Marcus Borg & Gratitude for our Mentors—Prayerful Tuesday

Marcus Borg 1931-2015
Marcus Borg

This last week I heard of the passing of Marcus Borg. I was sadden not just at his passing but because I have learned so much from his writings. I will miss reading his words and having them open up my understanding of Jesus as both human and Divine.  Marcus Borg’s writings were instrumental in changing how I came to look at Jesus, the apostles, and the first century Christians.  He made me think and doubt what I have always believed to be true and to take that doubt and turn it on its head by searching for answers and being comfortable with finding only more questions.

Because of Marcus Borg I began to read scripture, questioning the standard interpretations, searching for what the words printed in the Bible meant to those they were written to, the first century believers in Jesus.  Borg’s books were my first window into the church of the 21st century and why, and how, it is so different from the community of believers in the 1st century.  Reading Borg’s books were instrumental in giving me an interest in pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree and looking at the carefully at the path leading to ordination.  Yes I will miss this Master of Theology who opened doors and, through his writings, fostered a love of scripture, sacred texts, theology, and history.  Whose writing led me on a search for the divine and human Jesus that I wanted in my life.

We do not go through this life alone. There are many people, our mentors, who have walked and are walking with us.  Some mentors we know, some mentors we request or go looking for, some we have not known they were mentors but were our companions for a while, showing us us how to live by living their own quiet, faithful lives.  Some mentors never know they mentored us at all. Marcus Borg was one of my mentors who never knew he walked with me. I am grateful for his life and his words.  I never met him, only read his books, but I felt ‘close’ to this incredible theologian who made Jesus and God accessible to me.

I will never be able to thank him, so, instead I will thank all of my other mentors while I still have time.  My parents, my first grade teacher Miss Wooster, they taught me courage and determination. I am grateful for Pastors from childhood to adulthood that listened to my ravings and didn’t belittle me.  I am grateful for my current pastor, and friend, Laurie, who has been the most gracious and gentle of mentors as I have grown in my faith. I am grateful for friends who let me be me, inspiring me to be the best friend I could be.  I am grateful for my beloved John who has supported me through thick and thin as we have traveled this crazy new journey God has led us both on in the last 15 years.

I am grateful for the love, comfort, and companionship of dogs, cats and birds who have taught me the value of unconditional love. I am grateful for being able to live and work, and play in a world of great beauty, and sorrow.  I am grateful for my life as it is and as it will be and I know that whatever life hands me I know I am not alone, there is always someone standing beside me to offer encouragement.

On this Prayerful Tuesday who are you grateful for?  Who has walked with you on a difficult path or a path of exploration and great joy?  Who walked with you, gave you insights, taught you a lesson of life that you didn’t recognize at the time?  We all have people who have brought meaning to our lives, today offer your gratitude, your thanks for your life’s mentors.

Gracious Presence, I am grateful for all who walk, and have walked, with me on my very bumpy life’s journey. I am grateful for your presence as you have been with me always, even though I don’t recognize you. My spirit is grateful for all I have been given, and thankful for all that is yet to come.  Amen.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 27, 2015

Taking Care—Prayerful Tuesday

The Scream by Van Gogh
The Scream by Van Gogh

For the last three weeks I have been in constant pain due to a pinched nerve in my back.  This fussy nerve has been bothering me for a long time but I refused to listen to it. So now it is fighting back to get the attention it thinks it deserves.  I have never been in so much pain before.   It hurts to lie down, stand up and sit and that my friends are pretty much every possible position there is.  But, I am not asking for sympathy, prayers yes, sympathy no because I got myself here by not listening to my body.

It is always easier to give someone else advice than to take that advice ourselves about taking care of the temple God has graced us with.  Whether we are doing our busy lives or praying we often forget the clay vessel we are embodied with to the detriment of our health and well being both spiritually and physically.

I understand the forgetting the body when we are making a living, I certainly forgot.  After all we are only trying to make a living, feed our family, keep a shelter over our heads and clothes on our backs.  We don’t feed the body with good food rather we go for the quick easy meal of junk food, which is high in fat, calories and low in what we need to be healthy.  We don’t get enough sleep because a job needs to be done and “I, just don’t have the time to rest until it’s finished.” Stress takes its toll with worry about how we will survive if we lose our job, or add a new family member, or move to new community.  We forget to take the time to talk to God, to listen to God, to offer prayers of gratitude and concern to the one, and only, who can relieve our pain and suffering.

The ironic thing is we remember our bodies when they break down, and we remember our spiritual life when we are running on empty to the next event in our lives. That is what has happened to me.  I forgot to care for my body, I refused to listen and I am paying for it now.  But more than that I forgot that caring for my body, caring for my spirit is a prayer practice.

