Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The World Needs More of You

When I was a senior in college I decided to take voice lessons from Kathy Backlund, may she rest in peace.  I wanted to learn how to sing harmony.  I wanted to learn how to hold my own note while someone else was singing a different one.  I wanted to be a better singer.  So at 9 or 10 o'clock on Saturday mornings I would trek out to Kathy's house near Morgan's Steep for my voice lesson.  Other than singing Greensleeves and maybe a version of the Our Father, I don't remember much about these lessons except that I was inordinately proud of myself for getting up so early on a Saturday morning.  Ha!  But there was one moment.  One moment that I have remembered again and again.

I don't remember what prompted it.  I was singing something, and Kathy walked across the room to the doorway, and I think she was trying to get me to use more of my voice so it would carry all the way to her.  What she said was, "Your voice isn't taking up enough space.  It's like you're afraid of taking up too much space.  The world needs more of you.  You can take up more space."  Or something like that.  What has stayed with me all these years was the phrase, "The world needs more of you."  Kathy had pegged it.  I have spent so much of my life being small and scared, being afraid of taking up too much space, of bothering people, of people not liking me.  She encouraged me to let go of that, to make my unique contribution, to share more of my gifts and myself with the world.  She gave me permission.  She reassured me that my presence in the world was a good thing and that the world needs me.

I am so grateful to Kathy for those words, and I am especially grateful that I was able to tell her how much they had meant to me before she died.  I wish I remembered them all the time and lived by them every day.  When I do, I stop being small and become more willing to share the beautiful person that God created me to be.

So whoever is reading this, wherever you are, whatever is going on in your life.  Hear this:  The world needs more of you.  Yes, you.  You aren't just "good enough," you are a blessing to the world.  Share your gifts and talents.  Share your authentic self.  Share that beautiful soul of yours.  The world needs more of you.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Do It Afraid

"'Be not afraid' does not mean we cannot have fear.  Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding.  Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have.  We do not have to lead from a place of fear, thereby engendering a world in which fear is multiplied." -Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak p. 94

I hate making telephone calls.  I'd rather go to the dentist than make a phone call - in fact, one of the reasons I don't mind going to the dentist is that they schedule your next appointment when you're there, so you don't have to call for one.  One of the best inventions EVER is online scheduling!  My "phonephobia" is something I can't explain.  Maybe it's my codependency that leads me to want to see another person's face while I'm having a conversation so I can see how they're responding to what I say and make sure they still like me.  Maybe it's the fact that my brains seem to leak out my butt when I pick up a phone and I babble inarticulately - especially if I'm talking to an answering machine.  Maybe I have bad phone memories from my childhood.  Who knows?  What I do know is that I would rather drive to the vet to make the appointments for the cats or visit a store to see if they have the thing I need rather than have to call and ask.  It's crazy and inefficient.  When I used to work at VA Stage Co. I would walk all over the building to talk to people so that I didn't have to pick up the phone.  Only a real urgency will allow me to bypass my fear.  (Or calling a good friend -  usually that doesn't bother me.) 

I am ready to get over this fear.  There is a phrase in the circles of recovery that says, "Do it Afraid."  It seems to fit well with the quote from Parker Palmer above.  Do it afraid.  Feel the fear, but do it anyway.  Palmer goes on to say, "We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well - places with names like trust and hope and faith.  We can choose to lead from one of those places..."

Lead from a place of trust and hope and faith.  Even if I'm still scared.  Sometimes it seems so much easier just to give in to my fear.  But there are things that I need to do that involve phone calls.  Important things.  Things that matter.  It's time to do it afraid.  Just like jumping off the zip line platform.

Wish me luck. 

I'll let you know if I'm successful.

Whatever you're scared of doing right now, why don't you join me, and do it afraid?  We can jump off the platform together. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Healing Oils: The Extravagance of God's Love

Today I attended a workshop in Richmond given by the Rev. Becca Stevens, founder of Magdalene/Thistle Farms, a residential treatment program for women coming off the streets of Nashville.  The workshop was about surrender.  Not the kind of surrender that involves waving the white flag on the field of battle to concede that I am the loser and you are the winner.  But surrender that involves giving in, letting go, giving oneself up to something greater, like surrendering to love, surrendering to God.

Becca wove the making of healing oils into the conversation about surrender.  Healing oils are made by adding a few drops of essential oils into a larger amount of a carrier oil.  Carrier oils include olive oil, jojoba oil, and almond oil.  Essential oils carry the scent of the plant they come from.  Today's oils included cinnamon, sweet orange, lavender, bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, geranium, and cedar.  My hands and hair and sweater still smell like oils.  We got to make our own by using droppers to put olive oil in small vials and then mixing in a few drops of the essential oils we liked.  It was such fun to play with the scents and try to find the most pleasing combination.  Each oil has particular healing properties, too, and it was very prayerful to try to pick particular oils for particular people.

The most powerful moment of the workshop for me came at the end.  We had been talking about the woman who anointed Jesus with the costly nard, about the extravagance of the gesture, about the complete surrender involved, and about the healing that happened for the woman and, we are guessing, for Jesus.  Becca wrapped up by reading us the story of Jesus on the beach with the disciples asking Peter if he loved him.  She asked if there were questions.  In the long silence that followed, Becca poured a generous amount of olive oil into a small pitcher and then put the remains of several vials of essential oils into it.  She then invited forward a woman who happens to be an old friend of hers from Sewanee.  Becca asked her friend to take off her socks and shoes.  She then said a prayer while putting her hand in the container of oil and scooping a large amount onto her friend's feet.  She proceeded to bathe her friend's feet with the oil, rubbing it on from ankle to toe, soaking the feet in the oil.  She ended the prayer and then paused.  And then she continued talking about how God keeps reaching out with love for us, and she took another handful of oil and spread it over her friend's feet.  A third time, she poured the remaining oil over the feet.  When she was done, she wiped her friends feet with paper towels and gently put her socks and shoes back on.

I don't really remember what Becca said as she anointed her friend with healing oil.  It was a gesture that didn't need words.  In a visceral way, the extravagant amount of oil she used brought home for me the extravagance of God's love.  God keeps coming back and bathing us in that love, no matter who we are, no matter what we've done.  As I watched the oil spill over and drip down onto the floor, I thought about how expensive essential oils are, how Becca was willing to "waste" all that oil to make her point.  But not just to make her point.  To give us an experience.

Jesus continually compared the kingdom of heaven to concrete things that the disciples could see and touch and smell and taste.  Today I learned that the kingdom of heaven is like generous amounts of healing oil slathered on a woman's feet, dripping down onto the wooden floor, soothing and cleansing and overflowing.  It smells like lavender and grapefruit and cedar.  It lingers on your hands, on your clothes, in your hair.  And there is more than enough of it to go around.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Heart Space

The other day I finished reading Richard Rohr's latest book, Immortal Diamond.  At the back he included several appendices.  The one that has captured my attention is called, "Head into Heart: 'The Sacred Heart.'"  In this little appendix Rohr discusses bringing our thoughts into our hearts.  He talks about how important this idea was for the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and he links it to the "Sacred Heart" imagery so often found in Catholic art.

