Common Ground and the Practice of Hospitality – Prayerful Tuesday

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Matthew 18:20

Welcoming the Other Microsoft Free Clip Art
Welcoming the Other
Microsoft Free Clip Art

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.

Ruth Jewell, ©April 5, 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.

let there be light

Genesis 1:1-5: 1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Sunrise, Edmonds WA, July 5, 2013 Ruth Jewell
Sunrise, Edmonds WA, July 5, 2013
Ruth Jewell

Genesis 1:1-5 is one of my favorite scriptures and I have read, and reread it many times. I can imagine the pleasure God had at that first light because light always gives me pleasure.  To see the sun rise in the morning gives me great pleasure.  The sky goes from velvety black to a dark blue and the birds begin their morning song.  Then the first threads of sunlight break free of the horizon and begin to paint pinks, violets, and rose in the sky.  The color increase to oranges, and yellows until the Earth turns just ever so slightly and the first sliver of the bright sun is visible.  Now there is a grand chorus of bird song to add to the majesty of the morning. For me that is pure magic.

I grew up on a farm in Ohio and before dawn I went out to feed, cattle and horses. In the dark I would stop and watch for the incredible start to the day.  I simply love morning!  I love the return of light!  At those moments I can understand how ancient peoples came to worship the sun. To them it was magic; they didn’t know about the earth’s rotation, they weren’t even sure that the sun would return. For them the welcome sight of the light of day meant they had survived the time of dark and fear and now there was light and hope.

Light warms our home, Earth and produces the chlorophyll for plants to grow and provide the food for all of us animals, humans included. Light, warm light, life giving life.   The very air we breathe is dependent on light and the process of photosynthesis. Our very lives depend on the light that comes from our medium sized star we call the Sun. Without the warmth of the light our planet would be a cold and barren hunk of rock without life.  God breathed the breath of life over the waters and that breath was preceded by light.

Now our planet, in its journey around our sun, is tilting it’s northern face once again away from that life giving, warming light and that means shorter days and longer, colder, dark filled nights.  Oh I know the darkness has its place.  It is a time of rest and renewal for plant and animal alike. And as a person who has lived with the land I know plants and animals need that time of rest, whether it is one short night or the long winter nights.  But I am a creature of the day and already I yearn for the warmth of the spring morning when the sun rises with the trumpet of bird song.

On December 21st I will rejoice and offer a prayer of gratitude as the earth once again tilts the northern hemisphere back to the sun.  Spring will come again, just as it has every other year.  I will watch with growing anticipation the shortening of the night and lengthening of the days. And when that warm spring morning comes the birds and I will be there to welcome the return of the light.

May the light of God and the Universe give you joy this day.

Ruth Jewell, ©October 24, 2015

Healing Hands – Prayerful Tuesday

Jeremiah 33:6a Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them

Hands of God and Adam Creation, Michangelo
Hands of God and Adam
Creation, Michangelo

In 3 days I am going to enter the hospital for back surgery.  This is an eagerly anticipated event because I have been in so much pain for such a long time and this is my best chance at relief.  But it got me thinking about healing and the value of touching and holding those in pain.  It is not uncommon to be afraid to touch or hold a person in pain, either physical or mental pain, because we don’t want to cause them any additional discomfort.  But, when it comes right down to it those of us who suffer chronic pain want to be held. To feel the gentle touch of another person helps us to know we are cared for and loved, that we aren’t forgotten or discarded.  You see there is much power in the touch of the human hand.

The hands of the surgeon will move across my back and do their best to heal the damaged spine.  The hands of the nurses will offer comfort with a warm blanket, a cool cloth for my head, or simply to touch and let me know I am not alone.  My husband’s hands will hold mine before and after surgery and they will convey his love without words even if I am unable to respond to him.  The hands of the physical therapist will hold me and support me as I regain my strength.  The silent touches, hugs, and holding all convey the message of I care for you, I love you, and you are not alone.

My prayer practice for you this week is to be aware of those in need of your healing touch.  Hold those you love in your arms,  give a hug to someone struggling to make it through the day, or gently touch someone’s hand and let them know they aren’t alone.

I also am going to ask for prayers the surgery on Friday, that it will be successful and that I will be relieved of chronic back pain.

Thank you all, blessings and peace for the coming week.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 7, 2015

“What If” – Prayerful Tuesday

Matthew 13:2b-9 “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”

Golden-Grain-Field-600x375

Every interpreter I have ever read tells us this scripture is about the ground. It’s about us being good or bad ground for the word of God.  So what if, just what if, we have it upside down.  I’m not saying we do, this is a “what if,” looking at the parable from the other side, from the Sower’s perspective.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book The Seeds of Heaven, Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (2004) asks what if this parable isn’t about us, not about our failures or success’.  But rather about an extravagant sower who flings his seeds everywhere and “wastes it with holy abandon?” If this isn’t about us as ground for the word of God then this parable has a completely new meaning.  Taylor says what if “the focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower, who does not obsess about the conditions of fields, who is not stingy . . . but casts his seed everywhere, on good soil and bad.”  What if God, the prolific Sower, says I have a lot of seed and some will take hold right away, but who knows maybe, just maybe, some sown in not the best of places may still feed a soul. Suppose Jesus was saying we are to sow God’s word everywhere, don’t expect a harvest, or at least a big one, just speak the word, live the word, be the word, and see what happens.

So this week I challenge you to go and live the life of a prolific sower. Imitate the Great Sower, and be one of those who has ears and hears.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 3, 2015

It is Good?—Prayerful Tuesday

Garden of Eden, Jan Brueghel, 1612
Garden of Eden, Jan Brueghel, 1612

“And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:10b

In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good.  Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society.  Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be.  It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.

Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good.  So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.

Prayer Practice:

1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.

  1. 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 about the world rise in you? Are there any images that you are particularly drawn too?
  2.  Respond to the image with prayer for the world. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
  3. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now.  All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain.  Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.

Peace, Blessings

Ruth Jewell, ©January 13, 2015

 

What would you do? – Prayerful Tuesday

  13And suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’*

Luke 2:13-14

Nicolaes Berchem, Annunciation to the Shepherds, 1656
Nicolaes Berchem, Annunciation to the Shepherds, 1656

God speaks to us in many ways–through relationships, our experiences, sacred texts such as the Bible and many more. Like Lectio Divina is Latin for divine reading, Visio Divina is Latin for divine seeing, praying with images to listen to God’s words. Think of Visio Divina as if you were putting on God-glasses to see how an image illuminates the Christ within you.  Like Lectio Divina, Latin for divine reading, Visio Divina has four steps: Use the  above painting by a Dutch artist Nicolaes Berchem painted around 1650, titled Annunciation to the Shepherds.

  1. Look slowly and carefully at the painting, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and things.  Remain with the image for one to two minutes. We are preparing for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, how does the paint help you prepare? If you would like, jot down a few words about the image in your journal.
  2. Now take deeper second look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Place yourself in the painting; are you a shepherd, a sheep, or angel? What do you see from that perspective? What emotions rise up for you? If you were a sheep what might you feel? If you were a shepherd how would you respond to the message of the angels? What else do you feel, or see in the painting? If you would like jot down your thoughts and feelings in your journal
  3.  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 that prayer to God.
  4. Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

May the song of the angels be with you as you go about your preparations for Christmas.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 9, 2014