Sunday, April 21, 2019

Candle Hour

Every Sunday, I look forward to reading The New York Times. I am a native New Yorker and always find interesting features and perspectives each week.

In a recent issue of the magazine section (Letters of Recommendation) I read "Candle Hour" by Julia Scott. She explained that when she was a teenager, an ice storm came through Montreal, knocking down a giant tree limb in the front yard of her house. For seven days and nights, the power was out, forcing the family to use candles for their light source.

The author concluded that no one in the family remembers what they talked about or ate during that week, but they all remember the use of candles, enabling  them to read, eat and continue with daily life.

Now that she has settled in California, she started the practice of "candle hour." An hour before she goes to bed, she turns off all of her devices and lamps and lights a couple of candles, "enough to read a book or stare at the flame. I have a journal ready, but don't pressure myself to write in it. 'Candle Hour' doesn't even need to last a full hour. I sit until I feel an uncoupling from the chaos or until the candle burns all the way down or both."

She continues, "Candle Hour" has become a soul-level bulwark against so many kinds of darkness. I feel myself slipping not just out of my day, but out of time itself. I shut aside outrages and anxieties."

My Thoughts

Always looking for new ways to connect to God, I decided to sit with a candle in silence for an hour. Sometimes I have trouble sitting still, so I planned my hour at the end of the day, 6-7 pm. I gathered some paper, a pen, a glass of water and a book I've been reading. I put away my cell phone, set the kitchen timer for an hour and began.

At first I focused on the candle flame, watching it move and sway even when the air seemed still. I took a few deep breaths, inhaling God's presence. My heart became filled with a deep peace. When I felt restless or my mind started to wander, I looked at the candle.

I worked on a poem I wrote the night before and reflected on a passage of scripture. The first time I looked at the clock, eight minutes remained in my hour. I was amazed I sat for so long. During the closing minutes God asked me a question, "To what are you holding on?" I  rested in this question and knew I would spend more time in the days ahead pondering the meaning. I concluded the hour by reading a few pages from a book.

Reflections on Candle Hour

I can understand why Julia Scott maintains an occasional practice of candle hour. I felt refreshed at the end of the day and experienced new energy for the evening. My soul was renewed as if I'd been on a weekend retreat. Clarity during the hour helped edit the poem I wrote. Receiving a question from God will direct my thoughts for deeper reflection.  I received so much benefit from candle hour. I am eager for another time in the days ahead.

Suggestions for Candle Hour

1. Set aside electronic devices.
2. Decide how much time you want to devote to the practice. If an hour seems too long, try thirty minutes. You know what works best. Set a timer.
3. Have something to drink close by as well as paper, pen, a book or needlework. You can also use this time to reflect on a passage of scripture.
4. Light the candle. God is here.
5. Take a deep breath.
6. Ask God to quiet your mind and open your heart.

Reflection Questions

1. How was your experience with "Candle Hour?" Were you able to let go and relax? How did God come to you?

2. Did you receive any new insights, perspectives or clarity as you sat?

3. Would you like to try "Candle Hour" again?

Prayer: God, when we light a candle we see a visible representation of your presence. We are also reminded that Jesus is the light of the world. Let us remember that as believers we carry the light of God wherever we go. Guide us as we sit with a candle to listen for your word or just rest in the peace of silence with you. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Questions for Holy Week

Lent is just about over.

Typically, during Lent, Christians are asked to look inward and spend time in self-examination. Here are a few questions for reflection as Holy Week begins. Perhaps, as you answer each one, you will come upon a new insight or perspective about yourself or God to carry you into the days after Easter.

1. Where or when do I encounter God's presence?
2. What name do I call God?
3. What does God call me?
4. God's word for me today is _____.
5. I need to forgive __________.
6. I am in awe of God's _____.
7. I sense that God wants me to ____________.
8. God is challenging me to __________.
9. An object that reminds me of God is _________.
10. How has God been present for me today?
11. The greatest joy of my life with God is _____________.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for Lent when we can set aside time in our lives to rest in your light. We are happy for Easter, when Jesus becomes eternal light to fill our hearts each day. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Letters - Annabel and a Former President

When my 101-year-old long-time friend, Annabel Hartman died in late December, 2016, she left me a stack of correspondence that spanned thirty-three years. Annabel valued the permanency of the written word in many ways.

For example, Annabel and her husband, Grover, kept a guest book on the coffee table in the living room. Before visitors left, they were invited to sign and date their time at the Hartman home. Even little children who could barely write were included.

Although exchanging letters began when our family moved from Indianapolis to a new church out of town in 1989, we continued to write each other, when Mike was assigned a church in central Indiana, in 1996.