I confess, I have never given a thought to the "Sacred Heart."  And though I've read the Desert Fathers and Mothers, I've never thought about prayer in exactly this way, bringing my thoughts down into my heart.  Rohr says, "Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind... and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space because such commentaries are almost entirely lodged in your head.  There, surround it with silence (which is much easier to do in the heart).  There, it is surrounded with blood, which will often feel warm like coals." (p. 204)  He goes on to suggest that what we do when we pray for someone is to move them into our heart space.

I have never heard this description of prayer before.  I'm finding it to be a very powerful practice, though.  I know that we can't "literally" move people into our hearts, but imagining moving someone into my heart is a very tender and vulnerable experience.  As Rohr suggests, it is in our thoughts that we hold onto resentments, judgments, criticisms, and endless ongoing conversations.  In our heart space, there is love.   I can't imagine someone in my heart space and continue to be angry, frustrated, unforgiving, etc.  That space is warm and accepting and so very gentle.  It seems that I am not yet able to put just anyone there.  But I'm hoping that with practice, I can learn to move people into that space when I'm ready and when it feels safe to do so. 

Being someone who gets endlessly trapped in thinking, I am grateful for a concrete prayer practice that I think will have a powerful influence on my ability to forgive.  Myself and others.  Though I haven't tried it yet, I am guessing I can use this practice with my self as well as others, especially when I get caught up in the relentless self criticism in my head.  Ever so gently I can imagine me in my heart, wrapped in love, just as I imagine that God holds us in God's heart.  I'm not sure whether that makes any sense at all, but I will continue to try it and see what I learn.

The other night I watched the movie, E.T., for the first time in many years.  E.T.'s heart space looks kind of like what I'm imagining when I put people in mine.  Visuals are hard for me, so it helps.  Rohr says, "Love lives and thrives in the heart space."  I believe that.  I'm hoping I can transform the negatives in my life by moving them down into the loving space of my heart.  With God's help.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Reluctant Visitors: Meeting Pearl Fryar

Have you had the experience of someone recommending that you go someplace, and you just didn't want to go?  Even though the person raved and raved about it and said it was a "must see" and kept asking you if you'd been yet?  But something stubborn and rebellious in you kept resisting, just couldn't imagine that whatever it was could be that wonderful.  And then when you finally did go, did you feel a sense of gratitude and perhaps a little sheepishness that you'd doubted the recommendation?  Well, that's what happened to me with Pearl Fryar's garden.

If you're ever traveling down I-20 through South Carolina, do yourself a favor and don't resist - make a stop in Bishopville at Pearl Fryar's topiary garden.  There's not a lot to see along that stretch of highway, and it will add delight to your trip.  It won't cost you a thing, unless you choose to make a donation.  If you're lucky, Pearl himself will be there to welcome you and show you around his yard of marvelous topiaries and whimsical sculptures.

Pearl began his garden with the goal of winning the Yard of the Month award.  He had a 3-minute lesson from a man at the local nursery and went to work creating a fairyland of shaped shrubbery.  In his words, "I like to cut bushes." Pearl says that academics were not his favorite thing, but he had a gift for cutting bushes, and he has used that gift well.  Pearl's story has been featured in the movie, "A Man Named Pearl."
I was heading with a friend to her family reunion in Augusta, GA on a warm morning in July when we reluctantly turned off the interstate.  We had decided we would arrive before it opened and then take a quick look so we could say we had been there and then get back on the road.  Little did we know when we set off that morning that we would have a life-changing experience meeting Pearl Fryar and seeing his work.

The topiaries were amazing.  It's hard to capture them on film though if you visit Pearl's website, you'll see some great pictures.  Amongst the artfully trimmed shrubs and trees were "junk sculptures" also made by Pearl.  In one section spelled out in red begonias were the words, "Peace, love, and good will."  And those are the things Pearl spreads with his passion for trimming bushes.

Buses of school children and other groups drive in to view the gardens and to learn about Pearl's philosophy.  "Hate hurts" is one side of a sculpture, complete with a frowny face, and the flip side reads "Love and unity" with a smile.  Pearl explains to the kids that you have to let go of the negative and focus on the positive.  No matter what.  And the kids take his message to heart, letting him know years later how his seeds of positive thinking helped them stay on  course.

Pearl uses donations to his garden to grant scholarships to "C" students who will be attending junior or community colleges.  He wants to inspire students who may not have academic strengths to pursue their creative dreams.  You can read more about his scholarship program here.

Pearl's art and passion blew me away.  We at SpiritWorks Foundation want to make a difference in the life of a child.  Pearl is already doing that and by doing something he loves.  To think, that we might have missed out on seeing his extraordinary garden and learning about his beautiful vision.  I'm so grateful we didn't.  Meeting Pearl was a blessing and an inspiration.  I hope our paths will cross again. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Missing the Tree: Even Small Change can be Hard

About an hour ago, after I had completed my morning meditation, I heard voices outside my living room window and looked up to see workmen trimming the trees of my backdoor neighbor.  As I watched, I quickly realized that they weren't just there to trim the trees; they were actually removing the redbud tree that grows right outside my neighbor's porch.  It blocks my view of her porch.  She usually has bird feeders hanging from it, including a hummingbird feeder, and a bird bath sits under it.  Squirrels run up and down the tree all day, and birds often perch on its limbs before dropping down for a bite to eat or soaring off to another neighborhood tree. 

Now it's gone.  Empty space greets my eyes every time I look up.  I had not realized how often my gaze rests on that tree and its inhabitants.  It is the first thing I see outside my window.  And now, I can't seem to stop looking for it.  If you've ever had a tooth removed, then you know what I mean - it's like not being able to stop my tongue from looking for the missing tooth.  I just keep looking up and seeing my neighbor's porch.  No tree.

Of course there are many other trees out the same window if I look in a different direction.  Birds and squirrels play in those trees as well.  It's not like all the green has gone away.  And yet I feel sad, missing a tree that I've always taken for granted, the tree with the heart shaped leaves and the sweet purple flowers in spring.  The tree that made my living room feel very private even with the blinds open.  It wasn't a huge tree, but it played an important role in the green space behind my house.

Maybe the absence of the tree will allow more light in and help the grass to grow in our common area.  Maybe some of my plants in the backyard will grow more now that there is more light.  Maybe I will come to appreciate the open space that has been created.  For now, though, I miss the tree.  Even small change can be hard.  Something to remember when I find myself asking other people to change.  Even small change involves loss and possibly grief - not large sobbing, soul-shaking grief, but small grief that's easy to ignore so it gets lodged somewhere with all the other unacknowledged small griefs until it comes out sideways somewhere down the road. 

So, before I go charging off to the next task, pulling myself away so that I don't have to keep facing the empty space in my backyard, I will take a moment to mourn the redbud tree, a living thing that needed to be cut down because its branches could cause damage to the roof of a house, a part of God's creation that brought me joy even though I couldn't have named that until today, a green and growing element of my life that has now died.  Good-bye sweet redbud tree.  I will miss you.  Thank you for all the pleasure you brought to me and this little corner of the world.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Entertaining Strangers: Visiting with Ashley Bryan

On the weekend of July 13, the people of Little Cranberry Island, off the coast of Maine, gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday of Mr. Ashley Bryan.  On Monday, July 15, I learned of Ashley as I traveled on the mail boat from Northeast Harbor to Little Cranberry (known also as Islesford) to catch a boat for our lobster tour.  A lady on the boat asked if we knew that it was Ashley's birthday.  I had never even heard of Ashley and certainly didn't know of his natal celebration.  The woman suggested that we walk up to his house on the island and ask to see his sea glass windows.  Some of them were on display in the Congregational Church on the island, but she assured us that he also welcomed visitors to stop in and see him.

