One of the traditions in the Blaine family, is that every Sunday night is movie night. We've had this tradition since Marcus was about two years old and so over the years we've had a chance to see lots of different children's movies. When Marcus was about three years old we watched the movie Winnie the Pooh for the first time. Now we had tried to be pretty careful up to this point to be sure and show movies that were not too scary for a three-year-old. And so we thought, what could be more tame and fine and not scary than Winnie the Pooh?
I should start by saying **spoiler alert **since I'm about to tell you what happens in the movie - so if you were planning to watch this movie from 5 years ago and I'm about to spoil it then please feel free to cover your ears.
The drama in the movie is prompted by a note that Christopher Robin leaves for his friends in the 100 acre wood. The note says simply gone out. Busy. Back soon. Unfortunately for the animals in the forest they cannot read very well. So when owl reads the note to the friends, instead of reading "back soon" he reads that Christopher Robin is gone because he has been taken by a bakson. The animals all begin to imagine what this terrible bakson could be and this ensues the plot of trying to build a trap for the bakson. Of course, the movie ends with the return of Christopher Robin from school and the easy explanation of how things got confused.
Now unfortunately when you were three years old you don't have much concept for spelling. And so the whole idea that the Backson was just something that was a mistake or a misunderstanding. Was completely lost on Marcus.
And so, for weeks and weeks after watching this movie Marcus would go to bed at night terrified and afraid that the Backson was going to come and get him. No amount of logical explanation was helpful in this case and so each night Martin and I had to go through the room look under the bed open up the closet and eventually scare away the backs him so that he was clear that he was not allowed to come in to Marcus's bedroom at night.
Every night - we would tell him - don't worry Marcus - we will keep watch for the bakson and we won't let him in your room.
Nightime can be a scary time when you are a kid. Things that you are brave enough to handle in the light of day all seem much different when the lights are out and when you are all alone. I know I struggled with this as well as a child. At night, what I wanted to know most of all to know was that I was safe and cared for and that everything would be OK. My mother finished making this blanket just a few weeks after I was born and it remained with me nearly every night for a long time - including many years as an adult. When I would feel scared or alone at night, I would hug this blanket tight, bury my face in it and breathe deeply.
When we become adults our moments of greatest challenge and struggle are not so easily divided between night and day - but the desire for safety, the need to feel as if we are going to be alright, cared for, nurtured, - it never really goes away.
For the past couple of weeks, we've been reading this section of scripture in the gospel of john where Jesus is speaking with his disciples for the final time. He has told them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. And in this section - he is praying for them. He is asking for God to keep watch over them, to care for them, to keep them safe and to guard them for all that is to come.
Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
Now I’m coming to you and I say these things while I’m in the world so that they can share completely in my joy.
I’m not asking that you take them out of this world but that you keep them safe from the evil one.
The prayer is beautiful for so many reasons, because at some level Jesus is praying for the child in all of us – who longs to know that someone is watching out for us – keeping the Baksons and monsters away and seeking to preserve and keep us.
But the prayer is much deeper.
He’s clear that he’s not asking God to remove the disciples from the world.
This protection and safety isn’t about stopping challenges and struggles and even the facing of evil.
Jesus is praying that in the midst of those challenges – that our hearts would be kept safe.
The poem illustrates this so incredibly beautifully.
Keeping Watch (click the link)
The Beloved Spirit watches over us while we sleep but more importantly each day lights anew our Spirit.
Ensuring that our hearts are guarded. And that we are safe.
Jesus seems to know that the greatest risk, the greatest danger ahead of the disciples is not the adversity and opposition that they will face.
It is the very real danger that their hearts would become guarded and stingy and fearful and cold.
And so the prayer is like the poem – that each day the flame would be reignited and light would begin anew in their hearts. Even in the face of challenges.
One of my favorite Christian artists is a woman named Sara Groves. Her music speaks to my soul in ways that is so meaningful and helpful. Perhaps a part of the connection is that we are about the same age and that she also is the mother of two sons. One of her songs I find particularly lovely is called “Song for My Sons”
It is a song of advice from a mom – about how she tried her best to teach them and love them. It is a song about her hopes for her boys.
But the chorus is where the heart of the song lies. And when the cold wind blows like I know it will And when you feel alone like I know you will Don’t let your love grow cold
The prayer of this mother and the prayer of Jesus is that in the midst of lives greatest struggles – which will come.
That the flame of love that burns within us – that was placed there because we were made in the image of God – a god of love and grace and compassion –
That this part of who we are would stay ablaze.
And we know how hard this is.
When life brings us challenges – and hardship and pain – it is easy to think that we are protecting ourselves and keeping ourselves secure and safe – by shutting down our hearts. By walling ourselves off from feeling and experiencing and sharing love.
For some of us – our hearts have been entrusted into the hands of others and they have broken that trust. And the pain that comes with that is difficult to bear. So difficult that we want to never feel that pain again.
But Jesus knows and Sara Groves knows, and Hafiz knows and in honesty you and I know - that the truth is – that these walls that we think will protect us don’t really bring us the security and the peace that we long for.
That the only way to that kind of sense that all will be well is to walk into the places of vulnerability. To run the risk of rejection and monsters – but to trust that the one who is greater is still keeping watch – over our lives –
But more importantly over our hearts.
And that it is here where we are ACTUALLY the safest.
Held perfectly in the love of our creator – with hearts of love – sharing in the JOY of Christ.
Yesterday I watched my friend the Rev. David Meredith get married to his partner of 28 years, Jim. It was such a moment of joy. The wedding was filled with beautiful liturgy, witnesses and testimonies, and some fantastic showtunes.
It was a day of deep abiding love. And woven within the day was the reality of the struggle – of what it had taken to arrive at this place – and the great courage and boldness that it represented. A deep love grounded in the trust of God.
And of course – within hours – there were fellow clergy in our connection calling for David’s suspension. And calling for the pastor of Broad Street’s suspension. And calling for the suspension of all pastors who have officiated same sex weddings because we had all broken the rules.
But the problem was I had just been in the presence of love and joy. And the Spirit had been watching over my heart and lighting a flame. So even when I saw the statements of venom – I still felt JOY.
And so what I will be praying for in the days to come – for me and for you and for our church. Is that the God who made us in the very image of the living breathing God – not a static, passive God – but a living, dynamic, God of newness and resurrection of life and change – that this God would keep watch over us. Over me. Over you. Over the nearly 1000 delegates headed to General Conference this week. And that each morning they and we would awaken with the sense that we had been watched over. That the monsters we feared weren’t there – and that we had been awoken with a kiss on the forehead – igniting in our hearts the depth of love – by which we could then go into the world.
The kind of love that would remind us of our connection to each other.
The kind of love – that no matter what came our way – allowed us to stay present to the JOY of the Lord.
May the Spirit of the living God keep watch over us. Preserve us and keep us and guard our hearts to remain in this place.