An interesting conversation start from David Bell

Ridged Valley Reflections

12.12.31

December 28, 2012

Before the election, I received an email from Daniel, a dear person who served as an intern.  He wondered if “Romney’s statement about the 47%, and the subsequent statements both He and Paul Ryan have made about the ‘American Dream’ and people pulling themselves up out of despair,” is endorsing a sense of superiority based from the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine).  I didn’t respond at the time because the best I could do was grumble like many others about how out of touch this wealthy white guy was, and yet I figured the answer must go below the surface of race, culture, and economic injustice.  So, I allowed the question to linger.  Well, lingering got me as far as the “fiscal cliff” debacle.

The fiasco of the “fiscal cliff” has made great fodder for the media and their pundits since the election.  So, to add my…

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Standing at the Door

The Open Hearts Door
The Open Hearts Door

Revelation 3:20- “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door; I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.”

For the last four months I have been on an inward journey.  I don’t know where this journey will lead me, although I am hoping it will help me come to some conclusions about ministry. Beginning in September I did mostly silent prayer or, depending on the day and moment, contemplative prayer.  I would sit for 30 minutes to an hour in silence up to three times a day.  I discovered that I was developing a very quiet place somewhere inside and all of the stress and disappointment of the last year were beginning to slip away. As I felt the need I started adding other practices, a bible study, a new interplay class, and a book study.

Through all of this I wrote in my Journal and added to my blog and one of the repeating themes is I am looking at scripture and readings from a very different perspective and the above scripture from Revelation is a good example.

I am fairly confident that all of you have seen the iconic picture of Jesus standing at a door knocking.  Have you looked closely there is no door handle; the door must be opened from the inside.  This passage from Revelation has been bugging me lately so I started taking it apart and trying to visualize it from a different angle.  The one perspective that seems to intrigue me is what if the door is the one into my heart and the person standing on the outside is me, not Jesus.  The door is ajar but I have to make the effort to push it open and walk in and in my meditations I seem to be standing at the entrance unable to move toward the door.  Sort of like the rodent in one of Rudyard Kipling books where it won’t go into the center of the room but always creeps around the edges.

The reason this perspective seems to be so important is 1) I have always believed part of the creator already resides within me, and for that matter within all of creation; 2) the place behind the door to my heart, or hearts door, represents for me my deepest level of spirituality.  It is the place that knows me best, the good and the bad, and offers forgiveness and grace even when I do not acknowledge it.    So, to me, it makes perfect sense that in the room behind the hearts door I will find G-d because G-d is the root, or grounding, of my very being and where I want to be.  But I am afraid to cross the threshold.

So what does it mean if I am the one outside of my hearts door?  First of all it means that
G-d/Jesus/Holy Spirit is waiting for me to acknowledge the Divine Presence and that that recognition means I am giving up some of the control of my life over to the true being within.  The acknowledging part is fairly easy, but, crossing the threshold and entering into full communion with the Divine is a lot harder.   There are risks to crossing into that sacred place, for one thing I would have to let go of my ego, and many of my desires, such asto always be at the top of everything.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit wants me to be second, third or even last at some task because it challenges me to look deeper at who I am and who I want to be. Because of my unwillingness to let go of my ego, I have spent most of my 65 years standing outside the chamber behind my hearts door and it has resulted in a life where hard lessons are learned and travels on rocky roads are my only choices. I had to hit rock bottom before I could accept that I could not live this life alone, I needed help; I needed love, grace, and forgiveness in order to become who I am.

Fourteen years ago I was at that rock bottom place and my path choices weren’t looking all that appealing.  I have always wondered why we have to be at the worst possible crossroad in order to recognize the grace and forgiveness of G-d, but it does and I am no exception.  Just like John of the Cross I was having my own “dark night of the soul.” It wasn’t until all light in my life had disappeared that I called out to G-d, crossed the threshold and entered into the arms of the Divine.

One result of my turning this scripture around so I stand at the door instead of Jesus is that I become the one to initiate contact with G-d.  G-d, Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes the force that waits for me to decide how, and when I will respond to their call.  I choose to cross the threshold or walk away.  Granted I have had a great deal of preparation for that moment in my life but a willingness to risk everything on an invisible (and to some non-existent) entity does not make the choice any easier.  Maybe that is why it takes those “dark nights” for us to make the choice to let our lives be lead by the Divine.  Unless we have only two choices, life or death, before us we won’t choose life.  We will continue to walk without the guidance of G‑d because that path seems easier to walk than the one G-d and there are so of those distractions to choose from.  But that is an illusion.

