Wednesday, December 23, 2015

With a little help from my friends

And Family

And Faith

We are going through a very hard time.  Brian, Chuck's son, has been living with us for 5 months following a psychological breakdown in Chicago.  And everything has gone fairly well as we have become comfortable with each other's ways and grown into a family of 3.  Not always easy, but my sense was that we were a "womb" for Brian as he was getting counseling and other help to build a life here in Columbus.

This weekend he had another breakdown and as I write this he is in the hospital waiting for a bed in the Psyche ward.  And it has been challenging and very sad for all of us.  And we have no idea what is ahead.

I write this in gratitude for the blessing of all the ways in which Chuck and I have been supported.  This is what I am learning.

1. How important presence can be in a moment of trauma.  We had to call 911 and paradmedics on Sunday afternoon and both Kacey and Marnie (who was physically sick) came to us.  Marnie walked in and hugged Chuck and it got better for him.  And they listened to the police and paramedics and heard what I could not hear in the midst of everything that was going on. Kacey drove to the hospital just to be with us and it helped so much just to have her there.

2. The value of prayer.  I was so blessed on Monday to have scheduled a meeting with my spiritual director.  She always prays as we begin our time together.  As she spoke - not knowing any of what had happened - I felt a shift inside me as God became central in my focus and everything else just moved into place.  Yesterday I saw the Movie "Inside Out" and it was like all of the emotions lined up in a healthy way.  My morning prayers had my focus on "Immanuel"  God with us.  And always, just that thought can center me and bring peace.

3. The gift of counselors.  On Monday I spoke to my spiritual director, a psychiatrist in the hospital, and Brian's counselor here in Columbus.  All of them gave me needed information and comfort.  I am learning that there is so much I don't know.  Monday night Audrey came in from Tuscon and her experience as a chaplain has been invaluable.  God continues to give me the people that I need.

4. The treasure of friendships. Yesterday a good friend "happened" to call me about a church matter.  I had been sitting at lunch with the girls and feeling lost in my sadness.  I left the restaurant and talked to her about our situation and her compassionate and faithful  response lifted my spirits  noticeably.  I felt like a different person when I went back to the table.  I have emailed and texted friends throughout this time and received caring  emails and texts back.  Every time it just provides one more piece of support.

5. The reality of light in the darkness and joy in the sadness.  And right now the light and the joy is most evident in grandchildren.  Addie is sleeping in my family room as I write this and she just makes me happy as do all of these beautiful children.  We are laughing and waiting for Christmas at the same time we are crying and caring about Brian.

6. What it is like to live a day at a time.  Because we are.  I have no idea when Brian will get into the psyche unit, how long he will be there, and what is going to happen.  I am not even specualating about the future because I cannot imagine it.  What is it like to live a day at a time?  Actually, it is freeing.  Kind of surprising, really.

 But this is what is clear - God is here.  Immanuel.
Loving, supporting, guiding all of us.

And it is enough.  Actually it is more than enough.

So, keep us all in prayer. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Visitation

I spent some time last week praying with and reflecting about the visitation of Mary and Elizabeth.  It is found in the book of Luke:

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.1When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 
And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 
For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

It is a familiar and favorite text and I have used it over the years in preaching, retreats and writing to describe  "spiritual friendship." It is the picture of two women of different generations who are each expecting a baby that is surprising, unexpected and holy.   Their pregnancies set them apart from others and they find in each other not only companionship but affirmations of their own journeys.

It was in spiritual direction this past week week that I recognized the gift of so many "visitations" in my life.  Spiritual friends are so different from just friends or family members.  For example, last spring I saw a friend from North Carolina who stopped by for one night after visiting her dying mother in  Bowling Green. We spent a couple of hours in conversation about life and all that was happening in her mother's past year.   It was a rich conversation. .  And as she left I told her how much I appreciated her presence in my life as a "kindred spirit."  We may not see each other again for years, but I know we share a similar awareness about exploring the depths of life that means there is always a connection when we come back together again.

The women's retreat last Saturday was a similar sort of "visitation" for me as I gathered in a holy place with other women who valued the spiritual life.  And it is in community with each other that we know that we are each "giving birth" in some way that is mysterious and scary and awesome and real.
God is doing something new with us if only we would pay attention.

Two days ago I had lunch with an old friend from Bowling Green and again, the conversation went way beyond the cursory events of our lives into the wonderings of God's presence, love and work in every moment.  And she said  that so much of what we talked about other people in her life would not have understood.  It was a visitation for both of us.

And so, today I just feel blessed to find that at this time in my life I realize the gift of those who come to be my companions along the way.  What is interesting with Mary and Elizabeth is that it is a visit - for a short time - and then they leave each other to each give birth to their own baby and face their own future. 

