Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My Father's House

When I woke this morning, the house was warm. I thought of my father who would rise early, often as early as 4:30 a.m. The coffee maker was always set on a timer, so the coffee would have been made by 4:15 a.m. On his way to get his first cup ("Always the best one," he would say), he would stop and turn on the heat if the house was cold. I can never remember waking up to a cold house when I was growing up.  A few days after he died, I went into his apartment at the assisted living community where he lived for only a few months. The timer was still set. It was a strange feeling to turn that timer off. I was amazed that the glass decanter had not broken during those days when no coffee was being made. Dad loved coffee, and I think of him this morning as I sip my own cup.  I suddenly remember that the anniversary of his birthday was November 26. This year, he would have been 101.  Dad, I am sorry to have forgotten, but it seems I have inherited your arthritic knee, and as you all too well know, I can get rather self-absorbed. I am reminded of Jacob wrestling with the angel, and walking away, limping, but blessed.  You and I did struggle to understand one another, but I am grateful that we did find reconciliation, thanks to the common ground of love and humor.  I drink my coffee in your memory today.  Yes, the house is warm and the coffee is fine - just the way you would have liked it.        
We are created, we emerge. And as we emerge, as we grow, as we develop, we become more conscious of ourselves – as where we have come from, or what we are emerging from and what we are returning to, or what we are feeling ourselves linked to. It’s not just a mathematical problem or philosophical question. It’s an existential journey that takes time and in which we change. Even our mistakes are incorporated into the journey. Nothing is wasted. We are who we are. Can’t say I should have been somebody else. I am who I am. And this existence, life, is full of contradictions and paradoxes, ups and downs, life and death, sorrow and joy, fear and celebration, fear of incompetence. It’s very variable and of course unpredictable. It is uncertain, radically uncertain. But in this process of existence, of life, of growth, of growing consciousness, we realise, we become aware, self-aware that we are emerging, we are appearing. We’re coming to know ourselves...

Father Laurence Freeman, OSB 
World Community of Christian Meditation, November 27, 2018  

photograph:  Pismo Beach, September 2018

Friday, November 23, 2018

Preparing to Prepare

I woke early to bake a simple bread made with macerated dried cherries.  Tyler is downstairs practicing guitar. Jack is curled up beside me. He seems to be content to not be out walking at the usual time.  We had such a lovely quiet Thanksgiving.  We cooked and cleaned, napped, and then listened to jazz and talked.  I am grateful I do not feel compelled to answer the ever present clarion call to begin the competitive shopping season.
When Tyler and I married 31 years ago, the date was November 27, the day after Thanksgiving.  Since then, we have always celebrated our anniversary on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  It is an easy day to remember and an easy day to take off from our work duties. Often we go to the beach, but not this year.  More rain is predicted, and I don't think walking on uneven sand would do my knee much good.  For now, I am content to take in the silence and calm of this morning. 

This coming Sunday marks the end of the church year, with Advent beginning December 2. As the bread was baking, I turned to a book that truly is an old friend, "Blessings of the Daily, A Monastic Book of Days" by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette, published in 2002.  Brother Victor writes eloquently of the peace that Advent can bring us, if we accept the invitation: 
Once again, we arrive at the threshold of Advent and are invited by the Church to enter into the mystery that Advent represents. During these quiet four weeks that precede Christmas, the Church asks us to think, live, and pray in the spirit of Advent. But what is the mystery of Advent all about? Advent is that unique and privileged time of preparation for the great event commemorated at Christmas: the Incarnation of the Son of God and his humble appearance among us as a tiny child. 
Unlike Brother Victor, most of us do not live in a monastery, and too often, the four weeks before Christmas are full of activities, list making, worry and weariness. I like that as a church, we can remind one another and ourselves that there is also beauty and mystery to be experienced at this time. We light candles and sing special music. We spend at least a minute or two in communal silence, and we listen to the ancient stories told again.  We try to lift the words, hope, peace, joy, and love off printed pages and Christmas cards and live into them. As best we can, we ready our hearts, knowing that Christ is knocking at the door, even if our heart abode is rough hewn and stony. We learn again that angels sit right next to us.    

I am always grateful when Advent begins in December, rather than the first Sunday after Thanksgiving.  We can indeed prepare to prepare.     

