Sunday, April 22, 2018

Candle Hour



In the March 18 edition of the New York Times, 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 eat, read 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 out just out of my day, but out of time itself. I set 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 p.m. 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.

"My Candle Hour"

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 filled with a deep peace. When I felt restless or my mind wandered, 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. I concluded the hour by reading a few pages from my book.

Reflections on "Candle Hour"

I can understand why Julia Scott maintains an occasional practice of "Candle Hour." Feeling refreshed at the end of the day gave me new energy for the evening. My soul was renewed a if I'd been on a weekend retreat. Clarity during the hour helped edit the poem I wrote. I received so much benefit from "Candle Hour." I am eager for another time in the days ahead, perhaps during the hour before I go to bed.

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, the Bible 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 insight, perspectives or greater 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 15, 2018

Gather the Pieces


One of my favorite scriptures in which I have rested and walked is John's account of Jesus feeding five thousand people (John 6:1-13). When everyone finished eating, Jesus instructed the disciples, "'Gather the pieces left over; let us not waste a bit.' So they gathered them all and filled twelve baskets with the pieces left over from the five barley loaves which the people had eaten.'"

We don't know what happened to the twelve baskets of crumbs. One commentary I read suggested the disciples and Jesus ate the crumbs because they were so busy caring for the people they had no time to eat. Others say Jesus and the disciples might have taken the baskets to distribute to the poor. Whatever happened, Jesus recognized the value of pieces and did not want them wasted.

Most of us gather pieces throughout our day. We gather thoughts to put in sentences. We gather ingredients to make a meal. Quilters gather pieces of fabric to make a quilt. Carpenters gather materials to make furniture or a house.

Birds gather pieces to make nests. Recently, I took a walk in my neighborhood and found two nests in bushes. I examined each one closely, and noted these pieces the birds gathered: twigs, bright green plastic netting, yarn, paper, plastic wrap and leaves.

"Even the birds know the value of pieces," I thought.

Pieces are important parts of the whole picture we call life. Gathering pieces in many different ways throughout the day can bring us to wholeness in living.

Just like Jesus realized the value of crumbs or pieces remaining from the bread, we too, know the value of all of the pieces of our days. Each is important and can reflect the many ways God is present.

     When Jesus said,
    "Gather the pieces
     After the  meal" -
     He meant the crumbs,
     But the people
     Are pieces, too -
     Pieces of God
     Gathered together.

Reflection Question

1. Write down all of the parts or pieces of your day. How many do you have?
2. Thank God for your full life, asking God to bless all you do.

Prayer:  God, you are in the pieces as much as you are in the whole or complete parts of our lives. Knowing you are in all reminds us of the holiness of each moment. Amen.







Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Creative Study of The Prodigal Son




Second Presbyterian Church, a large congregation on the north side of Indianapolis, has always made music and the fine arts a priority, as much as missions or other outreach programs. I was invited to participate in a five week seminar - "Faith Expressions - an exploration of the Parable of the Prodigal Son through artistic expression." I was delighted.

The Seminar's Purpose

The seminar series looks at the Parable of The Prodigal from these perspectives - religion, literature, poetry, music, dance and the visual arts. Five faculty, all retired from nearby Butler University, direct the seminar - each taking the lead in one of the areas.

Rembrandt's portrait of "The Return of the Prodigal Son" (see below) was the central visual for the seminar.





What Will I Offer?

I was apprehensive sitting through the first lecture as I did not know how I could make a contribution. I listed myself as a mixed media artist which allowed me to explore different areas of art that I complete.

I asked myself a couple of questions as I listened to the introductions of the faculty and other artists.

How can I connect with this familiar story? What piece of art will come from my interaction with this text knowing that my background will influence the way I understand this incident?

Other participants were sharing ideas they had to interpret the scripture or to connect with one of the people in the story. I sat in my chair, getting restless, knowing that eventually God would give me a thought, but not right now.

The Idea

As I was driving home, God presented the idea of a monologue given by the prodigal's mother. The mother is faintly seen in Rembrandt's painting, in the upper left-hand corner. 

"A monologue, God? I've never done a monologue. That means I have to memorize my talk and I'm not good at memorizing. Oh my!"

Despite my concerns, when I arrived home, I went right to my desk and grabbed a pen and piece of paper to record the words. God poured out of my soul a monologue from the mother's perspective. A poem also followed a few days later. God provided abundantly.

Here is my monologue from the mother's perspective called, "A Mother's Heart."

I hardly knew what to think when he gave our son his inheritance - and then that wayward child went away to spend the money, who knows where - and we didn't hear from him for what seemed like forever.

Now all of a sudden, he is home. I haven't seen him yet; he's busy with his father and the servants, but I did hear him mention a famine in the country where he lived and longing for food, even food that the pigs ate, but he got nothing! And all of the inheritance is gone!

I will be glad when it's my turn to see him. I'm hesitant how he will respond after so much time. I've torn lots of cloth in my sorrow over his leaving, not knowing if I would ever see him again - so many strips of cloth, swaddling my heart with comfort while tears flowed down my cheeks. See the raw edges of torn cloth? That's how my heart felt as time went on, raw.

I prayed each day for God to keep him safe wherever he was. It seemed a useless prayer for such a long time, but now he is back! How do I greet answered prayer?

While I wait for him to come my way, I'll bake a loaf of barley bread. He used to like it when it was just baked. I bet it will taste good to him if he's as famished and starving as he says. Maybe he will look at the bread in a new way realizing that in Jesus, the Bread of Life, there is no more longing or being lost or trying to find a path through money and wild living.

