Thursday, April 28, 2016

Being Here

Through the work of Rabbi Yael Levy, I have discovered the ancient Jewish tradition of Counting of the Omer that takes place in the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (the giving of the Torah). Since I am not from the Jewish tradition, there is much that I am probably missing, but I understand that the tradition is based upon the instructions given in Leviticus 23:15-16:
“You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord."   
As I write this, Day 5 is just concluding.  The meditation that Rabbi Levy wrote in her book of devotions, Journey through the Wilderness, has stayed with me through the day: Being where we are rather than where we think we should be or where we wish we could be... 
She then goes on to quote her translation/rendition of Psalm 5:8. I know all too well the ego's struggle with this notion of laying ourselves down down in awe. I have wrestled with it all my life, so I have constantly bounced between fear,recklessness, and feigned apathy.  Perhaps I have come to Mendocino, this land of flowers, ocean, and wind to be reminded that it is really time to lay that all aside.  Because ultimately, all we have to offer God is our selves.  This Jesus knew.  The new grain just might be a human coming without an agenda or a wish list, but rather one yearning to simply be with God.

In your abundant chesed (love), I will enter your house. I will lay myself down in awe. 
Psalm 5:8   

Monday, April 25, 2016


Maybel is an elder who laughs easily so it is easy to spend time with her.  Her parents were from Beijing, but she was born in the U.S. "I was good with my hands, so I trained to be a 'beauty operator.'" She laughed at the phrase. "50 cents for a wash and set. I would get twenty cents; the owner took thirty. But if you wanted a permanent, now that was $25." 
She mentioned her husband, and I asked her if she kept working in the shop after she married.  "Oh, no. My job was to tend to the children. Everything was for the children.  We knew they had to be educated. That was our goal."  I asked her if she ever was able to go to China.  "No, we never did. We did not have the money for that."  I sensed a little regret, but  what really matters to her is that her children have successful careers, and that knowledge brings her peace.  I told her that she and her husband  left a beautiful legacy. She smiled and thanked me.    
While her children are the immediate beneficiaries of that legacy, anyone who talks to Maybel can receive some of it because it is much more than financial. She bequeaths optimism. That is, if there is something you desire, you can work towards it. I have met other elders who share this gift of encouragement. It is a part of who they are. Wheelchairs, walkers, tremors, and even death cannot silence those voices. When we pause and listen closely, we will hear that life is worth the struggle.  That love is real and we can receive.  
Fulfilled are those who walk in simplicity, guided by the Mystery. 
Content are those who are mindful of what is important 
And go forward with an open heart. 
Psalm 119:1-2, Journey through the Wilderness, Rabbi Yael Levy    

Friday, April 22, 2016


Every day, I walk and/or drive by an elder's home here in the neighborhood. In the past two days, I became concerned about some newspapers and at least one book on her porch that she had not picked up. As soon as I got home yesterday, I gave her a call.  
She surprised me with a chipper hello, and she told me she had just fixed herself a bologna sandwich and had poured a beer. "I am going to feed the cats and then go upstairs to read."  She often has moments of confusion and frustration cobbled together with the mortar of some nasty language, but yesterday she was more of what we often call "her old self."  

 Between my being ill in January and February, and then just general dashing around, I  have not been over to her house very often in the past couple of months. She does have visitors and phone calls, and some of us stay in touch via email, but she has become reclusive.  Some of us have been trying to convince her to let us help her to update an Advanced Directive that we doubt even exists.  However, even with our good intentions, we just end up frustrating her more than anything else.  We know what her wishes are, but we can't find anything in writing and she does not want to deal with it.  
Yet, yesterday she and I had a nice simple chat as neighbors do, and  I apologized for not seeing her as much as I have in the past. She sounded surprised. "Oh, no, you have always been a wonderful neighbor! Now, I am just going to feed the cats and then eat my sandwich and drink my beer."  
Sometimes a fading memory can be a blessing, and I will accept the grace of that.  Yet, the paperwork is still a concern. A friend of mine recently mentioned that she was told that if her Advanced Directive is more than a few years old, it should probably be redone.  If it is too old, there is a  good chance that it could be ignored, and I know there are some new documents that should be completed.  I also know there should be several copies: one for your purse, your car, your doctor, your advocate, and probably having it tattooed somewhere on your body might not be out of order.  Perhaps I will host an AD party, and over sandwiches and beer, we can all get our paperwork in good order while we talk about the issues of life, death, and what we hope might happen in between.   
Aging in America.  For some reason, our society is just not set up for it, but together, we can be. There is no reason for us to go it alone.    

