Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Learning the Way

We have numerous liquidambar trees in our neighborhood. They grow quite tall, and the leaves turn color in the fall.  As I walked yesterday, I realized that almost all the leaves had turned brown.  It was just a week or so ago when I was admiring patterns and colors of the beautiful leaves that had fallen to the ground. They are now beginning to crumble and decay. The only leaves that had any color were on the ivy growing along the freeway overpass.  
 
In the book, Fully Alive, John Main writes that we are pilgrims, and that our challenge is "learning to dispossess ourselves so that we can continue on the pilgrimage unencumbered."  Pilgrims are more than just wanderers. The pilgrim journey is about moving deeper into the awareness of God. As I ponder this, Jesus' statement that he was "the way," begins to make more sense.  It is something akin to saying, "God is known in our living and our dying. God can never be possessed, but experienced." Jesus spent much of the last three years of his ministry on the road. No doubt as he walked he was reminded that life is not static, but ever changing. Yesterday, the leaves told me this. We can hold on just so long, but eventually we must let go. However, what keeps this from being dreary news is that we cannot fall "out of God."  We are always changing, but we are also always held.  
  
Thomas said to him, 'Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life.' 
John 14:5-6
          
 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Naming the Blessing

Last week, after leaving one of my worship services, I was waiting in a dedicated left hand turn lane, fairly far back in a line of cars. I noticed an older man sitting at the head of the median. He had a sign, and while I could not read it, I was sure he was seeking money.  We have had some drenching rains in January, and many chilly nights. This memory caused me to look and see if I had any money. Only a dollar bill.  Not a great contribution, but I decided to pass it on.  
The line started to move, and I was a little concerned about trying to pass on this dollar as cars were turning.  For whatever reason, the man did not walk down the median, but continued to sit. The driver of the car ahead of me reached out and handed him a dollar, so I assumed, since we were all traveling slowly and in the same direction, I could do so safely as well.  However, as I reached out to give the dollar, sure enough, the driver behind me bumped into me. Once the dollar was securely in the hands of the other, I continued on, pulled into a parking lot and got out of my car.  
The other driver was a young woman, quite stylishly dressed. She was apologetic, and even said, "I saw you stop. I do not know why I did not." We examined our cars. She had a crumpled license plate and my rear bumper reflected a faint outline of the impact.  However, after driving 50,000 miles in bay area traffic, I have little concern about keeping my car in pristine condition.  She said she felt badly about running into me when I was simply trying to do something nice. I tried to assure her there was no real damage done, and the man did get his dollar.  We shared contact information "in case something came up." As we said our good-byes, I gave her a blessing. Despite her nice car, beautiful clothes and perfect make-up, I sensed some vulnerability.  
   
A few days later she called saying she just wanted to make sure I was alright.  I assured her I was just fine.  Yet, I wondered if there was something more to the question so I asked her how she was doing.  
She said she was okay, but then she paused. "I want to thank you for giving me a blessing. That really meant a lot to me."  That day, I was wearing a collar.   
  
We humans, with our ideologies and our passions, are crashing into one another quite a bit these days.  As we strive to hear the truth amid some seemingly thoughtless actions and reactions, there is a lot of ruckus being raised, names being hurled, sides taken, and real harm being done.  This morning, I think of Jacob wrestling's match in Genesis 32:22. Jacob was left with a limp, but he was also left with a blessing and a new name.  Even the location of the struggle was renamed: Peniel (face or vision of God).    
Who was Jacob wrestling with? Some say a man; some say an angel. We know we can be difficult to tell them apart.  However, as I continue to hear the daily news, I wonder what new name we and our land may end up with. I have no doubt that change is occurring. 

In Exodus, we read that Moses was told that we cannot see the face of God and live. That may be true, but Jacob was convinced he had seen God.  I do know we can see the face of Christ. That day, I saw Christ in an old man sitting in the median asking for money. I saw Christ in a young woman dressed for success, but who seemed to be struggling to live into her clothes. Sacred Presence is everywhere.  Therefore, I will continue to pray for the one who was elected. He has called himself Christian. May he live into that name as he looks into the faces of others. May he see God and live.    
  
