SPIRITUALITY & PRACTICE
I was sitting at my desk looking out at a field of snow. The air is crisp (down right frigid) and clear). The snow in the sun was so beautiful – so inviting. As I was admiring the whiteness of the snow I started to remember, remember the days when my heart would pound with excitement when I saw it snowing – especially when there was going to be some serious accumulation. It was particularly special when the snow started during the middle of the night and I would hear those sweet wonderful words that were music to my ears. “No school in Providence.” Boy, did I love Salty Brine on those days.
It had to be a very serious snow storm for the schools to be closed in Providence. It usually took a blizzard to close them. Of course, even when the schools were closed – life did not stop. My father would leave an hour earlier – just to make sure he was on time. He was so handsome in his police uniform, but I digress.
I remember how he would take out the chains that were hanging on a nail in the garage, lay them down flat on the snow, start the engine of the car and slowly roll on top of the chains – lock them in and then drive away. Once he left, we would hurry up and eat our breakfast, put on our snow suits, run down to the basement, grab our Flexible Flyer sleds and literally head for the hills. By the time we returned home, we were wet through and through, very hungry and very tired. But lunch always fortified us and with dry clothes on we were off once again. Snow days were not slow days for us.
As adults living in Glocester, Bill and I needed to trudge out of our half-mile driveway just to get to the car to go to work. We learned very quickly after moving into the area that when it snowed, the car needed to be near the road. Our drive-way was plowed by an independent contractor, but we were last on his list. Fortunately, we were young and healthy.
However, I must admit if they announced, “No work for Providence,” I felt just like I did when I was a child. Snow days still did not mean slow days. We would put layers of clothes on, go into the barn, take down the cross country skis and once again head for the hills.
Well as I started to tell you, the other day I discovered that a snow day became a slow day, a day when I took the time to appreciate the snow white effect on the trees, bushes, fences. This snow day became a talking to God day. I started my monologue telling God how much I admired nature’s artistic ability. The scenes that it painted were beautiful to behold and enabled me to experience a sense of peace and tranquility.
But as I was relishing in those feelings, my stream of words - my monologue with God - changed into a dialogue. The feelings of peace and tranquility slowly faded away as I thought I heard, ‘and then there are others.’ The others were the nameless and faceless men and women who were probably leaving the shelter at that time of day. Most shelters are only open during the evening hours. Undoubtedly, these nameless and faceless men and women had begun their daily search for a place to get warm and stay warm until it was time to go back again to the shelter.
Some of them would seek unhealthy and unhelpful ways to warm their bodies and even numb their minds. I am not sure what I would do. One never knows until they are in their shoes. But I would hope that I would never lose faith in humankind and their capacity for compassion. I would hope that more than one person would look at me and see me as a sister sharing in a common journey, and I would hope that all people would treat me with dignity so that I would never – ever - become blind to my own nobility as a child of God.
In my musing I became acutely aware of my environment. I was admiring an act of nature while standing in the doorway of a warm and cozy home. The words, ‘my brothers and sisters’ seemed to demand attention. My mind said them over and over again! A few minutes later I became aware that my dialogue had become a monologue once again only this time it was with me. I thought about that later and realized that I did not want to answer my own questions in the presence of God so it was best to move away from God’s presence. Frankly, it wasn’t the questions I was concerned about, it was my possible answers.
Here are the questions:
When I walk by someone who is homeless do I see them as my brother or sister?
Do I always treat that person with dignity? Or do I convey with my body language – keep away.
Do I say, “Hello? How are you today?”
Do I say it in a way that they can believe that I truly care?
And how would God want me to respond, since it takes more than prayer to show that I do care?
I thought about an idea that would support the ministries that are trying to make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters. In Providence every Saturday at 2 pm - rain or shine - the members of the specialized mission, Church Beyond the Walls, have an outside communion service in Burnside Park where they worship and share a coffee hour which includes some sandwiches and snacks that are often provided by other churches. We could participate in their efforts by providing them with the following items to distribute to those who come to worship and be fed:
Lunch bags packed with personal care items.
Hand made or purchased mittens, scarf, and/or hats.
Hand warmers. Feet warmers.
Clean white socks.
Lunch bags with snacks.
