Memories, Memories

Birthdays make me reflective and as I get older the more reflection I seem to need. I just had my birthday and I have been contemplating memories of the last 72 years.  I find it hard to believe that I’m in my 70th decade and it is even harder to believe I survived all those years. 

Have you noticed memories are kind of weird? We never really remember them as they were but as we want them to be. I also don’t remember them in order and one memory seems to trigger another that may have happened years before or years after.  But, the act of remembering is a re-membering of me.  It is a process to remind me from where I came and how each memory created me.  It is a little like a yearly ‘Examen.’ It isn’t just remembering but an accounting of my life.  It is an opportunity to remember the good times and the bad, to forgive others, and to be forgiven, and to offer myself forgiveness.

I find God’s grace in memories, grace I hadn’t noticed when I was living them. I sometimes discover angels who have been my guides or protectors that I didn’t recognize when they entered and left my life. Each grace and angel helped form me into the person I have become. Unfortunately, I have also recognized a few individuals who lead me from my path, and I had to struggle to return, often with the help of one of those angels. It is one of God’s enduring graces that angels come when we need them and it’s usually when we have gotten everything all wrong.

I have been rescued so many times that my guardian angel carries an extra-large emergency kit.  I am sure she is grateful I haven’t needed to be rescued for a while. I started very early with getting my self into trouble. I was 6 when I pulled a deep-fat fryer down on top of me, resulting in 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 75% of my body. My memory of the incident is I wasn’t alone, I was being told I would be alright, and I was.  An angel in the shape of a plastic surgeon came and volunteered to perform all the skin grafts, paying for the hospital himself, and not charging my parents.  Without the skill of Dr. Meany, I would have been severely crippled. I would have been unable to live a normal life. My gratitude for the Doctors and nurses who worked so hard to save and heal me has no bounds.  To give back the gift given to me I have tried to be present to those who have been burnt, giving them comfort, and sitting and listening to their fears.

Passing on the gifts of grace has become part of who I am. I have been on the verge of homelessness a couple of times in my life and each time one of those angels was sent in to help. To pass on that gift I have helped others who have been on that edge, never expecting I will be repaid but always expecting that they will pass on their gift of grace.  If everyone did that no one would ever be homeless.

Those are nice memories, but I also have memories I am not proud of.  In my early 20’s I worked with a woman who could be abrasive and, quite honestly, we didn’t just not get along, we disliked each other intensely. I am ashamed to say that I started a not so nice rumor about her. There was a small, very small, bit of truth to it but essentially it was an exaggeration of the facts.  I never apologized to her, in fact it wasn’t long after it happened that I left for college. I regret that. I will never see her again, I don’t even know if she is still alive. A few years ago, during a ritual of forgiveness, I asked God to let her know, wherever she is, that I am truly sorry. I also offered a prayer to forgive myself in order to let go of the feelings of guilt, and, anger I had felt towards her. It took a while to feel within the forgiveness I sought but eventually I did.

Memories are funny things, I don’t remember the same ones every year but the ones I do seem to be the ones God wants me to remember.  As I am 72 I have a lot of memories, I sincerely hope I have enough time in the life left to me to ask for forgiveness, and to express gratitude for those I haven’t remembered yet.  Only time will tell. 

Birthdays are not something I celebrate, but I find them useful.  They offer a time to recognize grace, ask for forgiveness, and find peace in a life that has seen some rocky roads.  I have no idea what memories I will form in the next years and I hope they will be good ones. I also hope they won’t be too embarrassing, but if they are, I know God and the angels will be nearby.  After all my guardian angel has that huge emergency kit just waiting for me to mess up.

Betty Buckley – Memory (1983 Tony Awards)

Ruth Jewell, © March 12, 2019

Ancient Journeys

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;

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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.

Suzie
Suzie

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.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 24, 2016

 

Trust in God? – Prayerful Tuesday

Exodus 14:10-11, 13-14, 21:  10As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?

13But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.

