July 24, 2020
July 20, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Sometimes my heart is so full of love that I that it might burst. Then there are the times I look up, shake my fist toward heaven, feeling as if my heart might break and cry, "Enough is enough!" And in this season, there are times when I experience both within a heartbeat.
Last Thursday - Friday, Rod and I made a quick trip to Richmond to take care of some business and to visit our son, daughter-in-law, and two older grandchildren at their home (the first time since January). It was such a pleasant visit. We sat around the table for lunch and dinner, and I simply absorbed the joy of multiple conversations happening all at once. We had an early surprise birthday celebration for our oldest granddaughter, Lily, who will turn 15 on July 23, and delighted at her surprise, and her reaction to the two gifts we delivered. Lily and I made a run to Starbucks, Ross and I played chess, and Rod and I and the grandkids played a few rounds of Blank Slate, a fun and fast-moving game. Hugs and smiles abounded!
Friday morning on our way home, our daughter-in-law Kristie texted, "I love how much closer you live. I am thankful we got to see you both. You always bring brightness and joy to our home." I replied, "The joy of family trumps the times! Many new and happy memories."
Less than an hour later, as I was preparing my meditation for the celebration of life of one of our members who died a little over a week ago, we received another text from Kristie, asking for our prayers for the 15-year-old son, the only child, of close family friends, who had accidentally fallen off their roof. He was in critical condition with head trauma and it didn't look good. By the end of the day, he had died, leaving his parents bereft and all of us shocked and devastated.
When my heart was broken and my mind couldn't comprehend the tragic losses and pain in our lives, I used scream at God, "Why?" But somehow in the last years, that has changed. Now I cry out to God, "How do you hold all the pain that is in this world, all the brokenness, all the grief?" I can't begin to understand the rhyme or reason behind the pain around us. I can't blame God, whom I believe is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness."
Somehow, the idea that the Compassionate and Gracious God knows us, holds our pain as God's own, and grieves for and with us, makes a difference, at least to me. Getting to the deepest part of my pain, laying it out, crying it out in its rawest form before God, brings me to a place of consolation. I know that I am not alone. And that is enough.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says this, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God."
In both broken and bursting hearts, in the fullness of life, God is. Therein is our consolation.
July 17, 2020
Dear St. Pauls Family,
Time, clock time, (chronos in Greek), in particular being on time, is addressed differently for each of us. I suspect that is part temperament, part environment. My parents didnt see eye-to-eye about this issue. Rod and I dont. I suspect the same is true for many couples.
On Sunday mornings, my dad would get in the family car, allowing plenty of time to arrive at church 15 minutes early with time to spare in case of traffic problems. As dad sat in the car, engine running, mom would be in the kitchen cleaning up the remains of breakfast, still needing to put on her makeup and grab her purse before hopping in the car.
I would stand on the sidewalk, midway between the front door and the car, feeling like the baby in the hands of the two women who argued their case for possession with King Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-23. I didnt want to take sides, and wanted us to arrive at church together and getting along.
In this season of COVID-19, you can worship virtually anytime, day or night, in your PJs, or sweats, unshaven, sans make-up. But this Sunday, July 19, things are different. We will be gathering live via Zoom at 10:00 am sharp.
The Quakers have two kinds of meetings: meetings for worship and meetings for worship with attention to business. In the midst of their meetings, sacred time (kairos in Greek) time, breaks in. This weeks worship service is a hybrid, as we worship God, reflect on what God has done in our midst through a video display of our ministries in action, hear a brief meditation, and prayerfully elect officers for the coming year.
Lets arrive on (chronos) time, computers on and Zoom launched) together, with the expectation of kairos moments for the glory of God.
Looking forward to seeing us all together at the same time!
