Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"I Thank you God for this most amazing day......

for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."   - e.e. cummings

Today began as a very rainy day.  And it took me a long time to really get going because of it.  We scheduled a trip to the zoo to remember Lisa Baluk and the last thing I wanted to do was drive in the rain, walk in the rain, stand in the rain. 

Remembering Lisa is blessing as she was a blessing.  A beautiful young woman who died five years ago, it has become a tradition to go to the zoo on her birthday in memory of her.  I was her pastor and every year would prepare a reading  as friends and family gathered at "Lisa's bench" to   bear witness to her life.  This year her parents were away and I am no longer the pastor.  But I still think of her and miss her and so as Kim arranged lunch and a trip to the zoo I brought my umbrella and joined the others.

And something happened during lunch - the rain stopped.  And as we drove to the zoo the sun came out and we stood there together under a bright February sun and very blue skies.  It seemed like a YES from God for this opportunity to come together and once again remember her.

  We who gathered included four of us who were part of the reiki team that laid hands and prayed over her frail body during the three years that she lived with cancer.  We exchanged emails and were recipients of her "inspiration quotes" and her stories about God's little miracles in nature.

A year before she died, she spoke to the church about her journey with the swans.  She called it "A Tale of Healing, Love, Devotion and Being Touched by Amazing Grace."  She helped all of us to pay attention and see the signs of God as we each live our own lives.  Today Kim gave each of us copies of that talk which included these sentences:
"I encourage others to look both within and without, on a daily and moment-by-moment basis, surrendering to God and the Holy Spirit.  Inspiration is all around us and within us."

And I felt inspired again by Lisa today.  Inspired by the way a young person who has physically left this world, can continue to be guide us ; . Inspired by friends who gather together on a yearly basis to remember her;   Inspired by the way the rain stops for a moment and the sun shines and we can see again God's love in the midst of everything.

I felt such peace today - this most amazing day - as we read this together

Become totally empty.
Let your heart be at peace
Amidst the rush of worldly comings and goings,
observe how endings become beginnings.
Things flourish,each by each,
only to return to the source...
to what is and what is to be.
To return to the root is to find peace.
To find peace is to find one's destiny.
To fulfill one's destiny is to be constant.
To know the constant is called insight.
Not knowing this cycle
leads to eternal disaster.
Knowing the constant gives perspective.
This perspective is impartial.
Impartiality is the highest nobility;
the highest nobility is Divine.
Being Divine, you will be at one with the Tao.
Being at one with the Toa is eternal.
This way is everlasting,
not endangered by physical death.

Living the Wisdom of the Tao--16th verse Dr Wayne W . Dyer

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Guest Preacher

For the last few months this has become my part time job in retirement or maybe my hobby.  

 I am finding enjoyment and meaning and satisfaction in spending my Sunday mornings driving to churches  all over Ohio and “filling the pulpit.”  I am becoming a professional “Guest Preacher.”

Today I went to a small church in northwest Ohio where about 50 people gathered to worship.  I had been notified by one of the elders of the church six weeks ago, but had no contact with anyone from the church since.  I hoped that they knew I was coming.  The church was in a town so small there are no  stop lights  and as we entered you could not miss the  impressive neon sign  blinking in red lights: Guest Speaker: Margo Connor. (forgot the T)    I was expected!

When I got there the song leader explained the order of service and   I was to do the pastoral prayer, preach, words of institution at communion and benediction.  Seemed pretty straightforward.   It was only in the middle of the service as I stood at the pulpit  to preach that I noticed several  people mouthing  “children’s sermon” and then  she said: "oops! we forgot to put it in the bulletin."   My first panicked  thought was – am I supposed to do it?  But no, a vivacious blond talked to the children about not being afraid to try something new and that God is always with you.  Then she took a break to get something and brought out a pet Chihuahua named TACO.  I didn’t quite see how it fit her message, but clearly it was a hit with the crowd and a tough act to follow.
One of the blessings/challenges of being the guest preacher is my husband.  He really enjoys the drives to get to these churches and find it relaxing to spend the time together.  As a former pastor’s spouse he really  misses hugging “the old ladies” at church and I have to keep an eye on him to make sure he is not violating anybody’s boundaries!  

