It is a blue sky day with warming temperatures at Covenant Living, in Golden Valley, Minnesota. It is the end of April, 2020. Soon the month of my birthday will be here. I will turn 91.
I'm alone in our small 800 square foot apartment. Molly is out and about, shopping to keep our quiet living going. A few things at Costco. Another stop or two on the way home. She left with her required mask on, to keep away the germs of the strange pandemic that has kept us all "locked down" as they can.
I've done my morning medical ablutions followed by multiple pills, and a sweet roll from my sweet wife, with a glass of juice.
I even remembered to tune in on our in-house TV station, the exercise and balance class Molly wanted me to try. Then I sat down to finish reading a Grisham novel, called The Last Juror. A horrendous murder mystery of intrigue, set in a small town of Mississippi; narrated by the voice of a 28-year-old young man who had become the owner and editor of the town's weekly newspaper.
The story didn't end as the reader was led to assume. I suppose it was the story of small town life, and the conclusions people draw.
But, it leaves me thinking of the realities and unrealities of our human lives. I have always loved being busy. I've made lists all my life and checked off the tiniest accomplishments of each day - never to be looked at again. I just like coming to day's end and thinking I'd accomplished something.
Molly gently reminds me, now in my nineties: "Arthur, you need to concentrate on BEING, rather than DOING." And I know she's right. For what I want to BE is a Jesus-follower. To truly look to Him. To try to live my life as He lived His. Meeting people in their need. Somehow responding to them. Listening to them. Helping them, by being with them. Using my last days on earth being with people who've become important to me. Dear to me. I should be loving them - faithfully. Jesus' wonderful last word to His closest friends: "I have a New Commandment for you. Love each other."
Such a simple thing. So deep, so important. It is what I really care about. I want to live that way.
Because that is the most real way to live. That leads us into the truest, most trusted, deepest reality - THE LIFE OF LOVE. Caring about each other.
Indirectly, I suppose our current pandemic is trying to teach us that. Live as if you want to keep others alive. Don't give them something you might have. Keep your distance. Serve the sick. Help your family by giving them space.
Upon reflection, I realize there are friends in my life who, knowing I'm under treatment for a blood disease, are wanting to be sure I know that I've meant something to them. The notes come. And that's the subject of what another life means. I try to respond in-kind. So they know there is a "tie that binds" us together.
We need to be bound to others. Even Jesus, after He was risen, put the deep question to Peter. "Peter, do you love me?"
The deepest and dearest things in life are invisible ties. In that sense the truest realities are unseen bonds. So precious. So powerful.
Between Jesus and us. And between us all in the church, the "body" of Christ on earth. Oh, blessed tie!
Love you all,
Today was the day for a re-check on the pacemaker that has served me so well for a handful of years.
When the Heart Clinic people called back after the monitoring was complete, they said, "Everything is great. And your pacemaker still has a year and a half left on it!"
Of course, I'm glad it is still working. But the news of a limited time left on the machine that helps to keep me going, triggered a curious train of thought in my head. "A year and a half is not forever." They imply that that battery can be replaced.
In life we are often given to the true reflection on life in this world, and say, "Well, you never know." As Christians, we know that somebody knows. God knows. Scripture reminds us that God knows everything about us. In fact, before we were born He knew then, and also now, the number of my days. He has a day to take us home. All part of the loving plan He has for my life. He knew it all, before it ever happened. He knew every move, every feature of the high adventure that would be my life. He knew all it would take to make me ready for the home-going He has prepared. A going home to be with Jesus - Who has already promised His friends that He would be coming back to take us home so we could be with Him there - in the "mansions of heaven" that were being made ready.
So, who am I to worry about when that would happen? After all, what wonderful years of life He has given me here. What a partner for life! What children to be our own dear ones! John, and Kristen, Tamsie and Lizzie. And Andrew. But then Vi, added later, from Vietnam. Six wonderful young people.
