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Monday Meditation: Easter Sunday and Trauma

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

Although we tend to focus on rejoicing on Easter Sunday, the gospel narratives remind us that the first Easter Sunday was the culmination of three days of trauma, and trauma doesn’t simply evaporate. Three days prior to the discovery of the empty tomb, Jesus’ partners in ministry scattered in fear after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Afterwards, as Jesus predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. Consumed by shame, Judas – Jesus’ betrayer – died by suicide. A small group of women who had supported Jesus throughout his ministry followed Jesus all the way to the cross, bearing witness to his brutal execution. From the cross, Jesus called out to his friend John, instructing him to care for his mother Mary, who watched in horror as her firstborn son took his last breath. Unforgettable, horrific images were seared into their minds.

On Easter Sunday, when the grieving women went to the tomb bearing spices to anoint Jesus’ body, they were still reeling from all they had witnessed. Can you imagine the range of emotions they must have felt when they arrived at the tomb to find the stone rolled away and the body of their beloved Christ missing? More trauma. The women were terrified when angels suddenly appeared and asked them, “Why do you search for the living among the dead? Jesus isn’t here! He has risen from the dead?” How could they possibly process all they were experiencing?

Meanwhile, the remaining 11 apostles were huddled behind a locked door, fearful that they would be the next ones to be executed. They, too, were traumatized by the loss of their teacher and friend; their dream for a new kingdom of God on earth had been shattered. When the women arrived to pass on the angelic message of Christ’s resurrection, the men did not believe their story because they thought it sounded like nonsense. How did the women feel then? Two of the disciples were curious enough to check out the women’s story and discovered for themselves that the tomb was indeed empty. How did the men feel then? Even after Jesus finally mysteriously appeared in that locked room and revealed the wounds in hands and his side, the disciples’ joy and relief was tempered by the trauma they had experienced.

Yesterday as I led the Easter worship service at TND in Nashville, I was mindful of the trauma and grief present in the midst of our rejoicing. One client was marking the one-year anniversary of the death of her partner. Several were grieving the loss of loved ones in recent months. Others were desperately missing their children; some took comfort knowing they would soon see their children again while others grappled with the grim reality that they have permanently lost custody.

With this in mind, let us focus our prayers this week on clients and staff who are grieving and wrestling with traumatic events:

  • Those who are grieving the loss of loved ones
  • Those who are grieving the separation from their children – either temporarily or permanently
  • Those who are grieving missed opportunities, fractured relationships, and time lost due to addiction
  • Those who are grieving the countless losses and absences and unrealized dreams due to COVID-19
  • Those who have been traumatized by abuse
  • Those who have been traumatized by racial bias, ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes

“Blessed be Abba God, the God of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Source of all mercies and the God of all consoling, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comforting God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:2-4

Monday Meditation: Do You See This Woman?

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

As The Next Door focuses on the core value of respect throughout 2021, we can turn to the Gospels and look to Jesus for inspiration. A story from Luke’s Gospel seems particularly relevant.

A religious leader had invited Jesus to be his honored guest for dinner. The meal was interrupted when a woman with bad reputation in the community entered the home uninvited. She was carrying a bottle of expensive perfume and weeping as she approached Jesus. With great humility, she knelt down and began to anoint Jesus’ feet, her tears mingling with the perfume on his skin. The host was astounded and offended by her actions, thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Reading his host’s mind, Jesus told him a brief parable about a creditor and two debtors as a way of explaining that the woman’s actions reflected her deep gratitude for forgiveness.

Jesus contrasted his host’s failure to wash Jesus’ feet – an expected expression of hospitality – with the woman’s gesture of respect. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little” (Luke 7:44-47).

Do you see this woman? Arguably, the religious leader did not truly see this woman. He had labeled the intruder as a sinner from the moment he laid eyes on her – someone who was less worthy than he was of Jesus’ attention and love. Jesus, on the other hand, truly saw this woman and welcomed her with love, treated her with respect, and blessed her for her actions.

Every woman who walks through our doors deserves to be welcomed with love and treated with respect without judgment. May our gratitude for the forgiveness and love that God and others have shown us fuel our desire to treat others with respect and compassion. Do you see this woman? May we learn to see each client with Jesus’ eyes.

