Sunday, December 28, 2014

Into Each Life...Etc., Etc., Etc.

You know that old adage, "Into each life a little rain must fall"?
Well, mine "fell" yesterday morning in the form of a bottle of
olive oil. You see, early yesterday, as I was preparing some of the
food which would be consumed so eagerly my whole family later in
the day, I opened a cabinet to get a bottle of olive oil, but instead
of grasping it, I bumped it somehow, causing it to fall on my left
foot. It hurt like the very devil, and I hopped around muttering
vague obscenities under my breath (the rest of the household was
asleep and I was trying to be considerate), then retrieved my
reliable remedy, Arnica, rubbed it on the aching toe, and promptly
forgot about it in the overwhelming busyness of the day, during
which I was almost continuously on my feet.

Only after the last of the thundering herd (I say this with deepest
affection, you understand) had departed, the dishwasher was
loaded, the carpet vacuumed, and the house generally returned to
some semblance of order, did I realize that I was limping. And when
I took off my slippers and socks, lo and behold I was greeted by
this sight.
 
I know, feet are not exceptionally lovely at the best of times, but
the vivid discoloration of this poor toe was shocking, even to me.
And the discomfort was now considerable (aided and abetted by
the sight before me, I'm sure). So- more Arnica, a couple of
Aleve, and off to bed, the only sure-fire remedy for anything and
everything, in my book.

Presided at worship and preached wearing slippers this morning,
as shoes were just too uncomfortable. Stopped by the open house
of some friends- delightful to see their grown children again and
to catch up a bit with the family. And then it was home again,
home again, where I have been comfortably ensconced in my
lovely red recliner, staying off my foot as much as possible in
order to facilitate healing. Guess if it's the price I have to pay
for the lovely and family-filled day I had yesterday, I'll take
the "rain" of today. (Sigh.) But that d**ned toe sure does hurt.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Just Playing...

After an emotionally draining week, I decided what I needed was
some play, and so I've been playing with a new app on my Kindle,
Pic Collages. Such fun. You see, I'm not one of those folks who
makes photo albums- though I did  do that for each of my three
children a number of years ago as a Christmas gift. But I have so
many photos stored in my computer and on the Cloud, and when
I discovered this app, I just began having fun. So far, I've
completed six of them and I intend to do more. They'll be saved
in "my photos" so I can take them out and look at them whenever
I choose. So lovely. And in case you missed the ones I've posted
on Facebook, I'll include them here. Play is indeed a grand and
glorious gift of God.

 







Saturday, December 20, 2014

Death Walked In...


A difficult week...there's no other way to put it. Beginning with
a memorial service for the son of a dear woman in my congregation
-the third son this woman has lost- just after returning from a
restful but emotional retreat in the NC mountains...followed
by a Tuesday e-mail from a dear high school friend, telling me of
the accidental death of the husband of another classmate (A
freak accident, actually- he was felling a tree and it hit him,
killing him instantly)...to Thursday evening's totally unexpected
death due to a massive stroke of a precious friend and fellow
pilgrim, Suzanne Goddard... to yesterday's arrival of her lovely
and very personal Christmas card (she had been at the post office
doing her Christmas mailing when the symptoms began). And today,
I am wrung out...physically, emotionally, and, yes, spiritually.

On Sunday, for the memorial service, I used at the text for my brief
homily, Psalm 22, which begins, My God, my God, why have you
forsaken me?, words also attributed to Jesus as he hung on the
cross. As I contemplated the tribulation and pain amidst which this
dear mother found herself, it seemed most fitting... though I did
close with Psalm 23, since that's where Psalm 22 leads us, both
figuratively and literally.

But in the days since...in the light (or perhaps darkness would be
far more fitting an image) of the other deaths- unexpected,
unexplainable, undesired, undeserved- I have found myself again
and again returning to the words of Psalm 22. Not that I feel
forsaken- exactly- but I do feel the pain of the why and why now
and why them. I do wonder why at this time of year, amidst all
of the joy and celebration, Lady Death still enshrouds us with
her often-unwelcome presence, selectively welcoming some while
bypassing others, for no obvious or apparent reason.

And yet, there is always death in the midst of life. Outside my
window the trees stand empty and barren, their autumn finery long
since spent, their branches stark against the graying, overcast sky,
their seeming lifelessness emblematic of death's own relentless
determination. But at the end of the winter, with the coming of the
warmth and light of springtime, new life in the form of tender
green buds will appear, opening into the glorious green canopy which
surrounds and shades my yard.

But for now, for this moment, I am deeply saddened, traveling in
the valley of the shadows, doing my best to chase Lady Death away
from those I love...all the while knowing that her dependable
relentlessness will touch someone- many someones - this very day,
and they, too, are sisters and brothers of mine. If I am to be
honest and just and loving, each of those deaths is as devastating
to those who love them as the ones in my life have been and are
to me.