Clip art by Microsoft
Clip art by Microsoft

I have begun a yearlong meditation discipline with the book A Year with God[1] by Richard J. Foster and Julia L Roller, which I am very excited about.  Yesterday the above Scripture from Exodus was my morning reading.  As I read it I thought about what it means to trust in God.  In Speaking Christian[2] Marcus Borg says trust and faith mean essentially the same thing.  So Moses was asking the Israelites to have faith that God would provide help.  What Moses wanted the Israelites to understand was they needed to let go of their idea of planning ahead and of knowing what will happen next. God may have a plan but we don’t know what that is and God is not going to tells us what the plan is, until the moment it happens. In this case God’s plan was to divide the waters of the Red Sea, which allowed the Israelites to escape the Egyptians.  Fundamentally to have faith/trust in God means we must let go of the control of our own lives and let God provide, for most people that is a scary thing to do. Usually we only let go when we are at a point when nothing else has worked.  All our plans have fallen through, and we are at a dead end with no place to go except call on God.  For most people God is the safety net we rely on and I for one am grateful of that net.

The meditation questions provided with the lesson brought back uncomfortable memories in my life when I had reached my own dead ends and didn’t know where to turn next.  I remember feeling lost, frightened, terrified really, at the prospects I imagined lay before me.  In the dark night of my soul I called out to God and said “I give up, I can’t do this anymore, help me.” I wanted God to be there, I needed God to be there, because I felt alone.  For me giving up and trusting in God and letting God plan the next move was scary but not as scary as the alternatives.  Letting go of the reins of my life released something inside of me and eventually things improved.  I can’t say what I experienced will happen for everyone but I can say giving to God what stresses us and beats us down improves the way we see the world.  Faith and trust are hard spiritual practices but are the foundation of all spiritual practices.  It doesn’t matter how you envision God, or what name you call the Divine letting the All Encompassing Presence be your safety net when you are troubled will give you hope in life.  The process may be slow; God works in God’s own time, but slow is better than not moving at all.

Spiritual Practice:  this week reflect on when in your life you have been able to trust God wholly when things fall apart.  If you haven’t had one of those moments do you think you could stand back and let God take over provide the solution?

As you journey on your path this week, may Christ be there to give you courage, may the Holy Spirit smooth your road, and when you are weary may God hold you in the palm of God’s hand.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 5, 2016

[1] Foster, Richard J. and Julia L. Roller editors, A Year With God, Harper One, New York, NY, 2009.

[2] Borg, Marcus J: Speaking Christian, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 1989, pg 120-123.

I Choose . . .

Microsoft ClipArt
Microsoft ClipArt

 

For the past two years I have been wrestling with how my ministry would be expressed in the world.  This discernment journey has taken me “around the block” and back again many times and during this past summer I had finally made my decision, I choose not to be ordained in my denomination of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), I choose not to be a pastor, or a chaplain, or even a spiritual director. I choose to be something else, what that something is has only just begun to take shape.

This may seem inconsequential to most of you but for me it has been a difficult decision.  I graduated in 2013 with my Masters of Divinity (MDiv.) degree and it was with the intention of being ordained, primarily because I believed that is what one did when one received an MDiv. But you see it wasn’t my intention when I entered the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) at Seattle University in 2007.  At that time I just wanted to be better informed in order to conduct Labyrinth retreats with more meaning.  What happened as I progressed through my degree programs of Spiritual Transformation and MDiv I discovered I had talent and passion for learning and I wanted to share what I learned with others. And the truth of the matter is as an ordained pastor I would not be able to share all that I learned simply by the constraints of the job.  I actually would have a greater voice if I wasn’t ordained.

So I chose to be a scholar, a learner of faith with the purpose of spreading what I learn back in to the world.  This is important because we aren’t 1st century people; we live in the 21st century. That means we have a perspective on our faith that those living in the 1st and 2nd and 3rd centuries did not have. We have a history of being, or not being, people of God, just as the Jewish people of the 1st century had a history of being, or not being, a people of God.  We have had our moments of living as God asked and we have had our moments when we have forgotten God, just as the Jewish people had and have. It is the task of the scholar to educate the people of God of their past and how can we do that if no one studies it?

In the last two years I have become interested in how our Christian faith is connected to our Jewish roots and to our younger sibling in the faith Islam and that interest has led me into the differences in how we read Holy Scripture as compared to our 1st to 3rd century faith ancestors, and the differences are striking. Those differences in perspective has shown me it is important for people to understand what the writings of Paul, Gospel Writers, Jewish Prophets, and Muslim Writers actually wanted their listeners to know, what was the message they were transmitting and how does that message resonate with us today.  All those authors wrote and spoke was revolutionary in their time and I want to recover, at least for myself, that revolutionary message.  I want to know what they wrote that was specific to their time and not relevant in the 21st century and what part of their message guides us forward into our own future. And, I want to share that news, that revolutionary news. I have no illusions that I am going to be another Marcus Borg, or a John Caputo, or anyone else who is way more learned in theology than I will ever be.  But I can read what they have learned and pass it on to those who will listen.

