Friday, December 26, 2014

Maybe Life Really Is Just a Picnic

Tyler and I will not be seeing family until next week, so on Christmas Day we decided to go to the beach at Half Moon Bay and have a picnic.  As we walked down our usual trail to the beach, we quickly noticed that much had changed. The area above the beach was very lush with new green growth, and many spots were still muddy from the recent rains.  The surf was crashing spectacularly (a friend recently shared the knowledge that this is the season of what is known as the King Tides. Due to the position of earth, moon, and sun, the tides can be both very high as well as exceptionally low at this time of year).  The surf was so high that there was actually very little of the usual beach exposed.  Not many people were out, even fewer dogs, and no horseback riders.  The light was stunningly bright.  We could see a distant fog bank, but it was so far off shore that I felt we could be catching a glimpse of the Himalayas.  Above us there was not even a wisp of a cloud.     
 
We found a good spot to enjoy lunch (in other words, where we were somewhat certain that a rogue wave would not sweep us out to sea), and we simply watched and listened to the surf.  The only other life we saw were pelicans and other seabirds skimming the crashing waves.  All around us the erosion process had been escalated.  The already rutted trails going down to the beach were in places a little difficult to navigate because the ruts had been deepened by the running water from the recent rains.  Because of the high tides, the cliffs also showed signs of recent change, with some places looking quite unstable.  It was a vivid reminder that our coastline is constantly changing, and that erosion is ongoing. Sun, wind, and water will win.    
 
The ocean tells us, sometimes gently, sometimes more dramatically, that humans, despite all our exalted attempts to outwit God and nature, can never be the Alpha and the Omega.  As we picked up some of the plastic littering the beach, I again found refuge in that message.    
  
Such a beautiful way to spend Christmas Day: a picnic on the edge of eternity.  





Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Naming Christmas

There is at least one Facebook conversation going on about what was it like to learn that Santa was not exactly a real person.  I do not have strong emotional memories about that bit of enlightenment that came to me via a grade school classmate.  I think that was partly due to the fact that my mother loved Christmas and everything about it, down to the last little bit of tinsel.  She would never let Christmas be anything less than a time of wonder and joy.     
 
The memory that was sparked for me, however, was when I learned that my maternal grandmother's name was not Wowa, as I had called her all my young life, but rather it was the very dignified name of Ora.  My cousin, always the bastion of common sense (which meant he was perpetually a source of irritation for me) was the one who informed me of my error.   We happened to be at her house, so we marched into the kitchen. This time, I knew my cousin was the one that was wrong. I even had cards and notes from her signed Wowa.  My grandmother simply responded that I was welcomed to continue to call her Wowa, but yes, her "real" name was Ora. However, by the time this conversation happened, I was old enough to actually pronounce her name correctly so there was no going back. I suspect we both lost a tiny bit that day.    

 I seldom wish people "Happy Holidays!" The trend started for me  one year when I walked into a tea shop a day or two before Christmas.   I overheard the owner wearily, but in a beautiful English accent, tell another customer that he simply could not abide one more person wishing him a happy holiday.   "It's Christmas," he moaned.  As I paid for my tea, I boldly wished him a merry Christmas.  We smiled at one another, and I think we both reclaimed a lost part of ourselves in that moment.      
  
So, dear friends, I do indeed wish you all a merry Christmas.  I know that not all of you are of the Christian faith, so please do not take this greeting as some nefarious move on my part.  I am simply wishing you much love and light.  I also pray that you always know that you are deeply and permanently connected to something more than your credit card.     
 
By the way, my grandmother's full name was Ora Naomi, a name she did not particularly care for, but as I learned to let go of Wowa, I came to love her name.  Her sister's name was Augusta Pearl, but as soon as she was old enough to do so, she had it legally changed to Virginia lest anyone dare to call her Gussie Pearl again.  My great uncle Sherod was blessed to have Semper Fidelis  as part of his name. I regret that I never talked to my great grandmother, known to us all as Gran, to find out how she came up with such large names for her tiny babies.   Perhaps like Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, or Simeon and Anna who recognized the baby Jesus as someone who would change the world, she held each child and simply knew they were more.   May such knowledge be yours this Christmas, and always.    
  