Artist Reception

When the day arrived for the artist reception and program, I felt prepared to give my monologue.
To add authenticity to my presentation, I took a piece of lavender fabric to bind around my head. I gave my monologue boldly and with a full heart sharing the connection I made with this mother from long ago. The mother, a forgotten perspective, was now given a voice.

For Your Reflection

1. Take a moment to sit in quietness and openness before God.  
2. Choose a story. Listen to the story. Write down the names of the people involved.
3. Ask yourself a few questions: Which person stands out for me and why? What is the person's purpose in the story? What emotions does the story evoke?
4. What creative ways can you respond to God's word?
5. Share what you have done with  a friend.

Prayer: God, we come to your stories filled with curiosity about the participants and the message. Our hearts quiet and become open as we reflect on your words. Guide our creative expressions of what you have brought to us so we may sing, dance, write poetry and made a piece of art in response, realizing that what we make brings us into co-creating with you. Amen. 





Sunday, April 1, 2018

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies - The Prosperity Gospel



I received a text late Sunday morning, February 4, from our youngest daughter, Anna, that David (not his real name) her friend of ten years, had died eight months after being diagnosed with colon and liver cancer.

David and Anna lived in Oregon, but after his diagnosis, David returned to the family farm in southwestern Indiana for treatment. Anna and David were able to spend some time together before he left.

Anna was updated on David's condition throughout the eight months, but the finality of his passing was difficult. Initially, she debated whether to come for the memorial service. Mike and I left the decision to her, but after much thought she decided to attend.

Anna Arrives Home and the Visitation

Picking her up at the airport Thursday evening, the day before the visitation, gave our family unexpected time to be together.

Friday afternoon, Anna and I drove to the small farming community where David was raised, arriving at the church an hour after the visitation began.

Anna was anxious and the intensity of experiencing first-time loss of someone about whom she cared was palpable. I offered encouragement as we walked through the gravel parking lot to the church reminding her that she possessed great courage to come and offer comfort to David's mother and father.

Although we had to wait over an hour, that time enabled me to observe how David's parents greeted each person with gracious hospitality, listening carefully to the condolences offered.

Our time came to greet the family, and I finally met David's mother and father about whom I heard so much. Anna was embraced with love and warmth. She spoke kind and consoling words despite her sadness for the loss of a long-time friend.

The Memorial Service

The memorial service was Saturday morning where several persons - family, friends, work associates, and a former teacher - spoke about a man who loved adventure and enjoyed fullness of living during his 35 years.

The Luncheon and Kate Bowler

At the luncheon following the service, I sat next to David's high school art teacher. She was one of the speakers and shared samples of his art as well as the impact he had on her life. As we were talking, she said, "Well you know everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it takes awhile to figure out why."

I looked at her and hoped she didn't share these thoughts with David's mother and father. I remembered a book I just read Everything Happens For A Reason And Other Lies I've Loved, 
written by Kate Bowler, an assistant professor at the Duke University Divinity School. She also completed extensive research on the prosperity gospel for her graduate studies, and published, Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel.

The essence of the prosperity gospel is the "quintessentially American belief that God rewards the right kind of faith and that if you are suffering you must have done something wrong." (Faith and Leadership, Duke University - "Kate Bowler - Not All Pain Has To Be Explained," February 6, 2018).

Kate Bowler continued, "When someone gets sick or unfortunate circumstances arrive like a job loss, impaired relationships and illness, etc. the reason is because the person has done something wrong. Misfortune is seen as a mark of God's disapproval while fortune is a blessing from God - the core beliefs of the prosperity gospel."

My Response

In those moments of fresh grief and remembrance I was not going to express my opinion to this woman who a few minutes earlier explained that she was spiritual, but not religious - words I've heard before and believe they mean something different to everyone who speaks them.

Thirty-five-year-old Kate Bowler wrote Everything Happens for A Reason And Other Lies I've Loved
after she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. She says, "My body was failing me. Pain rippled through my limp arms. I was no longer proof of anything that testified to the glory of God, at least not in the eyes of the people around me. I was nothing like a sign or wonder." (page 19)

When asked in a TIME magazine interview (February 5, 2018) if she felt Christianity had failed her, she answered, "Sometimes it felt like that, in part because of the stuff people said using the Christian faith to be incredibly trite. Christianity also saved the day. You really want a brave faith, one that says in the midst of the crushing brokenness, there is something else there, the undeniable, overwhelming love of God."

I do not believe everything happens for a reason. I feel people say these words because the thought offers understanding, or they don't know what else to say in tragic circumstances or in a strange way it brings comfort to them and the suffering family.

I can't think of a reason for a previously healthy, productive joy-filled young man to get cancer or for a child to be raised in a home that is harmful or for a baby to be born with birth defects or for a child to have learning difficulties or for a shooter to kill seventeen students at a school in Florida - or any other tragedies and challenges life brings. There is no reason.

I can rest with these situations I described above for weeks and never come up with a reason why - as the teacher thought. Things just happen and there is no length of time to determine when an answer will come, because there is none. There are causes for tragedy, but not reasons - cancer cells start to grow in a healthy body; emotionally disturbed parents try to raise children; chromosomes aren't divided properly to produce healthy children; unstable persons use guns inappropriately.

God's Assurance

The prosperity gospel is inaccurate and can lead people away from God, who promises over and over to be with us when our hearts are crushed and we are broken.

For example, these three passages describe God's presence:

Deuteronomy 31:8 - "The Lord himself will lead you and be with you. He will not fail you or abandon you, so do not lose courage or be afraid."

Matthew 28:20 - "And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."