July 15, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Our lives turn on a dime. And something as small as a dime can take your breath away. Or in my case, keep you from breathing. That happened to me at dinner Sunday evening. I'd been on a cooking streak, like some Amish woman feeding the laborers at a barn-raising to feed Rod and his brother who were repairing our shed. Sunday was a full day, with several meetings, and my own share of manual labor moving woodchips from our driveway to our flower beds, and planting perennials. So I suggested we get dinner out. It was our third venture into a restaurant, and we were thankful to be one of only two tables occupied.
I ordered a salad, steak and pasta, and was enthusiastically digging in while discussing a book I was reading. Then, with a bite of steak still in my mouth, I inhaled. I do not recommend such a move, as it lodged in my throat, and my attempts to cough it out, or wash it down with water didn't work. Rod jumped into action, as well as one of the other diners, a strong and strapping man over 6 feet tall, ruddy complexion, in overalls, saying, "I can help." He got behind me, and began to wrap his arms around me to use the Heimlich maneuver when I finally managed to clear my throat.
It was terrifyingly fast, and the irony of not being able to breathe in the age of George Floyd and COVID19 was not lost on me. We sat back down and attempted to finish our meal, although much of it went into a to-go container. When the waitress returned to see if we wanted anything else, we both passed on dessert, and Rod asked for the other diner's bill. It was a small price to pay for the quick thinking and selfless gesture of an angel dressed in overalls.
There are so many things to be thankful for each day, and one of those things is that the stranger didn't check out my politics or religion or skin color, if I had a fever or had travelled out of state or been exposed to someone with COVID in the past 14 days. He just helped, no questions asked, no judgments made. He simply reacted with compassion to help a chocking diner. I certainly didn't try to stop him because he might not meet my own checklist of "correct" beliefs.
Jesus was asked by an expert in the law what was needed to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."
I wonder what would happen if we all acted that way?
Mom was right about not talking with food in your mouth. (In fact, I'm sure she had a friend by the name of Christine who did so with fatal results.)
July 13, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
I like to refer in prayer to our God who is closer to us than our next breath. I have no idea where I first heard that idea, but a Google search attributes it to Alfred Lord Tennyson. He wrote, "Speak to him, thou, for He heareth and spirit with spirit can meet. Closer is He than breathing. And nearer than hands and feet."
Last Sunday, July 5, our congregation, in socially-distanced and face-masked safety, in the sanctuary that only God could have created along the bank of Stony Creek, witnessed the baptism and confirmation of three of our rising high school freshmen, as they along with my spouse become members of St. Paul's UCC congregation. The video of this amazing, hopeful, life-giving and life affirming service was used as our sermon on Sunday, July 12.
And this Sunday morning, I had the sacred privilege to meet with the family of Bubba Kennedy who died suddenly of a massive heart attack on Saturday afternoon.
We live with the reality of life and death day in and day out; for the most part mercifully oblivious to how quickly death can strike. Even in this time of CODIV19, with over 135,000 deaths, the death of someone we know, a beloved spouse, parent, child, friend, child of God still hits like an unexpected blow, a shock.
And when death comes on the heels of other recent losses, I want to raise my fist toward heaven and cry for those grieving, and for myself, "Enough is enough." Jesus said something similar as he was dying, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?" The God who made us, and knows us, can hold our anger, despair, grief, our pain, our doubts.
Speak to God, for God hears us, is closer than our next breath, and holds us in love in our final breath.
Closer is God than breathing, nearer than hands and feet.
July 10, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
The hours just before sunset are my favorite hours of the day. There is something about the angle of the light, the lengthening shadows, the depth of color, the way the light filters through the trees at different angles, the slight daily change in the position the setting sun, and just before sunset, the slight cooling of the air call to me.
Last week on vacation, we spent the last hour of the day on the dock, watching the sun set. There were murmured conversations, recollections about the day, and guesses about whether this day's show would be better than yesterday. There were cloud formations that looked like angels, like a dog, like a mountain range above the mountains, like a dragon. And on two occasions, the way the sun reflected through the very tips of some whispy white clouds make them look like they were gilded with gold, or overflowing with molten lava.