And their children. Beautiful young people. All of them bound by love to each other. And beyond them, an ever widening "band of brothers" and sisters. Friends to Molly and me by cords of love.
And how far those "ties that bind" reach. Across town. Across America. Across experiences. Across countries. They are in Kenya, in West Pokot. In Uganda. In Tanzania. In Ethiopia and Tanzania. In South Africa and LeSotho. In Guatemala and Peru. It seems never to end. Dear and beloved friends. The precious people.
We'll see them all. There, in the great reunion place. And, of course parents, and siblings. It just doesn't end.
People, after all, are the greatest treasure given us. Crowned by the One Greatest Person of all, Jesus the Lord. What could you have more in life than that?
And every one of us has that treasure of precious people. I need to be glad for that time coming. And for the Great Reunion on "heaven's side."
I pray God will help me to think about Him, and all those He's given me. To think about seeing them - in that precious fellowship.
Maybe we can help each other in those anticipations. To be glad for the gift of people, and of time together - here, in these expectant days. And there, in the exciting, wondrous days to come.
Away with limitations! And up with expanding, deepening, enriching together times, with the vast company God has already given us.
Bless you all - the dear people now, and then. Forever.
No matter what is going on in our coronavirus world, Molly and I find particular blessings in our being "confined to quarters" here in "Covenant Living."
When our ministry friends, Roger and Dottie Anderson, were persuading us to come to this Covenant Church facility in Golden Valley, Roger wrote a long letter about steps we should take. "You will want to be in the courtyard," he wrote.
They were on the sixth floor and we fortunately found an apartment (800 sq ft) on the second floor, also looking down into the courtyard. While dear Roger crossed over a couple of years ago, and Dottie had followed him to Presbyterian Homes in Bloomington, and still lives there, we have learned to be grateful for their good advice.
We are on the east side of the circular courtyard, facing west, with lovely afternoon sun. Morning, these days, comes early into "dawn's early light" hitting the apartments opposite us.
We take our lunch in a little window alcove where the quiet courtyard below us welcomes, day by day, a little more of springtime. Yesterday, we watched one of our good Ethiopian groundskeepers laying out the hose and starting the sprinkler systems. Today the small pond basin is half full. Not only that, but the tree below our window is already pushing out the buds of tiny green leaves. It will soon blossom into a lovely flowering tree. Each day has a little bit of progress.
It is God's work and we marvel at the wonder of it. In fact, it is a sweet, eternal reminder of Who really is in charge of our world, and of us. It is God's world. And His trees WILL FLOWER!
And so will we! Our masks are temporary. The threat of virus is not forever. The very earth encourages us.
We can't help but remember God's hands that hold us, and His intentions that were already planned for our lives. And He will make us ready when He comes.
That eternal truth makes all the difference as we live out these waiting days, praying for release into life. The garden helps us to remember to think about the good things, the God things.
Bless you as you too, watch the spring coming, and rejoice in the wonder of it as it comes. The Risen Christ is behind it all.
Love to you.
At our third beloved early morning, Lenten Bible Study, we made together, a difficult decision, to "postpone" for a season of weeks, our last three Lenten mornings together, to another season of the Church's year-the spring season of Pentecost. It is the season of living out the Church's life after the transformation of Jesus' life from death on the cross to the New Life of Resurrection. We go from utter sorrow, to the joyous shouts of "He lives! The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed!"
In wonder, the Church explodes. Three thousand new people are added to the Church. It is the season of Pentecostal Power, where Jesus says, "Go into all the world, preaching and healing. But, don't go, until you have received POWER FROM ON HIGH!" In other words, don't go until you have secured power to do the work."
Our fellowship group of such love we cherish, will move to the last three Thursday mornings of the Pentecost Season, mid-May to nearly Pentecost Sunday, May 31st.
