Sunday, October 25, 2015

Let It Be

Paul McCartney wrote the song "Let It Be," first released in March, 1970, following a dream about his mother who died when he was fourteen. Paul was close to his mother explained that in the dream his mother told him, "It will be all right, just let it be."

Although Paul contends that the song has no biblical connection, I find the words comforting when I relate Mary, the mother of Jesus, to the words Paul uses to describe his mother. Never having a nurturing mother, I connect deeply with Mary, Jesus' mother. I've even presented a few programs on Mary, including "A Protestant Befriends Mary."

When I imagine Mary, I think about the tasks she did every day, such as tending sheep, watching a friend's children, baking bread, sewing and praying. Although I don't tend sheep, I do sew, bake bread, care for a few friend's children and spend time with God.

Recently I was having a day when an experience with a group of people stretched my ability to stay present and mindful. I struggled to relate to the conversation that evening, though I was able to celebrate and offer encouragement while I was there.

Driving home I recalled my decades-long association with this group, remembering all of the events we shared together.

That night I went to bed, but awoke at 3 am and couldn't sleep. I felt energy coming from words, so I wrote about my experience the night before. Throughout the next day, challenging emotions surfaced as well as the lyrics of Paul's song:

          When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
          Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
          And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
          Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
          Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be,
          Whisper words of wisdom,
          Let it be.

Once again I wrote from a different perspective about my evening, going much deeper than previously, reaching the core of painful emotions. When I finished writing, I paused, turned the page of my notebook and drew an image that came from God, reminding me of the rainbow God sent after storm destroying all living things on earth.

God sent the image below to bring comfort and remind me I am not alone. The image is Mary, the mother of Jesus, holding a loaf of bread over the manger:

The first two stanzas of Paul McCartney's song became real to me once again, reminding me how well God knows my heart.

Prayer: God, you know the numbers of hairs on our head, which reflects the ways you care for us and consider our needs. You use song, image and words to come to us, to remind us of your presence and to reveal how individual your caring ways are. We are so grateful. Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

It Takes A Village for Children and Adults

The saying, "it takes a village," became popular a few years ago, attributed to African cultures reflecting their belief that a child has most potential to become a healthy adult when an entire community takes part in raising.

Jane Cowen-Fletcher wrote a children's book called It Takes a Village in 1994, about a young girl caring for her younger brother. The children realize the whole village is watching them.

Former First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1996, presented her vision for the children of America in a book It Takes A Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us. She focused on the influences that connect children outside the family as well as advocating for a society that contributes positively to a child's upbringing.

The United Methodist Church recognizes the value of a Christian community in the service of infant baptism. The pastor asks the parent or parents of the child a few questions, then addresses the congregation with these words:

           "Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and include this person/these persons now before you in your care?"

The congregation replies, "With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround (baby's name) with a community of love and forgiveness, that he/she may grow in his/her trust of God, and be found faithful in service to others. We will pray for him/her that he/she may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life."

The congregation at the time of a child's baptism takes responsibility for surrounding the child, nurturing the child in faith. The parents are reassured they are not alone raising their child - the village is with them.

Although the term "it takes a village" usually refers to raising a child, I've noted several examples where adults in difficult circumstances are experiencing the love and care of a village.

For example, I am friends with a family whose husband had a reoccurrence of melanoma in the spring, and was initially only given a few months to live. Immediately meals were arranged for several weeks. Offers of childcare appeared. One couple took care of the family's pets, enabling a long-awaited vacation to become a reality. People volunteered to drive the husband to work. The village  has responded to help this family navigate these rough waters in a variety of loving and caring ways.

Another friend, whose daughter (also my friend) is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, described a bag of cards and notes she has received from family, and friends.  My friend "carries her village" in a sack of paper, reading and re-reading the notes when she needs encouragement, always feeling surrounded by compassionate hearts who love her dearly.

We are always part of the village - sometimes we serve, sometimes we receive, and sometimes we rest - like the passage in the book of Ecclesiastes describing the cycle of life, "for everything there is a season."

Prayer: God, just be believing in you we are part of your village, community and kingdom. The word isn't important, but love and caring for each other is core to your commission we receive. Keep our eyes and hearts open so that whatever age or circumstance we encounter we become you in our response. Amen.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Jesus the Master of Customer Service

Spending time at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was not my idea how to begin a recent Tuesday. The office is closed on Monday the day I realized my driver's license was missing. I could feel my anger build as the day progressed, realizing I needed to add one more thing to the next day, already stacked with activity.

Since my attitude was not helping my approach to the day, I asked God  Monday evening to make my wait at the BMV a time of holiness - either give me an opportunity to bless someone or open my heart to what another might teach me.

Tuesday I arrived early to the local branch. Walking to the lobby inside the front door where people wait for the office to open, I quickly was joined by a man and a woman who seemed to know each other. We chatted about the Colt's game the previous night, wondering where the long-promised "near Super Bowl performance," was in the third loss of the season.

As our wait continued, these people described their places of employment - the man worked in a warehouse and the woman was a Kroger manager.

I said to the woman, "What is the most challenging part of your job?"

"People try to get things free and use outdated coupons," she answered.

We chuckled, still waiting in the lobby for the office to open.