It was so easy to breathe, to settle back in my chair, to simply be with the clouds and sun and water and my floating imagination. I had an awareness of the collective sunsets that I and my ancestors, and their ancestors, from different continents, looking over oceans and lakes, rivers and streams, prairies, and mountains all the way back to the very first sunset.
Christine Valters Painter, in her book, Earth, Our Original Monastery: Cultivating Wonder and Gratitude through Intimacy with Nature, speaks of the liturgy of nature. Day by day, year by year, evening and morning, the same show has been repeated, but never exactly the same. All of creation points us to God, day in and day out, if only we take the time to stop.
Thanks to God, whose very creation works to praise when I forget!
July 8, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Last week was an amazing time for our family. We were together for the first time in almost 5 months with our sons and their families for a week of vacation at Smith Mountain Lake, VA. We shared lots of hugs, laughs, meals, and sunsets; and I found time to be in my happy place on the water, paddle-boarding, kayaking, and riding on a pontoon boat. I even had a chance to hit field hockey balls around and do some drills with Lily, our oldest granddaughter and a rising sophomore in high school. She schooled me!
But the biggest surprise happened while we were anchored in a cove so that everyone on board could cool off in the lake. I was treading water next to Lily, when she said, "Nana, hold my hand." I did, and for about 5 blessed minutes we floated on our backs that way. Lily passed out of the affectionate stage with me, or anyone, at least in public, when she started middle school, so this felt like a gift of unexpected, unmerited grace, which happens to be Lilian's middle name.
The next day, as she was getting ready to jump off the boat, she said, "Nana, let's hold hands and jump together." Jump, we did! Doubly graced!
Holding hands can mean so many things. And in this season of no touching, no shaking of hands or hugging, it is an incredible, risky act of trust. We hold young children's hands to keep them safe crossing streets. Children hold our hands when they are afraid. We hold hands with our significant others to express our love and connection. We hold hands with friends and family when we pray around the table. We hold hands with people who are grieving, or receiving difficult news, or as they pass from this life to life eternal.
Every moment is something to be savored, more precious because of the precariousness of life right now. I am comforted with the memory, and sense that it is a gift and reminder that, "My times are in your (God's) hands," (Psalm 36:11).
May we sense God holding our hand!
July 6, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
A few summers ago I was visiting our older grandchildren and had the chance to watch them participate in a swim meet. Lily was 11 at the time, and Ross was 8. Ross' events were over before Lily's, so while the parents stayed for the end of her events, he and I decided to walk home. The walk wasn't super long, but it was after dark, and the three-block walk was not well-lit. Ross decided that I needed a guide, and so he grabbed onto the back of my upper-arm.
There was a time when my upper arms were firm and well-defined, but that train left the station a long time ago.
Gravity took over and turned those triceps into flabby granny arms so there was plenty of flesh for him hold onto. Ross turned to me, and said, "Nana, your arms are so easy to hold onto." All those years of feeling disappointed with my upper arms, washed away in one precious moment with Ross.
Later that evening, I told Dan, my son and Ross' father, what he had said. Dan started laughing and said he's said the same thing to my mother when he was Ross' age. Like father, like son; like mother, like daughter; and so like God, who loves us, flabby arms and all.
June 19, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
I want to share another story about the Women's Retreat at Hui Aloha (which means roughly 'gathering of love') Church in Kaupo - which is about as remote and off the grid as you can get in Maui. If you think Hana is the end of the road, then Kaupo is end of the world. It is so remote that there is no electricity, no phone, and not everyone has water. Thankfully, Hui Aloha has plenty of good, fresh water, and even toilets that flush, so we were living in luxury, relatively speaking.