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Divine Witness in Each of Us

I received this poem just now.  I am not tampering with the male language out of respect for Hafiz (1325-1390), a Persian poet and teacher who lived in Shariz, Iran.  However, I am sure that Hafiz would understand if you want to rewrite it.  I recommend you do it in long hand.  You may find writing each word by hand a prayerful practice. 
Thank you for your thoughts and prayers concerning my knee.  It is improving, and the doctor I saw at Kaiser was quite encouraging concerning my yoga practice.  I am grateful that my life is as simple as it is for I believe I can be healed back into my regular activities. I am humbled by the the reminder that many in long-term care cannot. Yet, I believe the psalmist who tells us that we can forever reside in the house of the Lord,  or as Stephen Mitchell translates Psalm 23: " I will live in God's radiance forever and ever."  It is a message I never tire of sharing.

 Like many of us in California, I am missing our blue sky and fresh air and I pray this poor air quality is not our new norm.  May our technological advances be used to allow healing in this beautiful world.  Can I get a witness?


I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger

because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our

I have come into this world to see this: all creatures hold hands as
we pass through this miraculous existence we share on the way
to even a greater being of soul,

a being of just ecstatic light, forever entwined and at play
with Him.

I have come into this world to hear this:

every song the earth has sung since it was conceived in
the Divine's womb and began spinning from
His wish,

every song by wing and fin and hoof,
every song by hill and field and tree and woman and child,
every song of stream and rock,

every song of tool and lyre and flute,
every song of gold and emerald
and fire,

every song the heart should cry with magnificent dignity
to know itself as

for all other knowledge will leave us again in want and aching -
only imbibing the glorious Sun
will complete us.

I have come into this world to experience this:

men so true to love
they would rather die before speaking
an unkind

men so true their lives are His covenant -
the promise of

I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands
even at the height of
their arc of

because we have finally realized
there is just one flesh

we can wound.

~ Hafiz ~  


photograph:  San Leandro, November 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Hands and Knees

Well, here I sit with an ice pack on my knee.  Later this morning Tyler will take me to the doctor.  I don't know why the back of my knee is in such pain, but yesterday, there were some moments when I thought I simply could no longer walk.  I had stopped for a bite of lunch before going on to a rehab hospital to see a beloved elder.  Getting back to the car was difficult, and once I got there, I thought surely the smart thing to do would be to go home. However, the rehab community where this elder is was on the way.  So, despite the fact that the parking lot always seems to be crowded in the middle of the day,  I decided to drive there.  I thought that if I could get a parking place close to the door, I would go in.  That is exactly what happened. 
I found myself grateful to simply be sitting at her bedside with nothing to do but enjoy her company.  She told me some of her history, and some of her thoughts about this time of her life. She is delightfully down to earth. We prayed together, and then I hobbled off.  As I limped past the front desk, I had a desire to simply check myself in.  I found myself eyeing one man's cane with envy. 
I don't think anyone would call me an active woman, but I do value being able to move at will.  To go grocery shopping. Take the dog for a walk. Go to yoga class. Walk up and down stairs. Lead a worship service. To not be concerned if I can't park by the door.  Most of that is on pause for now.  I think Tyler may need prayers.  

I recently heard an interview with Yuval Noah Harari, a writer I was unfamiliar with.  However, I found him to be remarkably articulate about some of the challenges we humans face, such as the impact of artificial intelligence.  He contends that AI will likely mean that some people will simply no longer be considered relevant. Of course, most people of faith hold on to the notion that there is simply no such thing as an irrelevant person, regardless of the values a society holds, but yes, there are challenges and I do not think we should risk being naive about them. I bought his book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and now it looks like I may have time to read it.  In my ministry with the ill and the frail, I have witnessed on a daily basis the struggle of trying not to succumb to the idea that their lives no longer have meaning.  I wish I could tell you that I have some easy answers. I do not. But I have learned that if we keep reaching out to one another, some of the anguish can subside, and we can once again believe in the worthiness of one another and ourselves.  Isolation is seldom helpful, either on a individual or national scale. We humans need one another, so let us hold on. I know I am stronger today because of the hand I held yesterday afternoon.       
Politicians are a bit like musicians, and the instrument they play on is the human emotional and biochemical system. They give a speech, and there is a wave of fear in the country. They tweet, and there is an explosion of hatred. I don't think we should give these musicians a more sophisticated instrument play on. Once politicians can press our emotional buttons directly, generating anxiety, hatred, joy, and boredom at will, politics will become a mere emotional circus. As much as we should fear the power of big corporations, history suggests that we are not necessarily better off in the hands of mighty governments (80).  
Yuval Noah Harari     
The photograph is from a window I spotted a year or so ago.  Unfortunately, I do not know the artist, but she or he gives me hope for the future.  Stay steady, everyone.      

