Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Private Audience with Geogia O'Keeffe

Every Saturday from January to May, I took a yoga class at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  The class occurred from 10-11 am, one hour before the museum opened.

I arrived early each week, wanting to spend as much time as possible in silence with artists I've long admired. One Saturday, I walked through a gallery and discovered Georgia O'Keeffe's "Jimson Weed," a magnificent painting which nearly covered the wall.

I paused before her work, and had a conversation with the artist. 

Georgia O'Keeffe, meet my yoga mat.

I don't know if you practiced yoga when you were alive. Are you surprised to learn one of your paintings is background for a practice based on stretching and breathing?

I wonder how you centered before you painted? How did you clear your mind to make room for ideas to travel from your brain, through your hands, and finally to canvas? Surely you had a ritual or maybe images came without effort because of the way your brain was wired. You saw the world in images. Your mission was to paint so others can see beauty.

Your creative energy is held by the paint and canvas, which I feel when I walk by.

Thank you, Georgia O'Keeffe, for mingling with my soul on Saturday morning at the art museum.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Shredded Book - Part One

One day I met my friend, Ann, at the Carmel library.  We climbed the large staircase in the middle of the lobby to reserve a room.  We approached the counter and noticed a large, clear plastic jar on the counter filled with shredded paper. 

"There's a contest to guess the name of a shredded book," said the librarian answering the questioning look on our faces.

We were intrigued.  We took turns holding and turning the jar upside down and sideways looking for a clue from word segments on quarter-inch wide shreds.   We guessed simultaneously, "Anne Frank - The Diary of a Young Girl".  We wrote the title on a piece of paper officially entering the contest.

"What will you do with the shredded book when the contest ends?" I asked, my mind already swirling with art projects for the paper.

"I don't know," replied the librarian, "but I can take your email and get back with you."

I was thrilled with possibilities I saw in these shreds. My hands itched to touch the paper and create.   Several weeks passed until I received the a brown paper grocery bag filled with shreds.  Neither Ann nor I won the contest, but receiving the pieces of one of my favorite books was the best prize!

I remember purchasing the account of Anne's life when I was in high school.  I still have the copy which cost fifty cents, a large amount of money for me, but the average cost of a paperback in 1965. I read and re-read the book, even as an adult.  I researched Anne Frank and found other books written about her and her family.  Her determination, perseverance and resilience reached places in my heart needing encouragement through the years.

I began working with the yellow, musty-smelling pieces, some of which were shred horizontally and others vertically.  I pieced together Anne's entry on Tuesday, March 7, 1944, which was eighteen months after the family went into hiding.  . 

 She wrote, "And in the evening, when I lie in bed and end my prayers with the words, 'I thank you, God, for all that is good and clear and beautiful.' I am filled with joy.  Then I think about 'the good' of going into hiding." (page 153)

Anne's reflective thoughts still inspire me fifty years later. 

God help me look for good, and find clarity and beauty in my day. Fill me with joy and guide me to see good in all I am experiencing.  Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

God Is In The Laundry

Many churches in the Indianapolis area support a homeless ministry by housing adults and children in their church building for a week.  Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) is a nationwide organization that helps families in practical ways, starting with providing a place to stay.  The families spend the day downtown at the IHN office where volunteers and staff help them find permanent housing and jobs.  The families return to the host church close to 6:00 pm, where they have dinner, play games, and sleep in Sunday school rooms converted to bedrooms.

Church members cook meals, drive the guests to and from the church, and plan activities for the children.  The church provides towels and bedding which are stored in a large closet in the basement. When the families ended their stay on Sunday, July 13, I volunteered to take two bags of laundry home.

I went downstairs to get my bags before church.  I chose two, both of which were bulging in asymmetrical ways.  Trying to keep my balance while carrying these bundles up the stairs was interesting as I had to shift my position to keep them from toppling over my head and pushing me downstairs.  However, the minute I picked up one of the plastic bags, and held it to my chest, my heart was filled with God's presence.