I have to admit that I was skeptical.  It didn't seem right to just drop in at the private home of an artist.  When we arrived on the island, we walked up to the church and saw the windows portraying scenes from the Bible:  the Palm Sunday procession, the Nativity, the calming of the storm.  They were beautiful and so unique.  So we decided to try to find his house and meet the man who had created such lovely windows out of glass washed up by the sea.

Ashley was outside his house with several other people.  When we introduced ourselves and told him that the lady on the mail boat had said he was the highlight of the island, he invited us in to his house.  He told us we could play with the toys on the porch if we wanted to, and then he led us inside and showed us all the items he has collected from his travels around the world.  Every inch of space in his house was filled with objects from across the globe.  It was like being in a museum.

Best of all was Ashley's own work.  He led us into a bedroom to see his sea glass windows.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Two evangelists stood on either side of each window with Biblical scenes in small squares interspersed with flowers.  Sea glass of all shapes and colors reflected the light streaming in from outside.  They were stunning.  Ashley showed us a window in progress, one of St. Paul, and demonstrated his method of using papier mache, pounding it into a paste, and inserting it between pieces of sea glass.  It didn't look very impressive to me lying on a table, but as soon as he held it up to the light, it was like magic. 

Ashley also showed us his collection of puppets made out of found objects.  He demonstrated how one could use the puppets to tell stories based on the mystery plays of old.  There were puppets of all kinds - such creative combinations.  He kindly allowed us to take pictures.  We later got to see his illustrated books in a local shop on the island.  He has won numerous awards for his books and uses many mediums for his art.

What amazed me most was Ashley's hospitality to strangers.  He welcomes those who come to his house, invites them in, offers the use of his bathroom, shows them around, and answers any questions.  He seems to delight in showing his work, though he is very humble about it and does not mention awards, talking instead about his joy in creating the art.  When he came back from serving in the war, he was determined not to let the horrors he had seen destroy his life.  Instead he has embraced life and art and books and shares them with everyone who stops by.

I admire Ashley's art, but most of all I admire his generous spirit, his joy and wonder, and his graciousness in welcoming all to his home and sharing the gifts he has been given.  Hebrews 13:2 says, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."  In this case I think it may have been the angel who was showing hospitality to us.  May he be blessed with many more years.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Maine Trip Overview

I spent the last week house sitting for friends in Maine.  While I was there I didn't have time to write about what I was experiencing, so I'm going to write a few posts now to try to capture the trip.  This first one will be a short overview, and then I'll go into details in future posts.

We drove up to Maine in 1 day, just shy of 15 hours of driving, hitting 10 states on the way.  We arrived in a deep fog and worried that our trip would be spent mostly indoors, but the next day the fog burned off by noon and never returned.  I love how Maine smells, like low tide and Christmas trees.  Fresh and clean and salty.  The balsam firs are everywhere, their delicate scent drifting in to sweeten the air every so often. 

On our first day we got to spend time with Miko and Bella, our two charges for the week, and we toured downtown Ellsworth where we were staying and drove over for a visit to Bar Harbor and the Loop Road of Acadia National Park.  Beautiful.  We strolled down to the water in Bar Harbor, explored some of the shops, scoped out the Episcopal Church for Sunday, and took the mile long shore walk before heading out to Acadia and the rugged Maine coast.  We stopped for views and pictures and even meditated on the rocks with the sound of the ocean waves providing the background music. 

On Friday, our second day we decided to take a tour of the Schoodic Peninsula, about an hour north and got to play on the rocks where the ocean waves were breaking.  We saw lots of gorgeous scenery and stopped in the sweet little town of Corea at the Wharf Gallery for grilled cheese lobster sandwiches.  Yum!  We fell in love with the little Corea Harbor and drove all around it.  On the road in we also saw a puffin's nest on top of a telephone pole. 

On Saturday exhaustion from the trip and a rough night up with the dogs caught up with us, and we had a mostly quiet day.  The view from the house of Union River was stunning, and the wind stirred up the river waves at high and low tides.  We had dinner that night at Finn's Irish Pub, good fish and chips and ice cream later from Morton's Moo in Ellsworth.

On Sunday we headed in for church at St. Savior's in Bar Harbor where we participated in a lovely service and then took a tour of the church which has 10 Tiffany windows.  The tour guide was delightful, told great stories and had a wonderful sense of humor.  After church we changed clothes and caught the Island Explorer bus to Jordan Pond where we had popovers before heading out on a hike to Bubble Rock and around Jordan Pond.  More about that in another post.  After completing our hike we took the bus back to town and arrived in time for ice cream (macademia coconut white chocolate) before the evening service for seasonal employees at St. Savior's.  Turns out that it was a prayer and praise service, and the largest group in attendance were from Jamaica.  We heard Jamaican Gospel music filling the walls of St. Savior's and enjoyed worshiping there.

On Monday we took the mail boat to Little Cranberry Island where we got meet Ashley Bryan and tour his house and his art.  More about him later.  We also went on a lobster boat tour.  Such fun!  We learned a lot about lobsters and had a great afternoon on the water.  We ate that night at the Lobster Pot in Ellsworth - yummy lobster mac & Cheese.

Tuesday was our last day, and we spent the morning working on the farm where our friends get shares of vegetables.  We picked cucumbers and beet greens and washed and packed them.  We went back to Corea for the afternoon for more fresh lobster and local friendliness.

On the way back home we stopped in Baltimore for a lovely dinner with my cousins, Anne and Shirley.  It was a wonderful trip, and I look forward to sharing some of my reflections in later posts.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Safety First

 How many times have we heard the phrase, "Safety first"?  We use it with young children, teaching them to look both ways before crossing the street and helping them to understand why they need to wear a helmet when riding a bike.  It's an extremely helpful phrase for people who work in dangerous occupations where failure to pay attention to safety precautions can result in injury or death.  It's a wise slogan when we're doing something potentially dangerous like flying on a zip line or playing around water or fire or jumping on a trampoline.  We use it to remind ourselves to be careful, to take the necessary steps to keep ourselves safe.  Safety first.  Absolutely.

And yet.

Is is possible to take it too far?

I recently had the opportunity to hear Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori speak at the 25th Preaching Excellence Conference in Richmond.  In her address, she talked about the "excessive attention to safety and security" here in North America.  She attributed part of that to our accumulation of stuff.  When we're busy protecting all the things we have stored in our "barns" then everyone we meet becomes a potential threat, especially the people we don't know.  Her response was to suggest that we have to let down some of that vigilance.  "Without vulnerability, there can be no real love of self, God, or neighbor," she said.  In order to love, we have to take risks.  In order to be successful we have to take risks.  In order to be alive, we have to take risks.

