the words of others who have been there.

I think of another friend named Mary. She lost her daughter, Anne, several years ago in a tragic train accident. We met for coffee a few weeks after Anne's funeral. We cried, we laughed. We went over every detail of Anne's service that actually took place in this church. There could have been no more beautiful celebration of her life. Mary then began to talk about the new directions she already felt in her life. She told me how she had spent much time trying not to wear masks in her life, but that this great loss made her even more desiring of not being anything that was false to herself. She was living her life one day at a time. She was not making a lot of plans and was trying to be open to what God had in store for her that day.

She spoke of feeling God's presence throughout the entire tragedy. She wondered how anyone could survive such a loss without love/ and faith/ and community. Then she could barely speak as she softly whispered/ that she had some insight into the thoughts of our Lord's mother, another Mary, at the cross. She could say no more./ Since that day I continue to ponder her words in my heart.

Some of you here this afternoon also know the loss of a child or grandchild. Parents should never have to bury their children. How even more awful to watch your child suffer and die. I think of parents of patients at Children’s Hospital who sit by bedsides as their children die. I have seen there love, sorrow, anger, comfort, helplessness, surrender, as I have never seen in any other situations.

Through Mary and the families at Children’s Hospital we experience a little glimpse of what our Lord's mother might have felt that awful day. Our prayer this afternoon is that each of us may have as both Marys did,/ some awareness of God working in our lives/ even in the face of great tragedy and pain. .

Living through and beyond the cross///

“IT IS FINISHED” is what John records as Jesus’ last words. JOHN 19:29-30a

But, was Jesus’ crucifixion really finished that afternoon 2000 years ago?/ We are gathered here because we are an Easter people. You will notice that all of our crosses in our church are empty, but our world outside is still more like Good Friday. Do we continue to stand at the foot of crosses today and be active observers and participants in Christ’s crucifixion still going on today?

As we try to live into and through this Good Friday, we are to remember that the cross many of us wear is the symbol of an unjust public execution. We more often relate to the resurrection that came out of it rather than to the brutal killing of an innocent man. The cross’ message of resurrection is hope to all who are oppressed; but especially today we must also remember the injustice as well as that great hope our tradition teaches us that can follow horrendous and unjust tragedy.3////

John tells us that after Jesus dies on this cross, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus lay him in Joseph’s tomb. If Jesus were crucified today, might he journey to another place than Joseph’s tomb?

Malcolm Boyd best describes the possible cross bearers of today in the Alleluia Affair.4// Listen carefully with me to a paraphrased version of Boyd’s midrash of what might happen in two hours shortly after three o’clock on this Good Friday, today, when a crucified Jesus leaves the cross.3 //

Jesus will pull his legs free.

The rusty nails that held his feet captive will fall clanking below the cross.

It will not be difficult next to free his left hand, then the right one,

He will slide easily down from the full-size wooden

cross in the sanctuary

of a West Little Rock Catholic church.

Next he walks into the adjoining parish hall.

He passes by Virginia Causey of the altar guild

who faints.

Jesus then washes in the men's room---

He gets the blood off his body--and leaves the building,

He walks down Mississippi to St. Mark’s to the Food Pantry in the Youth Room and later on to St. Francis House.

It is a hot day, so he feels all right in his loincloth.

Jesus has a bit more difficulty disengaging himself from a gold processional cross

in the East Side church in Manhattan,

Yet within just a few moments he is free….

{Jesus} heads south toward the former World Trade Center.

A cab driver moving along Madison Avenue…

sees Jesus, who is still wearing his crown of thorns.

Before he knows what he is doing,

the driver has smashed his cab into the plate-glass

window of an art gallery…./

It is inside a church in Moscow

that an altogether new phenomenon….

is first observed.

Katerina Pavlof has been absorbed in her private Good Friday devotions

inside the Russian Orthodox church.

Now she looks toward the cross…

But to her amazement..

Katerina discovers the bloated body of a young black boy

is firmly nailed to the wood.

He does not look like Jesus.

His face is beaten and swollen beyond recognition.

An eye is dislodged from its socket.

His mother, Mamie Till, like Mary stands at the foot of the cross.

She cries out that this is her fourteen-year-old son, Emmett Till, from Chicago lynched in the Mississippi Delta in 1955./

It is 3:45 p.m. when Carol Kimmel

stops off for a moment of prayer at the National Cathedral

on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington D C.

She is startled to see a woman's body upon a cross,

for she is aware that now all crosses

should be empty.