I received with gratitude God's un expected appearance doing an ordinary task.  I took the bags home, dumping the towels, sheets and mattress covers on the floor, and started what would end up being six loads of laundry.  When I loaded the washer, I wondered who had used the towel or sheet I held. I wondered what circumstances led them to become homeless.  I thought about the children who slept on the sheets, knowing how disruptive moving every seven days to another church must be to their emotional development and security.

Constantly seeing new people at each church might impair healthy attachment and sense of trust.  Stability adults and children need to function effectively can be missing with homeless people.  The complexity of the physical, social and psychological toil homelessness can bring filled my heart with prayer and compassion for these nameless individuals.  I could touch the through the remnants of their stay and offer prayer as they moved on to another church.

When I folded the clean and dry sheets, towels and mattress pads, I prayed for the person who will use each of them in the future.  I prayed that he or she would feel God close during this time of disruption and crisis.  I prayed for a smooth transition from homelessness to home.

While I folded the stacks of bedding, I recalled an article I read in the March 2004 issue of Oprah's
"O" magazine.  The author, Sara Davidson, describes her experience at a Benedictine abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut.  She was able to participate in worship services and eat with the sisters.  She learned all work was completed prayerfully and with love.  Her last responsibility before leaving was to change the bed linens.

She started by tugging at the sheet corners, trying to hurry along. Then she remembered how the nuns "put love into the cheese, tending the flowers, and fruit they grow, the animals they care for, the shawls they weave and the honey they make.  Why not put love into the linens for the next guest who arrives feely shy, uncertain, expectant?  I slowed down and smoothed the pillows gently, tenderly, as Mother Margaret Georgina had suggested handling the cheese.   'The material remembers', she told us" (page 242).

I have assurance that the material for the next person will hold the love and prayer I put into washing and folding each towel, sheet, and mattress pads.  The material will remember and in a way directed by God, will be conveyed to the next adult or child.

How can you bring prayer and love to ordinary tasks?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rushing Christmas

Saturday, July 12, I was resting on the couch flipping through the dials when I landed on the Hallmark channel.  I stopped to watch a network advertisement indicating Christmas specials to begin, October 31, three and a half months away.  I feel certain this message will appear again, more frequently as the end of October approaches.

The same day, I went to the Hallmark store in Fishers to purchase a few cards, and discovered the annual collection of Hallmark Christmas ornaments for 2014 revealed this weekend.  The ornaments are displayed along one wall, with stacks of boxes under each ornament ready for purchase.

I wonder what small children must think when they enter the store and see multitudes of ornaments and decorations on display in July?  I can just hear a young tyke say, "Is Christmas tomorrow Mommy/".

Our second daughter, Anna, was born in March, 1985.  I often heard how the second child or any child after the first, doesn't receive as many remembrances as the first.  This was true in our family.  Sarah, our oldest daughter, had three, "baby's first Christmas" ornaments given by family and friends. By the middle of December, Anna had none.  I went to the mall, hoping to find an ornament for this sweet second child.  Well, I went to every store that sold ornaments including Hallmark -- each clerk told me, "Sorry we're out of those."

I thought to myself, I should have gone to the store in July if I want a baby ornament for Anna's first Christmas!!  Eventually, I did find a tiny glass stocking with "baby's first Christmas" and the year engraved, which hung on the tree with the three others her sister received.

What can be said about preparing for Christmas beginning in July, already picking up speed for the chaos which will eventually arrive in a few months?  Liturgically, we are in the period called "Ordinary Time'  occurring between Pentecost and the beginning of Advent.  Ordinary Time is a great space to prepare our hears for the coming of Christ, which is already being announced on television and in stores.

Focus on Jesus.  Explore and study the ministries which shaped his life and the lives of others.  Examine how he responded to all people and who he spent his time.  Take an aspect of Jesus' story, healing, forgiveness, compassion, and examine how you can incorporate Jesus' life into your own, while the time is 'ordinary'.  Choose an event or person from the Old Testament on which to explore more deeply.

And, by the way, if you have a new baby in the family or one due before Christmas, you might want to stop by the Hallmark store in the next month to make sure you get an ornament to commemorate your little one's first Christmas.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Unconventional Meditation

The value of meditation is well known.  Meditation is recommended to relieve stress and to cope with illness or other challenging circumstances.  Most teachers who give advice or teach classes on meditation describe sitting on the floor or in a chair, concentrating on breathing and sitting for increasingly longer periods of time.

