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.