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
for the forgiveness of their sins. 
By the tender mercy of our God, 
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness 
and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
 
Luke 1:76-79  
       
May the world know peace.



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Blooming

At the end of the hallway sat Johnnie in her wheelchair. Ont the wall behind her was posted a picture of a large cartoon snowman.  She looked part of a very festive picture.  She also looked quite happy to see us, and reached her arms out to give us big hugs.  I could not help silently reflecting on this miracle.  For years, she would often be in what she called "the dark place."  She then could barely greet us, if at all. 

 We went into the activity room together.  A young activity assistant whom I had not seen in a couple of months greeted me with, "Pastor Sue Ann! I passed my exams!  I am official!"  I was delighted to hear of his accomplishment, and we talked for a few minutes about his plans. Later, as I began to serve communion, one resident who has a serious repetitive motion behavior, seemed to really want communion. The assistant gave the okay (sometimes there are swallowing and choking issues).  I was surprised to see her take communion, close her eyes for a few moments, and then simply rest.  
 
After worship, I walked among the group as I always do.  Another assistant said, "Laurie wants to talk to you." It was the same resident.  Again, her constant motion paused, and she asked, with tears in her eyes, "Will I go to heaven?"  I assured her that she would most definitely go to heaven.  "Will I go in this body?"  Feeling pretty confident in my belief that her body causes her quite a bit of discomfort, I replied, "I think our bodies will wear out and there will come a time when we do not need them." 
 
"Will we be together?"  

Oh, yes, we will all be together. Along with everyone you have ever loved.  

  "And Jesus?"  

Oh, yes, and Jesus.  We will all be together.  
    
After we said our good-byes, the volunteers and I walked into the second home, and many of the older residents who love to sing with us were sitting in the lobby.  I asked the assistant if we were singing there.  

"I am sorry.  There is another caroling group coming.  There was a mistake with the schedule. Do you mind singing with those who can't easily get around?"  I assured we had no problem with that, and we walked into the activity room.  I was delighted to see Lilian. She loves to sing, but her crackly voice never gets above about basement level.  I love to sing with her because she is so happy to sing.  Do we sing in key?  Not even close.  Lillian and I don't get wrapped up in such details.  

Then, again in a day of miracles, something beautiful began to happen. As we sang, the room started to fill with those who had been moved to the lobby. You see, they wanted to sing with us, pray with us, and laugh with us as they do every month.  Fortunately, the other carolers were running late and all worked out.   
   
I think it is like that in heaven.  Some of will arrive a little later, and some of us will arrive a little earlier.  However, I think God has us all singing, praying, and laughing right on time.  Maybe even right on key.  

 Blessed be.  
 
   
When we all get to heaven, 
what a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus, 
we'll sing and shout the victory!
                                   - Eliza E. Hewitt, 1898



     

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rooted


This autumn I have been taking pictures of fallen leaves. The colors have been so beautiful, and the light sometimes gives a sense of a magic carpet that has been laid down for us.  Therefore, when I saw the leaves in the attached picture, my first thought was that they had fallen from a nearby tree.  I quickly learned my assumption was wrong.  The leaves were very much attached to stems, and the stems were very much rooted in the damp earth.  This is a picture of something vital, beautiful, and very much alive.  
 
Last week, I saw Rita.  I met her early in my ministry, and I have always enjoyed her company. She is from the south, and when she was healthier she was the epitome of a gracious southern belle:  beautifully coiffed, friendly, humorous, and more than a little bit flirty.   Her Alzheimer's even then was apparent, but for quite awhile she was able to work around it.  Of course, that strategy works only for so long.  Eventually, her family moved her from the community where I met her, and I lost track of her for some time.  
 
She has since surfaced in another community, one that I like very much.  However, her illness has progressed substantially, and most of the time she does not respond to my greetings.   Nonetheless, when the assistant brought her into the worship service, I was glad to see her, and went over to say hello.  Again, no visable response.  
 