John 12:27 - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

Individuals can go through unfortunate events, and find deeper meaning in life. Those who know God can find the value of God's compassion, companionship and mercy.

Driving to the Airport

After the luncheon, Anna and I drove three hours to reach the airport so she could board an early evening flight to Oregon. She was so tired, she leaned back in the passenger seat and rested.

When we got to the airport, I pulled next to the curb so I could have a few minutes to offer last minute encouragement. I told her to be gentle with herself, to let her memories come through, write about them, cry, and take good care. I reminded her of the great courage it took to be present to David's parents, bringing comfort, expressing compassion and showing care.

Releasing my hands from around her shoulders was so hard. I wanted to continue to walk beside her as she processed the moments of the past few days as well as deal with her grief. However, I am depending on God, who offers compassion and mercy at all times to those who call upon him to care for Anna and David's family in the days ahead.

Questions for Reflection

1. When have you experienced the loss of a close friend or family member?
2. What were your emotions?
3. How did you respond to the loss?
4. In what ways do you help others who are dealing with a death or other trying circumstances?
5. What advice can you offer to those who are having difficulty based on your own experience?

Prayer: God, so many times tragedy and trying circumstances come our way. You are the first to cry when these events happen and the first to be available to console and comfort. Thank you for your care that settles in our soul when we are distressed or when we celebrate. We are thankful we can always depend on you and you are always there for us. Amen.













Sunday, March 25, 2018

Questions for Holy Week


Lent is just about over. Whatever you gave up for the forty days, you can resume in less than a week.

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 into the days after Easter.

1. Where or when do I experience 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. The greatest joy of my life with God is _________________.

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

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Finding Sanctuary in Target



Looking for a quiet place to reflect on a rainy, damp Ash Wednesday afternoon, I skipped the library. Instead, I chose the Starbucks tucked inside the neighborhood Target.

Would I be able to concentrate and even stay warm in the coffee area just inside the frequently opening front door? I ordered my tea and found an empty table. No one else was around and surprisingly, the longer I sat, the warmer I became. Maybe the large cup of tea I clutched sent warm waves through my hands to my body.

New Scripture

I began to reflect on three passages of Scripture that enveloped my heart:

     - Philippians 4:12 - "I have learned this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry whether I have too much or too little."

    - Matthew 28:20 - "And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."

    - John 12:27 - "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

I was grateful for the ways these new verses came after enduring a period of desolation for the past several months. I gained encouragement from Mother Teresa, who, despite feeling God's absence, continued to complete each day in ministry with the poor and sick in Calcutta.

My Own Desolation

When my time of "loneliness from God" began last December, I was led to a passage in Leviticus 25:2-6. God is giving direction to Moses about the use of the land.

     "When you enter the land that the Lord is giving you, you shall honor the Lord by not cultivating the land every seventh year. The seventh year is to be a year of complete rest for the land, a year dedicated to the Lord. Do not plant your fields or prune your vineyards. It is a year of complete rest for the land."

I, like the land, needed rest from  a year of teaching and leading groups just about every day at my church. I was spent and like the soil, I needed time off.

However, after a few months, when I felt ready to resume my writing and art, I had no words or images. My companionship from God through writing and art had disappeared and my heart deeply felt the loss.

My spark from God was gone and I wanted it back.

A portion of each day, I asked God, "Why did you take my writing and art away?" Writing and art had always been prayer for me. When I received no answer from God, I felt frustrated, angry and disconnected from the source of everything I need in life.

Then, one day, I was reflecting on my losses and those three new scriptures came. These words from God spoke of content (even when I felt God's distance), of Jesus' constant companionship (even when I felt lonely) and offered encouragement for a troubled heart and soul longing to write and create.

A Spark Returns

I finished my tea, pushed the cart around Target to gather a few items. To kill some time, I perused the book selections. Suddenly, as I roamed up one aisle and down the next, words started to come to my heart, describing an experience a few days earlier walking through an empty field littered with clumps of dirt and dried corn shocks.

Celebrating the return of my spark from God, I paid for my items and hurried home to get my tablet of paper and pen and start writing.

Encouragement

For Lent this year I am reading "Forty Days With Grounded:  A Devotional," the back pages of the book "Grounded" by Diana Butler Bass. On day two, I read the following words that offered encouragement and hope as I was seeking to make it through these barren days.

     "Every time I have experienced new depth or new wisdom in my spiritual life, the path toward the new awareness begins with a sense of loss of God's presence. God seems absent, unavailable in the usual places, elusive. I am lost. I have learned to trust the question, 'Where is God?' as a marker along the way. No fear. Only a sign to pay attention to the ways in which the spirit is speaking."

The author offered me a new perspective about my "wasteland," a term through which I was passing and finally, slowly exiting.

God Speaks at Target

I wasn't expecting anything unusual to happen that Ash Wednesday when I entered Target, but I left feeling my spark with God was beginning to return. As words tumbled out of a weary and confused soul, I knew that God can enter our hearts anywhere -  even in Target.

Questions for Reflection

1. Have you experienced God's absence?  What words would you used to describe this time?
2. How are you encouraged when God seems distant?
3. What practices help you stay focused on God during days or weeks of feeling lost?

Prayer: God, sometime we feel like you are sitting right next to us, while other days we feel that you are so far away. During these moments of drought help us stay steady and firm in you because we have the assurance you are with us always. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Seeking Spaciousness During Lent


Genesis  2:7 - "The Lord God took some soil from the ground and formed a man out of it; he breathed a life-giving breath into his nostrils and the man began to live."

Anticipating the ground would be muddy, I changed into a pair of old boots I carried in my trunk. The cleared rows were bumpy with large clumps of dirt defining the space. Dried corn shocks littered the ground, remnants from last year's harvest.

