Sunday, September 29, 2019

For Those Who Are Going Through A Rough Time - A Poem

For those who are going through a rough time, here is a poem, I hope will bring comfort.

The room where I go to cry,
Always has a window open.

The listener sees me far away in thought.
"Do you hear the wind in the trees?"

The question centers me in the corner office of the Gothic Church.
"I do, and the birds too."
I am present.

On the long table
A white candle rests inside
A glass lantern.
The wick glows
Honoring the holy space.
God is present in
The room where I go to cry.

I crumple the tissue,
That catches tears.
Two wet circles
On my jeans
Hold my grief,
Like the listener
Sitting with me
In the room where
I go to cry.

Sometimes I swallow my tears
When I am away from here.
But God is there with a bowl
To collect what falls from eyes,
Flows from my heart,
Wherever I am when I cry.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

What Makes A Church A Holy Place?

"St. Sava is the place that keeps our Serbian culture alive in New York City. Without it, I'm lost," said one church member after a fire destroyed the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on May 6, 2016.

"The grand gothic arches have welcomed me every Sunday since 1973, framing baptisms, weddings and funerals," she continued.

As an act of solidarity, Calvary Episcopal Church, a few blocks away, offered to house the services for St. Sava in their sanctuary until the cathedral is reconstructed.

A group of parishoners looked at the beautiful stained-glass windows inside the Calvary sanctuary. "The sanctuary is unfamiliar," they said, "but God and prayers are the same. It's not our church, but it's a holy place. Wherever we go, God will be with us."

Differences in Church Buildings

An article by church architects, David Woodhouse and Andy Tinucci, "Building Faith," in the February 2017, issue of "Guideposts" explained how these two men feel about designing a church.

"We think of our designs as one side of a conversation. The building says something to the worshipper, and the worshipper completes the conversation by responding with his or her faith. That's why we try not to put too many pictures or words into our designs. We keep things abstract. We try to give worshippers room to have their own experience of God, using their own imaginations"

In their design philosophy, light, buidling materials, size, sound, wood, stone or carpeted floors all contribute to the person's experience of God when entering and their conversation with God in worship.

Churches I Have Known

This article helped me pause and remember the design of the churches Mike served through the years. When he was in school at Duke Divinity School, he served three small country churches painted white with tall steeples. No frills or decorations were inside; the altar and pulpit were the main focus. Two of the churches had cemeteries next to the which was common long ago.

The remaining churches, all in Indiana, had unique features. Two had balconies (New Castle and Vincennes); two (Mt. Vernon) had a belfry, where children took turns each week pulling the thick, frayed twine cord to move the bell, signaling the beginning of worship.

Another church in Indianapolis had a long, center aisle with fifty pews on either side. Eight stained-glass windows, installed during Mike's tenure, offered impressive art to the sanctuary. Mike's last church in Fishers, had four aisles, with brides having the choice to enter from any one of them. A descending dove depicted in layered brick on a wall behind the altar was a reminder of the Holy Spirit.

Until I read the article in "Guideposts," I never thought about how construction of a church could influence the worship experience or draw people together, giving them space for their own private time with God. The two architects believe that churches, "need to be free of the distractions of modern life." While I have appreciated the stained-glass windows and the brick descending dove, I like the idea that a distraction-free worship space is a gift to the busy, modern person who craves a conversation with God.

Your Church

What makes you sense God's presence in your church or in churches you've visited? Where do your eyes focus when you enter the sanctuary? On the lights, organ pipes, woodwork, carpet, flowers, altar cloths, candles, stained-glass windows, pictures, the pastor, organ? Do you find them a distraction or do they invite you to enter God's presence?

The congregation of St. Sava will surely miss worship each week in their holy place. However, the generosity of Calvary Episcopal Church clearly demonstrates the love of Jesus. I pray, in time, the Serbians will find new markers in the sanctuary that will help them find God's presence in a new setting. And after they rebuild their own space after the fire, they will build it back perhaps inviting more conversation with God than ever before.

Questions for Reflection

1. Do you find the space where you worship a distraction-free zone? If not, what kind of conversation is invited as you sit during the service?

2. Where does your eye fall as you sit or stand in worship? How does that affect your time in the sanctuary?

Prayer: The generosity, God, of your people in times of adversity, demonstrates the way we are always in mission to others. Bless those who are displaced and help them find familiary in you despite adverse circumstances. May we all find a rich, deep, intimate connection with you in all the spaces where we gather to worship. Amen.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Jesus, The Master of Customer Service

Spending time at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles was not my idea how to begin a recent Tuesday. Since the office, located in Noblesville, is closed on Monday, I could feel my anger building, 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 on 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 could teach me.

