Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Shift In Perspective

One day last summer, when I had multiple appointments and several places to go. I started my day swimming at the YMCA. I went early hoping to get in and out quickly, but every time I tried to slip out the door, I kept seeing people I knew and wanted to greet each one.

Finally reaching the exit, I pushed open the heavy door and crossed the parking lot. As I neared my car and reached for the keys, I heard my name.

Noticing someone from a distance, but unable to recognize, I walked closer to the sound of the voice and saw Elizabeth, a former employee at the grocery store down the street from where I live. Elizabeth worked in the floral department. When I made a purchase, she always took time to wrap the flowers carefully, adding a ribbon to bind the bouquet.

Elizabeth liked to talk, often complaining about working conditions at the store. I listened to her often, but sometimes when I went to shop, I was in a hurry and didn't want to take time to visit. Since the floral department was at the store entrance, I couldn't avoid seeing her. In all honesty, I was never late to anywhere I was going, just delayed.

Here she was at the Y calling my name. We talked for a few minutes. She asked about the Y and I suggested she take a tour. Meanwhile I was getting restless, worrying about being late for my 9:30 art class.

Finally she said, "I think it was a God thing I saw you today."

Oh, my! I did not think seeing her was a God thing for me because I w anted to make sure I was prompt for my class. Her perspective was different than mine.

I made it to my art class and to other commitments, but I kept thinking of my conversation with Elizabeth. I was disturbed because she thought seeing me was of God and I thought seeing her was a delay.

I asked God to forgive my impatience and help me manage my time more wisely when I had a full agenda.

I was thankful Elizabeth regarded seeing me as part of God's design for her day. She didn't explain why, but I noticed a few weeks later, she had joined the Y and was participating in one of the popular water aerobics classes.

Perhaps she was hesitant to enter an unfamiliar building or self-conscious because exercise had not been part of her life. Seeing a familiar face and receiving my encouragement must have been exactly what she needed to enroll.

We never know when we leave the house who we will encounter or how we will be perceived by those we meet.

Prayer: God, help us receive all we meet in your name and may our words and actions reflect your love. Amen.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Hasten: What Elie Wiesel Taught About Prayer

Well-known  Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, died July 2, 2016. He was a prolific  writer with thirty books to his credit. His first book, Night, chronicles his experiences after his family was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

I found a copy of Night for a dollar at an antique store one day. Night is a description of Elie Wiesel's time in two concentration camps, Auschwitz (May, 1944 to January, 1945) and Buchenwald (January, 1945 to April, 1945). Stories of beatings, lack of food, extreme exercise, marching for hours, and humiliation in other forms, made me wonder how he survived. Most of the prisoners did not. His mother, and younger sister, died in May, 1944, and his father in January, 1945.

Practicing His Faith

Elie was a devout Jew. As a young boy he was devoted to the study of the Talmud. His interest in Jewish law centered his life. He continued to practice Jewish rites even when he was in Auschwitz.

Shortly before being transported to Auschwitz, Jews were told to place clothing and items they wanted to save in backpacks. All of the Jewish families in Elie's hometown, Sighet, Transylvania, left their homes and gathered in ghettos created in the center of town. They stayed in the ghetto until the day the cattle cars came to take them away.

Walking by his home the day he left, Elie commented:

    "I looked at my house in which I had spent years seeking my God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later. Yet, I felt little sadness. My mind was empty." (page 19)

I was taken by his words, "... seeking God, fasting to hasten the coming of the Messiah, imagining what my life would be like later."  Jews do not believe their Messiah has come. They are still waiting.

Reading Night and portions of another book Elie Wiesel wrote, All Rivers Run To The Sea, his devotion to prayer, study of scripture, and Jewish tradition impressed upon me  his urgent desire for the coming of the Messiah and for what life would be like when that happened. He persevered with hope that practicing his faith would bring about the Messiah's arrival.

Christian Prayer and Jewish Prayer

Reflecting on Wiesel's life prior to the Holocaust caused me to think about the purpose of our Christian practice of prayer. When we pray for peace do we have faith that our prayers will result in peace? When we pray for love, do we believe that love will come?

I am reminded of a passage in Mark 11:24, where Jesus tells the disciples, "When you pray and ask for something, believe that you have received it." Jesus is saying, if you desire peace, pray using these words, "Thank you God for the peace I feel." You may not feel peace immediately, but praying with a grateful will bring comfort until peace comes.

Elie Wiesel believed that fasting would hasten the coming of the Messiah. His heart believed that through fasting the Messiah would appear. He was praying as Jesus directed, "believing that he had already received," a prayer of faith, trust and gratitude.

Jesus, the Messiah has come. We do not have the urgent desire for his coming as Elie Wiesel did. Do we take Jesus for granted? Do we live the fullness of life in Christ as Wiesel anticipated would happen if the Messiah came?

What do we believe we can hasten through completing prayer, study of God's word, fasting and acts of love and service? How can we hasten God's kingdom with all people we encounter?

Elie Wiesel's faith sustained him through life in two concentration camps. When he was barely alive, beaten to the core, his life with God remained strong - I think it is because he prayed, believing and God strengthened him to make it thorough.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, you have given us an example of a young man deep in faith who believed that he could hasten your coming through fasting and devotion to your word. Let us believe, too, that as we pray with faith, trust and belief, we can hasten your kingdom and mold us more completely into your image. Amen.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Labor Day

Friends - I am enjoying the holiday today. "Gather the Pieces" will return next week. I pray you feel God's presence each day. Jacquie

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Using Scripture for Intercessory Prayer

Last week, I received a phone call from a friend, Susan, who used to live in Vincennes,  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 number of letters declined as she moved and purchased a winter home out of state. 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 chose two scriptures to guide her through the days of hospitalization and recovery.

Praying with Scripture

"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."

When I brought Susan's name to God each day, I prayed the scripture inserting her name.

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

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

Praying for Susan

Praying for Susan using scripture helped me connect with her and with God in a way that added depth to our friendship and closeness to God during her time of need. I was honored to pray using words God gave her.

Next time someone asks me to pray for him or her, I plan to ask them if there is a scripture to which he/she feels close. I will use those words as I remember them daily.

Even though Susan lives five hours away, I feel close to her heart and united in prayer.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, you give us many ways to come to you. Thank you for reminding me that I can pray for others using your holy word. Amen.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

"How A Simple Prayer "Jesus Come" Brings Freedom

Every Saturday morning from Memorial Day to Labor Day, I swim a mile at the fifty meter outside pool at the Jordan Y. I like the challenge of an extra twenty-five meters of most in-door pools.

Usually I begin my swim using hand paddles made of thick plastic and a float between my knees. Strengthening my upper body happens when I swim using only my arms.