I was walking a cleared corn field belonging to a friend. I was struck by the spaciousness of the open field and yearned to find that same space in my heart. I quit teaching a few classes and leading a weekly support group both at church. I sought rest and renewal felt the stirring of my desire as I walked in the empty field.

Ash Wednesday came a few weeks later with the the reminder that humanity came from the earth and will return to the earth at the end of life.

When I received ashes on my forehead at the noon Ash Wednesday service, the pastor quoted Genesis 3:19 - "You are dust and to dust you shall return."  My mind flew back to my walk in the field where I walked on dust, dirt, as I traversed the spaciousness of an open field.

Lent began with a desire for spaciousness blended with the sobering reminder that eventually I will return to the earth. Keeping spaciousness of heart will be my challenge for Lent. On that cold January day when I drove back from the field, I already felt enclosed by buildings and houses along the way. I know I'll feel the same as I move through the 40 days of Lent, soul-scrunched and longing to open wide to God, to people in my life, and in the world.

Questions for Reflection

1. What is your heart seeking this Lent?
2. How can you reach your desire?
3. What image comes as you walk these days before Easter?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for the space of forty days to go deeper with you. Guide our hearts and give form to our desires so that we may learn more about ourselves and you. Amen.


Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Broken Chalice - That's Where the Light Comes In


Pastor David arrived carrying a small loaf of bread  in one hand and a chalice in another. He was taking time on this cold winter night to serve communion to our small group.

I reached for the chalice noting that the base had a huge chip, a broken edge. Holding the cup containing the grape juice, my fingers rubbed the sharp corner and wound around the curved bottom.

David offered a few opening remarks. As he passed the bread, he said, "The body of Christ broken for you."

My heart stopped on those word as my hands rubbed along the sharp, rough chalice bottom.

Broken Chalice, Broken Hearts

There was surely a lot of brokenness in the room that night:

          -  a young widow
          - an elderly woman whose husband lives in a memory care unit
          - a lesbian student struggling with a relationship with her partner
          - a middle-aged single woman grieving the lack of opportunity to find a spouse through the years
          - a gay man in a confusing relationship

The broken chalice reflected the hearts of everyone in the room.

Over the past six weeks, we developed a deep bond of trust and shared openly about the struggles of our hearts and the brokenness of the past and present.  We offered encouragement and hope to each other.

Oneness in Brokenness

When I noticed the chipped chalice and heard the words, "The body of Christ broken for you," I realized in those moments that Jesus' broken body became one with the brokenness each person carried. Sharing communion strengthened the connection we had with each other and brought God deeper into our lives.

I was reminded of the word of Leonard Cohen's song, "Anthem:"

          Ring the bells that still can ring

          Forget your perfect offering

          There is a crack, a crack in everything,

         That's how the light gets in.

Similar thoughts from the poet, Rumi:

          The wound is the place where the light enters you. 

Leonard Cohen and Rumi offer messages of hope in darkness.

Light Shines in the Darkness

Our brokenness can be hard, challenging, life-altering, but in those cracks, light flows through, to offer strength and hope, bringing ways to cope. We are also reminded that Jesus, too, was broken. The light of Resurrection came into Jesus' crucified body, just like light comes to us.

Everyone in my group welcomed the light of communion into their brokenness, carrying the assurance that they are not alone as the go through their days. Light shines in the darkness as they live the words from John 1:5 - "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it."

Questions for Reflection

1. Think about a time when you were broken. How did you see and receive light to help you get through these circumstances?
2. What ways can you help others who are going through difficult times?

Prayer: We do get overwhelmed, God, when we are broken. We don't move as quickly nor do we respond as clearly to daily events and encounters. Come into those cracks and hard places of our heart, bring your light to ground our struggles and give us ways to see through our days until wholeness comes. Amen.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Love, Forgiveness and Reconciliation



When we moved to Fishers, Indiana, back in 1996, we were delighted to find a home on a cul-de-sac. We'd lived in parsonages for twenty years and owning our own home was exciting. Our neighbors were friendly. The half circle was conducive to evening gatherings outside with parents talking and children playing.

The people next door to us, had a five-year-old daughter, Ella. Sam and Rebecca were professional musicians, Rebecca a violinist with the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, and Sam, a viola player, who had a shop in their home where he made violas and repaired stringed instruments.

We discovered early in our friendship that Sam and Rebecca were Jewish. We were thrilled with the opportunity to learn about their culture and traditions.

Over the years we shared their holiday celebrations with cards and small gifts. They honored our Easter and Christmas in the same way.

Sam's Decline

When Ella entered high school, Sam's behavior became erratic, with outbursts of anger. He sought help from numerous professionals, but nothing seemed to help him regain his stable, easygoing manner.

Life together was difficult and soon Sam and Rebecca divorced. She moved to an apartment and he relocated first to the small town in southern Indiana where he was from and then to Texas. Through the years following the divorce Sam and Rebecca kept in touch with each other through occasional phone calls and we stayed close to Rebecca. Ella, however, now in college, became estranged from her father.

The years passed. One day in 2015, Rebecca learned from one of Sam's friends that Sam, 52, and living in Minneapolis, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. The friend decided he was unable to care for Sam as the disease progressed and wanted to make him a ward of the state. Rebecca and Ella stepped in. They made plans to bring him back to Indiana and found an assisted living center in Westfield that would care for Sam.

Rebecca visits Sam as often as she can.

A Special Concert

Shortly after Sam's admission to the facility, Rebecca arranged a concert in Sam's honor. She invited all persons who had instruments that Sam made or repaired to perform. Ella, a third year cantorial student at Hebrew Union College in New York City, returned for the concert and sang several songs.