On Tuesday, I arrived early. Walking to the lobby inside the front door where people wait for the office to open, I quickly was joined by a man and woman who seemed to know each other. We chatted about the Colt's game the previous day.

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 asked the woman, "What is the most challenging part of your job?"

She replied, "People try to get things free and use outdated coupons."

We chuckled, still waiting for the office to open.

The lady added, "I am always thinking of customer service in my job. I wish these people would at least let us take a number and wait in a chair rather than just stand. I'm getting tired."

Customer Service

When I worked for St. Vincent Hospital, patient care was our primary focus. Our department scores on patient satisfaction were given at quarterly meetings. These markings, comparable to customer satisfaction, were monitored closely. We often attended programs or 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 - even to those people on the fringe.

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

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

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

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 in our lives - whether from people or directly from God.

The woman waiting with me at 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. The day, indeed, offered a moment of holiness, just as I had prayed.

Questions for Reflection

1. Are there places where you have to go, like the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, that are unavoidable, but dreaded? Maybe grocery shopping isa time you would rather spend other places. Perhaps sharing your desire with God for an opportunity to bless someone or open your heart to what another could teach you, will change your venture.

2. What other ways can you make "customer service" which is really modeling Jesus' example of receiving and treating everyone with love a part of every day life?

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, September 8, 2019

Forgiveness - Climbing Mt. Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult challenges we can face. We are wronged. We wrong others.

Forgiveness is necessary for healthy living in body, mind and spirit. Not offering forgiveness can cause physical symptoms as well as harbor resentment and anger.

David Peterson in his article "Climbing Mount Forgiveness" says, "There is no place where we reflect more of Jesus than when we forgive others. But, it's important to remember what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not denial of the wrong and hurt.
Forgiveness does not diminish the pain.
Forgiveness does not remove the responsibility for the harm done by the other.
Forgiveness does not justify.
Forgiveness does not require warm and loving feelings."

Peterson continues, "Forgiveness is always difficult. Some things even seem unforgivable. But forgiveness is like climbing Mout Everest. We don't have to make it all the way to the top to improve our view. Even if we never reach the summit of Mount Forgiveness, we can at least keep climbing."

Jesus and Forgiveness

Jesus talks about forgiving others seventy times seven, which means 490 times (Matthew 18:22). I've also heard forgiveness explained like peeling an onion - there are layers to forgiving someone and forgiveness takes time.

Forgiveness is often a "one way street." We forgive so we can be free of resentment and anger when the person who offended us may not offer reconciliation.

My Experience with Forgiveness

Recently, I began the process of forgiving someone who wounded me greatly. I was overwhelmed, numb, and couldn't even think about forgiveness initially. As time passed, I knew forgiveness was the only way to get rid of anger and betrayal I experienced about an injustice that was causing  physical symptoms and emotional discomfort.

How did I start to walk along a path leading to freedom and peace?

1. I began by asking God to help me and give me strength. I knew forgiveness would not happen without God's leading and grounding.
2. Letting God know about my desire to forgive this person gradually shifted the energy in my heart, slowly releasing anger and resentment and allowing room for quiet and comfort.
3. Knowing Jesus forgave those who crucified him offered companionship as I walked through the  circumstances and emotions generated.
4. Exercise regularly. Experiencing a wrong doing can create a lot of energy. Dissipating this energy helped relax my body, release tenion, and open my heart and mind.

Wondering how I would know when I had reached forgiveness was a question that arose frequently. Could I think about the incident with less anger? Did I have fewer flashbacks of what happened? Would my physical symptoms that developed afterward go away?

Although I have not completely reached a place of peace, I know that I am making progress toward forgiveness compared to where I was a month ago. My anger is reduced when I think about the person and what happened. Flashbacks occur with less frequency. I have stopped taking the medication my doctor gave me because the physical symptoms have gone away.

Inviting God into my desire for forgiveness helped me feel like I was not alone on a difficult path.

Reflection Questions

1. Is there someone you need to forgive?
2. Ask God to help you begin to forgive by using the suggestions listed above or creating your own way to start.

Two Prayers for Forgiveness
1. For all those I have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. Forgive me and set me free. For all those who have harmed me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free. For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. I forgive myself and set myself free. Amen.
2. I let forgiveness rest on all of my memories of you (name a person). I bless you and ask God to fill you with his love in this instant and for eternity. Amen. (You may want to pray these words for a certain period of time, such as daily or for forty days.)

Closing Prayer
God, we try so hard to live with love, but sometimes we are wronged by others in various ways, and we wrong others. As you offer forgiveness so freely, strengthen and guide us when we need to forgive another, even when there is no possibility of reconciliation or acknowledgement. Amen.

Monday, September 2, 2019

I am taking a break this Labor Day holiday. Have a nice day - see you next week! Thank you for reading. Jacquie