Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Eyes of Compassion

I read Richard Rohr this morning about seeing with "Eyes of Compassion" and it is hard in the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas.

As I watch the news (way too much!) the reporters and police are still uncertain about the motivation of this man who stockpiled weapons and carefully prepared for a mass murder.  There is something so unsettling in all of it.

I will say "you never know what is going on with people" somewhat glibly.  The truth is so scary.  We see what we see in our interactions with others and often have no idea the guilt, shame, hate, anger, prejudices, and bitterness that can reside within people.  No idea.  And then they open their mouths and we  hear words that can shock us or they reveal ideas that are disturbing or they do things that are unimaginable.  There are times like this when I am left feeling agitated and isolated.  How does a Christian make sense of this? 

So I turn to this devotional that I have been slowly making my way through this year by Richard Rohr which helps a little.  He writes:

"I am convinced that guilt and shame are never from God...If God related to us by severity and punishment, God would only be giving us permission to do the same.  ....The spiritual journey is a kind of weeping and a kind of wandering that keeps us both askew and awake at the same time."

 So I wander and wonder and pray that I might be guided by the source of love today.

Here is a prayer from Prayers Encircling the world that speaks to me today

Dear Lord Jesus, 
I don't know who I am,
I don't know what I am,
I don't know where I am,
but please love me.
Amen

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Growth Mindset

On Saturday I went to a training to become an ESL tutor and learned about the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.  I know that my daughters who are teachers know about this but it was a new concept for me.

The difference is essentially whether you believe that intelligence can be developed or is static.  Intellectually I have come to understand that growth is always possible with effort and openness, but what I realized is that I grew up in many ways with a fixed mindset.  In school I believed that some kids were just smarter and didn't have to study.  Some kids were good at math and others weren't.  Some were good at science and others weren't.  I think I did not really understand that it was possible for me - who struggled with algebra  and science - to learn it.  That real study could lead to  breakthroughs and understanding.   I often gave up and my interests naturally went toward the arts and literature.

Audrey is teaching math and I hear her struggles as a teacher with those kids who don't want to learn and probably don't believe they can learn.  So many clearly have a fixed mindset which is described as:
  •  Avoiding challenges
  • giving up early due to obstacles
  • seeing effort as fruitless
  • ignoring useful feedback
  • threatened by others' success.
 I wonder how we move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. It must have something to do with recognizing when we have actually learned something or improved because of practice and study.  I have been to several of Jackson's soccer games and continue to marvel at his (and all the boys) improvement over the years.  They play their positions now and have good ball handling skills and know when to pass and when to shoot.  Clearly there has been a growth mindset here.

Does this then continue to the rest of their lives?  Are they boys who know the value of effort and study in the classroom?  I wonder.  Often we seem to have a growth mindset in one area of our lives but not others.  For example I watch adults struggle in relationships and are often resistant  any suggestion of counseling. They seem not to want to learn about themselves and others but keep believing that nothing and nobody can change

I am  beginning  an  "internship" as a supervisor of spiritual directors  and hope that I am coming in with a growth mindset. Here are the descriptors of a growth mindset:
  • Embrace challenges
  • persist despite obstacles
  • see effort as a path to mastery
  • learn from criticism
  • be inspired by others' success

What I know to be true is how often we can fall away from openness to learning because we  think that we know more than we do.  We may believe  that we are done growing - especially as we get older. A growth mindset is necessarily vulnerable and ready to embrace challenge and persist despite obstacles. 

My prayer for today is not for growth - but for the growth mindset.  May I be open, vulnerable, willing to learn and try new ideas and behaviors that might lead to the transformation the God desires in my life.

Here is a blessing by Maxine Shonk

May the God of GROWING THINGS call you to ever more wonderful growth and wholeness.
May the horizons of your life stretch far to the east and west, to the north and south
....and in the stretching may you know the wonder of God's universe within and around you.
Through this awareness may you plant seeds of hope in you you meet.
May the God of GROWING THINGS be with you.

 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Who are you listening to?