Once again, the reality of connections surfaces...the reality that
each person's death does diminish me, but even more, reminds me
of my own mortality, my own numbered days (though the number
remains blessedly unknown to me, to each of us). Each one of us
will at some point walk through the thin veil separating this life
and what is to come, Lady Death leading us by the hand. And once
again, the startling awareness hits me in the face, punches me in
the solar plexus...THIS IS my life...THIS DAY will not come again.
So, do I live it fully and wisely and sometimes foolishly but well?
Is what I am trading this day of my life for worthwhile? And when,
ultimately, it is my turn, what legacy will I leave behind? Will I
have done what I can to make this world a better place? For me,
that is the most important question, the only question that really
matters.

Death will do that, you know...will cause reflection and bring
questions and prod one into action...perhaps. If we let it. As I sit
here in my red recliner, typing on my hot pink Surface tablet,
listening to Christmas music on the stereo, surrounded by the
sights and sounds of the season, I am overcome by the sad but
truthful reality that loss hurts... and that the price of loving and
caring and living is to share in that hurt. And so I say to the ones
who have departed this week- Paul and Curt and Suzanne- God-
speed. This part of the journey is finished; the part about which
we know nothing has begun. You already know things, have
answers to questions, about which we can only wonder and
speculate. The mysteries are being revealed; and your unity
with Holiness is now reality. You will be missed- dearly missed-
but you will be ever and always near in heart. Of that, I am very,
very sure. Christmas blessings, wherever you are.

This is Suzanne...                                 
Smiling
Undaunted
Zealous
Accepting
Nurturing
No-nonsense
Encouraging



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Looking for Hope?


I have been gifting myself with the reading of an amazing book,
yet another product of the husband/wife team of Nicholas
Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. A Path Appears should be required
reading for every high school and college student. In fact, it
should be required reading for every citizen of this nation. When
I have not been reduced to tears by the stories, true stories of
survival and giving and dedication and hope, I have found myself
convicted again and again of my need to do more... to find a
cause, perhaps several causes, to which I can give my heart and
time and monies, knowing I can and will make a difference.

No pie-in-the-sky solutions here... simply the telling of the
stories of individuals who have made and continue to make a
difference in ways both big and small. Lives changed, towns
given hope, communities restored; seemingly insurmountable
problems faced head-on, often with few resources, and over
and over again the conviction that we CAN make a difference,
you and I...and we SHOULD.

If you do not read another book in the closing days of this
year or in the early days of 2015, make this one a priority.
I promise that it will not leave you unchanged...that it will
shatter some of your deeply-cherished stereotypes...that
it will unsettle and disturb and, yes, even anger you... so
much so that you will be challenged to GET INVOLVED.
And if that happens, then this excellent book will have been
more than worth the cost- to you and, more importantly,
to the world.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Early-Morning Musings...

taking time
A breath, deep and long
Another, then one more
as muscles and relax
letting go of all they have
          been holding
Anxiety and must-do lists
Rushing and stressing and
   tying myself in knots
   over the ways in which
   I am not doing all I could
   to help those in need
   to work for peace
   to advocate for justice
   to love...accept...include
A breath, deeper still
Another, then one more
as time's demands fall away
creating space for-
           clarity
           peace
           blessed emptiness
creating space for-
           the Spirit of Hope
           to enter in and
           dwell awhile...
the breath of life renewed.


living dreams...
God entered my dreams last night-
not a voice or even a presence
but the feeling of arms-stretched-wide love
expanding, including, welcoming

It took my breath away
even as my eyes and heart opened wide
as I tried to encompass and apprehend
and embody it all- this Love
that surpasses understanding.

And in my dream, I could-
so why is it so difficult when I am awake?
To love the unlovable- when I am surely
often one of those myself. To welcome the sick at heart-
in whose faces I can recognize my own if I look
deeply enough. To reach out and touch and embrace
those with dirty faces and broken hearts and skin
of varying hues- whose embraces I surely, truly need.

And so, today, God of Gods, Light of Light,
I am listening for your voice,
watching for your presence in each encounter,
knowing it is there... bearing with me the certainty
that each place I stand is Holy Ground because
You are fully, truly present in, with, under, around
every beloved one I meet...
making of my life a living dream.
          

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving for Artists and the Arts...

Went to our public library today to return some books on CD and
to pick up a few more, when what to my wondering eyes should
appear but a beautiful Christmas tree and an amazing garland, both
created from recovered recyclables by a wonderful environmental
artist, Bryant Holsenbeck, another truly creative  artist who is using
His work not only to beautify a local space but to raise our awareness
about caring for the environment. This Thanksgiving 2014 I am
especially thankful for all artists, regardless of their medium-
paints, music, dance, theater, recyclables, etc.- and for the
incredible gift the arts are in our lives. What would we ever do
without them and the beauty they create, the stories they tell?


 



Monday, November 24, 2014

Life in Bloom...


"To everything there is a season..." so says the writer of Ecclesiastes
in a well-known, oft-quoted passage. And I usually trust that to be
true. But then there is my Christmas cactus...which for the nine or so
years I have had it has faithfully and stubbornly bloomed about four
weeks before the aforementioned time...bursting forth in all its
glory at Thanksgiving. Every year. Without fail.

