Saturday, October 27, 2018

Thank you, Mother Teresa

"The best way to show your gratitude to God and people is to accept everything with joy.…We may not be able to give much but we can always give the joy that springs from a heart that is in love with God. All over the world people are hungry and thirsty for God’s love. We meet that hunger by spreading joy. Joy is one of the best safeguards against temptation."
Mother Teresa 
Plough Daily Dig, October 26, 2018     
I decided at the last minute to make this quote the focal point of a small group discussion I was to lead later that morning.  It proved to be an interesting gateway to the subject of loss, a topic that comes up frequently.  Irene had just moved to assisted living about five months ago and was really wrestling with adjusting to living in community and the death of her husband.  She has also lost some of her hearing. It was not an easy conversation, but I sensed it was one worth staying with.   
Estelle joined us late, but did not hesitate in joining in.  "I had trouble letting go of those I loved until I knew for sure that they were in heaven.  Maybe not in position one, but they are all in heaven."  This "position one" intrigued us, and Irene asked her to explain.  Here, Estelle faltered some, and explained that she was losing  her words.  I ventured in and asked, "Is position 1 what we might call sitting at the throne of God?"  
"Yes," she excitedly answered, "there are all kinds of levels in heaven. I had to learn to trust that God was with them all."  I smiled for I knew a mystic was among us, and this particular one spoke with a lovely Irish accent.  "When I released them to God, I knew peace."  As she said this, her hands fluttered upwards.  
"Estelle, it sounds to me that you could actually see them go to heaven. Am I correct?"  She leaned forward and nodded her head in agreement and haltingly said, "Then, I had room in my heart to love."  She asked me to reread the quote and she added, "Yes, now I know joy." 
This experience was fascinating.  Two of the residents slept.  Three had trouble hearing so I was constantly repeating and amplifying. Estelle seemed to hear with no trouble, but she struggles to find her words and often has to substitute words.  The questions about her actually seeing her loved ones go to heaven and the throne of God were intentional because I had a sense that she thinks in pictures. I am convinced that even when words cannot surface, images often do, and I have seen some intriguing art done by Alzheimer's patients. Yes, they often do need some assistance with their creations, but that is what staff and volunteers are for.  We are not there just to help them to fill time, but rather to help them find a lifeline so they can cross the some of the gaps that threaten to completely isolate them.  
I reluctantly brought the group to a close as I was already late for a service, but as we concluded, we talked a moment more about the importance of soul conversation. Estelle worded it beautifully:  "You brought a piece; Irene brought a piece. Your pieces connected with mine, and we could understand. Will you please come back?" 
Somewhere I read that Mother Teresa said that even if she was made a saint, she probably would not stay in heaven long, but rather she would return to be among the poor. She certainly is still very much with us, and I am reminded that those layers of heaven can stretch all the way down to a small group of women trying to understand.  Thank you, Mother Teresa.  

Thursday, October 25, 2018


Yesterday evening, on the ten mile drive I make to attend a yoga class, I sensed I was witnessing more aggressive driving than usual. This drive does not take me on a freeway, but rather close to our small downtown area, which can be congested at certain times. I wondered if some of this driving was a by-product of "lotto fever" - the anticipation of great wealth, and the promise of being able to leave the mundaneness of others behind.  Then, on my way home, I paused as a light was turning yellow because I was not certain I was in the correct lane. There has been a lot of construction and temporary lane changes at this corner, and I was approaching it from a different direction and at night.  The driver behind me sounded his or her horn, letting me know that I was in the way.  This driver was not at all in favor of pausing, and I can imagine the frustration that was experienced during the wait for that great beacon of freedom, the green light, to shine once more. 
During my retreat last week, I was given a copy of "Welcoming Prayer, Consent on the Go" compiled by the The Contemplative Life Program.  It is described as a "40 day companion for learning, refreshing or deepening a Welcoming Prayer practice, an embodied practice of YES for everyday life."  I am enjoying this devotional, and am grateful to be reminded of the beautiful practice of being open to God's presence, regardless of what is going on (including red lights and slow drivers).  Day 3 happens to be about "afflictive emotions," those overreactions that really are not appropriate for the current situation. When these emotions flare, we can be sure that  our egos are demanding their due.       
We often get in one another's way.  Yet, what may be more important is to recognize is that we get in our own way.  We stumble on our habitual thinking, get frustrated, and look for someone or something to blame. Then it is just a short step to begin seeing ourselves as somehow separate from the life around us.  Yesterday when I offered an elder Communion, she started to cry, saying that lately she had been a poor Christian. Somehow, she felt separate from the rest of us who were faltering just as much as she was. I gently reminded her she was loved, and yes, the invitation was indeed for her. She eventually accepted the gift of reconciliation being offered.  Her acceptance was a gift for us all. We could heal together.     
 Holy One, give us the courage to think of ourselves neither as good Christians nor poor ones.  Help us to simply take one more breath, one more step, and continue the journey in love.      
Let us travel gently today.   

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Journeying On

I received this post this morning from Rabbi Yael Levy.  I have been on retreat this week with some longtime friends, and much of what we have discussed is letting go and being willing to change so that we can be who God is calling us to be today. These discussions are certainly at the heart of what it is to travel deeper into the third part of our lives. It is a blessing to be with people I love as we explore.  

