Remember when we were kids and on the first day back to school the teacher asked us to write what we did during the summer. Well I think we all need a little silliness, so I have decided to tell you what I did this weird, crazy, ZOOM laden summer.
First of all, I made jam. Not just once but 13 times. I decided in June to visit our local Farmers Market and each week pick out a fruit and turn it into jam. I now have 13 different kinds. I have Apricot, Red Plum, Black Plum, Raspberry, Black & Blue Berry, Peach, Honey Crisp Apple, Pear/Orange, Crabby Pluot, Apple/Cranberry, Orange Marmalade, Strawberry, and Fig. I also have 3 quarts of canned peaches and 3 pints of Tomato/Eggplant spread. It’s been busy summer but I’m ready for sandwiches this winter.
In addition to jam I trained two of my Chihuahua’s, Esmerelda and Charlie, to sing the “Song of our People.” I tried to teach Louis as well, but his idea of training was turning over in bed.
Well that was my exciting summer. So, what did you do?
“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
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.
Amelia is a 5 year old, little girl who is a mixture of tomboy, imp, princess and budding scientist but most of all a Grammy’s delight. Walking home from school with Amelia is always an adventure. Today we hadn’t gotten even 100 feet from her school when she bent over and said, “Look Grammy, I found a purple maple seed.” Amelia hands me the seed and says “now you carry this for me I want to show dad.” Off she runs to her next exciting stop, which is about 50 feet ahead. “Look what I can do Grammy,” she said as she runs up a yard to the brick wall and with one heart stopping leap lands safely on the ground in front of me. “My, my you are so good at jumping,” I said as I pushed my heart back into my chest.
Running ahead of me again she suddenly stops and gets down on her knees, as I walk up to her she is talking to a small ant hill. “Look how busy they are, Grammy, where are they going so fast?” “Well,” I tell her, “this is a new ant hill so they are just building it up right now and gathering in some of the leaves for food. Don’t disturb the nest or they will bite.” “Really,” she says as she prepares to test my theory. “Yes really, and those bites hurt so let’s leave them to their work, OK.” “Ok,” and she is off again.
“Help me look for snails, Grammy.” Amelia has a love affair going with snails of every shape and size. She picks them up and carries them carefully along with her, until, that is, she forgets she has them in the heat of a new discovery and then the snails are old news. Sometimes she carries them all the way home and we release them into the backyard and into the wild.
Every moment with Amelia is a discovery in a half, every rock a treasure trove, every leaf a rare jewel to be enjoyed. Worms and snails are potential friends or pets to be trained. We sing songs to stop traffic on our progression across a busy street and she dances down the street to a tune in her head.
Oh the life of a 5 year old, a world of discovery ahead and an imagination that has no boundaries. Where does all of the enthusiasm go to as we grow older? Is life so trying and stressful that we forget just what it means to be in the moment? As I watch my little adventurer skip down the sidewalk I am trying to remember what it was like to be that carefree, and find delight in a snail slowly making its way up a wall.
Maybe that is what grandchildren are for, to awaken in each of us that little boy or girl lost in the mists of time. To remind us of the important things like snails, red leaves, purple maple seeds and sunshine and shadow. Amelia has reopened a door I thought was shut and locked. A part of me remembers and dances with my little genius, princess, geologist, archaeologist, biologist, and junk collector as we walk home from school.
When you were born, everyone was laughing but you were crying. Live your life so that when you die, everyone is crying, but you are laughing (Islamic hadith)
Today March 11, 2014 is my birthday and let me get this right out front; birthdays are not my favorite days in the year! I do have a reason, and to most people it seems weird. You see my family of origin just didn’t put an emphasis on birthdays. If we were lucky my mother might bake a cake, or in my case a pie, but other than that we just didn’t mention our natal day. As an adult I chose to use my day as a day for reflection, taking the time to think about the past year, what I’ve done or could have done and what I would like to do in next year. It has become for me my time to remember family events, the good and the bad. But most people think there should be a party or some kind of celebration.
I am wary of people inviting me to their homes on my birthday because inevitably there will be a surprise party with all the trimmings. When the word “surprise” is shouted out I, being the introvert that I am, want to crawl under a bed and stay there until all the hoopla is over with. I actually hate opening presents because the giver is waiting with such expectations of my joy over their gift. Unfortunately, there have been way too many gifts where I smile and say “oh how lovely, thank you”, and I’m thinking “what the heck is this and what is it used for.”
But my mother taught me, and I do believe this, each gift is a given in love and love must always be received with joy. I’m not the best thank you card writer, but will send them to people I can’t thank personally, but coming up with the right words for a gift I can’t recognize is always difficult. My mother’s lessons on receiving gifts is the reason I have stuff in closets of my house I have been caring around for 60 or so years from state to state, house to house, and I still don’t know what they are or what to do with them. I can’t remember who gave them to me but they were given in love and therefore I keep them.