We do it to give our groping, grappling, Pandemic season a chance to heal as it finds ways to protect our people, our churches, our homes, our families, our "nativeland," our own "nearest and dearest," praying God's hand upon us all - even, down to the always miraculous coming of spring, so that we can come together without fear, in the spring of the year, having learned much, and come close together with the same dear fellowship God has given us in the heart of Lent.
I'll so miss my seeking, believing family of Christian pals that have become so dear to me.
In the meantime, things have come to me today that remind me of the fears of the world learning to hug, to show love by coming close, by showing love through holding those dear, through not being afraid to touch.
I've thought of an old song, "you only hurt the ones you love, the ones you didn't mean to hurt at all," -- the inadvertent ways we've shielded ourselves, shunned others - even dear ones - showing our grudge, the cold withdrawal of our heart. Not ever pretty.
Instead, we can practice love by sight; letting our eyes meet others. By smiling often, by waving. And other signs and gestures. By talking, by acknowledging other people's presence. By being present, ourselves. Jesus, after all, was "THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD" and reminded us that we, having Him in us, are to be the same like Him, Light in the world.
And, what an opportunity to pray for each other! And even write to each other. Speaking words of love.
We don't need to say, "Don't touch me," but rather "I love you." Christians all, let's try!
The long and quiet days of sheltering at home are a good thing. They offer a time to think: about life, about what's important, about who we want to be, about what we stand for, about what we want to dwell on, about what's good for us - and what's not.
I've read a number of western stories, about open plains of the great Southwest, about mountain ranges, and great rivers, about ranches, and towns of the West. About life on horseback. And eventually about sheriffs and U.S. Marshals, and outlaws and robbers.
Many lives stretch back into the Civil War and the years just after.
We'd like to think they are somehow pure and undefiled. But, as I read on, I find the language is foul, the relationships are indecent, and sex and murder move to the forefront together. And, though plots are intriguing, they fall too often to the dark side. And they drag me with them.
St. Paul, in the Scriptures, calls upon his followers in the emerging Christian churches, to think on "whatever is good and of good report." Think, on "the good things - the kind and decent, and uplifting things." To the Philippians, he writes, "Finally beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, THINK ABOUT THOSE THINGS. (Philippians 4:8)
As we listen, interminably in these days of the coronavirus and fill our minds with the dark and fearful things around us, we find we become dark and fearful. But God has good things for us to think about. Things that lift us up, that give us the long view, that fill us with hope, and help us do the things of helpfulness, and hopefulness, and kindness.
These are good days to practice goodness. Good days to let joy into our hearts. Good days to become encouragers of others. Good days to shine light, and make the world better.
Jesus, the Light of the world, fills us with light, and through us fills the world with light.
Let us be God's springtime light in this spring and in summer days ahead and have a sense for what our minds drink in and dwell upon.
Be people of the light, friends, in these days that would be dark, but don't need to be. Yay!
Love to you.
It was good day for sleeping in, and I did. Finally up, I dressed and went through my five-year routine to shake my chest, and breathe in two misty medicines in succession.
I connect the two hoses of the air-pumping machine, don the vest that will fill with air, shaking my lungs to loosen phlegm caught in the bronchial tubes, turning on the second machine that dear Molly has prepared with a medicine of whose mist I breathe in for 15 minutes. Then change to other medication that does other good things for my lungs.
Then, the pills - taking two pages to list them. While not pronounceable, I know the size and color and power.
Before long, the morning is nearly over and Molly calls me to lunch in our little alcove that looks down into the lovely courtyard, with its greens and trees, pond and ducks.
I read a little, till I realize I'm dozing - despite my morning "late lie," and decide to stretch out under my corduroy jacket next to Molly whose book has closed, and her eyes too.
Soon, she's waking me for a walk. We head out the front door of Covenant Living, our Senior Home in Golden Valley, where I make it to the first resting bench.
While we all wear masks and walk rather deliberately, we are not alone on this lovely campus. There's a little old woman in hat and windbreaker, striding along the sidewalk with walking sticks in each hand, keeping her balance, and keeping her moving.
