As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
— Psalm 42:1
This picture from the Jewish Mindfulness Face Book page started me day-dreaming about standing on the bridge and listening to the forest around me and I thought how lovely and restful. So today I offer you an opportunity for a little springtime dreaming. I invite you to use this photo for the practice of Visio Divina. 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 picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, trees, the water, places and things. Imagine what smells you might detect, water, earth, green growing 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 picture? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
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? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
May all your dreams be filled with flowing streams, warm sunshine and cool shade.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20
On Monday this week I volunteered at Common Ground, a Hospitality Space in Everett, WA. From Monday through Thursday, from 8 AM to 12 Noon, the homeless or those who live on the edge of homelessness come in for coffee, tea, and whatever snacks the Space receives by donation. While the makeup of the guests varies from day to day many come every morning and have discovered they will be received with a cheerful smile and an invitation to eat and talk. This is true communion for four mornings a week. The Pastors Rebecca and Luke Sumner have created a space where everyone feels safe and welcome. This is a place where food, warm drink, and an available ear for listening are always present. This is also hospitality at its finest.
For this Easter Season I am offering spiritual practices that reflect how we are witnesses of and express the light of the resurrection. When I volunteer at Common Ground I am witnessing firsthand the light of Christ’s resurrection in two young pastors and with their volunteers. When a person comes in to Common Ground they are not turned away, rather, Luke and his volunteers make sure each one is fed and offered a warm drink. When they have socks, hats, gloves or scarves they hand those out, making sure those who need them the most are the first ones to receive them. Volunteers sit down with the guests and get to know them as people not just as that unkempt person on the corner. As a volunteer I have found that the most important thing I can do is begin a conversation and then simply listen to often amazing stories of life that I normally only read about. I discover just how much alike we all are.
Yes there are those who drink too much, who abuse drugs, those whose mental illness has dropped them through the cracks of society and those who are just down on their luck. But at Common Ground none of that matters, all are fellow humans trying to make it in this life, all are beloved Children of God who only want to be seen and accepted for who they are. I am always tired when I leave Common Ground but I am also filled with an different kind of energy that keeps me coming back to visit with those I have met before and those I have yet to meet.
Common Ground may not look like a sacred space but it is. Here are the people Jesus of Nazareth spoke to first, ate with, joked with, and made the ultimate sacrifice for. Here I see the resurrection light shining in the Pastors, the volunteers, and the community that is forming out of street people and the discarded people of society. This is a spiritual practice that offers the concrete results of love in the form of food, drink and conversation and hands on spiritual practice where progress is heard in the proffered “thank you, I really appreciate what you do here.”
This week I offer the spiritual practice of hospitality. Sometime this week go out of your way to welcome someone or make someone comfortable. For example when I used to ride the bus to and from work or class I often would sit down next to a young mother; young mothers nearly always seem a bit frazzled. I would start up a conversation and then let them talk about their children and how their day is going. They mothers and the children often left the bus with a smile on their faces and I had just made a new friend. Hospitality isn’t just feeding or clothing the stranger, it’s really about being a real person to each and everyone you meet and being compassionate and honest in your speech and actions. To accept someone different from you is a magical beginning to new ways of seeing the world no matter who you are.
During this week may you discover that a full heart comes from emptying yourself by giving kindness and hospitality to others.
Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Matthew 2:13a Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you;
The winter stretches across bare trees.
And in our book we close the chapter on creation
And turn to the Exodus, to the leaving,
To our new becoming.
The Mystery reveals itself in a different guise
Out of a burning
It says “I will be that I will be, this is my name,
I am everywhere, in all things, and I call you forward.
Now take off your shoes,
The ground you are standing on is holy.”
It is hard to hear and difficult to imagine
Something with us in the pain,
In the exposed rawness,
Something with us in the brokenness of life.
But the voice is persistent, it whispers, it shouts,
“I am all that is. Everywhere you are, there I am.
I am the oneness, the unity of all being
And we are in relationship.
And I call you forward.”
