Thursday, May 24, 2018

A Blessing for the Journey

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also."

John 14:1-3       


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Just a Closer Walk

Some of you know that during one of our recent services in a memory care home, there was a report of a fire.  I do not think a fire actually erupted, but there was a gas leak in the kitchen and the community needed to be quickly evacuated.  There was a flurry of activity and movement, and a variety of languages swirled around us. We helped with the evacuation of those who had met with us for worship. I then asked the activity assistant what she needed me to do next. She replied, "Can you please walk with Frances? We need to move to the back patio."  
I know Frances, but not well, and I prayed that she would be willing to stand up, take my hand, and walk with me.  She was more than willing, so we began our slow amble across the courtyard and around the corner.  My adrenaline was fairly high at that point, but as my walking pace matched hers, I quickly felt my system beginning to normalize.  She then asked, "Well, how are things with you?" I actually did a quick inventory, and found I was able to reply, "Frances, I believe I am quite well. How about you?" She responded that she, too, was just fine. She then wanted to know about my family. Was I married? Do I have children?  Isn't it nice to be outside? We joined others on the back patio. There was, of course, anxiety present.  Dementia patients do not adjust well to abrupt changes.  So, I did what I usually do, and invited people to sing.  Shortly thereafter, the way was cleared for us to leave, and the staff assured me that they did not need me to stay (maybe they had had enough singing!) 

I will always be grateful for that walk with Frances, and as I reflect on it, I realize that some of my most meaningful moments in the ministry have surfaced when I have been able to simply walk with an elder. Slowing my pace to match theirs is profoundly therapeutic.  In a society obsessed with efficiency, taking a slow walk seems both archaic and revolutionary. I sometimes think that communities are too quick to place the old and frail in wheelchairs, but I do understand that there are concerns about falls, and those concerns are valid. However, if you have a loved one who is older, support their mobility and walk with them.  No, it is not efficient, but you may find it very good for body and soul - theirs and yours.    
Just a closer walk with thee, 
Grant it Jesus is my plea, 
Daily walking close to thee, 
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.    
It is not known who wrote this beloved old hymn.  I just remembered that it was the theme of my ordination that took place ten years ago on May 31, 2008. I am deeply grateful to the board of SpiritCare who courageously called me, and to all of those who have journeyed with me.  It seems we still have a ways to go. Blessed be. No need to rush; let's take our time.     

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Safety Net

I was surprised to see Bess in our afternoon worship on Pentecost. She does not come to my services very often, citing that she loves the church she attends.  I am always happy to hear that people are able to attend their own churches. However,  I also know the day does come when that attendance becomes irregular, and may even fade. For Bess that day may have been yesterday.  I know she has some health concerns, and she  said she was not feeling well to get up early enough to get there.

What she is experiencing is what I call a conversion to vulnerability. This conversion, however willingly or unwillingly we undertake, lies at the heart of many life experiences, and certainly in those that occur during the last third of our lives.  My own conversion began last year when I agreed to serve a congregation during their pastor's sabbatical leave.  Becoming a part of a community does make us vulnerable to being known.  Showing up each week, getting to know the people, learning new ways of worship, and daring to make the decision to show up in love, gifted me with a sense of having no place to hide my faults and shortcomings. 
I returned to that community in June, and this coming Sunday they will vote to officially call me as their part-time associate pastor, a position I believe I am well suited for. Yes, that sense of vulnerability is still very much with me. Yet, I believe that is a good thing, for it leads me rely on Christ all the more.  I do not have a sense of arrival, because our pilgrimages are ongoing.  What I do have, however, is even more precious: a sense of belonging.  I deeply believe I am called here to grow, and to grow with others.  
I sense Bess is reluctant to join the Sunday afternoon services that are held in the retirement community where she lives.  There is probably more than one reason.  The theology may be different. I am sure she has friends in her  faith community that she loves, and she may have a role in that community that she may have to relinquish to others.  She may even think of it as a defeat, viewing our services as services for the old and frail rather than a lively, faith-filled congregation.  I think a bigger worship team of various ages might be of help, not only here, but in other communities as well. We do need to expand our volunteer base to strengthen what I think of as our divine safety net.  Joined together, we really can help prevent people from falling into the despair of isolation and loneliness.    
I did not preach on the conversion to vulnerability that Sunday, but rather on the hope that Pentecost can bring if we trust the Spirit of Truth that continues to bring us together.  Elizabeth and her son joined us well, and I was delighted to see them.  Elizabeth seems to have come to terms with her illness, and in fact gives it credit for helping her draw closer to her family.  She has matured in and with her vulnerability; an example that we all can learn from. 
The pilgrimage continues.  Come join us when you can. We are all stronger when we come together.   