Drawing closer, she sees that a young child is still clinging to the dark-haired woman.

The tired mother is deeply wailing.

The verger identifies her as a Palestinian Christian refugee living in Gaza.

Twelve hours later inside a Syriac Orthodox church in Aleppo, Syria,

a white youth is found

nailed to an altar cross

that had previously borne Jesus.

The youth tells Doctors Without Borders

that he lives in Laramie, Wyoming….

There are scars of a brutal beating on his body

and his left eye is swollen shut.//



Who is our neighbor? Who is our brother?/

Who is our mother? Who is our son?



AND TOMBS inside and outside of us begin to OPEN UP

AND SAINTS inside and outside of us WHO WERE ASLEEP ARE Awakened.

Joanna Seibert

1 Peter Gomes in The Preaching of the Passion: The Seven Last Words from the cross in Forward Movement Publications, 2002.

2Barbara Brown Taylor, “Mother of the New” in Home By Another Way, pp. 97-99.

3Debra Mumford, “Loving the Word” in The Christian Century (3/14/2018)

4Malcolm Boyd, “The Alleluia Affair” in YOU by Mark Link.

12 step Eucharist St. Marks Episcopal Church, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, Lent 5C Extravagant Gift

Lent 5C John 12:1-8 The Extravagant Gift: Mary anoints Jesus

April 3, 2019, Wednesday 5:30 pm, 12 step Eucharist

Today’s story begins soon after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It is six days before the Passover. The Pharisees are looking all over Jerusalem for Jesus to arrest him. Jesus returns to a safe house in Bethany, a village on the Mount of Olives, less than two miles east of Jerusalem, the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, who arrange a private dinner for him on Saturday evening at the end of the Sabbath. It is a small event, the twelve disciples and a few other friends. Martha and her friend Suzanna serve the first course of olives, figs, grapes, dates, nuts, and pomegranates. Lazarus reclines around the low table near Jesus. The room is dimly lit with olive oil lamps. /

Mary quietly enters the dining area carrying a large heavy alabaster jar of costly perfume made of pure Spikennard imported from India. It must have cost Lazarus one year’s wages. In fact, it’s worth is more than their house! Mary silently sits beside and slightly behind Jesus, bows her head and does not speak or make eye contact with Jesus. She smashes the jar and pours out the thick aromatic amber-colored essential oil and massages Jesus’ feet. The whole house is now filled with this powerful sweet fragrance. Mary then spontaneously removes her headscarf letting down her long black hair and wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair.

Jesus does not say a word. Mary sits still and does not move. Their silence is broken by low murmurings among the guests who are choking on their wine.1 “Indecent. Scandalous. Risky gesture with the hair. Total financial irresponsibility.” Never have they seen such a costly perfume used to anoint someone’s feet, then wiped with the hair of a woman not married to the man!/ The guests are blind to the beauty of the offering. They only see a mess, a waste,/ but Jesus in the gospels of Mark and Matthew calls this “a beautiful thing”./ He sees an extravagant gift offered as a supreme act of love and thanksgiving./ Judas speaks the negative voice of zero sum, scarcity mentality, ”Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” Others murmur similar practical, pragmatic questions while the sweet musty aroma of priceless ointment cannot be hidden,/ as it permeates the whole house. The guests discuss the complicated emotions aroused by the gift and the giver for the rest of the evening.//

We do not normally associate smells with Christian witness except when we occasionally use incense or when we meet with the aroma of breakfast the first of each month, but this story tells us to be on the look out for them.

Typically, generosity should breed generosity. When we have been given an extravagant gift, we are moved to give more ourselves.// Occasionally going through the drive-through line at Starbucks Coffee the person ahead will pay for our coffee, and we are often inwardly encouraged to do the same for the person behind us. I remember once the barista announced that we were the twenty-fifth car in line to “pay behind.”

Sometimes, however, when we are given a gift we forget that it is a gift and see it as “mine, mine,”/ a mind-set of scarcity instead of a mind-set of abundance.2 We hold on to it, do not develop it or care for it, like the man given one talent. Sometimes we not only do not care for it, but we destroy it, and we all know what I am talking about. //

Each of you here has been given many extravagant gifts. I wish you could hear the stories of those who are here in recovery about the extravagant gift they have been given, Sobriety. Good health, education, the love of a parent or friend or child or spouse, the creation, are also all extravagant gifts that we should be telling each other about. I hope those in small groups tonight will share their stories of extravagant gifts. I hope each of us will go home tonight and share a story of an extravagant gift with a family member or friend. Thank that person for the gift if you can. If not, pay it forward. Lastly in our prayers tonight, give thanks for Mary for reminding us of the extravagant gift of love of God through Jesus Christ which is constantly offered to each of us.