John O'Donohue wrote a beautiful blessing for a leader. It is a little long, but I feel I should include the whole blessing. It is for us all.   
   

​​
May you have the grace and wisdom
To act kindly, learning
To distinguish between what is
Personal and what is not.

May you be hospitable to criticism.
May you never put yourself at the center of things.
May you act not from arrogance but out of service.
May you work on yourself,
Building up and refining the ways of your mind.
May those who work for you know
You see and respect them.
May you learn to cultivate the art of presence
In order to engage with those who meet you.
When someone fails or disappoints you,
May the graciousness with which you engage
Be their stairway to renewal and refinement.
May you treasure the gifts of the mind
Through reading and creative thinking
So that you continue as a servant of the frontier
Where the new will draw its enrichment from the
old,
And may you never become a functionary.
May you know the wisdom of deep listening,
The healing of wholesome words,
The encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
The decorum of held dignity,
The springtime edge of the bleak question.
May you have a mind that loves frontiers
So that you can evoke the bright fields
That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.
May you have good friends
To mirror your blind spots.
May leadership be for you
A true adventure of growth.
​    
To Bless the Space Between Us, John O'Donohue, Doubleday, 2008, page 151-152.   


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Morning

I came across this meditation in Esther de Waal's book, Lost in Wonder. It is a thoughtful  book to simply peruse prayerfully to see what speaks to you.  This passage startled me.  I do not have a photograph of a daffodil, but I think this magnolia blossom has much worth.   
   
I looked for awhile at the daffodils, and asked myself the question: What do you want of your life? and I realized with a start of recognition and terror 'Exactly what I have' - but to be commensurate, to handle it all better.    
  
After I read it a couple of times, I thought, "Very Benedictine." Then I remembered that yes, she is a Benedictine oblate.      
   
My prayer for you all is that you can find something or someone to enjoy today. If you are Christian, go to church if you can.  We need strong and faithful communities. We also need to get out and enjoy the beauty of this world and one another. As the wonderful old spiritual goes, "Trouble don't last always."  My deep gratitude to friends who have encouraged me this week.  Thank you. 
    
    

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Night Thought

"Although we yearn for the light and long to go 'into the world of light', we find instead that the pattern of our human life means living between both dark and light in a process that is never simple." 

Esther de Waal, 
​​
Lost in Wonder
​ 
 
    
 

Living Prayer

The following came to me this morning in an email from Plough Publishing House.  I was not familiar with Jacques Ellul, but have learned he was a prolific author and professor, born January 6, 1912 and died on May 19, 1994.​ He was involved in the French Resistance of World War II, another rather serious time in the recent history of our world.  Thankfully, we can draw strength from the determined faithful who have come before us. Guidance is available as we face our times.      

​"​
Prayer is not a discourse. It is a form of life, the life with God. That is why it is not confined to the moment of verbal statement. The latter (verbalization) can only be the secondary expression of the relationship with God, an overflow from the encounter between the living God and the living person.
​"   
  
Jacques Ellul, Prayer and Modern Man 
    
   

Friday, January 27, 2017

Where Love Goes, There We Will Follow

One thing positive that I see happening now is that many Christians, including myself, are giving some serious thought and taking part in conversations about what it means to be a Christian. There is always the temptation to coast along, taking our faith for granted. That is, until we find ourselves at odd with those in power. Then again we ask, "What does it mean for me to be a Christian?"  
 
This morning I have been struggling with that very question because the news about the direction our nation seems to be going is troubling. However, the news in Jesus' time was not promising either. That is, until he himself became the good news. Here is where we are being led in.   
 
The following quote is from Henri Nouwen in his book, In the Name of Jesus: 
  
My movement from Harvard to L'Arch made me aware in a new way how much my own thinking about Christian leadership had been affected by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power. Too often I looked at being relevant, popular, and powerful as ingredients of an effective ministry. 
The truth, however, is that these are not vocations but temptations. Jesus asks, "Do you love me?" Jesus sends us out to be shepherds, and Jesus promises a life which we increasingly have to stretch out our hands and be led to places where we would rather not go. He asks us to move from a concern for relevance to a life of prayer, from worries about popularity to communal and mutual ministry, and from a leadership built on power to a leadership in which we critically discern where God is leading us and our people.     
   