So while I prefer to have a quiet reflective day I am married to someone who thinks all birthdays should be grand celebrations. His family made a big deal of birthdays and they had parties with all the trimmings, just the opposite of mine so I too must join in the fun. So I try to live up to his and his family’s expectations of joy and surprise. I try, I really do. For him and his family’s birthdays I bake a cake and make the day special, because I love them and they get great joy out of the celebration. And, bless their hearts they just can’t understand my reluctance to celebrate my day in the same way they do.
Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all of the Happy Birthdays I receive. It is nice to have someone stop me and say “Happy Birthday, I hope you have a great day,” it’s just that my idea of a great day is different from everyone else’s ideas. So please tell me Happy Birthday, but, don’t expect me to tell you I’m doing something exciting because my idea of an “exciting Birthday” is sitting curled up on the couch, wrapped in a warm blanket, my dog asleep on my lap, a cup of green tea beside me, and reading a good book. That is the perfect gift for me.
So I have to go now because my husband wants to take me to lunch to a restaurant of my choice, probably Wendy’s or IHOP (I told you I was weird). But I am going to steer him to Home Depot where I can pick up the lumber and compost I need for a new raised garden bed. I am hoping the weather will hold today so that I can put it together and set it up. If I get that done, that will make this a very good birthday.
So, thank you for all of your birthday wishes, they are appreciated. And may all of you have a wonderful day in your own way.
Yesterday seemed like a perfect day to read poetry. The rain was coming down, the wind was blowing, Suzie was snuggled in my lap so I opened up two of my favorite books of poetry, Thirst by Mary Oliver, and a book of Celtic prayers collected by Alexander Carmichael titled New Moon of the Seasons, Prayers from the Highlands and Islands. A poem of Mary Oliver’s and a prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael struck me as I read them. The first was a Celtic Prayer:
The Three who are over me,
The Three Who are below me,
The Three Who are above me here,
The Three Who are above me yonder;
The Three Who are in the earth,
The Three Who are in the air,
The Three Who are in the heaven,
The Three Who are in the great pouring sea
The Celtic people lived close to land and they cherished it as a gift from G-d. They saw the creator in every plant and animal and rock. They saw the grace of G-d in rain and snow, the roar of the sea and in the breath of spring air. This simple prayer is an acknowledgment that G-d, Christ, and the Holy Spirit surround them. G-d wasn’t “out there” looking down at them, no G-d was surrounded them in grace and blessings of many shapes and colors. As I watch the rain fall outside my window and feel Suzie’s warm breathing in my lap I understood what this prayer of gratitude meant to fisherman, a farmer, a mother tending the hearth. G-d is here, now, with me, with you, with us all. For the Celts and for us today G-d lives beside and within each of us.
Mary Oliver’s poem Praying is a lovely companion to the Celtic prayer. Praying reminds us that prayer doesn’t have to be framed with elaborate words. Prays really happen in those moments when your mind has no words so your heart speaks. Some of the greatest prayers are never written down; simple words of gratitude for the healing of a friend, or gasp of awe at the beauty of a sunrise, or joy of a laughing child are beloved prayers of the heart. Here is;
by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
I invite you to read the Celtic prayer, and Mary Oliver’s poem. Look around you; do you see the work of G-d, Christ, and Holy Spirit in the everyday living of your life? Where does your heart speak when your mind has no words? Let the simple words of gratitude, sorrow, or joy shaped in your heart form the bases for a prayer that speaks to the Divine that walks beside you. May the all surrounding presence of The Three be your comforter in times of crises and dance with them when joy rings in heart.
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.
A mountain moves toward me
white and gray, filled with rain
suddenly a flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three
one thousand four
one thousand five, Boom, Crash
the storm is five miles away
the air is heavy, the first scent of ozone reaches me
Hurry gather the chickens into their coop
the normally combative rooster runs in first
with clucks and cheeps the hens settle on
their roosts and nests
the now brave rooster hurry’s me out
A flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three, Boom, Crash
the storm is moving quickly
the light is fading
Run to the barn and open the gate
to the lounging area
the cows already are waiting to be let in
horses move toward the opening
one recalcitrant pony stands in the middle of the pasture
yelling at the storm, “I command you to stay away”
the wind blows his black main and tail back, the storm moves
closer . . . a flash of light, and the brave soul runs for the barn
hooves flashing, neck stretched out and ears flat
as the first big drops of rain fall on his back he darts into the barn
the other animals look at him
“Didn’t work did it”, a flash of light
one thousand one, Boom, Crash,
I climb the steps to the hay loft with the dog and cat
and throw biscuits of hay down to the animals, Flash
one thou…. Boom, Crash
the storm is on me,
too late to reach the house
I settle down into the hay loft
dog and cat curl up beside me
rain pounds the tin roof
in a symphony to put Beethoven to shame
lightening and thunder come together now
flashing light and sound through and around the barn
rain rushes and pours off the roof,
the old pine and maple trees bend and sway in the wind and water
rivulets of water run down into the pasture
making ponds and small streams
the smell of wet earth, rain, and ozone fills the troubled air
the horses and cattle mill around down below
the scent of their warm bodies drift up to me
I hear a rustle in the beams of the barn and
Pigeons and sparrows settle in to share my shelter
in a corner, far from the barn owl, who also lives here
a meadow mouse sits and nibbles a bit of grain
sharing my space in companionable silence
many call this barn home, cattle, horses, owls,
pigeons, sparrows, mice and rabbits
it is a sanctuary, a safe place
a place where all live in harmony
at least until they leave its safe walls
The loft is warm, the hay sweetly scented
Using the dog as a pillow I lay down to wait out the storm
I listen to the horses and cattle talk
the pigeons rustle and coo
slowly the rain and thunder lulls me into a place of calm
time stops and I drift into creation
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before
13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (NRSV)
Last Sunday at Queen Anne Christian Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we celebrated All Saints Day by remembering all those who have gone before us to their reward. Now in the Disciples church All Saints day is not usually a day we celebrate. It’s not that we don’t remember those who have gone ahead of us but we Disciples often pick other days to remember them, such as Memorial Day, Thanksgiving Sunday, Veterans Day, or a day that holds meaning for a particular congregation. Queen Anne does this on the Sunday following November 1st and this year that day was Sunday November 4th.