 

Published on March 29, 2021

Monday Meditation: International Women’s Day

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

On International Women’s Day, the story of Ruth and Naomi seems fitting to contemplate. If you are unfamiliar with their story, the book of Ruth in the Old Testament is a compelling and quick read. Naomi, her husband, and their two sons left their home in Bethlehem because of a severe famine, leaving behind family and friends to become refugees in the land of Moab. While they were in Moab, Naomi’s husband died. Later, both of her sons married Moabite women. Tragically, both of her sons died in this foreign land, leaving three widows in this family. Grief upon grief upon grief.

After Naomi learned that the famine in her homeland had subsided, she decided to return to Bethlehem. When she announced her plan to her daughters-in-law, at first they both declared that they would accompany her. But Naomi argued that the young women should remain in their home country with their families, and she blessed them for the love they had shown her sons and her. One of her daughters-in-law opted to remain in Moab, but Ruth steadfastly refused: “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:15-17) That’s quite a commitment for a widowed daughter-in-law to make to her widowed mother-in-law.

As the narrative unfolds, these two grieving women learn to rely on each other as they chart a path into an uncertain future. They have each other; they don’t have to go it alone. I encourage you to read the rest of their story to see how God worked in and through their intertwined lives to bring hope and healing.

Think about the women who God has used to encourage, guide, and sustain you during difficult times. Perhaps during this season of Lent you could take on the practice of reaching out to these women to express your gratitude. As you seek to be a instrument of healing in others’ lives this week, remember those who have brought healing to your life and thank God for them.

Published on March 8, 2021

Monday Meditation: A New Look at Psalm 23

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

At least once a month, I lead a Spirituality in Recovery group focused on Psalm 23, perhaps the most famous of the 150 psalms included in Scripture. This psalm is frequently read aloud at funeral services because of this line: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” When I discuss this psalm with clients, I frame it as an expression of delight in God. The author – believed to be David, the shepherd who became Israel’s second king – gratefully expounds upon the ways that God has demonstrated provision, protection, and compassion for him.

In her book Guide My Feet: Prayers and Meditations on Loving and Working for Children, Marian Wright Edelman includes a version of Psalm 23 that she heard at All Saints Convent in Catonville, Maryland. Entitled “The Nuns’ Twenty-Third Psalm,” this variation on Scripture speaks to our need for provision, protection, and compassion from God in our work at The Next Door.

The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush.
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals;
He provides me with images of stillness, which restore my serenity.
He leads me in ways of efficiency through calmness of mind.
And His guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day,
I will not fret, for his presence is here.
His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in balance.
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity
By anointing my mind with His oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruit of my hours for
I shall walk in the place of my Lord and dwell in His House forever.

May you sense the loving presence of the Good Shepherd as you work this week.

Published on February 8, 2021

Monday Meditation: The Beatitudes

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

When Jesus sat down on a mountainside overlooking the Sea of Galilee to deliver what would come to be known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” I imagine that the women and men and children who gathered around him leaned forward, straining to hear his provocative words. The opening passage of this sermon is called “The Beatitudes” – a list of blessings. Jesus’ litany of those who are blessed is somewhat surprising. For example, how can those who are mourning be considered to be blessed? And yet, upon closer inspection, we can see a pattern in Jesus’ words.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)

The poor in spirit are those who have learned that they must rely on God in all circumstances. Those who mourn depend on God to sustain them as they move forward into a future without the companionship of their dearly departed ones. The meek are not people who are weak; they are those who approach God and others with humility. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness trust God to guide their lives, to direct their paths. Those who are merciful demonstrate Christ-like compassion for others. Those who are pure in heart manifest integrity – there is no differentiation between their public life and their private one. Those who are peacemakers desire to live in harmony with God and others. Those who are persecuted for doing what is right take comfort in knowing that they do not walk alone on the path of righteousness.

Do you see the connection – the thread running through all of the blessings? Jesus does not equate blessing with fame or fortune. Blessing flows from an individual’s intimate relationship with God, from an individual’s dependence on God.