In July, 2017, Ella got married and Sam proudly walked her down the aisle. Rebecca and Ella are committed to loving and caring for Sam as he deals with the challenges Alzheimer's brings.

A few years ago, when Rebecca first told me about Sam's diagnosis and the care she extended, I felt deeply the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. His behaviors many years ago were signs and symptoms of Alzheimer's that no one considered.

The Story of Joseph

Joseph's jealous brothers in Genesis, chapter 37, plotted evil against him. The eleven brothers sold him to people who took him to Egypt. Many years later, Joseph is reunited with his brothers, who are fearful that he might pay them back for the harm they inflicted upon him.

Joseph, however, answers his brothers in Genesis 50:19-21: "'Don't be afraid; I can't put myself in the place of God. You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good. You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.' So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts." (Good News Bible)

Joseph's generosity of heart and strength in God enabled him to forgive his brothers and begin a new life with them even after the horrible way they treated him.

When Forgiveness Doesn't Happen

My own story of forgiveness, unfortunately, doesn't have the peaceful ending Sam, Rebecca and Joseph's brothers experienced. Growing up in a home that was not nurturing, but harmful, left me with feelings of anger and resentment toward my parents.

I worked with a counselor decades later who suggested I meet with my mother and father, and tell them that I forgave them for the way they treated me. One October afternoon, with my counselor present, I met with my parents and offered them forgiveness of the evil that was part of my upbringing. They looked at me and said nothing. I hoped for acknowledgment of wrongdoings, but did not receive that response. Instead, I prayed they would accept my forgiveness and continued to hope for reconciliation.

None of that happened that day or later. Even during additional visits in the years before they died, no words of acknowledgment or apology were spoken. My hopes of reconciliation died with their passing four days apart. I was left feeling hopeless, defeated and disappointed.

Sam, Rebecca, Ella and Joseph

I was encouraged when Rebecca told me of her reconnection to Sam and forgiveness has given this family many opportunities for fullness of life together. Although Sam must continue to live in an assisted living apartment, Rebecca takes him out for concerts and dinner.

Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers opened the door to new adventures for their lives as a family.

My disappointment with the forgiveness and restoration that could have been experienced in my family often brings an ache to my heart. The finality of their passing closes any opportunities for admission or reconciliation. I am grateful, however, for the freedom I have that comes from forgiveness even though none was offered to me.

For Your Reflection

1. Ask for God's strength to examine your life and determine your relationship with others.
2. Is there a person or persons to whom you need to offer forgiveness and enjoy reconciliation? Pray now for opportunities to interact and experience that gift.

Here are two prayers that can move you toward forgiveness:

Prayer 1 - For all those I have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. Forgive me and set me free.
For all those who have harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free.
For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. I forgive myself and set myself free.

Prayer 2 - I let forgiveness rest on all of my memories of you. I bless you and ask God to fill you with his love in this instant and for eternity.

Prayer: God, circumstances happen in life that bring us to or knees with despair and desire for harmonious living.Thank you for giving us strength to walk through our days when disappointment comes and our hearts are heavy. Let us, with courage, walk through those hurtful moments and come to a place of forgiveness where we can experience freedom and fullness of life in you. Amen.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

Baking Bread - Ordinary Sabbath Holiness


The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Torah) portrays the Jews as people on the move. The instability of their way of life created a thirst for God. Sabbath celebration became an intentional way for the Jews to stay grounded and at home through their relationship with God wherever they were. They came to anticipate joyfully, this day of rest, reconnection and co-creation with God, the only constant in their nomadic life.

Driving home recently, I heard a feature on National Public Radio about Sabbath. The reporter noted that allowing time for maintaining the Sabbath remains important in the life of the Jewish people.

Connecting with one's soul, either by maintaining a weekly day for Sabbath or by establishing other ways of being with God seems even more essential for life in today's fast-paced world. While the nature and content of today's routine differs from that of people in the Old Testament, Christians as well as Jews have struggled to keep the kind of intentional spirituality imperative to sustain a sense of God's presence in daily living.

Baking Bread

One of my favorite ways to create Sabbath during an ordinary task happens when I bake bread. Praying and centering with God while baking bread adds holiness to a common task. The resulting tangible expression of Christ's body provides physical and spiritual nourishment that I often share with others.

The simplicity of ingredients for bread - milk, yeast, flour, sugar, butter - reminds believers that Jesus was a simple person, unencumbered by possessions or wealth. Jesus taught about the power of small things - yeast, seeds, a pearl and a mustard seed.

Lighting a candle before I start to bake reminds me that God is present. As I gather the ingredients in silence, I also gather the names, events or circumstances to pray about while I bake. I bless my hands before I knead the dough to acknowledge that God is in my hands. My hands are doing holy work.

Kneading

Kneading he dough helps me thing of the way God kneads my soul to grow, to change and move closer to God. I pray for strength to remain open to God's kneading and leading with the constant assurance of God's presence.

Baking

As the bread bakes, I become immersed in the aroma of creation. When the bread is finished baking, I rub margarine over the top of each loaf thinking how baking bread is a tangible venture from Genesis to resurrection, as well as my spiritual journey during the creation of two loaves.

Reflecting

While the bread cools, I take a piece of white paper and tear into the shape of a loaf of bread. Tearing rather than cutting represents the uneven edges and the unknown of life. Sometimes I write a sentence, a prayer, a reflection or blessing that expresses how I felt during my baking retreat. If I am giving a loaf to someone else, I will include the paper to let them know that God was with me as I baked.

