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.

Sabbatical

Artist Point, Mount Baker, Washington,  Photo taken by Ruth Jewell September 5, 2014
Artist Point, Mount Baker, Washington,
Photo taken by Ruth Jewell
September 5, 2014

To all of my wonderful readers and followers of my Blogs on A Quiet Walk, and Beguine Again, this will be my last post for awhile as I am taking a sabbatical from electronic media until Mid-May.  I will be traveling to new and exciting places, taking time for quiet reflection and renewal.  I will return to the Blogosphere May 19th with new stories, maybe new prayer practice or and new insights. As I travel please keep me and my husband, John, in your prayers.

I wish each and every one of you a meaningful Holy Week and a celebratory Easter.  Peace be with you all.

Ruth Jewell, ©March 24, 2015

Choose . . .

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Words are many things:
hurtful, uplifting, loving, hateful,
words are either —
fertilizer for the growth of new life, … or
poison for the soul.

Actions do many things:
open or close door, feed or starve  the hungry,
actions can —
lift up the soul into the sun, … or
drive the soul into the ground.

Life versus existence
which will it be.

To live life means;
speaking for the voiceless,
encouraging the timid, guiding the young,
sharing from your abundance,  and
laughing until the dawn.

To exist means:
storing your treasures in leaking vessels,
hiding fearfully behind walls of your own making,
distrusting those closest to you,  and
being alone even in a crowd.

Life is to be lived
to share good fortune and bad,
to share laughter and tears,
to offer a helping hand,
to dance and sing together

Giving is better than hording
light of life is better than the darkness of existence.
Life for all is at its best when
all have what they need, enough
encouragement, love, compassion, justice, mercy.

I choose life

Ruth Jewell, ©April 12, 2014

Prayerful Tuesday – “I the God of Israel will not forsake them”

 

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform; by Wm Cowper Picture by NASA
God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform        words by Wm Cowper
Picture by NASA

Isaiah 41:17-20
17
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.

18I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.

19I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,

20so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it. 

Advent, a time of waiting, a gestation time of new beginnings, I have heard those words many times over many Advents.  And, while all this waiting is important I have a confession to make, I hate waiting!  Yes, my impatience frequently gets me into trouble, with G-d and with those around me.  I begin before the preparation has been completed and my task, while not a total failure, does not live up to its potential.  Patience is not one of the gifts G-d has seen fit to give me. It is something I have been trying to learn for 66 years and I am still not very good at it.

I admit to being one of those thirsty people in the desert who wants to have water and I want now!  If I had been with the Israelites in the Sinai I would have marched right up to Moses and said “I’m thirsty, I need water and I need it now!”  And I am sure Moses would have looked at me with a jaundiced eye and said “get a grip; learn some patience for crying out loud.  You are out of Egypt so be grateful for what you have and quite complaining!”  Yep that would have been me hearing those words.   Yet in Isaiah we hear that G-d will provide water and more to those who are poor and in need and it is not lost on me that G-d came through with food and water during the Exodus.  So yes I do believe G-d, in Her own good Time and Way, will provide.

The key to this waiting is “in Her own good Time and Way” G-d will offer the drink and food we need and it’s always in that perfect moment.  The moment when we not only need it the most but the moment when we are open the widest for hearing G-d’s voice speak the Word we so desperately thirst and hunger for.

For the last two and half years I have been in my own time of Advent, walking in a wilderness of my own making as I waited for G-d to give me a Word I could respond to about where my ministry would take me.  And in that time there have been many impatient moments.  Many times I have tried to hurry G‑d.  I have tried to guess what She will speak and tried starting a task with no direction from Her.  It rarely works out because you cannot hurry G-d.  G-d will speak when the time is right, when my heart is open the widest to hear G-d speak and not before.

Through out this time G-d has been allowing a ministry to begin gestating within me.  To grow in concept piece by piece, step by step while at the same time letting G-d open me up to whom I am and who She is. I am learning that G‑d is my greatest counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor.  All I have to do is live a life that puts G-d first, keep our relationship strong and allowing the counselor, friend, lover, supporter, confidant, comforter, and confessor work through me in a working partnership with Her.

It seems as if it would be easy to do what G-d asks of us doesn’t it?  But it is not.  Ask the Israelites how hard it was to follow the path G-d laid before them.  Ask the disciples how hard it was to walk the path Jesus laid before them.  Each one will tell you it is not easy.  Yes G-d will provide for the poor and needy but verse 41:20 of Isaiah says it best.  We are to “… see and know … consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.” We fail hopelessly in that understanding.  All too often we take G-d’s handiwork for granted and do not see what the Lord does for us.  I, just like the rest of the human race, all too often think we are entitled to the abundance we see around us.  We forget just where and who it comes from, where and from whom we come from.  It has taken me a life time to understand in a small way the meaning of verse 20.  And, it has only been in the last year and half that I have worked hardest to be patient and to let G-d speak when She is ready and not me.

And now G-d is bringing me closer to an understanding of what my role as Her partner will be.  And, somehow I feel it is appropriate that G-d picked Advent for this to happen, the time for me to begin to feel the movement of a baby ministry within me.  I am excited and scared about bringing into reality this ministry of my very own.  It takes courage for me to step out and claim my role as G-d partner a courage I do not always have.  I have many fears; will I be worthy of G-ds trust, will I hurry this up and as a result rush to completion what needed time to grow, will I give up saying “sorry G-d this to hard for me,” will I simply not be enough for the task.  There are so many fears, so much excitement, and so many hopes.  The future I do not know, only G-d does, so I will keep waiting, and listening, and moving with G-d’s time and moments.  Patience is really hard but I continue to learn to lean into the open arms and let G-d teach me.

This Week’s Spiritual Practice

Do you have something waiting to emerge from you?  Waiting is hard (just ask any 4 year old) but it can be done. So this week I simply ask that each day you find yourself a quiet place and sit in silence for 5 to 20 minutes.  Listen for a Word from G-d.  It might be a Word about doing something, or it might be G-d whispering “I love you.”  Just remember whatever happens let it happen in G-d’s time not yours and be grateful for the time spent with G-d.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 10, 2013

Journey

Tomorrow
Tomorrow

I am on a journey, a long journey
Begun before I entered my mother’s womb
To be carried on long after
I am finished with this clay pot

I stand on the moving head
of the pin of the now
Behind me is my past
In front of me my future

With every moment my now moves into my future of shifting possibilities
Leaving behind what was for. . . what is
Shadows of my life follow
Hazy outlines of what could be lie before me

I am like a piece in a strange board game
I cannot move backwards
Into the safe yesterday
I can only move forward into uncertainty

G-D the uncertainty frightens me
I want to go back, to the places that I know
I cannot see into the gray tomorrow
I want to know you will be there

My friend, do not be afraid, I am with you
now as I was in your past
I am in the now and travel with you,
I am there already

Ancient of Days I make my choice
I will take your hand
I will go into the shifting sands of uncertainty
My spirit will journey on, my friend calls, I come

Ruth Jewell ©September 28, 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