I am leaving the retreat a day early due to a cold.  Not something I readily do, but what I feel I should do, both for me and certainly those around me.   Tyler has been ill as well and could probably use some company.  The days here have been sunny, but this morning the sky is overcast and the air is cooler.   How I love to be in this place called Villa Maria del Mar and to be in the care of the Sisters of the Holy Names.  I also love that God beckons us in so many ways, through many cultures and traditions, through every bit of life, love, and loss. We journey in the  heart of God.      

Be willing to leave what you know.
Be willing to leave who you have been.

 Take your strength, your support and what inspires your love.
 Leave behind the expectations that have constricted your life.
The way forward is unclear,
But as you take your steps the path will appear.
And the goal of this journey?
The reason to leap,
To struggle, to let go, to risk?
The reason to rise and fall
And rise again and again?
Is to be a blessing.
To discover anew the good that we are.
To discover anew
The shape of our blessings
And the ways the Divine can come through us into the world.
Go deep,
Reach high,
Because the ways we live matters,
Not just to us
But to all those who will call us ancestor.
The path awaits our willingness.
The world awaits our blessings.

--Rabbi Yael Levy   

Monday, October 8, 2018

Now, Please

The following post is from the World Community of Christian Meditation and is something I deeply believe.  I do hope we can learn to love while we still have some remaining days and nights to live out that love.  No need to wait until the last second.  Let's be easy on one another and this beautiful, beleaguered planet.   Have a beautful, loved filled week.

St Augustine said that we can only love what is beautiful. This means that love reveals the beautiful even in things or people that don’t strike us as beautiful at first. How often do we find that as our first impression of someone fades, based as it was on superficial appearances or prejudices, a deeper insight comes to the fore and our response to this person is wholly changed. We feel bad about our misjudgement and shed it. Their true nature is now more visible and we resonate with it from a simpler, truer part of our self. Perhaps this is what awaits us all at the end of life, regardless of how mistakenly we have chosen to live. All our ways of seeing and knowing will fuse in a great healing simplicity as we see God. In that instant of pure perception – of the beauty ever ancient, ever new – we will not be able to resist falling in love, with the love that has always surrounded us. And so we will be saved.
( Meditatio Newsletter, October 2012 ) 


Photograph is the front of one of our Little Free Libraries here in San Leandro.  September, 2018

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Today's Interruptions Have Been Brought to You by...

I am tempted to say the interruptions were brought by a printer not printing and no hot water.  One by one those were addressed, and yet I still have a sense of unease.  Therefore, I think the interruptions are rooted in  the prayer/poem that I received this morning from Panhala.  As you know, I love Wendell Berry's writing, but this post seemed to strike an ever deeper chord with me.  Perhaps because I love porches.  Perhaps it is the word forbearance which I almost never hear used, and lately it seems so seldom exercised that I had to look up the meaning.  Merriam Webster defines forbearance as "patient self-control; restraint and tolerance."  Oh, for the day...

However, I think my sense of disorientation lies in the first lines, "To care for what we know requires care for what we don't..."  This is where my sense of stirring lies because to me it speaks of that mystery that is worship - that experience we understand, but then again, we cannot. 

This week, I led a simple service in a skilled nursing community. Rita was there, taking time off from work as she always does to spend time in worship with her mother.  Her steadfastness moves me because her mother does not acknowledge what is going on around her, and has not for years. Our rhythm after worship was as it often is: first I greet her mother, and then Rita and I talk.  Both of us regularly spend time in private morning devotionals, yet, we both acknowledge that coming together in community deepens our time spent in community as well as in our solitude with God. This week we talked about how meaningful it would surely be if a community could come together every morning and every evening for worship and prayer.  I have experienced that rhythm in seminary, particularly in my time spent in the spiritual direction program.  For three years, we came together for three weeks every January to study and to practice listening to one another and how we are experiencing God in our hearts and lives. We also came together to pray and sing every morning and every evening.  Once that rhythm settles into your bones, and it does not take long, you are never the same.  You will long for it; just as many of those we serve in long term care long to worship at least once a week.   
Interruptions are important to pay attention to for they are often tangible moments of knowing that Spirit is up to something, and that something is generally a response to a yearning deep within us, a yearning that we might not have yet acknowledged.   At this altar, aka a porch in the wilderness (or in the activity room), our hearts kneel and pray at the knowing.  



To care for what we know requires
care for what we don't, the world's lives
dark in the soil, dark in the dark.
Forbearance is the first care we give
to what we do not know. We live
by lives we don't intend, lives
that exceed our thoughts and needs, outlast
our designs, staying by passing through,
surviving again and again the risky passages
from ice to warmth, dark to light.
Rightness of scale is our second care:
the willingness to think and work
within the limits of our competence
to do no permanent wrong to anything
of permanent worth to the earth's life,
known or unknown, now or ever, never
destroying by knowledge, unknowingly,
what we do not know, so that the world
in its mystery, the known unknown world,
will live and thrive while we live.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(A Small Porch - Sabbath Poems 2014-2015)