Cleaning

Gathering the pans and bowls to wash, I thank God for being with me, and speaking to me while I baked bread. This activity offered me a few hours of Sabbath rest in the midst of a busy day.

Questions for Reflection

1. Allowing a whole day for Sabbath may be difficult to arrange. Instead, choose an ordinary activity. Ask God to increase your awareness of God's presence as you complete the task.

2. Light a candle before you begin. God is with you always.

Prayer:  God, Jews long ago knew that arranging time with you each week gave them strength to continue their days. Guide us in ways that allow us to bring holiness to ordinary tasks so that we too can stay close to you. Amen.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Binding and Swaddling


Swaddle - to bind (an infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes.

Bind - to fasten or secure with a band; encircle with a band to tie anything

Looking over the shelves in my small office, I noticed two bundles: one tied with salmon-colored fabric, the other tied with bright, orange ribbon.

The fabric-bound letters are from my long-time friend, Annabel. She died December 30, 2016, but left me with a stack of love and encouragement bound carefully so I don't loose any of her thoughts. Binding the letters tightly helps me keep all of her love, wisdom, and observations about life and people at the ready whenever I need to hear her voice.

The other is a stack of birthday cards I received last year. They are bound together by an orange ribbon that was tied around a gift. I bound all of the love and good wishes for a happy day that I received into a bundle to keep always.

Binding and Swaddling in the Bible

Jewish exploration of scripture, called Midrash, often calls Abraham's sacrifice of his son, Isaac, "the binding of Isaac." Binding in this context illustrates how Abraham carried through God's command (Genesis 22:9), binding Isaac to the altar so he could not move.

In the New Testament we read how Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloth, binding him closely to feel comfort - safe and secure much like modern mothers do with their infants.

Binding God's Love

In church recently, the theme for the day was stewardship and service in the church and community. The offertory hymn, "By Our Love," by Christy Nockels contained this stanza -

                    The time is now,
                    Come church arise,
                    Love with his hands,
                    See with his eyes,
                    Bind it around you,
                    Let it never leave you,
                    And they will know us by your love.

This anthem emphasis shows the love of God so that "we can love with his hands" and "see with his eyes." The binding or holding together of God's love in our hearts fills us so that we are empowered to love and serve others wherever we go.

Binding and Swaddling

Binding or holding together keeps us steady in God's love. We can stay safe and secure in God's love for our own lives and for the way we "love with his hands" and "see with his eyes."

Binding my batch of Annabel's letters and my birthday cards helps me hold the sentiments of love, encouragement, thought and prayer.

Abraham bound Isaac to fulfill God's direction. His actions reflected the depth of his obedience to God. Isaac was Abraham's love bound on an altar.

Mary bound or swaddled Jesus like mothers do today. When we, too, bind or swaddle our hearts with the love of God, we can, like the anthem says, "love with his hands" and "see with his eyes."

Questions for Reflection

1. Do you have cards or momentos you have tied or bound together? What do they mean to you? Why have you bound them together?

2. Every day we have encounters, experiences or private moments with God that bind us closer in God's love. Keep a list of those times and offer gratitude.

3. Just like Mary swaddled Jesus, our hearts are swaddled when we received love from God through others or from God directly.Treasure these deep in your heart.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways to describe how, when you come to us, you leave a permanent imprint on our hearts. Bind your word, your care, your joy, your transformation around our hearts, swaddling you close to us, for all we need. Amen.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Finding Faith and God



"Is this the Target where you saw the bird?" she asked (See "Gather the Pieces" August 7, and October 16).

"Yes," I said to my friend, Linda, whom I hadn't seen for twenty-one years. We sat in Starbucks at the local Target store. "Finding God in nature added a new dimension to my faith," I added.

Grateful for the opportunity to be together, we caught up on our lives, and I was delighted to listen to someone who regularly reads my blog.

Author Diana Butler Bass

Reading in Diana Butler Bass' book, Grounded - Finding God in the World - A Spiritual Revolution,  I noted her comment about living in the city.

        "I grew up spending a few years in the city. The world of my childhood was paved over, save some small grass patches and a garden or two. I was a terrible klutz with nature. I constantly stumbled on rocks and slipped in mud, thus proving to my own mind at least that the earth was a threatening and inhospitable place."

She then describes how she viewed church.

     "I was grateful for the church, a safe haven from the untamed world of nature. God apparently preferred the indoors too. His sacred abode was the Methodist Church in our neighborhood: four white walls, wooden pews, and colored glass windows. It never occurred to me that someone might seek God in the woods or on a mountain or at a beach, because God was so readily available in the building up the road. Church, unlike nature, was safe. When it came to it, I preferred singing hymns to digging in the dirt."

The author had  a change of heart, however, when her family moved to the country and quit going to church. She continues,

     "Although I had always believed God lived in that building, I unexpectedly discovered that God was also present in the woods as I followed streams through the forest. Sitting by the lake, skating on a frozen pond, riding my bike on dirt roads - it was as if I could hear God whispering to me. At the Methodist Church, I learned how to follow the rule, how to be an obedient Christian girl. But the country, the place of dirt that I previously feared became a school of wonder. Those woods and farms were a sanctuary of the sacred, a place where the Bible actually spoke."

My Thoughts

I could identify with Diana's words when I discovered the egg outside Target (August 7), then found the mother mourning dove, her babies and the crippled bird left behind (October 16)

Growing up in the Episcopal church I had sustaining moments with the weekly liturgy and memorizing catechism for confirmation. God was limited to Sunday morning, within four walls of the church or as Diana also observed, I had no idea that there was any place else to pray or feel God's presence.