That is the question of our lives.  I have been watching “The Tudors” about the reign of Henry VIII and it is clear that a king can live in a bubble and the most important question is: who is he listening to?  His advisors change as his wives change and he brings one family in and the other family out.  It affects his relationship with the church and his people and his God.  Who he is listening to

And then I watch our president as advisors move in and out and the question is: who is he listening to?  The generals?  Steve Bannon? His base?  The republican leaders?  The pundits on TV?  The suggestion is that it effects decisions that he is making.  Who he is listening to

And then there is Margot.  Who is she listening to?  Often it is the voices within that tell her that she needs to be productive.  Or the cultural messages that seem to say that her worth is in her efforts and her titles?  Can she hear the voice of God speaking words of love.  She can write about it and talk about it – but can she hear it?  Is she listening to her ego with its needs to control, authority and position?  Is she listening to her inner child who is afraid of the future and wants someone to take care of her?  Is she listening to her soul that desires gentleness, peace, love, beauty.  Who is she listening to

That is the question of my life.  Who am I listening to?   I desire to go deep and to hear God’s whispers and invitations but the other voices can be so insistent and so demanding.  So much that I often just stop trying and numb out in the effort to be present.  But of course, that does not lead to life – but almost limbo.

So today begins again the practice of seeking to listen to the Holy One who loves me. I read, write, pray and trust that in my desire to be present I might receive a word today that will guide me on this journey with God. And may I know that God is a listener for me as I struggle to be faithful.
Today brings with it a trip to the dentist, meetings, and reading.  May I remember that God is here listening to me and offering me blessings upon blessings.

Prayer by Maxine Shonk

May the LISTENING God embrace you. 
May your voice become true and clear in the presence of the God who listens. 
May you come close to the ear of God and entrust your deepest secrets, the unspeakable and the unresolved, the tender truth of your devotion and the fragile residue of the fear in your heart.
May the Spirit pray in you as you open yourself up in God’s hearing.
May God the LISTENER bless you.
Amen

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lets Go to the Movies!

That is a song from "Annie" that I sometimes sing to myself as I go to the movies.  Some of the lyrics are:
 Let's go to the movies..: Let's go see the stars
 Fred and Ginger  spinning madly....
Anything you  can imagine...
Songs and romance.
Life is the dance.
Sitting in the darkness,
popcorn on your knee!
Give the maid the night off!
Warbucks: Turn the kitchen light off!
Grace and Warbucks: Let's go to the movies,
Annie, you and me!
It is a picture of the escape that movies are for people during the depression.  I have been a regular movies attender all my life and for me, there is nothing like sitting in the dark and waiting for the movie to begin.
It is more than escape, however.  The movies that I watch frequently stay with me and  give me images and stories to reflect on as I live my life.  Last Tuesday I saw the movie Detroit  and it was literally the hardest movies I have ever sat through.  And ultimately I am glad I did. It is a gut wrenching and graphic portrayal of the events that happened at the Algiers Motel in Detroit during the riots in 1967.   It received mixed reviews because of the violence and I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone, but I am glad I saw it.
In 1967 I was living in Birmingham Michigan, a middle class suburb of Detroit and during that summer before college I was working at a dry cleaners.  I was hardly aware of what was happening downtown except that the African American Woman, Ollie, who worked the presser at the dry cleaners was unable to come to work for a week. I look back now on my own blindness and unconsciousness to the  terrible injustice and systemic racism that others experienced as I lived in my own  little world.

Two weeks ago I saw The Glass Castle.  Another movie that was hard to watch at times as it explored the difficult chldhood of Jeanette Walls whose parents were free spirited and neglectful.  The movie moved back and forth in time as she came to terms - as an adult - with the reality of her childhood.  At one point, she was dating an investment banker who encouraged her to walk away from her family, but she realized that she could not do that.  She would deny herself.

This has all made me think about the whole business of what to do with the statues of the confederacy.  It is really important for us to remember our history in its entirety.  Some people are drawn to nostalgia and  remembering the "good old days" and either forgetting or denying some of the sinful  history and wounds of our past as individuals and as a country. There is always a voice that tells us that we and they should just "get over it."  But the reality is that our history will continue to inform our present and we can understand and have compassion for ourselves and others when we remember where we have come from and what we have been through.  For me,  films, through the years,  have been a way in which I have come to a deeper awareness about all kinds of issues and historical events. As I look back  I can identify pivotal movies (like Platoon, Schindler's List, The Killing Fields, The Mission) that have impacted my worldview and made me think about things in a new way. They have been a source of illumination and awakening as they help me SEE.