Home made goodies (cookies, brownies, etc.)
And if we are on the mainland or even on this island and we see someone who is homeless, we can always give him/her a smile, make direct eye contact, ask how they are doing and mean it, and of course offer each and every one of them up to God’s care in prayer.
Pray that the hearts of others who are more fortunate will be filled with compassion. Pray that those who are lost will find their way, those who are wounded will be healed, those who have lost their faith will find God, those who are addicted will find the courage, strength and fortitude to find healing, and those who have lost their dignity will find their nobility as children of God. Yes, it takes more than prayer, but it still takes prayer and perhaps knowing that, we could include a hand written prayer in the lunch bags.
I thought I might put lunch bags in the narthex. I do hope that you will participate throughout the coming months. Perhaps we can deliver them on the mainland every other week. It would be a wonderful Lenten discipline and it would show support for the community of who are proclaiming the love of God every Saturday to those who are without a home.
A Christmas Thought
One of my favorite songs during the Christmas season is “Do you hear what I hear?” Carrie Underwood sings it beautifully. The first verse begins with, “Said the night wind to the little lamb, Do you see what I see, Way up in the sky little lamb, Do you see what I see, A star a star…”
This verse always reminds me of how my sight sometimes interferes with seeing through my eyes of faith. I don’t think I am alone in that difficulty. I think I have company. It also reminds me of a young girl named Madison. I was there at her birth and one of the first to hold her and bless her.
Months later, Madison’s mother and father were told that their daughter was totally blind. Her mother broke down in tears thinking her daughter would never see the beauty of the earth and all that lives upon it. But Madison was a very special child that taught them something very important.
At the age of five Madison went to the local school. Everyday her grandfather would meet her at the school bus to take her home. This one day when Madison stepped off the bus he noticed that she was holding her hand over a Dixie cup that she was carrying very carefully. Curious, he asked her, “Madison, what is in the Dixie cup that you are covering.” Madison replied, “I have sunshine in it so that later tonight you and I can see it.” A totally blind child catching sunshine. The eyes of faith seeing beyond the physical matter of the world.
The second verse of that wonderful song says, Said the lamb to the shepherd boy, Do you hear what I hear…A song, a song, High above the trees. The third verse says, Said the shepherd boy to the mighty King, Do you know what I know…a child, a child, Shivers in the cold, Let us bring him silver and go. The last verse says, “Said the king to the people everywhere…The child, the child, Sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light…
“He will bring us goodness and light.” Seeing Jesus’ goodness and light is seeing through the eyes of faith. As you gaze at the Creche this Christmas see through the eyes of faith and embrace his goodness and light in your life. That is God’s dream and desire. The very reason for the season.
The Long Road of Grief - by Erica Tonner
I was once told that the loss of a child is the worst loss to experience. Your children aren’t supposed to die before you. I think that is what is so difficult. I constantly ask why I will never see her wedding, grandchildren and other milestones. Of course, I have to ask myself the question of whether or not Rachel would have straightened out her life had she had the opportunity or if her life had taken a different turn for the better. I’ll never know. A drug overdose is suicide and such a waste of a life.
The grief doesn’t go away. It lives in my heart always. That doesn’t mean that I am not living my life in a grateful way. God guides me each day and helps me get through each day. I have two sons and four grandchildren whom I love dearly. What hurts the most is I miss my daughter so much. I miss talking to her and holding her. But I will see her again. I know that.
This prayer helps me get through each day – it’s on the inside back cover of the ‘Forward Day by Day’ booklet.
“O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity; Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.” – Phillip Brooks.
From the Vicar
Erica’s reflection did not touch upon how she will experience Christmas, the time that we celebrate Jesus’ birth. Her grief like many other people’s grief will intensify. Like others the reason for the season will be a reminder of the emptiness felt because a loved one will no longer be in the family holiday pictures.
But death of a loved one is not the only reason that some people will feel sad during this holiday that is supposed to be joyful. There are others whose loneliness is heightened because of a broken relationship, or others who struggle continuously with depression throughout the year. Advertisements that express excitement about the season, or the special Christmas love stories or happy ever after family stories on television, or the continuous caroling in the malls and on radio sometimes deepens one’s sense of loneliness and sadness.