Some other campers got there first, so they got the prime camp site just behind the one remaining wall of the old Kaupo School. In the middle of the open field just back from the rocky point, the old wall stands with the opening for what used to be a door in the center - and it looks like you could walk right through it into another world if you use your imagination which isn't too hard to do in Kaupo. The wall is the prime camp site because it provides a windbreak for the constant 20 - 30 mile per hour winds that blow in off the ocean. These guys didn't get a good look at us until after dark, when we made a trek to the point after dinner. No doubt they could hear our lilting feminine voices and it piqued their curiosity. And probably several beers to the wind, they thought they'd check us out. So in the darkness, one of the guys strolled on over to us and invited us to sit around their campfire. We politely declined, laughing to ourselves that if they caught a glimpse of our middle aged and older physiques, they would probably jump right off the point into the ocean. The next morning we had a sunrise worship service at the point, and our senior camper - Babes - who happened to be 82 years old - decided to take a short-cut and hiked right past their tent. I am not sure if it was our age or the hymns being sung at 7 AM, but before long they broke camp and departed.
Speaking of walking through a door into another world Kaupo had some out-of-this-world sights and experiences for us. The church sits on a little point of land that juts out into the ocean. The coastline is rough with thousands of smooth black rocks lining the shore like boulders that have been sanded by the hands of the water and then placed along the beach to keep the ocean in check. The ocean was a clear, dark blue and on the horizon, you could make out the faint outline of Hawaii - the Big Island. After a brief rain the grass and brush were brilliant green. The few coconut palms and iron wood trees bent toward the west as if bowing in the presence of the church. Haleakala - the dormant volcano that makes up the bulk of the east half of Maui - seemed to rise right out of the point up to the sky. The clouds were constantly changing as they meet the mountain - and created some of the most spectacular rainbows I've ever seen. We must have seen at least 10 - and two were perfect double ones. There were flocks of white birds floating on the air currents in bas relief with the green of the mountain and I could imagine how Noah felt watching the ravens take flight over the new earth.
One of the ladies got up in the middle of the night to attend to a call of nature, and on her way back from the restroom, she happened to glance up at the church. The almost-full moon was providing back light that made the white walls of the church appear to shimmer. And there, astride the steeple were two brilliant white stars, one on each side, and just above the stars and steeple was a moon bow strewn over the church as if it were God's apron of love and promise and protection over us all. It seemed a promise that God is real, and that God cares and that God's promises are true.
The Psalmist said, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than angels, and crowned them with glory and honor .O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" David sure got that right!
Keep looking up - it puts everything in perspective
June 17, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
How do you know where you are going?
There was a time, not too long ago, when people navigated by their own wits, with the help of tools like compasses, maps, and landmarks. There was no helpful GPS voice to give you directions or recalculate if you got off track. If you could find the location of the sun in the sky, you could determine what was north, south, east and west with a little bit of thought.
But those dear map coordinates were of less use in Hawaii. There, your location relative to the ocean (makai) and mountains (mauka) was the best clue to where you were so you could get where you wanted to go.
After 15 years of orienting based on mountains and oceans, it was disorienting to move to Charlotte, North Carolina, designated as a tree city for good reason. The trees of Charlotte provide a lovely canopy for many. But for me, the canopy blocked out orienting signs of direction by the location of the sun and horizon. For the first few months, after being used to seeing oceans and mountains all the time, it felt down-right claustrophobic.
One of the things I love about being in Woodstock is the presence of the mountains. Each morning, when I look out of the bedroom window or step out the door to get the paper, I see the mountains! In this season, where life seems so disorienting, I have thought of a retreat I led with the women from Wananalua Congregational Church in Hana, Maui. We drove from Hana, through Kipahulu to Kaupo on the backside of Maui. We set up our tents on the mauka side of Hui Aloha Church, and then gathered around a campfire. One of the older aunties looked up towards the slopes of Haleakala and said, "I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth". (Ps 121:1)
Perhaps we could all do with a helpful voice like the British-accented voice of my GPS, that would recalculate with these words, "While I am recalculating your course, please take a deep breath, look up to the mountains, and remember that your help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth".