This community loves Christmas carols, and we weave them into our services all year long.  On this day, just before communion, I asked the pianist to simply play one of the carols, and I encouraged us all just to sit and listen.  I can't even remember what carol he chose. However, as he played, I noticed that Rita was leaning forward with her head cocked to one side.  A beautiful smile was on her face.  I do not know if she was simply listening, or if she was seeing a moment from another time.  We do not know these things.  However, I am convinced that she was very much present in the moment, whatever moment she was experiencing, and that she was happy and at peace.  That is truly all I need to know.    
  
It is easy to simply dismiss those with advanced Alzheimer's as "out of it."  They may indeed be outside our understanding of the "it" we think of as the present.  However, we are all rooted and grounded in God's love, and those roots cannot be severed.  Memories may not be easy to access, but as long as we who can do so keep reaching out, offering the communion of music, touch, prayer, and love, memories and presence can surface. Often, they are beautiful; rich enough to even catch our attention, and our hearts.

 
 
I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, I ask that you will have the power to grasp love's width and length, height and depth, together with all believers.  I ask that you'll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God. 

Ephesians 3:17-19  





Joy

 


This Sunday,  many Christians will be lighting the Advent candle of joy.  Joy is beyond the celebration after a temporary gain.  Joy runs deeper than that.  It is surrendering to letting love bloom, even against the backdrop of apparent barreness, darkness, and chill. 
It is trusting that God is always with us, whatever we must go through.  If you are thinking that sounds very difficult, well, know you are not alone in that feeling.  That is the beauty of community.  Together, we can rekindle the light.  It is seldom a solitary effort.   Together, we accept God's love for all as our own.  
  

No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree, so will the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.   Isaiah 65:22

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Refreshment

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I do not have special Advent candles, but as I put fresh tapers on the mantel, I think of the powerful,wonderful words: hope, peace, joy, and love.  
 
Tyler and I have just returned from spending some time in the home of long-time friends who live out of state.  Over the course of the past few days, we lingered at their table daily. Every morning I drank tea from this teapot, and every day my appreciation of friendship and beauty grew.  Today I think that unless we really make time for (in other words, befriend)  hope, peace, joy, and love, they will remain only words.  Like the people we meet, if we do not spend time with them, they will not become a part of who we are.  They will not become our friends.  We will not be able to rest in their presence.      
 
Throughout December, we of New Community of Faith will be reading and discussing Walter Brueggemann's  Sabbath As Resistance, Saying No to the Culture of Now.  All are welcome to join us. It is my hope that each of us can take to heart the idea that Advent is Sabbath, and that we can nurture the practice of pausing and giving our hearts and minds time to rest and reconnect, even in a society that continually stirs everyone with ongoing prompts of needing to be more and to own more.  This engine drives particularly hard in December.  However, an Advent Sabbath can surely help us remember that we are more than consumers, and that Christmas is something so vast that we can never simply achieve it.  We can't work for it; we can't buy it.  However, we can rest in it because it is already here, waiting for us.  
         
    
Thus the Sabbath command of Exodus 20:11 recalls that God rested on the seventh day of creation, an allusion to Genesis 2:1-4. That divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic, (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.  This performance and exhibit of divine rest thus characterize the God of creation, creation itself, and the creatures made in the image of the resting God...That divine rest on the seventh day, moreover, is recalled in the commandment of Exodus 31:12-17, wherein God is "refreshed" on the seventh day (Brueggemann, p. 6).  
   
  
My thanks to my friend who shared the gift of her beautiful teapot, and her time. Both refresh me still.    



   

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Almost Heaven




Those of you who are on Facebook may have seen the following post yesterday.  Ms. Cleo will pass this afternoon, attended by the veterinarian she has flirted with all her life.   Loss is seldom easy, but oh, the good times we had..  I am also grateful that I could sit with Carl yesterday, and thank him for his gentle presence in this world. May we always be willing to love one another. Yes, it is very much worth it.  

     


I've been thinking about heaven today. Not sure what exactly I have been thinking, but I today I think of heaven where the beloved elder Carl, and the beloved elder dog, Ms. Cleo, just might meet for a stroll. The color of this rose surprised me. I think that is what happens when you are thinking about heaven. You get surprised by the heaven right in front of you. Whether in a rose, an old dog, or an old friend.   



