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Can you recall a time in your life when someone forgot you? You may have been the kid left at soccer practice.  A friend may have forgot an appointment at Starbucks.  A birthday or anniversary may have gone unnoticed.

Although most of such oversights by those we care about are innocent (and those doing the forgetting are usually mortified!) the feelings it causes in us is often exaggerated because such events pick at a much deeper wound.  Mystics have written for centuries that in the human condition there is a deep, primal fear that we lack substance, that we are just a mist that will dissipate, that we will be forgotten.  This wound feeds so many of our day to day anxieties.  Today’s readings address this wound head on and offers a prescription for us to fill.

Source of Anxiety

I have found the writings of Fr. Ron Rolheiser to be particularly insightful on the issue of this primal anxiety.  He says that as a result of this fear of insignificance we try to create immortality for ourselves.  We try to escape our worry by creating immortality through our children and grandchildren.  We do things like writing a book or build a second home that can be passed down to our heirs.  Money is a universal tool to obtain for ourselves a sense of immortality.  You see bumper stickers proclaiming folks are spending their kids’ inheritance, but that is rare.  Most of us want enough money to leave some behind so we will not be forgotten.

Today’s readings tell us we do not need to anxiously try to create immortality for ourselves.  Isaiah writes in God’s voice to a people in exile feeling forgotten by God.  God says even if a mother could ever forget her infant, “I will never forget you.” We are not a mist that will disappear.  God knows our name.  Jesus says it a different way in the gospel today.  If God does not forget the flowers and the birds of the air, how can God possibly forget you.

Do you remember the gospel reading where the disciples go off on a mission trip and have great success with demons etc.? They came back to coach Jesus all excited, but Jesus said do not rejoice that you had success, for who knows what will happen next time.  Instead, rejoice that “your names are written in heaven.” We are irrevocably loaded onto God’s screensaver.  God has given us substance, we do not have to anxiously create it.

From Mind to Heart

Is our prescription for our deep wound now filled?  Not quite.  Rolheiser is brilliant on the insight that while beliefs are a good start, they will not alone combat our wound and the primal anxiety it creates.  We also need to know we will not be forgotten for real.

A few weeks ago on a cold February morning I was at the golf practice range beating balls.  An elderly teaching pro named Dave was the only other crazy person there waiting for one of his young pupils.  I knew Mike only slightly and, although not looking for conversation, I politely asked Dave a typical golfer’s question about whether he got away to some warm weather for some golf this winter.  He said no, because his wife had been diagnosed with cancer.  I said I was sorry and wished them well.  He replied “we are not worried about it.”

He now had my full attention.  He then told me a story of when he was much younger and his kids were small he fell gravely ill and was in a coma for four days.  He did not have a “near death experience” but he did have spiritual experience of great love and peace.  Through this experience he came to know in an experiential way that he would not be forgotten.  After that he said he just does not worry as much, even about big things like cancer.

Rolheiser says there is a gospel story that symbolically leads us to where Dave is.  Near the end of John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus tomb carrying spices to embalm the dead body.  She is sad and anxious.  She sees Jesus but does not recognize him, thinking instead she is talking with the gardener.  She questions him about where is the dead body of her friend.  Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” Before she can answer Jesus calls her by name, “Mary” and her eyes are opened.

Sometimes, like Mike’s experience, this deep knowing comes as a spontaneous awakening.  But we are also invited into a spiritual practice of being Mary, of seeking, persisting, questioning and listening for our name from the lips of God.  When we hear it we know in our heart as well as our mind that we will not be forgotten.

This pattern of seeking, questioning, listening and knowing is all around us here at Sts. Clare & Francis.  Many examples could be cited, but on this night of transition for Jessica’s ministry I think it is appropriate to give thanks for Jessica’s service in the pattern.  Tonight we celebrate a ministry typified by seeking.  We celebrate a ministry unafraid of any questions, indeed that reverences questions.  We celebrate a ministry that helps others listen, that helps others know for sure they will never be forgotten.

May this Eucharist help expose the deep wound of our humanity, the root cause of our anxiety, and help put is in the pattern of knowing for real that our names are already written in heaven.

Amen

George von Stamwitz

For Ron Rolheiser’s articles on anxiety see the archive on his website dated 2/17/13 and 2/24/13.

Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, March 1, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 6: 24-34 (“Do not worry about your life.”)

Photo: “Forget-me-not” by Sir_Iwan on flickr.com

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