Last Saturday, my fingers were getting sore and a little numb as I completed the thirty-sixth lap, a half-mile. I slipped the paddles and the float onto the pool  deck and began the next thirty-six laps with the freestyle stroke. Swimming into the fullness of the water, I felt my energy shift.

My uncomfortable fingers locked onto the paddles by thick rubber tubes became a metaphor for the way my mind was interlaced with negative thoughts that seemed to burrow in my brain like worms going through tunnels in the dirt. With each stroke I felt a burden lift and a feeling of freedom emerge as I went from one side of the pool to the other, adding laps with each stroke.

When I first began my swim, I wondered how I would ever emerge with refreshment that I usually
experience. Negative thoughts increase suffering and suffering weighs heavily. Removing the paddles
released the pain in my hands and heart, allowing for Jesus to come, my mantra for a dozen laps.

Sometimes a simple one-or-two-word phrase or mantra becomes a prayer asking God to adjust my heart and move on to healthier thoughts. Swimming through the water, my hands moving like a paddle, my legs the motor, the water washes over me, bathing my body in cleansing ways.

When I touched the deck after 72 laps and jumped out of the pool meeting the chilly mid-60's degree temperature, I felt renewed and restored. Walking to the basket where the floats are kept, I looked once again at the water holding all of the negativity I released.

I am thankful for the way God worked when my simple prayer, "Jesus come" was received from a heart struggling to float.

Prayer: God, thank you for the way two simple words can summon depths of your healing balm to a troubled soul. Remind us we can always come to you, with simple ways that can reach the expanse of your love. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Baking Communion Bread

A few years ago I received an email from one of the pastors of the church I attend asking me to bake five loaves of bread for communion the next Sunday. Five loaves seemed overwhelming, so I agreed to two.

I remember I hardly felt worthy to bake bread as I was dealing with with anxiety, anger, frustration, loneliness, and confusion as well as forgiveness in the tangled web I imaged my life. I was afraid all of my feelings would transfer to the dough I kneaded and molded.

Baking bread is usually one of the ways I connect with God. I even wrote a day-long retreat "Praying with Bread."

That day, however, I was in a different state of mind. I went through the motions, mechanically, not prayerfully or reverently, gathering and combining numerous ingredients, putting the smooth dough in my favorite brown glass bowl for the first rising. The bowl was the last of a nesting set we received forty years ago for a wedding gift. The bowl held hundred of batches of dough, but that day's batch was the first to become the body of Christ.

The dough quickly doubled in size. I took half the dough from the bowl, powdered a handful of flour on the sticky places, molded a circle and placed in a buttered aluminum pan. I repeated the procedure with the remaining dough.

Before placing the pans in the oven, I studied the loaves. In those mounds of flour I saw the yeast of anger, loneliness, resentment, anxiety and other areas of disconnect in my life, along with forgiveness, blended into bread for God's people on Sunday morning. Oh, my!

When I arranged the two loaves in the over I prayed that all negative feelings would bake out of me and right to the heart of Jesus, whose body I formed that day.

Sunday Morning

I walked into the sanctuary the next day and found a pew close to the front in sight of the two oval forms of bread covered with embroidered white cloths resting in the middle of the altar. I thought about the sugar, flour, yeast and milk, which I had plucked from noisy grocery shelves days before, now transformed into one of the most meaningful aspects of Christian liturgy in a quiet church on Sunday morning.

Then I recalled my prayer the day before, as those loaves entered the oven. As I sat in that pew and examined my heart, I realized even before receiving communion, I felt peace. The negativity had burned away, my feelings now resting in Jesus' heart.

Mike and I assisted the pastors serving communion. I baked the body of Christ, and gave the body of Christ to those attending, completing a holy cycle.

Maundy Thursday

Sometimes during Holy Week I think about the bread served on that first Maundy Thursday. Who baked the loaf of bread Jesus used that night? Maybe the person was someone like me, filled with anxiety, anger, loneliness and other troubling concerns. Maybe they felt that same sense of release and relief in baking the bread? Someone always prepares the bread to offer God's people - I pray each baker always finds release as they pass along through the body of Christ, a blessing and peace to all who believe.

Prayer: Thank you God for the way ordinary tasks can bring us into your presence. You are in all we do. Amen.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

If You Find This Letter

Two years ago our family celebrated the marriage of our oldest daughter, Sarah, to her fiance, Ryan.. We met several of their friends, including, Adam, who introduced them.

As we talked, Adam said, "I really appreciated the letter you wrote me a few years ago when I took Sarah to the airport. I'd never received a letter!"

Never received a letter? Ever?

Astonished, I asked a few questions and discovered that Adam is from Denver, (where Sarah and Ryan lived). He had always lived in Denver so there wasn't any reason for anyone in his family to write him. So the only person far enough to write was a mother in the Midwest, grateful for his kindness toward her daughter who was living in his hometown, hundreds of miles away from Indianapolis.

Letters and Hanna Brencher

Following our return from the wedding, Adam's comment stuck with me. I made a trip to Barnes and Noble to get a book for a friend having surgery. and found Hanna Brencher's book If You Find This Letter.

Letters were important to Hannah. She cherished the letters her mother wrote when she was attending college. In fact, when she moved to New York City following graduation for a job, she decorated the walls of her apartment with letters from her mother and friends.

"Even after I packed up the letters and took them home, " Hannah wrote, "I always wondered what it might be like to give something like that - a bulging package of love letters - to someone I don't even know. To someone who might never get that sort of thing otherwise. Stranger or not we all need the same kind of reminders sometimes. Your're worthy. You're golden."

In her search to find meaning, purpose and direction in a large city, she wondered if other people would like to receive a letter as a way  to bring love and affirmation to their lives. Riding the subway gave her ample opportunity to observe the cross-section of people living in New York. She focused on those who looked forlorn and lost, an image of how she felt inside as she adjusted to a new job and acclimated to a new home.

Writing Letters

Hannah wrote letters to people she saw describing her struggles, trying to find her way emotionally, professionally, as she tried to create a sense of place in a large city. She tucked the letter in an envelope and wrote on the outside, "If you find this letter ...... then it's for you." She placed the letters in subway seats, on bathroom sinks, slipped a few into coat pockets in department stores, in fitting rooms, in the library, all over town.

Over time, the act of writing letters to hundreds of people brought her to a place of peace and purpose, and the loneliness that seemed to follow her every step since she arrived  disappeared.

My Letter Writing

I enjoy writing letters too. I can often express thoughts from my heart more deeply when I write. My daughters who live far away, receive letters from me regularly. While reading the book, I decided to follow Hannah's example not only as a writing exercise, but also an activity to expand my heart and deepen compassion toward those strangers I encounter.