The very ground we stand upon is holy.
There is nothing outside the realm of God.
We live in relationship with everything.
This is our covenant—our agreement with the continual becoming:
To know that every moment is sacred.
To act with reverence for all.
And to listen for the whispered silence
That holds us and calls us forward
To be of use
Within the fragility of all life.*
*Picture and meditation by Rabbi Yael Levy, founder of “A Way In: Jewish Mindfulness Program,” January 22, 2016, Face Book Page
It seems since the beginning of time we are called to make journeys. Adam and Eve journeyed from The Garden, Abram and Sarai leave for a place known only to God, and Joseph takes his small family of Mary and Jesus on the dangerous roads to Egypt. We too make journeys. In my life time I have journeyed across this country moving from Ohio, to Texas, to Washington, to California, and back to Washington. I have hopes that I won’t have to move again but I never know when God will call me to a new place.
There is one journey I have yet to make. My father and mother have made it, I have had friends make it and my time will come I have no doubt in that. At some point in the future God will call me to make the last voyage in this life and cross to the next life. Now that is a BIG journey. No one has ever returned to tell us that it is safe journey without dangerous places. In a way we will be making a journey similar to Abram’s and Sarai’s in that only God knows our destination. And, we have no choice but to trust that God will find us a safe route.
Every living thing and creature in this universe will make the journey; fish or plant, dog or human, all of us will cross to a new life somewhere that only God can lead us. Like the Hebrews in the desert we will have to look for the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night in order to find the right path.
Last week my beloved Chihuahua, Suzie, passed away. She let go of this life and followed a new caretaker. As I held her in my arms and felt her leave, I knew she was now in good hands. I miss her but like family, friends, and other companions I know someday we will meet and cross the bridge together. Until I too am called, I will hold the memory of Suzie, family, friends, and companions in my heart, which grows to accommodate all the memories of those I love.
While I miss those who have gone ahead I am comforted by the peace that comes from knowing that I will join them someday and what a party we will have.
Peace and blessings to you all. May your memories fill you with joy and give you comfort.
Stained Glass window of Julian of Norwich, Church of St. Julian, Norwich UK
For just as our bodies are clothed in garments,
our flesh enclosed by our skin,
our hearts centered in our body,
so are we, spirit and flesh,
clothed head to toe in the goodness of God.
But this metaphor hardly does justice,
for all things will decline and wear out.
God’s goodness, however, is everlasting,
and is incomparably nearer to us than our very flesh.
Julian of Norwich 14th century Anchorite
We are clothed in God, clothed in the goodness of God. These words have been especially comforting to me today as last week was an especially difficult one. Just knowing God, Spirit, and Christ are closer to me than my own flesh has kept me going.
During the day be especially sensitive to when God is present. At day’s end remember the times when you noticed God’s blessed presence. How did you feel?
1 Kings 8:10-13 10And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
12Then Solomon said, “The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13I have built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”
King Solomon’s Temple was a wonder to behold. It was made with the finest of materials: the best stone, lumber from the Cedars of Lebanon, gold, silver, and precious jewels. Yet it still was a case of humans trying to control God, confine God in a place of their making. A place where God could be forgotten like many other things people put in boxes and placed on a shelf. Even though the temple was a marvelous box it was still a box.
History has shown that God doesn’t stay in boxes very well and you can’t put God on a shelf and walk away without God noticing. Even though we continue to build fancy structures for God where some of us go to sit like good children. Where we listen to the pastor preach (hoping it won’t be too boring or too long because the game starts soon), sing a couple of songs and bug out as soon as possible forgetting everything we’ve heard until the following week.
I know that everyone isn’t like this, there are many who find worship to be just that worship and praise to God. But I have been in way too many communities where this is true and I’ve been in churches that have given in to society’s demands to be entertained and make what is supposed to be the worship of God into a Los Vegas production just to keep people in the pews. What is saddest to me is that all too often works, at least for a while.
