Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Circle of Quilting Moms - A Circle of Love

One of the many blessings of being in ministry is the congregations Mike pastored. We were fortunate in each church to have men and women who became surrogate grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles to Sarah and Anna, filling gaps that our lack of family provided. Many of these friendships continue today even though we have not been in some of the churches for over thirty years.

When we moved to Fishers, in June, 1996, Sarah was a freshman at I. U. and Anna a sixth-grader. We were embraced once again by a loving church community.

Anna became acquainted with a wonderful group of girls and one young man who became fast friends through school events, but mainly by participating in church youth group. Their friendship deepened as they served on mission trips as well as celebrated birthdays, went to the prom, ate at favorite restaurants, and traveled to the mall. The families of these young people - particularly the mothers - became friends too, as we watched our children grow.

Following high school graduation, the mothers gathered four or five times during the school year to prepare care packages. Each mother brought five small gifts which we exchanged then mailed to our college student. These surprises contained candy and other treats, all expressions of love and care.

Following college, one by one, the children married and had babies. For each marriage and birth, the "circle of moms" gathered to make a quilt for the bride or new mother, which we presented at a shower for family and friends.

Making a quilt gave us the opportunity to come together, and piece our good wishes and blessings in a tangible form for these young couples and growing families. Just last week we gathered to present an eighth baby quilt to the newest grandchild among the group.

Making each quilt begins when we meet at the fabric store and choose the material. I am reminded of pioneer families who made quilts for their daughters and nieces. Often these young families left in covered wagons to explore unsettled territory and start homesteads. The stack of quilts that made the trip were reminders of love that followed their new beginnings. The children of our circle are heading out on their own journeys, and we're sending them off with our own reminders of love.

Years ago I saw the following phrase in a book of quilt patterns: "When this you see remember me." All of the families who have received quilts from the "circle of moms" have these words stitched into every quilt, a permanent record of love and affection from mothers who came together nearly twenty years ago through a connection at church and who continue to show love and support to our children.

Prayer: God, there are many ways you provide for us and one of those is through communion with each other. Our ties deepen when you are there and we become family to each other. Thank you for bringing us together, for the experiences we share, building memories to fill our hearts and bind us closer to you and each other. Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Strange Trajectory of One of My Favorite Books

I  first met my friend and writing teacher, Ann Kroeker, through her book, The Contemplative Mom - Restoring Rich Relationships with God in the Midst of Motherhood - published in 2000.

Ann's book is a helpful guide to navigating and nurturing intimacy with God while juggling the responsibilities of being a mother. The book was my favorite gift for many years to give friends or mothers-to-be when I attended a baby shower.

Several months ago, I was perusing through the Carmel Library used bookstore after my writing class with Ann. I noticed her book on one of the shelves. Pulling out the paperback copy, I could tell it had not been read because there was no crease on the cover. I opened the book to discover the following inscription:

          Jennifer (not her real name), Remember always to seek God as you raise your new baby. Love, Jacquie

I wrote the words eleven years ago to a friend's daughter who occasionally cared for Sarah and Anna when we lived in Vincennes. The daughter moved to Indianapolis after her marriage and when I was invited to her baby shower, I gave a copy of The Contemplative Mom.

I purchased the book from the library bookstore, sharing with Ann my discovery via email when I returned home.

Looking and the book and reading the inscription eleven years later left me disappointed. I chose with care and thoughtfulness a gift to nurture a young mother's faith as she adjusted to the shift in daily routine life with a newborn brings. I wanted so much to share Ann's suggestions in a book that is packed with easy ways to cultivate awareness of God's presence in the chaos of raising children. To find that new book, unused on the used shelf in the library bookstore was disheartening.

A few weeks later, I went to pick strawberries at Spencer's Farm near Noblesville. I look forward to these few weeks when I can rest on a straw-covered path and weave my hands in and out of plants, choosing the ripest berries. Picking can become meditative especially with a blue sky overhead and a cool breeze. I was clearly centered in God's presence that day as I went up and down my assigned row.

When my large cardboard tray was heaped to a peak, I paused one more time to inhale the experience before getting up. I heard two women talking to each other and to their children who were picking three rows over. One voice was familiar and I quickly realized it was Jennifer, the one to whom I gifted Ann's book. I last saw her a few years ago when I visited her following a death in her family.

