The Word of God

The Nicodemus Factor

Jesus sitting with Nicodemus at night

You know, it’s funny. This morning I received two strangely coincidental texts: one said that they could no longer speak to me for an indefinite amount of time, while the other was, “write the next post.” While I was stunned and hurt by the former, I knew I had to get started on the latter and so here it is. This post could be called the “Tale of Two Friends, “How to Deal with Remarkable Disappointment,” or “The Nicodemus Factor,” all of which should be made perfectly clear after about five minutes or so. Whichever the case, I’m not sure how to begin other than to say that my hunch is that there are many more people who have experienced what we are about to describe than first suspected, especially after having spoken with a few close friends before sitting down and pounding this out. For the sake of immense and hopeful clarity, the scenario is as follows: You are pacing through life at a nice clip and you think everything is going as well as expected when all of sudden your world falls apart. This could and does happen on several fronts, the first and perhaps most common is death, especially of someone who had the flexible challenge of keeping everyone together. I have seen this many times in not-so-successfully grieving families. Then there is the situation when someone gets fired from a company or workplace that may have taken on the semblance of an extended family or close community. Run-ins with the law, embarrassing divorces and horribly thriving gossip mongering tactics also create the scenario whereby, from one moment to the next, a human being becomes invisible. The phrase, “I don’t know you anymore” certainly comes to mind and with it, a previously undiscovered amount of pain and disappointment emerges. I guess we could also answer in the affirmative as to how this happens, but what about the “why?” And then of course, the “what now?” Let’s start with the how and what we shall call “The Nicodemus Factor.”

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin assembly who is particularly known for visiting Jesus at night. He couldn’t risk being seen with the Lord during the day because, well, he couldn’t be caught dead speaking with the “rabble-rouser.” Part of him really wanted to know and learn and actually spend time with someone he deeply admired but the pressure of public and private opinions came at too high a price that it was better to be covered safely by the dead of night than to be associated with such a man in bright sunlight. Time was to eventually change all this and bring both men in each other’s company in a most dramatic and memorable way. But what about all those friendships that we enter and leave with numbing regularity?

Here is where we might call, “The Tale of Two Friends,” or even better, a tale of two different kinds of friendships. I think that we live life quite unforgettably too often and perhaps over-depend on people in our lives for moral support, a few laughs here and there, and a shoulder to cry on. We better re-examine that quickly. The painful truth is that should we ever find ourselves in a precarious and dangerous position, not to mention an unpopular one and find that the people we most thought would be there, just might not be. The more I share these thoughts with others the more surprised I am. The more I discover how many “fair weather,” undependable, and fickle people we actually keep around us. Why should this hurt so much? I ask myself “why do I hurt so much?”

I believe it is because we all want and purposefully work for a happy, fulfilling life and we want and need good people in them to make this vision complete. I know I do. For me and those who will still talk to me, it is a genuine hunger and desire for God’s Kingdom which requires the right angle of perspectives to yield the right questions, then hopefully, the right answers. These are the results and conclusions that bring us peace to live in harmony with not just the world we can see, but truly in the mystical Kingdom of divine insights which has been purchased for us at such a high price. What does this mean in the here and now?

Expect rejection from the most unobvious and surprising of places. Jesus faced it and showed us how to sail right through it. He kept loving and serving. Don’t start licking silly, small wounds like these because this quickly becomes a habit and the wounds get bigger. Then we will really have problems. Express your disappointments to the ones you believe you can trust right here and right now. I am blessed with at least one voice in my life who has a knack of quickly summarizing key concepts in a small phrase and then puts music to it. Sound crazy? It is. The last approach is my favorite. Celebrate the people you love. Tell them how much they mean to you and recommit yourself to work hard at mending fences, asking forgiveness and praising God for the ones He has given you. You should also thank Him for the ones He exposed to you as unfriends, if that is actually a term today. I think it is.