Monday, November 10, 2014

Page by Page

Once a month, I am blessed to lead a simple worship service with a small group of elders.  They have been worshiping together for many years. While they do have concerns about their community growing small, there is a comfort among these old friends that I very much appreciate. Even simply standing at the door as they come and go is a blessing.  My heart slows and my breathing deepens.   
One among them, I shall call her Mary, grows frail.  She always smiles and says hello,  but other than that, she speaks very little. After she is guided to her seat, she will take a hymnal, place it in her lap, and turn the pages, one by one.  She does not appear to read, but simply and quietly turns the pages.    
   
In the few minutes of silence before the pastoral prayer, I hear these pages turning.  The sound reminds me of gentle waves lapping the shore.  In this continuous movement, I hear eternity.     
   
I am grateful Mary has a congregation that has been with her a long time.  She has the habit of church in bones; they know which way to go.   We follow as best we can.   

     
The grass withers, the flowers fade, the word of our God stands forever.
Isaiah 40:8.  




    

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Light

When I opened the curtains this morning, I was stunned by the beautiful light of dawn. Suddenly, my world was filled, not with emails, but with gentle pinks and golds. Tyler and Jack were just setting out on their morning jaunt. I, on the other hand, am home with a cold so I am not feeling particularly jaunty.  However, the light quickly took my mind off my sneezes and sniffles. 
 
When I was a child, the story story of finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow always stirred my imagination.  Not for the gold (never was particularly practical about such matters) or the leprechaun. What I dreamed of was standing at the foot of the rainbow, tilting my face upward, lifting my arms and having all those colors fall on me. I wanted to look at my skin and see, not my very ordinary pale pink skin, but every hue of the rainbow.  Such vision set me off on more than one journey to reach the foot of a distant arch of color.  Alas, it always was just a little further than I could reach.   
 
Perhaps I am still on that elusive quest.  Yesterday, standing in front of this tree, and witnessing the interplay of light and color was an experience I shall not quickly forget.  I was grateful to meet the owner of the property.  She has a couple of large bushes of Mexican sage (also known as velvet sage because the purple blossoms are incredibly soft) growing in her front yard.  You can see a bit of one in the foreground of this picture.  Because of these bushes, she also has many hummingbirds gracing her yard.  I am sure she thought I was a bit odd, but I was enthralled.  I thanked her for creating such a hospitable habitat.   May we all try to do the same.  
  
You are going to have to trust me when I tell you about the ruby-throated hummingbird dashing about.  Maybe once I get out of stunned mode, I can actually get a picture.  Maybe.  That shall be no easy task. My eye to hand reflex is fairly slow and surely there really is a limit to what we can expect an i phone camera to capture.  However, for now, I am content to simply stand at the foot of the tree and give thanks.  Such awe is enough.      
   
At once I was caught up in spirit. A throne was there in heaven, and on the throne sat one whose appearance sparkled like jasper and carnelian.    
Rev. 4:2-3   
      

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We Are Related

We are related.  To the so-called madman, to the hummingbird, to the dormant winter seed.  Only when we embrace this, will we know God's Shalom.  Only then will we really come alive.  
     

Earth Song

Listen to things more often than beings.
Hear the voice of the fire, hear the voice of the water,
Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush:
This is the ancestors breathing. 
Those who are dead are never gone;
The dead are not down in the earth:
They are in the trembling of the trees,
In the groaning of the woods,
In the water that runs, in the water that sleeps,
They are in the hut, they are in the crowd.
Those who are dead are not ever gone;
They are in the woman's breast,  they are in the wailing of a child,
They are in the burning log and in the moaning rock.
They are in the weeping grasses, in the forest and the home.
Listen to things more often than beings.
Hear the voice of fire, hear the voice of water.
Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush. 
This is the ancestors breathing.
(Traditional from Senegal, translator unknown)    
  
My thanks to a colleague who sent this in a newsletter a year or so ago. 

     

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

In Good Order

Neighbor Frank keeps a very tidy front yard, and he spends a fair amount of time out front.  If you are driving by, wave, and he will happily wave back.  However, if you are walking by and he is outside, be prepared to pause and converse.  He enjoys a good old fashioned chin-wag as much as anyone I know.   