I hardly knew what to do, especially since I had the copy of the book I gave her in my car.

Do I re-gift?

Do I say nothing"

Do I trust God to be at work in her life?

I didn't know if she would recognize me, although I thought with a few cues she probably would. I didn't want to embarrass her with a re-gift.. So I prayed that God would keep her close as she cared for her expanded family, knowing that perhaps there was another book guiding her walk with God.

Prayer: God, there are many ways we come to you, sometimes through gifts from others. We  develop our own style to increase familiarity and intimacy with you who created all often independently of books or readings. Guide all who love you and desire to serve in your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Pool Deck at the YMCA - A Place to Commune with Other Faith Traditions

Finishing the last lengths of my swim to complete a half mile, I did stretches while still in the water. I looked on the deck in front of me and saw a Muslim woman speaking out loud, reading from an iPad. I recognized Norah, having spoken to her before at the Fishers YMCA, so I jumped out of the water, grabbed my towel and gym bag, and walked over to the bench where she sat.

A burqa outlined her face and hands. "Are you praying?" I asked. She looked up with recognition, extended her hand and smiled.

"I've seen you before reading the Koran out loud. I admire the way you are public with your faith. I'm a Christian, but I don't carry my Bible wherever I go."

Putting aside her iPad, Norah replied, "I'm reading the Koran. We pray five times a day wherever we are. In such a busy life, we look to our great creator to remember our faith."

We chatted a few minutes. When her little boy finished swimming, I said good-bye and walked to the locker room. I never see anyone reading the Bible while their child or children have swim lessons. Norah's bold demonstration of her faith was inspiring.

Reflecting on my encounter later in the day, I focused on Norah's description of the importance of pausing and praying five set times during each day. This practice reminded me of the monastic ritual of praying the hours, something I did for many years especially during the time I worked at St. Vincent Hospital.

One day a week (I rotated the days; Monday, one week, Tuesday, the next, etc.) from the time I awakened until I went to bed, I remembered God at the beginning of every hour. At first, I looked at the clock often throughout the hour. However, as the day progressed, I  found "my soul took me to the hour" before I realized the time. My "day of the hours" as I called it, became a mini-retreat. Each day frequently ended with a new insight about my walk with God or with a deeper awareness of God's presence.

Pausing at the beginning of every hour was a way to stay centered in God as well as acknowledging that God was with me.

Here's an experiment. Choose a day to practice "a day of the hours." Select five times throughout your day to pause and pray. You may want to use these focused moments with God to pray for a decision or circumstances you are facing or for an individual about whom you care. Or you can use this time to direct your thoughts to God's presence surrounding you. Reminder alarms on watches and cell phones can assist if you desire.

We share similar practices of other faith traditions. Perhaps the terminology or sequence is different, but honoring common features can help build bridges and encourage understanding.

Prayer: God, you are the creator of all persons. We have more in common than differences. Help us learn from each other and befriend all. Amen.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Join the Trend of the Day --- Pray in Color!!

According to the Huffington Post last week, six of the top twenty selling books on Amazon are adult coloring books. I scanned the list and found these titles -

Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns by Adult Coloring Book Artists
Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Coloring Book by Johanna Basford
Creative Haven, Creative Cats Coloring Book by Marjorie Sarnat
Creative Haven, Whimsical Gardens Coloring Book by Alexandra Cowell.

Reading the advertisements about each one, I spot common words like relaxing, stills the mind and calming. Finding this article was timely for me, as I just finished teaching a class as the Chautauqua Institute in western New York called "Praying with Paper, Pencil, Paints and Sand."

Nearly eight years ago at the annual "Spirit and Place" series of concerts and lectures held in Indianapolis each November, I attended Sybil MacBeth's daylong program on her book Praying in Color. The author described frustration with her prayer life that included difficulty sitting still and inconsistency in spending time with God. She liked to doodle, however, so the high school math teacher began making shapes and forms, including the names of persons for whom she wanted to pray. She added color to her designs with paints or crayon. This method of using patterns and color helped her enter God's presence, stay focused in prayer, and develop an attentiveness to hear God speak.