Thursday, April 21, 2016


A few months I ago I went to my Facebook page and there were no pictures.  None of my photographs were there, and the news feed had text but no pictures.  This was a temporary glitch, but it did help me realize that my way of taking in the world really had changed.  I find I am needing art at this time of my life, and I am grateful that I am seeing and sharing a lot of art on Facebook.  Some rich discussions have come of this new time of my life.  
One morning this week, I could not find my bifocals.  I thought I remembered taking them upstairs, but I could not find them.  I was pressed for time. I needed to take the dog for a walk and  I had services to lead that morning.  I put on my reading glasses and went out the door.  As I walked, I realized how much I rely on those missing glasses.  I  was not seeing clearly.  When I returned to the house, I looked once more.  I discovered that they had fallen to the floor by the dresser. I did indeed give heartfelt thanks.  
I thought of that moment yesterday. One of the beloved elders got up to help with the door so another elder could get through on her motorized wheel chair.  This resulted in her chair blocking her path to her walker. After her task was completed, she paused and put her hands on the wall behind her. Without thinking much about it, I  said, "Let me bring your walker to you."  She expressed her gratitude.  "I was experiencing some anxiety,"  and she gave me a hug. I know she struggles with anxiety, but this was the first time I had ever seen it slow her down.  I thought of the anxiety I felt over my bifocals.  I cannot even drive at night without them.    
A major element of the aging process is learning to live with vulnerability. That is not necessarily bad news. Our vulnerabilities can bring us a deeper sense of understanding and gratitude.  When we are at our weakest, we can  actually grow stronger in our relationship with God and one another. However, we as a society need to recognize vulnerability not as some personal flaw, but as an inevitable part of life.  We are all going to need a helping hand, and probably much more, at some time in our lives.  That is why I feel discomfort when I hear the exclamations about making America strong again.  I am yearning for an America that is less anxious. Too many children and elders are struggling just to have healthy food and shelter. The same is true of our veterans.  As long as this trend continues, America will not be great, but desperate. 
I am grateful I was able to take this photograph on the day I was without my bifocals.  There is so much beauty in this world.  Let us tend to it and one another with care.    


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Empty Tomb

Just a reminder that we are still in the Easter season.  I love the word, Eastertide. It speaks to me of a life that surrounds us, is within us, and stirs our souls with all that we can hear, feel, and know.  Yet, it is even more.  We stand at the shore and gaze at the wonder of it all.     