The work of Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen at L'Arch, communities dedicated to living with and serving those with developmental difficulties, has certainly influenced my ministry. Today I am reminded of just how radically Jesus, Jean Vanier, Henri Nouwen, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and countless other Christians loved and still love today. Lives have been dedicated and sacrificed not to amassing strength and power, but to learning how to surrender to the love of God and those they served.  Jesus is still asking the question, "Do you love me?" If we can honestly even whimper a yes, then we reach out our hands, pick up our crosses and go.   Especially in these difficult days.
   
Go and be the good news your own community so needs to experience. Know that you go in love. 
   
In the Name of Jesus, Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri J.M. Nouwen, Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989, page 91-92.     
 
Biblical passages:  John 21:15-19 and Matthew 16:24  
 
    
 

  

   

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Together

I was grateful to see John in worship this week.  I was also a little puzzled because he kept chatting to a woman sitting next to him. I know he values conversation, maybe even more so since he now lives in a community where many people no longer speak. However, he is usually very attentive when we are there.  
 
Afterwards, I thanked him for telling me the story of the magi (see my January 6 post explaining the tradition of setting out wine for the magi and sugar cubes for their camels) and that I had shared it with many. He smiled and replied, "It is no story. Anywhere you go in Europe you will see the same thing." I then introduced myself to the woman sitting next to him.  John then said, "She is my wife." 

In communities dedicated to memory care, I hear of all sorts of adoptions as the sense of linear time blurs. People often introduce someone as their mother or their brother​ or their girlfriend. One man keeps trying to call me Reverend, but usually ends up calling me Father. I generally go with the pronouncement even when I know the relationship described is not exactly accurate. However, John's statement surprised me because he seems to thinking clearly. She told me her name and I could not resist asking her if indeed they were married.  She laughed and said yes; she had just moved there a couple of weeks ago.  I gave them both a blessing on this new time of their lives. Sitting side by side in their wheelchairs, they were smiling and seemed content. 
 
I am grateful the two of them are traveling together.  I am enjoying their presence in this particular community, although they do not seem to really need memory care, and that does seem a little selfish on my part.  However, I also recognize that the time I spend with people is short; I do not see a complete picture.  As the activity assistant held open the door for me to leave, I silently thanked God and asked for forgiveness. I was reminded that they, and all of us, are in God's hands, not mine, and they seem to be doing fine. I believe they are happy, and I walked out celebrating love. 

 
Who is that coming up from the wilderness, 
leaning upon her beloved? 
O you who dwell in the gardens, 
my companions are listening for your voice,
let me hear it.  
 
Song of Songs 8:5,13  
   
  

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Authority

I started this reflection in December, but am just now getting back to it. It concludes with Stephen Mitchell's translation of Psalm 24 which I find profound. Someone recently commented that she wondered if regular reading of the psalms “achieved” anything.  If we make the reading itself the sole goal, then perhaps no. However, surely the deeper purpose of the the psalms is to bring us new understanding and a renewed sense of how God is calling us to be. Worrying about achievement, just for the sake of achievement, is bringing us much imbalance and even destruction.  Let us learn to live, alive with mercy and care, for all.    

The reading for December 20 in The Rule of Benedict by Sister Joan Chittister explores the role of those who are in positions of monastic authority. The reading has stayed with me because  I think this reflection can be translated to all the communities in our lives, whether they be a monastery, a skilled nursing community, a family, a school, a house of faith, or yes, even our government.   
There is no such thing as a private life in globalized world. For a monastery, there never was. The monastery is that model of a place where the doors are always open, the environment is always gentle, the rhythm is always ordered, and God is always the center of life. A monastery is to be a light to remind all of how beautiful the world would be if we shaped our own lives out of the same values. ...What happens in a Benedictine monastery should touch the spiritual life of an entire region. For this reason, whatever might erode monastic life - a breakdown of lifestyle, a contrived election, a loss of authenticity - is definitely everybody else’s business.  