Joanna. joannaseibert.com

1 Anne Carter Florence, “A baccalaureate Sermon: smashing Beauty,” Journal of Preachers, Pentecost 2004, pp. 18-22.

2 B. Stephen Shoemaker, John 12:1-12, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, pp. 140-144.

Closing Eucharist, Walking the Mourner's Path Facilitator Training, Trinity Cathedral, March 1, 2019

Closing Eucharist Mourner’s path facilitator training Trinity February 27, March 1, 2019

John 11:21-27

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

What a journey we have been on. Susan, Tricia, and I have had the privilege of spending two intense days with a group of very gifted people who have been training to minister to those grieving the death of significant persons in their lives. In doing so you have walked in the shoes of those you will be ministering to by sharing your own loves, losses, and triumphs.

You have listened and told each other the stories of your own loved ones who have died. You have shared their pictures. You have talked about how you learned to grieve as a child. We have talked about the physical side of grieving. We have learned that tears are helpful and appropriate in our grief. You have shared what you miss the most and what you are doing to live on, how the relationship continues in a very different way and about small victories in your life. You have talked about how difficult it is to live on and make decisions by yourself especially when the one you loved was bigger than life. You have talked about things you remember about your loved one. You have talked about best and worst times. Finally, last night you wrote a letter to your loved one that you will offer at this altar.

Many of you will minister to those who will question where was God in all this sadness and tragedy that they have experienced. Sometimes the God of their understanding seemed absent or at some great distance. Many will come through this experience with a very different relationship with God.

Each of them will have a different story and will be at a different place on this journey. That is what will be especially beautiful about the groups you will mentor. I know each of you will respect the other and not insist that your neighbor’s journey be like your journey.

We have also tried to look at grief from a Christian and an Anglican viewpoint, very subtly using the traditional Anglican tools of scripture, tradition, and reason.

What does say Scripture tells us about death? Devote followers of Jesus, both Mary and Martha, question why he was not there to save the person both he and they so dearly loved. We know that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Our mentor is telling us that weeping is appropriate. At his own death Jesus asks God, “God where are you?” He is telling us that doubting, arguing, feeling abandoned are feelings just as Christian as feeling held in God’s arms.

All of us know the Easter story. We know in our minds that our loved ones are experiencing a new life in the resurrection. But there is a part of our hearts that still wants them here with us physically to tell us in their very subtle way answers to the questions we still are struggling with. /

What does our Tradition tell us about death? Karl Barth, Friedrich Schleiermacher, William Sloane Coffin Jr, and John Claypool all preached about the death of close family members. It is interesting how all of these towers of faith were shaken to their roots. As they looked for hope, they wrote profusely and vividly about what did not help them in their grieving. One of the universal dead end theologies for these preachers was the often-quoted phrase that the death of someone was God’s will. This is not the God of their understanding, and I know it is not yours. After the death of his son in a car accident when the car went off a bridge into the water, William Sloane Coffin preaches, “my own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that my son die; as the waves closed over his sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.” /

Lastly, what does reason tell us about death, which really means what is our own experience about grief and death. Death is not a period at the end of a sentence, but more like a comma. Some have talked about how our loved ones who had died are not only in a new relationship to God but also to us. Death changes but does not destroy our connection with those we love. We have shared experiences of knowing the presence of loved ones after they have died, doing things we knew we had never been able to do before because of some presence very near to us guiding, still caring for us. The Old Testament gives us a wonderful description of this experience. As Elijah is about to die, he asks his beloved companion, Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha responds, “ Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” You know the story. As Elijah ascends in a whirlwind into heaven, he leaves for Elisha his mantle or shawl as a sign of his spirit. That has often been our experience. Those we love but see no longer have left us a spiritual mantle that all of us here will be wearing, carrying with us, knowing that their presence with us no longer will depend on time and space.

We all have seen that shawl about each of you. I think you have felt it as well. Our prayer today is that we all will continue to feel the shawl around us, the spirit of love, endurance, humor, strength, the shawl we will carry with us as we form new Mourner’s Path groups. You will be the vessel holding these groups together, supporting them, helping them see the shawl that each of them is wearing.

May you also continue to feel the loving arms of this group and our God often silently holding you in your new journey.