Saturday, April 16, 2016


Diana Butler Bass' book, Grounded, is excellent, but one that I cannot read without taking breaks. Sometimes the reminder that we are destroying this good creation is more than I can bear. Sometimes, like with the passage below, I find I need to pause and ponder before moving on.  Here Bass is quoting science writer Carl Zimmer:  
"When you draw your genealogy, you make two lines from yourself back to each of your parents. Then you have to draw two lines for each of them, back to your four grandparents. And then eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents, and so on. But not so on for very long. If you go back to the time of Charlemagne, forty generations or so, you should get to a generation of a trillion ancestors. That's about two thousand times more people than existed on earth when Charlemagne was alive. The only way out of this paradox is to assume that our ancestors are not independent of one another. That is, if you trace their ancestry back, you loop back to a common ancestor. We're not talking about first-cousin stuff here - more like twentieth cousin. This means that instead of drawing a tree that fans out exponentially, we need to draw a web-like tapestry."  
Many years ago, Tyler and I would have dinner about once a week with close friends.  After the four of us would get settled at the table, we would lift our glasses, and one of us would say, "I celebrate your ancestors."  What we were really saying was, "I celebrate you." Today I am reminded those ancestors are also my ancestors.  We are all related.  This belief for me is not new, but it is now quickened because the relationship goes further than human ancestors.  We are related to this earth and all creatures.  We are part of this great Being that some call the Kingdom; some call the Kin-dom, and some simply call Life.  This, of course, is what St. Francis knew and taught.  We all belong, whether we are human, an insect, or a flower.  We belong to God, and to one another.  We belong to the past, and we belong to the future.  How that unfolds remains to be seen.   Regardless, we journey together, and have for a very long time.       
Cousins, neighbors, join me in holy service...
God will listen as I cry out, 
Cry out with me! 
Be comforted with me. 
We would do well to turn away from indifference
As you and I have only our righteousness to offer.   
Psalm 4, Let us Praise, Betty Bracha Stone   

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Different Door

What I spotted when I went out a different door today.  This may be a digger bee, but it is hard to tell.  Digger bees make their nest in soil, so perfectly groomed lawns cause some problems- leave them some bare dirt when you are planting your herbs and flowers.  This could also be one of those tricky hover flies. Or something else entirely!   


Recently, I decided to make one meal a day vegetarian, even vegan if I have it together enough. That has worked out well.   I now have decided that at least once a day, I am going to do something just for the enjoyment of it.  Not because it is good for me, or it needs to be done, or because I think  it would be what a responsible person would do, or even what I believe Jesus would do. Enough.   

On Friday, because I was already in Oakland, I decided to go to Annie's Annuals and Perennials in Richmond.  Over two acres of flowers, CA natives, milkweed, vegetables, and goodness knows what else. I know I missed more than I saw.  But the surprise of it all did me much good.   
Blessings to each of you.  Let us enjoy our happiness, and one another.  By the way, I do think that is what Jesus would do. Do not fret, the serious things will be tended to, and probably with a bit more energy and zeal.    


Saturday, April 9, 2016


"I would like to take communion."   

My heart sank. I had just given him a blessing and was hoping that would be enough. I looked at the activity assistant, and again, she shook her head no. That always poses a dilemma for me. I want to give communion to all who yearn to take it, but some cannot physically take even a simple wafer dipped in water.  In the case of this resident, I have witnessed him becoming so belligerent and loud that the staff have removed him from the room. That also causes me unease. I want to make certain that all who want to attend can do so, but part of my responsibility is to make certain that a safe and worshipful space is held for everyone.  
I breathed and replied, "I am sorry, but the staff tells me you may have a swallowing issue. "  
I felt his frustration rise. His body jerked. "They do not take care of me.  They do not know me."  
"Do you believe they do the best they can?"  We talk about this a lot in this community that gives shelter to the chronically mentally ill - that God calls us to simply do the best we can and that God loves us just as we are. The worship team and I have have experienced some deep, affectionate relationships here so this schism with this resident had been troubling me, more than I had realized.    
He looked at me intently and then quietly said, "Yes, I think they are."  I nodded and replied that I had to heed the requests of the staff.  
"No, you answer only to Christ."  
"And to the body of Christ right here in this room. If I go against the wishes of the staff, then very likely we will not be able to return."   It was then that I looked into his eyes and was surprised by the depth I saw. I also realized that I did not know his name.  
"My name is Sue Ann.  What is yours?"  I learned his name is Bill.   
"Bill, you do not need a wafer. You have been in communion with God since before you were born.  God's love is within you. That is your sacred gift, and no one can take that away from you."     
His eyes welled. "I have been divorced twice.  Tell that to my wives."  
"Bill, we are all learning to love. We all make mistakes. We are in this together." I then blessed him again as the Beloved Child of God that he is.  
 I became aware of the room once more.    
Earlier this week I came across a sentence that read something like, "Whenever you invite Jesus in, he insists on bringing his friends." I remembered that as Bill and I waved good-bye to one another, with the promise we would see each other next month.