You can’t put God in a box and hope that God will stay there, no, God is going to know when you ‘walk away’ and when you ‘walk with.’ I’m sorry to disappoint you but God can never be placed in a box and brought out only at Christmas and Easter, if then.
I am reminded of the closing scene of the Indiana Jones Movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” You know the one where the U.S. Government has boxed up the Ark of the Covenant in an anonymous box and places it in a warehouse.
That scene summarizes the problems we have with putting God in a box and then forgetting where you put the box. (By the way God was never IN the Ark of the Covenant, it was only a conduit for God’s power through the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.) We always want a convenient God one that doesn’t give us too much trouble or bother our ‘well laid’ plans with details like kindness, or justice. I have discovered trying to keep God in the big stone or concrete boxes we call church doesn’t work. Those boxes don’t keep God from pressuring us to do what is right. God is always waiting for each and every one of us to realize we need God to remind us of who we are and who our neighbors are, our brothers and sisters in creation. God is good at waiting for us, and doesn’t turn us away when we come running or crawling, the way we have to God. When we return to walk with God, to collaborate with God, and to participate with God in creating the world we are meant to live in God accepts us without reservations.
My prayer practice for you this week is to notice when God makes the presence known to you in the small ways of daily living. Notice the sunrise or your baby’s first smile of the morning. Notice when you see someone doing something kind for someone else, or better yet do an act of kindness for stranger. What do you see in the persons face? God is all around us, God is never in a box, and God doesn’t visit us only on certain days of the week. No God is there in all the little joys, sorrows, disappointments, and celebrations of everyday living. This week take God out of the mental box and practice seeing God in life itself.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee forever.
— Psalm 30:12b
It used to be that every year I would make out a list of New Year’s resolutions just like everyone else. The reality of those resolutions was I put the list in safe place and promptly forgot all about them, just like everyone else I know. A couple of years back I changed practice for New Year’s, instead of resolutions I started listing what I was grateful for from the Old Year.
I no longer feel guilty about not keeping promises to myself and speaking gratitude helps me to see the past year in a positive perspective. So here are my top 10 gratitude’s for New Years day 2016:
First of all I am grateful for John my beloved husband, best friend, and all around good company.
I am grateful for the presence of my furry and feathered friends. They have helped me to laugh when I least wanted to and they are a calming presence each day of the year.
I am grateful for my family; John’s 3 sons; our beautiful grandchildren Shannon and Amelia, Alex and Liam; my cousins who have made me laugh and so grateful that we have reconnected. Each and every one of you has brought joy into my life in so many ways.
I am also grateful for the Skype calls from Mark, Laura, Liam, and Amelia, who live in Boston. Amelia and Liam I love all of your antics and learning what you are up as you are growing up. Liam practice hard on those drums so that when we come the next time you can show us your progress. Amelia send me some of your dress designs, I would love to see what you are thinking of. Each of you are talented and amazing.
I am especially grateful for the Laura’s presence in my life. You my dear daughter-in-law are a treasure.
I am grateful for the kindness of strangers from all over the world. Their help when I needed it on our South Pacific adventure last year made the trip just that much more enjoyable.
I am grateful for caring and skillful medical professionals: Dr. Alberts who operated on my back, the Nursing staff at Stevens Hospital who made a difficult time easier, Physical therapists who encouraged me to work harder so that I would successfully recover from surgery.
I am grateful for the Faith community at Queen Anne Christian Church who have show me and John so much love and friendship
I am grateful for my In-Care-Committee who encouraged me to search deep within myself and who helped me to see myself as I am instead of how everyone see me.
I am grateful for the friendship of so many people that if I were to name them I would certainly forget someone, so from the bottom of my heart I love you all.
So those are my top 10 gratitude, of course I have many more. The listing of them will take all day on New Year’s Day but these are the most important ones. If you were to list your gratitude’s for 2015 what would they be? How would remembering them change your how you view the past year and how you anticipate the next?
My prayer for each of you is a year full of grace so that next New Year’s day it takes you 2 days to recite them. Have a Happy, Grace Filled New Year!