In the end, you might discover, as Jesus did, that with all the thousands of people he taught and healed and fed, there was only a short-list, handful of folks left to help him die. Oh yes, and Nicodemus was one of them. Scripture reports that he was one of the ones who actually help take the body of Jesus off the cross. Not too concerned about who sees you there, were you Nicodemus? And that’s the solid point here. Love and friendship are such powerful gifts that there will no doubt be a cleansing and filtering at least a couple of times along the way. One of mine came this morning. Thank you, Jesus. Tonight, I will be reaching out to those who I hope are still there and I will praise God for them all. And remember, life isn’t quite over yet. You never know who might show up.

Leave a comment

Death, A Meal Best Served Live

Like any and most American families, in the given span of ten years or so you notice at least two things: you see less people at family gatherings and then you see more people at those same wonderful moments. The reason is simple. People die, people get married, and people are born. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well there’s a lot more to it. At a recent and quaint gathering of my cousins and me, all of whom have entered the 50+ Club, we spoke directly about this very observation and came up with an amazing idea. We decided that we’re going to create a generational cookbook of the best dishes new and old accompanied with stories and pictures that will bring all this to life. It sounds exciting especially to me who loves to eat. Everyone from each of the existing generations will contribute recipes, photos and lore which must all be shared while preparing and serving these dishes even for gatherings outside the family circle. And why not? Share the wealth! All this might sound like a lot of work producing an exponential amount of fun and family ties, but more importantly it’s absolutely necessary to understand death. By now you should be asking how does a cookbook help you understand death? Well, what stops when you die? Among many other things, you stop eating. But you don’t stop living. Because everyone who has lived and died is still alive, somewhere. And don’t we bring those people close to us again and again as we remember them?

Does this sound scary? Well it shouldn’t because all this brings us to a “trifecta” of annual and memory-making gems beginning with Halloween and concluding with Day of the Dead which in turn evolves into our social and spiritual cue to start our engines to enter the world of Thanksgiving and Christmas. When you get right down to it, it is all pretty exciting and marvelous in a way. Who doesn’t like to eat? But, on the other hand, who likes to say goodbye to loved ones who leave us in death? Whole new answers, right? Well, let’s take a look at this more carefully as we start by resurfacing our notion of the trifecta. We will continue with the assumption that all this life and death stuff, painful as it is for many of us to behold, less talk about it, is always a mystery that finds amazing expression when human beings express themselves with burning and sometimes inexplicable longing lodged deep within the human heart. We will speak here about the relationship between or among, Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day, otherwise known as Day of the Dead. They all are fundamentally linked and inseparable and have been at least since the seventh century. To be clear, we are going to have to start from the middle and work our way from there because this is the best way to approach this mystery.

Halloween, October 31

The night before on the Eve of All Hallows, similarly marks those who ascended to celestial heights but from a very different and evolving perspective. I don’t seem to grow weary of telling and re-telling my friends and newly arrived family members about how exciting Halloween was for me as a child. My costume? Why, Yogi Bear, of course!! “I’m smarter than the average bear!” Either I’ve lost you on that reference or you’re sitting there with a huge grin on your face. I know I am. Halloween like so many of our holidays were engineered precisely for children. Whether it was birthdays, St. Valentine’s Day, Christmas or today’s enormous expression of color and calories, we either enjoyed the day and loved the pageantry of it all, or we lived through our own children and innocent ones and still kept happiness alive if only in some small way. Everything great and good begins small and unassuming like the mustard seed. And like the famous woman with a few measures of flour, it all needs our constant attention. It is just like our faith which must lead us and sustain us into adulthood. Especially into adulthood. This is where we learn that the most frightening things in our lives are often not wearing costumes or doling out candy, but are true monsters, large and little, that can rob of us of happiness, if we allow. And among those fear-mongering creatures lurks the face of death, the quintessential “trick.” Jesus loved children and especially all the children still inside each and every one of us. Go on, smile on Halloween. Say a prayer and ask the Lord for all the treats that He has promised especially eternal life and for protection against the wicked tricks that lie in wait.

