Category Archives: Lent
Years ago, when I was a graduate student doing time in the exercise science laboratory in the depths of the Smith Center at George Washington University, I committed a mistake that nearly turned disastrous.
My lab partner and I were learning how to operate the treadmill in accordance with an exercise stress test protocol. The test started with the treadmill at low speed, shallow incline and low physical demand and progressed gradually by steps to higher speeds, steeper inclines and maximum physical challenge. The test was finished when the participant asked to stop or until they could no longer keep up the pace. The highest level reached provided a measure of their maximal exercise capacity.
On this day, my brave lab partner chose to take the first turn on the treadmill while I, full of A student confidence, deftly operated the treadmill controls. She began walking very slowly on the level belt while I got the hang of adjusting speed and incline at regular intervals. Up she went in speed and incline, easily managing the changes in pace. After several minutes, she, being quite fit, had progressed to very high levels on the test, running at top speed at a steep incline, breathing heavily at a rapid heart rate. She was sweating and near exhaustion when she finally signaled she was ready to stop the test.
Seeing her signal, I did what was natural. Yep, I hit the STOP button. Do you know what happens when you hit the stop button on a treadmill when someone is running at full speed?
For some reason, this event has come alive in my mind in these days when the whole world has lurched to a sudden stop. The corona virus hit the stop button on the treadmill where the very fortunate were mid-run at a steep incline, and all the world has been launched into a free fall.
Now, in my days as a graduate student I was of course not alone in the exercise lab while performing this stress test. Rather, I was doing all this under the watchful eye of my exercise science professor, Dr Paup. He, reacting quickly to what he saw I was about to do, shouted, “Don’t stop the treadmill!” Hearing him and in sudden recognition of what I had just done, I did exactly what one should never do next… Yep, in reflex response, I hit the start button.
Fortunately for me, my lab partner was not only fit but also nimble. Somehow by throwing out her hands for balance, grabbing the handrails and lifting her weight from her now hopelessly entangled running sneakers, she escaped disaster and emerged from my total incompetence completely uninjured.
To this day, I have extra respect and harbor even a bit of trepidation with regard to the OFF button on a treadmill. Please, I beg you, press it only in an emergency and preferably not while someone is running. Isaac Newton was right when he told us that a thing in motion tends to remain in motion.
But please, and in fact this precaution is veritably screaming at me to announce in these days, if one makes the unfortunate mistake of hitting the STOP, which one may do when one is young and this experience is new, do not risk further injury by hitting the START to bring things back up to speed. While treadmills are designed to power down with a bit of grace, they don’t have a safety guard against the reflexive stupidity we are prone to when we go to correct our first error by committing another.
This stoppage time, unwelcome to us all, but especially to those who were just hitting their stride, has given us a marvelous opportunity to power down and assess the reasoning behind our activities and the potential recklessness of our protocols. Surely, it will be tempting and even reflexive to mash the start button to correct our error, but it’s better we didn’t.
What if, in this moment of profound pause and redemptive grace, we took stock of the value that’s been displayed so glowingly before us and decided to honor it by acknowledging its worth? How might that change our protocols?
My hair is long My nails unkempt My clothes askew My face unwashed Thus unadorned I go before my day. This day, as the last and the one before it and the one before that. How many more? I cannot say I have no say Lord, how long? Instead, You turn me to me And I dare to look; one me upon the other, at the we that is only me. And I am I, the one you love, have loved still love. Take me to then, that then when it was just you and I and I was perfect. My hair askew but you were all I knew. My skin aglow when you're all I know. Naked and fresh Unwashed and penniless. That beginning time when You were mine and I was thine. And everyday hence that You proposed I go; Including this day when wilderness itself greets me at my front door and I step willingly into it. I, Worn plain Yet Your love is the same. Perfect and perfecting still.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. ~ John 14:27
This devotional meditation was originally written in December of 2019 and published in the Devotions for Lent booklet created and distributed by The Church of the Good Shepherd UMC — before the world changed for us all. It appears as the reading for today (April 4, 2020). I pray the words may offer you a peace that passes all understanding in your time and place this day.
I’m well acquainted with sweeping things under the rug to “preserve the peace,” buttoning my lip in order not to “disrupt the peace” and occasionally inserting myself to “restore the peace,” but I confess that being asked to “pass the peace” during a church service leaves me somewhat uncomfortable. While others seem to revel in the greetings with warm handshakes and hugs, I suspect there is more to this than well-wishing and the opportunity to visit with those in the next pew or across the aisle.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. When Christ offered these words of comfort to his disciples he was preparing them for the days he knew lay ahead. We are heirs to this same peace, one that is both personal and relational, a shalom. Because the Light of Christ has come into the world we are invited to enact that peace, offering it to each other in an expression of warmth, comfort and welcome.
This is such a simple act, yet brimming with faithfulness and trust, because how well do I really know you? True, you are my pew-mate, my neighbor, my co-parishioner or perhaps my guest, but what about the politics you practice, the parenting style you’ve adopted and the lifestyle you lead? Whoa, what a risk Jesus took in leaving His peace with us!
I do not give to you as the world gives. This is not a worldly peace – nothing so temporary as a ceasefire or a cessation of hostilities, nor so transient as a handshake or a hug. The peace Christ gives is insurmountable and uncontainable, yet when I hold it in my hand it weighs nothing and means everything. It is the peace that settles on a prayer-filled room where everything is at stake but there is nothing left to be done. This peace passes all understanding, yet it extends tangibly and undeniably from hand to hand and heart to willing heart.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. As I extend my hand to offer the peace of the Living Christ to you, my friend, my neighbor, my companion on this journey of faith, may the weight of our world be lifted and the love of Christ take its place both within us and between us. For there is nothing in the universe as constant as the presence of Jesus who promised that “where two or three are gathered in my name I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Today: Consider these words of remarkable dialogue from the beautifully conceived play, Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson: “I choose to measure you in light.” If the hand we extend is filled with the peace of Christ, how now may we see the other by the Light of Christ? Blessed indeed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.