There are others, where the joy of the season is diminished because of the loss of a job or some form of income. The unaffordability and inability to purchase gifts for others can hurt deeply. Even the unaffordability -- not being able to provide for a lavish table filled with abundance of food as seen in many advertisements can bring about deep sadness.
Yes, it is a time when we are supposed to feel like celebrating and be filled with hope, love, joy and peace. Yet it can be a time for ourselves, our sisters and brothers that can also be filled with depression, loneliness, sadness and grief.
We at St. Ann’s By-the-Sea recognize that the traditional Christmas celebrations do not meet everyone’s needs. Many need the time to acknowledge their feelings of depression, loneliness, sadness and grief. Thus, this community is offering a Blue Christmas Service on December 22nd, at 5:00 p.m. A Blue Christmas Service is a time when we can, with others, acknowledge the "blue" feelings we have and the reasons for them so that we can offer them to God. We hope that you will be with us to find healing and support for yourself or to help bring healing and support to others.
Living in the moment
My spiritual director, Mary Meader is purging some of her thirty odd years of journals. But before she discards them, she is rereading and remembering some very special moments of her journey. Included in her journals are comments, made by others, that had caused her to take time to reflect in the presence of God and thus glean moments of insight and awareness; some lasting, some fleeing.
One of the fruitful comments was made by Bishop Tom Shaw in 1985 well before he was elected bishop. At that time Bishop Coburn, the seated bishop, decided that it would be helpful for the staff members of the Diocese to attend a retreat as they were preparing for the new bishop elect, David Johnson to take over. At this retreat Tom Shaw said, “Being a person of faith is in part not knowing, and letting things unfold…”
Those words might suggest that we should be passive and simply sit back and let life happen, let it unfold. They also suggest that one should strive to acquire an attitude of acceptance and let go of the need to push against life as it unfolds and thus to let go of the need to control the outcome.
As Thich Nhat Hanh basically says in his book “Peace Is Every Step,” that it is important to strive to live in the moment and not live every moment of life living in the future because when we do live in the future, we miss the moment that we are living.
Think of the benefits such an attitude of acceptance, letting life unfold, would offer us. Our useless anxieties for tomorrows would not interfere with our today’s. We have heard it before. Even the health care system continuously tries to remind us that anxiety exacts a costly toll on our bodies, minds and spirits and on the health care system. Anxiety about what tomorrow will bring, what it might cost us personally, what might change in us, around us, about us, is not helpful for our well-being. Even Jesus said something about it. He said, “…do not worry about what tomorrow will bring…”
Actually, anxiety colors our waking moments with hues of gray some gray tones darker than others. Some so dark that they blur our vision and make us blind to the very moment we are living. I have heard others say (thank goodness I am not alone in this experience) that they have gone from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ and do not remember how they got there. Sometimes those two points were miles away. Their anxiety about ‘something’ blurred their vision of the moment.
Can you just image what it would be like living without anxiety? We wouldn’t have to worry about how we are going to feel if and when something will happen, worry about how we are going to respond, or even worry about how others will react to our response. If we are not worried about ourselves, we do not have worry about someone else.
I admire Jesus, Bishop Tom, Thich Nahat Hanh and others who have not only striven for this way of being, but also live it many moments in their lives. I admire it especially when my anxiety takes over most of my living moments.
When I read Jesus’ comments about worrying about our tomorrows, I can’t help but think, ‘You must be kidding Lord.’ But Jesus wasn’t kidding. Our anxieties, our worries will not change our tomorrows. Life will unfold. But what our anxieties will change is the quality of our present life. As Jesus said, the anxiety is not going to add to the quantity, but it will take away the quality.
‘Being a person of faith is in part not knowing, and letting things unfold…’ It is about taking the time to notice and appreciate the present moment, seeing it clearly and not through a color gray that takes away its luster by worrying about the future. It is about letting God in, letting God walk with us, and trusting that as life unfolds God will be with us. It is living in the moment knowing that as St. Paul said, “That nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” It is a matter of getting one’s priorities straight – God or anxiety about the future. Let’s see which one is life-giving and which one is life-taking? Well that one is easy. Choosing to trust God over anxiety is without a doubt life-giving.