It is important to care for what has been given us the best way we can.  Even when we are given bodies that aren’t perfect, and whose is, we are called by God to care for this vessel as long as we are here enfleshed in this life. In order to care for this body given me I must repent and make changes to how I view my body.  It isn’t an object to worship, but it is a house of prayer.  Good food, exercise, rest and listening are my four healthy habits that will make my house stronger.  My physical house and my spiritual house.

My prayer for all of you this week is take a moment out of your day to sit in silence and offer God your gratitude, take a brisk walk and feel the breath of God on your face, rest in God, letting the healing touch of the Holy Spirit renew your soul and eat with gusto food rich in love and low in Cholesterol.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 20, 2015

The Angel’s Voices

Mt. Baker, WA, from Artist Point, Photo by Ruth Jewell, 14.09.15
Mt. Baker, WA, from Artist Point,
Photo by Ruth Jewell, 14.09.15

Prepared for a Sermon at Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle WA
January 18th, 2015

Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

Have you ever had that feeling you are being watched and you turn around and around to see who is there?   I have and I must admit it often feels creepy!  Someone is watching me, why, who are they, what do they want, will they hurt me?  Some might say these are the questions of a paranoid mind, but, given the status of our world today, not uncommon in these days of uncertainty, fear, and, let’s be honest, at least a little hate, ok a lot of hate.

So when I read the Psalm for this week I had to really think what it means to be “watched,” “known,” by God.  This Psalm is telling me that I am being watched, by God no less.  Is that a good thing or should I be afraid, really afraid.  As I was contemplating these verses I remembered an incident out of my childhood.  It was a memory of being known by God and knowing it was keeping me safe.

Nearly 62 years ago I was severely burnt and spent 6 months in hospital healing and having reconstructive surgery.   In reality I am blessed to be here, because I should have died that summer, but didn’t.  However, I did spend a great deal of time on a children’s ward of a Cleveland Hospital.  There were number of other children there as well, just as injured and ill as me and one little boy and I became good friends.  I do not remember his name; I do remember he was dying.   He was a little older than I was but could not walk; I could get up and walk a little but couldn’t read as well as he could.  I would get books and games to play with and he would read the harder books.

Children will often tell another child something important when they aren’t sure their parents would understand or listen.  So one day he told me that he knew he didn’t have long to live and he wanted me to tell his parents he was ok with it.  You see he had a guardian angel who stayed by his side and the angel had told him he would be going soon and no longer in pain, his parents would be sad for awhile but they would remember him forever.

One night I awoke to a great deal of crying and saw the mother holding the little boy.  I remembered what he had asked me to do so I crawled out of my bed and tried to tell them that the boy was OK, and that he was with his angel now.  However, before I got very far with that a nurse scooped me up and put me back in my bed saying something patronizing.  I never really talked about that incident again; I understood what I had to say was pretty unimportant to adults and not worth listening to. It was the thought of the time that children didn’t understand death or God and it was, and is, a wrong thought.

Being known by God, being watched by God, children understand that, after all they are always being watched.  By parents, teachers, friends, family members who want to keep them safe.  So knowing God is watching them is no big deal, just one more person on the list to keep them safe.  Besides isn’t there something comforting knowing you have a guardian angel nearby, how cool is that.

From the time they are formed in the dark, cavern of their mother’s womb they are cradled and whispered to by angels.  By 18 weeks of pregnancy the embryo begins to hear his first sounds, Mom’s heart beat, the movement of her blood, and bowel sounds.  He also hears His Mom’s and Dad’s voice, music, laughter, and tears.  To him it’s, Angels voices coming from, everywhere.  Children know they are being watched, searched out as they are being formed in the dark.

After birth we are still connected to those angels, only now they have blurry faces, but they can see the angels smile at them and hear their whispers and while breast feeding they still hear the comforting sound of Mom’s heartbeat.

It is a sad fact that as we grow we forget those connections to the mystery of our beginnings.  We let other sounds carry us away from the angel’s voices, the whispers that we are beloved and we are watched over. We, who were made so carefully, struggle to be free of the binders, free of being hemmed in from behind and before. We, who in secret were made so wonderfully and woven of star dust and love, want to run free of the restrictions of God, angels, or anyone else.

Yet there is a part of us that yearns to be known.  Oh we may fight it, rebel and run away because we want to “do it our way.”  But really, at some level, isn’t it comforting to know just how beloved we are?  The Psalmist said “My days are all inscribed in Your Ledger; Days not yet shaped—each one of them is counted.”[1] Those counted days are from the moment we are conceived in flesh to the moment we let go of this body and return to God.  Yes we still have days that God has counted that we know nothing about, yet.  But God is still watching and still planning, or more likely, revising our life plan based on our latest actions.

You see I’ve never been a big proponent of predestination, were God has planned our lives out before we are born.  No I am a firm believer in free will and our obligation to choose life over death.  We, you and I, must choose to follow one path over another and depending on our choices our life is rewritten again and again.  I know that because I have had my life rewritten all because I’ve made some rather dumb choices in my life.  My guess is we all have, because we are human, we are embodied; we are separated from that light of God and God deliberately put us on our own resources for a purpose we do not know.  (My first question for God when I return is “what were you thinking.”)

