Sunday, October 30, 2016

Earth"s Quilt - A Poem


Time to make the earth's quilt.

Yellow, orange and red leaves

Come together in random patterns,

Warming the earth

Through winter's cold,

Covering seeds that rest,

Waiting for the time to

Burst forth with pastel colors --

A sweet sight after winter's grays.

Rest, earth, rest under the quilt

You provide for yourself.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jesus Wrote and The Loss of the Contemplative Mind

Jesus preached, blessed, ate, healed, walked, talked and ..........wrote!

John Chapter 8-1-11 described an encounter Jesus had with teachers of the law and Pharisees who asked about a woman caught in adultery. The punishment according to Jewish law was stoning. Before he responded, Jesus took a moment to write in the sand. Verse 6: "But he (Jesus) bent over and wrote on the ground with his finger."

Jesus knew the importance of his answer, so he took a moment to pause and write.

"As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her." (verse 7)

After he answers the teachers and Pharisees, he bends over again to write on the ground.

We don't know what Jesus wrote, but he did give an example to pause and reflect before answering.

The End of Reflection

On Sunday, June 12, The New York Times, featured an article by Teddy Wayne called "The End of Reflection." The author recognized a change in his life. In the past when he had extra time, he would "observe or think about my surroundings or take a walk."

Now he notes, "I pick up my phone to check a notification, browse and read the internet, text, use an app or listen to audio or on rare occasions, engage in an old-fashioned "telephone call." The last remaining place I'm guaranteed alone with my thoughts is in the shower."

Wayne quotes Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows. "As our technologies increase the intensity of stimulation and the flow of new things, we adapt to that pace. We become less patient. When moments without stimulation arise, we start to feel panicked and don't know what to do with them, because we've trained ourselves to expect this stimulation."

Carr sees the use of the internet and other electronics as "the loss of the contemplative mind."

We need a contemplative mind to stay in touch with God. If we go with the trends Wayne and Carr are noting in their articles and books, we are doomed to shallow thinking and impatient attitudes.

The January, 2016, issue of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) included a short article, "The Write Way to Slow Down." The article explains, "One thing proven to help you slow down is writing your thoughts and feelings longhand. On paper. It's not just writing; it's taking time to think and process life events. The ritual is an effective way for you to analyze situations creatively and to stay centered during difficult times."

There it is. Writing. The way to slow down.

Jesus modeled it well for us, and John captured the moment when Jesus wrote in the sand.

Returning to Jesus

Jesus knew the Pharisees and teachers of the law were waiting for an answer. Jesus realized the importance of the question required careful thought so he paused, twice to write on the ground.

They were expecting consent to the Jewish law, so Jesus' answer stunned them when he offered compassion and forgiveness.

Of course, no one knows what Jesus wrote before or after he responded or if he wrote something to the woman, to those asking the question, or to God. Perhaps he wrote a prayer asking for wisdom  prior to his answer and a prayer of gratitude afterwards. No one knows.

Jesus offers a model to use not only when we are involved in thought-provoking or difficult conversations or responding to a question with a friend at work, at church or other places.

1. Take a moment to pause before replying. Collecting thoughts and organizing how to phrase an answer can result in an effective and meaningful response and encourages a contemplative mind.

2. Offer a quick prayer for guidance.

3. Write down a few thoughts - after all, the article in AARP reminds us that writing slows us down.

4. Say a short prayer of gratitude for God's help after replying.

Slowing down in today's fast-paced world is a challenge, but necessary. Companionship with God demands times of silence, contemplation and reflection to grow deeper in faith and hear God's voice.

For your reflection:

1. What do you think Jesus wrote in the sand?
2. How can you incorporate Jesus's model of writing before replying into everyday life.
3. What is the value of writing for you?

Prayer: God, advances in communication seem to discourage the contemplative mind. How can we weigh seriously and listen to your voice as we talk with others and consider matters of importance? Help us use Jesus' model of pausing and writing in our interaction and during our time with you. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Found Objects - What I Found - What Jesus Found

The book How To Be An Explorer of the World led me to start with the activity suggested on page 30—to collect items on a walk. The first few times I went around the neighborhood, all I found was a leaf and an empty acorn shell. I live in a housing addition that is well-kept with little trash.
A few days later I found several note-worthy items that I stuffed into my pocket. When I arrived home, I examined the ‘gems’ – a yellow candy wrapper, a red bottle cap, a rusty ‘S’-shaped chain, a rubber band and a wrapper from Walgreen’s for adhesive bandages.
I added to my collection a note I found in the locker to which I was assigned at the Jordan Y, and a listing of Christmas hymns on a piece of paper I found in a library book. On the back side of the paper were the dates for Advent, beginning in late November.

