Sunday, June 30, 2013

Fire and Wind

Bless the Lord, O my soul, 
O LORD my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the bearms of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chairot,
you ride on the wings of the wind, 
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.  
                                                      Psalm 104:1-4   
When I flew into Indianapolis for my Memory Bridge training last week, I was first greeted by heavy rain, hail, thunder and lightening.  As I sat waiting for the shuttle that would take me into Bloomington, I was less than enthralled by such majesty.  However, I was shortly joined by an engaging young woman who was blind, and had been since birth.  She was being dropped off by a man who was concerned about leaving her there.  As I helped her settle into her chair, his anxiety lessened and he announced that she would be in good hands with me.  I wondered about this conclusion, but she was just so darn cheery that the hour passed quickly.  We rode together on the shuttle (another hour's journey) and we talked of many things:  her work at the university, her family, her two cats, her belief that life is very much worth living.  I had no doubt that I was in her good hands, not the other way around.      
Fortunately, there were several more of these summer storms, and my sense of awe returned as the sky filled with enormous clouds and the air filled with booming thunder and heavy rain.  A friend commented that now that I have experienced these storms, the bay area weather will seem rather bland.   I fear he may be right, but I have this day off, so Tyler and I are going to take the dogs to the beach. My week in Bloomington left me with much to think about, but for now, I will simply celebrate the gift of being in awe: of thunder and lightening, of meeting people gifted and engaged in their work, of stories of what it was like to grow up on an Indiana farm (definitely not always idyllic), and how people learn to maneuver their way through the haze of Alzheimer's, even when those caring for them often misinterpret, disregard, and dismiss their valiant attempts to live and communicate.  
Jean, a beautiful elder who was one of 16 children who grew up on a large farm, told me that she was ready to go home.  I asked her to tell me about home.  "It's the farm. The pond where we used to swim and fish.  My brothers and sisters.  My mother and her canned green beans and bright red tomatoes." 
I am in awe of heaven and its beauty makes me weep.          

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Walk

I walked into the skilled nursing community just as one of the volunteers was arriving as well.  As we greeted one another, I noticed Marie sitting in the hall by the window.  Her presence there was a bit unusual, as she is always in the activity room when we arrive.  We went over and said hello and I told her we would be starting worship in just a few minutes.  We then went on to the activity room where everyone was gathered, including another volunteer and the activity assistant.  Again greetings were exchanged, and I asked if Marie could be brought in.  The assistant, a lovely enthusiastic Evangelical, grew somber and said, "Her family has asked that she not take part in any worship services - not even mass."  The two volunteers and I gasped at the same time. 

If Marie was Dutch, she could have easily been someone that Van Gogh would have painted. She is a quiet woman, very compact, and views the world through one eye.  She always has on a black sweater that  looks like it just might have been around in Van Gogh's time.  While she is Catholic, she always seems happy to be in our services.  One of the foundations of our ministry is to bring worship to those who want to take part but who, due to health concerns,  may not be able to get to their own faith communities.  Therefore, to not include someone who seems to want to be included is not easy for us.  The temptation to ignore the family request was strong, but of course, we cannot do that.  The assistant said that all he staff was struggling with the request as well.  We opened our worship service with prayer asking for understanding, and continued on.  When we left, Marie was in the same spot, so we wished her well and I snuck in a quiet blessing.  As we always have done, I kissed her on the forehead and she kissed my hand.  I told her we would see her next month.  

This experience has reminded me of a conversation I had a few months ago.  One morning I was setting out the elements for communion in a home dedicated to the care of Alzheimer's.  I had just met the daughter of a resident, and I was so happy to have done so.  She was in the process of taking her mother out the room so I invited them both to stay for worship.  The daughter replied, "We cannot.  We are Jewish."  Again, I extended the invitation, saying that all faiths are welcome to celebrate God's presence with us.  She kept moving and said, "I do not want my mother to hear about Jesus."

Consequently, these two situations were weighing on my mind as I started out with our elder dog, Ms. Cleo, for our morning stroll.  I passed the house on the corner that had recently burned and saw again the old orange tree by the front door. The tree was heavily scorched in the fire, and I thought it did not make it.  However, today I noticed all sorts of new tender sprouts and leaves.  I said a prayer for the young family who were in the midst of remodeling the house when the fire started.  May they also be experiencing the stirrings of new growth as the old house is prepared for demolition, and a new home is being planned. 
We walked a few more blocks, and I was stunned at the sight of some very tall, bright red and yellow gladiolas blooming in a neighbor's front yard.  We then walked past a house that has been vacant for awhile, and now has a for sale sign.  I noticed a man in the back doing some work, and I asked him about the elder gentleman who lived there.  As I suspected, the man was his son, and he told me his father had passed.  I was not surprised.  He used to raise squash in his front yard.  One day I walked by and the plants were gone, and I never saw the elder again.  I still miss his presence.  He had some health concerns, but everyday he would walk and tend to his squash.  I can still see his wave, and I can still hear his quiet sing-song "Good morning," that always ended on a up note.   
 I expressed my condolences to the son, and walked on.  I felt some sadness, but as I turned the corner, I saw that the front porch light was on.  I thought of new life that seems so improbable, of flowers and and their outrageous blooms that are destined to not last, and I thought of light that is always burning.   I said right out loud, "I worry too much."  

I heard Jesus laugh, and I joined in.