As I grew closer to God, I discovered God could be found many places even in everyday experiences. Baking bread and working with cloth nurtured my faith.

Bread

When our daughters were growing up we had homemade biscuits every night for dinner. Baking biscuits for my family brought me into God's presence as I remembered Jesus called himself the Bread of Life and then he illustrated faith by using yeast.

Even though the children are grown, I still make biscuits with deepening awareness how kneading dough is an image for the way God kneads my soul bringing me deeper into God's presence and to great awareness of others.  Baking bread and prayer were woven together with each batch I made.

Cloth

For a long time, I came to Jesus like the woman who touched his cloak and was healed of a hemorrhage (Matthew 9:18-26) Her faith took her to see Jesus, knowing the power he had could give her new life.

I touched Jesus for decades through handling fabric and making small quilts.The rhythmic flow of a needle through batting and two layers of fabric became meditative, pulling me closer to Jesus with each stitch and bringing light to darkness that seemed to linger in my heart. Quilting still, after nearly forty years, brings me to God, quiets my heart and keeps me close to Jesus.

Nature

The time I spent with the white egg and the mourning dove have welcomed me into  a new dimension of being with God. I've always enjoyed a walk in the woods looking at the texture of tree trunks, and patterns of flowers and leaves, but the mourning dove and her babies brought me into communion with another part of God's creation leading me to deep self-discovery and transformation.

I explained to Linda that unlike baking bread and quilting leading me to prayer, observing a pregnant dove, studying the next and empathizing with the injured bird connected me to parts of my past that needed exploring. Realizing that observing a bird, her habitat, and life with babies could penetrate my emotional self, broadened the way I saw God at work in my life. I truly experienced my own trinity, God, the dove and me, exploring together.

Reflection

As we finished our tea, Linda and I agreed not to let twenty-one years go by until we meet again We appreciated greatly how easy it was to talk even though so many years had passed. And I knew that connecting with Linda - a friend who reads my words each week - was another way God was meeting with me, encouraging me, and showing me my place in the world.

Questions for Reflection

1. We are uniquely made and God comes to us in different ways.
2. What has nurtured you along your path of faith development?
3. Are there objects meaningful to you as you've explored your faith?
4. Where do you find God - in the Bible, in nature, baking, taking a walk .... or many other ways?

Prayer:  God, thank you for the ways you reveal yourself to us, often relfecting our interests and talents. Increase our faith in whatever way possible so we can move closer to you. Amen.

For further reading:

Communion Bread: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2016/02/communion-bread.html.

A Different Kind of Communion: http;//jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2014/09/a-different-type-of-communion-bread-of.html

The Rising Womb: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-rising-womb.html\\

Lament for a Fallen Bird: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2017/10/lament-for-fallen-bird.html

The White Egg on the Sidewalk:  http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-white-egg-on-sidewalk.html

A Reflection for Friday: http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-reflection-for-friday.html

Staying Within Reach of Jesus:  http://jacquiereed.blogspot.com/2016/07/staying-within-reach-of-Jesus.html.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Open My Eyes That I May See



I got out of my car with arms full of Christmas cards to mail and a package to send. I like the small post office in Nora, a small community within Indianapolis. The people are friendly and helpful and I was driving in an area where the post office is located.

As I spread out all of my cards and arranged the contents of the package on a table near the "you-do-it" section in the lobby, an elderly woman came along beside me.

Quickly clearing a space for her, I said, "I don't need to take up all of this room. I tend to spread out so I can organize my mailings."

She smiled, "I need to fill out this paper to hold my mail while I am gone. I don't see well. Can you help me?"

"Sure!" I set aside my cards and held the corners of her form to steady her writing. I checked what she had already written, but she was confused about the dates of her departure and arrival home.

Completing the Form

She was certain about when she was leaving so we entered that information. Then we counted forward until she reached the time when she was coming home. I looked over the other questions and told her she was ready to turn in the request. The form complete, she reached into her purse offering  to pay me for helping her.

"Oh, no. Helping another is part of life in God's kingdom."

"I am eighty-one years old and I am thankful to be here," she replied. "I used to be an elementary school principal and do things with ease."

"I'm glad you're here too!" I said. "Have a nice time away. I watched her walk slowly through the lobby.

Dropping my cards and package in the appropriate bins, I reflected how my vision and her lack of vision came together. Interestingly, outside the post office sat a blind man, a fixture at the corner of the building selling brooms. Today was cold and windy and he was wearing a heavy coat and hat. Two women were talking to him and I watched as he laughed and smiled.

Open My Eyes

My experience at the post office with the woman who had trouble seeing reminded me of the opening stanzas of an old hymn, "Open My Eyes, That I May See."

The first three stanzas of the hymn begin with these words:

"Open my eyes, that I may see;"

"Open my ears, that I may hear;"


"Open my mouth, and let me bear,"

That day I  was able to blend all three verses as I helped the retired principal complete her form.

How Are Your Eyes, Ears and Mouth?

I wonder how many times I miss opportunities to be in service to others because my eyes don't see or my ears don't listen carefully or my mouth remains silent or says something inappropriate. God help me be aware of those I cross paths with so that I can be aware of and present to those who may need help.

Have you been in a hurry lately and not given attention to those around you? We all have busy days with lots to do. Let your eyes be opened to see, your ears be opened to listen and your mouth be opened to speak as you move through God's kingdom and interact with God's people.

Sometimes you are at the right place at the right time - when your vision is clear and your heart is open to respond.

