Sunday, May 26, 2019

A God Thing - A Shift in Perspective

One day not too long ago, when I had several places to go, I started my day swimming at the YMCA. I went early hoping to get in and out quickly, but every time I tried to slip out the door, I kept seeing people I knew, wanting to greet each one.

Finally, reaching the exit, I pushed open the heavy door, and crossed the parking lot. As I neared my car and reached for the keys, I heard someone call  my name.

Noticing a person from a distance, but unable to recognize, I walked closer to the sound of the voice and saw Elizabeth, a former employee of the grocery store down the street from where I live. Elizabeth worked in the floral department. When I made a purchase, she always took time to wrap the flowers carefully, adding a ribbon to bind the bouquet.

Elizabeth liked to talk, often complaining about working conditions at the store. I listened to her often, but sometimes when I went to shop I was in a hurry, and didn't want to see her. Since the flower department was at the store entrance, I couldn't avoid contact. In honesty, I was never late to anywhere I was going just delayed.

So here she was at the Y, calling my name. We talked a few minutes. She asked about the Y and I suggested she take a tour and look at the water aerobic classes.

Meanwhile, I was getting restless, working about being late for my 9:30 art class.

Finally, she said, "I think it was a God thing I saw you today."

Oh my! I did not think seeing her was a God thing for me because I wanted to make sure I was prompt for my class. Her perspective was different than mine.

Continuing My Day

I made it to my art class and to other commitments, but I kept thinking of my conversation with Elizabeth. I was disturbed because she thought seeing me was of God and I thought seeing her was a delay.

I asked God to forgive my impatience and help me manage my time more wisely when I had a full agenda.

I was thankful Elizabeth regarded seeing me as part of God's design for her day. She didn't explain why, but I noticed a few weeks later, she had joined the Y and was participating in one of the popular water aerobics classes.

Perhaps she was hesitant to enter an unfamiliar building or self-conscious because exercise was something new for her. Seeing a familiar face and receiving the encouragement I offered, must have been exactly what she needed to enroll.

We never know when we leave the house who we will encounter or how we will be perceived by those we meet. Seeing Elizabeth, is a reminder we can't see the whole picture and every once in a while God gives us a glimpse behind-the-scenes of how a few pieces fit together. Interruptions can be seen as gifts and opportunities.

Prayer: God, help us receive all we meet in your name and may our words and actions reflect your love. Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Peter, Paul and Mary

A couple of years ago, I heard now-retired NPR broadcaster, Diane Rehm, interview Peter and Paul, the surviving members of the popular sixties trio, Peter, Paul and Mary. The occasion for the interview was to introduce the release of their book, Peter, Paul and Mary, Fifty Years in Music and Life.

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

Diane asked a lot of questions. I learned Paul's first name is Joel, 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."

The Upper Room

Jesus gathered his disciples in the upper room and shared with them 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 items 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 comment, "I am not saying good-bye. My life will continue in resurrection and we will meet again."

Mary realized even though she may not see a friend for awhile, 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.

"To be continued ..."

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 whomever 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.

Reflection Questions

1. Are there friends to whom you say good-bye when you leave?

2. Are there friends to whom you could say "to be continued" as you depart?

3. 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, May 12, 2019

"Call the Midwife"

"Nonnatus House, midwife speaking," is the friendly greeting people hear when they call the convent where nuns and midwives live in London's East End.

"Call the Midwife," the popular PBS  series originally set in the fifties, but now in the sixties, chronicles the adventures of nuns and midwives who visit expectant mothers providing London's poorest pregnant women with the best possible care.

I enjoy watching this show based on the memoir of Jennifer Worth, one of the midwives at Nonnatus House. Each episode weaves back and forth between the drama of helping women give birth in their homes to watching the nuns chant in the chapel or pray in their rooms. Taking the love of God into dirty, one-room flats to help those in poverty, is the mission of patient and caring midwives, some of whom are nuns.

The Rhythm of Liturgy

When I watch this show, I am reminded of those days in my early twenties when I thought God was calling me to be a nun. Growing up in the Episcopal Church, I learned early in my life the sustaining presence of liturgy. Each Sunday, the same words in prayers, responsive readings and psalms greeted me as I sat on a hard wooden pew for a service called "Morning Prayer." "Holy Communion" celebrated the first Sunday of the month, contained a different liturgy from "Morning Prayer," but was equally nurturing.

The repetitive nature of the liturgy during my formative years offered comfort and grounding each week because I came from a home that was chaotic and unpredictable. My attachment to God grew each week and I knew I could depend on God being present for me when people were not.

Craving a Convent

As I finished undergraduate school, my heart often yearned to live in a house surrounded by prayer and people who were loving and kind - my perception of what a convent was like.