I honor the value of meditation as these teachers describe, however my difficulty with meditation is I have trouble sitting still.  I can quiet my mind and heart quickly, I can focus on breath, going deeper with each inhale and breathing out what I need to release.  Despite the ways I follow "directions for meditation" I cannot sit still.  My body seems programmed for only a few minutes, about two.

God heard the cry of my heart desiring to be still with God to listen.  God provided me with a few unconventional ways to meditate and stay still for extended periods.  For example, one day I was restless, so I went outside to the front yard and sat next to the flowers and plants which adorn our yard.  I noticed a few sticks resting in the mulch which were about two or three inches long.  I gathered a small pile and arranged them in a row along the concrete.  I walked around the yard, brought a handful of sticks to the porch and continued the row.  Within the space of gathering and placing sticks, I found God entering my heart.  I discovered a few remnants of daffodil flowers from spring which were faded yellow laying in the dirt.  I placed these daffodil pieces on top of the sticks making what looked to me like "candles".  Again with each task, God continued to fill my heart.

Finally, I gathered another smaller pile of sticks, fascinated by the range of color I saw in them.  Some of the sticks were grey, others burgundy, a few more brown.  I grouped the sticks according to color and again experienced God's presence filling my heart.

I left the porch deeply filled with God.  I spent time later reflecting on my experience realizing I had been meditating as I interacted with the sticks.  God was very present to me on the porch.  Although I did move getting more sticks and arranging them, God accompanied my movement.

Since that time on the porch, I have arranged many rows of sticks.  I have sorted pieces of torn cards, and a shredded book.  All of these experiences were meditative because God opened my heart working with each piece.

For many years I felt badly when I heard pastors, spiritual directors, counselors and others speak about the value of meditation.  I tried sitting in my chair, breathing, opening my palms over and over with no results other than frustration and feeling I wasn't much of a Christian because I couldn't meditate.  God led me to a way that I can "be still with God" in a meditative way.

I wonder if Abraham entered a meditative state when he was gathering wood to make an altar for Isaac?  Did Noah sense God's presence when he was gathering stones for an altar after the flood waters receded?  I wonder if Mary felt God with her when she tore cloth strips to make swaddling clothes for Jesus?

Other "unconventional ways" I find meditative are swimming laps, quilting, baking biscuits, and taking a walk.  I am thankful for the ways God knows me personally, works with me and shows me ways to enter and receive God's presence, considering the way God created a restless, unconventional me.

Prayer:  God I ask you come to each one who reads these words, desiring ways to grow deeper with you. Give encouragement as we find our own way to "be still".  Amen

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reminders of God's Presence

When Susan’s mother was dying of cancer, she spent time talking individually with each of her adult children.  When my friend Susan’s turn came, her mother said, “Whenever you see a hummingbird, think of me and the love we shared.” Her mother died a week later.

Susan lives in a housing addition in a quiet suburb of Indianapolis.  Hummingbirds started coming to her house a few weeks after her mother’s passing.  Susan did not put out any special food or water for these birds, they just appeared. Susan was initially surprised but then remembered her mother’s words.  Now, five years later, Susan remains surrounded by her mother’s love through the serendipitous appearance of hummingbirds.

When Susan told me about her experience I became more aware of birds and animals I saw consistently.   

For me, it was cardinals.  Cardinals seemed to show up wherever I went and in unlikely places.   One day, I was riding with a friend on busy Meridian Street in Indianapolis. This four-lane highway is filled throughout the day with north and south traffic.  However, as we were driving to the restaurant where we were having lunch, a cardinal flew in front of the car—a reminder even in the midst of a busy, congested highway God is near.

Whenever I see a cardinal I experience delight.  I thank God for such a bright red reminder of God’s presence.  One morning I awakened, and went directly to my desk where I begin each day with prayer.  My days had been troubling and difficult.  I settled into my chair, looked out the window, and there was a cardinal perched on the backyard fence.  My heart filled with a prayer of gratitude:

My first glance out the window this morning.

I see you, God!

