Sunday, March 29, 2015

Peter, Paul and Mary ........and Jesus!

Last November 5, I listened to NPR's Diane Rehm interview Peter and Paul, the surviving members of the popular sixties trio, Peter, Paul and Mary. The occasion for their appearance was to introduce the release of their book, Peter, Paul and Mary: Fifty Years in Music and Life.

Peter, Paul and Mary were one of my favorite vocalists when I was a teenager. The lyrics of their songs were simple, the tunes catchy, and I often sang their music when I walked to school or hummed in the classroom. Their unique style opened the way for new forms of vocal expression leading to the Beatles.

Diane asked a lot of questions. I learned Paul's first name is Noel, his middle name, Paul. Mary died in 2009, but Peter and Paul continue to perform. Paul remarked that those who hear them sense Mary's spirit as they present concerts all over the country.

Peter and Paul spent time remembering Mary and their relationship through the years. Paul explained that when Mary visited a friend she never said good-bye, but "to be continued".

To be continued means something will go on. Mary and her friends continued in friendship even though they weren't in close proximity.

Jesus gathered his disciples in an upper room and shared a meal of bread and wine we now call the Last Supper. Jesus showed the disciples a piece of bread and said, "This is my body." Then Jesus gave the disciples a drink of wine from a cup he held. "This is my blood."

Jesus wanted the disciples to have tangible ways and a ritual to remember him and his ministry that would continue throughout time. The Last Supper or Holy Communion as we now call the meal is a way for Jesus to say, "I am not saying good-bye. My life will continue in resurrection and we will meet again."

Mary realized that even though she may not see a friend for a while, she was not saying good-bye at the last encounter, but "to be continued" until they were together again. "To be continued" carries an excitement and expectation of new conversations and encounters where "good-bye" has an element of finality.

Jesus wants us who believe in him and who partake of communion to remember he, too, did not say "good-bye", but "my life continues in your life until we meet again. Bread and wine, symbols of my body and blood, will empower you as you continue my ministry wherever you go and with whom you meet."

We did not say "good-bye" to Jesus at the cross, but "to be continued" when we receive communion and serve in the kingdom.

Are there friends to whom you say good-bye when you depart?

Are there friends to whom you could say "to be continued" as you leave?

How can you offer to continue Jesus' ministry?

Prayer: God, the cross did not mean "good-bye" for your son despite what seemed obvious as Jesus was placed in the tomb. Resurrection means "to be continued" as we receive the love of Jesus in our hearts and serve in the kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Simultaneously Light and Dark

We recently flew to Portland, Oregon, to help Anna celebrate her thirtieth birthday. On the return leg of our trip from Denver to Indianapolis, we departed at 6 p.m. We flew in light for most of the way however, about an hour from landing, I looked out the window and noticed darkness below.

I was in an interesting place, 30,000 feet above ground with darkness below, simultaneously seeing light from the sun above. Remembering times of darkness in  my life, I knew that despite what I was going through I would eventually see a breakthrough to light. Light was hovering above the darkness like I witnessed in the airplane; I just couldn't see it or feel it.

I am reminded of John's words about light and darkness at the beginning of his gospel.

John 1:5 - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out.

John is saying that whatever darkness we experience in life - our own sin, loss, challenging circumstances, impaired relationships -it is not strong enough to block or extinguish the light of Jesus, the source of light, love, strength, encouragement or whatever we need to get through what life presents.

Shortly before we landed the pilot came over the loud speaker and said, "We are preparing for our final descent before landing."

As the plane got closer to the ground, darkness gradually engulfed the cabin. However, when I looked out the window one more time, I could still see light - the always present upper layer of darkness. I saw metaphorically the words of John 1:5. My experience holding darkness and light simultaneously will serve as a reminder and encouragement that no matter what I am experiencing, the light of God is there, too.

Prayer: God, thank you for moments when we see and realize your truths through moments in your kingdom. You paint pictures to illustrate scripture giving us an image to carry and remind us always of our presence. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Healing Power of Cards

Not everyone has kind and loving relationships with his/her parents. I sure didn't so when mine died four days apart in January, 2013, I entered a time of confusion, anger, frustration and injustice. Their passing left me with unanswered questions, and permanently eliminated the possibility of reconciliation or even acknowledgement of poor treatment during childhood and adolescence.

