This morning, I sat with a friend in a local coffee shop. This has become a routine for us, to first meet for a cup, then conversation and finally for morning prayer. That latter point does, from time to time, create a minor stir of interest. Other groups and folks meet regularly at the shop, but to my knowledge we are the only two who are intentionally meeting for the sake of prayer. I do confess that I enjoy it, both the experience of being with my friend and the witness made as people come to the place where milk, cream, sweetener and sugar are offered, only to hear there the recitation of psalm, scripture, canticle or prayer by a couple of innocuous friends at the adjacent table who have their prayer books open in front of them.
That previous paragraph sets the stage for my relating the heart's core of this morning's conversation. After the catch-up and check-in, the preliminaries, were accomplished, we found ourselves reflecting on passages and transitions in life...the big ones of birth, life and death and the minor one-translations of relationship, changing jobs, etc.
My friend is a chaplain at a local hospital, charged for the most part with offering care and consolation to people going through treatment for cancer. As the conversation centered on dealing with transitions, she offered a thought, something she tenders to most patients and their families as the end of life looms large in their immediate future: "This is what good looks like."
That can be a challenging thing to say, and for some it is impossible to hear. When faced with upheaval, even dying, the temptation is to set our teeth against the cup of suffering being prepared. A person diagnosed with terminal cancer is told that she has weeks to live without treatment, or months to persist in life with treatment. What she may not comprehend is the intensity that "treatment" brings into her life: side-effects from chemotherapy and radiation, etc. The oncologist helping her to discern what choices to make about treatment and care options might not be able to sum up the trials before her...but in the end the greatest challenge is to embrace the present moment, to be aware of and connected to the reality that the person who has cancer is dealing with, here and now.
"This is what good looks like," is a powerful and intensely challenging thing to offer to ANYONE going through a hard time. Healing, growing, dealing, dying with cancer....or just with life itself...is something that few of us would-when told that it will "hurt" regardless-will choose something that means discomfort or smacks of submission to defeat. Yet, choosing what is going to be good (think, in the eyes of God and not of the people around you with their own agendas) is a tougher row to hoe. It might mean coming to terms with a challenging new reality that means you can't/won't be able to do something you love to do (playing violin, running marathons, etc). It might mean making changes in personal habits-giving up fatty foods and sweets because your body can't process these and still maintain a healthy and balanced chemistry. It might mean getting your affairs in order, saying the things you need to say and then ask the doctors to stop talking about treatment that only staves off death while increasing suffering, instead asking them to counsel you on what will bring comfort and enough of a clear head to be able to meet death and dying with open eyes and a spirit that is at peace instead of locked in pain.
"This is what good looks like...." I can't really think of a more powerful and Christ-centered way of being ready to meet the new day. It accepts reality, and at the same time allows me to be a part of forming a considerate and prayerful response to whatever the day is going to bring my way. If I am challenged, this is what good looks like. If I am blessed, this is what good looks like. It isn't up to me to seek any one's opinion of what good should look like, rather it is the opportunity to see the good in the reality around me.
When God created the heavens, the earth and all that is in them (including us, remember), God looked on it all and pronounced it "good." Nothing else, and particularly note that there is not judgment entailed...just a radical and open embracing of ALL things as good.
Can we offer anything less than that, if we are willing to accept ourselves as being formed in the full image of God? Coming to terms with being good, that the day itself is good, that all things in life are GOOD and from God is not easy...because there are LOTS of things in this life which reject the good. There is violence, abuse, objectification, and all sorts of things that are not of God...and when we get enmeshed and mired in them is when we lose sight of being in a "good" place. If I cannot embrace joy in breathing, being, sitting here with the blessing of being able to write and pray and love what God is working through me, then-as Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians-"I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal." I am just noise echoing without purpose into the universe.
But, if I am mindful and aware of the good things I have here in front of me (moments of consolation and desolation), and am able to see that what is before me really is what "good" looks like, then perhaps I can release myself into a role that God has been preparing for us for an eternity...and yearns, achingly, to initiate us into as the fullness of time approaches: To see that the world in God is good and that we are playing our part in it, here and now.
Each breath matters, each moment of life is important...but none of it will mean anything unless we are willing to see it all as a gift that is eventually being returned to the giver, God our creator.
Perhaps the worst image we have as followers of Jesus is the sight of him hanging on the cross, crucified as a victim of the state's power to violently oppress and destroy anyone and anything that represents something outside the party line. And yet, in that death we have now received a new life. In Christ's death on the cross, we are now a new creation.
The justification we experience in our salvation as Jesus' passage from life to death, to life again is not some abstract argument, but a reality that "this is what good looks like." Even the worst thing can, in God's way of bringing all things to completion and fulfillment, create great blessings.
I left that morning coffee pondering those words, and I find that I am still chewing on them even now. Knowing that this way of looking at God's will for us goes beyond how I will form my own response when the doctor says to me (about myself or anyone I love) that there is little else we can do, except perhaps to keep you (them) comfortable....it is an opportunity to build up for myself in the here and now the willingness to see that each day presents an open invitation from God to see that, whatever the challenge is, "this is what good looks like.........."