“Being a person of faith is in part not knowing, and letting things unfold…” When we adopt the attitude of letting things unfold, it is easier to live in the moment – be aware of the moment and sometimes even savor the moment.
Peace in this moment in God’s presence.
Struggling with Loneliness - by Barbara MacDougall
I kept myself so busy as a child that I never had experienced loneliness and it followed me into my adult life. Having four children and a husband in a prominent job kept me always busy. After my husband died and I was fifty-five, I began to re-look at my life and made a decision to make some changes. I resigned from all of our clubs, put our house on the market and with the advice of my neighbor Livingston Taylor, signed up for a fourteen-day trip down the Colorado River in small rubber rafts. It was like the CS Lewis book “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe”; I had walked through the wardrobe into the unknown and came out a different person.
That summer I had breakfast with Tony Pappas and told him I was looking for some volunteer work. He suggested the Hopi Indian Reservation in the NE corner of Arizona, and I said yes, not knowing what I was in for. I drove out to the reservation in January with my dog Willy in a pick-up truck. I did my best to make a tiny stone house behind the church livable. The 20 x 24 square foot house had an old gas heater which made a loud boom when starting up, a tile floor with no mortar to hold it together, a small bedroom and a tiny corner on the porch which I used for meditation. I was isolated in a foreign culture with no help, guidance or support from the Baptist missionary minister and his wife. Being isolated and left alone to do my undefined task, I had severe bouts of loneliness.
The only way I could deal with it was to sit down in my corner, meditate and turn it over to God. I had a spiritual director for 20 years who taught me “Centering Prayer,” a form of meditation. After each 20 or 30 minute meditation I was able to journalize what I was feeling. The writing kept me in touch with the outside world and kept me in balance – they were letters to God. One book which helped me understand the difference between loneliness verses solitude was written by May Sarton. Thomas Merton books were also very helpful, particularly The Merton Prayer which reads:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road.
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always, though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Those five months were rich with self-discovery and a couple of valuable life lessons. The first lesson was taught by my cocker spaniel dog, Willy. There were many wild dogs in the area and I knew that if I had him out on a leash that he wouldn’t survive. Dogs are very protective of their owners. So I took a chance and just let him go freely. Sure enough a number of dogs came running over to him. I was a bit anxious as I watched. But Willy just stood there wagging his tail, letting the dogs sniff, not resisting and not protesting. After a short period of time, the dogs just left and Willy strolled back to my very small abode.
Learning from Willy, the next day I went down to the post office and just stood around, smiling and greeting people. People started to come up to me. I was the only white woman in town. A couple of youngsters even wanted to touch my blonde hair. I soon began to always have chicken in a pot. The children quickly learned to know where to find a bit to eat. I also was the only person in town who had hot water. The women learned where they could find hot water – in my tiny brick house.
The other very important lesson that I learned was that when I placed myself before God, in silence, I would get new insights, new thoughts and new directions. I learned that I could help manage the loneliness and anything else that came along in my life – that is with God’s help.
I survived and learned so much about myself and others.
In a conversation that I was having with Webb Moore, he quoted from the Westminster Catechism that answers the question, ‘What is the chief end of human beings (man)? The answer; Human being’s (man’s) chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
One of the definitions of the word ‘end’ is ‘purpose’, and one of the definitions for the word purpose is ‘reason.’ What is our reason for being? It is a question that most of us have asked at some time or other in our lives, especially when we are moving through a transition in life. There are numerous and varied causes that give birth to this question; a loss of a loved one, of a job, of status, etc. The aging process, the loss of mobility or an illness can elicit this pressing question. Even a mid-life crisis can throw us into our search for our reason for being – for the meaning of our lives.
One of my favorite books is Confession by Leo Tolstoy, perhaps because I read it during a time of a life transition. Tolstoy was fifty-one years old when he wrote it and came to believe that he had accomplished nothing in life even though he was a renowned author. Tolstoy entered into a very serious spiritual crisis. For a number of years, he struggled to resist the temptation of committing suicide, because there seemed to be no appeasing the yearning.