June 15, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Words matter! And in the age of auto-correct words can get corrected in unexpected and sometimes disastrous ways. Last Friday in my meditation I made reference to the particular accent that identifies me as someone raised near Pittsburgh, PA. As an example I typed in "tournament" which I often pronounce as "turnament" but autocorrect changed the latter to "tournament". I never noticed it when I checked the entry before hitting send. I read what I meant, not what was actually there due to autocorrect.
The biggest autocorrect error that I missed occurred in a letter I wrote to introduce myself to a counseling practice where I wanted to rent office space. One of my friends, Carol Manigold, had given me the lead, and suggested I include her name in my letter. Autocorrect changed "Manigold" to "Mongoloid". I didn't catch the error until I re-read the letter while sitting in the waiting room for an interview.
Proof reading is not a new challenge, even when to comes to the Bible. For example, the "Wicked Bible" was published in 1631. In Exodus 20:14, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," the "not" was omitted, thus rendering the sentence, "Thou shalt commit adultery". The publishers were fined 300 pounds, lost their license, and all but 10 copies were destroyed. One of the remaining copies was auctioned for $40,000 in 2015. If only my errors were as valuable!
There were also two different versions of the Bible, published in the 18th century which inadvertently transposed the letters "f" and "l", so that Mark 7:27 said, "Let the children be killed" instead of "filled". There was a 1716 version of the Bible that made the tiny error in Jeremiah 31:34, changing "Sin no more" to "Sin on more". And then there was a version that came to be called the Cannibal's version, published in 1782. In Deuteronomy 24:3, "If the latter husband hate her," the "h" in hate was left off. Opps!
Carpenters and seamstresses know the wisdom of measuring twice, cutting once. That requires intentionality, to think before acting, and that applies to our words as well.
The Psalmist wrote a prayer of intention in Psalm 19, "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my salvation". The world would be a better place if all of us, from presidents to peasants, thought twice before speaking once.
May it be so!
June 12, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
We have an "I'm sorry jar" in our Kola Sunday school classroom. The deal is that every time one of us says "I'm sorry" or "sorry", we put a dollar in the jar. I have to wonder if my classmates and I are related since it just slips into many of our conversations.
How often do you say, "I'm sorry" each day? It is a part of my native language and rolls off of my tongue as freely off of my tongue as does my Pittsburghesse pronunciation of "tournament" as "tournament". It is a part of my mother tongue, and my mom's "I'm sorry" is an unwanted soundtrack that loops through my mind.
Assuming that I had perfected saying it by the age of three, and have said it once a day since then, I have uttered that phrase 23,360 times, I'm sorry (oops) to say. If I had a dollar for each of those times, I'd be able to take us all on a nice vacation, if only we could go somewhere. Even if it was only a penny, that would still add up to the hefty sum of $2,336.
I have a theory about "I'm sorry," that is related to shame. Sometimes, when I've done something wrong, it is appropriate, and necessary, to say, "I'm sorry." That's an appropriate response to guilt. But sometimes I am apologizing for being me, and that is not appropriate. That is shame. Shame is what made Adam and Eve hide from God, as God sought them out in the cool of the evening, even though they'd gone against God's rule. David, in Psalm 139 writes, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
That "I'm Sorry" Jar is a good reminder to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others, and the dollar drives the lesson home in a tangible way.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! And I am not sorry about that!
June 10, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
What comes to mind when you think about the word, anthem? Three very different things pop into my head. The first (surely a result of hanging out in churches), is a song sung by a choir, whose lyrics are usually taken from a Biblical passage. The second (undoubtedly a result of attending lots of sporting event) is our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. The third (a result of age) is Anthem, the Medicare supplemental insurance we selected and from which we receive almost daily mail. They must really like me, because I've received three plasticized Rx coverage cards and our coverage doesn't even begin until July 1.