Lastly, Corinthians tells us that love never dies. Love never dies. The love we have for and from their loved one is still there and never dies. I don’t understand it. It is a mystery. I know I look at pictures of my brother, my grandparents who have died and I can feel their love and in turn feel the love I have for them. Buechner and Nouwen tell us that our bodies die but the love we have for others and the love we feel from another somehow returns to God and is kept for all eternity. If you are a mystic, you have no difficulty understanding this. If you are a person who understands by rational thinking, this may be a difficult concept.

I know in my heart that the love we have for each other will never die.. I believe that in some mysterious way this love never dies and is carried forward to make a change in those who have died, in ourselves, and in the universe.

Bless each of you as you continue your ministry, a ministry you have already been doing whether you know it or not. May you continue to heal and hold others as you have helped heal and hold each of us. We give thanks and rejoice in your ministry ….and for a few more days send you out into the world with : Alleluia, Alleluia. Alleluia.

Joanna Seibert

Jeffrey J. Newlin, “Standing at the Grave,” This Incomplete One, pp. 121-130.

Gary W. Charles, “The E Prayer,” Journal for Preachers, 47-50, vol. 29, no. 3, Easter 2006.

Prayer 63 In the Evening Book of Common Prayer, 833.

Thomas Long, “O Sing to Me of Heaven: Preaching at Funerals,” Journal for Preachers, 21-26, vol. 29, no. 3, Easter 2006.

Epiphany 7C Forgiveness, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Gulf Shores, Alabama, February 24, 2019

Epiphany 7C Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, February 24, 2019

Luke 6:27-38

“Jesus said, ‘I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…Forgive, and you will be forgiven."’

Are there any Methodists in the congregation? Maybe used to be Methodist? Well, I have been an Episcopalian for over 50 years, but there is still a little Methodist in me, so I read fairly religiously the writings of William Willimon, former chaplain at Duke and former Methodist Bishop. This is what he has to say about this passage from Luke. In a former congregation in rural Georgia, it was the custom of one of the laity to pray after the sermon. After Willimon had preached a tough sermon on this difficult passage on Sunday, the lay leader got up and prayed, “Lord, today we’ve heard your word. And we don’t like it.”1 / I think most of us might agree.

Huston Smith, one of our great experts on world religions writes that Christianity shares many affirmations or statements of truths with other faith groups. “Love your neighbor, Help those in need. Obey God.” But Jesus’ declaration that we should love our enemies is found solely in Christianity.1

Willimon asks us to imagine someone who has greatly harmed us or our family. I’m talking about the kind of person we don’t want to see again. Whenever we hear his or her name, our heart rate increases, our palms get sweaty. Can you imagine extending your hand in love to that person and telling them you forgive them? Ouch! Too radical!!

Willimon believes that this sermon of Jesus is not a list of rules and duties for us to follow but instead is a picture of the kind of God that Jesus represents. This is a portrait of our God described to us by Jesus. Our God loves his enemies. Our God still does good to those who hate him. Our God blesses those who cruse him. Our God prays for those who abuse him. We have a God who is merciful, who does not condemn, who forgives.1 This is a God of love.

We may strive to follow Jesus, but we all know we will have great difficulty because of our humanness, but our God is constantly merciful, forgiving, loving. There is no act that cannot be forgiven. There is no one undeserving of forgiveness./

Let’s talk more about forgiveness. Hold onto your stone. Forgiveness is a radical, outrageous thought. You all may have wondered why we offered you a stone as you came in today. If you did not get your stone, see me or my husband after the service. But please! Do not throw it at us if you do not agree with what I am saying! The stone is an idea from a book by Bishop Tutu and his daughter, Mpho, The Book of Forgiving. Tutu reminds us that if we cannot forgive someone, it is like carrying around with us a burden, a large stone, that interferes with our living. I am asking you, if you can, to carry this stone with you the rest of the day in one hand. You may find it difficult to take communion, to eat, to use your phone or computer, among many other things./ You know those signs on cigarettes, “smoking may be dangerous to your health.” We should have similar signs on billboards and on television intermittently displayed: “not forgiving can be dangerous to your health.” Tutu quotes studies where forgiveness reduces stress, depression, anger. Revenge is dangerous to our health. It never improves it. 2, 3//

I don’t know about you, but when someone has harmed me, I begin to think about them all the time. I think about how I would like to harm them ( in a subtle way of course) or how I can expose them for who they really are. They live rent free in my head. They become my God, my higher power. That is when I decide I must do something about this, They are the last persons I would like to be my higher power./