Thank you for reminding me I am never alone.

You are with me.

I occasionally see a cardinal when I bake biscuits.  As I knead, my hands sticky and dripping with dough, I look out the kitchen window and see a bright red cardinal perched on the black fence, blessing my work.  When I meet with my spiritual director in her house on the eastside of Indianapolis, a cardinal always flies by either the large picture window where we meet, or the ceiling window captures the movement of birds flying high. Every time my friend Selena visits, a cardinal appears in the back yard during our time together. 

The cardinal is a tangible reminder of God’s presence and companionship when I am alone or with others.

I called Susan recently to ask permission to use her story in my blog.  She laughed, giving her consent.

“Let me tell you what happened a few weeks ago,” she said. ”Natalie [her oldest daughter] celebrated first communion.  We had a family gathering in the backyard after church.  Mid-way through the afternoon, I saw three hummingbirds hovering near a tree. My sister saw the birds, too, and we smiled at each other.  ‘She is here, too,’ we commented.”


Prayer:  God, keep us alert to ways you remind us of your presence as we go through our days.    Amen.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Prayer for the weekend

A prayer when I awakened -

When I awaken God --

---- with words from you,

---- with my cat molded around the crown of my head like a hat,

---- hearing birds chirp outside my window with energetic songs,

---- with peace in my heart,

---- with gratitude for uninterrupted sleep,

I am blessed.

Thank you for early morning holiness to wear during the day like my favorite sweater, snuggling into the seams, weaving myself through each knit stitch, clasping further my hold on you. Amen.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

God Laced My Heart One Day

Today I awakened discouraged and confused.  God heard the desperation in my heart and gave me words for a prayer and an image as I walked into the YMCA an hour later to swim laps.

                             Can you lace my heart with your love God,

                              So I feel you coming in and out throughout my day

                               Bringing comfort and strength,

                               When I am weak and discouraged. 

Receiving a prayer AND an image from God reminded me how God does know my needs and responds.  I found myself returning to the image, even as I walked down the hall after checking in at the front desk.
First I greeted AJ, who was folding towels, with a word of encouragement for his work. I opened the locker room door and saw Jane. We had a long conversation last week about balancing career and motherhood.  I admired Jane for working many years, marrying when she was thirty-nine and having children after forty.  We chatted for a few moments about how fun her children are now that no one needs a nap. 

I planned to swim outside, but when I entered the natatorium I decided to stay inside.  The heat and humidity felt stifling during the short walk from my car to the Y.  I swam vigorously 52 laps  and could have done more, but I was running out of time. I spoke to Linda, who spends two hours in the water every day; to Lucy, the custodian from Egypt who cannot speak English; and to a few people I know casually from going to the Y almost every day.

I left the Y with a smile on my face, confirming the feeling of community I experience. I speak to a lot of people, and though there is no connection other than chatting, I nevertheless left with a smile.   

I drove to get my hair cut by Tiffany, who is always sweet and cheerful – I want to be like that, I thought to myself as I sat in the swivel chair and watched clumps of my hair fall from her hands and carpet the floor.

I completed a few errands and met Emily, a recent high school graduate. We started at Starbucks with refreshing drinks, and ended at Half Price Books, where we purchased five books between us. We talked about various religions and the lack of tolerance some people have with differences in perspective and theology. I always enjoy my conversations with Emily, who keeps me current with how 18-year-olds think and the trends they enjoy.  Emily left her car at Starbucks, so we made a quick trip back so she could get her car and return home.

I realized how many ways God’s mercy was present in my day despite awakening with less-than-positive feelings, so God, I thank you for lacing my heart with your love, through people I encountered and conversations shared.  I did feel you coming in and out throughout my day, bringing comfort and perseverance when I was weak and experiencing discouragement.  Amen.


Note: When I receive an image from God, I use the image for meditation, drawing or making the image using various mediums.  Later in the evening, using my Exacto knife, I cut hearts from white paper and made narrow slits throughout the middle.  Then, I cut very narrow pieces of paper to lace through each slit.  Making the image over and over connects me deeper to God like a visual mantra.  Here is a picture of the image God gave me.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Compassion on the Train in Portland, Oregon

Colossians 3:12 - You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own.  So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Portland, Oregon, has an extensive public transportation system which includes a train, trolleys and buses.  When we visit our daughter, Anna, who lives in Portland, we always ride the train from the airport to our stop close to the hotel where we stay.  The trip takes about forty-five minutes.