I've been thinking about how broken things seem right now, in our country, in our world, on our planet. This isn't the first time and, unfortunately not the last time, but this is our time. One of my friends in Hawaii gave a jade bracelet to one of our granddaughters, and explained that as she got older, it could be broken and made bigger by mending it with gold.
The apostle Paul intimates the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:7, when he writes, "We have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn't come from us". Somehow, it is in the midst of our brokenness that things get repaired. And just maybe, by God's grace, the repair is exquisitely beautiful.
And that brings me back to the word anthem, which is also a title for a Leonard Cohen song. The third refrain goes like this:
Ring the bells that still can ring
June 8, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Do you remember getting a new pair of Keds when you were a kid? I'd put them on and head out the door to try them out. I was certain that I could run faster, jump higher, and leap tall buildings in a single bound. My imagination ran far faster than my little legs could take me, but in my new Keds, I knew they made a difference. (Check out the YouTube 1950's commercial about Keds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LHn6gVzI_k)
There is a freedom of imagination in children that turns a simple pair of sneakers into super-shoes, imparting super-powers to their wearers. While I no longer believe that a pair of sneakers can propel me to new heights, the attitude that we can push our limits, can become more than we ever imagined or dreamed possible, maybe even change the world, lives on.
During the season of COVID 19, I've gotten into the habit of virtually visiting my two youngest grandchildren before they go to bed. It's story time with Nana, though I am delighted to yield the floor when they want to tell me a story. I've been telling them stories about Princess Sophia and Princess Helena. These two princesses were adopted by amazing parents who live in a castle and love them very much. And like all princesses, Sophia and Helena have adventures.
In these stories, they are discovering their superpowers. One of them has a smile that will freeze monsters. The other has a giggle that causes monsters to melt away. In recent adventures (no doubt due to my projections onto current events) I've given them the power to fly, and when they fly over houses if they smile and giggle it causes the people inside to be happy.
All of the stories begin with the words, "Once upon a time " and while they know these are just silly stories told by a Nana, I hope that a remnant of attitude or a belief or action that may linger to serve them well even when they get to be my age.
In their most recent adventure, they had a sleepover, and in the middle of the night decided to go on an adventure. They flew all over the neighborhood, but realized as the sun was just getting ready to rise, that they were lost. Lo and behold, when they held each other's hand, they discovered the way home.
As I got to the part about holding hands, Princess Helena (aka Marie-Hélène), who happens to be biracial, reached for, and held onto Princess Sophia (aka Anne-Sophie), who happens not to be. For holding hands with each other can help us discover the way home.
"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." (Isaiah 11:6)
We are all walking each other home. (Ram Dass)
June 5, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
This is a big day for our family. Today my spouse, Rod, retires after working as an educator for the last 46 years. I've been married to him for all of those years. Education, for Rod, is a vocation, something he was called to do. In true Rod fashion, he continued to live into that calling up until the final click of his computer mouse. Like high school and college graduates in this season of COVID, this was not the way the last day of school was expected to end. But as this season has taught us, church isn't limited to church buildings, and neither is education limited to school buildings.
I'm proud of his commitment to underprivileged children and people of color in his 38 years at Milton Hershey and Kamehameha. But I am prouder still of his integrity, of his commitment to building people, and to modeling the practice of the Leader as Servant each step of the way. Those values have impacted many, most of all our children, our grandchildren, and me.
One of those impact stories is the result of a random Uber ride we caught from the Charlotte airport about 18 months ago. Rod and I began to make small talk with the driver, who was driving Uber as a retirement gig. He told us he grew up and PA and went to high school in Hershey. Our sons graduated from Hershey High (a school with little racial diversity), and Rod worked at Milton Hershey School (with lots of racial diversity since 1974). Based on appearance, Rod asked, "Did you graduate from Milton Hershey School? What's your name?" We almost had a wreck and heart attack on our hands at the same time, as the driver asked, "Are you Coach Chamberlain?" The driver had been one of Rod's wrestlers, and when on to be a police officer in Philadelphia and then Baltimore. He said, "I still remember something about you that has stuck with me all these years. You never lost your cool. In all of my time on the police force, I never fired my gun in the line of duty because I'd think of you. I never lost my cool." That might be something we all need to remember.