Yes, these are ideals, and we humans should be guided by ideals.  We will fall short at times, but if we hold to the ideal that we are always called into relationship with God, the essence of our lives, and the lives of those who are trying to be in relationship with us will not be torn, but rather strengthened.  This is how I interpret the Benedictine vow of conversatio morum, “the challenge of to continual, on-going conversation, being open to the new, saying yes to following Christ’s call to discipleship wherever that may lead.”  I am certainly not implying that one must be a Christian to have a position of leadership in our communities and our government. However, the hope is that the call to leadership is authentic, not contrived, and that those called will remember that the conversation must always be about the greater good, not just private gain.  In his Rule, Benedict wrote quite a bit about leadership, viewing it as the lynch pin of a healthy community. This may be a lesson we all need to relearn, whether we ourselves are in a leadership position, or voting for someone to courageously, yet humbly, into that role.
     
Psalm 24
The Book of Psalms
Stephen Mitchell   
  
The earth belongs to the Lord,
And everything is his.
For he founded it in empty space
And breathed his own life-breath into it,
Filling it with manifold creatures,
Each one precious in his sight.   
  
Who is fit to hold power
And worthy to act in God’s place?
Those with a passion for the truth,
Who are horrified by injustice,
Who act with mercy to the poor
And take up the cause of the helpless,
Who have let go of selfish concerns
And see the whole earth as sacred,
Refusing to exploit her creatures
Or to foul her waters and lands.  
Their strength is in their compassion:
God’s light shines through their hearts.
Their children’s children will bless them,
And the work of their hands will endure.
 


The Rule of St. Benedict, Joan Chittister, O.S.B., Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992, p. 164
Seeking God, The Way of St. Benedict, Esther de Waal, Liturgical Press, 2001, p. 13

A Book of Psalms, Stephen Mitchell, Harper Collins, 1993, page 14.


 
 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Freedom To Grow

This morning's reading from The Rule of St. Benedict (page 59)  reminds me of something important about obedience:  "Real obedience depends on wanting to listen to the voice of God in the human community, not wanting to be forced to do what we refuse to grow from."  
  
These times are going to call for much discernment in our lives, our families, and our communities.  Sound leadership will help the people grow into their full potential. Obedience must be rooted in love in order for us to live more fully in love. Real growth is lovingly coaxed and guided, but not manipulated. God does not trick us or mock us.
   
"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit."  
 
2 Corinthians 3:17-18    

 
  

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Night Prayers

I have returned to my practice of saying the Loving Kindness Prayer, also known as metta meditation, in those nights when I wake and have trouble returning to sleep.  While it is relatively easy to pray this prayer for those I love, I know I must also pray this prayer for the one who has just been elected.  That is turning into a humbling experience, but in truth, I do want him (and others) to be filled with loving kindness, to be healthy in every way, to be at peace, and yes, even happy.  I am surprised at how much I must trust God with that last one.  I think this is the humility that Jesus knew when he said we should pray for those who harass us (Matthew 5:44).  Yet, when frustrations arise, I am reminded I must also pray this prayer for myself. 
So, dear ones, know that you are in my prayers and in you I find refuge.  May each of us pray for someone difficult to hold in love. May this step guide all our actions in the days and nights to come.     
  
May you be filled with loving kindness. 
May you be healthy. 
May you be at peace. 
May you be happy.  
  
   
One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. 
Sunday Office of the Night Watch The Divine Hours, Phyllis Tickle   
  
   

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A Blessing for the Travelers

The Lord is my shepherd,
I have everything I need.
Psalm 23
A Book of Psalms 
Stephen Mitchell

I spotted  this yesterday. It is growing in an ally, wedged between a wall, a fence, and asphalt.
    