When Tolstoy was in his mid-twenties, he rejected the Russian Orthodox Church’s teachings of faith. Instead he embraced the faith of knowledge, poetry and the evolution of life. As he said, ‘My choice was very profitable and quite pleasant for me and my family.’ But he discovered something missing in this elitist religion. He discovered that all of this knowledge did not give him an understanding of the meaning of his life. He said, “…the question that had brought me to the edge of suicide…was the simplest question lying in the soul of every human being…The question is this: ‘What will come of what I do today and tomorrow? What will come of my entire life? “…is there any meaning in my life that will not be destroyed by my inevitable approaching death?” Initially, Tolstoy sought his answer through human wisdom. This is what he found.
Socrates said, “The life of the body is an evil and a lie. And so, the destruction of the life of the body is a blessing, and we should long for it.” Solomon observed that, “Everything in the world – both folly and wisdom, wealth and poverty, joy and sorrow – all is vanity and emptiness. A person dies and nothing remains. And this is absurd.” Buddha proclaimed, “It is not possible to live, knowing that suffering, decrepit-ness, old age, and death are inevitable; we must free ourselves from life and from all possibility of life.” (Such cheery men!)
After pursuing human wisdom Tolstoy realized that the field of knowledge had increased his despair. He said, “I was living in ‘this state of madness.’” Fortunately, something inside him impelled him to go on living and to go on searching until he understood that his question could not be answered with rational knowledge. In a moment of grace, as Tolstoy called it, the realization that faith in God would provide him with his answer.
He said, “Every answer of faith gives infinite meaning to the finite existence of human beings, meaning that is not destroyed by suffering, deprivation and death.” He said, “I remembered that I had lived only when I believed in God. Then, as now, I said to myself, ‘As long as I know God, I live; when I forget, when I do not believe in God, I die.’ To know God and live comes to one and the same thing…God is life. He said, “live, seeking God, for there can be no life without God…Thus I was saved from suicide.” Tolstoy’s agonizing search for the meaning of life had been a search for God.
Tolstoy not only found the purpose, the meaning of his life, but he also glorified God by his witnessing to whoever read or reads his words in his book, Confession. I am also sure that in finding God, thus finding life, he continued to live to enjoy God in the here and the hereafter.
In our times of questioning our purpose for being, our meaning of life, perhaps starting with the Westminster’s answer “to glorify God” will help us begin a new journey of “enjoying God for ever.” Hopefully, our willingness to witness this grace to others will help those who are finding life’s transition life-draining and perhaps life-taking, find new life with God and thus find their purpose for being.
June is the kick-off of our Episcopal Charities Campaign. In the church entrance you will find donation forms and envelopes. We do hope that you will support this very important ministry. The following is an article from Betsy Fornal, Director of Episcopal Charities of RI
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Mark 12:31
We all know this easily recognized verse from the Bible which has its foundation in the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses as the way of life for God’s people. We find them summarized again by Jesus when the leaders of the temple, so afraid of his power, were seeking to trip him up so that they could find him guilty of blasphemy. They sent a group of Pharisees and the teachers of the law to ask of him, “Of all of the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus answered them, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Let me tell you a story about neighbors. I grew up in a small town in New York as did my parents before me. The population was small enough and the community close enough that my friends and I believed that we knew everyone and everyone knew us. Of course, this was both a blessing and a curse as we were growing up since it was very hard to get away with anything however innocent our activities might have been! Since everyone in our town wanted to keep our kids safe AND everyone knew our parents or grandparents, aunts, uncles or so on, the tales of our antics always got back to our families faster than lightning.
I imagine that living on an island as you do has some of the same characteristics. Everyone knows everybody and with that knowing comes one example of the love about which Jesus was speaking. You take care of your own.
But Jesus’ didn’t stop there. Through the stories Jesus taught his followers, we know that he is not only commanding us to love the neighbors we could name or those we live among, but also those who are strangers to us or different from us or even those whom we will never encounter because they live away from us. Jesus’ definition of ‘neighbor’ includes everyone who is in need of receiving our gifts, our service and our love.
Will you join Episcopalians in Rhode Island to help our neighbors in need? Episcopal Charities of Rhode Island began its mission in 1952 with the desire to help those in need in our state. Our goal is to share the love of Christ with all of our neighbors. We strive to change the lives of Rhode Islanders by funding social service programs in our churches and throughout the state. Donors, volunteers, agencies, churches and people like YOU work together to implement this program.
