Thursday, December 24, 2015

December Writings...

The end of the year 2015 approaches, and for the month of
December, I have been using a lovely little booklet of writing
prompts, courtesy of Jacinta and Cyndi of "Snapdragon Journal",
an on-line literary magazine (www.snapdragonjournal.com ). Faced
each day with a meaningful quotation and an equally-meaningful
question, I have been writing...sometimes a little, sometimes a lot,
always from the heart, and today, I'm sharing some of these
scribblings with you, dear reader. Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday,
FĂ©liz Navidad, Joyeux Noel.
 
The Year's Last Red Light
I stand in the last red light of the year,
watching as the almost-setting sun
paints the sky in glowing hues
aware that I have journeyed far and long
and wondering just how long
          sunset will last.
       wondering when the light will go
           and darkness come
        wondering if I will welcome it,
            embrace it, if I will find within
            its velvet folds, moonlight and the shining of
            a million million stars
            to light my way- my final journey's way.


Year's End
Old resolutions, un-met intentions, drift away
from the burning flames of year's end,
   spiraling skyward, to disappear and dissipate
   far out of reach of mind and heart
I let them go, and in the blest release
   I breathe again, deeply,
   inhaling newly-freshened air
   alive with possibility and hope.


Only I can
Creativity, that elusive muse,
Slips between the pinpoint and the page,
And even as I pursue her,
Her ephemeral being taunts me
From the edges of my seeking mind.
"Make space," she whispers. "Make time," she sings,
As the drumbeat of my longing heart
Chants, "Only you, you, you can do, do, do it."
And I startle awake, convicted by the truth...
     Only I can use the gift
     Only I, I, I can...


Must I write?
The voice has not called out for so very long,
that mysterious, demanding voice,
disturbing my sleep, forcing me to reach
for pen and paper, lest the images dancing
in the forefront of my mind slip away
before I can hold them fast.
The voice has been silent for so very long,
that wondrous, creative voice,
seemingly silenced by a  too-busy life,
by a need for rest which causes sleep so deep
that the images once dancing, one alive,
have hibernated, frozen far out of conscious reach.


Growing wings
I want to leap- or do I? really?
Is this, instead, my fallow time, my time to
    relish the safety and comfort
    of my cocoon, confident that,
    safe within its shell,
I am growing iridescent wings?


From darkness to light...
The darkness of Advent
     holds and comforts me,
Pregnant, as it is, with
     the promise of new life.
The birth of the Light,
     illuminating my way into
     the creative hope of the New Year.


Here I am...
I. Am. Here.
Now. Fully. Present.
At age seventy-three- almost seventy-four-
sitting in my comfortable blue living room,
watching the struggle of the sun to pierce through
gray rainclouds and give celestial light to the day...
my day... my mostly-mundane day,
with errands ahead and paying bills and
answering mail and, eventually, sitting before my fireplace
with a cup of tea and a good book.
I. AM. HERE. NOW.
Fully present in my lovely, aging life...
and my heart overflows with thanks.
 
Providence is the faith that nothing can prevent us from
fulfilling the ultimate meaning of our existence. Paul Tillich

"Ultimate meaning"?
Such momentous words,
carrying, as they do, the weight of importance,
the heaviness of a dusty tome
hidden in the dark recesses of a library's
research section and available only for
perusal on a well-scarred wooden table,
overseen by a be-spectacled, razor-thin gentleman
who seems certain of my intent to abscond with
his precious volume.
"Ultimate meaning" carries with it
such depth of responsibility, far more than
I am willing to shoulder on this winter's day,
when the simple joy of cardinals at the feeder
and carols on the radio and thoughts of family
and friends seem definition enough,
supply my meaning, ultimate or not.
 
December melancholy
The melancholy of December
Settles in around me, bringing-
As it does- remembrances of bygone days,
Of Christmases past
When they were all here,
The beloved ones- now gone, I know not where
Or why, only that I remain, pain-filled and
Hurt-scarred, yet strangely, peacefully, alive,
Still draining every drop from
The cup of life's glorious wine.


Christmas Letter
Dearest ones- friends, family, and those still to come,
You fill my heart and life with
Tenderness and joy, with hope and meaning.
Without you- each uniquely special one-
I would not be just who I am right now-
This independent, loving, determined, caring,
Opinionated, laughing person, for you have been
The potters of my malleable clay, incarnations all
Of the Divine Love in which we live and move and
Have our being. You are my life- past, present,
And future- and you have my love.
                                                  Linda
 
  

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

And a Little Child will Lead Us...