All of a sudden the box that held my finds was filled with items that offered more questions than the leaf and acorns. I knew where these two came from, but everything else tapped my inquisitive imagination. For example, when I looked at the candy wrapper, I wondered what type of sweet the paper held. How did it taste – sweet or sour? Who ate the candy? When and where was it purchased?
The listing of Christmas carols on the slip of paper from the library book as well as the dates for Advent made me wonder if the person who wrote this information was a church choir director or a pastor. I could contact him, as his name is printed on the front, but I like letting my imagination wonder what the dates and hymns mean.
I wondered what liquid the bottle cap topped and who drank it. Why did someone need an adhesive wrap? Who wore the wrap – a child or an adult?
All of this reflection made me remember how Jesus used common objects to tell stories and teach.
How Jesus Used Common Objects
Jesus taught using parables or stories using metaphors – a comparison to something in the kingdom using like or as: The kingdom of heaven is like a pearl, or the kingdom of heaven is like yeast.
Perhaps over a series of days Jesus collected a few objects that he saw in the homes where he stayed or along the path he walked. He decided to use these objects to teach about the kingdom, giving them an additional meaning or purpose from what people saw.
Jesus compared the kingdom of God to weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, a pearl and a net, offering meaning beyond what is seen.
My Box of Parables
Compared to the box of objects I found, those that came from nature offered no reflection or questions for me, but the other items spewed forth with questions.
Let’s look again – I found an acorn and a leaf. Reflecting like Jesus, I could say, The kingdom of God is like an acorn waiting to provide nourishment for a squirrel. God nourishes our souls when we read God’s word, hear stories about God at work in people’s lives, and as we feel God’s presence. Or, The kingdom of God is like a leaf that brings beauty in the fall.

Looking at the other objects that are really trash and litter, what could they teach about God? Is there a parable in each one?
The kingdom of God is like 
…… empty candy wrapper, ready to embrace a soul in protective care or show how God wants to embrace each of God’s children in love;
……a bandage that wraps around a wound allowing healing, just as God wraps us in arms of protection and care, to heal us when we hurt;
….a chain, as words and actions link us to someone else making his way through the day;
….a listing of dates and hymns for Advent where the celebration of Christ’s birth is outlined and planned;
…… a rubber band that keeps stretching to include new people in God’s kingdom.
If I take time to dig deeper, I discover parables or at least a short lesson about the nature of God in the items found while I walked.

For your reflection:
1.     Take a walk, picking up several items you find. Which ones stimulate questions? Which ones offer quick answers?
2.     How can you link God’s kingdom to what you found, making a parable for each one?
Prayer: Jesus found common objects to teach about the kingdom and invite believers to look and see spiritual truths. Guide our paths each day, and open our eyes to learn about you from objects and relationships we encounter. Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

When this you see remember me .........

When it came time for us to move from Vincennes to Fishers, Indiana, in June, 1996, the congregation wanted to give us a remembrance of the seven years spent living and serving together. They knew of my long-time interest in quilts, so they set to work creating.

Everyone was asked to donate pieces of fabric that were cut into two-by-two inch squares. We didn't know it, but people gathered in homes and sewed a stole for Mike and a vest for me using all of the tiny pieces. On the inside of each were signatures of church members.

We were presented with our special gifts on Mike's last Sunday. In addition, they gave Sarah a quilt made with Indiana University fabric and Anna one with Duke fabric. Our family felt wrapped in love by the congregation as we relocated to Fishers. 

I remembered a phrase - 'When this you see remember me ' - from a book on quilting that was filled with patterns and described how women worked to put a quilt together to send with a friend moving to an undeveloped part of the United States. The group gave the departing woman a tangible symbol of their lives together, knowing they may never see each other again.

I recalled this phrase when I looked at Mike's stole and my vest both of which brought comfort, especially in the first few months after our move. The unique handwork helped my adjustment and locked in fond memories.

When Mike retired in June, 2011, from Fishers United Methodist Church, my Sunday school class made me a quilt from squares each family contributed - another example of thoughtful generosity and something I still use to see and remember all the people, just as the phrase that caught my heart long ago conveyed so well.

Jesus and Remembrance

Luke 22:14-20 describes the Lord's Supper Jesus shared with the disciples before his crucifixion; "He took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, and broke it saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me. In the same way, he gave them the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is God's new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out for you.'"

In these final days, Jesus knew that he would be leaving the disciples, heading for the cross. He wanted to leave something with them as a way of remembrance. Placing the loaf of bread and cup of wine in front of the disciples gathered around the table he could easily have used the words, "When this you see, remember me."