Yesterday, I was very glad to see him out front tending to one of his hedges.  As I was walking past his house about a week ago, the very slight smell of skunk caused me to pause.  If you have ever had a dog sprayed by a skunk, that scent will always cause you to stop and quickly look around, even though your logic is telling you that the skunk you smell has made good use of the moment and moved right along.  
 
After I had confirmed that there was no skunk in my immediate environment, I looked down and saw a plant covered with these intriguing blossoms.  I realized the smell was coming from the plant. 
  
I didn't have much time to linger that day and it took a few days for me to get back around to this plant.  The question I had in mind was "Did the plant get sprayed by a skunk or does the plant really smell that way?"
   
This time around Neighbor Frank was out front.   We conversed about this, that, and the other, and then I managed to let him know I had a question about a plant in his garden.     
 
"Yes, I am sure I know the plant you are talking about."  We walked over to it. "Very stinky.  My daughter bought it to help deter dogs and cats.  Not sure it really affects them, but it is a very fast grower. The smell keeps me from pruning it very much."  What brilliant plant strategy.  
 
However, I don't think this plant is  long for Neighbor Frank's yard, if for no other reason than it is threatening to take over a pretty and well behaved pink and white azalea.  The fact that his daughter planted it probably causes him to pause, but he is a pruner at heart and his heightened sense of order will probably win the day, and the yard.  I was grateful to see, and even smell it when I did.  I was reminded yet again of the miracle of creation. It is filled with plants and animals that attract, and those that repel. What a wonderful dance this life is.       

 No, I was not tempted to take a cutting home.  That is the blessing of photography. I can simply let life be.     
   
For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.
Romans 8:19  
    

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Coming to Our Senses

I have noticed that when I am photographing flowers, smell is seldom a factor for me.  So much so that unless the scent is really powerful, I forget to sniff.  I become so immersed in the the movement between color, shape, and light that I pretty much forget everything else.  However, smelling flowers is one of the great joys in life, and I certainly do not want this important sense to go dormant.  In a society that is overladen with chemicals and artificially scented products, it is tempting to not even bother to smell our way around.  That, dear friends, is a loss we cannot afford.  
 
This week I was blessed to spend a couple of days with long-time friends at Villa Maria del Mar in Santa Cruz.  I think that each one of us at some point found ourselves exclaiming, "Doesn't the air smell wonderful?"  Sea air is so recognizable, that if we have stood on a beach just once and breathed in, I think we would forever recognize the smell should we return.  In fact, our relationship with the ocean may be so primordial that we might recognize the smell even if we have been blind desert dwellers all our lives. 

During this retreat I also witnessed something else about smell.  By the front door of the retreat house grows a lovely green plant in a pot.  Friday mornings are a busy time at the house as those of us who are finishing up week long retreats are vacating our rooms and packing our cars.  As I was walking into the house to turn in my keys, another guest, someone I did not know, was dashing out. She looked at the plant and exclaimed, "Mint!"  She then picked a leaf and declared that it smelled very good.  She then continued on her way.  
 
I love both the smell and taste of real mint and have some growing in our yard.  I did not recognize this plant as mint, but it certainly could be in the mint family.  I picked a leaf in anticipation.  

Nothing.  I did not smell mint, nor did I taste mint.   Either this woman's anticipation of mint over-rode her actual experience of the plant, or my senses are duller than I thought. I do hope it is the former.    
   
This morning I return to the dance of light and color - a picture actually taken on a foggy morning on a street just above the beach in Santa Cruz.  Alas, I cannot tell you if these roses have any scent.  Many hybrids don't, but I must not jump to conclusions.  I shall work on that.    
   
Today, may we breathe deeply and make room for all our senses.  Perhaps we do not live life but rather we are woven into its beautiful fabric. Let us pay rapt attention and give thanks for all the glorious threads.   
     
"Come," my heart says, "seek God's face!" 
Your face, O God, do I seek.   
 
Psalm 27:8   
The New Century Psalter



      

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mistaken Identity

While the man whose name I thought was Carl attends worship irregularly, I was surprised to not see him this week.  When I asked about him, the assistants all agreed there was no one by that name.  Puzzled, I began to describe him as thin and in a wheelchair, but I realized that description was pretty generic. I took the plunge:  "Well, sometimes he can be a bit cranky."  
 