I believe that in this country we have turned safety and security into idols.  We have taken the idea of "Safety first" literally.  Safety comes before everything else.  It's at the heart of the discussion about gun control.  It's behind the Patriot Act and all this eavesdropping on conversation.  It's why we have gated communities and home security systems and intensive airport security and endless forms of insurance.  Some of these things are good, sensible protection, but I wonder if we take it too far.  For those of us who are Christians, I wonder what our obsession with security says about our relationship with God.

I've been reading Scott Bader-Saye's book, Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear.  It's been sitting on my shelf since I bought it a couple of years ago when I was still in parish ministry but have only just found time to read it.  I'm only half way through, but I find it very helpful in exploring this addiction to safety and the fear that lies behind it.  I struggle a lot with why bad things happen to good people and how God could allow things like the Holocaust and genocide and child abuse and myriad other things that seem too tragic for a good God to allow.  At times I think I've come to some place of resolution and then something like the Newtown shooting occurs and I'm back to the drawing board.  Seems like there's been a lot of those events lately.

Scott Bader-Saye says, "God provides.  God redeems.  But God does not always prevent." Ah yes.  No matter how much I want God to prevent.  He goes on to say, "God promises to provide.  God promises to redeem.  God does not promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us.  In fact, Jesus promises that if we follow him, the world will persecute us just as it persecuted him.  If anything, we are promised suffering, but we are also promised a way through it."  That doesn't sound like much in the face of tragedy.  Thanks, God.  I appreciate the suffering.  Got anything else for me?

When I'm honest, I have to admit that I just want God to make everything easy for me and for those I love.  I want to be safe and secure and never have to do things I fear or don't like.  Selfishly I want God to work things out according to my plan.  But time and time again I have learned that my plan isn't necessarily a good plan.  It's often selfish and frequently wouldn't even be the best thing for me.  The best conclusion that I've been able to reach is in agreement with what Scott Bader-Saye is saying. God redeems everything.  Maybe not in the way I want.  Maybe not in the time frame I would prefer.  Eventually, God redeems everything.

Believing that is how I can find courage in this culture of fear that tells me my neighbor is different and scary and would just as soon take my stuff or my life.  Instead of insuring my security with more and more and more protection, walls, gates, and locks until I'm burrowed down deep in a cave where no one can harm me, I can choose to take some risks.  Maybe I'll lose some stuff.  Maybe I'll be killed.  But I'd much rather live trusting that God is going to provide and redeem than frantically relying on my own strength and resources to prevent anything bad from happening. 

It's been scary to me in the past few years as I left my comfortable parish job and stepped out into the world where health insurance and pension funds aren't provided and where I'm not sure how I'm going to pay all the bills.  And yet I'm grateful because it's forced me to rely each month on God's providence.  Kicking and screaming all the way, I learn that there's enough.  Often just enough, but enough nevertheless.  I want to know how the bills are going to be paid in December.  God says, here's enough for June.  I am reluctant to let go of fear and my strong need for security.  When I do, though, I am blessed with abundance that only God can provide.

I still apply "Safety first" when I'm getting into a car or preparing to do the Ropes Course, but I don't have to put safety ahead of risks when it comes to other areas of my life.  Putting love first seems like a better way to live.  More joyful.  More abundant.  I'll leave the rest to God.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Earwig in the Chalice

This morning I woke up thinking that my challenge for the day would be preaching a sermon on the Holy Trinity.  It's not an easy topic, and I mostly dodged it.  My theology teacher, Ellen Wondra, used to say, "You can't appeal to mystery until the last 15 minutes of class."  By saying that, we were forced to wrestle with complex theology instead of just throwing up our hands and saying "It's a mystery."  I'm glad she didn't hear my sermon today.  Since I preach for less than 15 minutes, I appealed to mystery at the beginning of my sermon!

After the sermon was over, I thought I would be home free.  Indeed, everything was going smoothly until after the Eucharistic Prayer had ended.  A Eucharistic minister handed me the second chalice.  I lifted up the purificator, and lo and behold!  An earwig was scurrying about in the bottom of the chalice.  I give grateful thanks that I did not drop the chalice, as I am not one of those people who are fascinated with insects.  My usual response is to scream and shake vigorously, hoping that the creatures will be dislodged from my person or whatever object is near me.  And earwigs are kind of like scorpions.  They're just so prehistoric looking! 

So, I gave in to my natural impulse and stepped away from the altar, turned my back, and shook the chalice upside down, trying to fling the little critter into the air.  When I peered in, he was still there, now at the edge.  So I took the purificator and knocked him down the altar steps, moved back to the altar and used the purificator to wipe out the inside of the chalice.  In the hope that alcohol kills all germs and any other insect residue, I poured the wine in.  I'm sure this all happened in less than a minute, but it felt like a one act play to me. 

Some things are mysteries and not to be explained.  The Holy Trinity is one.  Much less complicated is the mystery of the earwig in the chalice.  I'm not going to try to solve it.  I'm just going to appreciate God's crazy sense of humor and enjoy having another story to tell.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Labyrinth Finished

Last Friday we finished building the labyrinth at SpiritWorks.  I was amazed at the sense of accomplishment I felt.  Sometimes it's really good to do physical, outdoor work where you can see so clearly the results of your labor.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, our labyrinth is a Reconciliation Labyrinth designed by Clare Wilson in South Africa. Here is a little information about the unique design of the labyrinth that was provided at one in Alexandria:

"Just as with life, walking a labyrinth presents choices. The reconciliation labyrinth is unique in that you can choose to enter from either the left or right path. The first half of the walk covers one side of the labyrinth and then you cross over to the other side, which represents walking "in another person's shoes." Just before reaching the center, you can pause and then enter. Spend as much time as you like in the center, then choose which exit to take: the one you entered, the entrance for the opposite side, or the center common exit. You can walk alone, with one other person or with a group.

The Reconciliation Labyrinth is about unity and differences. It is about seeking understanding and forgiveness. It is about the world in which we live: we are alone and unique, but it is through relationship and unity with others that we become truly human."

The first people from SpiritWorks to walk the labyrinth described it as a "sacred place."  I am grateful to have been part of the creation of this labyrinth and look forward to the healing and reconciliation it will inspire.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Step by Step - part 3

Look at our labyrinth!  It's not completely finished as we still need to add mulch and finish the stones, but the basic outline is there, and you can walk it.  Step by step didn't take as long as I thought on this project.  In one big step on Saturday afternoon we were able to lay out all the rocks we have into the basic pattern.  Such a sense of accomplishment!

Though our next project, Bethany - the residential program for moms and babies, will take longer than a few afternoons of work, hopefully we will be able to keep the step by step song in mind as we pool our drops of water until we have enough to turn the wheel.  "Drops of water turn a wheel, singly none, singly none."

Yesterday we took our Thistle Farms products to the 2nd Sundays Arts and Music Festival in Williamsburg.  We sold some candles and shower gel and body butter, and we made some great new contacts with people who would like us to bring our products to other places.  It was a very small step in developing our social enterprise, but it takes those small steps.  One more drop of water...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Step by Step part 2

We're building a labyrinth at SpiritWorks.  We've wanted to do it for a couple of years now.  It's based on a Reconciliation Labyrinth that was created to be used in South Africa.  We're calling ours a Healing Labyrinth.  It's been a slow process, researching materials and finding the right piece of land.  We have decided on a little piece of land beside the SpiritWorks Barn, just across the field from our recovery center.  A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to a local quarry and picked up nearly a ton of rocks to use to line the paths of the labyrinth.  Yesterday two yards of mulch were delivered.