The first year after their deaths found me searching for books and people who could help me make sense of the emotional turmoil I was experiencing. People skilled in the area of grief were at a loss to help. I didn't fit into the categories described in books on grief so with continuing anger and frustration, I tore each book, page-by-page throwing the paper in a trash can.

One day, four months after they died, I noticed the stack of over 100 sympathy cards I received. For several weeks, I couldn't look at the cards because I thought they were all about my parents. However, that day I realized the cards were not about my parents. They were for me! All of the love and compassionate thoughts expressed by the words printed on the card and words people wrote were waiting and available for me to receive.

The cards became my gateway to healing as I began to interact and respond to each one.

1. I cut out phrases on the cards that did not match my life, such as 'beloved mother', 'beloved father', 'happy memories'. Most people did not realize the nature of the relationship I shared with my parents. I received with deepest gratitude the loving thoughts they wrote, but some phrases that did not apply to my life with them I had to remove and set aside.

2. Writing letters to people who sent cards even though more than six months had gone by was the beginning of clarity and response. Although I didn't mail the letters, writing gratitude loosened my inner confusion and helped me connect with those whose thoughtfulness I wanted to acknowledge.

3. Looking at the cards over and over became a 'funeral home visitation'. Their passing and services during the week prevented my friends from coming. Each time I looked at the cards I received love and compassion from those who took time to send a note of condolence.

4. As the first anniversary of their passing approached, my art teacher suggested I tear the cards into pieces and make paper. Seven sheets of paper emerged from an afternoon project of paper-making. I took the leftover pieces of paper, and spread them on cookie sheets to dry.

5. Interacting with the leftover pieces brought new levels of dealing with my past. I took words on the pieces and made 'found poems'. Found poems are made from words selected from printed material such as newspapers, signs, or in my case, cards. For example, one of my found poems follows:

            Someone will keep your troubled heart,
            Holding it close, with peace coming during a difficult time.
            Words are inadequate to express concern and sympathy,
            When deepest comfort is needed for the heart.
            Jesus reminds us, 'I give you peace. Let not your heart be troubled.'

6. I pieced a small quilt using some of the leftover pieces which held words of love, signatures and parts of pictures.

7. Scattering the tiniest pieces of  card paper over snow in my backyard helped me release resurfacing anger.

Interacting with the cards occurred over several months. God brought life, opportunities for growth, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude replacing anger, confusion and frustration which had been part of my life since childhood.

Celebrating how God worked through a stack of sympathy cards sent by persons who loved and cared for me and my family, cleansed my heart, brought refreshment to my soul, and gave me long-sought peace.

God indeed can use simple objects to bring integration. We read in the New Testament how Jesus explained the kingdom of God using common objects such as seeds, yeast, a mustard seed, weeds and a pearl. I can add another parable to the list - The kingdom of God is like a stack of sympathy cards - when torn apart and used for art and writing projects, woven with God's presence, they can restore a soul and release a heart from years of suffering.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Simple Gesture - Looking Behind

When you open a door in a store, a church or another type of building, always look behind you. If someone is coming, hold the door open to show honor and respect to another human being.

The kindness you show may be the only positive experience in that person's life that day.

I can remember experiencing a dark time a few years ago. Going to the store took great effort on my part during those days. However, the kindness of the cashier who automatically said, "Hello, how are you?" offered light which I received and carried home in my heart along with the groceries I purchased.

 A simple act of kindness, carried home in your heart. Yes, we never know what others have on their minds. Remember to smile. Hold the door. Ask, "How are you?"

Prayer: God, we are called to be light to others as you are light to us. Keep us attentive and aware of those around us, guiding us to simple gestures of kindness, reflecting the love we have for you. Amen.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Gather The Pieces

One of my favorite scriptures in which I have rested and walked for many years is John's account of Jesus feeding five thousand people. 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.' (John 6:12-13)

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 home.

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

"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, realize the value of all of the pieces of our days. Each is important and can reflect the many ways God is present.

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

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.