I must admit to a lot of darting out the door only to return with bowed head asking for forgiveness.  I am always amazed at the joy the Divine exhibits at the return of this wayward child. I know I am blessed by grace because I can fail G-ds expectations over and over again and return over and over again and I will be welcomed home just as the prodigal son was, with fatted calf and celebration.

See G-d wants us to be inside that sacred room and whenever we leave, the Divine keeps the fires burning for our return.  I like to think that hot chocolate and double chocolate chip cookies are waiting for me to communion with the ground of my being.  All I have to do is cross the threshold.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 29, 2012

The Innkeeper, a Christmas Story

innkeeperJacob was in a delighted panic, there were more people in his Inn than he had ever had before.  While giving thanks to the Romans would be condemned by the Temple authorities he was certainly thankful for this emperor’s whim.  Now if only he could find time to sit down to enjoy all of those shekels he was collecting.  Sara, his wife, was busy in the kitchen cooking a meal for their paying guests and for their own abundant family who weren’t paying because his wife wouldn’t let him charge them.  Family, sometimes you can’t live without them but tonight he would like to try.

Now Jacob loved his kind and gentle Sara, but sometimes her kindness was irritating. After all Jacob had to provide for his family. His son, Isaiah, had only just reached manhood, although he was a big help to him tonight.  Isaiah was carrying water to all of the paying guests (let his relatives get their own) and taking care of the animals.  Jacob’s two girls were busy in the kitchen with their mother and while Elizabeth was still a little small she was working just as hard as her older sister, Rebecca.  Over all Jacob was very happy, his Inn was full and he had a box full of money. He should not only be able to pay the tax collector (May YHWH rain fire down on his head!) but also have sufficient money for the next several months.  There might even be enough left over to put a little aside for his daughters dowries.

Jacob was suddenly shaken out of his revere by a call from his son.

“Father, there are two more in the courtyard.”

Jacob threw up his hands and ran out to tell them that he had no more room and that they should move on.   When Jacob opened the door a tall man greeted him. A very pregnant young woman was perched on a donkey behind him.  Jacob had to admit she looked very tired and uncomfortable.

“Excuse me, my wife and I would like a room to spend the night.  If you don’t have a room a corner would do.  Mary, my wife, is expecting and she is very tired.  We have money to pay and I will take care of the donkey myself.”

“I’m sorry we don’t have any rooms,’ Jacob said, “and to be honest with you I don’t think there are rooms free anywhere else in Bethlehem right now.  This mandated census has filled all the Inns.  My suggestion would be that you go up into the hills above the city and find a cave.  At least it would be out of the wind.  Good night to you.”

“Jaaa…cob, Isaiah tells me there is a woman with child out there”.

Jacob turned around and groaned as he faced his wife Sara.   “Sara we don’t have any room! Where would we put them?”  Taking one look at his wife’s face he said “Oh no! I am not giving up my bed! I am tired and will need to get some sleep tonight if I am to deal with all of these people tomorrow!”

Sara patiently looked at her red-faced husband; she knew he wasn’t as hard-hearted as some thought he was, he just had to be nudged once in a while.  “Well we can’t turn out a pregnant woman (may the LORD bless her child!), she looks like she is going to deliver any time now!  This census is bringing people out on the roads that shouldn’t be there!  Don’t you dare send them to the caves!  She’s pregnant Jacob, there are thieves up there and they will be robbed or worse!  Do you really want that on your hands?  Jacob, money isn’t everything.”

Jacob groaned again.  “Well, where do you propose we put them?”

“Isaiah”, Sara called, “get me some blankets and a lamp.  Jacob, the stable has a corner that is warm and dry, and you won’t charge them either!”

The man at the door had been looking on as the Innkeeper and his wife argued and now said, “Please, we will be glad to pay, we have some of our own supplies, we just need a place to rest.”

“No,” Jacob sighed, “Sara’s right, we can’t charge you for a night in the stable.  Isaiah will take you around the back and help his mother get you settled.”  Isaiah ran up with the bedding.  “Take them around to the stable and fix the stall on the west wall, it’s the driest and warmest.  Then come back and help Rebecca take some warm food and wine out to our guests.”

The gentlemen started to protest, “No, sir, it is the least we can do.  If you need anything during the night just knock on the door at the back, Isaiah will be sleeping there tonight and he will do what he can.”