I reminded myself each morning to be alert to someone to whom I could write a letter. I held the image of that person in my heart throughout the day and when I had a moment, I wrote a letter I  would "give" them. A few of the people who "received" my letters include a woman at the post office carrying two large parcels one under each arm, a neighbor who has yellow chairs in the front yard, a young woman walking into the library with a coffee cup held high and a large book under her arm.

Like Hannah, however, I grew weary of writing letters in a notebook and carrying them in my bag. I decided to duplicate Hannah's method; write a letter, put it in an envelope, and drop the envelope wherever I went. At least someone will receive my words of encouragement and love.

I wrote ten letters with the message below:

     "Dear Friend,
    The cloth heart is a reminder that you are loved just the way you are. You are valued and loved for all you do. Your life matters to so many and the love you give sustains and provides comfort.
                                                                             A Friend

I folded the letter and tucked inside a heart I cut from fabric scraps. I also included on a separate piece of paper this sentence of explanation" "A letter of encouragement and love to a stranger." - based on Hannah Brencher's book, "If You Find This Letter."

Addressing the envelope according to Hannah's directive - "If you find this letter it is yours," I  set off with my bundle.

Where Did I Place My Letters?

The ten letters I wrote found homes in a restaurant, a confessional booth in a Catholic Church, at a local YMCA, a grocery store, on a stack of books at the library, and in the pocket of a jacket at Target.

Interestingly, during the two-week time I was delivering letters, I received three letters in the mail; one from a former neighbor, one in the form of a picture from my nine-year-old friend, and a thank you note.

My story with Adam's letter has come full circle. Writing a letter of gratitude to him left an imprint on his heart. His comment awakened me to Hannah's book reinforcing the importance of the lost art of letter writing.

Reflection Question

1. Who among your circle of friends, family and acquaintances would benefit from a handwritten note? Take a moment, put your thoughts on paper and mail an envelope of compassion and care.

Prayer: God, you give us the example of Paul, who wrote letters to people in the churches he established. He offered encouragement, guidance, wisdom, and blessing to each since he was unable to regularly visit. Let us model our ways of expression to others following Paul so we can have a record of thoughts and feelings toward others they can reference forever. Putting our hearts on paper leaves a cherished legacy to the recipient. Amen.

                                 






Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Link - A Bridge of Love

Annabel Hartman mentored me in many ways since I first met her in 1983. She and her husband, Grover, were members of Center United Methodist Church on the south side of Indianapolis where Mike served from November, 1983 to June, 1989.

Annabel care for me as a devoted mother would a child. She prepared meals periodically when I was pregnant with Anna. She attended Sarah's school programs, assuming the role of grandmother for both children with her interest and love. I appreciated Annabel's spirituality which helped me deepen my own walk with God.

Moving

When Mike was appointed to serve in Vincennes, in June, 1989, I was sad to leave Annabel. We decided to keep in touch writing letters. Annabel, despite her work and church involvement was faithful to answer each letter I wrote. I have a basket containing her letters and cards saved through the years. Even after we returned to central Indiana in 1996, we still wrote letters.

A Link

In one letter I wrote Annabel, I shared my concern about "non-productive" activity such as driving children various places or participating in church activities. I lamented my lack of time to "cultivate my self" because of being engulfed by responsibilities to others.

Annabel replied, "We can be perpetually involved in worship, while we are also very busy in the world of daily affairs. Can't just being in the company of others who need relationship cultivate the self? Driving kids is productive in that we become the servant. Doing odd jobs at church is productive if we see ourselves as a link in a chain, a part of something bigger than we. Just 'being' is enough for me, if in my position of 'being' I am becoming a bigger, better person because I am 'being' for someone else, however simple or menial the task or service." (letter dated May 10, 1990)

I prayed with her letter for many days. Through the years her phrase, "If we see ourselves as a link in a chain, a part of something bigger than we" left an imprint in my heart and altered my perspective of everyday tasks. Thinking of myself as a 'link' has brought value to all I do and to each interaction.

An Example of Being A Link

I was reminded of the importance of being a 'link' when I recently stopped at Walmart to purchase twenty-four yards of black fabric for Sarah to use on bulletin boards in her art room.

"Do you have black fabric?" I asked the employee in the craft department.

"I can't hear you," she replied. Thinking she might be hearing impaired, I repeated my question looking at her directly. She pointed to a row of solid fabric on the top shelf. I reached the bolt and brought it to the cutting table.

"I need twenty-four yards please."

"What are you going to do with twenty-four yards?"

"My daughter is an art teacher. She prefers fabric rather than paper on her bulletin boards."

"I like art too. When I was in Italy I hired a teacher who taught me to draw and paint. I won an art contest when I was in fourth grade. I did a lot of art through the years. My son is a really good artist. He draws faces that really look like the person. I like art a lot."

She seemed to cut with new energy as she turned the bolt over and over until cutting the last yard. She folded the fabric with a big smile, placing the pile in my hands."

"Thank you. You're a link to art, helping my daughter prepare her room."

She grinned, "I still like art very much."

A Look Ahead

Now my days are much less hectic. I am always mindful how I can be a link wherever I go. For example, when I hold the door open for the person behind me entering or exiting a store, I am a link to another's progress. When I affirm or encourage, I am a link to someone's growth. When I care for a friend's child, I am a link providing space for growth, pleasure or relaxation. My prayers link me to God in intentional ways for others or myself.

I am so grateful for Annabel's thirty-year influence on my life. I treasure the time I spent with her

How are you a link in the path you follow each day?

Prayer:  God, I ask you to guide my heart and direct my vision in ways I can be a link for others. The positive energy I receive when I think of myself as a link to those I encounter reminds me how Jesus used objects to explain or link us to you. Amen.






Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fill A Basket for A Month

Anna, our second daughter, used to be the director of marketing and media for an independent jewelry story in Portland, Oregon. When we visit her we spend some time at the store perusing the merchandise and watching the jewelry makers put together unique and classic earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

A few years ago when we were in Portland, I was captivated by a variety of colorful bowls the owners purchased during a trip to Guatemala. The tightly woven containers came in different shapes and depths. I purchased two knowing I would use them my self or for a gift.

Filling the Bowl

I was reminded of a story I read many years ago about bowls in a book by Sue Bender, Everyday Sacred - A Woman's Journey Home. Sue tells about a monk who left his home every day holding an empty begging bowl in his hands. Whatever was placed in the bowl would be his nourishment for the day.

Sue continues - "It was obvious to all who knew me that I wasn't a monk and the very idea of begging would make most of us uncomfortable. In spite of that, the image of a begging bowl reached out and grabbed my heart.