I was going through some of my poems this morning, ones written
several years ago, and I came upon this one, so very apropos to the
current political and world situation, and to my feelings about what
I see and hear. And so, I'm sharing it with you, in the hope that
somewhere, somehow, some heart will resonate with mine.


Christmas Pilgrimage
O God, though I have long lived with
more questions about you than answers,
of one thing I am certain-
from you flows all Creative Energy,
from you flows Life,
from you flows Love.
How, then, God of Creativity, Life & Love,
have we, your children, so perverted your gifts
that we can look at another human being, created- like us-
in the Divine Image, and see only differences,
permitting them to separate and divide us?
Beneath this thin covering we call skin,
beneath the surface appearance of uniqueness,
we are the same! We are one!
A beating heart enlivens each of us...
blood of red flows through arteries and veins...
intestines digest the food that nourishes us and,
with the kidneys, rids the body of what is not needed...
and, wonder of wonders, within each head resides a brain,
the seat of personality and thought, of the emotions of
Wonder and awe, but also, it seems, of anger and
hatred and judgment.
Why, Loving God, does the difference of the race or religion or
sexuality of someone else so threaten us?
Why do we so stridently demand the right to be who and
how we are, while at the same time, oxymoronically denying
that right to others?
Why is our sense of security so dependent upon
keeping the world we are meant to steward wisely
and well in such a state of fear and insecurity?
How do we justify kneeling at the manger of the one called
the Prince of Peace while within us and without, wars rage-
with our support?
Christmas approaches... and those of us calling ourselves
"Christian" will light candles, will raise our collective voices-
"Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright..." as in our city,
our nation, our world, bombs explode, children cry from hunger,
people are tortured or driven from their homes because of
their ethnicity or gender or sexuality, whole nations live in
darkness, the rich become richer on the backs of the poor,
and the powerful plot to seize ever more power from the
already-powerless.
My heart and head are heavy, Holy One, as I seek to find
a cause for celebration in the midst of chaos and
conflagration...yet even now, the faces of my grandchildren
flicker across my mind- their openness and awareness and
loving spirits, their acceptance and whole-hearted
appreciation of all they meet, their creativity and compassion-
and I am reminded that our hope, the hope of this troubled
world, lies in a Holy Child, in the holiness of children everywhere.
And so, I wipe my tears and breathe...
and walk haltingly on the path toward Christmas Day 2015



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Grief Remembered...

  
    It washed over me like a tsunami, the wave of
overwhelming grief. Totally unexpected. Taking me
totally unaware. And there I stood, my tears co-
mingling with the water of my morning shower, as I
was bathed in the mellow strains of Annie Murray's
"I'll Be Home for Christmas" wafting up from the CD
player in the living room.
    I hadn't felt this way in many years... and yet the grief
was so raw, so present, belying the fact that the loss had
happened 37 years ago. It was Christmas Eve 1978 and
our family was gathered at the home of my parents for
our traditional Christmas Eve celebration, before going
to the Candlelight Service together. This had long been
a highlight of the holiday for all of us- my parents, my
sisters, and their families, and we were all eagerly awaiting
the arrival of my youngest sister, to complete the family circle.
    The kids wanted to eat so the gifts under the tree could be distributed and opened and Mother was worrying over the food, wondering aloud just where Rennie was. Outside, it was snowing, giving us he first white Christmas in many years. In the midst of the cacophony, the phone rang and my dad answered. When he came into the family room, his face looked grim but hopeful. "There's been a car accident. Rennie has been taken to York Hospital ER and they want me to come." My husband, Bob, immediately offered to drive Mom and Dad to
the hospital, and I insisted on accompanying them, unsure of what we would
find upon arriving there. I was a nurse, after all, the family "authority" on all
things medical, as well as being the eldest of four sisters.
    In the van, driving through the ever-accumulating snow, we were all trying
to put the best face on the matter. Rennie hadn't called herself because they
were working on her. They wanted us to come so there would be someone to
bring her home. But underneath it all, there was that small, niggling edge of
fear and trepidation, which we all were trying desperately to hide.
     Upon arriving at the ER, we were met by a kind-faced, white-haired woman
who asked us to follow her. She led us to a family room, where we saw
Rennie's estranged husband and his mother, both white-faced and unable to
speak. And the kind woman- who turned out to be the County Coroner- told us
that Renate had been in an accident, her car had caught fire, and she had
been killed.
    I don't remember what my mom or dad said or did. I only recall hearing a
shriek of, "No, no, no!" and realizing that it was coming from me. My husband
tried to comfort me, but I was having none of it. I paced that small room and
raged and wept until I was spent. I demanded to see her, but the coroner
gently said that I would not want to remember Rennie that way. And then, I
asked for a phone so I could call home to inform my other two sisters  and
the rest of the waiting family what had happened. As big sister, the eldest of
four, that was my job...and I had to do it. That was just the way it was, and
I could not leave that task to my devastated parents.
     Christmas Eve has never been the same again, though with the passing
years has come a lessening of the acuity of grief. But today, hearing those
poignant words- "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."- I was
suddenly and fully transported to another time, another place, and the stab
of grief was as fresh as it had been on that long-ago Christmas Eve.
     How easy it is to forget that grief has no time limit to it. How easy to fail
to understand how those memory triggers can put us back into the midst of
the perfect storm of emotions which hold us in their thrall, no matter how
much we would wish it to be otherwise. And yet...and yet...if weeping in the
shower on a sunny December morning in 2015 is the price to be paid for
loving and being loved, then I gladly pay it. And on this Christmas Eve,  as
once again we light the candles and sing "Silent Night", tears will streak my
face as I remember Rennie. 