As I looked at it today, counting the many blooms and the many
more buds- in a few more days it will be covered with blossoms- I
found myself thinking about this whole "season" thing. We use that
saying to comfort ourselves, I think, with the notion, the belief,
that things unfold as they should, when they should, in the overall
scheme of things. And in the world of nature, at least, that is most
often true. Summer follows spring follows winter follows fall, and
so it goes, year after year...a promise of sorts to which we tightly
hold and in which we find great comfort. It gives a sense of rightness
to this often not-so-right world we inhabit, the lives we struggle
through day after day.

Only, not always... because sometimes the word from the doctor is
not what we want to hear, leaving us with a sense of "not yet... too
soon", as we are forced to contemplate our own mortality. Or the
spouse we had trusted and depended upon has told us that s/he no
longer loves us and the lovely, colorful autumn of a marriage, filled
with so much promise, suddenly becomes instead a cold, lonely
winter. Or the job which was supposed to take you comfortably
to retirement in a few years no longer has room in it for you and
you are displaced, replaced... and all you can think is, "Too soon...
it wasn't supposed to happen yet."

And so, perhaps, my lovely, out-of-sync Christmas cactus is simply
Reality in living color...a blooming reminder that life often does not
unfold in the organized, predictable way we would like, I would
prefer. Life instead continually surprises us- sometimes gloriously,
Other times with a blow to the solar plexus which takes our breath
Away and leaves us sagging on the ropes, wondering just what hit
us. But when I think about it...really think about it... I realize that
I would not want it any other way. Security is a myth at best... and
the glory of unpredictability is what can take my breath away with
both joy and sorrow, with both overwhelming happiness and
unmitigated pain. It is being here now...no matter what. And it
made me think of a poem I had written several years ago...

today's prayer
To live without a why...
to be simply because I am...
to open my heart to give and receive
     simply out of giving and receiving's joy...
to step from the barren anteroom of life
     Into the beautiful, crowded, overflowing
     event itself...
to bloom, prodigally flourishing,
     whether or not anyone else notices or
     approves, scattering petals and fragrance
     with delighted abandon...
to taste and savor the fullness of who
     I am, recognizing and welcoming
     the divine dwelling within...
to refrain from the diligent effort of
     seeking and searching, wandering and
     wondering, long enough to realize
     that I am already fully "home"...

"Ah, Spirit," I breathe-
     and I am filled.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A Response...of Sorts

 
Nearly a month since I last wrote here...a month marked with so
many internal debates...with much soul-searching regarding the
ways in which my state...this place which I have called home for
the last nearly-30 years continues to respond to what was good
news on October 11 for so many. I speak, of course, of the
judgment handed down in the U.S District Court by Justice Max
Coburn that Amendment One, passed last spring, banning same-
sex marriages, was unconstitutional. 

The soul-searching has come, not because I disagree. Quite the
contrary. I was among those overjoyed by this step... quite a giant
step...toward justice and equality for all people in North Carolina.
The soul-searching has come as I have wrestled with how to respond
in a loving, caring, Christian way to those who clearly do not agree...
to those who find the possibility of same-sex couples marrying a
threat of sorts, be it to their biblical understanding or their moral
principles or- I'm not sure what.

And I confess to being more than a little bit confused by it all,
by the furor and recriminations and the brouhaha. You see, I have
a number of good and dear gay and lesbian friends, most of whom
are in committed, long-term relationships which feed and enrich
the lives of those of us who know and love them. The question of how
these loving, caring, beautiful relationships could pose a threat to
anyone- especially to those in healthy heterosexual marriages- is
a total mystery to me. For me- as for so many of my friends- the
entire issue is one of justice, not morality. Indeed, the thought
that some consider it okay, even commendable, to deny equal
rights to anyone is morally reprehensible to me.

There have been so many battles over rights in this nation of ours,
struggles against inequality: struggles to overcome the widely-held
notion that blacks could be enslaved by whites because of their
"inferiority", because they weren't really "human"...and then, once
free, to overcome the belief by some that black men lacked the
mental capacity to vote; the struggle by women to overcome the
idea- actually expressed in repressive and restrictive laws- that
they were the property of men and did not have the intelligence
or emotional stability to be able to vote- the right to which they
obtained only after long struggle in 1920. Our national history is
marked by the blood, sweat, and tears of so many who have held
the belief that "ALL people are created equal"... which seems to
have a familiar ring...

And today, I am struggling still, to come to terms with how I
respond- as a pastor, as a woman, as a human being- to those who
are, at this very moment, attempting to have Judge Coburn's
ruling overturned...those who express horror and disgust at the
thought that their gay neighbor, their lesbian co-worker, might
desire the love and support of another human being, might want
the same rights and privileges granted to those of us who
happen to be heterosexual.

I guess this is my best response at this moment in time:
People, fellow citizens, fellow travelers on this road of life,
the journey is a difficult one at the best of times, which means,
I think, that we all need each other. We ALL NEED EACH OTHER,
regardless of- well, anything. If you believe- as I surely and fully
do- that we are ALL children of the same loving, creator God,
why in the world would you want to deny the rights of any other
human being? What about equal rights harms you? And why in
the world do you suppose that some people should be more
"equal" than others?