I continue to be blessed with people who show up when I need them as "Kindred spirits."  We may not know each other's history, we may come from a very different background, or generation - but we share a faith in God and a trust in God's work in our lives.  And so we receive the gift for a day or a weekend of a "visitiation" that gives us strength and hope and peace to continue on our way.

May the BIRTHING God bless you.
May you find hope and promise in the pains of your labor
and may you know life ever new in each grace that comes to you.
May God be birthed in you with every prayer
and may compassion flower in your every relationship.
May the BIRTHING God be with you.
(Maxine Shonk)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Stubborn Hope and Unaccountable Faith

It is Sunday afternoon and I am still reflecting on the Advent retreat yesterday at Camp Christian.

This is the 12th Advent retreat I have led and the first one since I have been retired. With Marsha Mueller as the  craft queen, I planned a day of reflection on "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."
It is based on a poem by Longfellow written after the death of his wife and the wounding of his son during the Civil War.  It dips down into despair and doubt and the last verse is a word of hope and faith despite the events in the present.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep  The Wrong shall fail,  The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

And so, we pondered the darkness in which we all live - dark places of the world, of our own lives and within ourselves.  And then spent time "Listening"to God's word of hope.  In the afternoon I shared this reading by Jan Richardson:

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light
Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.
Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith
in stubborn hope
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.

I loved that we are people who - when we listen for God's word in some form or fashion or look for "God sightings" in our lives, we do experience God's hope in the midst of the hardest times. And we become "Bearers of the Light."  

For me the whole day was a blessing because of the women who were present.  There is no question that in this strange advent season, I am missing a faith community.  And for that day - when I gathered with 16 women who chose to spend time retreating from their "normal" life  - I was in the presence of "Light Bearers."  One of the most powerful parts of the day was when I gathered with three other women to share prayer needs and to lay hands on each other and pray.  I have missed this as well.  

At our retreats we always have a craft project and this time we made "Mandalas" with bells in them.  One of my favorite parts of the retreat is when we share what has "come up" in us from the day together.  It is always as varied as we are and reflects our different journeys.  This is mine - not artistic - but meaningful to me with pictures that resonate and words that speak to me during this time of my life.  What I now realize is that the bell fell off the middle - so that what remains is a cross. Anyway this is it:

Everyone also received a little bell and before we left,  I invited everyone to ring the  bell each day during the rest of Advent so that we might remember that God is here - as the light in the darkness and bringing pure love into this world. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Reflections on the Season

Not Christmas - but Advent

Advent is the season of preparation as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Jesus at Christmas.

This is a very very different Advent for me and I not feeling anchored at all.  This is my first Advent in over thirty years where I was not worshipping at a church on a regular basis and not participating in a daily Advent devotional.  The season began two weeks ago when I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and I was hardly aware that it was the first Sunday of this holy season.

In the past I prepared to prepare as pondered in advance themes for the season and the ways in which the congregation and I would not only worship but engage in acts of devotion and service.  This year - none of that.  It appears that we are half way through and I am just realizing it.

I am participating in an Ignatian "Retreat in Daily Life" which means daily prayer and weekly spiritual direction.  And we are now spending some time reflecting on some of the Advent scriptures and they are of course, very familiar but - as always - present opportunities for deeper engagement with God and the surprises that can come through prayer and meditation.

One text that is always pondered is Joseph's dream as recorded in Matthew.

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
   and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.

What strikes me again about this familiar story is how Joseph is faced with the "problem" of a pregnant Mary and comes to what is a compassionate plan to "dismiss her quietly."  And God intervenes through a dream. And his plans change.  What I see in this is how easily we settle for our plans and how God wants us to be part of a bigger story if only we will take a risk and follow the subtle guidance of a dream, or a whisper in the night, or a nudge in the daylight.

Yesterday my friend Cathy shared a poem by David Whyte that expresses this life of faith.  This is the beginning of it.

What to Remember When Waking --by David Whyte (Dec 30, 2013)
 In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake, 
coming back to this life from the other more secret,
 moveable and frighteningly honest world where everything began
, there is a small opening into the new day which closes the moment you begin your plans.

 What you can plan is too small for you to live. 
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
 To be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others. 
To remember the other world in this world is to live in your true inheritance. 
You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents you were invited from another and greater night than the one from which you have just emerged. 

My plans for this weekend are as follows - to spend time today with friends in ministry, to be with grandchildren, to lead a retreat, to go to a party and to church on Sunday.  Those are some of my plans.  My prayer is that God's plan is larger than mine and that I will be open to the leadings of Advent that are preparing me for the birth that is coming.

May it be so.