One of my favorite writers, John O'Donohue, wrote "A Blessing for Retirement", in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. I have copied it below, for Rod, and all of us in this liminal time of transition.
This is where your life has arrived,
Have the courage for a new approach to time;
May it be so for Rod, and for each of us, as we stand on this shore of new invitation.
June 4, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
I recall seeing a refrigerator magnet years ago that proclaimed, "Bless this Mess". The owner of the home in which that refrigerator resided was a friend of mine who was comfortable with more mess in her personal space than I was. I suspect that we have become more of who we were as we've gotten older.
But bless this mess we must. To bless something is to invoke an awareness of openness to God's presence in what is. In our context it is to bless what is in the midst of pandemic, economic challenges, and the ugly wound of hatred and division in our nation and our world. For in such an invocation, we are reminded that God is present. So here goes:
June 3, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Our first home was built in the 1920's. When we purchased it in 1976, we learned that the woodwork was American Chestnut, which was largely extinct. I had done several wood refinishing projects on pieces of furniture, and got the idea in my head that it would be really neat to restore the original woodwork - baseboards, window and door frames, and a lovely banister to the second floor. It was a neat idea, but removing 5 decades of paint while living in the house, doing most of the work while our sons napped, was not so neat nor easy.
But I'm persistent if nothing else, and so I stuck with it. I spent hours armed with heat gun, chemical strippers, putty knife, and sander, scrapping away the layers. Some of the colors were familiar, like Faux Fern from the '70's, through Avocado Green from the '60's, to a Poodle Skirt Pink from the '50's, and then through colors I'd only seen in old photos, Air Force Blue from the '40's, Yellow Brick Road from the '30's , and an Antique Gold from the '20's. In between there were coats of more sedate browns and off-whites, until I final got to the original wood. After more sanding than I would have ever imagined possible, that America Chestnut wood was absolutely incredible.
We sold the house about three years later, and I've always wondered what the new owners did with that wood. My worst fear was that it was painted with a hideous Packman Yellow that was popular in the '80s. I chose to never go back to look in the windows, to see what the new owners had done with it.
This season of COVID has served to scrape away some of the things I've "painted over" through the years. Some of those layers look pretty good right now. I've remembered how to live without running to the store for every little thing I want, and the thrill of simple things like planting a vegetable garden. But some of those layers aren't so pretty, like my capacity to go from hopeful to despairing, from calm and centered to anxious and angry in the blink of the eye, or the click of a remote. Calmly examining each new layer like an archaeologist welcoming everything on a dig - the trash heap as well as the gems - allows for the slow, and often painful, work of God's restoration.
The trifecta of COVID 19, the economic crisis, and rampant anger are scrapping away some layers as well. Some of those look pretty good, like our capacity to care for others and to sacrifice our personal preferences for the good of community. Some of those layers, ones that have been painted over for generations, like racism, are deeply disturbing. May we do the work of the archaeologist - and allow for the "slow work of God"* to change us all. (See Chardin's Trust in the Slow Work of God below)
Trust the slow work of God,
*Trust in the Slow Work of God
June 2, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Since writing a Pentecost Prayer of Lament, born out of despair over having surpassed the 100,000th death in the U.S. from COVID, coupled with the killing of George Floyd, I have had his last words, "I can't breathe. Help me." on my mind.
We are God-breathed creatures, beings whose very lives depend on each next breath. Richard Rohr noted that when Moses asked God what God's name was, the answer was the unspeakable word, Yahweh, best pronounced as the sound of a deep breath in and a deep breath out. That is the first as well as the final sound each of us makes. In between, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year.