And so, I will continue to go to the movies - not just to escape from life -  but to better understand and appreciate life in all its beauty and complexity.  I pray always for discernment as our country seeks to appropriately honor and remember  past events and people. 
Here is a  blessing of Vision from Maxine Shonk:

May God bless you in your blindness
when it is impossible to see in spite of all your looking,
may God bless you with the ability to envision
a better world and to visualize a healed creation.
May ou be given the gift of prophecy as you share your vision with all who surround you.
And may you help others to see by your touch of compassion and your word of encouragement.
May the God of VISION bless you.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Hidden Things Revealed

When I was at the Camp Christian Saturday we reflected in a small group about our experience of "gazing" by the lake.  Amanda said something to the effect of "hidden things announcing themselves." She referenced how a fish just comes quickly to the surface and then disappears.

That statement resonates with me. As I look at this picture, I think how long you can see a lake or pond as somewhat still and then suddenly an awareness that there is much going on underneath.

I write this as I continue to ponder the events of Charlottesville this weekend.  The racism and violence that simmers below the surface  shattered our illusions of peace and equality in our country. (I recognize the naivete and privilege of that statement, but there it is. It is easy to live in a bubble and assume that everyone thinks like I do.) I believe our president - whose history includes being the promulgator of "birtherism" - is complicit  and woefully inadequate to guide us as he continues to be ignorant, combative and divisive.  All of which can lead me down a path of feeling angry, helpless, useless and very concerned about what is coming next.

My daily meditations include reading from A Spring Within Us by Richard Rohr.  Just that phrase is helpful. There are more hidden things to be announced than evil and violence.  Within this world and within me - there is the compassionate, courageous, gracious spirit of the living God which gives us wisdom to discern what is true and strength to stand up to the powers and the principalities. I celebrate the clergy that gathered in Charlottesville and pray for guidance in my own journey.

It seems to me that there are easy pitfalls here - either ignoring what is happening (amazed to find that my personal trainer on Monday had NO IDEA about any of this) or becoming almost obsessed with it.  Somehow I seek the third way - which right now is pretty unclear but I pray for God's guidance that will be shown to me in some form or fashion.

For now I look to the words of Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Unity

  I was part of the planning team from the Wellstreams Council  who took part in an "Earth Walk" experience at Camp Christian.  It is always interesting to plan an event and not understand how it will affect you when you actually participate in it.  That is what happened to me.

After our opening meditation and sharing circle we each were instructed to walk around camp and find our "spirit spot."  There we were to stay and settle into a state of motionlessness.  We were not to move or strain, but just allow the natural world to sweep over us and engulf us and experience the flow of life around us.

I quickly identified a spot near the lake where I could sit in the shade under a tree and just gaze around me.


 There was a large heron that flew by and seemed to be inviting me to stop and rest.  During our opening prayer time we had received this quotation:
"I become a transparent eyeball, I am nothing;
 I see all the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me;
 I am part or particle of God" 
 (Emerson)
During the hour of sitting, I was aware of all the movement that was going on before me.  Here is what I wrote:
Be Still and Know

And what I know is the nothing is Still.
I sit and see ants on my jeans crawling to my socks
and a teeny tiny bug on the tip of a blade of grass
and a little itty bitty something that has landed on my journal
and a tiny  flying creature hovering near by
It is not still - never still

And the wind is moving the grasses by the lake
and the water is reflecting the trees
    I see glints of diamonds
         that become ripples,
            then crescents
               then concentric circles
The water is moved by the wind and the fountain and frogs and fish                                                     It is not still - never still

And I am not still inside or out
Thoughts careening from here to there and back here again
I am breathing air in and out
My blood is flowing through my body
It is not still - never still

Be still and know the Psalmist writes
and I think - nothing is still here
And I do NOT know but I wonder
Are you  still God? Creator?  Lover of my soul?
Are you the prime mover of this activity ?
Are you moving me?