 In the talk I gave at her memorial service, I recalled how even when we lived in the same town and the two of us could talk on the phone or visit, we still exchanged letters. Writing to each other was one of the foundations of our friendship, one that offered me an opportunity to preserve the wisdom, encouragement, and perceptions on life Annabel gave.

A President Who Liked Letters

Former president, Barack Obama, read and responded to letters from constituents as a regular practice. He read ten letters a day from the multitude of mail reaching the White House. Staffers carefully choose the letters Mr. Obama read and responded to each night after dinner.

Obama describes the value of letters in an interview from the Sunday magazine section of The New York Times on January 22, 2017:

     "Constituents feel like you are hearing them, and that you are responding to them - that makes up for a lot of stuff! That kind of instilled in me the sense of - the power of mail.  And people knowing that if they took the time to write something that the person who represented them was actually paying attention."

The article continues:

     "The letters gave me permission to legitimately slow down, an opportunity for nuance and contradiction. I didn't understand how meaningful it would end up being to me."

     "By the time I got to the White House and somebody informed me that we were going to get 40,000 or-whatever-it-was pieces of mail a day, I was trying to figure out how do I in some way duplicate that experience I had during the campaign. And I think this was the idea that struck me as realistic. Reading ten letters a day - and reply, I could do that."

Barack Obama concluded:

     "I tell you, one of the things I'm proud of about having been in this office is that I don't feel like I've lost myself. I feel as if - even if my skin is thicker from you know, public criticism, and I'm wiser about the workings of government, I haven't become ... cynical, and I haven't become callused. And I would like to think that these letters have something to do with that."

Even a former president valued the communication he received from the American people, represented in the ten letters he read and answered each day.

Abiding Love

I miss Annabel so much and can't believe she is gone, even after living 101 years. I thought she would live forever.

At the memorial service, I showed those gathered my stack of letters bound by a tan string. "Here is a stack of letters I received from Annabel. They are pieces of her that I can access whenever I want a 'visit' or need 'to hear' her voice again."

A few days ago, I randomly chose a card to read, dated November 5, 2009. She signed the card, "Abiding love, Annabel."  Looking up the definition of abide, I found: to remain, continue, stay. Although Annabel isn't here anymore, her love for me abides always.

For Your Reflection

1. Is there someone to whom you would like to write a letter, perhaps offering encouragement, sharing thoughts or recounting what is happening in your life? Take some time to get a piece of paper, a pen and envelope and offer your recipient a treasure of communication.

2. Have you received letters in the past that have particular value? How do you cherish the person who wrote?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways we record our sentiments and thoughts on paper. This lost of art of communication has permanence allowing us to read and re-read what has been expressed. Allow us to make room and time to record our thoughts and offer pieces of ourselves that others can refer to forever. Amen.



Sunday, March 31, 2019

Using Scripture for Intercessory Prayer

Last week I received a phone call from a friend who used to live in Vincennes, Indiana, where we lived before moving to Fishers.

We taught together at Vincennes University, shared an office for a semester, and developed a friendship that included studying God's word and praying for each other.

When Mike was appointed to serve a church in Fishers, we corresponded frequently, and continued to pray for each other and our families. Over the years, the letters dwindled when she moved to Florida. We kept in touch on birthdays and at Christmas.

Her call came unexpectedly, but with joy. We talked and caught up on our families and places in life. Her main purpose for contacting me was to ask for prayer when she had surgery the following week. She had chosen two scriptures to guide her through the challenges of hospitalization and recovery.

"I'll pray for you using the scripture. We will be united before God," I said.

She liked my idea and gave me these two passages:

           Psalm 34:4 - I prayed to the Lord and he answered me; he freed me from all my fears.

           Nahum 1:7 - The Lord is good; he protects his people in times of trouble.

My Prayer for Her Using Her Scripture

When I brought her name, Elizabeth, to God each day, I prayed the scripture inserting her name:

           Psalm 34:4 - Elizabeth prayed to the Lord and he answered her; he freed her from all her fears.

            Nahum 1:7 - The Lord is good; he protects Elizabeth, his child, in times of trouble.


Praying for Elizabeth using the scripture she chose helped me connect with her and God. I felt my prayers were more personal because I was using scripture that had meaning for her.

Next time someone asks me to pray for him or her, I plan to ask if there is scripture to which he/she feels close, and use those words in prayer.

Even though Elizabeth lives far away, I felt close to her heart and united in prayer for her procedure and recovery.