The Last Supper is portrayed in many pieces of art and paintings. I have even seen a loaf of bread and bunch of grapes pictured in a stained glass window. For the Christian, seeing these elements on a church altar or in a piece of art, clearly invokes a remember that Jesus is with us.

Other Remembrances

When I at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, a crucifix hung in every patient room and along the hallways on each floor - when this you see remember me.

Many of us have items around our homes that remind us of those we love. When we see them our hearts feel comfort, connection and they invoke stories of our time with the giver. We give to others objects whose meaning represents our relationship and shared experiences. When they see it, we hope they remember us.

Reminders of Jesus and God's presence through items like crosses, symbols of communion and baptism, icons and candles help us stay present to the reality that "God is here in this place," or "God is in this hospital," or "God is here with me, which I remember when I wear a cross around my neck."

"When this you see remember me" says so much. For me, I not only think of the person who gave me an item - I also grow more aware of God everywhere and in all people. I deeply treasure my vest, Mike's store, Sarah and Anna's quilts. I can picture people, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ from First United Methodist Church in Vincennes. The Sunday school quilt from Fishers United Methodist Church, is also cherished, given to me by dear friends who are still remembered and loved.

For your Reflection:

1. What objects have you received from family and friends that bring remembrances of thought and love? Describe what they mean to you.

2. Are there religious symbols in church, your home, outside in the woods, in your front yard, along the path of your favorite walk, at your job, that serve as reminders of God" Described these moments of awareness.

3. What have you given others to remember you or an experience you shared?

Prayer:  For me, "When this you see remember me" captures all you left behind for us to remember you; bread and wine; a mustard seed, yeast, a coin, a fig tree and other objects that symbolize you and offer teaching about the kingdom. We do remember you with each one as we use these encounters to deepen our faith and trust in you. Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Light a Candle - See the Way

A few years ago, the church I attend installed a three-tiered votive candle rack on a table to the right of the altar. Sunday morning worshipers can light a candle before or after the service. Mike and I were surprised to see candles in a Protestant church.

When we first started attending, Mike always went forward to light a candle. I occasionally light a candle at home, especially when I am baking biscuits or cinnamon rolls, but I didn't feel led to do so in church.

One Sunday, however, when I was facing a challenging week, I decided to follow Mike to the front and light a candle too. I found it so meaningful that I now light a candle, with an intention, every Sunday morning as part of my worship. Especially important were the Sundays preceding each of my daughter's birthdays, when I lit a candle for them since I knew I wouldn't be with them on their special day.

A lit candle at home or at church, provides a visible reminder of God's presence.

Lighting Candles in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Faith Traditions

Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches set aside a place in the sanctuary to light candles.

Lighting a candle in the Orthodox Church is regarded as a time of prayer. The lit, slender, twelve-inch candles are placed in a box of sand so that the drippings do not go on the floor, but are caught in the sand. People are encouraged to end their silent reflection with the words, "Lord have mercy," repenting of their sins and re-igniting the light of God within. Following prayer,  a re-commitment made to live as light, helping others to see the way in a world of darkness.

The Catholic Church suggests lighting candles as a way to pray for a specific concern or person. The candles remain lit after the person leaves, showing a collective spirit of prayer to the entire church. When the mass ends, keeping the candles aflame helps those attending to remember that the prayer offered remains and others are welcome to come and pray over the candles and the intentions.

My Own Practice

When I bake biscuits or cinnamon rolls, lighting a candle is part of the ritual along with gathering and mixing ingredients, kneading the dough and smelling the aroma that fills my kitchen.

At other times, I light a candle to say, "God is with me" or "God is here." The candle is an encouragement and source of comfort as I do laundry, write, cook, read the newspaper or write letters to my daughters. Lighting a candle reminds me I am never alone.

For Further Reading

For Your Reflection

1. How do you remind yourself that God is with you?

2. Light a candle while you are home. Remember that Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." John 8:12) Reflect on these scripture references to light as you look at the candle. What thoughts come?

- Psalm 27:1 - "The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one."

- Psalm 119:105  - "Your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.

- Matthew 5:16 - "In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your father in heaven."

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

- John 12:35-37 - "Jesus answered, 'The light will be among you a little longer. Continue on your way while you have the light, so that the darkness will not come upon you, for the one who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Believe in the light, then, while you have it, so that you will be the people of light.'"

Prayer: Candles are reminders of God, faith and holiness. We are made in your image, and I ask that you help me settle deeper into you, God, so that I can discover more and more that ideal self you've made me to be. Amen.