In unison they laughed and responded, "Earl.  He is still upstairs."  They gave me his room number, so I went to see him.   I don't always try to track down those who miss a worship service, but despite my not remembering his name, the last time I saw him we had had a good conversation about some of his frustrations.  I felt the need to follow-up.
      
Earl reminds me of an old feral cat.  He seems to yearn for companionship, but at times he almost hisses before he leaves the room.  He has some scars that lead me believe his life has not been easy.  He is testy, but I can't help but like him.     
 
I found him in his room watching an old western and looking quite forlorn.  He surprised me by taking my hand. 
  
We talked, and then he said he quietly said he was afraid of dying like his first wife.  "How did she die?"  He replied that she died trying to catch her breath.  He now has a traceha tube.  He added, "I wish I had not taken breathing for granted. I wish I could have been more grateful for my breath."  

I smiled.  "Earl, the good news is that it is not too late."   He looked out of the corner of his one good eye, and slowly smiled back.  Then he said, "OK, I will be in worship next time." 
 
As I left, he said, "God bless you."  I thanked him.  God had indeed done just that. 
   

Wearing God's Love

I do not know how much Jill really gets out of the worship service.  She is quite hard of hearing, and she is blind.  However, the assistants always see that she sits close to the piano, and she loves to take communion.  After the service this week, I asked her how she was doing.  

She smiled and replied, "Well, not too good.  My heart is not strong, and my arthritis is bothering me.  I cannot see or hear.  Not good for much." She then giggled her very delightful giggle. "But, they get me up every morning and decorate me."  

I could not help but laugh.  Whoever tends to her does so very lovingly.  Her hair is always in a tidy bun.  Her make-up is done with a light touch.  She always has on a simple print dress and stockings, and old-fashioned dangling earrings that she tells me she wins in bingo.  She really is quite beautiful.    

"Jill, you bring much joy into this world. That is good for so very much."  My response seemed to surprise her and we thanked one another as we hugged.  
Today is Sunday.  The world could probably use a break from our usefulness. Let us allow ourselves be gloriously clothed in God's love, and simply be.  That is surely useful enough.
   
Let my whole being bless the LORD...
how fantastic you are! 
You are clothed in glory and grandeur! 
You wear light like a robe...
Psalm 104: 1-2    
    

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Present

Yesterday's flower turned out to be a natal plum flower.   What a lovely thing. I had forgotten about the photograph, until I spotted this bud a couple of days ago.  I believe it, too, is a natal plum flower, just a different stage.  
  
I saw Mozelle last week.  One of the assistants mentioned that she is 98.  Mozelle retorted, "I am not 98. I am 95." She then looked at me and said, "You have a very beautiful face.  I think people trust you." 
  
I love Mozelle, but I knew she was not through.  I also knew that one must brace oneself to not take some of her follow-ups personally.  "But, you have very small eyes."
   
Of course, the image that came to mind was not one of beauty, but rather some poor beady-eyed, haggard chaplain.  We did not linger with that particular conversation thread.   
  
Yet, her comment led me to remember my father's eyes.  I think they may have been rather small as well.  However, he made good use of those eyes.  He was always looking, always noticing, always keeping an eye on the life around him.  Ranchers are like that.  They must pay attention and see what can easily be overlooked.  He loved the land around him,and even in the inevitable West Texas drought, I don't think he ever wearied of looking at it.  
   
Thank you, Mozelle.  I am grateful to remember that while life with Dad could be difficult, he probably was the one who taught me to not only look, but to try to see. 
  
Yes, she is 98. However, I am not going to be the one to tell her that.   She loves to laugh, and does so readily.  When she does, I often think of Sarah, listening to the angels and giggling, because she cannot believe she is to bear new life in what seemed to be barren land (Genesis 18).   
       


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Surprise

I came across this blossom a couple of months ago.  Its sweet, sweet scent tells me it must be in the gardenia family.  Like many of the flowers I photograph, its beauty caught me quite off guard.
    