Oh, and just one more thing which keeps rattling around in the
personal brainpan: Have you ever considered that, by keeping us
focused on matters which rouse lots and lots of emotions, like
same-sex marriage and abortion, the powers-that-be can turn
our attention away from the numbers of homeless children in
this country or the amount of money being spent on the military
or the lack of any constructive legislation being passed by this
most dreadful do-nothing Congress or the overwhelming amount
of student debt or the truly shocking amount of money being
spent on elections?

Brothers, sisters, we're all in this together, like it or not. You
can disagree with me about many things- after all, I tend toward
the liberal side of things, both politically and religiously. But I
have long considered myself a follower of the exceedingly-
liberal one who called us to feed the poor and clothe the naked,
to welcome the stranger and visit the lonely and sick and those
imprisoned, to love our neighbor- AND our enemy. He was the
one who insisted that those of us with two coats should give
one away, that we should turn the other cheek, that we should
treat others as we want to be treated. He was the one who
touched the untouchables and treated women with respect and
gloried in the value of children in a culture which did none of
these. And I just don't know how to do it any differently...
my life.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sun Sermon...

After a week filled with sharing the pain of others about whom I care
deeply...after some times of soul-searching and sadness and the
Sense of walking in the dark, trying to feel my way, at times unable
to see the light at all, this afternoon's sunshine was a precious and
beautiful gift. I sat on my back deck, soaking it in...absorbing both
the healing and beneficial Vitamin D and the warm and healing of the
sun's rays themselves, reminding me of the ever-presence of the
healing presence of the One Who Loves. I could almost feel the
warmth soaking into my body and spirit...could almost feel the
healing of the spirit which was happening for and to me.

And that's the way it is, isn't it... so very often in life. We go along
convinced that it- whatever the "it" is- all depends on us...that we
must have the solution and the strength, the courage and the
Conviction, the wherewithal and stick-to-itiveness...when, in reality,
the healing and strength, faith and conviction come from a Source
far beyond us...a Power whose depth and breadth we cannot even
begin to comprehend. I call this Power, this Source "God"...others call
it by different names...but it is that Source we can tap into...should
tap into daily because- despite what we so often tell ourselves- the
solution to our problems and difficulties and illnesses does not lie
solely within us. It lies in a strength above and beyond... in, with, and
under, we Lutherans like to say...a power and connection which holds
us and comforts us and never, ever lets us go.

We churchy types call this "grace"...a gift freely given and there
only for us to acknowledge and accept. We don't have to DO anything
to get it or deserve it... indeed there is nothing we CAN do. This
Entity...Power...Source I call God pours it out upon us...upon each
and every one of God's children- which means all of us, you know.
And all we have to do is open our hands and hearts and lives and
receive the gift. How cool is that? Only we want to do it ourselves
(how often we sound like three-year-olds, don't we?) We act like
it all depends on us, like we're the ones in charge. And that's when
the lights go out and we find ourselves stumbling around in the dark,
stubbing our toes and uttering words which would curl our mother's
hair.

How much we need reminders. How much I needed that beautiful,
warm, and healing sun today to be just that "tap on the shoulder"
for me, telling me that the ones I love, the ones who are
struggling, the ones facing difficult choices and decisions in the
weeks and months ahead, are firmly in the hands of One who loves
them far, far more than I do. And that my job...my only job...is to
stay open and aware of the ways in which I can bring the love of
this loving God in my frail human flesh...and then, to DO IT. The
Sermon of the day preached to me by beautiful, healing, holy
Brother Sun.




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Our Way Rejoicing...


















October 10, 2014...a date which will forever be written in my mind
and heart...a date on which a thought-filled and justice-minded
judge struck down North Carolina's infamous Amendment One,
which had prohibited same-sex marriages. What a time of rejoicing
for my gay and lesbian friends, for all those who have worked so
hard for justice and equality for all people under the law.

I have long pondered about the so-called "Defense of Marriage
Act", better known as DOMA...about why so many of my hetero-
sexual sisters and brothers feel that acknowledging the right of
same-sex couples to marry would in any way threaten their own.
But, then again, I guess I've lived long enough to realize that we
human beings are easily threatened and disturbed by anything
or anyone we see as DIFFERENT from us... anything which is
outside of our carefully-established and comfortable frame of
reference, which knocks our worldview out-of-kilter.

Unfortunately, when we cling so tightly to "what has always been"
in the name of morality or religion or politics, we all-too-often step
on, restrict, disrespect the rights of others who hold a different
point of view, who see life through a lens which, for us, holds only
cloudiness.. And we so want to be RIGHT...stamping our feet and
shaking our fists and shouting out about the right-ness of our
position, our thoughts, our beliefs, failing to realize that we are
looking and acting like that temper-tantrum-throwing toddler in aisle
three at Harris Teeter.

For those of us with homosexual friends, family members, church
members, Oct. 10, 2014 will be a day to remember just how long
it has taken to reach this place...this place of equality...this place
of being on truly holy ground for ALL people here in North
Carolina. And all I can say is- from the bottom of my joy-filled
heart- it's about time... and thanks be to God!

