January 20, 2017

Last evening I was thinking about history, in particular, the history of our country. In 1776 our founding fathers chose to protest and separate from an oppressive imperial government. They chose to fight what they saw as injustice and for the most part they won that battle. Yes, most were elitist, and some were slave holders, they were, to put it mildly, a product of their time. But for the most part they had a vision of a country where each person would have the right to an equal chance at “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I wonder what they would say about today’s inauguration, I believe they wouldn’t be very proud of us right now.

I know, I know, those writers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution didn’t have the foresight to include women, people of color, those with different beliefs, or the LGBQT community in their plans, but, the blueprint was there. And, in more than 200 years we have grown and matured as a nation, as a people, and now most of us see each person in our country as important, valuable, to the success of us all.

Throughout our history, we have struggled to open our understanding of who is an American. In the last 100 years, great strides have been made in insuring the poor, woman, people of color, those with differing gender identities, and those with differing beliefs have the same rights as rich white males. We opened the doors of our country and people from all over the world have enriched our society in every way possible. But now those advancements seem to be coming to an end.

This country elected someone who only sees value in rich white men. This man and his followers see the population of the U.S. as a means to an end, an end that fills their pockets. To accomplish their purpose, they duped other white men into believing they too can be ‘rich’ knowing that what they will do while in office will prevent anyone but themselves from succeeding. They have done it by demonizing the poor, people of color, women, those of differing beliefs, and those with differing gender identities in order to hide their true intent, to make themselves wealthy and more powerful. They don’t have the interest of the country at heart, the only thing they think about is how much power over others they have and how much money fills their coffers. Not a very nice picture of our current government.

Our Founding Fathers weren’t perfect, they owned slaves, they thought the poor should do more, they didn’t acknowledge women as citizens and they certainly didn’t accept anyone who identified with a different gender. Yet they managed to set aside most of their bias’s and conflicts to craft our government’s documents that had the flexibility to, in time, include those who had been excluded. Not perfect men but wise men.

So, are we returning to an ideology that pre-dates our Founding Father’s? I hope not, but, I fear so. In the last eight years, we have seen the rise of hate crimes instigated by the very people we elected into office. The gains we have made in racial and gender equality are threatened by elected officials who use the fear of being marginalized to demonize anyone who is different. Our so-called representatives have built on misconceptions and lies to produce a constituency across the nation that, while they are well off, thinks they are poor and being discriminated against. Most of these representatives have benefited from the social improvements created since World War II, but, apparently, they believe they are the only ones who deserve to be so honored.

In the next four years, we could lose this country to a society reminiscent of Nazi Germany and that scares me. But I also have hope. I have hope because so many people are speaking out, willing to put their hopes and dreams on the line by standing up and defying those that would roll back the achievements we have gained. Women are marching all over this country and all over this world to say we will not allow our hard-earned rights and privileges taken away. People are organizing to combat hate, racism, and violence. They are banding together to promote justice and mercy in the face of those who would take our health care, our education, our environment, our dreams.

My fear is that if we don’t see progress quickly then many will become discouraged and leave the fight. We cannot do waiver, success won’t be easy nor quick rather it will be very difficult. We will face insults and threats on our lives and lively hood, and that is scary. Each one of us has something we can do, whether it is getting out the vote, writing a letter, or marching in protest. There are small to big tasks, and all are important.

So, do not be afraid, you aren’t alone. Participate at whatever level you are most comfortable with, whether it is writing, financial support, all the way up to running for a government position at the Local, State, or Federal level. But do something, be part of the fight, be part of what we are to become.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 20, 2017

2017, A NEW YEAR?

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A new year has begun and I am not sure what it will bring. Usually I have a sense of new beginnings, or I have excited expectations and hope as I pick up from where I left off and start over again. Not this year though. There has been too much acrimony, too much hate, too many lies, too much racism, and too little justice, mercy, kindness, and peace for me to look forward to the coming year. Sad really, because it seems 2017 is already defeated before it is a week old. I am afraid 2017 will just be a year of more hateful speech, more injustice, more discrimination, and more violence.

There is no one person to blame, we all are responsible for the atmosphere of distrust and hate we see every day, in the news, from our politicians, from our neighbors. Let me make this clear, you and I are to blame from the people who fear the changes created in the last 30 years. We forgot that people might not understand, might not be willing to accept those changes. We assumed they would go along “when the discovered how much better they had it.” But they didn’t. No, they felt left out of the process, unasked, and left behind, and they felt their concerns and issues weren’t being addressed.