Tomorrow, Oct. 15, marks my seven year anniversary with SpiritCare.  Like this lovely flower, the ministry has startled me with its beauty.  I am grateful.
       
May God's beauty and love astound you, today and always.   You are part of this ministry, and I thank you.  
  
One thing I ask of the LORD; 
this I seek: 
To dwell in the LORD's house 
all the days of my life, 
To gaze on the LORD's beauty, 
to visit God's temple.  
  
Psalm 27:4   




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Out of My Way (Or Perhaps Into)

Today was the day to visit a busy skilled nursing community in Alameda.  I then usually have a break until I am scheduled to be at a rehab hospital in San Leandro later in the afternoon. I try to use this break to pause and peruse an antique store, or like today, shop at a produce market I particularly like.  As I was putting quarters in the meter, I decided to add two more, and take a walk around the block. The weather has cooled just a bit, and my schedule, while not completely open, allowed me some time.    

I turned the corner, and walked a little further.  I was surprised to find a used book store.  I am always grateful to discover one, but I really was not going to stop.  Like most pastors, I have a lot of books, including several still waiting to be read.  However, on the shelf outside the store was a book about the work of the artist Paul Klee.  A beautiful book.  I tried to set it down twice, agreeing with myself that yes, it was a lovely book, but I really must remember that I have plenty of books.  Yet, the colors, shapes, and figures kept calling me.  I did some mental calculations.  I knew I had enough cash to buy the book, and I figured I could use my debit card at the market.   I counted out my money and claimed the book as my own. 
  
I continued on, and turned a corner again.  I was delighted to discover a charming bit of tile work at the entrance of a rather plain apartment building. I have attached a picture of some of the detail.  I could not find an artist's name, but I am so grateful that it exists. This sort of simple discovery is what leads me to walk around the block; take a different freeway exit, or park a little further from the door.  We are more than our routines, and I believe this quest to be a spiritual practice.  Certainly Jesus seemed to understand the benefits of a good wander.    
   
I did end up at the market, and bought, among other things, some beautiful peppers.  They are the color of an habernero, but shaped like a serrano.  I meant to ask if they were hot, but forgot.  I suppose, one way or another, I am in for another  surprise. 

Blessings on your journey.  May you always feel it beckoning you ever on.  


  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Ballet








Ruth and Ruby live in the same small skilled nursing community.  They are sisters, and both were both born in Arkansas.  Ruth loves our worship services; Ruby is quite ambivalent about them.  Ruth expresses herself quite coherently, but she is paralyzed from the waist down.  Ruby is stronger physically, although she is in a wheelchair, but like several others in this community, she has some dementia.  

When I arrived there this week, they were both in the activity room.  Ruth always reaches out to me and says, "Oh, honey, I am so glad to see you. It has been too long."  I am always glad to see her as well.  Then Ruby surprised me by saying, "Why, how nice of you to drop by!" She then continued to chat about things.  Ruth rolled her eyes as she often does when people get noisy.  I believe she has a deep need for silence, and that sometimes is not easy to come by in skilled nursing.   
   
As the service got underway, Ruth kept chatting, much to Ruby's chagrin.  Then Mary, who was sitting in front of me decided she wanted to pour some water from a pitcher into her glass.  However, she missed  her glass by quite a bit and water poured on the floor.  I kept talking about John 15 and how we all have a place on the vine and walked over and asked Mary and asked if I could pour some water for her.  I then gently moved the pitcher out of her reach, and motioned to the aide who was just coming into the room that a mop was needed.  He nodded and quickly returned with mop and a yellow "floor is wet" sign.  
   
At that point, Ruby decided that it was time for her to leave, but she was have trouble maneuvering her wheel chair between two other wheel chairs and the yellow sign. Pausing to ask Mary if she would mind if I moved her up a bit, I helped Ruby make it through the mini-maze.   Ruby said that she wanted to see what was "out there."  I sympathize with that longing, so once her chair had cleared the maze, I announced, "Ruby, you are free!"   With a whoop that would make any preacher proud, she raised her fist in the air and off she went.   I looked at Ruth who was smiling, but shaking her head and rolling her eyes.  She is a realist, and sure enough, it was not too long before one of the assistants brought Ruby back in. She did not seem to mind.  Perhaps that one moment of freedom was enough. And for some reason, more residents took communion that morning than ever before. 