Each year, Episcopal Charities raises funds for grant distributions through the generous spirit and caring of individuals in the Episcopal churches of the Diocese. We are proud to say that 100 percent of your gift is used for direct support of the agencies and ministries we fund. Episcopal Charities has a separate endowment to cover all of our administrative costs.
This year, we are focusing on raising money for agencies and ministries that provide for basic human needs (food, shelter, healthcare) for our at-risk children and elders in our state. The need is great: one child out of every six in our state lives below the poverty level and one in five RI elders does as well.
In late 2018, we awarded 53 grants for a total of $337,500. They include grants to:
agencies and ministries that serve over 640,000 meals a year at meal sites and through meal deliveries to our elderly, homebound, and homeless neighbors.
ministries and agencies that provide more than 22,000 vacation and summer meals for children who rely on free or subsidized school lunches.
two free health clinics which provide much needed medical care to more than 6,000 of our neighbors each year who have no insurance and nowhere else to turn to deal with their health issues.
You can make a donation to Episcopal Charities through your church’s annual campaign, or by mailing a check to Episcopal Charities of Rhode Island, 275 North Main St., Providence, R.I. 02903, or by giving online at www.episcopalri.org/charities.
Betsy Fornal, Director of Episcopal Charities of RI
Back in 2012, The Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris, Suffragan Bishop of Massachusetts, sent with her Christmas greeting a poem written by H. Mark Smith. With all that is happening in our world lately, I thought I would share it with you at this Eastertide.
Peace in our time.
Love without borders.
Broken bits healed.
Delighting in difference.
Communion, holy union.
God dwelling among us.
Plows over swords.
Redemption the norm.
On earth, as in heaven.
Hope seeks only permission.
Hear the knock? Clear the path.
From imagine, expect. From expect, demand.
The dream of God, as near as our hands.
(H. Mark Smith)
On June 9th, we will celebrate Pentecost, the Sunday that we are reminded that the disciples and all of his followers since receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. We will hear Jesus say, “…the Holy Spirit, whom God will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." Just imagine if in every space that we occupy we lived into receiving the Holy Spirit, claiming it as our own, and then accomplishing all that this poem gives us to imagine. The dream of God, as near as our hands. Don’t just imagine it, believe and give it life in your life.
I heard God say, come!
So, I went and found luggage for the journey.
Carefully, ever so carefully, I removed all my possessions and coverings,
then caringly and thoughtfully packed each one.
I even found articles that had long been forgotten,
and determined not one could be left behind.
I didn’t know what was needed for the journey.
Each garment was tightly packed.
And gallantly I made an effort to keep everything within
Finally, time and brawn won - all was contained.
The heavy load was reassuring. I left nothing behind.
Breathlessly struggling I dragged it all outside.
When suddenly I heard God speaking once more;
"Where are you going? You are leaving me behind.”
I turned and looked to where I had been.
God said, “Leave those things outside and then come in.
Come child come inside. But leave all that baggage behind.
Without them there is room for you and me here.
For goodness sake child, leave all that stuff out there.”
-- By Eletha Buote-Greig
In a 1997 Weaving’s article, Elizabeth J. Canham told about the time she was traveling back to the seminary in London where she had taught two decades ago. She said that she was seated on the upper deck of a red London bus. Normally she would sit down below because smoking was allowed back then on the upper deck.
She said, “Maybe God wanted me upstairs that day, for as we journeyed south along the old Kent Road a sign painted high on a building caught my eye. CLUTCH CLINIC! It took a few moments for me to realize that the advertisement referred to an automobile service center specializing in the repair of defective clutches.”
She went on to say, “I heard it that day instead as God’s invitation. “Suppose you spent time in my clutch clinic, God seemed to be saying. What are the things you need to relinquish so that your hands can be open, ready to receive the grace I wait to give?”
I do believe that very early in life we learn to clutch stuff, a toy that we are not willing to let another child touch, a piece of candy that we are not willing to share with anyone, and even a parent’s attention that we do not want anyone to interfere with our precious time. It is not unusual for a first child to say to his/her mother or father; “Send it back!!!” (referring to the second child that was just born and has invaded his/her space).