Friday, October 3, 2014

October2...Gone for Another Year

Been wondering why my sleep patterns and appetite have been
disturbed the past couple of days...why I just felt kind of "out
of sorts"...and then, today, I realized yesterday was October 2,
a more-than-momentous date in my life.

Thirty-nine years ago on that day, my thirty-seven-year-old
husband died of the leukemia which had overwhelmed his
previously healthy body. It had been exactly one month from
his diagnosis to his death and to say my entire family was
devastated would be understating the effects it had on each
and all of us. My children were seven, nine, and eleven and I
was only thirty-three. October 2, 1975 became a day which
worked its way deep into my psyche, into the innermost parts
of who I was and am.

Fast-forward nine years to south Florida, with a second
marriage and three teenagers and a newly-adopted three-
year-old, when I found a lump in my right breast and, on
October 2, underwent surgery in Boca Raton. I was only
forty-two, had already lost one aunt to breast cancer, had
another aunt undergoing treatment, and I was more than a
little frightened. But lots of prayers later and bouyed by
the loving care of good friends in our church community,
by the loving support of my family, far and near, by dear
friends around the country, I found the fear leaving and I
gradually became a woman who had once HAD cancer.

However, one of the things I have learned over years of
living is that the body has a memory of its own, even
when the mind is occupied with other things. Thus, my
recent malaise. Another thing I've learned: knowing why
I feel a certain way helps me to deal with it...helps me
to look at it, remember, and then let it slip away like sand
through my fingers, bringing me back firmly and lovingly
to the present...today...October 3. I believe it's called survival.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

This is Health Care?

So, a nurse in the ER at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas noted on the
chart that the patient stated he had just arrived from Liberia, one of
the West African countries at the center of the Ebola epidemic. And
somehow this information was not "transmitted" to the rest of the
medical team treating the man, who was subsequently sent home,
only to return via ambulance two days later, seriously ill. And only
then, ONLY THEN, was the diagnosis made. In the meantime this
man had become contagious, exposing everyone in the household
where he was staying to this potentially deadly virus.

Yes, I'm on a rant about health care in this country. You see, I was
an R.N. back in the seventies- that's the nineteen-seventies- in
a small, not-for-profit community hospital known for its nursing
care. And I can tell you, that lack of transmission of information
would not have happened. No way, no how. We took good
histories and we passed on significant information, perhaps
because we weren't relying on electronic devices to communicate
our findings. We used pen and paper, as well as the telephone
and face-to-face conversations to convey significant facts...like
someone just arriving from a country battling a serious, often-
deadly illness.

And all is this has absolutely nothing to do with the Affordable
Care Act, about whether you're for or against it. It has to do with
the quality of care we are receiving, even at some of the
supposedly best hospitals in this country. Somehow the bottom
line has crept into the delivery of medical care, with for-profit
corporations owning the vast majority of hospitals. And corpor-
ations have stock holders...and CEOs making big salaries...and
contracts with drug and medical supply manufacturers...yet while
costs sky rocket, the actual care provided is of far lower quality
than that provided back in the sixties and seventies and eighties.

My own major quarrel with the supposed health care reform is
that it did not look at why costs have risen so dramatically, with
health care outpacing virtually every other segment of our
society, costwise. Mr. President, members of Congress, you
spoke to, consulted, the wrong people when you were writing the
health care legislation. The people you should have consulted
are the nurses and doctors who were delivering care before the
tadvent of disposable everything...who knew and practiced good
sterile technique...who considered nosocomial infections an
affront to the quality of care they delivered and not just part of
the cost of "doing business". Perhaps these dedicated man and
women could have pointed you in the direction of excellence of
care which depended far more on the skill of the practotioner
than on the latest machinery or electronic gadget.

Don't get me wrong. Medicine has made strides in some areas,
without a doubt. But it has also moved in the direction of doing
expensive tests and procedures which often add nothing to
quality of life and put health care costs through the roof. It's
bottom line stuff again...limiting how long a doctor can spend
with a patient, for example...covering costly tests through
Medicare but failing to cover things which could keep one
healthy like seeing a nutritionist or getting therapeutic
massage or acupuncture.

It's high time we stopped being so defensive and took a look
at how health care is managed in other industrialized
countries- most of whose life expectancies are  higher than
ours, by the way, and most of which place far greater
emphasis on wellness and staying well, maintaining good
health.

Well, time to get down from my soap box and get to bed.
After all, I need those eight hours to stay healthy and well-
and out of a hospital.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Early Autumn Celebration...



















My house smells like Autumn...windows open to let in the many
earthy smells of the trees, new mown grass, and freshly spread
mulch on the neighbor's garden...all of this accompanied by the
nurturing, nourishing, delectable odor of apples cooking on the
stove for homemade applesauce.

The birds seem overjoyed, too, their songs punctuating the
people-sounds in the neighborhood with melodic delight, a
reminder to me that all-too-soon some of them will be leaving
my yard for warmer climes, leaving the bird feeders to the
cardinals, blue jays, titmice, and woodpeckers.