On our own greenway were a midlife couple ensconced in lawn chairs, chatting with a gentleman opposite them, who looked to be her father.
We waved and greeted, acknowledging that behind our masks we all felt like bandits, out to rob a bank.
Molly and I walked along, and sat again, twenty feet from a newer couple at Covenant Living, sitting on a bench, talking with two young women, both in shorts, and obviously ready for summer, who were standing and shifting from foot to foot. My guess was it was the elder couple's grown daughter, and her daughter.
I wanted to acknowledge the young women's summer attire by singing to them,
"Summer time! And, the livin' is easy.
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high.
Oh, your daddy's rich, and your ma is good-lookin'.
So, hush, little baby, don't you cry."
Of course, I refrained. But, it was that kind of day: warm, soft winds blowing, afternoon sun shining, with those who could, out for a walk - or just a sit - in the sun.
Some trees had buds already: green leaves, tiny and making their first appearances. For sure it was spring - no doubt about it, this 25th of April.
And yet, the masks, the six feet of separation, all of us aware that something had invaded our spring. Something unseen. A "Pandemic," of all things.
Leaders were telling us to "stay home," "care for each other," "it's what's needed, and this too, shall pass." What we really know, is that God knows all about it. No mystery to Him. And He tells us, "Be not afraid." We are in His hands, It will be all right.
The great thing is to not fear. It is to pray. To help each other. We will be free again. And, we will learn important things. We'll be better people.
I miss church, the Christian community. I long for the lake, the Ossipee I love. And before then, my wonderful Bible Study group, who've agreed to gather, in the season of Pentecost, the time of the Spirit, and the power.
And you, friend, are you - as we say - "Okay?" Seek Jesus. Take His hand. He'll show the way.
Love to you.
At last, it came. Easter morning. I was up often through the night, watching the clock, and frankly, dreaming of THE DAY - THE GREAT DAY of Christian history. The day of which we can be sure, of God lifting up His Son, in new life. Through all the dark day of Good Friday out on Calvary's Hill, with pounding nails, and taunting voices, and blood and tears, and even the agonizing cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" There was the hymn's great assurances, that "Standeth God within the shadows, keeping watch about His own."
Never forsaken. The Father ever on watch, guarding His Son. And guarding us. Keeping His promise, through the Son" "In my Father's home are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I prepare a place for you, I will come again, and take you to myself, that you can be with Me always."
The Risen Lord, not defeated by Death, but rather, its conqueror, bursting the tomb, leaving grave-clothes behind, coming out into the dawn of that First Day of the Week, ALIVE, in a new way, appearing to Mary, then to the huddled disciples, and to Cleopas out on the road to Emmaus.
Like the famous story in Scotland, that Molly and I heard when we studied there, of the great preacher, R. W. Dale, of Carr's Lane Church, Birmingham, writing his parish sermon alone in his study, and suddenly leaping up, pounding the table, and fairly shouting to the empty room: "Why! It's true! It's true!"
IT IS TRUE. History: greatest miracle: Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, returning to His own, to the world He came to save, by the power of God's love for His own. What a wonder.
Finally, about Sunrise Service time, I hit the floor, made it to the bathroom. Shaved. No whiskers today. Found a clean white shirt for Easter. Extracted one of my loud, flowered ties for the day. Donned my pants. And, made it into this day, the wonderful day. Feeling the great assurance, not even wondering how long I have to live, but ready to take the days as they come, glad for every one.
Joel Osteen, our first TV preacher of the day, in his great assurances, reminded me "God knew the length of your days before you were born. Your days were planned long ago. Stop worrying." REJOICE! Oh, Yay!
There followed Wooddale Church's service on our in-house TV. Later, Salem Covenant's service. Snatches of the great music of the day. And, of all things, testimonies on the networks, of Whose day it is, and daring to say "JESUS" without fear. Progress!
Molly provided her wonderful eggs and bacon Sunday brunch, which we ate while watching the whirling snow outside our window. Then Sunday rest.