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An Unexpected View of Boldness

Yesterday, I parked my car a couple of blocks away from the small community I was about to visit.  As I walked, I turned the corner and was quite surprised at what was in my view. Our days and nights have been chilly, and we have had quite a bit of rain with more to come.  It does not feel like spring to me, but this tree senses it is time to stir, and that regardless, it must continue its role of being a tree.  I know there was at least one bee, high in the tree, who was grateful.  
For friends in more northern climes, and for those who are struggling with the aftermath of various storms, take heart.  There is a pulse.  

My thanks to author David Whyte for these encouraging words:  
Courage is a word that tempts us to think outwardly, to run bravely against opposing fire, to do something under besieging circumstance, and perhaps, above all, to be seen to do it in public, to show courage; to be celebrated in story, rewarded with medals, given the accolade, but a look at its linguistic origins leads us in a more interior direction and toward its original template, the old Norman French, Coeur, or heart. Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work, a future.

To be courageous, is not necessarily to go anywhere or do anything except to make conscious those things we already feel deeply and then to live through the unending vulnerabilities of those consequences.
To be courageous is to seat our feelings deeply in the body and in the world: to live up to and into the necessities of relationships that often already exist, with things we find we already care deeply about: with a person, a future, a possibility in society, or with an unknown that begs us on and always has begged us on. Whether we stay or whether we go - to be courageous is to stay close to the way we are made.

COURAGE Excerpted From CONSOLATIONS:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning
of Everyday Words
© 2015 David Whyte and Many Rivers Press   


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Reconnecting

Years ago I read Kathleen Norris' books, Amazing Grace, Cloister Walk, and Dakota. I do not remember which book I read first. In at least one of these books, Norris makes the statement that one cannot be a Christian alone; a Christian needs to be in community. I have perused these books, but I cannot find the exact quote. However, I remember being puzzled by the statement. What did she mean? How can that be? It has taken me all these years to begin to understand that Christ is to be found in our relationships. Yes, solitude is a gift we need to open, but like Jesus who spent time in solitude, sooner or later we need to be rejoined with others.
Norris' writings opened the way for me to wrestle with the "big" words of Christianity: church, salvation, redemption, communion, resurrection, and just about every other word in the Bible. As I continue to walk with those in long-term care communities, I believe these struggles have helped many of us find common ground. There is no doubt or confusion too big or too small that will not surface in these communities, and together we face them as best we can. My role may be little more than simply stringing these doubts into a lifeline that we tie around our waists and then toss the remaining line upward. The mystery is that it always seems to be caught, and Jesus holds on. There we find ourselves reeled in and held in the embrace that is the living Christ.
Last night, I dreamed I was standing on a vast ocean. I was not walking, but standing. It was quiet. All was gray, including my clothes. I woke, but when I returned to sleep, the dream repeated. When I woke the second time, I did not move for several minutes. The stillness of standing on undulating water, that which seems impossible to stand upon but there I was, I want to remember.
Norris concludes Dakota with a quote from an unnamed monk (she is a Benedictine oblate): "You have to let the place happen to you...the loneliness, the silence, the poverty, the futility, indeed the silliness of your life."
It is there we take our stand.




Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Drawing Near

I received the following quote from Rabbi Yael (jewishmindfulness.org) on January 6. There is much I do not know about Jewish faith and traditions. However, I have now learned that vayigash means "and he drew near."   

From Rabbi Yael: 

This week’s Torah portion, vayigash, says to us:
The design of our lives takes shape beyond anything we can ever understand.
Instead of trying to figure it all out,
Instead of trying to make rational sense of all the twists and turns,
Our task is to notice the ways the strands of our lives are woven together
And seek to meet each moment
With Truth, Forgiveness and Love.  
    
    
Last month, I saw Stephen for the first time in awhile.  We took one another's hand and he told me that his dialysis appointments had been changed so he was not able to attend worship right now.  He then said, "I pray for your ministry. Is there anything else I can do for you?"  In that moment, I understood a little more about generosity.  There is so much we cannot control.  However, we are given little moments of simply being in the presence of one another. When we have only our hearts to share, there we find Christ who has generously been with us all along.  
  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Travelling On

The repacking of the Christmas decorations has begun. I have enjoyed the simplicity of this particular Christmas and I found the daily practice of lighting a candle at my small terra cotta creche reassuring in the onslaught of the ever present cacophony of news, soundbites, and tweets. I was slightly bothered because the small creche has no shepherds, camels, or angels, so I added a picture of some herders with their camels, a wooden horse and a giraffe that usually reside on on my bookcase, and a picture of an angel. I particularly liked the gentle giraffe because it was tall enough to peer over a corner of the stable. Silly? Of course, but I loved the composition, and the story felt to be my own.     