The other challenge is that he is very hard of hearing.  When we get to the church, the first question is about their sound system and frequently the answer for the deaf is “sit up front.” That is always a disappointment since these small churches are invariably full of older people. 

I come to them as Guest Preacher.  The guest part means that I am invariably welcomed by everyone who assures me that they are so happy that I am there.  The guest part also means that I am aware of  things you might miss when you are part of the church family.  I see that the d├ęcor has probably not been changed in 30 years, I smell the  moldy smell, I notice that nobody salted the walkway on a snowy day. I sense that this sanctuary that once may have been beautiful now seems quaint, musty and maybe a little sad.

And the Preacher part means that I bring the Gospel – the good news of God who never stops loving, growing, using, guiding, creating us.  A message that I believe in and live by.  After I preach we have communion and in that act and within the context of these welcoming loving people, I invariably experience the presence of God and a sense of peace.

Being a Guest Preacher is an intriguing role.  There are moments in worship that are quirky and sometimes goofy and then there are moments of awe and inspiration.  These churches are small and often the conversation around them is about “how long” they can keep going.  They are supposedly dying.  And maybe they are. But I am not their pastor helping them to discern their vision and their future.  I don’t have to go to the Property or Stewardship or Christian education meetings or work with the Elders.  

I am the Guest Preacher  and I get to be with these faithful people as they continue to gather, to pray, to care about each other, to worship God. And wonder where God is leading them now.  And for this Sunday – that seems to me to be enough.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


With the Bible texts of this week.

I had this plan during Lent to write every day about something I was pondering within the lectionary texts of the day.  And I have found that they are just not really speaking to me.

Psalm 17 is the Psalm of the week and it gets on my last nerve.  It starts like this:
Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me,
you will find no wickedness in me;
my mouth does not transgress.

I find this does not relate  at all to me - as person who does not have "lips free from deceit" and "no wickedness" and whose mouth does "transgress" at times.   And the implication is that God attends to us when we are our best selves.  Like I said the whole thing frustrates me.

So I will look at the other two texts today about Job's distress and Jesus ' arrest and betrayal which are about unjust suffering. . So maybe that is where I can find a little something to chew on.  Actually, as I write this - that may be exactly where God wants me to spend time.

What I keep coming up against on this journey with Jesus is the way our faith will lead us to experience a broken heart.  Not for ourselves but for others.   The situation in Syria is so tragic that it is beyond words.  It is unimaginable to me who lives in the freedom of this country and in a home that I love with family around me - to consider what these people have had to endure in order to find safety.  That is just one example.  There are so many others that are close to home and put me in touch with the helplessness we feel when people that we love are struggling with cancer or mental illness or other hard issues.  And then there are the unseen forces that work against the abundant life - a culture that promotes greed and competition, the way we divide, dehumanize  and judge each other  based on race, religion, education, gender, etc. It  brings us  to a place of righteous anger but also just a broken heart. 

I have been dipping in and out of Richard Rohr's book What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self. One of the pathways is suffering and pain.  He writes:

  • Only suffering and prayer are strong enough to decentralize both the ego and the superego.
  • It is the things that you cannot do anything about and the things that you cannot do anything with that do something with you.
My experience is that the "something" that it does with me is bring me to my knees as I feel helpless. .Often all we can do is witness the pain and suffering and pray, pray, pray. . I continue to trust that if there is a leading for me to act on behalf of others, God will show me the way.

And of course, at the same time there is the joy of life and the work of God  that is unmistakeable when I open my eyes and look around.   I was listening this morning to a talk by Dallas Willard about "seeking first the kingdom of God" and he said that we seek the kingdom as we look for God's presence and work in it.(Looking, he says, like when we are looking for lost keys!)

As I write this, I hear my dog Ginger barking at the squirrels and the birds in our yard.  She spends her day (besides sleeping) actively watching with diligence and attention for their presence in our (her) space..

 Seeking the Kingdom may mean that I live with that kind of attention to looking for God's activity in  life.  Richard Rohr writes: "God seems to be both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in all things."

Maybe the frustration with my own imperfect self  and  heartbreak over the suffering of others  will be balanced by renewed awareness of God's presence in the present.  I hope so.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Healing a Broken Heart

I have tried a new form of healing which may be unique.  I call it “Adele Therapy.” 
Two weeks ago, I felt a distinct urge to do something I have not done in over 20 years – buy a CD.   I purchased 25, Adele’s latest album and allowed the words, the songs, and the rhythms to just seep  through me.  I play it loudly over and over again as I drive around town in my Kia Soul.