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Word...

I will forever be grateful for SpiritCare for many reasons. However, one of the most important ones (for me) is that no matter the news, I know that tomorrow I am called to a community to preach the Good News that God is with us. I am, of course, preaching to myself. However, together we will sing and laugh and pray. Some may doze. Yet, I know that Jesus will be there, no doubt dressed oddly, and I will find healing. Therefore, I will offer to be a healing presence as best I can, and so will the pianist, and so will others who may join us.  

Tonight I found myself grateful for being able to scrub out my old blue pot. The stew we cooked and reheated in it so many times was delicious. As the hymn asks: "How can I keep from singing?" 

My thanks to the young artist down the street who reminds me as well. Yes, we mourn, but our mourning does not have the last word.   


Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In Remembrance

When I walked into the small dining/activity room, it was apparent that I was not expected.  There were only three people present, each at a separate table. The tv was on, and was really loud.  I looked at the day's schedule, and it was almost empty. The activity assistant came in, and we talked for a short while.  He said that the activity director was having some trouble getting organized.  I opted to not add a comment to that statement. Since the volunteer who usually serves with me was out of town, I told him I would sit and talk to Ben (not his real name). I asked if the tv could be turned off.  We compromised with his turning the volume down.  

I walked over to Ben and said hello. He looked up, smiled, and returned the greeting.  Despite the fact that he is of the Jehovah's Witness tradition, he almost always attends our worship services. He asked about the volunteer. 

I sensed he could not see me.
Ben is a Viet Nam veteran, who lost both of his legs during his service.  He is a handsome African-American man, but his face is swollen and he has difficulty speaking and being understood. That is a constant source of frustration for him.  Yesterday he told me that he is 67 years old.  He also told me he now has glaucoma.
We talked a little about the VA, and he said he liked going there and believes he is getting good care. I sensed that there he feels some camaraderie. He smiled and said he was taking a Tai Chi class there that he likes very much.  We also talked of his wife who regularly comes to be with him.   

As I was saying good-bye, I told him we would be back next month. He replied, "I will be waiting for you." Ben, and many of those the ministry serves, wait a lot.  I continue to hear that reply uttered in that nearly empty room.  

When I heard of the recent death of Rev. Eugene Peterson, I bought a book of his devotionals, "Every Step an Arrival." A passage that I had read that morning is staying with me: "The message of the gospel is that God invades us with new life, and the life changes what we presently are. He is not a means to avoid problems. He creates new life. He is not a problem solver but a person creator."   

When humans are in relationship, new life stirs and we each are changed.  I think Ben enjoyed our conversation, and I was grateful I was able to understand as much as I did.  Maybe, in the course of our time together, a new life emerged.  A life that was heard and honored.   
 "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."
 Luke 22:19 
I know Jehovah Witnesses do not celebrate Communion, but this scripture is one I believe Ben knows all too well. 

Ben, I remember. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Faithfully Related

Some of you may remember that last year I wrote that I believed that to become part of a faith community required a "conversion to vulnerability." What this conversion is the risking of being known in an ongoing relationship with others. My belief in this conversion has only deepened. We are indeed faithfully related. We come to find our common ground in God. This is how we grow into Christ.

"Faith is about relationship. You talk about having faith in someone, how powerful it is when you feel that someone has faith in you, and how important it is to a relationship, and what a gift it is when you put your faith in someone. It is different from being able to define them or control them. So faith is about relationship in this way. It is about being faithful, faithfully related to someone. That means making a commitment, growing in that commitment over time, going through good times and bad times, staying with it as much as you humanly can, or starting again if you stopped. It means eventually realising that the relationship is taking you beyond yourself, beyond the ego, beyond the ego’s attachment to good times rather than bad times, beyond the ego that says, when it runs into a difficult period, ‘I don’t want this; I don’t need this; this isn’t what I signed up for’."

Father Laurence Freeman, World Community for Christian Meditation, November 4, 2018 

photograph: San Leandro, October 2018