Yes, they could have become involved and worked with those of us who believed we were working to better the lives of everyone, and the environment. But somehow, they didn’t feel as if they could. Maybe they didn’t believe as we did, maybe they needed to be given more information, maybe they just needed more time to assimilate all the information being thrown at them. Whatever the reason some people became alienated and open to manipulation by those whose agenda is to turn back the clock to a time when only the few profited from the bounty of this country.

Maybe the reason for the divide is that those of us who want to see us progress broke into interest groups who fought over what issue was most important when, in reality, all of it is. No one has ever bothered to look at the larger picture. To try developing a program that would have given equal emphasis to each issue. To bring together the disparate interest groups formulate a policy that would have benefited each area of interest. The modernization of each issue, environment, inclusivity, racism, woman’s rights, children’s right, poverty, immigration, all of them, each is dependent on the other.

What do we do now that we have a president whose only interest is his own personal gain, a congress dominated by old white men bent on preserving white privilege, and the hate and racism propagated during the last eight years by has let loose violence and terror in our communities. Well, to start we work together, all interest groups working together to keep what has been achieved from being lost. Our job now is to stand up when we see abuse or harassment and protect the victims, stopping hate speech when we hear it, and working to prevent injustice wherever we see it. None of this is easy. It isn’t easy to do and it isn’t easy to work up the courage to take a stand. But that is what we are called to do.

I am a person of faith, and 2016 sorely tested that faith. Yet I still believe in what I was taught that we are to act justly and to love kindness, mercy, and compassion. We as a people of many faiths and beliefs are called to care for the disinherited, the lost, the incarcerated, elderly, young, and the stranger. That doesn’t change even though it has become much more difficult at the moment. History moves in many ways and we repeat our mistakes over and over again. We have the possibility to achieve great heights or astounding lows. The choice is ours. Do we repeat history or do we show that we can change history.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 3, 2017

A Prayer for 11/13/2016

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness: for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Bing Image, A Woman at Prayer
Bing Image, A Woman at Prayer

Holy Spirit, this past week has been one of disappointment, fear, confusion and, yes, hate. You, Gracious Spirit have taught us to be more than any of that so we ask that you, in your grace and wisdom, guide us towards a future that loves, shows compassion and stands up for justice.  In our faith community, our local, state, national, and world communities we are in need of your guidance and strength, help us to be the people of light chasing out darkness.

As a people of many faiths and cultures we are facing new challenges, fears, and frustration we pray that we will be strong, and stand together in faith and love just as we have been instructed by the wise.  Help us to be the doorway into tomorrow.  Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©November 13, 2016

BEGINNINGS

Photo by Anders Jildén, Stockholm, Sweden, an Unsplash photo
Photo by Anders Jildén, Stockholm, Sweden, an Unsplash photo

Matins, night

darkest night when fear slides in
lost, lost I have lost the way
fear fills me, all hope has flown
death’s grim voice speaks,
“better to die than face your fear alone.”
has it come so far? Is my life worth anything?
how often have I screamed into the night, “WHY,
why, help me, have mercy, DAMN IT
do you hear me,
hear me before I surrender to the dark, surrender
to the dark

can I take my own life? Yes,
yes I can for in this darkest night it is only death
who welcomes me with open arms,
“come I will take you to where there is no fear,
no darkness, come, let’s end those fears, end your terror filled life” . . .
. . . DAWN BREAKS
out of the light of dawn God speaks,
“I will walk with you out of the darkness,
take my hand.”

Lauds, dawn

I was falling, falling, now caught, held,
lifted up, restored, re-membered, reborn into life
I am awakened to new light a new day, fresh,
never before seen or tasted
ah . . . to be held
in the arms of God,
to feel safe after terror
there is no description of the sweetness,
delight, astonishment at the dawn of re-birth,
to be resurrected by sacred love
for as sure as the crocus pokes its head through
the cold earth each spring, I have been embraced by the light
of dawn, warm golden light, green
growing light, giving new hope, new life, once dead
now tasting the first sweet breath of air

Terce, mid-morning

mornings . . . clean slate, fresh, calm, empty
of the past and filled with
promise of the future
mornings . . . opportunities not yet seen, waiting
to unfold, challenges to grow on
knowledge to gain, to be rolled in,
gathered in and absorbed,
time to learn the tools of life
so begins the journey
I put on my cloak of courage, and
grab my staff of knowledge
learn to walk with new legs, see
with new eyes, hear with new ears, touch
and be touched, revel
in the new sensations that run up my spine
discover new ways of being holy, of being with the holy.
learn to share newly given grace,
grace given you over and over
received over and over, a gift
given again and again
see the world as I have never seen it
bright with vibrant colors, sparkling
waters, perfumed air . . . learn to spread
my wings and fly on the breath of God

Sext, noon

to walk full of energy, riding
the ups and downs of life’s rollercoaster,
work that leaves arms tired, eyes drooping
taking what life has given me and
give back, sharing the graces of
knowledge, faith, love, and justice
using the joys of success as
nourishment and the tears of failure
as water to grow new grace
life upon life, all mixed
up with trials and joys that strengthen
and grow more life

None, mid-afternoon

Joy in a life being well lived
yet learning to let go of those
dreams limited by age, health, and time
no sadness (well maybe a little, transitions are hard after all),
joy at guiding the other beginning life’s journeys
learning it’s ok to let others
run the show, to lead
Oh I’m not done yet, I still
have work to do, things to accomplish
now is my time to be the encourager, the
mentor, the teacher of life’s lessons, to
teach others to lead
Now is my time to find
my peace with who I was, who
I have become and who I will yet be

again the Spirit takes my hand and
leads me on my journey

Vespers, evening

ah, to kick back, to
let go, to relax, day’s
work is done, time to sort
those old memories that
have piled up in my head
to find there a stillness
a being and . . . letting
stillness come in and fill my being
time to pass the torch to those more
able than I, those with more energy,
more time, more life
my place is cheerleader, advisor
and kisser of bumped knees
I am the repository
of life’s joys and sorrows
the keeper of the tales of
adventure and miss-adventure, all to
be passed on so the old ones
will not be forgotten

Compline, night

night, the time of endings, conclusions, laying down to rest
the memories of past loves, fears, angers, joys, and conflicts fade into the darkness
only one light now shines with a blinding brightness
I reach with one hand back in, to
the fading darkness of this life, and
with the other hand I reach out into . . .
the unknown light.
I am torn between leaving and staying,
I am between two worlds, my . . .
fingers slip through the hands of those I love

but, the time has come to be whole again
My time in this place is done, time
to let go, time to lead the way
one . . . last . . . time.
I have no regrets as this life fades,
the past made me who I am
and I am satisfied
the chrysalis of this life is breaking apart,
the butterfly is ready to emerge,
to spread her wings and fly

Ruth Jewell, ©July 2016

Open Door – Prayerful Tuesday

“Be an opener of doors”  ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stan Heywt Gardens Akron, Ohio July, 2005 Photo – Ruth Jewell
Stan Heywt Gardens, Akron, Ohio, July, 2005
Photo – Ruth Jewell

Open doors offer promise and fear, joy and sadness.  Behind an open door there could be grandchildren waiting for fresh baked cookies, or maybe something else, something fearful waits for us.  The above photo of an open door could be deceptive, there might be a garden beyond or there could be a path to a destination we didn’t want to travel.  We will never know until we cross that threshold. Crossing into the unknown is one of the most frightening things we do as humans. The unknown is what we make of it and we can’t confront our fears or live our lives until we are willing to move through the door and confront what lies on the other side.

Today I am offering the spiritual practice of Visio Divina using the photograph above.  Before you begin, sit for a moment with your feet on the floor, close your eyes and breathe deeply, letting your body relax and open your soul’s heart.  Now open your eyes and let your imagination and God’s love lead you through the following steps.

  • Study the photo slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
  • Take a second, deeper, look. What do you see? What draws you in? Engage your imagination and describe what lies beyond the door? What are you leaving? Where do you see yourself in the photo? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  • What feelings arise within you as you gaze at the photograph? Do you feel fear; are you uncomfortable; are your excited or do you anticipate what you might find?
  • Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Does the photo bring to mind an instance when you have stood at a door, either opened or closed? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  • 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.

Gracious Holy Spirit each day we stand at a new door, where our next challenge lies beyond.  Give us strength to face whatever we find across the threshold. We are grateful for the courage you give us as you accompany us through each door.  Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©March 15, 2016

Ash Wednesday Meditation – Prayerful Tuesday

“Therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job: 42:6

“You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”
Psalm 51:6

God Speaks to Job out of the whirlwind William Blake, 1757-1827
God Speaks to Job out of the whirlwind
William Blake, 1757-1827

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  Growing up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) tradition I knew about Ash Wednesday but the community I worshiped in didn’t celebrate it.  It wasn’t until I was an adult, and living in California, that I really understood that having a smudge of ashes on my forehead meant repentance.  Repentance is not just saying sorry, it means examining my past behavior and then changing what I do in the world, turning my actions around to behave as the faithful follower of Jesus I wish to be. And unless I begin the process of change, or at least try to repent, I have not truthfully repented.  Because repentance is a spiritual practice God knows  I will stumble and have to start all over again.  Failing isn’t seen as failure, but as one more step in changing from the old me to the new me.

In today’s world people blithely say they are giving something up for Lent. Often it is some type of food, drink, or action, such as weight loss or smoking none of which really affect our lives and like New Year’s resolution never keep.  That is not what the repentance of Ash Wednesday or the time of Lent is.  No, it means looking closely at what we do every day and then vowing to the Holy Spirit to change some aspect of our life to fit more closely with the teachings of Jesus.  To do that is a truly meaningful act of fasting and repentance; also a very difficult one.  But remember failing to keep your promise is only failure if you don’t start over right where you left your fasting path.

So the spiritual practice for this week is to prayerfully look at your life and what you do every day.  Is there something in need of changing?  Is there something you could do better, or begin to do, which would bring new meaning to your life?  Then, for your Ash Wednesday statement of repentance, choose to promise God you will repent and change; then practice changing your actions for Lent.  Don’t feel discouraged if it is difficult and you have trouble getting started, just keep trying and taking your discouragement to God in your prayer practice.  After all there is a reason it’s called a “practice.”

May your Lenten meditations and fasting bring joyful changes into your life.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 9, 2016

The Work of Christmas Begins

A Poem by Howard Thurman

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.


Audio of Jim Strathdee singing I Am the Light of the World

Today, January 6th, is Epiphany, the day tradition tells us the Wise Men visited Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My mother used to call this day “little Christmas,” and she would prepare a special meal in the evening. I don’t remember gifts being exchanged but we did eat a lot, and usually finished up the Christmas cookies.  But, it was years later when the song I Am the Light of the World by Jim Strathdee, based on Howard Thurman’s poem, came out that I began to look at this day differently.

Today instead of just thinking about nameless astrologers coming from the east and giving unusual gifts to the Child I see this day as less a celebration and more of a new start to living as Jesus taught.  Thurman’s poem and Strathdee’s music remind us that Christmas isn’t just one day, 12 days, or the 34 days of Epiphany. (Yes, today only begins the season of Epiphany which will end on Ash Wednesday this year on February 10th when Lent begins.) We are called to carry the message of the love of compassion, justice and peace throughout the year.  The season of Epiphany offers us the opportunity to make caring for our fellow travelers on this planet, human or animal, a habit.  A habit that empowers the weak and the young, gives food to the hungry and compassion to our elderly, poor, lonely, homeless, and war torn neighbors in this place we call home.  Strathdee’s hymn is the theme song for our work in the world, the work of Christmas.

Every year we are given the opportunity to begin again as Jesus followers.  Every year we are reminded of who we are, and whose we are. Every year we are given another chance to live our lives in such a way as to bring change to the world.  Every year we are given the chance to accept the radical challenge of being the Christ figure for the people we see and interact with every day. It is a radical idea!  If each of our neighborhoods is changed, even a little, eventually we change the world and Jesus and God never asked us to be more than who we are, only to be the best that we can be.

To live with compassion, love justice and to travel in the company of the Divine is all we are asked to do. I don’t think that means a drastic change in our habits, rather it means we share what we have so that all have enough. Is that really so hard?

So I challenge myself, and you, to begin to change how we live in the world, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, standing up and letting your voice be heard when justice is violated and oh so many other little acts of compassion. Each of us can do something. We don’t have to do everything at once simply pick one to get started, let one act of love become a habit this year.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 6, 2016