Initially I didn't know whether I was the monk or the bowl or the things that would fill the bowl or all three, but I trusted the words and the image completely."

Sue spends the rest of the book describing stories, experiences and people that filled her bowl over seven years.

My Own Bowls

Looking at the bowls I purchased from the jewelry store resting on my office floor, I considered how a bowl can teach three things about being present to God: open ready to receive and waiting to be filled.

A Project for August

Here's a project for the month of August, during this period in the liturgical year called "Ordinary."

1. Find a bowl. Maybe it's your favorite mixing bowl or your container for cereal.
2. Remember where you purchased the bowl and how you use it. If it was a gift, recall the occasion and the giver.
3. Bless the bowl. Hold the bowl in both hands. Ask God to keep your heart open like the bowl to receive whatever God might want to fill it with.
4. Invite God at the beginning of the day to fill your bowl. Ask God to keep your heart open so you are aware of how God is coming to you. Whatever you feel God leading you to include as the content in the bowl.
5. At the end of August look what filled your bowl. Examine the contents to see what comes to your heart.

My Experience

A few months ago, I filled a bowl for a month with scripture, prayers, newspaper clippings and photographs. I wrote insights and perspectives I received about life from other people, books or God that I wanted to remember. If I received a letter or note during this time, these found a home in the bowl too.

Dried peonies, my favorite spring flower, rested in my bowl, its beauty amplified while it dried. Small pieces of leftover fabric from sewing projects and a church bulletin with sermon notes also filled the bowl.

I carried the bowl just about everywhere I went - resting on the passenger side of the car or going with me from room to room in my house. God speaks anywhere and anytime. The bowl helped me remember to keep my heart open, ready to receive and be filled.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, fill us to overflowing with tangible expressions of your goodness, love and challenge. Guide our reflections with what you give so we can learn more about ourselves and our lives with you. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Simple Gesture - Looking Behind

Tuesday, as I walked into the hospital where I'm a volunteer, I held open the door for the person behind me.

I heard a voice say chuckling, "Now my mother taught me I was supposed to open the door for you!"

Turning around I saw a tall, stocky older gentleman dressed in faded overalls and a blue T-shirt hold a single rose wrapped in florist paper.

Laughing, I replied, "Looking over my shoulder when I go through a door is a practice I started several years ago. You can open the next door, " I suggested, pausing in the entryway between the two doors leading to the hospital.

Many years ago I wanted to find ways to honor or affirm people I know as well as strangers. The simple act of holding the door for the person behind me to walk through is a way to honor Christ who lives in all and affirm a stranger who happened to cross my path. Not knowing what others are dealing with, I like to offer at least one act of kindness a person can remember from the day.

These lines from St. Patrick remind me to bring holiness to a common act:

     "Christ be with me, Christ within me

       Christ behind me, Christ before me."

Christ lives within me, so when I honor those who are behind and before me, I honor Christ.

Electronic doors open automatically needing no human assistance, but manual doors are everywhere, offering a chance to spread God's love to those who are behind. I step in front, and hold the door and in that moment, for the person who passes through, perhaps my presence represents Christ before them, and when I let the door close and follow them, perhaps I'm Christ behind them.

Prayer: Loving and caring God, keep our hearts open to serve others even in simple acts of opening a door, for all we do is in your name. Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Honoring the Dead in Life

"I'm copying my own obituary," she said nonchalantly, while I was waiting to use the library copy machine.

"That's a good idea." I replied, Then I stopped. What did she mean by making a frank statement to a stranger? I assumed she's planning ahead. "You will have printed what you want said about yourself."

"Yes, I am an English teacher. I want things said the right way. It makes people uncomfortable, though, when I tell them. I met with the funeral director a few weeks ago, and he was shaken by my desire to make arrangements. He was young and new in the business. He wasn't expecting someone like me to show up. I have a disease. It's something we all avoid, you know."

I watched as she fumbled with ten or eleven sheets of handwritten papers, shuffling them occasionally, trying to get them in order. She had also spread two file folders all over the work table.

Helping Another

"Do you know how to work the machine?" she asked.

I showed her the simplest way to copy many pages.

"I'll move fast. I'm fast as General Motors!"

I stood back to take in this woman who opened her life to me in a minute. She was tan and healthy-looking, medium-built, robust and mid-seventies. She wore a black baseball cap, white knit top, black jeans and tennis shoes.

While a stack of papers went through the machine, she continued to shuffle another stack.

Getting Organized

"May I help you organize these?" I volunteered stepping over to the table where she was working.

"Well, those papers are my husband's obituary. These are mine. You take his and I'll work on mine."

I noted she numbered the pages so I put them in order.

"These are ready," I said handing her the stack.

"You go ahead and do your copying while I finish getting these in order."

I copied five pages from a book. I noticed she was still shuffling papers unable to reach any sense or organization.

"I'm done," I said.

"Thank you."

I looked at a few magazines when a librarian announced the library was closing in four minutes. I had not paid for my five pages. I returned the magazines to the shelf and glanced where the woman was still struggling. I returned to the table. "How many copies do you have?"

"Twenty-four."

"I'll add my five copies to your twenty-four and pay for both. The library is closing in one minute." She looked at me surprised, moving the papers all over the table.

Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak

Earlier that morning, I heard a sermon during morning worship at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York by the Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak, an activist born and raised in South Africa. He introduced the idea of prophetic faithfulness which interrupts the flow of evil for the reality of truth of the reign of God. He continued, "God wills peace, justice and wholeness."

Boesak challenged the congregation, "Don't worry if you can't save the world. Every act of compassion and justice - every embrace of one who is despised - saves one life. Interrupt the work of evil and bring the light of God's love and mercy to just one life."

I remembered Rev. Boesak's words as I listened to the woman talk about her impending death. The evil in her life was an unnamed disease to which she referred several times. I did not know her name, but I saw her as a woman determined to leave her own impression about her life for friends, family, and anyone else who reads the obituary page. I can't visit during funeral calling, but I could show compassion by paying for copies of her writing. I pray my actions "made the face of Christ shine" as Rev. Boesak concluded happens, when we take time for one life.

Prayer: Help us take time to look around wherever we go so we can notice someone who may need love. Remind us to set aside our agenda and "make the face of Christ shine." Amen.




Sunday, July 1, 2018

Welcoming the Stranger - Welcoming Angels

Welcoming Angels

We arrived at the First United Methodist Church  of New Castle, Indiana, in June, 1976, for Mike's first appointment out of seminary. Young and ready to meet new people and begin ministry, we looked forward to hosting guests. The church arranged for Dr. Eli and Velma Hendrix to speak to the congregation on a mission Sunday. The couple traveled from Vincennes, a town situated in the western part of the state to speak about their work in Haiti.