In a medical emergency, one of the first things that rescue personnel tell on lookers is to, "Give him/her some space to breathe. A spouse might say, "I need some breathing space." An exhausted athlete may ask for a breather. When our sons, separated by only 14 months, would be bickering and picking at each other, sometimes I'd send them to time out for a little so that I could get some breathing space.
I wonder what might happen if we gave each other breathing space right now. What if we used that space to listen, to each other, to our own hearts, to the heart of God? What if we lived into our God-breathed nature, not just as individuals but as a community? What if we used just a few of our breaths each day to remember what our breath says, what is already within us? Thomas Merton wrote, "My God, I pray better to you by breathing. I pray better to you by walking than by talking. Each breath we take is a gift. Each moment of life is a grace. One such moment was captured by a friend yesterday, as if in answer to my lament.
Breathing space is sacred space!
PS - in order to give myself a bit more breathing space, beginning the week of June 7th, I will be writing three meditations each week, sent on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
June 1, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
"How long, O Lord?" Those words of lament are repeated 10 times in the Psalms (Ps 6, 13, 35, 79, 80, 89, 90, and 94). We are in good company when we express our lament as prayer (a total of 42 Psalms are laments). I write this on Pentecost, what we think of as the Birthday of the Church. But as I reflect on what has been happening in our nation, the words, "How long, O Lord" are the words on my lips, not a song of celebration. Here is my Lament on Pentecost Sunday, 2020.
Holy One, Merciful and Just One, God of All Creation, and Our God; how long must your beloved people suffer and die;
how long must hate triumph over good, evil distortion over truth? One hundred thousand COVID-lost souls join the voice of one trapped between knee and curb, pleading "I can't breathe." Even our earth can't breathe. Right now, it seems, even breathing is dangerous. The murderous breath of exhaled words, angry words, condemning words, hurtful words, powerful, words, another virus, killing body and soul. God-breathed living beings, breathing death, not life. Come quickly to our aid, calm the anger, right the wrongs, deliver us from the horrors we have set loose; before it is too late, your people and your earth, destroyed. But you are the God of promise and redemption, of rainbow and resurrection, of life and love, and in you, I trust. Breathe your Spirit upon us again, that we might breath life. Breathing in Spirit, breathing out love,
Perhaps you will want to write your own. If so, below are some suggestions, adapted from https://www.oneyearprayerexperiment.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/04_One-Year-Prayer-Experiment.com_Lament_.pdf:
Elements of Lament:
Address God Directly
All prayer is personal communication, including lament. Open by directly addressing God.
Ask Heartfelt Questions
Bring before God our honest questions about what is going on around us. The questions are not so much appeals for information as they are expressions of hurt and pain.
Describe the Afflictions
Tell God about the circumstances that arouse so much emotion within us. Go into detail, name names if needed.
Pray for Deliverance
After sharing with God about the injustice and the suffering occurring right before us, ask God to intervene. Ask God to deliver.
Express Confidence & Trust in God
After expressing our hurts and our pleas for help, we have reason for confidence because God's got this. Praise God for God's attributes which fill us with hope and confidence as we lean on God.
Some Tips for Lament:
We can pray a prayer of lament at any time. It can be a part of our usual prayer time, or it can be a stand-alone prayer. Whenever we are particularly bothered by life, it is time to lament.
As we pray, work through all the elements described above. The order is not set in stone, but the order is helpful. The Psalms shows us some variation, and even some repetition of the elements. Feel free to make it our own, but following the order, especially the first few times, will ensure a good flow. And it will ensure we finish by focusing on God - and not the troubles that caused us to lament.
While praying a prayer of lament, do not feel burdened to pray a long prayer. The Bible records both long and short prayers of lament. The length of our expression is not important, but our authenticity is. Don't be long-winded, be honest.