I have used her way of praying for many years. Often I don't have words to say when I bring my feelings to God, but I can find a color or two that seems to "give language." Adding a design and continuing with the pattern or color eventually leads me to words that open a pathway to God and to my heart.

I told my students last week, "Praying with paper, paint and pencil is not about art, but about prayer." Letting go of the thought, often restraining, that this type of prayer is not for a juried art show, helps people relax and begin to experience a new way to enter God's presence.

Here are a few suggestions to get started.

1. Gather a pencil, a box of children's paints, and a sketchbook or sheet of white paper, a cup of water - these are the "tools of prayer."
2. Find a quiet place at a desk or table. Know that God is with you. Offer a prayer to increase your awareness of God's presence as you draw, paint and pray.
3. Regard your paper as a sacred and holy space for communion with God.
4. Make a list of the people for whom you want to pray, including yourself.
5. Begin with shapes and lines, adding names as you pray. When you finish, paint the design. (See below for example.)
6. Carrying the image you made throughout the day is a way to remain close to God. You have created a visual prayer list.
7. A blank piece of paper, paints, a pencil and brush can become as sacred as a monk's cell where God is received in the silence of your heart.

My students at Chautauqua responded well to the class. Each day we shared our "homework" from the day before from sketchbooks and large pieces of paper. They were delighted with the pictures that resulted from dealing with difficult family circumstances, as well as the way God came to them as they drew and filled in with color.

Knowing there is a creative way to relax, relieve stress or meditate that reverts to the way young children develop visual perceptual skills will be interesting to follow. I wonder if holiday shopping this year will find boxes of crayons along with the books mention in the Huffington Post under the Christmas tree? Maybe others will discover coloring or painting their own designs or patterns in prayer will lead to a deeper connection to God and self.

Prayer: God, there are as many ways to come to you as there are people. Open us to the experience of creating our own shapes and patterns, and adding color can bring us into an awareness that we are always in your presence. Amen.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I Stole a Prayer Shawl

Several years ago, my then spiritual director, Gwen, a Carmelite nun, was on the staff of one of the Catholic churches in Fishers. Each month we met in her office located in the church basement.

Parking in the front lot, I entered the narthex outside the sanctuary, and walked downstairs. Gwen listened to the cries of my heart and brought God's comforting and encouraging presence.

Many times after we finished, I paused in the sanctuary or looked at the art lining the walls. Just inside the front entrance, there was a wooden ledge that held finished prayer shawls. Every month I examined the stack, touched the yarn, admired the pattern knit or crochet knowing that I was holding someone's prayers.

I wondered with longing if the prayers of those who made these precious pieces would become absorbed in my body and bring complete healing that I desired. So I unfolded and refolded each one, making the stack straight and tall, coveting a different one each month.

One year for my September appointment the waters of the mental illnesses I faced seemed to keep my boots stuck in the mud for longer periods. When Gwen and I finished that day, I went right to the prayer shawls as if they were the holy clothes wrapped around Jesus in the tomb.

Examining each one, I found a shawl crochet with brown, green, orange and yellow yarn, reminding me of the trees that were already changing color. These fall colors grabbed my heart. Although I didn't fit into any category designated to receive a shawl - I wasn't physically sick; no one in my family had died; the babies in my home were all grown; I wasn't a member of the church; I had not lost my job - but I took one anyway. I needed something to hold that would offer God's presence in a tangible way.  Interestingly, I didn't feel guilty about taking the shawl for each was made with love and prayer for someone hurting - and that was my qualification.

Every night since that day nearly five years ago, I curl the shawl close to my chest, insert my fingers through the open spaces in the crochet design, absorb the love and prayers that went into its creation and fall asleep. In the night if I awaken with fear or anxiety, I loop my fingers around the yarn and grasp the hope of God's presence.

A few years later I decided to send a small donation to the church for their prayer shawl ministry. I included the following note:

     "Enclosed you will find a donation for your prayer shawl ministry. I took a prayer shawl and treasure the beautiful way it holds the prayers made by servant hands."

My prayer is that someday all persons who need a picture of God to clutch and cuddle can receive a shawl, not just the people whose needs are physical, more visible or involve grief.