As years roll by and more toys accumulate it seems to get harder and harder to let go. I guess that is why most families have something that has been passed down; a piece of furniture, albums, jewelry, glassware, etc. I am also pretty sure that most of us have added our own items to the passing down tradition. Antique Road Show, as well as friends and family member’s homes, have time and again validated this hypothesis. In fact, the older the item is, in the line of generations, the more cherished it becomes, and the more concerned we get about its’ safety and value. The passing down process demands some of our worrying time and energy.
Even in the Amish community we see this passing down tradition. Here are people who strive to live a simple life with few unnecessary possessions - that is until a loved one dies. Then the children and grandchildren are invited to come to a private auction to bid on the “stuff” left behind; a sewing box, a tool, a vase, etc. Each item becomes personally valuable for the successful bidder. It once belonged to someone they loved – and it will become another item to join the passed down tradition.
When we think of the word simplicity, we generally think of living without many of the unnecessary possessions even those that have been passed down. But simplistic living is not always about the materialistic ‘stuff’ we possess or clutch. It is about our history, our memories, our attitudes and resentments, our hurts and unhealed wounds, our unfulfilled desires and dreams, and more. When we clutch the stuff of the past it can distract us from living freely in the future. It can close our hearts and hands and prevent us from receiving the grace that God wants to give us.
God said, “Leave those things outside and then come in.
Come child come inside. But leave all that baggage behind.”
What are the things you need to relinquish so that your hearts will be open to receive the grace that God gives?
Simplistic living begins with cleaning the clutter of our memories. It is letting go of the past events and hurts, etc., that interfere with our future and our relationship with God. It is the baggage that is in our hearts and memories. God’s Clutch Clinic is a good place to start to let go of what binds us to the past. God’s Clutch Clinic begins with these simple instructions:
1) Sit down with pen and paper in hand.
2) Pray for God to open your storage bin of memories as you review your history.
3) Take each memory that has become heavy baggage, one memory at a time, and
4) Bring the heavy baggage to the healing service on April 10th and pray for healing.
5) When you feel free of the memories, take a moment and thank God for the blessing of his love.
Be kind and patience with yourself and with God. Healing takes time. Just remember that God is more concerned about what we clutch in our hearts and memories, not with our materialistic possessions that we think we can pass down, that is, unless they possess us and keep God from living within. AMEN
Last month on the 4th Sunday of Epiphany we had one of my favorite readings from Jeremiah. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." I think most women who have given birth to a child can wholly understand a piece of that first statement, “…in the womb I knew you.”
During my time at St. James Church a woman named Sharon who was in her eighties told me her story about her one child who was stillborn. In her late stages of pregnancy her husband punched her in the stomach. Up until that time, her child by his kicking in the womb kept telling her that he was alive and well. Nearing the time of his birth, their house was filled with baby furniture, clothes and toys, many that were gifts from family and friends. Sharon had even selected the name. If it was a boy, he would be named James Albert. Everything was ready for the arrival.
When the time came, her doctors knew there was a problem but didn’t tell her until after she gave birth. They just said, “You had a baby boy, but unfortunately he was stillborn.” They didn’t ask, ‘Do you have a name for this child?’ They simply said it would be better if she did not see the child even though he had gone almost full term.
Her family made arrangements with the rector at the time and the unnamed and unregistered baby was buried in Sharon’s parent’s plot. There was no mention of his name or birth on the stone. Nor was she present for the burial. After leaving the hospital, no one spoke about her loss. It was as if it never happened.
We talked about her story a couple of times. After a near-death illness her close friend told me that she thought something was bothering Sharon about her stillborn child. She asked me to see if I could help her get closure.
During my conversation with Sharon by the grace of God I realized that she was deeply troubled not only by his death but also how his death was handled at the time. She was never given an opportunity to grieve, to talk about the loss of this child that she knew in her womb.
In our conversation I realized that I had never even asked if she had named the child. She said, “I was going to name him James Albert.” She and I realized that she needed an opportunity to redo a wrong. She needed closure. She needed to bury her child, James Albert.
