Sunday, January 28, 2018

Psalm 79

Psalm 79 is a psalm that cries for revenge, and as I ponder today's social and political landscape, I am saddened that collectively we humans still hunger and hunt for retaliation.  The psalm begins with a lament, and Nan C. Merrill's rendition begins beautifully: 

O Merciful Presence, 
the ignorant seem 
unrestrained in the world; 
they defile the Holy Temple, 
your dwelling place within; 
they leave those weaker 
than themselves in ruins.    
Psalm 79 in the Spiritual Formation Bible includes this reassuring note: "God's compassion can reach into our past." Our past does not have to remain a rusted junkyard of hoarded landmines.  As I write this, I hear geese flying over our rooftop, calling to one another to stay together and journey further on.  We, too, have an expansive frontier before us. Let us release what needs to be released and go into that great love.   
Let the cries of the victims of injustice 
come before You; 
according to Your great Power, 
break the bonds of oppression. 
Let all that has been garnered through greed
be returned in full measure 
with open hands. 
Then we your people, 
those who would companion with You, 
will give thanks to You forever; 
from generation to generation 
we will abandon ourselves into your hands
with grace-filled, open hearts.     
Psalm 79, abridged
Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill     

Friday, January 26, 2018

Psalm 78

Because of the flu, most of the communities I serve are quiet now, so I was not surprised to see only a couple of people in the dining/activity room.  The pianist could not be with us, so I simply walked over to their table and asked if I could join them. 

I was grateful to see the good pastor. He is a gentle African American man with bright brown eyes, a quick smile, and a welcoming demeanor. Because he is one who on one day was active in ministry, and the next found himself laid low with a stroke, I really can't call him retired. He missed that stage. 
"What good word have you brought us today?"  I told him I had been pondering John 12:24, the reminder that seed that must fall to the earth in order to bear good fruit.   
"Yes, yes, so important to remember." We then discussed that scary word surrender.  Several other residents walked in and joined us at the table. The good pastor continued to talk, and I saw glimpses of the preacher he once was, and a view of the faithful servant he still is. He talked of people unwilling to age, unwilling to let God work in their lives, unwilling to be weak.  He waved his one more or less mobile arm and said he saw it in the church and he certainly sees it where he lives now.  The others listened, nodded their heads, and murmured their agreement. Each spoke of the difficulty of finding themselves at this stage of being, but not being with others who wanted only to go their own way. This lament is not unusual.   

Eventually the good pastor grew weary and we closed, but I have no question that a fine meeting was held that day. Really what each spoke of was loneliness, of being separated from their imperfect churches, but in that time together, they were gathered in and one among them spoke his truth. They were part of the whole that is Christ, and I was grateful to be in the congregation. 
Listen carefully, my people, 
play close attention all who belong to me, 
For I am about to speak as teacher, 
explaining mysteries of old. 
I will teach you using parables, 
drawn from ancient times. 
I will teach you many lessons 
you must know. 
And what you learn and come to hear 
speak it to your children, 
So generations yet unborn 
will know God's works and ways, 
How God taught ancient Jacob 
and Israel knowledge of the Law; 
how it became a pathway, 
a teaching meant for all.   
Psalm 78: 1-5  
Ancient Songs Sung Anew, 
Lynn C. Bauman     
Truly,  I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24​ 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What a Friend

When I arrived at the memory care home the two volunteers had not yet arrived.  While it is unusual for volunteers to not show up without notice, it does happen, and I do need to be prepared for the "just in case."  I scanned the song sheets and knew the residents would feel comfortable with at least two of the hymns so I went ahead and passed around the sheets, chatting with those who had gathered. I then began to prepare the Communion table.  As I was taking the cup and plate out of my bag, I began to notice the silence. In it, I could hear some murmurings that I knew were quiet conversations, but they came to me as prayers. Down the hall I could hear someone crying.  I could also hear rhythmic clapping. These sounds were not cacophonous, but rather they came together in a way that gave me a sense of all of us being held tenderly in Christ.  In that moment I was set free in a love that was as tangible as the cup and plate that I was holding. 
I then heard Mary say, "Babe, are we going to sing this?"  I looked at her, and thought again how vivid her blue eyes are. The hymn she was pointing to was "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." I know it is one of her favorites so I was not surprised.  "Yes, Mary, let's sing it right now."  Not everyone sang, but enough did that I could celebrate their voices.  The volunteers joined us, and we continued.  At the end of the service, Mary said, "Babe, that was good." Pointing to the hymn again, she asked if we has sung it.  I assured her we not only sang it once, but twice.  "Thanks, Babe. You do a good job."
 You, too, Mary.  "Yea, you and I, we make a good team," she replied.  
That is because we are friends in Jesus.  
Attachments area