Monday, December 7, 2015

The Word of the Lord Comes...Sermon for Advent 2

In the seventh year of the Presidency of Barak Obama, when Pat McCrory
was governor was governor of North Carolina, and Larry Williams was
mayor of Rural Hall, during the term of ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth
Eaton, the word of God came to Nazareth Lutheran Church in Rural Hall,
NC.

   This is the way Luke introduces John the Baptist to us…setting the
imperial and political and religious scene. But- lest we miss it in the
midst of all the pomp and circumstance- there is this significant fact: the
word of God came to a nobody, a lone, strange, eccentric mystic and
prophet in the wilderness, in a wild, harsh no-man’s land far from family
and government and temple. There in that wild and threatening place,
John heard a voice not his own…God coming, as God does, to one of
God’s people, to one clearly outside the establishment of the day, to one
who would not be expected to be the bearer of God's word...Godspeaking and John listening... clearly, fully listening.      

   But John did not simply listen. John acted. Luke tells us that this out-of-
the-ordinary man of God went into all of the region around the Jordan,
proclaiming repentance, proclaiming forgiveness, proclaiming the
powerful presence and promise of God to those who would listen- as
well as to those who turned away, shaking their heads at this truly
bizarre preacher, clad in animal skins with uncut- and most likely
uncombed- hair, striding along in bare feet, and shouting out his altar-
call to everyone he encountered, according to the words of the prophet,
Isaiah.

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the
Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every
mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made
straight and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the
salvation of God.’

   John was calling the people to repentance, to a change of life, to an
opening to permit the very God of Israel and all the nations to grasp
them and change them and bring the kingdom to full fruition in and
through them. ‘Present yourself for baptism’, John roared. ‘Let this
washing in the river Jordan be a sign of the washing away of your old
life, your old way of doing business and relating to others, your old way
of ignoring your neighbors in need- the lonely, the heartbroken, the
poor, the blind, the  lepers, the ones with AIDS, the homeless people on
the streets, the refugees fleeing a war over which they have no control,
those overwhelmed with grief- and open yourself to God’s presence here,
now…in you, in the world. Turn around. Go in a different direction.
Repent. The salvation of God is God’s gift to you.’
   And we are among that “all flesh”, aren’t we? The rough and crooked
likes of you and me. So, what would it mean this Advent season to have
our self-centered highs lowered, our self-deprecating lows raised, our
rough places sanded smooth? Will we have the courage to open
ourselves to the change of direction the word of God asks for? For that
IS the meaning of repentance- not just saying you’re sorry, but
CHANGING DIRECTION…going in a different way, living as a forgiven,
redeemed, re-formed, re-born, loved being…a child of the God who
creates and calls and comes...the God who always makes the first move,
whether it is through a wild-eyed prophet like John…or a singing group
like the Gospelaires. The word of the Lord comes.