What the Psalmist tells us is even in our bad choices we are watched, cared for, beloved, held safe, and not alone.  God keeps us in God’s thoughts; we are never far from the Divine mind.  “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.”  “I am still with You,” God is with me.  Matthew writes that Jesus’ last words to his disciples were, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  We have that promise.  God has not left us alone, Jesus has not left us alone, the angels are still whispering, if, only we listen.

Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi translated verse 14 as follows, “I am overcome with thanks at Your awesome wonders, Your astonishing works, of which my soul is aware.”  Our souls know what God does, what Jesus does, even when we are unconscious to those actions.  Our souls know even when we reject God’s call that we are not alone.  That we are watched over and having our lives rewritten again and again based on whether we chose life or death.

Those angel whispers, messages of comfort from the Holy, still hold for each and every one of us.   That first sound we heard in our mothers’ wombs, the first whisper of life from the sacred, was a heartbeat.  It still is the whisper of life for all of us.  Without our hearts beating strong and level life will fade.  But it is not just the heart of our flesh that we need.  We also need the voice of the heart of our souls, our spirit, to truly live life as God intended.  Remember Moses’ last words “choose life.”  The messengers of God, the angels voices all whisper, “choose life.”

Ruth Jewell, ©January 17, 2015

[1] Schachter-Shalomi, Rabbi Zalman, Psalms in a translation for praying, Alliance for Jewish Renewal, Philadelphia, PA, 2014.

It is Good?—Prayerful Tuesday

Garden of Eden, Jan Brueghel, 1612
Garden of Eden, Jan Brueghel, 1612

“And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:10b

In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good.  Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society.  Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be.  It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.

Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good.  So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.

Prayer Practice:

1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.

  1. Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges? What feelings about the world rise in you? Are there any images that you are particularly drawn too?
  2.  Respond to the image with prayer for the world. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
  3. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now.  All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain.  Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.

Peace, Blessings

Ruth Jewell, ©January 13, 2015


My 2015 New Years Resolution – Prayerful Tuesday

Cape Cod, Ruth Jewell 2008
Cape Cod, Ruth Jewell

I have been contemplating making a resolution this year.  My track record for keeping resolutions is poorer at best as I rarely make it past Jan 2nd but, maybe this year will be different. You see I am actually thinking about a resolution that fits my life style rather than dramatically changing it. Keeping expectations low can’t hurt this process.

My 2015 resolution is to deepen my prayer life.

I am going to accomplish in two steps.  First I am going to carry a small blank book with me at all times where I can record names of people I am asked to hold in prayer.  That way I won’t forget the name of the person needing prayer even if I don’t know them well or not at all.  I already set aside a portion of my meditation time for intercessory prayers but I often forget the names of those who have asked for prayer.  When that happens the best I can do is a general prayer that holds up everyone who is ill and suffering, while this is lovely and includes the individual it has lost the personal feeling for my prayer.

The second act is to begin practicing a new spiritual practice called “Dedicated Suffering”[1] presented by Jane Marie Thibault in her book Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, co-authored by Richard L. Morgan.  The purpose is to take the energy surrounding my suffering and asking Christ to ‘transform it into loving-kindness for the chosen person or group being held in prayer.

In the last few years I have had an increasing amount of physical pain in my life and a lot of my life energy is involved with minimizing that pain.  Ms Thibault developed a way to dedicate that energy to Jesus as a gift, then asking Jesus to change that gift into love for a person being held in prayer.

Since I have been doing this only a few days I can’t say I notice major any changes in my life but like all spiritual practices you have to do for a while before you see anything new.  That is why it is called ‘practice.’

As we grow older chronic pain and suffering increases and often limits what we can accomplish each day.  The practice of Dedicated Suffering offers a way to extend our prayers to others and puts the energy of our pain and suffering to good purpose. I offer the following instructions so you may try it for yourselves.  Maybe at the end of 2015 we can compare notes and see how gifting our energy to Christ to provide loving-kindness to those in need has changed our lives.

Dedicating Your Pain and Suffering to Help Others

  1. Find yourself a quiet corner where you may sit silence for a few minutes. Focus on your pain and the energy you are expending to minimize it.
  2. Offer your suffering energy to Jesus as a gift.
  3. Select a person or group in need of your prayers then ask Jesus to accept the energy of you suffering and change it into love for that person or group.
  4. Spend a minute or two imagining Jesus sending love and help to the person or group.
  5. End by offering Jesus a word of gratitude.[2]

While I haven’t been doing this practice for a long time yet I do find that I feel less encumbered by my chronic pain and have just a bit more energy to be the person I am meant to be.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 6, 2015


[1] Thibault, Jane Marie and Richard L. Morgan: Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, Upper Room Books Nashville TN, 2012, Pgs 112-115.

[2] Ibid. pg. 113