When I first entered the ministry, I became a member of First Congregational Church in Palo Alto. The reason I chose that congregation was because I felt I needed to be part of a church where I was called to expand the ministry, and that was into Santa Clara County. At one point, I was asked to chair their outreach board, a role I found utterly daunting. However, this community was, and still is, full of wisdom and compassion, and the experience was good for me.
All the boards met on the same evening, once a month. Some of my most peaceful moments occurred when we gathered in the back of the sanctuary before our meetings began. Pastor David or one of the associate ministers would then lead us in a short devotional. I loved those simple moments of sitting in the quiet of that large sanctuary while we listened to scripture or a story, and then prayed together.
Now, most Wednesday nights I attend choir practice at the San Lorenzo Community Church. Here, I read a devotional to those gathered to sing. Before I left my house last week, I looked for a particular book that I had in mind, but could not find it. Instead what surfaced was My Grandfather's Blessings, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. It probably was a odd choice to make in the middle of Advent because much of the book reflects on the teachings of her Jewish grandfather who was a scholar of the Kabbalah. No, there is no mention of Advent, but lighting candles in the darkness is a common thread for most of us, regardless of our faith tradition. We must all learn to live in the darkness.
Recently, I dreamed that a woman was standing in front of a large window. The word that comes to mind is looking glass, but there was no recognizable reflection - just grayness. She smiles and says, "I will leave you here," and she steps through. In the dream I do not think of following her. I am not concerned about where she has left me. There are people all around, and it seems to be a school or hospital. A man walks up to me. He seems to have some sort of teaching role. There are some musicians gathering, and he asks me if I am thinking of dancing as they played. I join a few others, including the woman at the looking glass, and we did dance in a circle. There is laughter. However, I lose interest and walk into the hall. That is all I remember, but as I write this, I am grateful to realize that while the female figure in the dream is leaving me in a place where, she, too, is staying. As I often do, I have been thinking of Mary. The feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe was last week, and Facebook was full of beautiful images and prayers. I often pray that She will spread her starry mantle and bring peace to those who are struggling with illness. That prayer helps me to be a more peaceful presence. Sometimes I think that is the best I have to offer.
I think it is time to reread Dr. Remen's book. She lives with Cronin's disease, and certainly this disease, along with the teachings of her grandfather, has deeply influenced her life and work as a physician. The first time I read the book I had little understanding of chronic pain and illness. My left knee is teaching me much, and I am learning to accept the blessing.
A blessing is not something that one person gives another. A blessing is a moment of meeting, a certain kind of relationship in which both people involved remember and acknowledge their true nature and worth, and strengthen what is whole in one another. By making a place for wholeness within our relationships, we offer others the opportunity to be whole without shame and become a place of refuge from everything in them and around them that is not genuine. We enable people to remember who they are.
My Grandfather's Blessings, Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
The little drawing that is attached appeared in my journal a few days before my dream.