We began by laying out strips of ground cloth to cover the grass and serve as our base.  We hadn't bought quite enough, so while one of us went to buy more, I began the process of shoveling the mulch onto the ground cloth.  The song from yesterday's blog post began playing in my mind.  "Step by step, the longest march, can be won, can be won."  When I started heaving shovels full of mulch, it didn't seem like I was even making a dent in the big mound.  Once there were two of us shoveling, it seemed to go faster, but it still took several hours.  And there wasn't quite enough mulch.  But we got it all spread out.  Step by step.

I'll post more pictures when we're done.

We have another project at SpiritWorks that we're gearing up for - Bethany.  Bethany is going to be our residential program for moms and babies of addiction.  We're using the model of Magdalene/Thistle Farms that Becca Stevens founded in Nashville.  We have a community in place and now we're working on creating a social enterprise so that we can give women jobs and help them develop the skills they need.  Then we can provide the housing that they need as well.

The process of creating Bethany will be like the process of creating the labyrinth.  Step by step.  When I look at the whole picture, I get overwhelmed.  But we who live in recovery know that we can only live one day at a time, one step at a time.  It's good to look up occasionally and see the whole picture, but we'll only get there one tiny bite at a time.  My ongoing temptation is to think that I need to solve all the problems.  By myself.  Not true.  "Drops of water turn a wheel, singly none, singly none."  Bethany will take time to build and will need many drops of water to get its wheel turning.  Today I'm grateful to be a drop on the wheel.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Step by Step

Step by step the longest march can be won, can be won.
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none.
And by union what we will, can be accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a wheel, singly none, singly none.

Watch John McCutcheon here:

This morning I went for one of my run/walks.  Okay, so it's mostly walking with a tiny bit of running.  Close to the beginning of the loop, I was huffing and puffing up a hill - or at least a slight rise in the path, and I looked up to see three young women running toward me.  Wearing snug shorts and sports bras, lean and tan, with long pony tails swinging, they came toward me with the grace and ease of gazelles, running effortlessly at a pace I will only achieve in the dream world. 

I watched the girls go by, admiring their youth and speed and stamina, and for a moment I deflated.  I don't mind so much that I will never be that young again, but I felt discouraged that I've had such trouble motivating to exercise this spring.  I'm only a little overweight, though pretty significantly out of shape, and running isn't bringing me the joy that it did last summer.  It just feels like work.  Hard work.  And most days it seems nicer to stay inside comfortably on the couch. 

As I started to work myself into a bit of a depression over how easy it seemed for those young women to run and how hard it is for me to break a 15 minute mile, (it is said that it's easy to walk a 15 minute mile.  Anyone can do it.  Why then do I have to run a considerable portion to get it down to 15 minutes?!) I reminded myself of this song that I have loved since I first heard John McCutcheon play it in a concert in Convocation Hall in Sewanee.  I have quoted it in sermons and sung it to myself on many occasions.  Step by step.  I'm not going to be able to run at the speed I did in my 5k last August my first few times out this year.  I have to get back into shape, and that can only be done step by step.  Last year at this time, I was discouraged because my knee still hurt and I couldn't run at all.  This year I don't have knee pain.  Progress! 

Anne Lamott tells writers to write just what they can see through a 1 inch picture frame.  You don't write the whole novel on the first day.  In the movie, "Contact" Jodie Foster's dad tells her "Small moves, Ellie, small moves" when trying to make contact on a CB radio.  Step by step.  Yesterday I did my 2.7 mile run/walk.  Today I did it again.  I'm averaging about 15 minutes and 23 seconds a mile, and that's with running.  Step by step, I will get to 15 minutes and even faster.

As for the three girls, well they came up behind me when I was close to the end of my walk and passed me without a glance, sweating more than before, but still running with that effortless grace and speed.  I admired them, but I'm grateful to be at this part of my life with a lot of experience behind me and adventures still ahead.  Part of me wants to come up with some clever comment that would put them down just a little so that I could feel better, but the truth is that I hope that the rest of their lives are going as well for them as this morning's run.  I hope that they enjoy their youth and their grace and that God blesses them with joy and wonder. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Wade in the Water: Do you want to be made well?

“Wade in the Water”
The Rev. Lauren McDonald
SpiritWorks Recovery Service – Bruton Parish Church
May 3, 2013
John 5:1-9

"Wade in the water,
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water,
God’s a gonna trouble the water."

We just heard a story about Jesus healing a man who was lying by a pool of water in Jerusalem for 38 years.  There’s a legend about this pool that says every so often an angel would “trouble the water” of the pool or stir it up and while the waters were troubled, the first person into the water would be healed.  So lots of sick people hung out around this pool waiting for the waters to start bubbling so that they could get into the pool and be healed.  The man in the story has been waiting 38 years.

Then along comes Jesus.  He sees the man.  He knows he’s been there for a very long time.  He asks, “Do you want to be made well?” 

What a powerful question.  What would your answer be if Jesus came up to you and said, “Do you want to be made well?”  My initial response is, “Yes, oh yes!  Of course I want to be well.”  If I give it a little thought, though, I might be more hesitant.  Yes, I want to be well, but…  Then I would list a whole bunch of reasons why it might not be possible or why it might not be a good idea or why I might just not be ready yet.  I’d certainly want to know what it was going to require me to do. 

When Jesus asks the lame man whether he wants to be made well he starts listing all the reasons why he can’t be healed.  No one will lift him into the pool.  He’s too slow.  Someone always gets in front of him.  In his mind there’s only one way to be healed – get in the pool while the water is stirred up.  And he’s full of excuses about why that can’t happen.  They’re legitimate – he’s probably tried many times in 38 years.  He does seem pretty attached to making it happen his way, even though his way clearly isn’t working for him.  38 years is a long time.  Maybe it was just easier to stay sick.

In our reading from Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go[i], we hear another take on this issue.  Instead of being attached to our own way of getting well, some of us are simply attached to being a victim.  We think other people should be tending to our needs, or we blame other people for us not being able to get well, kind of like the man at the pool blaming others for not putting him in when the water was stirred up.  We think other people ought to be able to read our minds and give us the care we need while at the same time we’re not willing to take care of ourselves or ask for what we need or take the steps necessary to do our part.  Sometimes, deep down, there’s actually something appealing about being a victim – we get to nurse all those wounded hurt and angry feelings, and we don’t have to do the hard work of self-examination and forgiveness.  It might be easier not to take responsibility for getting better.

That brings us to the reading from the Iona community in Scotland[ii].  In this reading we hear someone wrestling with the idea of wanting to be healed but being scared of what will be involved.  What if I have to change?  What if I have to remember things I don’t want to remember or feel things I don’t want to feel?  What if I don’t recognize myself without all my hang-ups, hurts, and habits?  What if people stop paying attention to me?  Sometimes it’s just easier to hold on to the familiar – even if it hurts, at least it’s ours and we’re comfortable with it.

So, do you want to be made well? 

"Wade in the water,
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water,
God’s a gonna trouble the water."