I asked if I could do a graveside service. She agreed and after I left, she immediately contacted the stone mason. She requested that the stone read, Sharon ______ 1928 to 20--. Under her name, Son James Albert 1956. When the stone mason completed the stone, we held a graveside service.
At the service this is what I said, “James Albert even though you only knew life in your mother' s womb, you knew your mother and your mother knew you. Your heartbeat and movement within her gave birth to a mother's love that has continued to be carried in her heart. It is her love that brought us here today as family and friends to remember you and remember how precious your life was to her.
We also know how precious your life was and is to God, and we believe in God's promise that someday you will be reunited with your mother and she with you. You will be no stranger to each other and the hearts that were bound in love that began in 1956 will share life together in eternity.”
In her thank you note to me she said, “Thank you that for the first time someone acknowledged that I was a mother that I had a son that I loved and cherished even though we were unable to share life together here on earth. in our earthly life. But I too believe in God’s promise. I will be reunited with James Albert someday, and we will know each other.
“in the womb I knew you…” My experience with Sharon was not only a wonderful blessing for me but it was also an affirmation that God does know us even before we are born. We are known by God in the womb. In the womb we are also called by God and given our gifts to serve God during our journey on earth, that alone is the greatest gift – being able to serve God by serving each other.
In December when I came to Block Island for an interview, Theresa Sisto took me around the Island. One of the stops that we made was at Barbara MacDougall’s labyrinth. Her labyrinth reminded me of the times I walked the labyrinth at the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation convent in Dighton, Massachusetts. I wrote a reflection on one of my experiences there and I thought I would like to share it with you.
I am sure that most of you know that a Labyrinth is not a maze that tries to confuse people. It is a ritualized journey with a single circuitous path winding in and out in one direction. It has been used for over a thousand years and for Christians it symbolizes the journey in the life of Christ. The winding path with its many turns always brings one to the center and then back out to the entrance again. Many people, like me, use it as a spiritual exercise talking to God throughout the journey.
It was one of those days in the Fall where it felt more like winter. There was a biting cold chill in the air, but after a few minutes of contemplating whether I would venture into the Labyrinth’s entrance I started the journey.
Where I entered, the path was clear of any dead leaves, but when I arrived at the west quadrant fallen dead leaves completely covered the path, thus making the turns of the Labyrinth path invisible.
I started brushing the leaves aside with my feet as I searched for the next turn. I wanted to walk the Labyrinth path as it was laid out. While brushing them aside I thought, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could simply brush aside all of the dead debris of our past, the past that influences and interferes with how we live today and tomorrow.” So often the past influences our feelings about ourselves and even interferes with the decisions that we make today and sometimes tomorrow.
But wouldn’t it also be wonderful if we could always follow the path that God had designed for each of us and never ever lose our way. Perhaps if we did there wouldn’t be as much debris to brush aside.
I continued to brush aside the dead leaves until I reached the next quadrant. The path was clear of debris once again. At this point I couldn’t help but think of God’s words; “I make all things new.”
As I stood in the center of the Labyrinth, I realized that “making all things new” did not mean that all the hurts, wounds, troubled relationships, mistakes and negative voices were totally and immediately forgotten. The past is the past and our experiences are just that – something we experienced.
We do not, all of a sudden, develop amnesia when God makes all things new. Instead, when we believe and experience God’s words – believe and experience - it means that we could find ourselves in a time when the past no longer determines and influences the quality of our lives in the present and the future, that is when we do the work of healing with God, we no longer have to live out of our wounds.
Healing does not come with a foot brushing aside the debris or a magic wand that makes it disappear. But wouldn’t that be wonderful! Healing takes work. Its takes time, it takes faith and it takes remembering God’s words. The work can be painful. Digging out the infection that lives just below or on the surface, can hurt a bit. But when the work of healing is done with God’s guidance and with prayer, God can and does make all things new.
I am always in awe when I encounter God’s presence in my meditations. It always brings me to an awareness that I might not have had if I had not taken the time to offer my heart, prayers and spirit up to God. For me the labyrinth seems to be one of those places where I have those experiences.
I am looking forward to the spring time, when even in a cool chilly wind I can stand at the entrance of the Labyrinth on Barbara’s land, offer a prayer or two and begin to walk the journey to the center and then back out again. I do hope that others would like to join me.