Eli, an optometrist, and Velma, a nurse, regularly traveled to Haiti offering eye exams and donated glasses to the people.

Velma and Eli stayed with us in our small, two bedroom apartment. When they arrived, we were excited to meet them and learn about their numerous mission trips. Neither Mike or I were aware of what kind of outreach was happening in the small, poverty-stricken nation.

Velma and Eli were devoted to the Haitian people and had the resources to improve their quality of life. Despite having four children, regular trips brought joy to their hearts.

Mike and I listened to the stories Velma and Eli told as we ate breakfast before church. Their passion to bring improved vision to many people was strong and heartfelt. Our souls were blessed by their compassionate hearts and selfless service. We realized as we listened that we were entertaining angels sent by God to Haiti to do God's work.

After their presentation at church, we sent them on their way with gratitude for meeting these two servants.

An Interesting Twist

Mike's career found us moving from New Castle to Mt. Vernon, in 1979. After almost five years, we relocated to a church on the southside of  Indianapolis. Following that, in 1989, Mike was appointed to the First United Methodist Church in Vincennes, Velma and Eli's home church. 

We were excited to see our friends we'd hosted eleven years ago and to learn more about their church and family. When we drove into the parsonage driveway with our fully-packed cars, we followed instructions from Velma in a letter we received shortly before moving, to call when we arrived.

I took a minute to stretch my legs, went into the parsonage, and called our dear friend. Within minutes she was greeting us and welcoming us to our new community.

Although we weren't complete strangers, we were grateful for her warm welcome and prayed that during our time together at the church we could offer her and others in the congregation acts of love and service in God's name. 

Reflection

Welcoming strangers - new neighbors, new people at church or work - can sometimes feel scary. However, listen to where God may be leading as you interact with new people who were sent to you by God. Invite them to your home for dessert to make connections, hear new thoughts or ideas and possibly bring an angelic presence to your home and heart.

Hebrews 13:2 - Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing.

Angel: (noun) a person who performs a mission of God or acts as if sent by God.

Prayer: God, you direct us to love one another as you have loved us. We see how Jesus modeled hospitality and love in the way he greeted all whom he encountered. Give us boldness to invite others in your name so that our souls can be stirred, our hearts blessed and new perspectives welcomed as we grow closer to you and others in the kingdom. Amen. 






Sunday, June 24, 2018

lt's All in the Hands - Baking Biscuits Full of Love

Crafting Happiness

"Crafting Happiness" an article in Whole Living magazine (June, 2010) speaks to the value of hands-on work to satisfy a primal craving to create solid objects. Kelly Lambert, a neuroscientist at Virginia's Randolph-Macon College, made an interesting observation while reading the Little House on the Prairie series to her daughter.

Thinking of the contrast between her own push-button lifestyle and Ma Ingall's day-in-day-out labor, she realized that hard physical work producing palpable results might be a source of pleasure. Ma's chores - collecting rainwater for baths, sewing every article of clothing for her husband and children - were no laughing matter. And yet, Lambert came to think, as connected as these tasks were to the survival of Ma and family, they were also quite rewarding.

She also notes that physical labor strongly influences well-being. Whenever we make something - bread, a scarf, a piece of pottery, biscuits, a quilt, art, "the brain's executive-thinking centers get busy planning, then happy anticipation begins, reaching out to other parts of the brain that make us dive our hands into action."

Baking Biscuits

I could identify with her observations because when I bake biscuits, I have quite a ritual that begins with the thought, "I want to make biscuits for _______. She is sick, celebrating a birthday, just had a baby, I enjoy being her friend, she is going through a rough time etc."

Then I light a candle to remind me I am in God's presence doing holy work.

Gathering the ingredients takes me to two cupboards. Pouring the ingredients into the bowl allows more time for reflecting on my purpose for baking.

Feeling the texture of the dough helps me know if I need to add more flour.

Finally, putting the dough on the kitchen table, ready to knead, allows me to add prayer and thanksgiving for the person I am remembering. Kneading my love along with God's love as I turn and fold the dough reminds me as I create I am not working alone.

The Pleasure of Baking Is Tied To Touch

About a year ago, an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine section (April 30, 2017), "It's All in The Hands" featured Dorie Greenspan, a young woman learning to bake from her mother-in-law, a professional baker.

Dorie described her first experience touching dough. "Had I been more experienced, more attuned to the language of baking, I might have understood that everything I needed to know about dough was in my hands. But my hands didn't know enough then. Today they're my trustiest tool."

I know this from my own experience with biscuit-making. The touch of my hands on the dough is a good barometer of the readiness of the dough for baking. They are definitely my trustiest tool too!

Greenspan continues, "Baking is handwork and for me, all that is joyful, comforting, gratifying and even magical about this work is packed into the simple act of baking biscuit. I practice a kind of meditation while I make them. I concentrate on how each step feels - not because it makes a better biscuit, but because I like having my senses on high alert, anticipating and responding to the dough's change."

I thought I might be the only one who thought of the deep meaning and beauty of praying with thankfulness for the recipients of each biscuit I bake, kneading love into the dough itself, but Greenspan follows a similar process.

"By the time I pry open the baked biscuits, cover them with strawberries and top it all with whipped cream, my handprints are baked into them. So are a large measure of joy and a small pinch of hope. Maybe what I've baked will linger in someone's memory or even make a new baker."

Yes, I feel like Dorie, my handprints and love baked into each biscuit ready to share with someone else. It's all in the hands, but I believe it's all in the heart, too.

A Reflective Activity

1. Decide on an activity that you want to complete with an awareness of God's presence.

2. Light a candle. Take a deep breath. Say a simple prayer, "God, you are with me as I _____."

3. Complete the task.

4. Reflect on your experience of intentionally asking to be aware of God's presence while you worked.

Prayer:  God, we find you in the everyday experiences of our lives. We don't have to go anywhere to have a glimpse of you because you are right where we are. Everything we do can draw us closer to you and enable us to listen more deeply for the Holy, a connection to the sacred. Guide our awareness so we can keep our hearts open to you for your words, your strength, perseverance, guidance, compassion or whatever we need. Amen.




Sunday, June 17, 2018

Showing Up

Showing up is a phrase I use almost every day. Just this morning I was talking to a woman at the YMCA. She mentioned her reluctance to get out of bed on a cloudy, rainy day to exercise.

"At least you showed up," I offered, "even though you didn't feel like coming to spend time on the equipment."

"You are right," she replied with a grin. "I showed up, now I am ready to go to the fitness center, then I can go out to lunch with a friend."