You see scholars are often, well nearly always, not thought of as being relevant to world.  When anyone envisions a scholar it is as a stuffy old man or woman who is a bit rumpled and surrounded by books and papers.  It is someone who is absent minded and lost in the past, with no idea about what is going on in the world today.  But that is not who learners/scholars are.

Scholars are connected to the world by stories, and threads of the past that live in the present and the future.  The old quotation “if we don’t remember the past we are doomed to repeat it,” has never had more meaning than in today’s world.  We are currently reliving a past history where the disadvantaged and those who are different from us are forgotten and made the objects of hate and fear.  It is the role of the scholar to remind the people of who they are, and whose they are.  It was the role of the prophets in Jewish History, it was the role of John the Baptist, and it was the role of Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad.  All of them called to their people to see each other, everyone, as themselves.  Today we have and had  people like President Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Martin Luther King who have called to us to remember and just like those who went before us too many are not listening.

I will never be an exalted a scholar like Desmond Tutu, or Elisabeth Johnson, Sallie McFague or Elisabeth Schüssler Florenza.  But in my small part maybe I can pass on their learning’s to someone who will become exalted. That is enough for me. As the saying goes I am a very small fish in a very large pond and I am happy with that. To give back what I have been blessed to receive is more than enough.

There are many others like me out there, people who read, and study waiting for the opportunity to pass on what they have discovered beyond academics or a very small circle of friends. What each has is a nugget of truth and bit wisdom that needs to be heard. This choice is not prestigious, very few scholars make it to super star status and I am grateful for that.  But the time has come for the telling of the past mistakes and success’. To help everyone remember that the eyes of the other are your eyes and to harm or denigrate the other is to harm and denigrate yourself. Scholars have a role to play in the world that is greater than writing dusty tomes that will be read by only a few.  The past is relevant to the present and the future and it is important that we remember that.  I would like to add my very small part to that story. To offer a tiny bit of knowledge that just might help someone else see the world differently.

My choice, my decision, my path not the easiest of routes to take, and it wasn’t an easy choice but I choose to be a learner, a scholar, a passer on of knowledge.

My prayer for all of you to listen with open mind and heart to what the teaching says, it just might change your life.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 15, 2015

FALL

Photo by By Sebastian Unrau, Unsplash,  November 2, 1015
Photo by By Sebastian Unrau, Unsplash,
November 2, 1015

Fall has finally arrived in the Northwest. The trees are shedding their leaves, my garden is clean all ready for winter, and the air has turned cold.  The land is preparing to sleep until the earth shifts again and the warm sun returns. I took a walk through Yost Park with the dogs the other day and the air was rich with the scent of wet and rotting leaves.  This is a time for animals to prepare for the coming winter when food is scarce and the land is cold and wet.

Fall is also a time for us to slow down, to sit with a cup of warm tea, coffee, or coco and let the seasons turn.  A time to pull out the afghans and a good book. It is also a time of reflection. It is a time to remember the joys of spring and summer and the many joyful moments.  A time to ask ourselves questions: what have I done this year that will leave it a better place?  Have I spent time caring for others, standing up when injustice rears its ugly head?  Have I taken care of my own spiritual needs? Have I remembered to stop, recharge and renew myself so that I will have the energy to be present to those in need?  This is the time to look back at what I could have done better, and to look forward to how I will improve.  It is also a time to reflect on how I have done my best with all I have even if I didn’t achieve all I wanted to; remembering that doing my best was enough.

This week I challenge you to sit down with a warm cup of something, or maybe a glass of wine, and spend some time on your past year.  Let the joys and celebrations provide the energy to improve what didn’t go so well.  Laugh, cry, and dance your memories of spring and summer.  Remember the sun and wind on your face.  Look back at your achievements and at what didn’t get done.  It is a time to forgive yourself and others. Were you the best you could be?  As the summer ended did you leave the earth a better place, did you care for the disadvantage, or do something to respond to the many, way too many, disasters of the last year?  Look toward the coming year and ask yourself how can I be someone who cares about mercy, justice, and peace?  How can I care for my own spiritual well being?  These aren’t easy questions, and they may take many days to reflect on. But it is dark early now, and it’s cold outside so curl up in your lap robe and reflect on who you are.

May the coming days of fall and winter be a time of rest for your spirit and a time to prepare for the next spring and summer.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 3, 2015