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

GOD SAID

Sunrise, Edmonds WA September 2, 2013 Ruth Jewell
Sunrise, Edmonds WA
September 2, 2013
Ruth Jewell

I have been trying to make sense of the events of the last week. The deaths of two black men at the hands of the police, the Dallas Police targeted and killed, and the bombings in Iraq and Turkey. And, just today a new shooting in Michigan. My heart is filled with sadness and tears and I could only cry out to God “Where Are YOU.”

“God where were you . . .
when suicide bombers chose to end their lives and take the innocent with them?
Where were you when 29 men and woman
enjoying a night out were used as target practice?
Where are you when cops shoot people,
when people shoot people,
when cops are targeted,
When people die, the good and the bad?”

God where are you . . .
when we are filled with emptiness by shooting after shooting,
when bombings and assaults become common place?
Where are you when we turn the news on and
another child has died, another cop is killed,
another person of color, differing abilities, or characteristics is assaulted or killed?”

“Why Oh God do you not answer?”

God said “I am there . . .
Holding the bodies as they bleed,
I am there leading the survivors’ out of danger.
I am there, holding the victim’s family’s in my arms
I am there in the broken hearts of witnesses, law enforcement.”

“When the darkness is greatest
I will sit with you, and listen to your sorrows,
I will hold you in my arms when you are weary.”
All I can do is lead the dying home to my arms,
to comfort those left behind, if they let me.”

“When pain and grief grip you
I will be there to tell you everything will be alright.
When you scream into the night,
I will come and comfort you,
I will dry your tears, and wrap you in my embrace.”

“I will be there when you are weary and in pain,
I will be there to lift you up, and comfort you,
All you have to do is call”.

God said, “I cry when you do not hear my voice, and
I cannot stop you from harming each other,
that choice is yours alone.

“All I can do is encourage each of you to stand up for justice and mercy.
All I can do is hope your hearts will soften
and let the love I have for each of you awaken your love for each other.
All I can do is wait for you to choose the path of justice, mercy, love and peace
between your selves and all that is created.”

God says “I gave you the choice of right or wrong,
It is up to you to choose. I will not make that choice for you
nor will I force you to choose one path over another!”

“You asked for freedom, it is your responsibility to choose.
Choose to use that freedom wisely.”

Ruth Jewell ©, July 11, 2016

 

To Be a Blessing – Prayerful Tuesday

Be generous: invest in acts of charity.
Don’t hoard your goods; spread them around.
Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night.
— Ecclesiastes 11:1a, 2, The Message

Mom and Pippin, 1988 bMy Mother 1988
Steven F Austin St. Park, TX
©Ruth Jewell, 2016

A recent meditation had the following journal question “If you knew you were dying what would you write or say to your children or grandchildren?”  That question stopped me cold.  What would I say to grandson and granddaughter, Liam and Amelia?  How would I describe my love, and fears, for them?  How would I tell them of my life lived with my own loves, fears, and regrets? What would I say, what would you say?

During this Easter season I have been writing about the ways we express our feelings of the resurrection, and the many ways we witness to others our faith in the resurrection.  Sharing ourselves with the next generation is also a witness to our beliefs in the resurrection. The question above is an important one, challenging us to inspect our past and present lives and how that information could impact the lives that follow us.  I thought long and hard about what I would, will, say to my grandchildren and all of it wasn’t bright flowers and sunshine.

What might say, well I would of course tell them I love them very much, how grateful I am for having them in my life, and I will miss them.  I would ask for their forgiveness in my part for leaving them a world that is wounded and in pain, and a political system that doesn’t function.  I would tell them that no matter what they do in life their parents and I would always love them from wherever we are.  While their future is impacted by the world I leave behind it is still their future to make into what ever dream they reach for.  Following those dreams may not be easy, or always fun, but are worth the effort if they truly believe in them.  I would also tell them it is OK that they don’t believe in the Divine as I do, but, discovering their own pathway to something greater than themselves is important in finding their moral, loving, compassionate lives.  I would want them to stand up against injustice even when it is hard to do so, to see the good in people and all creation even when the night is darkest.  I want them to climb their most difficult mountains and to not be afraid of the challenges because I will be right there beside them cheering them on. I want my grandchildren to be fearless in the face adversity, to be strong when everyone else is weak, and to be gentle when touched by beauty.

What I want most for my beloved Liam and Amelia is to live a life that is not self-centered but other-centered. I want them to live a life that sees the best in the worst, the beauty in the ugly, and love in what is hatred.  I can’t leave them with much but when I make my final passage from this world to the next I want them to know I cared about them, and want them to be the best at whatever they want to be.

So that is some of what I would tell my grandchildren, what would be in your letter to your children?  We live in and uncertain world and we never know when our last day in this world will arrive.  We all too often leave too much unsaid to those we love the most.  So my journal question to you this week is: “If you knew you were dying what would you write or say to your children or grandchildren?”

May you find the words in your heart for those you leave behind.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 26, 2016

not what you say but what you do matters – Prayerful Tuesday

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,
serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
–1 Peter 4:10

Ford Madox Brown, Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet, 1821-1893Jesus Washing Peters Feet
Ford Madox Brown, 1821-1893

My morning’s meditation topic was “service” and it started a train of thought (ok it was actually a brain worm but let’s not quibble) about how I “serve” others.  I must admit there are times when I am not very nice and I do it only because I have too or to prevent an argument.  I am quite good at rolling the old eyeballs in those instances.

But that is not what Jesus taught; the Gospel of Mark records Jesus saying “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35b) In fact all through scripture we are called to be God’s servants and, from my perspective, if we are all, humanity and creation, images, the manifestation of God in the world then it makes perfect sense that we are also servants of all we encounter, human or otherwise. To be a true witness of the resurrection is to serve, with joy, our fellow travelers on this planet.  That means caring for the earth and all that lives on it.  It means caring for those who cannot care for themselves, speaking up for those who have no voice and doing all with grace and with every ounce of our God given gifts. One of my favorite rituals is foot or hand washing.  To personally hold someone’s hand or foot in your hands, pouring the water over them, wrapping them in a towel and then look them in their eyes and tell them they are beloved by God gives me chills.

But rituals aside service means anything that places you in the position of servant.  Cleaning the home of an elderly friend or family member, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden when you know the owner can’t bend over anymore, creating a garden and sharing the harvest with neighbors or a shelter all are ways we may offer our service.  But there are even simpler ones that often get overlooked; such as picking someone up for an event, calling on the ill, taking out the garbage or keeping a room clean.  These are services that make life easier for others and, when done with joy, happiness in our own lives.

So this week I am challenging you to 1) notice when you do a simple act of service, and 2) if the opportunity comes up to offer your special gifts to others to give it a try.  When you do you are witnessing the resurrection in action and love blossoms.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 19, 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

Imagination and Visio Divina – Prayerful Tuesday

Working in a Food Bank
Working in a Food Bank
Sunset Yakima WA, 2013
Sunset Yakima WA, 2013
Students of Umpqua College  being led to safety, 2015
Students of Umpqua College
being led to safety, 2015

 

Many of us live in nice safe neighborhoods with few opportunities to interact with those who are disadvantaged except maybe on the street when we are approached by a homeless person.  And while disasters are all too common today I would guess that most of us are relatively unaffected by such actions as shooting incidents or natural disasters.  So today I would like you to put yourself, through your imagination and pictures, in places you might be uncomfortable with.  I have chosen three pictures only two are images that may disturb you or make you uncomfortable.  The third is a quiet scene and I would like you to ask compare your feelings of that scene with the others. This is not my usual spiritual practice but using our imagination to be in a place of comfort or discomfort is also a spiritual practice for it opens our hearts and minds to the possibilities of where we need to grow or what we fear. Finding God in uncomfortable places is just as important as finding God in places we are needed but don’t want to go.

Follow the directions for using the imagination combined with Visio Divina:

  • Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, 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. 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 arise within you as you gaze at the images?  Do you feel fear; are you uncomfortable?  When you gaze at pictures 1 and 3 then contemplate picture 2 what changes in you as you look at this serene scene.  Do you see the sunset in a different way?
  • Respond to the images with prayer. Did the images remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
  • Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in the quiet moment. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 2, 2016

Never Alone – Prayerful Tuesday

Matthew 28:20b “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

God does not want
us to be burdened
because of sorrows and tempests
that happen in our lives,

because
it has always been so
before miracles happen.

–Julian of Norwich, 14th century Anchoress

Microsoft Clip Art
Microsoft Clip Art

Sorrow, grief whether from unforeseen circumstances or our own doing always seems to lead us to questioning our beliefs and faith. We ask ourselves, the universe, or the Divine “why is this happening to me?”  In our woundedness we nearly always believe we will never be able to recover, to fully live life again.  I know what it feels like, I have been there way too many times and yes I felt totally adrift without friend or companion. Yet I was, we are, never really alone.  There is always someone to lay at their feet your fears and pain. Sometimes we have to look for confidants, and sometimes we only have to open our hearts. When we open up and let the pain scream out the healing process begins.

So yes with time the wounds of our heart, mind and soul do heal and we move on. We learn from our pain and discover new strength deep within that provides the fuel to live a joyful and fulfilling life helping us move into a better place in our lives.  We learn there are relationships that can’t be broken even in the darkest times.  We also learn that from loss great things will grow. The two greatest miracles of sorrow are learning we do have the strength to walk through the dark places in our lives and learning to forgive ourselves.

But when we refuse to look at our sorrows, too afraid of the memories to bring them out into the open where the light is we never learn from our struggles.  By keeping the memories of the painful times of life locked within we never allow ourselves to find the deeper meaning in our sorrows, or the strength that comes from squarely facing them. We never completely heal.

Healing doesn’t mean forgetting because if we forget than we cannot come to an understanding of who we are and are meant to be.  Life isn’t easy; it is full of ups and downs. More than likely we spend more time in the valleys than we do on the mountain tops. But just as a young tree grows stronger when strong winds blow it around we too grow stronger; strong enough to face the next valley, and the next, and the next.  With each one we gain a bit more strength.  Yes, I know all too well that it doesn’t feel like that in the moment but it is true.  Living your life without challenges, or risk of sorrows, isn’t living it is existing and there lies the difference.

Spiritual Practice:

Have your traveled a dark valley?  Did fear keep you from moving forward or from sharing your pain with a friend, pastor, spiritual director, or directly with the Spirit? If you could not let your sorrows out what would help you to find what you need?  Prayer and silence are strong tools for rebuilding our relationship with the Divine.  Offer your fears to the Spirit in your own way of prayer. Confiding in a spiritual director, a close friend, or your pastor may help guide you in your own search for answers. Each journey is different and requires different tools.  Asking for help is not a weakness but strength and a spiritual practice in itself. Let your heart be healed by finding the best tool for you.

Blessings on your journey wherever the road takes you.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 26, 2016