A highlight was Kristen, Bruce and Billy coming by with pie from Kiki's kitchen and a conversation - by cell phone - through the glass of the front door. They were replete with smiles and future hope for better, wiser life from all God is teaching us through these pandemic days.
We'll watch another TV service or two, eat our pie, and go to our bed restored, encouraged, and filled with fresh hope, praising God for the wonder of what this day means.
So, the "Day of Resurrection" comes, and the 2,000 years between seem as nothing, and we are living in the truth of it again, and feeling the VICTORY all about us.
Our very missing of the "beloved community" reminds us how important the Church is, as THE BODY OF CHRIST ON EARTH, filled with Jesus as His people live out the high calling, daring to go into the world, full of the Spirit, bearing NEWS that is very life and hope to the world around us.
May we dare to say it, and live it boldly, in the wonderful days in store for us ahead.
Love you so much.
Saturday. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin, but a secret follower of Jesus, asks permission of Pilate to take down the body of Jesus from the Cross and bury Him in his own tomb.
Nicodemus, also a secret follower - the "one who came to Jesus by night" - comes to help him.
They found a never-used tomb nearby at Golgotha, dressed Jesus' body with 100 pounds of spice he had brought and wrapped His body and laid it in that never-used tomb and rolled a boulder across the doorway to seal it. Soldiers were posted to guard the tomb, lest anyone spirit the body away. And so they waited. And we wait.
Darkness covered the land when Jesus died. The earth quaked. And "the veil of the temple was rent in two, from the top to the bottom - ending the exclusion of the Holy of Holies forever.
Heaven and earth seemed to cry out at Jesus' death. History, itself, had been torn apart. The world waited, and somehow, each Easter Saturday, when it comes around, we too wait.
This year, at noon, with the help of technology, our church prayed by phone, together. Molly and I, being technologically inept, just waited, and wondered.
I wanted to be doing something, but seemed to just drift through that time. How I wish I could have gathered close, with the believers. I could have sung hymns, but didn't. I wanted to pray, but that was halting and somehow incomplete.
The television had temporarily forgotten about Jesus. The conversation had reverted to the heath crisis that was keeping us all homebound and wondering how long our lives would be stopped. Nothing seemed to connect. Just wait. Wonder. Think about Christ our Lord. About His death, and what it meant.
I wanted myself to be on guard. To keep watch. To wait out the long hours. To be faithful in my waiting. To somehow grow. To be ready for what will come. For the Great Day, the New Day, the Resurrection Day when we know again for sure, that "He lives. He is risen. He is with us." That great assurance on which our lives depend.
I will read the story again. I will remember the encounters of a lifetime that have shown me Christ is alive, and assured me that I have never walked alone. And that now, near the end of my own life, I do not walk alone, either. He promised to come and get me so I would be with Him. Forever.
I pray to be made ready for that. To be ready for a new life, eternal life. So much to think about. To prepare for. To expect. To HOPE. Help my thinking and praying toward all of that, O Lord.
It's been hard to live through Good Friday without church. It's been hard to live the disciplines of Good Friday: to go to the Praetorium where Pontius Pilate sat in judgment, and hostile Jewish church leaders came to him demanding death - the cruelest death the Roman Empire knew, of crucifixion. For weeks and months Priests and Pharisees had been searching for ways to kill God's Son - the very promised Messiah who was the hope of Israel.
Pride and law blinded them to Who He was. They couldn't stand to hear the truth from Jesus Himself or from the multitude of His followers. The church leaders demanded Jesus' death for blasphemy. "He calls Himself God's Son." That was enough. But Pilate, the Roman ruler in Israel, said that wasn't enough. He questioned Jesus. "Are you a king then?" "You say so," Jesus answered.
"I find no cause to crucify Him for you," Pilate said. But their demands rose until Pilate literally "washed his hands," symbolizing his own innocence. "You take Him then." But on the cross Pilate put a sign in three languages: "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
And the nails were driven, and the cross raised, and the torture began.
