Monday, October 8, 2018

Now, Please

The following post is from the World Community of Christian Meditation and is something I deeply believe.  I do hope we can learn to love while we still have some remaining days and nights to live out that love.  No need to wait until the last second.  Let's be easy on one another and this beautiful, beleaguered planet.   Have a beautful, loved filled week.

St Augustine said that we can only love what is beautiful. This means that love reveals the beautiful even in things or people that don’t strike us as beautiful at first. How often do we find that as our first impression of someone fades, based as it was on superficial appearances or prejudices, a deeper insight comes to the fore and our response to this person is wholly changed. We feel bad about our misjudgement and shed it. Their true nature is now more visible and we resonate with it from a simpler, truer part of our self. Perhaps this is what awaits us all at the end of life, regardless of how mistakenly we have chosen to live. All our ways of seeing and knowing will fuse in a great healing simplicity as we see God. In that instant of pure perception – of the beauty ever ancient, ever new – we will not be able to resist falling in love, with the love that has always surrounded us. And so we will be saved.
( Meditatio Newsletter, October 2012 ) 

   


Photograph is the front of one of our Little Free Libraries here in San Leandro.  September, 2018

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Today's Interruptions Have Been Brought to You by...

I am tempted to say the interruptions were brought by a printer not printing and no hot water.  One by one those were addressed, and yet I still have a sense of unease.  Therefore, I think the interruptions are rooted in  the prayer/poem that I received this morning from Panhala.  As you know, I love Wendell Berry's writing, but this post seemed to strike an ever deeper chord with me.  Perhaps because I love porches.  Perhaps it is the word forbearance which I almost never hear used, and lately it seems so seldom exercised that I had to look up the meaning.  Merriam Webster defines forbearance as "patient self-control; restraint and tolerance."  Oh, for the day...

However, I think my sense of disorientation lies in the first lines, "To care for what we know requires care for what we don't..."  This is where my sense of stirring lies because to me it speaks of that mystery that is worship - that experience we understand, but then again, we cannot. 

This week, I led a simple service in a skilled nursing community. Rita was there, taking time off from work as she always does to spend time in worship with her mother.  Her steadfastness moves me because her mother does not acknowledge what is going on around her, and has not for years. Our rhythm after worship was as it often is: first I greet her mother, and then Rita and I talk.  Both of us regularly spend time in private morning devotionals, yet, we both acknowledge that coming together in community deepens our time spent in community as well as in our solitude with God. This week we talked about how meaningful it would surely be if a community could come together every morning and every evening for worship and prayer.  I have experienced that rhythm in seminary, particularly in my time spent in the spiritual direction program.  For three years, we came together for three weeks every January to study and to practice listening to one another and how we are experiencing God in our hearts and lives. We also came together to pray and sing every morning and every evening.  Once that rhythm settles into your bones, and it does not take long, you are never the same.  You will long for it; just as many of those we serve in long term care long to worship at least once a week.   
 
Interruptions are important to pay attention to for they are often tangible moments of knowing that Spirit is up to something, and that something is generally a response to a yearning deep within us, a yearning that we might not have yet acknowledged.   At this altar, aka a porch in the wilderness (or in the activity room), our hearts kneel and pray at the knowing.  




A SMALL PORCH IN THE WOODS

9.

To care for what we know requires
care for what we don't, the world's lives
dark in the soil, dark in the dark.
Forbearance is the first care we give
to what we do not know. We live
by lives we don't intend, lives
that exceed our thoughts and needs, outlast
our designs, staying by passing through,
surviving again and again the risky passages
from ice to warmth, dark to light.
Rightness of scale is our second care:
the willingness to think and work
within the limits of our competence
to do no permanent wrong to anything
of permanent worth to the earth's life,
known or unknown, now or ever, never
destroying by knowledge, unknowingly,
what we do not know, so that the world
in its mystery, the known unknown world,
will live and thrive while we live.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(A Small Porch - Sabbath Poems 2014-2015)   


   

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sweetness

As we began our first hymn yesterday, I looked around and noticed that almost no one was singing.  I also realized that I had made my way through heavy traffic for over an hour to get there.  So, I made that announcement. I also added that my birthday was tomorrow, and I will be turning 66.  "You better sing with me now. Who knows how much longer I will be able to do this?"  There was laughter and applause (I have been visiting this skilled nursing community for almost eleven years), and a little more engagement after that, probably on my part as well.
   