I learned that the Episcopal Church did indeed have nuns and monks, so the path seemed clear - for awhile, anyway. When I completed graduate school, my search for a job began along with a pull toward service in God's name. However, I also had a desire to be a wife and mother. All of these conflicting thoughts churned my soul, leaving me confused and undecided for the future.

A Household of Peace

God intervened when I met a young man who eventually became my husband, and wanted to be a pastor. Life in God's kingdom took an unexpected turn. Marrying Mike opened a new dimension of love, service and eventually two, sweet girls.

Mike and I created a house filled with prayer, love and kindness. Although I joined the United Methodist Church when Mike began his ministry, my soul still sought weekly familiar liturgy in worship.  God's presence through liturgy carved deep paths that were sustaining and grounding when I was growing up and continued to be important now.

Now that Mike is retired, we are free to worship many places. Every Wednesday, Mike and I attend a thirty minute service of "Holy Communion" at a local Episcopal church. When I hear and say the words in the Book of Common Prayer for "Holy Communion" my soul is stirred to those days long ago sitting on a hard wooden pew.

Liturgy for My Days

For my birthday last year, I asked for the book, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  Each day I find a set of readings and prayers for reflection that wrap my soul in God. Some of the readings remind me of those when I was young listening to words that brought me to God. I slip these on like a person dons a favorite sweater or comfortable pair of shoes. They offer assurance even a sensation that I am home - home in liturgy that brought comfort and peace early in life and continues today.

Watching "Call the Midwife" for the six-week-long season connects me to those days when thinking about entering a convent seemed the direction my life would take. Even though I did not enter a convent, Mike and I created a home filled with prayer, love and focus on service to others - not unlike the daily practice of nuns who pray, love, and serve others.

The nuns in the series, along with my liturgy book, remind me to stay attentive to God, to practice my faith every day, and to spread God's love wherever I go - especially to the poor or those on the fringe.

Questions for Reflection

1. What moments, prayers, rituals or liturgy do you recall from your early memories of church?
2. Were they meaningful and formative to your faith?
3. How are they present in your faith practice today?

Prayer: God, you come to us in many ways. Sitting in church Sunday morning is a wonderful opportunity to hear your word in a sermon, prayers, readings and music. Even when we were young, your presence can open our souls to life with you. Guide us in our faith to move closer to you as we say the Lord's Prayer, participate in responsive readings and proclaim our faith in creeds. All of these bring our hearts to you. Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Troubling The Water

Tracy K. Smith, last year's poet laureate of the United States, seeks to raise national awareness for a greater appreciation of reading and writing poetry.

Tracy is using her stipend of $35,000, to visit rural areas, where most writers are unlikely to travel. She says, "I want to just go to places where writers don't usually go, where people like me don't usually show up and say, 'Here are some poems. Do they speak to you? What do you hear in them?'"

The cover story of the April 15, 2018, New York Times magazine features Smith. "The meditative state of mind a poem induces, she believes, can be a 'rehumanizing force,' an antidote to the din of daily life, in which our phones continuously buzz with news alerts perfectly algorithmed to reinforce our biases."

One of Tracy's Favorite Poems

One of the poems she likes to read to the audience is "Wade in the water/God's gonna trouble the water." God 'troubling the water' is a reference to a line in the gospel of John 5:1-7, testifying to divine healing. People are gathered around the pool at Bethseda.

She explains, "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water. Whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. Trouble on the surface of the water is a sign of God's presence."

My Experience with John 5:1:7

I've been swimming laps at least five days a week since 1975. Mike and I started swimming when he was a seminary student at Duke University Divinity School.

Through the years swimming became a place of silent worship as well as a great way to exercise.

When I studied John 5:1-7 a few years ago, I decided to begin swimming by taking my hand and 'stirring the water' before entering the pool, asking God to bless my time and speak to me while I swim.

Over the years, swimming back and forth from one side of the pool to the other, I've received insights and perspectives for my life, as well as images to draw. I've felt God hold me close as I worked through anger, resentments and residue of trauma.

Afterwards, I get out of the pool and shake off the water that still coats me with God and helps me emerge with a soul-cleansed and refreshed.

God Troubles The Water Today

God still troubles the water today with words for the poet, Tracy Smith, with insights for me when I swim and for others who hear God's voice.

For Your Reflection

1. In what circumstances have you experienced "troubling the water" - God's presence in life?

2. How can you "trouble the water" for others?

Prayer: God, you "trouble our lives" every moment we breathe as your presence is always available no matter what is happening. We don't need water for "your troubling" to happen, for wherever we are, you are. Your troubling blesses our lives and keeps us close to you. Amen.