In the afternoon we were invited to do a walk about and allow ourselves to be drawn to an natural being and stand in its presence and be "in conversation" with it.  As we planned this, I wondered what it would be like, but it turned out to be a rich experience for me.

I was drawn to a purple wildflower that I thought was beautiful (later found out it was an "ironweed" which is a poor name for such a lovely creation.)  It was on the side of a path and the only bit of color in a sea of green.

I literally sat at its feet and allowed it to show me its life.  At first I thought it was standing straight and tall and then I realized there was a lean to the sun.  There were bugs  that landed and went away.  Looking carefully, I could see it was a lot of little flowers grouped together - some budding, some in bloom and some past blooming.

And this is what I ended up writing:

This afternoon in communion with a purple wildflower standing on the side of the road
Communing as we both are beautiful creations of God  who live for a finite time
I watch the bugs, bees and butterflies land and fly away and know that she cannot control who comes and goes 
As so many people have come and gone in my life.
She receives all without complaint or expectation.
She is leaning toward the sun - a life giving source for her.
As I lean toward the Son - the source of hope and life for me.
She is noticed by some and I am sure dismissed by many.
I seek her stance, her singularity, her availability.
Is she a reflection of me?  Is she connected to me?

I never would have expected to feel unity with a wildflower, but I truly did.  There is this sense of connection and oneness in immersing ourselves in nature.  A day like this of slowing down and resting in creation and noticing our connections shifts something within me.  I am grateful to have the time and the ability to be able to do this.

And I write this on Sunday morning after watching the news of Charlottesville yesterday.  It hurts my heart to see the way in which people choose to separate themselves and concentrate on what divides instead of what connects us.  My prayers are with all who are grieving today.  Somehow we have got to move away from arguing and opining to seeking our common humanity and our soul connections. 
If I can commune with a wildflower, surely we can all commune with another living breathing human being. I know that I am an idealist and a dreamer but I am not the only one.

I think of these words by John Lennon and they speak to me today.

Imagine

Imagine all the people living life in peace, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world, you
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one


 -




Friday, August 11, 2017

Gratitude for New Beginnings

I sit in my prayer room this morning and feel grateful for so much. It has been a full and fruitful summer and it is not over yet.  One of the great blessings for me has been the addition of Audrey into our home as she begins a new life here in Columbus.

She has had her first week of teaching at the Charles School and my joy is listening to her share about meeting the kids, working with teachers and administrators and preparing for the new year.  I call her ET - the person that comes in from outer space (well, actually Arizona) and brings new life to a family.  And that is what she is doing for me and Chuck.

I am also grateful as I watch the grandkids prepare for a new school year.  As I write this, Marnie has taken time off from work to get the girls haircuts and new clothes.  Kacey has posted in facebook the trials of taking a teenager shopping who rejects any of Mom's suggestions.  She is really getting payback here!  I remember it all well and like watching and not having to actually participate in these rituals of the new school year.

This year I am going to start training to be a "supervisor" in the Wellstreams program and am revisiting some of the books that I read years ago.  This morning I reread the preface to the book Holy Listening by Margaret Guenther.  I was struck by these words written by Alan Jones:

  Human life isn't worth living without our willingly accepting responsibility for our behavior, yet that would be too heavy a burden without the possibility of forgiveness. 
Those of us who hope for a more caring and humane world had better be aware of forgiveness (both human and divine) if we are going to navigate the stormy seas of human relations.
Much of the pain could be avoided if we knew how to frame questions about our longings and were willing to forgive one another, even as we seek to make one another accountable.  Spiritual  direction, at its best.

Later he writes:
Margaret Guenther knows what it means to grow into being someone.  There is waiting, stillness, and hope.  "When in doubt," she writes, "I always assume that God is at work, that is, the person is pregnant."

And so my gratitude is for my family  and their new beginnings and the awareness of the possibility of new life for myself and for everyone.   God is at work guiding us as we are - no matter how old - growing into being someone - ourselves!

I am going to end this post with a writing by Melodie Beattie that Audrey shared with her classes this week.