 After all, that is what friends do.     

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


This past Sunday I worshiped with a small congregation I had not been with in awhile.  As I sat in the familiar sanctuary and listened to the prayers of the people, I gazed once again upon the cross on the wall. However, in recognition of the Easter season, the horizontal arms of the cross had been draped with a white cloth in such a way that I was reminded of a gentle grandmother holding out a towel for a child getting out of the tub.  I could hear the words from Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest."   I was reminded once again of the One whom I call, "The Welcoming Jesus,"  who greets us with arms outstretched,eyes wide open, and a smiling face. The One who beckons at the ever present cross with the promise that we do not go alone.   
There are many struggles in our world, and I do not dismiss people's sufferings as inconsequential. In just about every direction we turn we can see and experience sorrow, physical pain, mental anguish, deep weariness, fear, and betrayal. There are heavy burdens to bear, and frightening thresholds to cross.  Yet, there are also profound gifts of transformation which ultimately is what the cross is about.  The journey is always to God, and into this realm there is only welcome. 

My thanks to a colleague who shared this poem on his Facebook page yesterday.

Everything Becomes a Door
"We’ll know we have been raised from the dead
when everything becomes a door-
every brick wall
every dead end
every Judas friend
everything we see and smell and taste
everything we think and feel and are
every mountain top and valley bottom
every birth and every death
every joy and every pain
every ecstasy and infidelity-
when every single thing
becomes a door
that opens to eternity
and we pass through
as we could never do before.
And then we’ll wonder why
we’ve spent so many years
just stopping at these doors;
why we’ve always pulled up short,
and turned around,
and walked away,
instead of passing through."
-- Francis Dorff

Saturday, April 2, 2016


When I walked through the front door yesterday of a home dedicated to the care of those with memory impairment, I was surprised to see Matthew sitting just outside the office. He greeted me and took my hand as he always does.  He had some papers in his lap, and said he was waiting to make an important  phone call.  I know he loves the worship services, so I mentioned to him we would be starting in a few minutes and invited him to join us when he was through with his conversation. I noticed that on one of the papers, there was a hand drawn face of a clock. I understand that sometimes people are asked to draw a face of a clock when there is a question of cognitive ability.  
"No, no, I want to come with you now.  If I start the conversation, I will miss the service."   I think Matthew's sense of time is just fine.
We walked down the hall, arm in arm.  "They are all gathered for you.  I am glad you come to us." I tell him I, too, am glad I come.  
As we turned the corner, sure enough the gathered were there.  Greetings were shared. A space opened up for Matthew, and I took my place at the table. I waved to the one who whistles instead of sings. Sister J. (who is a nun) was there. Her hair and makeup had been done.  I told her she looks beautiful. I do not know if she cares about that sort of thing, but obviously someone in her life still does. There was the couple in their usual spot, holding hands.  When they are separate they never take communion, but together, hand in hand, they do.  Doug was there, too.  When I ask him if he wants communion he always replies with effort, "It would be an honor."  I move through the group listening to broken speech and silence, trying to fit words and intentions together as best I can, and simply praying when understanding does not come.

Yesterday, while reading from Psalm 84, I felt the words being heard.  I sensed a listening presence settling around us like wings. This love cannot be measured or drawn, but at times is so tangible there is no room for anything else.             
How lovely is your dwelling place, 
O LORD of hosts. 
My soul longs, indeed it faints 
for the courts of the LORD, 
my heart and my flesh sing for joy 
to the living God. 
Even the sparrow finds a home, 
and the swallow a nest for herself, 
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, 
my King and my God. 
Happy are those who live in your house, 
ever singing your praise.  
Psalm 84:1-4