Jesus’ words remind me to look for blessings in unexpected places, in unanticipated ways. May you experience the blessing of God this week

Monday Meditation: “The Hill We Climb”

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

I can’t get her words out of mind. Last Wednesday, 22-year-old Amanda Gorman burst into the world’s collective consciousness as she recited her poem “The Hill We Climb” on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Gorman began and ended her poem with references to light.

In the opening line of her poem, Gorman poses a timely question:

“When day comes we ask ourselves,

where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”

The word “dark” has been used repeatedly to use to describe the historical period in which we are living. Where can we find light in these dark days?

Amanda Gorman answers her own question in the closing lines of her poem:

“For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

 

Poet June Jordan would agree with Amanda Gorman. In her “Poem for South African Women,” Jordan declared: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

We are called to be the light. Jesus declared this in his Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Let your light shine, Jesus said. How do we do this? By remaining connected to One who is the source of all light. The psalmist wrote, “You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” (Psalm 18:28) We do not have to draw from our own limited resources to be light in the world; instead, we can allow the power of God to flow through us. With God’s help, we can illuminate the darkness. With God’s help, we can be light for women who are searching for a way out of the darkness where they have dwelled for far too long. With God’s help, we can be bearers of the light for one another on those dark days when we can’t see the way forward.

To be light in the world requires courage and connection. May Amanda Gorman’s words be true of us in our work on behalf of women and their families at The Next Door:

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true,
Even as we grieved, we grew,
Even as we hurt, we hoped,
Even as we tired, we tried.”

photo from politico.com

Published on January 25, 2021

When I Grow Up

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney   

During the pandemic, my extended family has gathered weekly via Zoom to stay in touch. With participants ranging in age from 7 months to 81 years, these experiences have been memorable and life-giving for us.

One feature of these virtual gatherings is a trivia game, and if a family member has a birthday coming up, then the trivia game focuses on them. One of the standard questions is: “When I was a child, what did I want to be when I grew up?” The answers have been enlightening and hilarious.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a reporter. I started my own newspaper in 6th grade; as I recall, the issues of this short-lived publication focused almost exclusively on the Cincinnati Reds. During junior high school, I considered becoming a meteorologist, primarily because I was a huge fan of Tom Siler the Weather Wizard on Channel 2.

Looking back, I can now see how my desire to become a reporter was rooted in my love of reading and writing, which eventually blossomed into a fondness for researching, teaching, and storytelling. When I responded to God’s prompting in my life to go to seminary, I was confident that writing and teaching would be a part of my calling. Although I was initially surprised while in seminary by my newfound love of preaching, I realize now that it was an outgrowth of my desire to share stories.

As I listen to the stories that the clients share at The Next Door in group settings and in one-on-one sessions, I am aware that none of them dreamed of becoming an addict when they grew up. None of them hoped to become homeless. No one set a goal to spend time in jail. None of them desired to have children and then lose them to state custody.

Even though their lives have not turned out the way they imagined, many of our clients cling to the hope that the future can be different. As they embrace a newfound faith in God or recommit their lives to following the God they first learned about as children, they are optimistic that new dreams are within reach. They sense that their lives are now on an upward trajectory. They are growing spiritually as healing takes place in their bodies, minds, and spirits.

At mid-life, I have been surprised to realize that I still don’t feel like a grown up. I am aware that I still have a lot of growing to do; I still have so much to learn. The faith in Christ that I embraced as a child has been transformed and deepened through the years. Like our clients, I am still growing up spiritually. God has given me new dreams, and I am grateful.

 

A prayer for spiritual growth: “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please God in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:9-14)

Spread the Word

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Luke 2:8-20)

The meal was memorable for a myriad of reasons. On the fifth anniversary of my ordination to the gospel ministry, I found myself in a place I had never dreamed I would visit. My traveling companions and I were seated on couches situated around low tables in a Bedouin-style tent decorated with ornate tapestries and rugs. Our table was laden with bowls of hummus, babaghanouj, tzatziki, and tabouli, baskets of freshly baked bread, plates of kebabs. As we feasted, the rabbi and pastor and I shared stories and laughed heartily.