Beginnings can be delicate or explosive. They can start almost invisibly or arrive with a big bang.
Beginnings hold the promise of new lessons to be learned, new territory to be explored, and old lessons to be recalled, practiced, and appreciated.
Beginnings hold ambiguity, promise, fear, and hope.
Don’t let the lessons, the experiences of the past, dampen your enthusiasm for beginnings.
Just because it’s been hard doesn’t mean it will always be that difficult. Don’t let the heartbreaks of the past cause you to become cynical, close you off to life’s magic and promise.
Open yourself wide to all that the universe has to say.
Let yourself begin anew. Pack your bags. Choose carefully what you bring, because packing is an important ritual. Take long some humility and the lessons of the past. Toss in some curiosity and excitement and what you haven’t yet learned.
Say your good-byes to whose you’re leaving behind.
 Don’t worry who you will meet or where you will go. The way has been prepared. The people you are to meet will be expecting you.
A new journey has begun.
 Let it be magical. Let it unfold.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Summer Reflections

I am taking a breath today as two of my biggest summer responsibilities are now over.  I was a faculty member at Advance Conference last week leading daily Bible study.  And since Memorial Day, I have preached at First Christian Church in Zanesville.

One of the biggest takeaways from Camp was the realization of how few of the young people are involved in the life of a congregation.  Many are in a time of questioning about religion and even the existence of God and their lifestyle does not at all include interest in church. Some of have grown up in the church and had a bad experience and others really have not had much real contact. In some ways, this is nothing new for this age group - but as the whole culture moves away from institutionalized religion, it does not bode well for our local churches.

My experience at Zanesville has been really rich for me. I look back on the past summer which included: 10 weeks of sermons written and preached (3 times each!), 5 Sunday School classes, 40 trips back and forth to Zanesville, and many conversations, home and hospital visits.  I feel nothing but gratitude for the blessing of Sunday worship, singing hymns I love (I get to pick them!). exploring scripture weekly and experiencing the mystery of weekly communion.

It has been a wonder to be with people who I knew 30 years ago and often felt a closeness from our shared history all those years ago.  I got to hear stories of their lives - their struggles and successes and see pictures of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren.  What a gift!

It has also been a blessing to get to know the staff of this church - all people who care about the congregation and their pastor.  Dawn is truly the hardest working minister I know and everyone wanted her to have a restful and renewing sabbatical. Kim, their youth minister, had been in my youth group when I was there and it was heartwarming to see her loving and caring spirit with the young people of the church as well as her creativity and organizational skills. 

Yesterday was my last day and it was a perfect ending.  On Wednesdays the church offers a worship service that is mostly seniors who find it easier to come to church in the afternoon than mornings. It is a small and faithful group.  We had a beautiful service and afterward they gave me a journal.  I visited a few people including one woman who has been in hospice all summer.  She has been intermittently conscious when I visited but yesterday was aware enough to pray with me the Lord's Prayer.  I visited one man in his 90's who shared lots of family stories as well as our mutual antipathy toward Donald Trump (note: I did not start that conversation - he did!).  I ended my time visiting someone in a rehab center living with diabetes and neuropathy who just wants to go home.  And we prayed for that.

I leave this time having had the opportunity to give and receive love and it was what I needed.  I have no desire to stay longer but I am just grateful for the richness and the fullness of it all.  The "All" is not just ministry but the blessing of church life and being connected to the body of Christ.  There is something about struggling with God's word together, sharing our lives together and participating in the rituals together that gives meaning and strength to our individual journeys.

I wish I knew how to express this to others - because church life is unlike any other organization that I know. There is no question that we are challenged by the "together" part of being in a church - but in my experience the blessings far outweigh the discomfort.

And now I take a breath and wait.  Knowing that there will be another invitation to go and serve.  At least I hope so.

End with a Blessing by Maxine Shonk

May God bless you when you are reluctant to respond to what is asked of you.
May God grant you a REFLECTIVE heart as you honor your hesitation.
May you be given a heart that is both alert to your inner needs and courageous in serving the needs of those around you.
May you be blessed with a discerning heart as you respond in love to God's invitation.
May the God of REFLECTION make you holy.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Church Life

It is good to be back working  in a church.  It is really good.  Yesterday I spent time at First Christian Church in Zanesville where I am filling in for Pastor Dawn and realized the unique blessings to being part of a church.