After the service I began collecting song sheets, and I approached one man who had tears in his eyes.  He asked, "Where does this sweet music come from?"  I immediately had a vision of a human chest with a fountain flowing from it, but opted instead to tell him a little bit about the ministry.  He had mentioned before that he had attended a beautiful seminary on a hill (I think he mentioned Jerusalem the last time I saw him, but I might be getting carried away with images from the psalms), and yesterday I again sensed a deep yearning to return.  He then shrugged his shoulders and said, "But that was 50 years ago. I also went to Aleppo.  Such a beautiful city it was, such wonderful food."  He grew silent and he looked away. I knew he was  seeing a vision that was not mine to see.   

This conversation left me wondering again about the people of faith who are stranded in skilled nursing and other long-term care communities with no day to day spiritual support.  That question is certainly at the heart of why SpiritCare was founded, and I believe we do make a difference in the lives of the frail and those who care for them professionally.  However, I, too have a yearning, and that is to drive less and to be present more. I know this to also be true for those who are employed in the communities, many of whom face long daily drives as they work two or three jobs just to patch together something close to a living wage.      
  
Here I must pause and thank the pianist who joins me at this community. Her music holds us together with a tender thread as she plays before, during, and after the services.  All of our pianists have unique voices, and Spirit always brings them to the community where their particular gifts are needed.  I am humbled by their willingness to share so generously.    
  
I start my 66th year with gratitude for SpiritCare, for the San Lorenzo church, for Tyler and my home, for my yoga teacher, for all of those who have assisted me in the past and for those who are journeying with me now. I give thanks to Jesus who sits with me and listens to my prayers, and then gently lets me know when it is time to go.  I am also grateful for Holy Mother's starry mantel that holds us all in peace even in the midst of storms.   
 
I am grateful for all of you. Come sing with us when you can.       
   
Keep the song in my soul, 
Let it not lose its music. 
Keep the holy in my soul, 
Let it not ignore its source. 
Keep the love in my soul, 
Let it not close in on self. 
Keep the light in my soul, 
Let it not forget to shine. 
Keep the vision in my soul, 
Let it not lose sight of you. 
  
Fragments of Your Ancient Name, 
Joyce Rupp 

   

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Surfacing

I have much respect for Teresa.  When I see her patiently sitting in her wheelchair in a community where most of the residents are much older and frailer than she, I sense an admirable resiliency. When I first met her, she told me that when she first arrived in the community she realized she had dreamt about it while she was in the hospital.  Because of the dream, she felt, at a deep level, that she was safe.  This sense of belonging does seem to ground her. 
   
When I saw her yesterday, I offered her a song sheet, but she replied, as do many, "I do not sing."  I expected her to wheel out the door, but she stayed in the room, but kept in the back, away from the group.  However, eventually she moved closer. Then, a few minutes later, she signaled that she wanted a song sheet. 
 
After the service, I walked over to meet a woman who was sitting close to Teresa. Teresa said that Carol was her friend. I was delighted to hear this introduction and told them that.  Then Teresa said to me, "You have been coming here for awhile now."  That is true; I have been visiting that community for several years. Then she said, "I am going to try to sing more." I think some of her willingness to give singing a go was because of the presence of Carol, a woman she calls friend.  Trust, always a welcomed participant, had entered the room and found a place to settle in. 

I periodically share with the people who gather with me my story of almost not accepting the call to SpiritCare when I realized I would be leading the singing. I was convinced that I was not up to that leadership role, but Jesus would simply not let me go. Yesterday, I told those with me that had I insisted on holding on to my reluctance rather than listening to that deep voice within, I would have missed the rich experience that SpiritCare has been for me. I would have missed knowing them.  

My voice is profoundly ordinary. I can read music, but only at a rudimentary level.  I have never been able to sight read.  I know I test our pianists' patience because I seldom think to count. Yet, I am grateful for my common voice.  If my voice was beautiful and skilled, I think people would be even less likely to join their voice with mine.  One of my deepest desires is that the frail and ill use their voice and sing their praises.  Our voices and our faith must be exercised or they get buried by ennui and a sense that our lives simply don't matter anymore.  Once the voice is no longer engaged, isolation, and even despair, can quickly take hold.  These  are forces to take seriously for they are not easily banished.   
    
Teresa's slow movement into the group was wonderful to witness.  The quiet voices that surfaced that day were beautiful to hear. I never tire of hearing rough, shaky voices come to life because I know what I am hearing is courage rising.  I hear Jesus listening, and I know love.        
  
Your ear, beloved Listener, opened wide, 
Pressed to each portion of my heart, my life. 
Attuned to the slightest vibration of my being, 
Attentive to the constant rhythms of my soul. 
You hear the cry in the throat of my heart. 
My troubles do not cease with your awareness
But they soften, loosen some of their grip, 
Become bearable, touchable, endurable. 
If your attentive solicitude blesses so fully, 
Surely I, too, can listen that closely to others.   
 