What I’ve learned in recovery, and maybe you have too, is that healing can be hard.  It can be painful.  It can come at a cost.  And, it’s so worth it.  Sometimes people are blessed with natural recovery or miraculous healing and their addiction, disease, or inner turmoil disappears in an instant, almost like magic.  But most of us don’t have that kind of recovery or healing.  Most of us stare at recovery and know that it’s going to require a lot of hard work.  Sometimes it means wading through some pretty troubled waters.  It means admitting that we need recovery and healing and that we can’t do it on our own.  It means letting go,
         of control,
         of outcomes,
         of old patterns of thinking and ways of being,
         of what is familiar and comfortable.

But here’s the good news, my friends.  When God is the one troubling the waters, then the change that’s coming is going to be good. 
When we stop clinging so tightly to our own solutions,
         when we drop our defenses and open ourselves to God,
                  when we let God in to clean and cauterize our wounds,
                           then miracles happen.
When we surrender to the changes God is making in our lives,
         when we let go of our own wills and seek God’s instead,
                  when we jump into the water that God is stirring up and allow it                           
                         to cleanse and wash us, then the miracles occur. 
That’s when healing happens.  Cleaning wounds can be a painful process, but when it’s done, then the infection is gone and the wounds can heal.  God is working in us and through us all the time, doing new things in our lives, redeeming everything. 

You see, wading in the waters of God’s love may not always feel like soaking in a warm bathtub or floating in a peaceful lake.  Sometimes God troubles the waters, stirs them up so that what is on the bottom comes up to the top and the hurts and wounds that are buried deep inside are brought to the surface so that they can be bathed in God’s love and healed.  That process can be uncomfortable and even painful at times, but how clean and shiny and new we feel once we’ve gone through it.   

So, do you want to be made well?  If so, come jump in the water with me,
"Wade in the water,
Wade in the water children
Wade in the water,
God’s a gonna trouble the water."

[i] The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie, March 15, page 71.

Removing the Victim
“Don’t others see how much I’m hurting?”  “Can’t they see I need help?”  “Don’t they care?”
The issue is not whether others see or care.  The issue is about whether we see and care about ourselves.  Often, when we are pointing a finger at others, waiting for them to have compassion for us, it’s because we have not fully accepted our pain.  We have not yet reached that point of caring about ourselves.  We are hoping for an awareness in another that we have not yet had.
It is our job to have compassion for ourselves.  When we do, we have taken the first step toward removing ourselves as victims.  We are on the way to self-responsibility, self-care, and change.

[ii]Gathered and Scattered:  Readings and Meditations from the Iona Community by Neil Paynter, “Healing,”Alix Brown, Month 1 Day 18.                                                                                       

I want to be healed.

Do you know what you’re asking?
For healing’s a journey through doubt and through pain.
And the healing that God brings may take a whole lifetime
with no guarantee that you reckon it gain.

I want to be healed.

Then you’re asking for changes
that shake the foundations you’ve built upon sand.
For the healing that God brings doesn’t follow our patterns
and shapes us in ways we may not understand.

I want to be healed.

Then drop your defenses,
and open your heart, your mind and your soul.
For the healing that God brings probes scars you’ve forgotten,
cauterizing and cleaning and making you whole. 

I want to be healed.

At least, in the future.
Perhaps I’ll just wait till the time feels right.
I’m not sure that God’s healing will suit at the moment.
I’ll hold on to the things that I’m used to – all right?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Fret Not

The first two words of Psalm 37 (depending on translation) are, "Fret not."  I have a friend who used to say to me, "In the words of Psalm 37, 'fret not,'" whenever I called in distress about something.  Fret not?  I am a champion fretter.  I can fret with the best of them.  If you can think of it, I can worry about it.  Especially at night, when it's dark, and I'm trying to go to sleep, and there is nothing left to distract me.  Especially then, I get lost in the cycle of obsessive thinking, worrying, fretting.  It's an unpleasant way to live.

Most of the time, much of what I'm worrying about isn't that important in the scheme of things.  All of the time, worrying won't do anything to change the outcome anyway.  But still, it's so hard to "let go and let God," as they say.  I feel like giving up my worry is irresponsible, that it means I don't care.  No matter that worrying doesn't help anything and generally just makes me unhappy.

So, imagine my surprise when I woke up from the following dream on Friday morning.  In the dream I was on a plane.  I have no idea where I was going.  It seemed that the flight had been very short and was maybe toward some place with palm trees, like Florida.  All of a sudden the plane started heading straight down toward the ground.  I was asked to move something off the seat behind me, and when I looked out the window I knew there was no way we could avoid a crash.  I also knew, in that moment, that I was about to die.  For just a moment, I started to panic.  And then, I let go.  There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop the crash, and I just said, "Okay God, I'm coming to you.  I hope you're ready for me."  And then I thought about all my loved ones and for a split second, I considered trying to call and tell them I loved them, but there was no time.  So I just asked God to take care of them.  Then I released all worry and concern and waited for the crash.  It was as free as I've ever felt, trusting that God had me and that all would be well even though I was about to die.

We didn't crash.  Somehow the pilot pulled out of it at the last minute, and we didn't crash.  I even heard the pilots laughing about what a close call it was.  The next thing I knew we were driving along a road and heading up a hill, and I looked around and said, "Did the plane just turn into an SUV?"  We were in a much smaller vehicle, driving along the road.  Some kind of hybrid vehicle.  And then I woke up.

I hope I can remember the feeling that I had on the plane when I truly let go and let God and released all my fretting and worry and fear.  I wonder if I can get to that state again, now that I know what it felt like.  I hope so, because it was a place of great freedom and trust.  Fret not.  How good it felt not to fret!  And what an amazing solution - a plane that turns into a car.  So much of my fretting is about how I'm going to find a solution to any given problem.  And the worry amps up when I can't see the solution.  Often, God finds a solution I never could have dreamed of.  Maybe not quite as dramatic as a plane turning into a car, but equally unexpected. 

Friday, April 26, 2013


During exam week at Christopher Newport University, United Campus Ministries organizes the churches to sign up for slots to provide snacks for the students between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day of the exams.  We can bring any kind of snack as long as it's individually wrapped.  Homemade, store-bought, sweet, salty, healthy, junk, fruit, water, etc.  Yesterday was the day that St. Stephen's and St. Andrew's in Newport News handed out the snacks.  I had put out the announcement a couple of weeks ago and was completely surprised when I walked into the church kitchen yesterday and saw the variety and abundance of snacks that people had contributed. 

I met our volunteers at the assigned table in the David Student Union, and we started putting the snacks out.  We had way too many snacks for the table, so we kept boxes to the side and I left some boxes in the car.  We had homemade cookies and muffins and trail mix, protein bars, chips, cheese/cracker packs, cookie packs, fruit snack packs, pretzels, pringles, combos, and candy of many varieties.  As we yelled out "free snacks" and tried to convince the students that they did not have to pay for the snacks or join anything in order to get the snacks, they either approached quickly or sidled up, still looking for the strings that were attached.  Several of them said, "What's the catch?" 