I love this time of year, with its cooler nights and its daily
juxtaposition of rainy days following closely on the heels of
brilliantly blue ones...with its call to dig out the long sleeves
and sweaters, to put away the pastels of spring and summer
in favor of the oranges and reds and deeper greens and browns
which seem emblematic of the season.

Of course, Autumn is also a season of melancholy...a time
marked by the awareness that the brief, flaring brilliance of the
changing leaves is marking the death of what has been, moving
us into a fallow, quiet time when the reality of our mortality
seems ever before us...when aging skin and aching muscles
and creaking bones and challenged mobility remind us that the
days and weeks and months are passing, that there is not a
moment to be wasted, that life is counted out in breaths taken,
in opportunities grasped, in loving words spoken, in appreciation
expressed.

Autumn always speaks to me of those I love who are no longer
here among us in the flesh...though my mind and heart are filled
with their presences. Sometimes, I hear their voices, see their
faces in the air around me, as their spirits seem to choose not to
stay dormant and hidden, but make themselves known in ways
both small and great. And often, I find myself dwelling in
Melancholy, that strange and ephemeral land where I wander in
the mists of memory, mindful of the passing time, of the passing
years, and of the still-tender and empty places within me which
no one or nothing else has quite been able to fill.

But lest you think I am sinking into depression- for that has
sometimes been Autumn's accompaniment in my life-
I assure you that these days are also marked by an intense
appreciation for my family and the joy they bring...by the
delight engendered by the presence of my friends who color my
life with an endlessly varied and beautiful palette...by reading
and writing and cooking. As I look out my window into the
branches of my lovely Japanese maple, I can almost see her
leaves beginning to change to the startling scarlet they will
become, that last wonderful celebration of life before she is
stripped bare to stand shivering in the cold days of Winter,
certain that- come spring- new life will come again. God willing,
also for me...



Friday, September 19, 2014

Rise and Shine...


 













I am definitely a morning person. Here it is, only 9:45a.m.
and I have put a beef stew into the crockpot, baked a chocolate
cake and some apple dumplings, and done three loads of wash.
Oh, and made myself a lovely breakfast of my favorite poached
eggs AND taken time for reading, praying, and journaling. Now,
I'm readying to complete my sermon for Sunday.

Please, please don't think I'm bragging or looking for praise
of any sort. And I'm sorry if all of this early-morning energy
makes you feel tired. This is just how I function best: rising
at 5 or 5:30a.m. and entering into the day, first in silence and
then in the joy of doing something I love. Of course, not all
my days are like this. Sometimes I have to grit my teeth and
just DO IT...those tasks I really don't enjoy, like cleaning...
talking with those people who set my teeth on edge...
keeping my nose to the well-worn grindstone. (After all,
they're not called "chores" for nothing.)

But I know, have learned through painful experience, that
morning is my best time...for thought, for creativity, for writing,
for daring to venture into new territory with regards to worship and
preaching ideas...for doing those things which fill up my cup of
joy and energy sufficiently to get me through the rest of my day,
regardless of what comes along.

Of course, all of this morning energy means that I am ready to
crash by 9p.m., the time when lots of folks are just coming
into full stride. My brain turns to mush in the evening hours
and, though I do enjoy being with people then (since that's
when most socializing happens), I am certainly not at my
scintillating best.

I guess where I'm going with all this is that we are each and
all unique creations...that part of our call to wisdom is to
learn who and how we are- and then, TO HONOR THAT. I
know...easier said than done, especially when the needs and
desires and wishes of others make it incumbent upon us to
be in ways which go against our own lovely and well-polished
grain. But failing to honor the person we are is, I think, in
some way to dishonor the One Who Loves, the One Who
Creates, the One Who Invites each one of us to our own
personhood, our own uniqueness. And I can only be truly
connected to you and to all creation- and to God- if I am
connected to my Self, the one I have been truly and fully
created to be.

And so, I celebrate being a "morning person". I revel in the
energy inherent in these early hours, well aware that a nap
may have to be in my future around 2p.m. I salute you night
owls, with your joyful celebration of the darkness and the
solitude and silence which it brings. How beautifully we
complement one another. How wonderfully diverse we all are.
How gloriously we can fulfill the needs of our world with our
endless variety. Have a beautiful day, whoever and however
you are.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Paying Attention...















Two scenes from my travels today
play across the screen of my mind...
two scenes which were totally unrelated,
and yet occurred only two blocks apart
in my town...in my travels...

The first- seeing Christmas paraphernalia
on display at a local craft store and being
completely discombobulated by its appearance
on this, September 15th, technically
still summertime, though autumn is making
brief forays into our weather these days.

The second- seeing two young men- brothers,
I imagine- exiting the AT&T store, hand in
hand...the elder- about 19 or 20, I speculate,
patiently and carefully guiding the younger-
perhaps fifteen or so- and clearly in the thrall of
some kind of mental or emotional problem...
arms gesticulating wildly, gait unsteady,
casting words out toward the not-there people
who apparently populate his world. Gently,
with obvious loving concern, oblivious of 
the looks or opinions of anyone else, the elder led
the younger to their car, talking quietly,
being who and what that beautiful, blond,
fragile boy needed- love in human flesh.