Yesterday I lit the candle at my creche for the last time. The giraffe and horse are back on my bookcase. One would never know that for awhile   they joined the Magi and shepherds in the ongoing journey of following stars and dreams. Whether we travel dressed in majestic robes, humble garments, or we don the markings of a giraffe, let us remember that we, too, are always being called further on. Esther de Waal describes this ongoing journey as living the Benedictine vow  of "conversatio morum," the willingness to be in "continual, on-going conversation, being open to the new, saying yes to following Christ's call to discipleship wherever that may lead."  We will have moments of rest, but eventually it will be time to rise and continue. Let us not be fooled by noisy Herods who always seem to be trying to lead us astray. Let us go in a different direction, even in those times when the journey becomes difficult. We can be confident because we do not travel alone. This is the lesson of Christmas. It is the journey of the heart that refuses to be safely tucked away in the attic, but rather to be lived everyday. Let us say yes to the invitation, and go.     
  
 
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.  

Matthew 1:12




Seeking God, The Way of St. Benedict, Esther de Waal, The Liturgical Press, 2001, page 13.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Epiphany

The first time I met John, I suspected that his dementia was rooted in depression, and over the course of the past few months, I have seen him grow more engaged. He recently told me he was grateful to have some mental clarity return.  In December, he wheeled into the activity room a few minutes late for the service, but on his own.  He arrived with an apology, but I was glad to see him and tried to remind him that we are pretty informal. He replied, "You come telling us of universal love. The staff really should make certain we get to hear the message." I continued with my sharing of the nativity story, boldly proclaiming,  "And everyone gathered around: the shepherds, the wise men, and the angels..." He stopped me saying that the wise men and the shepherds did not arrive at the same time. I paused, and realized that I had gotten a bit carried away with the story. I replied, "Yes, you are right. However, since we will not all be together again until late January, I guess I am trying to gather everyone in now."  We both laughed and as he looked around the room he responded, "Well, that makes sense," and he let me off the hook. He then asked if I would mind if he told the tradition of Epiphany in his home country. I was delighted. 
 
He said that three glasses of wine would be set out (I think the night before Epiphany), along with three sugar cubes. A window would be left slightly ajar. At some point in the night, the wine would be drunk, and the sugar cubes would be smashed with a small hammer. While I am sure that Melchoir, Balthazar, and Caspar would appreciate a glass of wine on their journey, the smashed sugar cubes confused me. John laughed and said, "The camels!" Seems camels are messy eaters. In gratitude for the hospitality, a present would be left for the children.    
  
In this small community, most of the residents have advanced dementia. While I am sure that can be frustrating for John, he seems to have compassion for the residents, and he often tells me something of their lives. I think he learns his information from family members and friends who visit, and indeed the day I was there, I witnessed a friendly conversation between him and a woman who was visiting her husband. His presence is probably comforting for her and others who may feel stranded as they visit their loved ones. He probably does belong in a different home, and I do hope at some point he can move. However, his presence where he is now is a mysterious gift for us all.  Perhaps like the magi, he is simply going home by another route.  I am grateful our paths have crossed. 
   
  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Monday, January 2, 2017

One

"The call that each person has is to become one with the all-whole, all-holy God. The universality of this call and our response to it is the basis of all true community. When we share the silence of our meditation together, each one is transformed. As we travel within and beyond ourselves, each and all of us become one in him. All cultural, social, educational, religious barriers are transcended in the power of love."  
   
John Main, Fully Alive, page 75    
 
This, to me, is what it means to be one in Christ: to be a part of that which is beyond words and boundaries.  In God, there is no definition; there is only love.