Fragments of Your Ancient Name, 
Joyce Rupp  
   

Friday, August 31, 2018

As August Draws to a Close

The past few days have been so enjoyable.  It is not that I have done anything special, but the cool weather has been such a pleasant traveling companion.  When I spotted these asters, I knew for certain that September and autumn were on their way. I am grateful.  
 
Today will find me moving some dirt from one area of the front yard to various pots and planters.  A neighbor loaned me his wheelbarrow, a nice old rusty thing that makes me smile every time I look at it.  I have learned that I am not a very good gardener, at least at this time of my life, so I am simplifying things.  Perhaps this is what it means to let nature take its course.  I must let mine do the same.  
  
Have a beautiful last day of August. May we all enjoy our tasks at hand.  

Give Thy blessing, we pray Thee, to our daily work, 
that we may do it in faith, and heartily. 

-- Thomas Arnold (1795-1842) 
 from Spirituality and Practice, 
August 30, 2018    
    

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Inhabiting the Unknowing

"Here’s what I’ve learned: God is with me. God is not just watching from above. God will not decide whether I live or die by how often I pray. God is with me the most when I am at my most lonely and afraid. God will be there for my son. When I call for help, I feel God’s presence in calm and peace. As God tells the reader in Isaiah 45:7 (KJV): “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” I interpret these enigmatic words not to mean that God literally created and gave me my cancer, but that God is in all things, both the light and darkness, the peace and the evil. Where evil exists, God does not absent God-self." 
Ana Silver
article in Christian Century by Elizabeth Palmer 
8/7/18    
 
I came across Ana Silver's writing while perusing "Christian Century" online. I was unfamiliar with this poet who  passed away in August at the age of 49.  This is lovely, insightful writing, but truthfully I found the passage from Isaiah unsettling. Does God create evil?   Despite the claim recently made by a patient I met in a skilled nursing this week that the King James translation is the most accurate of all translations, there are other worthy translations. The NRSV reads: "I form light and create darkness, I make weal and woe."  Yes, I had to look up weal, and it means prosperity or well-being.  So, according to Isaiah, it seems God is willing to claim it all:  light, darkness, wellness, and woe.   God is casting no thing and no one aside. 
 
I know the temptation to simply pluck out the most uplifting passages of the Bible and let the rest go.  While at times comforting words are needed, sometimes we do need to ponder the more difficult or troubling parts because we, too, are being called to hold light, darkness, wellness, and woe.  Yes, it is hard to not give light and goodness preferential treatment.  Most of us do want to feel good, but sometimes that is just not possible.        
 
Isaiah 45:18-19 has me also thinking about chaos, and that maybe chaos does not really exist: that there is an order to everything. It could be that when our vision and understanding fall short, what we think we are seeing and experiencing is chaos, but really what we are experiencing is the inability to see over our current horizon.  Maybe we are called to "unknow" or "un-label" our assumptions (which often cause us to be feel separate and afraid), and simply learn to be present even when we do not understand - to be present with that which we cannot name.   
    
 "For thus says the LORD, 
who created the heavens
(he is God!), 
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it; 
he did not create it a chaos, 
he formed it to be inhabited!): 
I am the LORD, and there is no other. 
I did not speak in secret, 
in a land of darkness: 
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 
"Seek me in chaos." 
I the LORD speak the truth, 
I declare what is right."     
 
 I actually find this passage comforting; it implies that while there is an order that I may not understand, I can trust it. Yes, the Bible can be enigmatic, however, Jesus was very clear about loving God, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  This is our project, and it is enough for a lifetime.  We must remember that despite the mystery that is God, Jesus called God, "Abba", one of his heart and his soul, and one he spent much time with. Such intimacy is possible, even in the presence of the unknowable.  
   
 Jesus and Isaiah remind me that we have been created to inhabit this life - all of it, no picking and choosing what we think are the best parts, because in every moment, every inch of the journey, there God is.  It is a journey to love. Blessed be.
     
  

Friday, August 24, 2018

Psalm 127

I am taking comfort in this Psalm this morning.   
 
Unless the Lord builds the house, 
it will not endure for long. 
Unless the Lord guards the country, 
it will not be safe from danger. 
Vainly you keep toiling and planning
and worrying about tomorrow. 
He gives joy to those who love him 
and blesses them with his peace.       
      
Psalm 127, A Book of Psalms, Stephen Mitchell