Perhaps that is why these two scenes seem
juxtaposed in my mind...the first, so oblivious
to the miracle of the God-Made-Flesh of Christmas,
focusing instead on the commercialization and
consumerism of this holiday...this once-holy day.
And the second, so clearly the enactment, the
embodiment of the ever-present love of God
made manifest in a jeans-and-t-shirt-clad youth
holding the hand of his not-quite-whole
brother with total focus and concentration
and compassion, his face filled with love.

Captivated, I watched from my car as I
waited for the light to change, and it was only
when I heard the horn of the car behind me
that my attention was pulled reluctantly away
from the Holy Ground of that little moment...
God truly, fully present, reminding me to
pay attention.

Leave-Taking Preparation...

 














Sometimes when I awaken-
especially  to the sound of
voices on the clock radio
on the nearby bedside table-
I am confused as to time
        and place...where am I, I wonder,
        and what is this day?
as dream fragments hold me
entwined in tendrils of
imagination, of fancy's flight,
where voices, faces of those long gone
are vividly present
where the curtain dividing
what was from what is
is gossamer-thin
where past and present fuse into
the one-ness of now, drawing me
into the Spirit's tether where
I am held as gently as a
babe in holy, wholly loving arms

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forever and Ever...











nothing lasts forever
forever is a lie, distorting
  how we see today, tomorrow
finitude contains the truth
  of our humanity, shining
light on this very moment
  this fleeting never-to-be-lived-again
            moment
breathe in.  breathe out
inspiration.  expiration
life riding on the breath
  the ruach   the spirit
until one last breath in-
  or out, and then forever
  is no more or matters not a bit
absorbed into infinity' s deep mystery
with molecules among the stars
our DNA enlivening those we
  leave behind-
             perhaps forever taking a
             different shape?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day Walk

Walking in the early-morning freshness,
Breathing in the gift of air
        cleansed by last evening's rains

Seeing...
     the single reddening branch on
          the maple tree around the corner...
     further along, the dogwood with every leaf tinged
          with dusky red, while her more-than-nodding-acquaintance
          neighbor remains resplendently green...
     the purple morningglories glorifying the shrubs
          over which they spread...
     the tightly-closed seed pods studding the magnolia
          where once creamy flower bowls bloomed...

Hearing...
     the absence of traffic, as the human populants
          remain at home on this holiday morning...
     the abundance of birdsong resonating through
          the trees and over the hillsides...
     the occasional dripping of the remnants
          of last night's storm...

Rounding the corner, the morning sun is fully
in my eyes until benevolent branches
gentle its light, leaving me to simply bask
     in its healing warmth

Cresting the hill, I see the porch where once
sat a little old woman who waved delightedly
to my "Hello", smiling her benediction on
my day. I miss her presence,
even as I turn the corner to be greeted
by a fat, brown rabbit- perhaps the very one
I often see in my own yard, now sitting
perfectly still as rabbits do, convinced, I think,
that stillness imbues invisibility. Perhaps I
should try it sometime...

And then, I cross the street and approach
the uneven sidewalk leading to my own
front door, the cement upheaval created by
the willow oak a reminder of just whose place
this really is.

Now I sit here, drinking tea, reveling in the
still-unpopulated beauty of this
Labour Day morning, satiated and solaced
by the silence
           


   

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Following the Difficult Way of Jesus...


There was a man called Jesus of Nazareth…the one whom his followers
came to call Christ. His life was one of living out what he believed the
nature of God was…and it was in him    that his disciples, his followers,
came to understand what it meant to live in close relationship with God,
to BE God’s people in all their living, in all their actions, in  all their
speaking, in all their relationships with others. And what he showed to
them- and to us, all these centuries later- was that God is a God of love
and justice and inclusion and compassion and forgiveness…in spite of
what they and we might hear to the contrary.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, he boldly proclaimed his revolutionary vision of
the Kingdom of God in a synagogue in his hometown on the Sabbath, and
the religious authorities surrounding him stood amazed at his teaching.
He stood up to read, and someone handed him a scroll of the prophet
Isaiah, from which he read these defining words:

         The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
         because he has anointed me
         to proclaim good news to the poor.
         God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
         and recovery of sight for the blind,
         to set the oppressed free,
         to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

In other words, Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in
heaven.

This was a proclamation of justice for the poor, the blind, and the
prisoner, fulfilling a kingdom vision that not only included but was
focused on “the least of these”. A kingdom vision that even his closest
disciples did not fully understand at the time. A kingdom vision in
which we are each and all called to be a part of creating.
 
And as a result of his vision, of his understanding of what the reign of
God was to look like, Jesus was rejected. There was confusion. There was
anger. The religious leaders listening to Jesus got angry. After all, this
was not the way they heard or understood the Law, the voice of God
speaking to them. Their initial curiosity turned to apprehension, to fear.
This was NOT how it was supposed to be…so an angry mob chased him
out of town, threatening to run him off a cliff for his heresy.
 