"Have fun!" I added, as she walked away carrying a thick book.

Writers Show Up

Writers are often encouraged to "show up" at their desks or laptops to encourage a daily writing routine even if there aren't any thoughts to record. "Showing up" means you are half-way to beginning another essay, short story, blog entry, poem or other form of written expression. Moving a pencil on paper or fingers over a keyboard begins to generate words into thoughts, ideas and sentences. "Priming the pump," as people used to say long ago, to get started, get moving or continue thoughts still works today.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Recently I heard well-known author, Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed on the Diane Rehm show on NPR. Elizabeth was promoting her book, Big Magic. When talking about life, she said, "You win already by just showing up."

"Showing up" relates to all parts of life, showing up to work, showing up to a friend in need, showing up for a committee meeting, showing up for a service project - the list is endless. "Showing up" relates to our ways of being present to each other even when circumstances are challenging. My friend, Ann, "shows up" to visit her elderly father in an assisted living facility several times a week despite having a less than stellar childhood. She perseveres in her visits to show love and compassion, energized by God's love.

Kara Tippett

A few years ago I heard Kara Tippett speak at a fund-raising even for the Megan S. Ott Foundation that helps persons diagnosed with breast cancer. Kara's cancer had recently spread to her brain and other vital organs. The foundation brought her to Indianapolis to address family, friends and others who had read her book, The Hardest Peace. Unfortunately Kara died a few months after she spoke.

While Kara was going through the last weeks of life, she and her friend, Jill Lynn Buteyn, wrote a book Just Show Up -the dance of walking through suffering together. Jill and Kara's book addresses the awkwardness that can come when a friend or family member is dealing with difficult circumstances or is dying. "Showing up" with a meal, or with a gift of time sitting in silence or holding his/her hand are meaningful ways to be present during the long days of terminal.

My Experience Showing Up Long Ago

I remember when Mike was serving a church in rural North Carolina while he was a student at Duke Divinity School.  One of the oldest members of the congregation died. I was so nervous about what to say to his elderly widow since being with people in grief was brand new to me. Mentally, I rehearsed a few sentences to say that I  hoped would offer comfort. When I saw the widow sitting on a couch in the living room,  I panicked and couldn't remember my "rehearsed speech." The receiving line of friends moved quickly and when I reached her, I recalled a few of my sentences, talking way too fast to someone who probably didn't retain a word I said. What was important, however, was that I "showed up", I was there, I spent a few minutes with her and in so doing held her grief, sharing her loss.

Reflections on Showing Up

Through the years, I've learned "showing up" for those dealing with difficulty is simple, but hard. Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you feel comfortable, a hug or embrace conveys love, compassion, companionship and support. No words are needed.
2. Food is always helpful. Waiting for someone to call when they realize a need for nourishment may not come. Difficult circumstances make simple tasks, like picking up the phone and dialing a number a challenge. Call ahead to make sure there is someone to receive your gift of compassion and care.
3. Send a card. Write a message of encouragement or a memory you have if a person has died. Sometimes I cut out a heart from fabric to include a tangible symbol of love to convey continued connection for a person who is struggling through challenging circumstances.
4. Let the person discuss whatever he or she desires. Recently, when Mike and I made a hospital visit to our long-time friend, Bill, dealing with inoperable cancer, the conversation centered around the ingredients listed in a container of Boost, his liquid nourishment for many weeks. Boost was important to Bill in these moments, so that is what we discussed.

God "shows up" every day. "Showing up" to God can take many forms - prayer, worship, singing, acts of service, participation in small groups, taking a walk, art or other ways reflecting our individual ways of being with God.

Prayer: God, you "show up" wherever we are everywhere and in everyone. Open our hearts to see you. When we "show up" and absorb you, we can "show up" to others in your name. Amen.


Sunday, June 10, 2018

Kate Bowler God Is Love


Recently, (April 1), I wrote about thirty-seven-year-old Kate Bowler's latest book, Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I've Loved. The book grew from her experiences following a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer two years ago.

The spring 2018 issue of the Duke Alumni Magazine arrived this week with a feature and update on Kate, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School. The article reports that she is now part of a small group of patients receiving an experimental immunotherapy treatment which seems to be working. She has a CT scan every ninety days and if nothing has spread, if nothing looks worse - she gets another three month reprieve.

"She describes her life now as 'vine to vine.' She chooses the best vine available, hopes there'll be another one after that one, and gives her best swing, over and over and over."

She adds, "My own post-diagnosis world has brought me into a different relationship with God."

In the midst of heartbreak, she has been surprised to feel the presence of God more powerfully. "The only category I understand more is the love of God. Both the experience of wanting to be close to God and the surprise of the feeling that God is close to me."

The Love of God

The love of God is core to our beliefs as Christians. I remember when I was a child attending Sunday school in an Episcopal Church, a song we sang almost every week is the early 20th century children's hymn "God Whose Name Is Love." The verses include the following:

         God whose name is love, happy children we,

         Listen to the hymn that we sing to thee.

         Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,

         God whose name is love, loving may be be.

Carrying this song in my heart over sixty years speaks to the importance of the words as a foundation to my life. The song not only describes who God is - love - but also offers a challenge in the last line - "loving may we be" - how to live with others.

Growing up in a home that was less than loving made the words in this song even more important. I recall praying at my desk in elementary school or on the playground at recess and feeling God's love in my heart. God's love sustained me then and continues to ground me at all times.

Jesus Is Love

Jesus, the embodiment of God's love, models throughout the gospels how to treat others, even those who are outcasts or on the fringe of life. He affirmed others by acknowledging them as children of God, which brought healing and strength to those people who came to hear him preach and teach.

Filled and fueled by God's love, Jesus made an impact and modeled life by God's design.


Showing Love Unexpectedly

The church I attend has a small table in the front of the sanctuary filled with tiered layers of votive candles available for lighting. Every week when the service ends, Mike and I light two candles and pray.

On Sunday, May 6, just after I lit my candle and turned to walk away, a lady approached, crying. I paused and put my arm around her for a few minutes as she lit a candle and continued sobbing. She slowly gained control of her emotions and I left.

A few minutes later, I was passing through the fellowship hall or "donut room," where people gather to drink coffee or eat a donut and visit. I saw her and as I approached, her eyes filled with tears. When I gave her another hug, I said, "I prayed that you would feel God's love and presence." She smiled.

Opportunities for spreading God's love are everywhere and often unexpected.

Love

Dealing with a serious illness has shaken and changed Kate Bowler. She says, "I do possess a solid belief in God, but I don't call that faith. I don't know what faith is. I really don't. I just don't know what it means now."