   Luke, you see, Luke, that great and wonderful story-teller; Luke, the
erstwhile historian; Luke begins his story by making the outrageous claim
that God is at work in the weak and small and ordinary and unexpected-
babies and barren women and unwed teenagers and wild-eyed prophets-
to change the world. And God’s word and work continue today- still
through often-unlikely characters like unpopular teens and out-of-work
adults, through corporate executive and stay-at-home parents, through
underpaid shelf-stockers and night-shift workers and volunteer soccer
coaches and English-as-second-language teachers and nursing home
CNAs and even struggling preachers. Oh, it’s easy to miss, I grant you,
especially in this busy, fast-paced world of ours, especially if we’re not
paying attention- but it’s there, all the same, I promise you.

   A good friend of mine, an artist and photographer and worker for peace
and justice who, with his wife, recently moved to NYC, posted this
commentary on Facebook just the other day and I share it with you in
the hope that…well, here it is.

Riding on the subway just now, I sat and thought about what a civil
invention mass transit is. I have witnessed people being generous with
strangers while riding the subway; offering dollars for a heart-felt song;
giving a seat to the tired other. Two nights ago while riding to
Manhattan, I laughed with a man from Georgia (the country, not the
state), who spoke less English than he thought he could. We soon
figured out his route and parted with smiles and a handshake. Today,
I thought of the massacres in CA and searched for a sane reason why so
many Americans are expressing themselves through such violent means.
As I sat looking at the beautiful and varied faces around me, I could not
get a handhold as to why I would ever want to kill them. I walked up
into the Brooklyn daylight, staring first at the steam rising into the blue
sky from atop the old Brooklyn Bank tower. As my gaze settled on the
sidewalk, I saw two nuns stopping to talk to a homeless old man…As I
passed, I looked up to see a large black woman walking toward me,
wearing a black sweatshirt with the giant word LOVE written in white
across it. Sometimes God speaks softly from inside; sometimes She flat
out yells as She swaggers past.

    So- no matter how small, insignificant, or ordinary you feel; no matter
how small, insignificant, or ordinary your life seems, the word of the
Lord comes sidling up to you when you least expect it- or shouts out the
reality of Holy Presence right in front of you. Your part, my part, our
part, is to PAY ATTENTION…to see…to hear… to open our hearts to the
reality and challenge and difficulty of repentance, of change, of going in
a different direction.

    So- will we collaborate in our transformation? Will we hear and
respond to the call of the Baptist? Will we join the people at the river
Jordan, heeding John’s altar call to open themselves to God’s very
presence in their lives? For part of our life together as a Lutheran
congregation is the weekly “altar call” known as Holy Communion. The
invitation is issued by the presiding pastor, and as we come forward to
the altar, we are making ourselves available for the intervention of God,
for the reality and hope and wonder of the indwelling of God’s Holy
Spirit. We are saying, ‘I believe; help my unbelief’. Then, as we
consume the bread and wine, we take into ourselves the very presence
of the Christ…we welcome the Holy and open ourselves to the trans-
forming power of God’s grace-filled forgiveness…God coming TO us, in a
way we can neither explain nor deny…only accept, in gratitude and
wonder. And we leave the altar re-born, re-made, sent out to BE the
Christ in our world, to share the truth of God’s ever-presence- the Good
News. 

   Today, let’s ask ourselves, to whose voice have I been listening this
Advent season? If you, each of you, each of US, could take a detour
from your usual route, could turn off the clamor of this ever-present
and persistent world, would you? Would you bother? Would you DARE?
Turn OFF your cell phone. Turn OFF the TV. Power down all of the
internet-fed devices which link us to every bit of everything that is
happening everywhere. Turn OFF, power down, and listen…just listen…
and then- respond to what you hear…and see…and witness to the
truth of God present and active and alive in our world.

   And now, I invite you to do something just a bit different for a
moment…as I pass out these index cards and pencils, be thinking about
a place or time this week when you saw/were aware of God at work…
of God actively present in your life/your world/our world. Then, write
that on the card and when you answer the altar call of Holy Communion,
place your card on the blue posterboard so that, together, as a
congregation, as a faith community here in Rural Hall, NC, we can bear
witness to and affirm the reality of the Presence of God…God coming to
us...God at work in God’s world, in our world. And together, as a
congregation, as a faith community here in Rural Hall, NC, we can lift
our voices in prayer and praise and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God!
Amen

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Imagine...Just Imagine

Oh, my, I just realized how long it has been since I've posted
anything on this blog of mine. It's not because things haven't been
happening or because I haven't had any thoughts on all the personal
and national and world events, but perhaps just because I have had
so many...too many, it seems, to be able to put them in some
coherent form to share with others. And I find this happening more
and more these days. Events foment around me, entering into my
headspace, into my heartspace, and so overwhelm me with emotions
and thoughts, with pictures and images, that I find it very difficult
to put it all into words.