Prayer: Thank you, God, for your written word that becomes personal when we look at what we are experiencing and realize the connection we have to you. We are grateful to be able to pray for one another often using scripture. Your goodness and love abide in us always. Amen.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Life is Hard - God is Good - The Beatitudes Reversed

Matthew 5:1-10 - Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:

     "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

      Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

      Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

      Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

      Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

      Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus traveled to many towns and cities as his ministry evolved, preaching to those who came to hear him and healing many who were sick.

One day, Jesus decided to go up a mountain along with the disciples and teach them by offering a series of lessons, later known as the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon described the whole spectrum of life in the kingdom, mentioning the poor and the meek, those who are mourning or hungry, those who are pure in heart or merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted.

Why Are Those Who Suffer Blessed?

I've always wondered why the word "blessed' was paired with each of these conditions. Why are those who are hungry and persecuted blessed? Why are those who mourn blessed? Usually I associate the word, "blessing" or "blessed" with a gift bestowed by God. Why would mourning or being hungry or persecuted be gifts from God? These passages seem to be a contradiction.

I spent some time studying the word "blessed" and reading about the interpretation and meaning of these passages. "Blessed" means divinely favored and receiving from God.

Those who are grieving, hungry and persecuted are blessed because they are not alone. God is with them. Being blessed means that when suffering happens, we can be open to receive God's presence, love, hope, strength and encouragement to help get through difficult days.

My Reflection

In my reflection with this passage, I focused on verse four, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Loss was heavy on my mind and familiar to my heart. I carry loss from my past. I was also mindful for the 10 people I have know who died since August, 2017, some of whom were close friends, others parents of friends, while others were acquaintances.

I received a thank you note from the mother of one of Anna's friends, who died after an eight month battle with cancer. Anna and I made a donation to his place of employment. At the end of the note she said, "Life is hard, God is good."

She was stating a beatitude about mourning in reverse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Her comment could be reordered to say, "God is good, but life is hard," to reflect the language of the beatitude.

By saying, "God is good," she is opening herself to the vast experience of God's presence, mercy, love, compassion, and comfort in the midst of heartbreak and tremendous grief, that indeed, makes life hard.

God Is With Us

When difficult times come our way, being blessed may not be our first thought. However, knowing that "blessed" means that God is with us, we do not have to go through our days alone, for all that God offers is available. God welcomes us into his presence.

Questions for Reflection

1. What does blessed mean to you?

2. When you have experienced grief, hunger or persecution do you feel blessed?

3. How has God helped you through rough times with the assurance you are not alone, but blessed?

Prayer:  God, sometimes you speak in ways that seem confusing. When we explore your language we have new ways of understanding your nature and what life in you can offer. Keep us always anchored in you for all life brings our way. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

What Makes Church A Holy Place

"St. Sava is the place that keeps our Serbian culture alive in New York (City).Without it, I'm lost," said one church member after a fire destroyed the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on May 6, 2016.

"The grand, gothic arches have welcomed me every Sunday since 1973, framing baptisms, weddings and funerals," she continued.

As an act of solidarity, Calvary Episcopal Church, a few blocks away, offered to house the services for St. Sava in their sanctuary until the cathedral is reconstructed.

A group of parishoners looked at the beautiful stained-glass windows inside the Calvary sanctuary. "The place is unfamiliar," they said, "but God and the prayers are the same. It's not our church, but it's a holy place. Wherever we go God will be with us."

Differences in Church Buildings

Church buildings are all different. Some resemble auditoriums, while others are more traditional with wooden pews and a center aisle. Some feature altars and crosses, while others cover the walls with art and provide no chairs, instead having their worshipers stand.

Despite these differences, they do have a common feature - they are places where just being inside can draw people to God.

Church Buildings as a Conversation

An article by church architects, David Woodhouse and Andy Tinucci ("Building Faith," in the February, 2017, issue of "Guideposts") explained how these two men feel about designing a church.

"We think of our designs as one side of a conversation. The building says something to the worshiper and the worshiper completes the conversation by responding with his or her faith. That's why we try not to put too many pictures or words into our designs. We keep things abstract. We try to give worshipers room to have their own experience of God using their own imaginations."

In the design philosophy, light, building materials, size, sound, wood, stone or carpeted floors all contribute to a persons's experience of God when entering - and their conversation with God in worship.

Churches I Have Known

This article caused me to pause and recall the design of the churches Mike pastored through the years. When he was in seminary at Duke Divinity School, he served three, small country churches painted white with tall steeples. There were no frills or decorations, the altar and pulpit were the main focus. Two of the churches had cemeteries next to them, as was common long ago.