Despite her struggles with faith and certainty, Kate is resting in the love of God to sustain her through these days as she teaches and is a wife and mother.

Although my path has not involved illness, a simple song in Sunday school launched me into God's abundant love and gave me hope when I was in elementary school. I hold onto that same hope all these years later.

          Bless us everyone, singing here to thee,

          God whose name is love, loving may we be.

Reflection Questions

1. What is sustaining you when life is hard?

2. How can you  model Jesus' love and the last line in my childhood song, "loving may we be" to family, friends and even strangers?

Prayer: Generous God, you lavish your love on us in the ways you offer care for our bodies, minds and souls. Even though we sin and fall short of where we need to be as your children, your abundant
love comes to us wherever we are. Let us be grateful for your never ending goodness. Amen.









































Sunday, June 3, 2018

Troubling the Water


Tracy K. Smith, 2018 poet laureate of the United States, seeks to raise national awareness for a greater appreciation of reading and writing poetry.

Tracy is using her stipend of $35,000 to visit rural areas where most writers are unlikely to travel. She says, "I want to just go to places where writers don't usually go, where people like me don't usually show up and say, 'Here are some poems. Do they speak to you? What do you hear in them?'"

The cover story of the April 15, 2018, New York Times magazine features Smith. "The meditative state of mind a poem induces, she believes, can be a 'rehumanizing force,' an antidote to the din of daily life, in which our phones continuously buzz with news alerts perfectly algorithmed to reinforce our biases."

One of Tracy's Favorite Poems

One of the poems she likes to read to the audience is "Wade in the water/God's gonna trouble the water." God's 'troubling the water' is a reference to a line in the gospel of John 5:1-7, testifying to divine healing. Sick people are gathered around the pool at Bethesda.

She explains, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water. Whosoever the first after the troubling of the water steeped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. Trouble on the surface of the water is a sign of God's presence."

My Experience with John 5:1-7

I've been swimming laps at least five days a week since 1975. Mike and I started swimming when he was a seminary student at Duke University Divinity School.

Through the years swimming became a place of silent worship as well as a great way to exercise.

When I studied John 5:1-7 a few years ago, I decided to begin by taking my hand and "stirring the water" before entering the pool, asking God to bless my time and speak to me while I swim.

Over the years, swimming back and forth from one side of the pool to the other, I've received insights and perspectives for my life as well as images to draw. I've felt God hold me close as I worked through anger, and resentment and dealt with other topics of concern.

Afterwards, I get out of the pool and shake off the water that still coats me with God and helps me emerge with a soul cleansed and refreshed.

God Still Troubles The Water Today

God still troubles the water today, with words for the poet, Tracy Smith, with insights for me when I swim, and for others who hear God's voice.

Reflection Questions

1. In what circumstances have you experienced "troubling the water" - God's presence in life?

2. How can you "trouble the water" for others?

Prayer: God, you "trouble our lives" every moment we breathe as your presence is always available no matter what is happening. We don't need water for "your troubling" to happen, for wherever we are, you are. Your troubling blesses our lives and keeps us close to you. Amen.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Barking to the Choir - Father Greg Boyle


During the last two weeks of April, the local public radio station conducted the semi-annual pledge drive to raise funds for programming.

One day during this period, Terry Gross' show, "Fresh Air," was re-broadcast of a November 17, 2017, interview with Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention program in the world. He has also written two books, Tattoo on the Heart - The Power of Boundless Compassion (2011) and Barking to the Choir - The Power of Radical Kinship (2017). Each provide interesting and inspiring reading.

Mike and I heard Father Boyle speak in July, 2016, at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Last year, we took four gang members for ice cream, two men and two women, who were visiting Chautauqua for a week. We learned so much from them about developing positive life skills and gaining employment after being part of Father Boyle's ministry.

What Is Prayer?

Toward the end of Terry's interview, she asked Father Boyle about prayer.

"What is the role of prayer in your life?" she asked.

He replied when he was a child, his prayers were rote and petitionary, such as "Please help me pass my math test since I didn't have time to study."

As he grew older, his prayer life changed and became more meditative using mantras such as "resting in You, resting in me." He says, "Prayer helps me find God at the center of my life."

Now that statement is a far cry from a petitionary prayer asking God for something to happen. Father Boyle has moved beyond asking to searching and seeking God in his life through prayer.

My Thoughts

I deeply connected with his words as I do not make petitionary prayer. I bring people for whom I pray each day to God, but I don't ask for specifics. I believe God is aware of their circumstances, so I pray, "God I bring you _____," and let God work.

Father Boyle also acknowledged another one of my beliefs: God cannot protect us from adversity, but as we step into the wideness of God's presence, God will sustain us through any hardship that comes our way.

Hearing Father Boyle speak again was affirming as I connected with the message he proclaimed at Chautauqua and then on "Fresh Air." I treasure the mile I walked with him on the grounds of Chautauqua as we were both returning from a meeting and heading to dinner.

Reflection:

1. How is prayer for you?
2. What does prayer mean for you?
3. Are you involved in petitionary prayer or in a style that seeks to find God at the center of your life?

Prayer: God, you give us direction on prayer in the Bible, but sometimes we come to you begging for results when we really need to be reminded and reassured of your presence to sustain and to guide. Give us encouragement to seek a new perspective on prayer and strength to try new ways of being with you. Amen. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Thank You Note - A Nice Surprise



Every March, I send a birthday card to my friend, Katie, an energetic 87-year-old, I met in a water aerobics class at the YMCA. Each year, along with a birthday greeting, I write on her card, "I want to be just like you!" - meaning if I live to my eighties I hope to have the energy and zest for life I see in Katie.

This year, she sent a thank you card. Along with her gratitude she added, "I think you are wonderful just the way you are!"

I chuckled when I read her words that led me to pause for a minute and consider the beauty in my life..
Another Unexpected Thank You

A few months ago, I received a thank you note from the CEO of Indiana University North Hospital expressing gratitude for the time I volunteer each week. I was surprised and never expected to receive a note for my service.

Next time I saw Randy, I thanked him for this gesture of kindness. He told me he tries to write a thank you note each day to a volunteer or hospital employee. I was impressed with the faithfulness of this wonderful habit.

My Own Experience with Thank You Notes

Although I didn't like writing thank you notes when I was a child for gifts I received at Christmas, I was glad my mother made me write them. I carried that habit from my past into adulthood. I taught my children to write thank you notes from the time they were little, beginning with scribblings interpreted as 'thank you'. I continue to write and send them myself all these years later as a habit and a joy - in fact, I cannot begin to enjoy a gift until I write a thank you note.