Interesting people ride the train; last time we went was no exception.  The train stopped and a young woman in  a motorized wheelchair propelled herself to a large space across the aisle from where I was sitting  reserved for the handicapped. 

Immediately, she laid back on the head rest and closed her eyes.  Her legs were twisted and misshapen.  I guessed she was born with spina bifida or cerebral palsy.  Her arms and hands, however, looked 'normal' with adequate movement and control.

She held a yellow flower in her hand along with a few buds which had not blossomed.  Even though she appeared weak and tired, she never put the flower in her lap.  She was accompanied by her husband who was keenly aware of her fatigue and potential discomfort.  He gently rubbed her neck, her back, and her arm, over and over as we traveled along the railway tracks.  His compassionate witness felt meditative as he cared for her, taking a break every few minutes, and then continued rubbing some part of her body.  Perhaps her muscles were sore from sitting in a wheelchair for a period of time.  Maybe she was sick or distressed.  The cause didn't matter, his devotion was such a witness to love and devotion in sickness and health.

The woman never opened her eyes during the time she was on the train, nor were any words exchanged between the couple.   When the train reached their exit, her husband maneuvered the wheelchair out the door, his wife still holding tightly her bouquet of yellow flowers and buds.

Prayer:  God thank you for the example of compassion I noted on a busy train clanking through streets and over bridges. Help me extend your compassion I saw modeled to those whom I love and to those whom I encounter.  Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Reflection for Friday

Scripture:  Matthew 9:18-22 - While Jesus was saying this (Jesus was teaching), a Jewish official came to him, knelt down before him, and said, "My daughter has just died; but come and place your hands on her, and she will live. "  So Jesus got up and followed him, and his disciples went along with him.  A woman who had suffered severe bleeding for twelve years, came up behind Jesus, and touched the edge of his cloak.  She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will get well."  Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, "Courage my daughter!  Your faith has made you well."  At that very moment the woman became well.

Reflection:  The story begins when a Jewish official interrupted Jesus' teaching with an urgent plea.  The official's daughter had just died, but the official said, "Come place your hands on her and she will live."  Jesus and the disciples followed him.

Along the way a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years saw Jesus.  She said, "If only I touch his cloak I will get well."  The woman didn't need to speak with Jesus or even look at him, she needed no interaction - just to touch his cloak.  Jesus took a moment to respond to her saying, "Courage my daughter.  Your faith has made you well."  The woman was healed at that very moment.

Jesus show us a willingness to set aside what he is doing and be present to people who come to him.  He could have said to the Jewish official, "I'm not done teaching.  I will be with you in a few minutes."  He could have ignored the woman's needs so he could hurry and reach the official's house.  Over and over we read how Jesus pauses, listens and responds to those around him.

I believe Jesus' life was as busy as ours can be, but in different ways.  Jesus didn't let the demands people were making on his time get in the way of being present in the moment, even to those who interrupted.

Several years ago I attended a Wednesday morning Bible study at the YMCA.  The class began at 9:00.  My gym bag and purse were slung over my shoulder, ready to leave, when the phone rang.  I knew if I answered the call I would be late.  I picked up the phone, and listened to a friend who needed to talk.  I couldn't say to her, "I'm sorry I can't talk now; I'm on the way to Bible study so I can learn how Jesus loved and cared for others."  Se we spoke for ten minutes, then twenty.  Finally, forty-five  minutes later we finished, and agreed to meet the next day to continue the discussion.

I drove to the YMCA anyway, arriving for the last five minutes of the study.  I don't know what I missed during class that day, but I know I am glad I didn't miss a chance to follow Jesus' example to pause, set aside what I was doing, and be present to my friend. 

Prayer:  God help me follow the example Jesus gave as I encounter people - both those who I plan to see and those who randomly cross my path.  Guide me to set aside my agenda and respond to others.  Amen.