Sunday, April 28, 2019

What Do We Say When Good Things Happen?

A few years ago in mid-October, Mike and I were driving home from the Landmark Center near downtown Indianapolis, where Mike performed the wedding of a friend of Anna's from high school and college. Although we only knew the bride, we had a great time visiting with family members and guests at our table.

We were thankful to end the day with a happy occasion because we spent the morning visiting two separate families prior to funeral services for a beloved grandfather and young son.  Less than a week ago, we attended another funeral for a colleague of Mike's who died swiftly from a rapidly spreading form of cancer.

Mike and I discussed the events of the past eight days, mentioning the question that appears repeatedly when unfortunate circumstances come into the lives of people  - "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

Mike said, "Why don't we ask - 'Why am I blessed? Why do good things happen?' We have no better answer to when good things happen than we do when bad things happen."

His comment brought a shift in my perspective. When unfortunate and unexplained things come our way, we struggle and ask, "Why?" When we travel safely to work or to the store, when we share fun times with family and friends, when we have a healthy annual physical, when we read a book with an interesting plot that helps us relax, when we take a walk, when we have a day where everything goes smoothly, do we ask, "Why did good things happen today?"

Do we thank God for our good life or do we take for granted uneventful moments and roll them into the folds of our heart with nonchalance?

How do you respond when good things happen?

Prayer: God, our days can be a mixture of challenge and peace. Help us give thanks at all times knowing you are with us to celebrate and care. Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Candle Hour

Every Sunday, I look forward to reading The New York Times. I am a native New Yorker and always find interesting features and perspectives each week.

In a recent issue of the magazine section (Letters of Recommendation) I read "Candle Hour" by Julia Scott. She explained that when she was a teenager, an ice storm came through Montreal, knocking down a giant tree limb in the front yard of her house. For seven days and nights, the power was out, forcing the family to use candles for their light source.

The author concluded that no one in the family remembers what they talked about or ate during that week, but they all remember the use of candles, enabling  them to read, eat and continue with daily life.

Now that she has settled in California, she started the practice of "candle hour." An hour before she goes to bed, she turns off all of her devices and lamps and lights a couple of candles, "enough to read a book or stare at the flame. I have a journal ready, but don't pressure myself to write in it. 'Candle Hour' doesn't even need to last a full hour. I sit until I feel an uncoupling from the chaos or until the candle burns all the way down or both."

She continues, "Candle Hour" has become a soul-level bulwark against so many kinds of darkness. I feel myself slipping not just out of my day, but out of time itself. I shut aside outrages and anxieties."

My Thoughts

Always looking for new ways to connect to God, I decided to sit with a candle in silence for an hour. Sometimes I have trouble sitting still, so I planned my hour at the end of the day, 6-7 pm. I gathered some paper, a pen, a glass of water and a book I've been reading. I put away my cell phone, set the kitchen timer for an hour and began.

At first I focused on the candle flame, watching it move and sway even when the air seemed still. I took a few deep breaths, inhaling God's presence. My heart became filled with a deep peace. When I felt restless or my mind started to wander, I looked at the candle.

I worked on a poem I wrote the night before and reflected on a passage of scripture. The first time I looked at the clock, eight minutes remained in my hour. I was amazed I sat for so long. During the closing minutes God asked me a question, "To what are you holding on?" I  rested in this question and knew I would spend more time in the days ahead pondering the meaning. I concluded the hour by reading a few pages from a book.

Reflections on Candle Hour

I can understand why Julia Scott maintains an occasional practice of candle hour. I felt refreshed at the end of the day and experienced new energy for the evening. My soul was renewed as if I'd been on a weekend retreat. Clarity during the hour helped edit the poem I wrote. Receiving a question from God will direct my thoughts for deeper reflection.  I received so much benefit from candle hour. I am eager for another time in the days ahead.

Suggestions for Candle Hour

1. Set aside electronic devices.
2. Decide how much time you want to devote to the practice. If an hour seems too long, try thirty minutes. You know what works best. Set a timer.
3. Have something to drink close by as well as paper, pen, a book or needlework. You can also use this time to reflect on a passage of scripture.
4. Light the candle. God is here.
5. Take a deep breath.
6. Ask God to quiet your mind and open your heart.