Most of them were overwhelmed by the abundance.  They had a hard time choosing because there were so many options.  And as soon as they took items, we replaced them with more.  I couldn't help thinking that if heaven were like a giant 7-11 in the sky, then our snack table would be like the heavenly banquet.  What kept occurring to me even more was how the table of snacks, similar to the widow's meal and oil that just kept replenishing itself after she shared it with Elijah, was a metaphor for God's abundant love.  It just doesn't run out.  The ways that God blesses us are as varied as the snacks on that table - there's something for everyone! 

I am so grateful to the folks at St. Stephen's and St. Andrew's for their generosity and for those who came out to show the students in a very tangible way that they are loved.  And I'm grateful to the students who expressed such kindness and gratitude once they overcame their initial fear of those crazy people shouting, "free snacks!"  They got a lesson in receiving yesterday.  Most of them would only take one snack until we urged them that there was plenty and that they could take as much as they wanted.  The volunteers told me how much they enjoyed getting to meet the students, however briefly.  With all the terrible tidings in the news these days, the volunteers were delighted to see so many polite, kind-hearted young people.  Everyone who participated was blessed.

Thanks, God, for providing opportunities for giving and receiving.  Thanks for showing us the way to ease just a little of the stress these students feel as the prepare for and take their final exams.  Thanks for pouring out your love through a table of snacks! 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shield the Joyous

One of the loveliest collects in the Book of Common Prayer is found in the Evening Prayer and Compline services.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.   (BCP. page 132)

I have always loved this prayer, but the line, "shield the joyous" used to stand out to me as odd.  Shield the joyous?  Why do the joyous need shielding?  Aren't they already happy?  "Shield the joyous" is what I would have prayed at the finish line of the Boston marathon had I known what was about to happen.  Those runners crossing the finish line with a mixture of relief, exhaustion, and joy needed a shield against what would happen next.  If only there had been a shield big enough to protect the runners and crowds from the explosions of the bombs.

I remember when my mom was diagnosed with cancer the 2nd time.  She had come to visit me in Norfolk with a friend, and we had lots of fun activities lined up.  She told me she had had an abnormal mammogram.  It seems to me that it was going to be about a month before she would hear the results of further testing.  She had decided that she was not going to worry because there would be nothing to worry about.  I remember praying "Shield the joyous" during that time, hoping that there would be no cause for worry, trying to live in the present moment and enjoy every minute of it in case the news was bad.  She did have cancer, and there were many months when our prayer shifted to tend the sick, give rest to the weary, soothe the suffering, and pity the afflicted.  

The whole prayer is appropriate now for all who were affected by the events in Boston and Texas last week.  And, of course, the whole prayer is always appropriate for people around the world in a variety of situations.  Tonight, God, I pray again, shield the joyous.  We never know what's around the next bend.  Help us to appreciate our joy in the moment.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Different Kind of Holy Week

In the past it has been very meaningful to take the journey of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through the celebration of Easter, with the same community.  Some years I've been in church every day of the week.  Other years it's just the major remembrances, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, with or without the Vigil.  Before I was ordained I sometimes had to pick and choose because of my work schedule.  What I really enjoyed was attending (or leading) the services with the same group of people.  Usually those who observe all of Holy Week form a small community that grows a little with some services and shrinks with others.  But you look around and see the same core group, taking the journey together, remembering those last days of Jesus' life.

In addition to the services I always try to simplify during Holy Week, spending time in prayer and journaling, trying to schedule few things that would distract me from my primary goal of spending time with God.  It usually doesn't work out as planned, but that is the goal.

This year is very different for me.  Instead of spending Holy Week with one community, I will be spending it with many communities.  This past weekend the Canterbury students from ODU and CNU and their chaplains gathered for a retreat in a house on the York River owned by Grace Church, Yorktown.  We attended Palm Sunday services at Grace and enjoyed hearing a homily before the reading of Luke's Passion narrative that invited us to find a particular moment in the story this year that really captured us and invited us in.  Afterwards at lunch in the Yorktown Pub we shared those moments.

Today is my day off, a time of some rest before the rich, full week ahead.  On Tuesday, a regular workday, I will join with the SpiritWorks community members for Bible study where we will most likely read and discuss Luke's Passion.

On Wednesday I will attend the Chrism Mass and Renewal of Ordination Vows with my fellow clergy and my bishop in the morning.  In the evening we will meet with our Moms in Recovery group at SpiritWorks.  We intend to explain Maundy Thursday and to wash the feet of the women in the program and anoint their feet with healing oils from Thistle Farms

On Thursday, I will participate in the Agape Meal, Maundy Thursday Eucharist, foot washing and stripping of the altar at St. Stephen's in Newport News.  It's possible that a few of my students will also attend before they head home to be with their families for Easter weekend.

I have not yet decided where I will observe Good Friday.  Perhaps at Bruton Parish where I attend when I'm not working and where we hold our Recovery Service.  Perhaps I will go down and walk the labyrinth at Grace Yorktown before their noon service.  I'll listen for where the Spirit is calling.

Then, on Holy Saturday evening, I will be the "stage minister" for the joint Easter Vigil by the York River with Grace, Abingdon Church, and St. George's.  The bishop will be there, and I'm thrilled to be baptizing a member of the SpiritWorks community that evening.  Many communities coming together to celebrate.  At 6 a.m. on Sunday I will be back at St. Stephen's for their sunrise Easter Vigil with ALL the lessons to preach and preside at the Eucharist.  Another celebration of Easter at 10:30 before I collapse in a post-liturgical nap of lengthy proportion!

At first I thought it was weird to have such a disjointed Holy Week.  But as I see it all written down, it seems quite appropriate.  Many of my communities are represented.  There is flow.  Sometimes I'm leading, sometimes I'm participating in a supportive role, sometimes I get to just show up.  It fits in well with my multi-faceted ministry.

Thanks, God, for calling me to be a weaver, for sending me out into the world and back again into your church, for making the boundaries more permeable, for teaching me in such a concrete way that your kingdom is everywhere, and that I can observe Holy Week wherever I am with every community I'm part of.  Thanks especially for the gift of your son and for this most holy week in which we remember.  Please be with all the people and communities this week and reminding us again of your love for us all.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Judge Not

Every morning I have spiritual study time.  This year I'm reading through the Bible (The Message this go around) and so I read a few chapters from it.  Then I usually read a daily meditation, like the one from Melody Beattie in my last post.  I finish by reading a portion of a "spiritual" book.  I sit on the love seat in my study, and on the right side of it is a stack of books that I have started but not finished and to which I turn once in awhile.  One of the books in the stack is Joan Borysenko's book, Inner Peace for Busy People.  I got to do a workshop with Joan a couple of years ago, and I resonate with what she teaches and writes.

The section I read today was titled, "Judge Not."  Whooee!  I was immediately reminded of the beginning of Matthew 7 in which Jesus says, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye', while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye" (NRSV).

Of course the first thing I wanted to do was to race off to FaceBook and post on the timelines of all the people saying judgmental things, especially in the comments.  This would include people on both sides of many issues.  So much of what I read online is Judgement, followed by Snarky Comment about someone else's intellect, morals, or spirituality.  This morning I was ready to rush to the computer and lift up my e-fist and e-shout, "JUDGE NOT!  YOU HYPOCRITES!"  My only sadness was that members of Congress are not friends with me on FaceBook and so would not hear my barbaric yawp.