The remaining churches, all in Indiana, had unique features. Two had balconies (First United Methodist Church in New Castle, and First United Methodist Church in Vincennes). Two, (Faith and Zoar United Methodist) had a belfry where children took turns each week pulling the thick, frayed twine cord to move the bell, signaling the beginning of worship.

Another church (Center United Methodist in Indianapolis) had a long, center aisle with fifty pews on either side. Eight, long rectangular stained-glass windows, installed during Mike's tenure, offered an impressive side focus to the sanctuary.

Mike's last church, Fishers United Methodist, had four aisles, with brides having the choice to enter from any one. A descending dove depicted in layered bricks on a wall behind the altar was a striking reminder of the Holy Spirit.

Until I read the article in "Guideposts," I never thought about how construction of a church could influence the worship experience or draw people together, giving them space for their own private time with God. The two architects believe that churches "need to be free of the distractions of modern life." While I have loved the stained glass of Center Church and the brick dove descending at Fishers, I like the idea that a distraction-free worship space is a gift to the busy, modern person who craves a conversation with God.

Your Church

What makes you sense God's presence in your church or in churches you've visited? Where do your eyes focus when you enter the sanctuary? On the lights, organ pipes, woodwork, carpet, flowers, altar cloths, candles, stained-glass windows, pictures, the choir, the pastor, the organ? Do you find them a distraction, or do they invite you to conversation with God?

The Church I Attend

Because I attend a large church and sit toward the middle of the sanctuary. I have trouble seeing the altar, especially when people stand. The large fount used for baptism is in my direct view, but what sets me in alignment with God is when I see the five-tiered row of votive candles on a table to the right of the sanctuary. Watching people light a candle, and pause, forms a beautiful picture of coming to God in prayer. I always light a candle at the end of each service for myself or others for whom I pray.

The congregation of St. Sava will surely miss worship each week in their holy place. However, the generosity of Calvary Episcopal Church clearly demonstrates the love of Jesus. I pray in time, the Serbians will find new markers in the sanctuary, that will help them find and hold God's presence. They will rebuild their own space after the devastating fire, perhaps inviting more conversation with God than ever before.

Questions for Reflection

1. Do you find the space where you worship a distraction-free zone? If not, what kind of conversation does it invite?

2. Where does your eye fall as you sit or stand in worship? How does your focus affect your time with God?

Prayer: The generosity, God, of your people in times of adversity demonstrates the way we are always in mission to others. Bless those who are displaced and help them find their familiarity in you despite difficult circumstances. May we all find a rich, deep, intimate conversation with you in the space where we gather to worship. Amen.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Full Circle with the Body of Christ

Mike and I volunteered to serve communion on World Communion Sunday last October. We were assigned to the right balcony on the east side of the sanctuary.

We normally sit on the main level, so being placed "above" gave us a new perspective on worship. After the sermon, we left our pew and went to a small table in the hallway where we found a chalice filled with grape juice and a loaf of bread wrapped with a burgundy towel.

After the communion liturgy, the congregation began to make their way to where we were standing.

"The body of Christ broken for you," I said, handing a small piece of bread to the person in my row.

"The blood of Christ shed for you," Mike said as each one dipped his or her piece of bread in the juice.

The last three people to take communion we knew from the last church Mike pastored: John, and his son, Sam and Sam's wife.

As we were driving home after the service, Mike commented, "The last time I gave communion to John, he was one of the people making life difficult at the church. What a difference twenty-two years makes."

In 1997, after Mike had been at Fishers United Methodist Church for a year, a lesbian couple became members. Many people were uncomfortable having these two women and their son as part of the congregation. John and his wife, were among the most vocal in protest. Eventually, over forty families left the church, including John and his family. Those days brought great challenge to Mike as he dealt with the conflict.

Just a few months ago, Mike saw John at Starbucks. They caught up on what happened in John's life , including the death of his wife. As they talked, John apologized for his actions, and words spoken many years ago, offering Mike a sense of resolution of a difficult situation.

John came full circle with Mike over a chalice of grape juice and a loaf of bread. In the brokenness of the body of Christ there is love, understanding and acceptance.

The body of Christ broken for you ... for us.

The blood of Christ shed for you ... for all of us.

Reflection Questions

1. Is there someone in your life with whom you've had conflict or disagreement?

2. Have you resolved or made an effort to talk about the difficulty and come to a place of reconciliation?

3. Ask God for clarity as you remember and consider a new way of being with the individual.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the way healing comes in your children. Grant us wisdom and vision to "mend our fences" so we can offer peace and acceptance to all. Amen.