I am grateful for a role in this dance.  We are knitted together with laughter, frustration, spills, bread, and song.  We belong to one another, and Christ is among us.  I am glad that I, too, belong.
   
Remain in me, as I remain in you. 
John 15:4   

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Yellow Bird Magnolia



I recently watched a Nature rerun of a look into some of the work of two Papua New Guinean biologists as they tracked and recorded the elaborate mating dances of the various species of the bird of paradise (the feathered variety, not the plants). Working in the jungles of this remote land does not look easy, and the patience to sit in a blind for days joined only by mosquitoes is not for the faint. However, I am grateful for their tenacity. The dances of the wildly beautiful male birds are stunning. They spread their wings and strut, puff, sing, and even swing upside down from a nearby branch while flaunting vibrant feathers of every hue, shape, and length. Some males were so diligent about clearing the dance floor of loose twigs and debris before the big dance that I think we could use one around the house.

However, maybe even more striking for me was the respectful, even tender way the biologists interacted with the tribal members who covet the colorful and dramatic feathers for their own elaborate dances. The study became a way to help the tribes understand how to preserve the headdresses created from the feathers to help alleviate some of the pressure on the bird population today. Such balancing acts we all need to learn. There is no part of nature that is not under some pressure from human activity, and no doubt, these tribes are experiencing encroachment as well. We humans have a long history of coveting beauty,strength, and land at any cost. Alas, it seems even dancing can take a toll.

The picture that is attached is not of a bird of paradise, but a yellow bird magnolia. A friend and colleague helped to identify it. Over the past few months, I have been surprised at the number of magnolia trees I am seeing in this area of San Leandro. Photographing the blossoms can be a little tricky. If the tree is mature, most of the flowers are too high to photograph. Also, the blossoms are short-lived. More than once I have kept an eye on an unfolding flower for a day or two, only to return and discover that I missed the apex. Fortunately, I am left, not with mosquito bites, but the whiff of a slight, sweet fragrance that perhaps is more intense in the hot, humid climate of their native south.

I understand the wind is expected to shift today, making the day grow hot. I am grateful for what I have seen, for the next time I am out and about, it will be different. We cannot control the wind, but maybe we can dance a little more lightly.

God saw how good it was, and God blessed them saying, "Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas; and let the birds multiply on the earth." 

Genesis 2:22

For more information on the program, use this LINK



   





Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sunday Mornings

Sunday mornings probably finds most pastors in their study or office.  They may be in prayer or meditation.  They may be reading scripture or a devotional and reviewing their sermons - beautiful and worthy practices. However, my Sunday morning prayer time is often started in the kitchen. Sometimes I bake biscuits or scones. Some mornings I put together a salad, slice some fruit, or make sandwiches.  I do this because at New Community of Faith (west San Jose) we gather at the the table for lunch after our service.  To say that our meals are eclectic is an understatement, and I cannot claim that they are always nutritionally balanced.  Yet, generally everyone brings something to share, and we often do have a fairly healthy lunch.  However, what really matters is that over this simple meal we talk of things, and the sojourner is always invited to the table.  I think my ministry literally comes to fruition when I say, "Please join us for lunch. There is plenty." 

Yet, please do not assume that my time in the kitchen is not prayerful.  I think I have always prayed in the kitchen.  I pray for those the food will feed, and for those who who have succumbed to believing that there is no table for them.  For those who search.  For a world at war.  For sustainable farming.   I give thanks for those who taught me to cook.   I give thanks for pots and pans.  For Moses and Martha.  For Christ.  For learning that cooking always leads to more cooking. That from one meal comes another, and there lies is a profound blessing.      
  
Blessings on your autumn harvest.  May you find great joy in the receiving and in the sharing.   Let us remember, Christ comes as host, and Christ comes as guest, and everyone, no matter how hungry or thirsty, are always welcome at this table.  
    
   
Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.
 
Ezekiel 47:12





Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Magnolia

How precious to me are your designs, O God; 
how vast the sum of them! 
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands; 
to finish, I would need eternity.   

Psalm 139:17-19