But here's the thing that brought me up short.  While I'm shaking my e-fist and typing capital letters for my e-shout, I'm doing the very thing that I'm cautioning others against.  I'm judging others for their judgement.  I'm trying to take the speck out of everyone else's eyes while ignoring the log that's in mine. It's very easy when I hear the words, "Judge not," to think of all the other people I know who need to take note.  In my opinion anyway.  What is much harder is to look at the places where I judge.  And they are legion.  I would prefer for everyone to see me as a generous, sweet, good person who wouldn't judge anyone.  Sometimes I can even believe that of myself.  But, if I am honest, and recovery is all about honesty, then I need to take a look at my own judging.

Most of my judging goes on in my head.  It's instinctive, rapid, and influences me before I'm aware of it.  And of course, the judgments I'm making say more about me than about the person I'm judging.  Added to that is all the self-judgment.  It's a vicious cycle of thinking.  Yesterday I was watching a video about Thistle Farms, and heard founder Becca Stevens talk about the women that she works with who are coming off the streets of Nashville.  She has worked to create a community of unconditional love, which she defines as "Love without judging."  What is it like to love others and ourselves without judging?  What would the world look like if we did?

Love without judging.  It's so hard when people are different from us or have opinions that we think are wrong.  It's so hard to disagree with an opinion without judging the other person.  It's so hard to keep all our projections to ourselves.  It's so hard to look at other people, all the other people in the world, to look past the things that annoy us and see God in them.  I believe that when we do, we live much happier, more peaceful lives.  We are the ones who are most hurt by our judgments.

The last part from the Joan Borysenko passage says, "You might try this tip that I learned from author, speaker, and wise guide, Ram Dass, many years ago.  When you catch yourself grumbling about someone else, own the projection and say, 'And I am that, too.'"  Ouch.  All those things that bother me about others are part of me, too.  Better get back to removing that log from my own eye.  Looks like it's going to take some time.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Victim No More!

Every day I talk to people who are victims - of disease, abuse, racism, crime, sexism, classism, trauma, addiction, bullying and the list goes on and on.  These people tell stories of the horrible things they have experienced, and my heart breaks listening to them.  They need lots of understanding and compassion and love.  They deserve apologies, acceptance, and new beginnings.  Some of them will get these things.  Others will not.

What I'm thinking about this morning is how amazed I am when I meet people who have decided that they're not going to be victims any more.  These people may or may not receive what they deserve or get what they need.  But somewhere inside they must have made a decision that life would be better if they stopped being a victim.  It's those people I want to learn from. 

I have been a victim to some things in my life that were important to me though not as tragic as others.  I find it's seductive to remain in that place of "victimness," especially when it took me so long to admit that the things that happened to me were wrong and stopped burying them under my "Make lemonade" smile.  Sometimes the lemons are just rotten and the lemonade they make will be rotten, too.  At the same time, life as a victim sucks.  I don't want to invalidate the reality of my or anyone else's horrible experiences or deny my feelings as I have so often done.  But I also don't want to get stuck.  I get to choose how I respond to what happens in my life. 

My daily meditation from Melody Beattie's The Lauguage of Letting Go this morning was titled, "Removing the victim."  She writes: "The issue is not whether others see or care.  The issue is whether we see and care about ourselves...  It is our job to have compassion for ourselves.  When we do, we have taken the first steps to removing ourselves as victims."  Sometimes when I get stuck in my victim status, it's because I'm seeking understanding, compassion, and apologies from others.  Or I'm looking to be rescued or fixed.  This meditation gave me a new way of looking at things - instead of searching for comfort and care outside myself, what I really need to do is have compassion for myself.  Not a pity party, but true compassion and acceptance.  And then I can take steps toward making it different.

This Lent I've been working on forgiveness.  At the beginning of Lent I wrote down 40 names of people I need to forgive and folded them up and put them in a container.  Six days a week I pull out a name, read it, and pray for God to help me forgive that person.  Some come easily. Some do not.  On Sundays I work on forgiving myself.  This morning I read a quote on my friend Les Carpenter's FaceBook page.  A character named Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer said it, "To forgive is an act of compassion [...] It's not done because people deserve it. It is done because people need it."

We all need forgiveness.  We don't deserve it.  The same is true for those who have hurt us.  When we offer forgiveness to them and to ourselves, we take another step on the road to removing ourselves as victims.  Holding on to the hurt and the pain and the anger and the sadness just keeps me miserable.  Freedom comes when I can let go and offer it all up to God and begin new.  I can choose to do that each day.  With God's help.  And live my life not as a victim, but as a joyful child of God.  It's my choice.  And yours too.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Learning from Moms in Recovery

Twenty hours a week I work at SpiritWorks Foundation:  Center for Recovery of the Soul, a community recovery center in Williamsburg.  Our primary mission is in working with people who have been impacted by addiction - and truly that pretty much includes everyone.  I'd be curious to know if there are people out there who haven't struggled with some form of addiction or don't have any loved ones who have.  In a normal week visitors to our center include people in recovery from alcohol, drug, food and other addictions, codependents, people struggling with mental illness, people getting out of jail or prison, homeless people, parents, spouses, and children of addicted people, mentors and volunteers, and, most recently, moms in recovery.

It is our new "Moms in Recovery" program that has been teaching me so much about trust recently.  We work with the Southeastern Family Project (SEFP) located in Newport News.  This is a program for women who are pregnant and who would be having their babies in jail.  Instead they get to serve some of their time at SEFP where they live together in a house attending daily meetings and groups, parenting classes, and other activities designed to help them get back on their feet and begin a new life with their babies.  They are permitted to stay for 60 days after their babies are born.

Most of these moms will be released when they have completed the SEFP program.  Some will still have jail time to serve.  A few have families and friends to return to when they leave.  Many have nowhere to go.  They will be released to shelters with their infants. 

Every time I start to worry about something in my life, I think about these women, and it puts it all into perspective for me.  All of them have trauma in their backgrounds.  And they are all struggling with the disease of addiction, a nasty brain disease that has so much stigma attached to it.  And they all have new babies who have little chance of escaping the cycle into which they are born.  Many of these women are so determined to make a new life for themselves and their babies, and they reach out in trust that God's going to provide for them.  There are so many obstacles to their success. 

We have one mom in recovery who came to us before we started working with SEFP.  She came out of jail two years ago, and despite enormous difficulties to overcome, she has not looked back.  She has custody of her 5-year old son, a job and a home.  She has had many setbacks, including an on-the-job back injury that workman's comp refused to pay for and that took her out of work for months.  She has worked hard to get back on her feet, to pay off her fines, to be a good mom to her son, to become self-supporting, and to maintain her recovery.  She inspires me every day.  She has helped me to learn that God will provide.  It may not always be easy, but what we need will be provided.  We just have to surrender our need to control the outcome and let God work things out. 

I am grateful daily for this work that allows me to meet such people.  This Sunday's Gospel lesson is the parable of the prodigal son.  It has become one of my favorite stories.  I am so grateful for Jesus' witness that God welcomes us ALL back with open arms and loving heart and a party thrown on our behalf.  I wish for all of God's children to know the warmth of that embrace, the abundance of that love, and the joy of that celebration.