*The American political scene, with all of the nastiness and back-
biting, with statements being made by candidates which seem too
bizarre to be real or taken seriously- but which are, by so many
people. To say I am confused would be a humongous understatement.


*The worldwide refugee crisis, with YouTube videos of the endless
stream of humanity on the move, to escape war and violence and
hunger, people willing to risk everything to reach a place of safety
and hope, while I sit here in my comfortable house, trying to decide
what I will make for dinner, not if there will BE dinner.


*The on-going, difficult, and dismaying level of confrontation between
my African-American sisters and brothers and the law enforcement
community, those commissioned to protect and serve- ALL people, it
seems to me.


*The continuing demonization of the LGBTQ community by some who
use the Judeo-Christian scriptures as a battering ram to hammer
home their own interpretation of those less-than-clear passages, all
the while seemingly-ignoring the very clear mandate of the one called
the Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves- and to love our enemies.
(Admittedly, I have a lot of trouble with the last part.)


*The increasingly-nasty rhetoric regarding Planned Parenthood, a
service which has done incredible good over many decades, and is,
in many cases, the only health service available to poor women, to
women without health insurance, to women who are on the fringes
and forgotten by the rest of society.


*The mystifying battle over gun control and gun "rights", when we
are being faced over and over and over and OVER again with tragic
school shootings. And in the midst of all the brouhaha, the issue of
mental health care continues to loom large, like the elephant in the
room that seems to be ignored by so many, but will not go away.


*Oh, and lest I forget, the incredible attack on voting rights in so
many places, including my own North Carolina, threatening the
disenfranchisement of racial minorities, the poor, the old, and the
young.


Add to all this, the personal and professional questions and problems
and joys, all of the family "stuff" which fills much of my days, and
I guess it is no wonder that addressing the whole miasma of life
right now is increasingly difficult. I can only say- right at this very
moment- that I am tired of the fighting, tired of the name-calling,
tired of the walls of separation and difference which are being
erected, ugly brick by brick, in the name of nationalism and
patriotism, in the name of religion and ethnicity, in the name of an
"I am right, so you must be wrong" mentality.


In this most glorious season of the year here in the northern
hemisphere, in this time of cooler days and crisp clear nights,
in this time of brilliantly-colored leaves and scurrying squirrels,
in this time of harvest and giving thanks, can we not- each and all
of us- take the time to look- really look- at one another...take the
time to realize that, under the skin, beneath the labels, in spite of
the ways in which we seek to separate ourselves one from the
other- we are all... each and every one of us...human beings, created
(according to my spiritual perspective) in the image of a God who
loves, a God who IS Love...a God who shows no partiality, a God who
welcomes and accepts each and every one of us as beloved children.
In the words of one of my favorite songs,
     You may say I'm a dreamer,
     But I'm not the only one.
     I hope some day you'll join us,
     and the world will live as one.
After all, I can dream, can't I?



Monday, September 28, 2015

Sermonizing...


This morning, during my quiet time, my time of reading and
reflecting, of thinking and writing, I found myself suddenly
thinking about how a congregation- my congregation or yours-
views the sermon...and about how I, as the one preaching, view
what it is I am doing- and why. Perhaps I am unique in the fact
that this is not something to which I have given a great deal of
thought and consideration. I don't mean that I don't give thought
to what I'm preaching or to how it will be received. But I'm not
sure if I have ever put into words what a sermon really is for me-
and what I hope it is for the congregation. But this morning,
words came flooding unbidden, and so I share them with you, from
the bottom of my heart:

For me, the sermon is not to point the finger.
It is rather an invitation to the members of the congregation
to enter into dialogue, to walk along with, to uplift and
encourage the pastor even as s/he lifts up and encourages them.
It is a frail, sinful human creature speaking words s/he needs
to hear and laying them out for everyone to see.
It is the deep acknowledgement of our shared humanity and
our shared need for connection and compassion.
It is not me saying to you that I know more, understand more,
am more- more spiritual, more Godly, more anything- except,
perhaps, somewhat more aware of my faults and foibles and
limitations.
It is simply me saying to you, "Here I am and here you are.
Can we perhaps build a bridge of understanding between us?
Can we journey a way on this often-difficult, mostly-confusing
road of life together- perhaps holding one another up, supporting
one another when the going gets rough?
A sermon lays the preacher bare and wrings from him or her
every ounce of energy, strength, honesty, and truth- (which
is perhaps why so many pastors nap on Sunday afternoons.)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Living A Glorious Day...

Windows open wide...a grand and glorious gift. The air blowing
through the house, sweeping in its path all that is stale and dull
and hidden...bringing with it a sense of energy, of newness, which
has felt dormant during the long, closed-in days of this summer's
heat. And filled with that energy today,I changed my bed linens,
did laundry, cooked homemade applesauce, all the while rejoicing
in the lovely, cool temperatures with which the day gifted me,
gifted us all in this part of Carolina.

And now, tonight, I will crawl between fresh, clean sheets- one
of my favorite sensations, a sense memory which harkens back to 
childhood evenings after Mother had changed the sheets- which
in her house happened every week but in mine happens only about
every month. For me, there is something so comforting, so nurturing,
about crawling into bed to the welcome of cool, clean sheets, which-
in those days- smelled of the outdoors and carried the awareness
of my mother's loving ministrations- at least until I was old enough
to do that task for myself.

Now, of course, I am the one who nurtures and nourishes and cares
for me. Mom is long gone and I have not yet reached the stage of
my life where I need someone else to do these tasks of everyday
living for me. I can still climb the stairs down to my basement
laundry, climb the stairs to my upstairs bedroom. I can still drive
and shop and cook and do all of those little things, those everyday
things, which comprise an ordinary life. And, as my early-morning
eye exam attested, I can still see quite well with my trusty and
ever-present tri-focals.

But the reality which I find myself facing more and more these
days is that I am no longer young, that I am actually among the
elderly in our society, the aged in our world. Now, this does not
mean that I am giving up or giving in, that I am not living life
as fully as possible. In fact, I suspect I am as fully alive now
as I have ever been in my life, as the awareness of the value
and wonder, the gift of each day fills me from my waking until
my sleeping each night.

Am I aware of the slowing of my step and the creaking of my
joints? Of course I am. I no longer run up and down the stairs
in my house, but take their courses much more slowly, as I heed
my arthritic right hip crying out to me to slow down just a bit.
And I am well aware that, with each passing year, I am nearer,
ever nearer, to that time when I will need assistance, will need
to depend on others far more than I do presently. That is simply
the reality of living a long time- and those of us who are now
septuagenarians have already lived far longer than many of the
generations of humanity who have gone before us. Two high
school classmates and friends have died over the past year, so
the awareness of passing time is ever before me.

For now, though, I am pleased to have prepared my house for
Autumn's approach, with sunflowers and fall colors and leaves
abounding. I am grateful that I am still able to negotiate those
flights of stairs to accomplish the simple task of doing laundry.
I am delighted that I can cook those foods which feed both my
body and spirit, nourishing me in so many ways. And if someone
refers to me as an "old lady", I can smile and nod and say, "Yes,
yes, I am, and I'm proud of it." And- just for today, for this
glorious, lovely, life-breathing day- I whisper a thank you to
the God whose very breath sustains me.



Saturday, September 5, 2015

Remembering Sara...with Much Love

Today, I had the honor of preaching the eulogy at the memorial
Service of a member of my parish who had, over the years, become
a dear friend. So many people asked me afterward for a copy of
that sermon that I am posting it here- for them and for those of
you who could not attend the service and for those of you who
never knew Sara but may come to know her through my words.
        +         +        +         +         +        +         +


Even though we are gathered here this afternoon to grieve a death, I
must tell you that I continue to think of Sara in the present tense. For
even in her dying months and weeks, she was one of the most vibrantly-
alive people I have ever met and had the remarkable privilege of knowing.