I don’t want you to think I’m making light of this memorial, I’m not. I just want you to understand that for many Disciples the remembrance of our passed on saints is anytime we call them to mind and recognize their influence in our lives. Pastor Laurie demonstrated that belief in a unique way during her sermon. She handed out slips of paper with a picture of a tree on it and asked us to draw leaves that represented the saints in our lives, past and present. With pencil or pen in hand all of us began diagramming who in our lives had the most influence. As I was writing mine the above 2 verses of Hebrews came to mind, mainly because I was so amazed at the number of people I considered part of my “cloud of witnesses” and “saints.”
I of course had to put my father at the base of the tree because he was my first real spiritual teacher, but, along with him there is the minister that first allowed me to really question my theology and not give me answers. There are the surgeons who treated me and saved my life when I was 6 when I was severely burnt, nor can I forget my first grade teacher Miss. Wooster, who was handicapped and warmly welcomed into her class this little girl who was swathed in bandages. These saints were the first to model the act of being compassionate and merciful; they wouldn’t be the last.
On my tree are the names of my elderly neighbors who taught me the joy of just being alive. Winnie and Joe took life as it came, the good and the bad, and made the most of the time they had on earth. They were a generous couple who shared their lives with me, my husband and any dog that walked into their lives. In fact I don’t believe either of them ever met a dog they didn’t like. Winnie’s motto was “dogs rule” and in her house they did.
I added authors I’ve never met but have read and learned so much from. At the roots of my tree there are the Founders of my tradition Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone whose theology of ecumenism has rung through my life like a bell and is the corner stone of my faith. There theology was passed down to me through my Great-great grandparents, Great Uncle, grandparents, and parents and now my time has come to pass it on, like a torch. Farther up the tree are authors, teachers, friends and people I can no longer name but remember their teachings. There are political leaders too such as John F. Kennedy whose life and death left a great impression on me and next to him is President Obama who tries to be as forthright as he can in very difficult situations and I recognize his courage can also be a model for me. There are so many more it is impossible to name them all and the tree just isn’t big enough.
The author of Hebrews tells us we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses and that we need to remember to be gracious and liberal with our hospitality because we never know when the stranger will be one of our saints who teach us something new. But I think there is something we often don’t think about and that is the influence we have on others. What if by our hospitality we have changed the stranger and we become the saint. Have you ever thought you could be a witness to the love of G-d?
Modesty, shyness or social convention often keeps us from thinking we might be a “saint” for someone else. In fact we are often taught to take little notice of how we help others because we aren’t supposed to take credit or be proud of what we do. Remember the old chestnut “pride goeth before the fall?” Pride was one of the 7 deadly sins and was to be controlled at all cost. But Jesus never taught that, in fact he wanted people to be models of his “new way” of living and you can’t do that if you hide. Jesus says don’t put your light under a bushel rather place it on a hill for all to see. The fact of the matter is, it takes hard work and practice to be hospitable to unpleasant people in difficult situations but it is that kindness and mercy that starts the change in the other and it began with you.
All of the people on my tree didn’t think they were saints or witnesses, but they were. They modeled a way of life I wanted to emulate. They may not have ever heard of Hebrews or Micah but they lived their lives as if they did and that’s what is important. I meet people every day, sales clerks, teachers and fellow students, the homeless and how I treat them is a reflection of what I learned from my cloud of witnesses. I learned a smile and a thank you to store clerk can make their day; that offering my lunch to someone who is hungry on the street will fill a hungry place within. My witnesses and saints have taught me to be generous, kind, and merciful; giving me a way to walk with G-d that is serving me well and hopefully a good witness for someone else.
Who are your witnesses and saints? Can you fill out your own tree with people past and present who have made a difference in your life? Can you make another tree where your presence has made a difference in someone else’s life?