Reflection Questions

1. How was your experience with "Candle Hour?" Were you able to let go and relax? How did God come to you?

2. Did you receive any new insights, perspectives or clarity as you sat?

3. Would you like to try "Candle Hour" again?

Prayer: God, when we light a candle we see a visible representation of your presence. We are also reminded that Jesus is the light of the world. Let us remember that as believers we carry the light of God wherever we go. Guide us as we sit with a candle to listen for your word or just rest in the peace of silence with you. Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Questions for Holy Week

Lent is just about over.

Typically, during Lent, Christians are asked to look inward and spend time in self-examination. Here are a few questions for reflection as Holy Week begins. Perhaps, as you answer each one, you will come upon a new insight or perspective about yourself or God to carry you into the days after Easter.

1. Where or when do I encounter God's presence?
2. What name do I call God?
3. What does God call me?
4. God's word for me today is _____.
5. I need to forgive __________.
6. I am in awe of God's _____.
7. I sense that God wants me to ____________.
8. God is challenging me to __________.
9. An object that reminds me of God is _________.
10. How has God been present for me today?
11. The greatest joy of my life with God is _____________.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for Lent when we can set aside time in our lives to rest in your light. We are happy for Easter, when Jesus becomes eternal light to fill our hearts each day. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Letters - Annabel and a Former President

When my 101-year-old long-time friend, Annabel Hartman died in late December, 2016, she left me a stack of correspondence that spanned thirty-three years. Annabel valued the permanency of the written word in many ways.

For example, Annabel and her husband, Grover, kept a guest book on the coffee table in the living room. Before visitors left, they were invited to sign and date their time at the Hartman home. Even little children who could barely write were included.

Although exchanging letters began when our family moved from Indianapolis to a new church out of town in 1989, we continued to write each other, when Mike was assigned a church in central Indiana, in 1996.

 In the talk I gave at her memorial service, I recalled how even when we lived in the same town and the two of us could talk on the phone or visit, we still exchanged letters. Writing to each other was one of the foundations of our friendship, one that offered me an opportunity to preserve the wisdom, encouragement, and perceptions on life Annabel gave.

A President Who Liked Letters

Former president, Barack Obama, read and responded to letters from constituents as a regular practice. He read ten letters a day from the multitude of mail reaching the White House. Staffers carefully choose the letters Mr. Obama read and responded to each night after dinner.

Obama describes the value of letters in an interview from the Sunday magazine section of The New York Times on January 22, 2017:

     "Constituents feel like you are hearing them, and that you are responding to them - that makes up for a lot of stuff! That kind of instilled in me the sense of - the power of mail.  And people knowing that if they took the time to write something that the person who represented them was actually paying attention."

The article continues:

     "The letters gave me permission to legitimately slow down, an opportunity for nuance and contradiction. I didn't understand how meaningful it would end up being to me."

     "By the time I got to the White House and somebody informed me that we were going to get 40,000 or-whatever-it-was pieces of mail a day, I was trying to figure out how do I in some way duplicate that experience I had during the campaign. And I think this was the idea that struck me as realistic. Reading ten letters a day - and reply, I could do that."

Barack Obama concluded:

     "I tell you, one of the things I'm proud of about having been in this office is that I don't feel like I've lost myself. I feel as if - even if my skin is thicker from you know, public criticism, and I'm wiser about the workings of government, I haven't become ... cynical, and I haven't become callused. And I would like to think that these letters have something to do with that."

Even a former president valued the communication he received from the American people, represented in the ten letters he read and answered each day.

Abiding Love

I miss Annabel so much and can't believe she is gone, even after living 101 years. I thought she would live forever.

At the memorial service, I showed those gathered my stack of letters bound by a tan string. "Here is a stack of letters I received from Annabel. They are pieces of her that I can access whenever I want a 'visit' or need 'to hear' her voice again."

A few days ago, I randomly chose a card to read, dated November 5, 2009. She signed the card, "Abiding love, Annabel."  Looking up the definition of abide, I found: to remain, continue, stay. Although Annabel isn't here anymore, her love for me abides always.

For Your Reflection

1. Is there someone to whom you would like to write a letter, perhaps offering encouragement, sharing thoughts or recounting what is happening in your life? Take some time to get a piece of paper, a pen and envelope and offer your recipient a treasure of communication.

2. Have you received letters in the past that have particular value? How do you cherish the person who wrote?

Prayer: Thank you, God, for ways we record our sentiments and thoughts on paper. This lost of art of communication has permanence allowing us to read and re-read what has been expressed. Allow us to make room and time to record our thoughts and offer pieces of ourselves that others can refer to forever. Amen.