Sara Jane Anderson was born 76 years ago here in Rural Hall and lived her
her life within this small mostly-rural community…yet she was not bound
by local mores and customs and beliefs. Her life, while small to some, was
marked by unbounded love and acceptance and welcome to people of
every race and creed, of every age, of every sexual orientation…people who
walked into her life and were immediately drawn to her and embraced by
her in that inimitable “Sara” way of hers. “Mom collected people,” Carol
said to me the other day, as we met to talk about this service. “She got
under people’s skin and they wanted to be a part of her life…and she
welcomed them.”
 
Sara’s love of music, as well as her talent, was obvious quite early and by
the age of ten, she was the musician here at Nazareth, continuing in that role
until her health forced her to leave the bench of her beloved organ two
years ago. Teaching piano to countless students from the 1970s, she imparted
not only her love of music but life lessons as well. Those young people who
came to her for piano lessons found not only an enthusiastic and dedicated
teacher, but a confidante, a trusted friend, to whom they could tell their
deepest hopes and fears, knowing they would be held in heart and mind by
this open, accepting, incredibly honest woman, who never pulled any punches,
yet spoke the truth in love.
 
Sara never had very much materially, which bothered her not at all. And when
she did receive something, most often she shared it with others, since giving
was far more to her liking than receiving. Reading was one of her passions
and in the mid-1990s, she began keeping track of all the books she read from
that point on. That list grew to 1,776 books this year, until her health made
reading and concentrating more and more difficult. And gardening was her
passion, her joy, her life-giving hobby, with time spent in the garden a time
of being and thinking and celebrating the natural world around her, which
she so loved.
 
But the part of Sara I love most…the part with which I most resonated…was
her absolute dedication to justice…to the causes of inclusion and acceptance.
An avid Democrat, Sara wore proudly the appellation of “bleeding heart liberal”,
and my visits with her were punctuated by long discussions about politics and
the causes near and dear to both of our hearts. We laughed together, raged
together, commiserated together, and so forged a relationship which I will
carry in my heart for as long as I live…as will many of you, I am certain. For
that was Sara…her honestly, her unfailing open-hearted honesty and welcome,
drew us in and embraced us in a way I have seldom encountered in my
lifetime. And those pastoral visits, ostensibly for Sara, ended up feeding and
nourishing me in so many ways. I always came away feeling better…more
grateful…many times deeply delighted by the time we had shared- and I could
only hope that I was giving as much to her as she was giving to me.

Sara considered herself an agnostic- which to me meant that she was not afraid
to question, to doubt, to shake her fist at God when life just didn’t seem to
make sense. After her last hospital stay, after she had been given the word
that there was no more to be done medically, after Hospice had been called
in, when I was visiting with her, I began my prayer by saying, “God, this just
sucks. And sometimes we’re just angry and want an explanation for why things
happen as they do.” Afterward, Sara looked at me and said, “You just know
the right thing to say, Pastor Linda. Thank you for that.” We could be honest
with each other…for that was a hallmark of relationship with Sara. And yet, for
all her doubts and questionings, she LIVED the way of Christ as fully as any
human being I have ever known, living always with arms and heart and mind
wide open and welcoming.

An avid Garrison Keillor fan, Sara considered some of the highlights of her life
the two times she met the man in person, once giving and receiving a hug.
And Carol shared with me a memory I found not only delightful but which, I
think, typifies so beautifully the Sara we know and love. In 1993, Carol was able
to get tickets to go to Bill Clinton’s first inauguration in Washington, DC, and
urged Sara to go along. Now, Sara was a homebody and travel was not
something she often undertook gladly or willingly. But the prospect of seeing
Clinton sworn in as President AND hearing Maya Angelou read the poem she
had written for the occasion was just too much of an incentive. So Sara, Carol,
and Iris made the trip, went to the inauguration, AND went to and danced at
the North Carolina Inaugural Ball. Can’t you just see her, swinging around the
dance floor with Carol, her face alight with her own special Sara smile?
Delighted at being part of this historical occasion. Delighted at sharing this with
a daughter and a sister. Simply, fully delighted.
 
And knowing Sara’s love of and respect for the words of Maya Angelou,
especially those spoken on that day, I share with you some lines from that
poem which, to me, say “Sara” in a very special way, speaking as they do
about those things closest to her heart throughout the whole of her life:

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
 
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
 
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River…

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache, and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot-
You, the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours- your Passages have been paid…

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
 
Women, children, men,
Take it in the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your more
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country…

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

 Sara, we remember you, with respect and gratitude and love. Amen and amen