But we wouldn’t do that, we think. We wouldn’t get so upset at the
message of Jesus. Yet I’m here to tell you that we DO…get upset, I
mean, when the gospel message runs counter to what we are
comfortable with. You see, the Good News Jesus was bringing, the
message of God he was sharing, called for justice for ALL PEOPLE…and
if we’re honest, biblical justice can often make us more than a little bit
ill-at-ease. After all, it doesn’t seem to really make sense, from our
human perspective: The last shall be first. The weak will become strong.
The poor will become rich. It is a vision of paradoxes.

But how can you read the scriptures, how can we examine the life and
ministry of Jesus the Christ, and NOT hear…see…sense that mercy,
justice, compassion, especially for the marginalized, are not dear to the
heart of God? Are not part of the Kingdom-Vision?

For Jesus’ God- the image of God he showed and lived- justice was not
peripheral…it was not just a nice idea…it was critical, central…and it is
to be a part of our identities as disciples of the one who came to show
the way to relationship with God and with one another.
 
Yesterday, when I was working on my sermon, my son dropped by. We
chatted for a bit, as I asked him about his week and he asked about mine.
And then I found myself telling him that I was a bit stuck on the sermon
because I feel like I am preaching the same thing over and over again.
“The congregation must feel like they’re listening to a broken record,”
I lamented. “I keep saying the same thing week after week- or at least,
that’s what it feels like.”
 
“But, Mom, that’s what you need to do,” my son responded. “People
NEED to hear the same message again and again. You know, that’s how
it is with AA. We go over the same things over and over again. That’s the
way they become part of us. And that’s what people go to church for, I
think- to hear what it means to live as a Christian, to hear what it means
to be the people of God. Just keep preaching it.” And this from a young
man who, until about 20 months ago had not darkened the door of a
church in more than 15 years, except for family funerals!

So, I’m preaching “IT”…the message of Jesus the Christ as I hear it…
calling us to LIVE fully as people of God…calling us to live inclusively as
people of God…calling us to care for the least of these because they, too,
are children of God…even when that living is difficult. Even when that
living costs us everything!

What we all-too-often forget is that many people of his day and time,
including some of his own family, thought Jesus was crazy. They didn’t
want to hear his message because it challenged some of their own
dearly-held beliefs…because it set the status quo on its ear… because it
meant re-thinking who and how they were in their own relationships to
God and neighbor…and enemy.

Being a disciple, a follower, of Jesus the Christ, is filled with choices and
decisions- and most of them are neither easy nor simple. There are
times when our beliefs- the ones to which we hear the voice of Jesus
calling us- bring us into conflict with those around us- the call to love our
enemies, for example, when our next-door neighbor’s son is serving in
Afghanistan; being willing to work toward solutions with people having
a different perspective on an issue, even as people on our “side” see us
as betraying them and what they stand for; being willing to let go of
being “right” in service of accomplishing good in our neighborhoods or in
our cities. There is a price to pay for defying the mandates of our culture,
and it can feel like a very steep price, indeed.

Look around you at the world right now. In the town of Rotherham,
England, people keeping quiet and doing nothing over a period of more
than sixteen years has resulted in the sexual abuse of more than 1400
young people, some as young as 10. Apparently, authorities didn’t
believe- or didn’t want to believe- that this was going on in their “nice”
little town, and so hundreds of children have been irrevocably damaged…

Or look at the town of Ferguson, Missouri, where the shooting death of
Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, has resulted in battle lines
being drawn in the sand, instead of a united community looking
together for a solution to the institutionalized racism which is still so
abundantly present throughout these United States, at the attitudes
which make being a black man in our society so difficult.

Or look at the state of our own state as big business and the legislature
are uniting to push through legislation permitting Fracking- in spite of all
the environmental evidence which has shown and continues to show
that this practice will threaten the very water we drink. And all the while
there are those who continue to deny that climate change IS happening
and is being hastened by the very creatures who demand that this world
is ours and its resources should be at our unlimited disposal.

Yes, indeed, following God is difficult. Jesus never promised it would be
easy- indeed, he referred to a cross, to the giving up of one’s life. We’re
almost always overwhelmed by the demands of discipleship and so, are
tempted to turn away…to keep silent…to look in the other direction. We
convince ourselves that OUR voices, OUR actions, make little difference
in the overall scheme of things. But if we stop pursuing justice, peace,
inclusion, and wholeness, then we become supporters of the very things
we say we oppose. DO YOU HEAR THOSE WORDS? If we stop working
to bring in the kingdom of God- stop working for justice and peace and
inclusion, then we are actually working FOR those who work
against those things!

Jesus invites you and me to be disciples, to take him up on the offer of
selfless living. It’s a risky invitation to accept because it means
continually living in the tension of hearing ourselves make the confession,
“You are the Messiah!” one minute and cowering in the corner, saying
“I do not know him,” in the next. But, you see, there is also a price for
staying where we are…and that price is losing the opportunity for a real,
lasting, meaningful relationship with the One who Loves, with the One
who Forgives, with the One who accepts us just as we are. For it is only
in being willing to give up what has been and moving into what is now in
Christ that we will really, truly, fully live. And that’s the truth.

                                                  Thanks be to God. Amen