Thursday, January 11, 2018

At the Slightest Whisper

When the pianist and I arrived on the memory care floor, there were only two residents in the activity room.  The manager came out of her office and said that most of the residents were in their rooms with coughing and sneezing.  She asked if we would mind singing for the two that were there.  We commenced.  One by one, several staff members gathered in the back of the room to listen. Even if I could say that the only thing I ever accomplished with SpiritCare was to give  staff members a much needed break, that would be enough. 
After the first hymn, I was happy to see Irene came in. She is a gentle, spry woman who seems to always be in a good mood, and always nods her head to the music. One of the staff members helped her sit at the table, and placed a mask on her face. I handed her a song sheet and wished her a good morning.   
As it often happens, her husband came in just as we begin the last hymn (he could be a brother, but my sense is they are a married couple).  He is a tall man, so he bends to  reach her. He gently puts his arm around her, places his mouth close to her ear and whispers.  She always gives him the sweetest smile so even with a mask on, I knew she was smiling. She will generally rise to leave with him. He will acknowledge me with a nod, and I return the slight bow. I have never spoken with him, other than a quick good morning because he comes and goes while I am singing.     
Yesterday, Irene paused as he turned to walk out of the room.  She then stood up, nodded to me, and began to follow him.  She slipped off the mask, began waving it as if it were the 4th of July, and gingerly danced her way out the room. I have never thought of "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" as a dance number, but I think Irene has changed that for me.  She knows faithfulness, and celebrates it at the slightest whisper.  Let's follow her lead.     

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!


​ ​
Chisholm, 1923

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Psalm 77

Two mornings ago I woke from a dream about Lynn C. Bauman's translations of the Psalms.  I know that is a strange sentence, and I really cannot describe the dream, but I woke knowing it was time to return to them.  I have been stuck at Psalm 77 for awhile, and this Advent was busy enough that I veered from regularly reading and sharing the psalms.  Yet, I am always called back to them and I am grateful they do not let me go.  This morning as I read the Psalm, I remember there was water in the dream.   
Psalm 77 is rooted in  a sleepless night: "My mind, an endless cycle, my spirit at lowest ebb." A night without comfort; a night drenched in questions and dismay.  While I have had those nights, that night was not one of them.   This Psalm is beautiful, and when a sleepless night returns, I hope I remember to turn to this ancient voice who was awake, not to keep watch, but to cry.

Later that day,  I had an appointment at Kaiser that included a fairly long wait for lab work.  As I looked around the crowded waiting area, I saw faces etched with frustration, pain, weariness, and even some tenderness as family members patiently helped those too ill to navigate through Kaiser on their own. I also witnessed staff members valiantly staying encouraging and welcoming. As I often do in crowds, I asked the Holy Mother to be with us all, and I envisioned her starry mantel wrapping around the room bringing peace. The woman sitting next to me noticed my collar and asked me what church I belonged to. I told her a little bit about SpiritCare, and then she told me her son had recently been murdered. As I remember her darkened eyes, I am certain she has known many nocturnal tossings and turnings with thoughts that "turn ever backward, unreeling through the night."    
However, the psalmists always remind us that whatever we are going through, we can and must eventually surrender our hearts and minds to the mystery that is God. There we can find  strength, renewed purpose, and even peace. This psalmist ends his nighttime turbulence with a beautiful reminder of the fearlessness of God: "You walked through water, your path lay through the sea, and though we never saw you take a step, you were our company."    
 As this woman and I talked, I heard my number called. I gave her a blessing and went through the door. The technician waved me in, and he and I joked as he efficiently did his work.  When I walked back through the waiting area, I noticed the woman  was dozing.  I pray that in time she can look forward, not backward, and know that both she and her son are held in an unfathomable love, no matter how overwhelming the  waters might seem.  May a gentle good night be hers once more.    
Holy Mother, where there is sorrow and despair, may Your gentle presence be known. Help me to be a presence of Your love.  Help me to don the mantle of peace.  Amen    
   Today is Epiphany.  Blessings to you all.   

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Invitation

This poem came to me in this morning's email from Panhala.  It did indeed make me laugh out loud.  However, the question is sound, reminding me that the Holy Spirit is definitely not a stick in the mud (which sometimes I tend to be).  She is a beguiling dance partner, always inviting our hearts to join in.  
Sue Ann

To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but ...
If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?

~ Gregory Orr ~

(Concerning The Book That Is the Body Of The Beloved


Monday, January 1, 2018

A Blessing for 2018

"We should understand where the limits of human reason lie; there is much above and beyond these limits that can only be grasped by faith. And that becomes possible for the person who lets all that is human become silent in order to stand before the divine in adoration, reverence, and awe."    
Annemarie W├Ąchter