I read the passage through from John's Gospel. It included three of the "Seven Last Words of Christ" - "Woman, here is your son," His word to His mother, giving her to John the beloved disciple. Then "I am thirsty," and the sour wine given Him. And finally, "It is finished." - The work is done. My purpose fulfilled. And Jesus breathed His last.
It was hard to concentrate on all that. To be there in my heart, seeing, and listening, and feeling the horror of it all - this greatest criminal act in all of history - while knowing Jesus gave His life willingly, His own sacrifice - God's way of coming to earth to finally pour out His love for that broken world. In Jesus.
Strange is the way, right now, we are in isolation, staying away from each other, as our act of love by not passing on the possibility of the coronavirus to our loved ones - or any other human being around us.
It seems backward, but we are trying to do it together - with our churches still proclaiming, "We are the church." Hard work. To do it all. To remember so much. To imagine again, all these 2,020 years later, that awful and wonderful "week that was" and try to be with Jesus, in that place and time, and go through it with Him - ourselves alone - with Jesus so alone.
I am missing the beloved community - the precious company of the church, that means so much to me, and whom I miss so deeply today.
Actually, I miss our own Christian ministry, the company that gathered all those years on this day, to sit through those same three hours Jesus hung on the cross, and listen to the Last Words He spoke.
And, as a minister, to proclaim each year one of those Words, after quoting the scriptures and hearing the great music of the hymn sung, and then lift up the deep meanings of the mighty words for the congregation - from the churches of our community - so that they might be there, too, with Jesus.
Such a deep time for each of the ministers. Each one was lifting up out of him or herself to speak a word given from above. And people sensed that, and were moved by that. It was the heart of Good Friday for us.
I miss the ministers. I miss the people. The dear and beautiful friends, who came year after year to experience that time of the spirit together, at the foot of the cross.
I don't know how Easter will be, how the Glory will come, but, in my soul, I long for the people to be there, with me - and each other - as witnesses and receivers of that holy experience.
I go - to be unfulfilled, and yet fulfilled in a different way, which I must think and pray about.
This weekend is the time for that. I pray it may have become that for you too, as we all tried to do Good Friday, faithfully - so hard and yet so high, and full of hope.
Bless you all, my journey friends.
I'm home - so glad, after my 12 days in isolation. Molly watches over me, and helps me be better.
And, little notes and long letters come, helping me be together with friends on the journey who are dear to me. They tell me where their hearts are, and about their prayers. What an honor.
They are words on paper in their own "hand." So many of them so distinctive. The words come from deep places. Out of shared memories -- some from very long ago. Memories that have been treasured, and are now offered to me, as something precious that they want me to know.
They are a kind of sacred exchange. Sometimes they tell me mine to them have been long saved. I too, try to hold on to theirs, to read and re-read. They are among the most treasured things I possess.
In some ways these exchanges of notes and letters have come into a new day among people who care about each other. We are, for now, a slow-down society. We look at each other in new ways. Many of us cannot even see each other for now. So faces come from those words on paper. We find new - though very old - ways of appreciating each other, and communicating. And letters, so old-fashioned, have a new importance.
We can hold them in our hands. We can see in our hearts the faces behind the handwriting. We're more ready to take time for that. These "things" we hold, paper with handwriting on it, have a new value, in this new day.
Perhaps we're learning something important, we could continue in the post-pandemic that will follow this strange transitional time. Maybe we will write more, in the future. Maybe we will remember more, and reflect more, and value more.
And so, we may find ourselves better, richer, deeper, renewed people - better for all we're going through.
A great joy in life is remembering people. Is giving thanks for them, thanking God for them. Good habits for us human beings. A lesson the Lord is teaching us.
So, God love you. He does, dearly and deeply. As His children, we are the beloved. Be glad.
Love you all.
Your friend, Arthur
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES