Welcoming the Stranger – Prayerful Tuesday

“for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. – Matthew 25:35

DSCF3027 a

Louis Guido Maximilian Jewell (aka Louie) Adopted March 19, 2016
Louis Guido Maximilian Jewell (aka Louie)
Adopted March 19, 2016

I apologize for being late today, but, just returned from the Westar Institute Spring Meeting held in Santa Rosa CA.  I returned a day late because I adopted the cute little fellow above. I ended up staying an extra day to bond with my new little friend before we made the long drive home.

You may be wondering how adopting a dog from shelter is related to a theological meeting but it does fit in quite well actually. A major theme of the meeting was hospitality, the welcoming of the other into our midst.  That other may be someone from a different culture, race, faith tradition, age, or gender.  It also means welcoming the non-human other. God intends us to express our welcome to all creatures, mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and (here’s the hard part for me) insects.  God intended us to care for all nature, human, non-human, plant, and stone for all are children of God.

As I listened to the lectures and discussions I wondered when we lost the ability to care for others, human or non-human.  When did we forget to practice loving the other and caring for the sick, the homeless, and the incarcerated?  It doesn’t matter if the other in need is a man, woman, child, dog, cat, horse, or any other child of God, all deserve to live a good life and to be welcomed into our arms.

Ever since my beloved Suzie died in January from a stroke I have been considering adopting another Chihuahua and while I was in Santa Rosa I visited a Sonoma County Animal Shelter and was introduced to Louie.  I thought about what it means to care for someone other than myself and while a small dog wouldn’t be everyone’s choice it is mine. So we are welcoming into our small home and family a new member. Louie was abandoned on the streets of Santa Rosa; he is between 3 and 5 years and was discarded like trash. A shy little fellow who is way smarter than you’d think.  After all he has lived for some time on the streets, and survived. He is loving, gentle and wants only to be loved.  Just like anyone who has been discarded and forgotten.

So this week, for our spiritual practice, I am asking you to practice hospitality.  I’m not suggesting you go out and adopt a dog or any other animal, although I wouldn’t stop you.  Rather I am suggesting that you see the homeless on the street for the people of God that they are.  You might volunteer to spend a couple of hours helping out at a homeless shelter, food bank, or animal shelter.  If you see a homeless person on the street, offer them a sandwich or granola bar.  When you offer your gift, shake their hand look them in the face and see the Holy Spirit looking back. Talk to Terri Stewart about volunteering at the King County Juvenile Center and learn to see children of the streets as angels in disguise.  If you are interested attend a service of a different faith tradition and listen with open heart and mind. At the end of the week reflect on what you have experienced and learned of the other.  Offer a prayer for all who are forgotten and pushed aside.

Loving, welcoming Spirit may we see your face in the eyes all we meet, human and non-human.  Help us to open our hearts to the stranger in our midst, and welcome them with open arms.

Ruth Jewell, ©March 22, 2016

A Thanksgiving Prayer? – Prayerful Tuesday

for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

Matthew 25:35

Artist Unknown
Artist Unknown

Giver of abundant gifts, on this Thanksgiving we celebrate . . . we celebrate. Ah what are we celebrating God?  It seems to me that we have nothing to celebrate, nothing to be thankful for, except empty hearts and soulless comments.

Too many children are dying before our eyes on beaches, in stormy seas, in mountain passes, and refugee camps.  Too many are blinded by their fears, unable to see the path to your love.  I don’t know God, I can’t really think of something to be thankful for this year, you see my eyes are clouded with tears and my heart is screaming in pain for those who are being denied entry into our so called circle of love.  By the way if it is a circle of love would there really be boundaries?

God I don’t know how to say this but I do believe we humans have failed you and maybe it is time to pull the plug on this experiment. We are tired, I know I am, so please just let us go and let us be thankful for the too few moments when we recognized your love and shared it with the world.  Let some other species give being your priestly people a go at it. That task is very plainly to difficult for us. Dogs would be a good choice they love without condition just by being who they are, yes; Dogs would do a good job of being your treasured people.

So I guess I do have something to be thankful for.  I am thankful for your love, for your compassion, your presence in the darkest of times.  I am grateful for the times we danced in the sunlight, and sang at the moon. I am grateful for your faith in us when we have no faith in ourselves.  I am thankful for the many blessings you have given us, sunrises and sunsets, a newborns smile, oh so many gifts. So if it’s alright with you God I will lay my gratitude down at your feet and if it pleases you Lord, I would like to come back as a Dog.    AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©November 24, 2015

on being human—Prayerful Tuesday

Nursing an Ebola Victim Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures
Nursing an Ebola Victim
Picture by Dr. Rudyard, Health Pictures

Matthew 25: 36 “I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

One of the books I read while I was on my sabbatical was Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong.[1]  As always I was impressed with her writing and level of scholarship but more than that in this book Ms Armstrong lays out the reasons for our love of violence and power.

Right at the beginning she identifies one of the factors in our continuing struggle between living in a harmonious world or living in a power driven world, the construction of our brains.  We have 3 brains, the old brain or reptilian brain is responsible for our fight or flight actions. It drives us to defend our territory for food and other resources, it is the self-centered part of the brain, most concerned with keep ourselves safe; the mammalian limbic system, which formed over the core of the reptilian brain is our second brain. It is responsible for new behaviors such as care of our young and the formation of allies with others; and the new brain, the third brain, the neocortex, is responsible for our “reasoning and self awareness that enables us to stand back from the instinctive, primitive passions.” (pg 4-5)

Ms. Armstrong proposes that the reptilian brain and limbic system are dominant within power systems that manipulate and control others.  The limbic system extended the actions of the reptilian brain to include family or a community unity but, still, this drive for power and control of others for territory and resources requires violence.  It wasn’t until about 20,000 years ago when the neocortex evolved did the idea of standing back and evaluating actions was there any question about the use of violence. Humanity really didn’t have a chance of becoming a reality until after the evolution of the neocortex and we have yet to learn how to  use the “new brain” to begin to evolve into who we are meant to be.  By this I mean most of us haven’t learned to overcome the impulses of the reptilian brain and limbic system and use our neocortex to evaluate our surroundings or our actions.  In general we humans are “subject to conflicting impulses of [our] three distinct brains.” (pg. 5)

Fortunately there is hope for us all.  A few of us are developing our neocortex’s and discovering what it means to be truly human.  I was listening to NPR this past Sunday morning when a story about Dr. Kent Brantly was broadcast. Dr. Brantly was one of the American Doctors who contracted Ebola last year and survived.  He was asked to deliver the graduating speech to the 2015 graduating class of the Indiana University School of Medicine.  What he says about compassion is important for all of us to hear (italics are mine):

“In the first seven weeks of treating patients with Ebola, we had only one survivor; one survivor and nearly 20 deaths. Losing so many patients certainly was difficult. But it didn’t make me feel like a failure as a physician because I had learned that there’s a lot more to being a physician than curing illness. In fact, that isn’t even the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is to enter into the suffering of others. And in the midst of what was becoming the worst Ebola epidemic in history, we were showing compassion to people during the most desperate and trying times of their lives. Through the protection of Tyvek suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances, to treat with respect the dying and the dead. And in my opinion, that made those weeks, those difficult weeks of my career a success.”[2]

Compassion isn’t offering help, it is being with the suffering of others, it is living the suffering, walking together down a road you may or may not know where it leads.  That is what Jesus did.  He entered into the suffering of others, he walk the road to where ever they were headed, that is one, maybe the first, step to becoming human.  Dr. Brantly has taken a step on a road most of us are afraid to even look at let along step onto.  The Prophet Micah tells us “He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). To do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God, sounds easy does it not?  Ask Dr. Brantly how easy it was for him and he will tell you it is the hardest road you will ever walk, but if we wish to be the humans God has always wanted us to be it is a road we must walk.

This week my spiritual practice is more of a spiritual way of life.  I would like to invite you on a journey with me to become the “human” God wants us all to be.  To look at our actions by taking a step back and asking ourselves the following questions (I am sure there are more than these and please let me know what you would ask):

  1. Does this action support justice or impede justice?
  2. Is this action a loving act?
  3. Does that action move me closer to God or does it separate me from God?

Simple questions, but, sometimes hard to answer.  Our lives are filled with gray areas and we will need to determine how those gray, in between, spaces fit into our lives and either nurture or kill the life we want with God. This is not an easy practice or an easy way to live but I believe, at least for myself, a profitable one.  I know I will stumble and so will you.  That’s OK, just pick yourself up and start over again.  Failure is a lesson in how not to do something.  Loving life as God meant it to be was and is never easy.  Just remember you are not alone.

Ruth Jewell ©May 19, 2015

[1] Armstrong, Karen’ Fields of Blood, Religion and the History of Violence, The Bodley Head, London, UK, 2014.

[2] National Public Radio: Rachel Martin interview Dr. Kent Brantly, May 17, 2015, All Things Considered Sunday Edition.

Eating Locally as a Spiritual Practice – Prayerful Tuesday

Harvest Time
Harvest Time

 

What does it mean to eat locally grown foods?  Well it doesn’t mean you eat only food grown in your area.  Rather it means you understand the importance of food or, as my friend David Bell says (Eating Locally, Artistically, justbetweentheridges.wordpress.com), the sacredness of food.  Eating food from a neighbor or a local farmer has less impact on the environment than food grown at great distance from us.  There are few transportation costs, less gas and oil means a smaller carbon footprint.  Most local farmers use fewer pesticides or none at all that leads to less contamination of the environment and fewer chemicals to which we are exposed.  The food is fresher because we are buying directly from the farmer we they can pick the fruit and produce at its peak instead of early because they don’t have to transport it as far.  That leads to better nutrition for us and our families.  The relationships built with farmers means you know where your food comes from and how it is produced.  Those are some of the benefits but what about the sacredness of food?

Well, food is sacred. It is a gift from the Holy Presence to feed our bodies and when we separate ourselves from where it originates we lose a connection with the Holy that is basic to life itself. Throughout scripture food plays an important role in the relationship with God, and with the people of the bible. In Genesis God provided food for Adam and Eve, when they were banned from the Garden God still provided for them.  The Israelites are fed by God with food from heaven; Elijah is cared for by angels; and at the end of his 40 days of temptation, the angels provided for Jesus. Ultimately we celebrate the sacredness of food every Sunday when we bless bread and cup and offer the feast of Jesus at the communion table. Food is important not just to our physical well being but to our spiritual well being as well.  The work a farmer does is not only necessary to our existence it is a holy occupation, a sacred act, a connection between God, earth and us.

This week spiritual practice is to offer thanks at each meal for the food you eat.  Here is the table prayer I use, you may use it or one of your own:

Holy Giver of Life, I thank you for this food before me, thank you for the earth in which it was grown, thank you for sun and rain that nurtured, thank you for the farmer who harvested it, and thank for the hands that prepared it.  May this food feed our bodies as you feed our souls.  Amen.

May your week be filled with wonderful food and abundant grace.

Ruth Jewell, ©September 16, 2014

PRAYERFUL TUESDAY, Sept. 24, 2013

A PRAYER FOR PEACE

Genesis 9:13
Genesis 9:13

I have set my bow in the clouds and it will serve as a sign
of the covenant between Me and the Earth Genesis 9:13 (Torah)

This last past week has been especially disturbing with gun violence in so many places that I have lost track of where they all are.   I can’t even be sure that all have been reported by the ever present Sad News Division of our national media.  There have been simply too many acts of violence to report.

All I can do is offer prayers of comfort and safety for every person on the planet because I can’t name all the communities, families and individuals affected by gun violence this week.   I don’t think that has ever happened before.  One of my greatest fears is that massive gun violence, or violence in any form will become the “new normal” for our lives and we will begin to ignore these incidents because they become common.

Every day I pray to the Divine Spirit of us all that we will stop killing each other long enough to recognize we are brothers and sisters.  I pray that, knowing that while my prayers may be heard by the Spirit there is little hope of them being answered unless we all of us, hear that prayer and yell “ENOUGH!”   The killing will not stop until we, the people, say we have had our fill of guns in the hands of the mentally ill, of the glorifying war and banditry to entice our children into these acts as play, and of having our children shot, bombed, starved, and abused all for the glory of some pathetic so called religious or political despot.   So today on this our Prayerful Tuesday I would like to offer the following prayer of peace, petition and intercession. It is called the Caim, the encircling prayer, a form of prayer used by early Celtic Christians.

Circle Prayer of Peace, Petition and Intercession

Putting Ourselves in the Holy Spirit’s presence

Circle me, O Holy Spirit;
encircle me with your presence.
Keep joy within, keep bitterness out;
Keep generosity within, keep greed out;
Keep wholeness within, keep sickness out;
Keep wisdom within, keep folly out;
Keep strength within, keep weariness out;
Keep truth within, keep falsehood out;
Keep compassion within, keep hard-heartedness out;
Keep hope within, keep despair out;
Keep peace within, keep turmoil out;
Keep love within, keep self-seeking out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Parent, Child and Holy Spirit, Amen

Prayer for those in my heart

Circle, O Holy Spirit, (name[s]),
encircle them with your presence.
Keep joy within, keep bitterness out;
Keep generosity within, keep greed out;
Keep wholeness within, keep sickness out;
Keep wisdom within, keep folly out;
Keep strength within, keep weariness out;
Keep truth within, keep falsehood out;
Keep compassion within, keep hard-heartedness out;
Keep hope within, keep despair out;
Keep peace within, keep turmoil out;
Keep love within, keep self-seeking out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Parent, Child and Holy Spirit, Amen

Prayer for Peacemakers

Circle, O Holy Spirit, those who work for peace,
encircle them with your presence.
Keep wisdom within, keep folly out;
Keep strength within, keep weariness out;
Keep generosity within, keep greed out;
Keep truth within, keep falsehood out;
Keep compassion within, keep hard-heartedness out;
Keep hope within, keep despair out;
Keep love within, keep self-seeking out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Parent, Child and Holy Spirit, Amen

Circle those who are victims of violence and injustice

Circle, O Holy Spirit, (name people and places),
encircle them with your presence.
Keep truth within, keep falsehood out;
Keep compassion within, keep hard-heartedness out;
Keep strength within, keep weariness out;
Keep truth within, keep falsehood out;
Keep compassion within, keep hard-heartedness out;
Keep courage within, keep fear out;
Keep peace within, keep turmoil out;
Keep love within, keep hatred out;
Keep light within, keep darkness out.

In the name of the Sacred Three, the Parent, Child and Holy Spirit, Amen

Circle those who commit acts of violence and injustice

Circle, O Holy Spirit, (offer name[s]),
encircle them with your presence.
Help them to see the truth and to turn away from falsehood;
Help them to learn compassion and leave hard-heartedness behind;
Help them find the courage to turn away from evil;
May they feel your love in a world filled with hate;
Help them to see your light in the darkness.
In the name of the Sacred Three, the Parent, Child, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Prayer of Blessing
The peace of the earth be upon you
The peace of the sky be upon you
The peace of the sea be upon you
The peace of the holy Spirit be upon you
upon you and all of G-ds creation

The love of the earth be yours
The love of the sky be yours
The love of the sea be yours
The love of G-d, Christ, and Holy Spirit be yours
and all of children of the Holy One.

AMEN

Ruth Jewell, ©September 24, 2013

Prayerful Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Into the Wilderness
Into the Wilderness

Into the Wilderness

An old Hebrew root for wilderness means “to speak,” {dabar – meaning “to speak” is a primitive root of midbar – meaning wilderness, a place where you can hear G-d speak}.  Those who traveled into the wilderness were outsiders, minorities, women and Judean peasants and they were the ones that heard G-d speak.  All too often we believe we have to be on the “inside” to hear G-d’s voice, we must “do it the right way” in order for G-d to notice us and accept us.  Yet that isn’t the way I’ve observed G-d work.  It is the outsider, the minority, the woman, the one who seems to be doing it all wrong that is called by G‑d.

How often do feel as if you are on the outside?  Might G-d be calling to you, inviting you into the wilderness, to hear the voice of the Creator? Today I invite to take this moment and breathe deeply.  Breathe out your burdens, worries, your cares and the responsibilities that weigh on you.  Sit in stillness and open up to G-d’s voice.  G-d will take your concerns and tend to them while you rest in G-d’s loving kindness and grade.  Breathe in G-d’s presence and love for you.  Remain still for 5 or 10 minutes in your inner silence and breathe the breath of G-d.

My prayer for you this day is that the stillness of this moment will remain within your heart all day letting you see G-d’s grace and blessings in all of the days tasks.

The Peace of G-d be upon you.

Ruth Jewell, September 10, 2013

 

More than Enough

 

Suzie
Suzie

Matthew 25: 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Saturday John and I welcomed a new family member into our home.  A small stray dog rescued by the Sonoma County Animal Shelter.  She is a 5-year-old Chihuahua who is also completely blind.  For someone she was simply a throw away life, to John, me and my cousin, who brought her up from California, she is a delight; sweet-tempered and loving.

As John and I prepared for her arrival I began to reflect on how privileged I am.  How privileged all of us are.  We have enough to eat, nice clothes to wear, clean drinking water, and warm homes that shelter us.  We are, for the most part, healthy and able to get around without assistance. In general we all have friends who welcome us, even if we do not have family.   We have all been well-educated, never experiencing or having very little experience of being prevented from learning, or doing whatever we choose to do.

We walk our streets without fear of being shot by snipers, or being killed by daily shelling or in the crossfire of combatants.  We know where our children are and have no fear about sending them to school or leaving them alone.  We can shop for anything in the world; shoes, clothes, and food in quantities the rest of the world finds totally amazing. We think nothing of ordering from Amazon a new electronic gadget or, in my case, books of every kind.  Do you realize the poorest of us in Snohomish and King Country has more than those that live in Darfur?  The poorest in this country would be considered wealthy by many in third world countries.

Right now our government is deciding whether to intervene in Syria and my honest prayer is “please let’s not do this.”  But the issue of this intervention is way more complicated than just not wanting to because I am “tired of war” and “I don’t want to open a new front that will suck more of our much needed funds away.”  I am not the one being shelled, I am not the one being poisoned, and I am not the one in the cross-hairs.  My heart goes out to those caught in a war zone and am frustrated because there is so little I can do to help except send my prayers.

I realize I am embarrassed by my riches.  What makes me worth more than those in Syria, or homeless of Nicklesville Tent City, or refugees in Darfur?  So my prayers this week have been extremely troubled.  How do I make a difference?  How do I help the poorest in this country and the rest of the world?  How do I follow in the steps of the one I choose to follow?  I am afraid, uncertain, confused, and unsure. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of what the heart of my heart calls me to do.  My prayers and my small offerings seem inadequate.  But that is what I have to offer.  There is a line from a poem by John Phillip Newell that I practically like, “Be strong and let your heart take courage.”  That is what I am trying to do. I can’t do a lot but my little bit just might be helpful.

Adopting Suzie, one of G-d’s children thrown to the side of the road, is a small thing. And in all that I have been blessed with I have more than enough to live my life. Sharing out of what I have been blessed with only adds to my riches in a new way.  Therefore, I vow to give out of all I’ve been blessed with by doing many small things and maybe if we all did small things they would add up to a collective big thing.   All we have to do is everyday give a small thing out of our great abundance and maybe, just maybe, we might change the world.  For me one of those small things is to never stop praying because it may seem inadequate at the time but calling out to G-D in heartfelt sincerity and surrender is never a waste of my time and leads me to actions that benefit others.  Life is full of choices and I choose to be more giving of the blessings I’ve received.

In the short-term none of what I do may change how the homeless are treated, whether injustices are set right, or whether or not we go to war.  In the long-term it will be only G-d who will remember how a lost heart was pointed to a better path. My small offering will be just one more strand strengthening the ever-growing fabric of life.  I find that to be amazing and astounding and more than enough to keep me going.

Ruth Jewell, ©September 9, 2013