We begin to notice people who have been able to forgive. We reread this passage in Genesis and realize how Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers saved a nation. We remember why we continue to go to musical productions of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. The music keeps ringing in our ears but it is the story of Jean Valjean, released from a French prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread who in desperation takes silver from a bishop who gives him shelter. When Valjean is caught, the bishop says he gave the silver to Valjean as a gift, and then says, “you forgot some other pieces,” and gives more silver to Valjean. As you know, this bishop’s unconventional and unconditional kindness completely turns Valjean’s life around to one of serving others.. We remember Nelson Mandela who forgave his guards of 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela writes, “If I had not been able to forgive my guards, I would still be in a prison.’ That is what not forgiving is like. It is like living in a prison where our life becomes very small and begins to center on the harm done to us./ Perhaps Charles Dickens gives us one of the best examples of what happens when we cannot forgive in his story, Great Expectations. Remember Miss Havisham who was jilted by her lover on her wedding day and lives the rest of her life in her decaying wedding dress seated at a rat-infested table set for a wedding feast as she plots revenge on males. Her life stops. /

Soon these resentments intermittently produce uncontrollable anger which erupts out of our body like a dragon. The anger brings with it a huge amount of energy. /Then the miracle.//

When we can transform and release that energy from anger to energy for healing, this energy will be used for us to become the person God created us to be. What helps the most is the knowledge that the person who has harmed us is still hurting us as long as we cannot forgive them.

Last year at St. Mark’s in Little Rock at a Forgiveness Workshop, Mary Dwyer from Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.,4 spent a weekend trying to teach us some of the basics of how to start the journey of forgiveness. She reminds us that forgiveness is the only conditional part of the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive our sins, as we forgive others.”

Reconciliation involves two parties./ Forgiveness involves only one party.

Mary cautions us about forgiving too soon.

Mary then describes a process of active imagination with God and the person who has harmed us. She calls it the Forgiveness Prayer. After a period of Centering or contemplative Prayer, we imagine our own sacred space with God very close to us. Mary actually imagines that she is sitting in God’s lap. I am still just sitting beside Jesus. My sacred space would be sitting on the white sandy beach of the gulf coast watching the waves come gently in as the sea gulls fly in and out at the water’s edge. We then invite someone who has harmed us to come into our sacred space with God beside us. We tell them all that they have done to harm us. Then we ask them if we have harmed them and then ask them for forgiveness. Sometimes having a picture of the person who harmed us may be helpful as we speak to him or her. This is not a one-time event but may require many encounters. For me, the Forgiveness Prayer is so helpful when the person who harmed me refuses to talk about it. The Prayer allows us to talk to that person in a safe place in our imagination where we cannot be harmed again, but also to acknowledge mistakes we may have made as well.

Mary also recommends praying daily for the person who has harmed us until we are ready to forgive. Praying does not change the person that harmed us but praying can change us. The change may be slow. I have people like this who have been on my prayer list for years.

St. Augustine has been quoted as saying, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

We do not have far to look to see others whose resentments for harms done to them have definitely poisoned their existence. Some try to hide it. Some openly live a life of resentment. It changes who they are. Anger, bitterness, self-centeredness live in that body. Wholeness is excluded. Some become almost paralyzed by the resentment and cannot deal with life on life’s terms. They in turn begin to resent others who do not appreciate the harm that was done to them. Addictions creep in as temporary harmful solutions to the increasing pain that the resentment brings. That person who harmed them is still hurting them. It is a very sad, isolated life, an icon of who or what we do not want to be.

Forgiveness is our only option if we want a relationship with God and a relationship with others.

Forgiveness never pretends that a wrong has not happened, but forgiveness is a way of remembering where a past wrong is not denied, but with forgiveness the injustice is deprived of its power to shape our future. Our response to others and what has happened to us is not predicted or determined or dependent upon the behavior of someone else. Forgiveness does not erase the past/ but is the pathway to a new future, a resurrected life.5

Good luck with your stones.

1. William Willimon, “Living with the God we Got,” Pulpit Resource, February 24, 2019, vol. 47, no 1. Year C.

2. Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, HarperOne 2014.

3. John Buchanan, “One New Book for the Preacher,” p. 42, Journal for Preachers, Pentecost 2015, vol 38, n 4.

4. Contemplative Outreach Ltd. www.contemplativeoutreach.org , a network of individuals interested in the practice of centering Prayer as taught by Father Thomas Keating.

5. Amy P. McCullough, “Preaching Forgiveness,” pp.22-23, Journal for Preachers, Pentecost 2015, Vol 38, no 4.

Joanna joannaseibert.com