 - First it is a real gift to get to preach and to prepare to preach.  This summer I have been preaching on the stories of Genesis and I spend my week with the events of these  characters - Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac spinning around in my head.  This week the sermon will be on the "Binding" of Isaac which is a tough story to think about in this day and age. A Father thinks God is telling him to sacrifice his son - his only son.  And only at the last minute there is a "ram in the thicket."  What does this story have for us today?  THAT is what I think about this week.  And I like it and hopefully, by Sunday, I will have something to share.

 - It is a gift to be with old people - even older than me.  Yesterday I visited with a couple who have not been able to come to church because he is being treated for bladder cancer.  In September, they will celebrate 70 years of marriage - 70!  And they are sweet and loving with each other as they shared stories of their life together.  He calls her "honey" and gives her a kiss every morning.

 - It is a gift to be with children.  Vacation Bible School is this week and I got to take pictures and "ring the bell" between the events of the evening.  There were 70 plus children and lots of caring and fun adults helping.  The laughter and the smiles were really infectious and I just loved their energy and joy.

 - It is a gift to be with people who are on the spiritual journey.  I love it when someone shares a story about how God has revealed Godself to them.  I am teaching a Sunday School on the spiritual pilgrimage and at the end one woman took me aside and told me how she heard God's voice when she was 11 years old.  God said: "Go to church."  She told her mother and they did and now 60 years later she is still going.

 - It is a gift to see how people care for each other in a church.  I served at this church 30 years ago and many of the people are still there.  And during these years, they have worshipped together, cared for each other's family, and had many. many memories.  There are friendships that develop because of this commitment to being part of this "organization"  which we call the "body of Christ."



So, I am grateful for the gift of this summer of being a part time pastor in a very alive and loving community.  It is bringing me immense joy and will move me into finding another community to be part of when this is over.

Yesterday at our little Wednesday worship we sang this song.  One of my favorites.  The line I like - is "she is his new creation."  There really is nothing like a church that is alive - it is a new creation and I have been blessed by  one this summer.


The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cracks in the foundation

This is not good!  In moving into our house Audrey alerted Chuck and I to the horizontal crack she noticed in the basement.  As he moved shelves away from the site, it was clear that we had a problem.

Yesterday Patrick from Basement "Authority" came and gave us the bad news.  After almost 50 years of existence, the earth has been pushing against the walls of the basement.  There are cracks, bowing, and shearing.  This is not good.

As I sat on my porch this morning I can see that it is much the same with my body.  It is showing the effects of the wear of life.  As I look ahead I have concerns about heart, mind, bones and strokes.  And so exercise is about more than weight - but also heart and brain care.  And I take my blood pressure medication, calcium and Vitamin D pills.

With both the basement and the body I wonder how much denial and unconsciousness there has been over the year.  How long have these cracks been developing?  How long have I denied the need to look long and hard at my overall health?  But really, those questions seem to me to be dead ends.

This is life.  Things fall apart over time and then we take steps to shore up the wall and attend to the body.  And accept as inevitable  - but not defining - the decline and decay of everything.  And trusting - at the same time - the possibility of repair that may not bring us back to where we were originally - but a place and person that will persist, persevere and be adequate to the purpose for which it was created.

As I write this, I realize how helpful Pema Chodren's writings have been to me.

 “We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.”
Pema Chödrön


And so we are going to spend some money soon fixing the wall.  We still need another quote - this time from the Basement "Doctor."   I like my house, Chuck loves the basement and we will do what we need to do.  And the same with this challenge of aging - we like our lives and our bodies have been really a blessing up to now so we will do what we need to do.  And most of all enjoy it - ALL.

I will end this with a story from Pema Chodren.

“There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines.
 Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well.
 She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging.
She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down.
 She looks at the mouse.
Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below.
This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death.
Each moment is just what it is.
 It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat.
We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Gathered Together

That is the way I feel right now - I am being gathered together from being extremely scattered.
For the past three months much has happened and the first thing to go was this blog.  This morning I sat on the flowered couch on my back porch and finally, finally, finally felt centered enough to come back to this writing.