For Your Reflection

1. When have you paused to talk or help someone in need as you were on your way to do something else?

2. How did you feel after you completed your service?

3. What practices help you become more attentive to others?

Prayer: God, our days are busy, but our hearts truly want to extend love to those who may need attention. Keep us alert and aware of others wherever we go. Amen.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Do I Give Others Fifty Percent or More?



I had just arrived at the hospital where I'm a volunteer chaplain. I logged in at the computer in the volunteer office and walked across the lobby to get the mail. I'm always on the lookout for those who need assistance - I watch for people who seem lost or upset or nervous.

That Tuesday morning, I saw a woman sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the atrium surrounded by a pool of spilled Pepsi on the floor.

As I went over to greet her, she said, "I must have fallen asleep and knocked my Pepsi over."

"I'll get someone to clean up." I went to the information desk to request someone from housekeeping to come. Meanwhile, I got one of those bright, yellow, plastic signs that I could set near the spill to warn people to be careful.

"What kind of Pepsi do you drink?" I asked, waiting with her. She showed me the empty bottle. 

"I'll be right back." I went to the cafeteria, where I purchased two bottles of the same kind of Pepsi she spilled. 

Realizing I needed to check in at the chaplain's office, I handed her the bags with the two bottles of Pepsi and went on my way carrying with me her face of gratitude.

Did I Give Enough?

Reflecting later that afternoon, I remembered two challenges from a sermon I heard two days prior to my encounter with the woman.

"God, help me recognize you in this moment."

"God, if you can use me today, help me pay attention."

I gave myself fifty percent on my response to this woman, wondering why I didn't take an extra few minutes to ask why she was at the hospital or how she was doing, especially since she had fallen asleep in the chair.

The following Tuesday, I walked past where she sat with Pepsi all over the floor and seat cushion and asked myself why I didn't interact with her further.

That spot is a reminder for me to take the extra few minutes to be present to all of God's children and inquire about their circumstances wherever I am. There was nothing urgent at the chaplain's office that would have prevented a few more minutes with this woman. People need one hundred percent of me when I am there to serve, not fifty percent as I offered.

Questions for Reflection

1. Who do you see each day? Be present to those you encounter wherever you go. Ask God to open love and compassion in your heart to extend to other.

2. Take time to care for those you see or those you know by listening to their concerns or celebrating their joys.

3. Record these moments so you can remember how God has used you.

Prayer: God, we are surrounded by your people wherever we go. Help me pay attention, to be present and care for those I see. Help me take a few minutes from my personal agenda to listen for those who may need a kind and compassionate ear, for my heart's desire is to love others in your name. Amen.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Duke Basketball and God's Presence


One of our family's favorite activities through the years has been watching Duke University play basketball. Mike graduated from Duke Divinity School in 1976, so we have a personal interest in the team.

We watched many years of memorable games including national championships in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2011, and 2015.

After their championship in 2015, I heard an interview with Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The reporter asked the coach to compare winning this fifth title. He replied:

     "I can't compare one title with another. All of them are great. The one you're in the moment, the most current, you can feel it best. What we've tried to do all year is live in the moment.  I told the players to live in the present and not worry about external expectations."

Live in the Moment

Coach Krzysewski taught his players the value of staying in the moment - in the present - so that nothing could distract them from the game they were playing. Schoolwork, relationships, a job, difficulties with a roommate, problems at home are a few of the circumstances that could distract a player's focus.

Stay in the game and live in the moment. It's advice that worked for his team, and it's advice that works for me.

Being Present

I believe "Coach K" has good words that can be applied to those who desire to stay focused on God. Distractions are all around us. I find distractions to prayer even if I am sitting at my desk looking out the window. My mind can wander to what I need to do for the day or to a concern about another person or what happened the day before, and the list goes on.

Although I am not playing a basketball game, I am working at being present to God.

What helps me most when I find my thoughts wandering is to take a deep breath. I can then bring my focus back to God where I can hear God's voice.

Live in the moment. Live in the present. That's what "Coach K" said. It's good advice for his players and for those who desire to deepen their walk with God.

Questions for Reflection

1. What distractions come your way when you try to pray?
2. How are you inspired to stay focused on God when your mind wanders?

Prayer: We desire, God, to stay present to you and present to others in your name. Distractions swarm around us, taking our minds in many directions. Our desire is to stay in constant awareness of your presence. Guide and direct us in ways unique to each of us, that will help us stay grounded in you - and as "Coach K" says, "Live in the moment,"  Amen.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Eight Questions for the New Year


Before you put away the ornaments from the Christmas tree, file recipes of food you only prepare for holidays and organize your presents, get a sheet of paper and a pen to record a few thoughts.

Reflect on experiences during the month of December and record what came to mind. Consider these questions.

     1. Where did I see God?
     2. How did I experience God?
     3. When did I offer God's love?

Keep a copy of what you wrote where you can reference throughout 2018, perhaps in the spring after Easter, during July, and in October as preparations for next Christmas begin.

The answers that come from the questions can reveal the fullness of God's presence as well as give form to changes you might want to implement during the year or in future holiday seasons.

Additional reflections for the new year examine your life and priorities. Respond to each for a sense of cleansing and direction in 2018.

     1. For what am I longing?
     2. What themes keep recurring in my life?
     3. Where am I struggling?
     4. What is most life-giving to me?
     5. What is least life-giving?

Jesus spent time away for prayer. Although we do not know the content of his reflections, he gave us a model of the importance of being still with God. We, too, can be still before God and ask these questions, seeking wisdom and insight from above.

Prayer: God, at the beginning of a new year, help us collect our experiences with you and others from 2017. Guide us as we use these eight questions to realize your presence with us to offer new energy and focus within and guide us in service to you. Amen.