All Saints Day, November 1

Colorful burning candles during All Saints Day at the cemetery

All Saints Day in the Church’s calendar celebrates all those who have made it into heaven. In many ways we could say that this is our day, a day of hope and encouragement where we chance a glimpse of a glorified existence after the earthly battles of stress and worries and disappointment have all passed, laced with so many great and awesome momentous chapters that helped keep our focus on heaven such as the birth of children, outstanding resolutions and breathtaking surprises. It is on this day as well as on others that we hear from the last book of the Bible, Revelation. I can’t think of another sacred book more controversial than this one; also known as the “Apocalypse.” This fascinating and mysterious text, ever since it was written, has been the topic of countless theories, teachings, movements, books, commentaries, and more recently, films and multimedia television series, episodes and documentaries. Unfortunately, most of them have strayed from the Theological and Scriptural meaning of the intent of the Apostle John and have clearly done much more harm than good. Because of these wild theories, it seems as if every ten years or so, people have been trying to predict the end of the world every time a certain number lines up in a particular order or because of the discovery of some ingenious mathematical equation that spells horrible and imminent destruction. Remember the Year 2000 scare? Or do you recall the December 21, 2012 prediction based on some data from an ancient calendar chiseled on some huge stone that would run out of days on that date? People, just get a new rock! To concentrate on the cataclysmic end of the world on All Saints Day or December 31, or some other arbitrary day that was arrived with some clever mathematician wand of expertise is to lose sight of all these days. Today is about our life today, how we live it and where we all hope to go with all the ones we have ever loved with all our hearts and souls. As God’s children now and joyfully anticipating our own resurrection, we reasonably ask, “what do we do and how do we act?” Just as Moses in the Old Testament came down the mountain with the Law in the form of the Ten Commandments, Jesus walked up the mountain and fulfilled what the great lawgiver started and mapped out the way to survive “the time of great distress” for each and everyone of us. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, the meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted and insulted. The Beatitudes create the blueprint of living a beautiful, Christian life. These eight blessings are at the heart of Jesus’ preaching and respond to the natural desire that we all have for true and lasting happiness. This is how we become saints! The Beatitudes also proclaim the blessings and rewards that have already been secured for those who love Jesus. Just imagine, there’s a place in heaven for us and it has our name on it.

Day of The Dead November 2

Traditional Mexican Day of the Dead altar with sugar skulls and candles

Here is the final installment of our trifecta and no doubt the most difficult. It is the most challenging because we must at all costs avoid the extremes that many take with this episode. Either we under-state the effect that death has on us, thinking out of sight, out of mind, or we overdo it placing way too much attention on the dark, gloomy almost fatalistic view that although someone wonderful has died, everything has died including ourselves. All Souls Day is the moment when Jesus is literally taking our minds and hearts and gently walking with us to face our deepest and darkest fear, that of death itself, in very much the same way He did. In wonderfully typical Old Testament dramatic delivery, the Prophet Ezekiel begins the healing hope of this victory over death: “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” But for a time, a seemingly endless amount of time for some, there is a veil of sadness which must be faced and we do that with our prayers for the dead, visits to the cemetery, private and public Altars of Remembrance with pictures and yes, more predominantly lately, with feasts and festivals that celebrate with food and party the most frightening aspect of life itself. Sounds very much alive, doesn’t it?

Strange and wonderful we human beings, wouldn’t you say? What have we learned from our trifecta of days and dramatic moments? It looks like the three days of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls we have uncovered a pattern. What do we do with life?

  1. We get together
  2. We cook and eat together
  3. We remember together
  4. We laugh and cry together
  5. We repeat the cycle.

In the final analysis, Halloween, All Saints and Day of the Dead have everything to do with the living, family, eternity and memory. And when you think about it all those things have to do with the way each of us comes into this world, experiences love and acceptance and what truly brings us hope against all odds. And while we’re still on this planet, rituals and practices and yes, food not only nourish us but also bring us together for many significant moments that can never be repeated. Everyone who lives knows we’re going to die. Everyone who loves knows that we’re going to get hurt. And everyone who says goodbye knows we’re going to say hello again. So what we do in our own fashion as human beings is face whatever frightens us, symbolized at times with masks and crazy costumes, think and pray with all the holy ones whom we know have made it into heaven and then recall with unreserved and completely understandable and proportionate sadness all who have gone before us marked with sign of faith. This we do at times with smiles on our faces and yet tears in our eyes, to confront whatever scares us so we can keep going until there’s no more death, no more suffering and no more hunger. And that is why, my friends, death is a meal best served live because it simply has no more power over us.

Leave a comment