 Entertainment Tonight described this album  as being “built over minor-key melancholy, stylistic flourishes and simplicity.”  What I find is that the combination of images, sounds, and voice resonate in the deepest part of me and take me to feelings I cannot fully describe, but I can experience.
“When We were Young” and “A Million Years Ago” touch on the  journey into adulthood and the sadness  that  is part of it. These are the  lines that speak to me
I know I'm not the only one
Who regrets the things they've done
Sometimes I just feel it's only me
Who can't stand the reflection that they see
I wish I could live a little more
Look up to the sky, not just the floor

I feel like my life is flashing by
And all I can do is watch and cry
I miss the air, I miss my friends
I miss my mother; I miss it when
Life was a party to be thrown
But that was a million years ago

When I hear this sung, memories and emotions of grief and regret I have buried in the busyness of living today are released.  Adele is my  spiritual companion naming experiences and thoughts and feelings that are within me. (It is hard to believe that she is only 25!)

There are many songs about love and the ballad “All I Ask” is about the final night with a lover.  I think about the way  relationships in my life have ended over the years and how we always wish that they can “end clean” and so often they don’t .  And then that haunting question – “What if I never love again?”
But the song that brought me to the album was “Hello.”
Hello from the other side, hello from the outside.
  Hello, it's me, I was wondering
If after all these years you'd like to meet to go over everything

I wonder, as I listen, if this is me meeting myself again – the younger Margot, the one who used to be free.  The one who is still waiting for resolution and answers.  
What I find in this album is that the words, Adele’s  soulful voice and the arrangements combine to give voice to something deep inside  me.  It expresses better than I can on this page - the complexity of feelings I experience  in the mystery of  love and life. 

I titled this “Healing a Broken Heart” because my time with this music has revealed a broken heart.  My broken heart.   Wounded by people and relationships and life and loss and change.  Usually I stay too  busy, distracted and numb to spend much time  in the  hurting and broken places.   I paper over them and just keep moving.
But listening, remembering, feeling, and reflecting  as I drive through the streets of Columbus somehow opens me up to deeper understanding and an appreciation of where I have been and who I am becoming: A wounded woman who is being healed and restored to life.  

This may be a Unique to Margot form of healing but I hope not.  We are – to quote Adele – “running out of time” and I believe it is never too late to find healing for all of our wounds.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Road to Freedom

Begins with Hearing a word of HOPE

We are spending time in these daily readings with Moses and the children of Israel.  And they are still in Egypt.  In the text for today God is telling Moses what to say to the people and they will not listen:
Say therefore to the Israelites,

 ”˜I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians
'“ Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.

There is truth to this: when our spirits are broken it is very hard for us to listen to a word of hope and promise.   Maybe it is that we have a failure of imagination and cannot imagine that things could be any different than they are now. We find ourselves saying things like “it is what it is” or “this is the way it has always been.”
I appreciate the Biblical story of Exodus because there is so much truth here about what it means to leave Egypt – (the places, people, behaviors, beliefs) that keep us bound and broken.  And it does not pretend that it is fast or easy.  It reminds us, however, that our God is a God of love, hope and freedom.      And calling us to liberation 

In her book Strengthing the Soul of Your Leadership,   Ruth Hailey Barton writes about the “invitation to freedom from the inner bondage of being subject to the deeply patterned responses that were helpful to us at one time but could cripple us now in what we are being called to do. There is a call to liberation that we are often able to hear only when we have finally become desperate enough to consider a radical departure from life as we know it so that we can be made well. “

And so the story of the children of Israel begins when they are in bondage and unable to listen and respond to the hope that Moses gives them.  When they become desperate enough they start to listen and then begin the journey out of enslavement.
So, maybe today is a good day for considering the ways in which God is wanting to continue his liberating work with me.  Is there something I have been unable to hear because of my broken and enslaved condition?

Here is a prayer by Ted Loder

O God,
let something essential happen to me,
someting more than interesting
or entertaining,
or thoughtful.

O God,
let something essential happen to me,
something awesome,
something real.
Speak to my condition, Lord,
and change me somewhere inside where it matters....
Let something happen in me
which is my real self.  God.