Thank you notes express appreciation, but not always for gifts. I have received notes expressing gratitude for leading a program, for vocational and professional support, for being a mentor, for remembering a birthday or special occasion, and for support following the loss of a spouse.

I have written thank you notes for a meal provided, for gratitude of a friendship, and most recently I wrote a note to an old friend who gave me reassurance that a mutual friend's final days were pain free and peaceful.

Jesus Says Thank You

Jesus realized the value of offering thanks on three occasions: following the raising of Lazarus, before he fed 4,000 people, and at the last supper.

Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick. A few days went by before he went to Bethany. When he arrived, Lazarus was already dead. Mary and Martha were grief-stricken.

Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Jesus replied, "Your brother will rise again."

Jesus, Mary and Martha went to the tomb. When the stone was rolled away, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus walked out of the tomb with strips of linen wrapped around his hands and feet.

Jesus looked up and prayed, "Father, I thank you that you heard me" (John 11:41-42).

Then, when Jesus was preparing to feed four thousand people, he "took the seven loaves of
bread and when he had given thanks, he broke them" (Matthew 15:35-36).

Finally, when Jesus and the disciples gathered for the last supper, "He took bread, gave thanks and broke it" (Luke 22:19).

Jesus knew the value of giving thanks to God.

More Thanks From Reader's Digest

The April, 2018 issue of Reader's Digest contains an interesting story, "Showing Your Appreciation - The Power of a Thank You Note Can Last A Lifetime" (pages 110-117).

Fifteen people share their experiences of receiving or writing a thank you note. One was from a woman who'd been a mail carrier for 30 years. When she retired, she wrote a note to each of her 436 customers thanking them for allowing her to serve them. On her last day, she was surprised when many hung balloons on the boxes and wrote her a thank you note. She concluded, "I hope I delivered all the mail properly that day, as there were tears of gratitude filling my eyes."

Final Thoughts

Last week at a funeral visitation, I saw a woman who was a member of Mike's first church. I met her in June, 1976. I remember writing her a thank you not for bringing us a meal after we moved.

Next time I saw her, she thanked me for the note and said, "You are just beginning to write a lifetime of thank you notes as Mike's career starts."

At the time, I didn't realize the scope of her words, but I surely have written a lot of thank you notes over Mikes 37 years with churches because affirming people by expressing gratitude is a way I show God's love.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there people from the past to whom you would like to express gratitude by writing a note?
2. Make a list of these individuals and write one note a day.
3. Is there someone who has recently completed a kindness you want to acknowledge? Take a moment to write a note of appreciation.

Prayer: God, you give us everything we need, beginning with the gift of life. You provide for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. How can we ever thank you for your goodness and love? Guide us to live our lives so we show gratitude in how we respond and interact with others. Help us daily to always give you thanks and praise. Amen.


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Life Is Hard,God Is Good - The Beatitudes Reversed


Matthew 5: 1-20 - Now when he (Jesus) 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."

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? Why would mourning or being hungry or persecuted be gifts from God? These passages seem to be a contradiction in terms.

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 of the fourteen people I have known who died since August, some of whom were close friends, others parents of friends, while others acquaintances.

I recently received a thank  you note from the mother of one of Anna's friends whose son 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 re-ordered 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 expanse 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  "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, April 29, 2018

Creativity as Spiritual Practice


"Creativity as Spiritual Practice" was recently offered at Christian Theological Seminary for the public to attend. The program was described as a "way to explore God's creativity and our creativity in God's image by reflecting on a scriptural text, using Lectio Divina, and explore creative outlets." Participants were asked to bring a few art supplies to use for their own expression.

I signed up for the hour-long class excited to explore the favorite areas of my walk with God, creativity and spirituality.

Preparing to attend, I gathered a notebook and a few pens. When I arrived, about twenty other people of varying ages were eager to share the experience.

"But I'm Not Creative!"

Many times I've heard people say , "I'm not creative. I can't do things like that" when it comes to putting together an expression of an experience. However, I found these words for those who believe they aren't creative in a copy of "Alive Now" July/August, 2013.

            "Unless we are creators, we are not fully alive. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living." Madeleine L'Engle Walking on Water.

When the word, creativity, is mentioned, too often our minds go to famous artists, authors, composers and playwrights. However, as Jan Philips describes in "The 24-Hour Canvas" everyone is creative - it's how we respond to our lives each day.

          "It is blasphemous for any of us to say 'I am not creative.' All we do is create. We have desires, and we create experiences from our desires. We have experiences and we create stories about these experiences. We hear the stories of others and we are moved to tell our own. We wake up every day to an empty canvas of twenty-four hours and every night we go to bed having created our master-piece for the day. We can do this consciously or unconsciously, but we all do it nevertheless." Jan Philips from No Ordinary Time - The Rise of Spiritual Intelligence and Evolutionary Creativity.

The Experience and My Response

Opening the program, the presenter noted the Genesis 1:1 reads, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth," and God has been creating ever since.

She reviewed the steps for Lectio Divina or holy reading of scripture:

     1. Preparing - deep breaths, praying, relaxing
     2. Listening - for a word, phrase or image that calls to us
     3. Meditating - repeating the word and acting
     4. Responding - reflecting on how the word connects with us
     5. Beholding - God's presence with a prayer of gratitude

The scripture for the day was Mark 14:3-9 where Jesus was sitting at a table in the home of Simon the leper. A woman came with an alabaster jar of a costly ointment and poured the ointment on Jesus' head.

We were asked to identify a word or phrase from the scripture that spoke to us and create a response. The question, "How does the word or phrase connect to my life" offered further reflection.

I focused on the words, "as he sat at the table." I thought how a table can be a gathering place in a home. It seemed natural for Jesus to be at a table where people could come and sit and talk for awhile.

My creative response to "at the table" was to tear a table from a piece of notebook paper (pictured above). The table held a loaf of bread. I also wrote this poem:

     At the table, where we gather,
     To talk, to eat,
     We find Jesus,
     Ready to listen or offer a thought,
     And learn about our hearts.
     Jesus gives love and compassion
     In the midst of our day.
     Bread on the table,
     For the bread of life at the table.

After a few people shared their thoughts, we concluded our time with a prayer of gratitude by J. Philip Newell:

     God of life, who chooses creation over chaos, and new beginnings over emptiness, we bring to you the disorder of our nations and world. Bless us and the nations with the grace of creativity. Amen.

Listening, watching and attentiveness are important for the creative process and for life with God. Next time you have some free time, choose a scripture, sit with the process of Lectio Divina and open your heart to God. What can you create with God's leading and direction?

Prayer: God, you have created everything that is in the world. Help us join with you as co-creators to bring new thoughts, perspectives, greetings or more tangible forms of creativity to share with others. Amen.





































   

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.