The man looked very relieved, “thank you all so very much, you are very kind.  This is Mary’s first child and we have traveled so very far today.  My name is Joseph and I am a carpenter, if you need anything repaired or need any work done while we are here I will be glad to do it.”   Talking softly to his young wife, who turns and smiles her thanks at the innkeeper, Joseph turns, takes the donkey’s lead and follows Isaiah.

Sara looks lovingly at her husband. “You old softy, I knew you couldn’t turn them away.”

“Go, woman, and prepare some food for these people.  At least I’ll be able to get that back room lintel fixed.  Oh yes, I’ll take him up on his offer, he is an honorable man and I won’t embarrass him, go, go!”  Jacob looks outside as he turns to close the door, “my goodness it is bright outside, almost like daylight, there must be a full moon.”

©Ruth Jewell, November 29, 2009

Blessings and Peace to all this Christmastide!

This story was written for the 2009 Christmas Eve Service and I offer it here to all of you as my Christmas Gift.

I Was a Stranger

Matthew 25:35b

. . . I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

Yesterday was a strange day!  John and I are vacationing on a Caribbean Cruise and yesterday we visited Barbados.  It was supposed to be a quick day of shopping for gifts in the morning and then back to our ship, the MS Maasdam, for a swim and maybe a nap.  It’s a hard job but someone has to do it.  I hope you noticed I said “supposed to,” what happened was an adventure we never counted on and the discovery of being welcomed despite being a stranger in a strange land.

First of all you should know that John has developed a case of hay fever every time we reach shore; there is some type of plant bugging him so he needed more antihistamines.  So we get off the ship and head for the shuttles into the shopping district of Bridgetown.  After I paid the driver we got in and headed for town.  When we reach our destination John spots a pharmacy and we go in to get some Benadryl for his hay fever. And this when our day went wonky, as we are paying for it I discover I have lost my wallet. 

Do you know the sinking feeling you get when something goes terribly wrong and you are placed in very vulnerable position?  Well I never got that feeling.  I told John my wallet was gone along with my credit card, driver’s license and some money and all I said was “well that’s gone, do you still want to go shopping.”   I never expected to see the wallet again, I mean we are in the Caribbean which is not known for having the most honest population in the world, and these people are all poor and struggling.  While I would miss the $80, it loss wouldn’t kill me and my credit card would be turned off within the next couple of hours so that wasn’t that big a deal.  But to someone who probably makes less in a year than most people in the US make in a month that’s a lot of money and the card invaluable.  But for some reason I wasn’t the least bit worried. I was simply a little irritated about the trouble it would take to contact VISA

John suggests we go back to the drop off point and wait for the taxi to return, which the guy  would do simply as part of his route between the port and downtown.  As we sat under a tree, a man comes forward and asks if we would like to take a tour of the Island and we said “no we were waiting for the taxi that dropped us off.”  The man, whose name was Eric, asked us if we had lost a wallet, surprised, we said yes and asked how he knew.  Eric said the driver did find it and had looked all over for us but we had disappeared.  Eric told us that my wallet would be with the port police when we returned.  Eric told us to get into his tour van and he took us straight back to the port to retrieve my wallet and when we got there it was intact; cards and money all in place.  To thank the shuttle driver we gave him a large tip and to thank Eric we told him that we would like to take his tour.  So we and another couple who were just walking up got in and had the most wonderful morning going all around the Island of Barbados, which is really quite small, I think Eric said it was only about 150 sq miles, 14 miles wide and 17 miles long. 

We discovered that the couple, George and Marion, were also from Washington State, Port Ludlow to be exact, and we had a lot in common.  Eric told us he had two children, a boy and girl, and that he had lived in Bridgetown all of his life.  We saw Orchids at the Orchid Garden which was beautiful.  The Orchids were incredible but more than that it was simply a beautiful botanical garden with wonderful views of the farms in the center of the Island.  We stopped at Bats Hill beach where we wadded in the water and got silly as we picked up coral rock.  We saw a troop of monkeys with young ones trailing along.  The little ones apparently knew we had a camera because they immediately started jumping, running and falling over each other in their efforts to show off.  Actually they weren’t all that different from some other little ones I know.  After nearly 3 hours we returned to the port and our staterooms tired and trying to make sense of our amazing morning adventure.  What could have been a disaster turned into a time of welcoming and communion. 