There are two major shifts in my life - my daughter Audrey has come home to live with us for a while.  Much of my attention and energy has been on her - the practical details of making space for a third person in our home.  And the time of just being present with her as she begins her life over again in Columbus.

I am now halfway through working at First Christian Church in Zanesville filling in for Dawn Remster, the minister, who is on sabbatical.  I am not really filling in - basically preaching Sunday and Wednesday and doing a little bit of pastoral work.  It has been extremely satisfying to be back in Zanesville and to be back into sermon preparation and pastoral life.

What I realize is that I have sort of lost my rhythem and feel kind of scattered which is why I titled this blog "gathered together."  It really is only when I intentionally find some quiet time for writing and reflection that I start to feel centered.

Today as I wrote in my journal for the first time in a while, I found myself full of gratitude for all of this change and work and literally new life.

Audrey has  - in the space of a few weeks -  found a new job as well as some part time work.  I watch her as she reconnects with family and old friends and seeks to find new ways to connect with people.  She truly is an inspiration to me.

Also, she comes into our home and brings new life.  She is working with Chuck in yardwork as well as selling some of the "treasures" that he purchases at estate sales.  She is kind and patient and hard working.  She is my companion in netflix viewing and political and spiritual discussions.  It is beyond good.

I find myself really enjoying the process of sermon preparation - the times of thinking, pondering, reading, praying over the text and eventually emerging with a product that is of interest to me, at least.  It is good.  I also am glad this is limited because it can truly be a grind as well.

I started a Sunday School class last week on the Pilgrimage of the Soul which I had both attended and led last year.  One of the first assignments was to discern or receive a seven word mantra for the month.  I have struggled with this until this morning.  I read a wonderful poem which I will share which really speaks to me.  It speaks of my desires for allowing God's spirit to work through me and I realized that this may be the mantra:

MAY WHAT I DO FLOW FROM ME LIKE A RIVER
(10 words - sorry!)

In this time of fullness and abundance  I only want to be faithful to the one who brings new life.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through the widening channels
into the open sea.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Up In the Air

That is the title of the sermon that I am going to be preaching tomorrow in Zanesville as I begin filling in for Dawn Remster on her sabbatical.  I am preaching on the Ascension of Jesus who goes "up in the air" and ascends to God the father.

I finished - even printed (!)  - the sermon this morning and after hours of struggle found that it made sense and I look forward to delivering it tomorrow.  But all during the struggle of writing I was truly "up in the air."  That is what I talk about some - that part of what I think is the human condition - all the ways in which we are "up in the air."  On the computer I learned that "up  in the air" is an idiom that means "not yet resolved, finished, answered, decided or certain."  That says it all for me - that is how I live most of the time.

This week I did a funeral for Yvonne Hardenbrook a poet who lived at Oakleaf who I came to know and love when I preached over there in the past. I spoke after the service with one of her friends and we talked religion and how open we both were to different paths that lead to God.  However, I found myself saying how much I liked being a Christian for one reason only - the grace of God that is taught and lived out  in Jesus.  As I said to her - I live my life in a lot of confusion and self doubt and the understanding and the experience of grace is what is really my anchor.  That is what gives me peace.

And so, I guess I just wanted to write this morning about how blessed I feel by my faith as I venture into a summer of service to First Christian Church in Zanesville.  Completing this first sermon of the summer reminds me that the spirit that can guide and inspire is real as I moved this week from being up  in the air writing to this place of peace as I prepare to pastor these people.

Yvonne wrote a beautiful poem that I read at her funeral that really speaks to me

.
What We Miss Awake
by Yvonne Hardenbrook


What we see
is never all there is.
We drowsily salute the bright-edged
clouds of dawn, in full sun
close our eyes. Again
at sunset we comment on the flame,
say nothing of the subtle
easter sky.

What we miss awake
we see in dreams, distorted
for paid seers to explain
If not dreams then letters,
your words of love I saw and never
recognized. These forty years
the ink has dried on pages folded
tight and ribbon-tied.

They spill into the fire, the ribbon
last. I tell you, I did not see
till now the face of love.