The woman added, "I am always thinking of customer service in my job. I wish these people would at least let us in to take a number and wait in a chair rather than just stand. I'm getting tired. Today is my first day off in two weeks."

When I worked for St. Vincent Hospital, patient care was our primary focus. However, our department scores on patient satisfaction were given at quarterly meetings. These markings, comparable to customer satisfaction, were monitored closely. We often attended programs and workshops on effective communication with and care of patients as well as their families and friends.

When I read the gospels, Jesus' pattern of interaction always demonstrates attention, love and compassion - especially to those people on the fringe of society.

In Jesus' day, those on the fringe had diseases like epilepsy, leprosy or were considered demon possessed. Women were regarded as secondary citizens, certainly not worthy of association with someone like Jesus or other me in positions of town leadership and authority.

Jesus regarded everyone with love - that's wonderful customer service.

Reflecting about people on the fringe today, the homeless come to mind as well as those who are unemployed, living in poverty, struggling with addictions or mental illness.

Everyone in some way may feel on the fringe at various times in life as struggles with illness, relationships, grief, job loss and other challenges of living can make us feel alone or isolated. We all need excellent "customer service," especially during those times - whether from people or directly from God.

The woman waiting with me in the BMV lobby had compassion for those who were standing behind her, waiting to enter the main office. Although she couldn't change the circumstances, her thoughtful remark carried desire and concern for others. That reminded me of Jesus, the Master of customer service who regards everyone with love. I know I felt loved that day by simply chatting, and the day offered these moments of holiness, just as I had prayed.

Prayer: God, providing customer service to those we encounter means following Jesus' model of love and compassion. Strengthen us to go out of our way to reach those whom we see "on the fringe" with the embrace of Christ. Open our eyes to family and friends who may be going through circumstances that make them feel "on the fringe" even temporarily. Deepen our capacity to love greatly all we encounter for in each other we see you. Amen.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mowing the Grass - Present to God

When my daughters, Sarah and Anna, were young, I had to find creative ways to find time to pray and be still with God.

Although they played on the deck while I swam, the forty minutes spent in the water gave me space for reflection. The mental clarity when I emerged from the water refreshed my body and spirit.

When we lived in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, a small town in southwestern Indiana, there was no year around swimming pool. The community pool was open from Memorial Day to Labor Day which gave me an opportunity to connect with God in the water once again.

Most of the year, however, I ran three to four miles every day. The length of the town from east to west was 1.3 miles. Taking off from my house on the west side of town, and running east, returning for a couple of laps on the small street next to our parsonage made for a nice three mile workout.

Wanting to combine exercise and time with God, my running route became a path of prayer.

Mowing the grass also brought time for silent reflection. We moved to Indianapolis in November, 1983, and the next summer I started mowing our large yard. We lived alongside a busy road on the south side of Indy that did not offer a lot of external quiet, but mowing row across the large yard helped me reach the quiet, inner space where God entered. I finished the lawn each week, refreshed, renewed and restored.

Caring for the yard during the summer of 1984, brought special meaning. Toward the middle of July, I realized I wasn't alone going up and down the path outlined by the width of the lawn mower.

Back in those days there were no home pregnancy tests, so I had to wait several weeks, then get a test at Planned Parenthood to confirm, indeed, I was having a baby. Carrying around a new life that I kept secret for awhile gave me a head start on communicating with another much-desired infant.

We "chatted" each week in the front and back yard. I wondered what this new life would look like. What would his or her talents and interests be? Wondering how I could love another child as much as my first kept me perplexed as the months went on. When I finally held  Anna, in March, 1985, my heart expanded quickly realizing there was enough love to go around.

Although I no longer need someone to care for my children while I escape to pray, the ways I nurtured my faith years ago are still with me today - swimming, and mowing the grass.

Waiting or postponing intimacy with God until "he/she starts pre-school or kindergarten", or "when I retire or work part-time" are not an option. Try these simple ways to incorporate God into everyday  life.

1. Put a candle or a cross or other small symbol that remind you of God in the kitchen, a busy place for most people. When you see each one, acknowledge that you are always in God's presence. Take a deep breath, inhaling God's love, strength, patience or what you need in that moment.

2. Combine what you are doing with an awareness that God is with you. A simple mantra such as the following may help: "God as I cook, I remember ____________;" "God when I fold _____'s shirts keep him safe;" "God as I watch my child/children play let them run and stretch and enjoy all their bodies can do;" 'Jesus come when I eat, cook, and work in the yard, bringing me to you always."

3. Practice gratitude. At the end of the day, recall at least one part of the day for which you can give thanks.

4. Say the Lord's Prayer every morning. This short, comprehensive prayer honors God, reminds you to bring God's kingdom wherever you go; offers thanks for food and forgiveness for ourselves and others; guides us to keep our minds pure; celebrates God's power and glory all around.

5. Write and tape one scripture a week or month to your bathroom mirror. Read the message while you brush your teeth, asking God to bring a new insight or perspective on these words.

These steps can increase our awareness that God is with us as well as deepen the inner space where God can enter and fill.

Prayer: God, open our eyes and hearts to creative ways we can pray with you when we have difficulty finding time to sit and be still. Amen.