What great joy I experienced during that remarkable meal in Beit Sahour, a village located on the road leading from the Shepherds’ Fields to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Throughout the meal, my gaze was repeatedly drawn to those pastoral fields ringed by mountains. What did those shepherds – who were simply going about their business, dutifully carrying out their nightly work of protecting their flocks – witness on the night of Jesus’ birth?

The angel of the Lord delivered a message to the shepherds that night that remains as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago.

Don’t be afraid.
I bring you good news.
A Savior has been born to you.

The shepherds’ response is noteworthy: Let us go and see for ourselves if this good news is true. After confirming the veracity of the angel’s report, the shepherds did what came naturally: They spread the word about the good news of Christ’s birth. They bore witness to God’s work in the world.

On Christmas Day in 2020 – this unforgettable year – the angel’s ancient message falls fresh on our ears again, offering us renewed hope, speaking peace into our weary souls, infusing our hearts with joy.

Don’t be afraid.
I bring you good news.
A Savior has been born to you.

God is still at work in our world. God continues to redeem us, revive us, restore us. Let us glorify and praise God for all the things we have heard and seen.

Published on December 25, 2020

Monday Meditation: Fourth Week of Advent

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

The week of Christmas has arrived. As the days of Advent dwindle, our thoughts turn to love – the final theological theme of this holy season of spiritual preparation. “Love” is a word we use frequently in conversation, but often in a way that diminishes its meaning. For instance, “I love ice cream!”

The love of God as described in Scripture is relational, self-sacrificing, and unconditional. The celebration of Christmas focuses on God’s expression of love for the world through Christ: “This is how God showed his love among us: God sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). Our spiritual preparation during this season of Advent has been preparing us to worship the newborn King, yet the baby cannot remain in the manger.

In his daily meditation yesterday, Father Richard Rohr reflected on God’s love as expressed through Christ:

“The celebration of Christmas is not merely a sentimental waiting for a baby to be born. It is much more an asking for history to be born! Creation groans in its birth pains, waiting for our participation with God in its renewal (see Romans 8:20–23). We do the Gospel no favor when we make Jesus, the Eternal Christ, into a perpetual baby, who asks little or no adult response from us. One even wonders what kind of mind would want to keep Jesus a baby. Maybe only one that is content with ‘baby Christianity.’

“Any spirituality that makes too much of the baby Jesus is perhaps not yet ready for ‘prime-time’ life. God clearly wants friends and partners to be images of divinity, if we are to believe the biblical texts. God, it seems, wants mature religion and a thoughtful, free response from us. God loves us in partnership, with mutual give and take, and we eventually become the God that we love.

Just as Mary pondered in her heart the meaning of Jesus’ birth, this week ponder what it means to be an image of divinity, a conduit of God’s love on earth.

Published on December 21, 2020

Monday Meditation: Third Week of Advent

– Written by Rev. Tambi Swiney

Yesterday morning, I lit the rose-colored candle in our Advent wreath as my husband and I worshiped via Zoom – the candle of joy. The third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday – the Latin word gaudete means “rejoice.” In many churches, these words from Philippians 4:4-6 were sung or read: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, yet only 10% of them receive treatment?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when drug overdoses in the U.S. continue to rise, having tripled over the past two decades?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when women in our community continue to be abused and trafficked?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice when people of color continue to suffer from the ongoing effects of generations of racism in this country?

Rejoice! How do we rejoice in the midst of a global pandemic as loved ones suffer and die?

Rejoicing is an act of defiance. Rejoicing is way of resisting the temptation to give into hopelessness. Rejoicing takes spiritual discipline.

The writer Alex Haley was known for saying, “Find the good and praise it.” Perhaps we could modify his words and say, “Look for where God is at work and praise God.” We must learn to pay attention – reasons to rejoice remain present in our work and in our world.

We can rejoice because women continue to come to TND seeking treatment for their addictions. We can rejoice because lives are being saved as God works through us. We can rejoice because women are safe in our care.

Despite the challenges of 2020, we can rejoice as we light the rose candle. Kate Bowler observes, “Though it seems that joy is in short supply and despair reigns supreme, this candle suggests that there is something more for which you were made. It is the oxygen that makes it possible for you to keep going.”

Restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12

Published on December 14, 2020