So often we expect the worst of people and such self-fulfilling prophecies often come true, we get what we expect.  Yesterday I learned a valuable lesson that people everywhere are good, honest and hardworking, offering up kindness unlooked-for, resulting in lives touching each other in amazing ways that wouldn’t have happened any other way. 

In our interpretation of Mathew 25:35 we most often think of ourselves as being the ones doing the welcoming, or the delivering of kindness. We most often forget that receiving the welcome and generosity of another is a grace filled gift that opens our hearts as much as being the donor.   Yesterday I was the stranger in need and I was blessed with the gift of welcome and the company of new friends. 

I am not one who believes in coincidence but I do believe accidents are used by the Holy Spirit to touch people with grace and forgiveness in ways that could not happen any other way.  I accidentally dropped my wallet in a cab and as a result the lives of 5 people crossed and touched each other for reasons only the Holy Spirit knows.  The result for us was an adventure and lives briefly touching and gracing each other with friendship and charity.

Yesterday I was the stranger and the recipient; maybe tomorrow I will be the donor of the grace of welcome either way both offer grace, blessings and life to the recipients and receiver.    May all of you be blessed with the receiving or offering of the gift of welcome.

Ruth Jewell ©December 17, 2012

 

Family

A Story of Three Women

Three Women drink tea in the morning
Each on their own Terraces
Secure within their walls
They offer the daily morning wave

The Elder, the Middle, the Younger
Careful not to offend
They talk each day
Across a Chasm filled with white still Fog

One day things changed
A breeze stirred the Fog
A path was revealed leading
Into a place of uncertainty

The women looked down, pointing
Each looked at the other and
Moved to the path
Down into the swirling Fog

Lost … calling … WHERE ARE YOU?
Questions of the journey
ARE YOU THERE?
Is it right for us to meet?

The Fog lightens revealing
A space with light and three chairs
The women emerge
The Elder, The Middle, The Younger

Now what do we do?
I don’t know your name
Hannah … Mary … Mary
Smiles, the stories begin

Discovery, sisters all
Lost in time
Grown apart
Yet family still

I know your story!
I know your son!
I know your grandfather!
Family still

High on a hill
Three empty terraces sit
The sun still shines there
The tea still served, waiting

Three Women
The Elder, Hannah
The Middle, Mary
The younger, Mary

Walk hand in hand
Back into the Fog
Back into the uncertainty
Back to ask more questions

©Ruth Jewell, December 3, 2009, written for a class titled from Abraham to Mohammad  

Advent has begun, it is the time of expectations.  This is a time when small children excitedly wait for that magical moment on Christmas morning when they discover the gifts left by Santa Clause.   Yet there is more to Advent than shopping trips to the mall or preparing a big family dinner.  I wrote the above poem at the close of a class that went through the scriptural history of our Judeo, Christian and Islamic traditions and as a result discovered just how much alike we three sibling religious traditions are.  I think it is because we share so much history that we continue to fight over details just as any family of brothers and sisters do.

Did you know that Hannah’s story is much like the story of the birth of Mary as told in the Infancy Gospel of James written in the 2nd century?  Did you also know that The Qur’an also retells the birth of Mary with a story very close to what is said in James’ Infancy Gospel?  Hannah, Mary from the Christian tradition and Mary from the Islamic tradition are sisters, or maybe mothers and daughters, of our shared faith.  Mary is the most honored woman in The Qur’an, even more so than in our own Christian traditions.

We three faiths are related as People of the Book, of the Bible.  Our shared history is more than simply battles fought to get the attention of the Creator, we are family.  The scriptural blood that flows through my spiritual veins and pushed around by my spiritual heart is the same blood and same heart as my Judaic and Islamic brothers and sisters.  Christians are the middle spiritual child and our older spiritual brothers and sisters have much to teach us about God’s commitment to all of creation, just as we have much to teach our younger spiritual brothers and sisters about the love and compassion of God.

My heart aches because each of us spiritual children seems to only want to compete with the others.  So every Advent I offer prayers that we three family members will sit down and share a cup of tea and take the time to offer apologies and forgiveness.  Because we three siblings have much to teach and offer the whole world, not as the only right paths to God but rather as models of cooperation in showing all paths lead to God no matter what path we take.  All paths are sacred.

I have a pot of tea brewing and a plate of shortbread cookies.  So I invite you to a time of tea in the fog uncertainty.  Let’s begin a conversation that could just change the world.

©Ruth Jewell, December 5, 2012