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost Blessings

"Very often, we tend to look for 'great' moments or beautiful or ecstatic celebrations. We forget that the best nourishment of community life, the one which renews us and opens our hearts, is in all the small gestures of fidelity, tenderness, humility, forgiveness, sensitivity, and welcome which makes up everyday life. It is these which are at the heart of community and can bring us to a realization of love. It is these which touch hearts and reveal gifts." 

Jean Vanier, Community and Growth  

Monday, May 14, 2018


"Unison Benediction" is one of  the most touching poems I have read in awhile.  I particularly love the image of stiff hands learning new ways to serve. As I begin to settle into a new role of associate pastor for a small community here in the east bay, I find myself experiencing some moments of deep joy as I learn new ways of worshiping and being present to others.  Yes, at times I do feel my stiffness. However, it is my belief that as long as people continue to come together in communities rooted in trying to live in love, we can find healing. Then we can be a healing presence. A first step, however is needed.  We need to show up.    

Yesterday afternoon, I talked with an elder in a retirement community. I found her sitting in the activity room with a single rose in her hand. Staff members had been passing them out to the female residents in the spirit of Mother's Day. She looked quite forlorn, and I learned that all of her adult children had died.  We talked some, and I offered her a song sheet. She refused it, but she did not leave.  By the end of the service she had decided to snip off the end of the rose's stem, and put it in some water.

 Hope.  It is always there, waiting for us to come around. 

Unison Benediction
Return to the most human,
nothing less will nourish the torn spirit,
the bewildered heart,
the angry mind:
and from the ultimate duress,
pierced with the breath of anguish,
speak of love.
Return, return to the deep sources,
nothing less will teach the stiff hands a new way to serve,
to carve into our lives the forms of tenderness
and still that ancient necessary pain preserve.
Return to the most human,
nothing less will teach the angry spirit,
the bewildered heart;
the torn mind,
to accept the whole of its duress,
and pierced with anguish…
at last, act for love.
~ May Sarton ~ 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, 
O Lord of hosts. 
One day within your courts  
is better than a thousand elsewhere. 
The threshold of the house of my God
Psalm 84:1,11  
The Ecumenical Grail Psalter  

Friday, May 4, 2018

Psalm 100

Our dog had surgery on Wednesday, so yesterday was a day of recovery for him. I was home in the afternoon, so mostly I sat with him as he slept. As I often do in times of concern or stress, I thought of the Queen of Heaven's starry mantle covering us and bringing us peace. I thought of the mystery of rest and healing, not only for him but also for me.  Sometimes I managed to not think at all.   I also thought of Betty Bracha Stone's translation of Psalm 100.  
In this psalm, she addresses God as Yah and feminine.  In her glossary she writes that the name Yah "derives from pronunciation of the first two letters...of the unpronounceable four letter name for God..." She writes that it is spoken with an out-breath, like a "spiritual sigh."  When I sigh, and I often do, it usually comes from a place of acceptance, of coming more fully into where I am. While I do not necessarily live into that moment with joy, I should. For there is Presence.  Bracha Stone uses very little punctuation in her translations.  That openness does bring a sense of peace.   
A psalm of gratitude 
Let us sing our praises out loud
The earth shouts along with us in triumph 
We serve God gladly 
 And come into Holy Presence with joy
We know this - that Yah is sovereign 
And that She made us for the purpose of being Hers 
Her people, the flock of her pasture. 
Let us come into Her gates gladly 
And into Her courtyard with gratitude on our lips: 
"We thank you God and praise Your name." 
God is Goodness 
Her loving-kindness is boundless 
And She is faithful to us until the end of time  
May you feel the Queen of Heaven's starry mantle surrounding you and bringing you the peace and healing you need.  Yah.