2017, A NEW YEAR?

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A new year has begun and I am not sure what it will bring. Usually I have a sense of new beginnings, or I have excited expectations and hope as I pick up from where I left off and start over again. Not this year though. There has been too much acrimony, too much hate, too many lies, too much racism, and too little justice, mercy, kindness, and peace for me to look forward to the coming year. Sad really, because it seems 2017 is already defeated before it is a week old. I am afraid 2017 will just be a year of more hateful speech, more injustice, more discrimination, and more violence.

There is no one person to blame, we all are responsible for the atmosphere of distrust and hate we see every day, in the news, from our politicians, from our neighbors. Let me make this clear, you and I are to blame from the people who fear the changes created in the last 30 years. We forgot that people might not understand, might not be willing to accept those changes. We assumed they would go along “when the discovered how much better they had it.” But they didn’t. No, they felt left out of the process, unasked, and left behind, and they felt their concerns and issues weren’t being addressed.

Yes, they could have become involved and worked with those of us who believed we were working to better the lives of everyone, and the environment. But somehow, they didn’t feel as if they could. Maybe they didn’t believe as we did, maybe they needed to be given more information, maybe they just needed more time to assimilate all the information being thrown at them. Whatever the reason some people became alienated and open to manipulation by those whose agenda is to turn back the clock to a time when only the few profited from the bounty of this country.

Maybe the reason for the divide is that those of us who want to see us progress broke into interest groups who fought over what issue was most important when, in reality, all of it is. No one has ever bothered to look at the larger picture. To try developing a program that would have given equal emphasis to each issue. To bring together the disparate interest groups formulate a policy that would have benefited each area of interest. The modernization of each issue, environment, inclusivity, racism, woman’s rights, children’s right, poverty, immigration, all of them, each is dependent on the other.

What do we do now that we have a president whose only interest is his own personal gain, a congress dominated by old white men bent on preserving white privilege, and the hate and racism propagated during the last eight years by has let loose violence and terror in our communities. Well, to start we work together, all interest groups working together to keep what has been achieved from being lost. Our job now is to stand up when we see abuse or harassment and protect the victims, stopping hate speech when we hear it, and working to prevent injustice wherever we see it. None of this is easy. It isn’t easy to do and it isn’t easy to work up the courage to take a stand. But that is what we are called to do.

I am a person of faith, and 2016 sorely tested that faith. Yet I still believe in what I was taught that we are to act justly and to love kindness, mercy, and compassion. We as a people of many faiths and beliefs are called to care for the disinherited, the lost, the incarcerated, elderly, young, and the stranger. That doesn’t change even though it has become much more difficult at the moment. History moves in many ways and we repeat our mistakes over and over again. We have the possibility to achieve great heights or astounding lows. The choice is ours. Do we repeat history or do we show that we can change history.

Ruth Jewell, ©January 3, 2017

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

I was blind but now I see – Prayerful Tuesday

23He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. – Mark 8:23-25

Walk in the fog by George Holden Publicdomain.net
Walk in the fog by George Holden
Publicdomain.net

In January I had Cataract surgery and I must admit I never knew how much I was missing or how dark my world had become.  One of the first things I noticed was that our light bulbs were a lot brighter and we didn’t need to change them after all.  I also noticed evergreen trees, grass and the leaf buds on our Lilacs were so much greener than they were.  The colors of the crocus and daffodils seemed to pop out like neon lights and I was amazed at how blue the sky was (that is when we had blue sky).  The funniest thing was my IPad mini.  I have a screen saver of stars and low and behold I just discovered there were also clouds in the picture.  I couldn’t see them before.

I thought about the scriptures where Jesus healed those who were blind, especially the one where it took two tries before the man could see clearly. In many ways we are all like that one man.  We see but we don’t really ‘see.’

My sudden clarity in sight has also made me think of all the things we miss because we don’t “see” them, really see them. We see the homeless man standing on the corner but we don’t really see him. We don’t see his pain, or his embarrassment, or his fear.  What we see is a figure, as the blind man said as a walking tree, but we don’t see the human, the child of God who is before us.  How many of you have taken the hand of a homeless person and looked into their eyes and saw the person for who they are, our brother or sister in God.

How many of you have gone to a jail and comforted the mother of a victim, or taken the hand of a felon and said you are loved by God, don’t be afraid.  How many of you have seen children arrested for stealing drugs at their parent’s request  or for stealing to provide for their family’s who are held in Juvenile Detention for a year or more because there parent or guardian can’t get clean from drugs or alcohol and there is no responsible adult to care for them.  How many of you have held someone suffering from mental illness or PTSD and said ‘I’m here, you aren’t alone.’

If you haven’t volunteered at a shelter or soup kitchen yet find the time to do so.  Volunteering there is a lesson in compassion and humility, of seeing people society throws away as our brothers, sisters, and friends who are in pain and afraid.

I am grateful that I am now able to see creation more clearly, the colors in sunrises and sunsets, and to rediscover the beauty of spring flowers.  I love it that I can now see the faces of my friends and family, each and every one of them, more clearly.  I love it that much that had been hidden by my own dark glass has been made clear.  But today there is so much darkness, so much fear, so much hatred that clarity of sight is difficult for us all. Jesus said “I Am the Light of the world.” (John 9:5b) and in the words of the Prophet Mohammad “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth.” (Quran 23.35a)  As people of faith we are to be the light that brings sight to the blind.  We are called to bring the light of love, compassion, justice, and peace to a wounded world.

My recommended Spiritual Practice for this week is to open your eyes and SEE the world around you. Take the time to gaze at the beauty of a flower, and marvel at the rebirth of delicate green leaves on a tree. Let the beauty of creation refresh your heart and cleanse your eyes.  Then take the time to see the people around you, offer a sandwich to the homeless man, woman, or teenager on the corner and take the time to look into their eyes and see your brother or sister, your son or daughter.  Let them know they are known for whom they are a child of God.

Gracious Lord, you gave us eyes to see you in the face of all who surround us, to see you in a smiling baby’s face, the wrinkled face of an elderly, in the broken lives of the homeless and the hungry.  In our rush of our daily living we become blind to all the love you have given us and we forget to pass on the love we are given to those in need.  Help us in our blindness Lord.  Amen

Ruth Jewell, ©March 8, 2016

Blessed are those – Prayerful Tuesday

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Matthew 5:6

homeless, by Peter Griffin, PublicDomainPictures.net
homeless, by Peter Griffin, PublicDomainPictures.net

What does it mean to “hunger and thirst” for righteousness? What Jesus was saying is better understood if we understand how the 1st century audience understood righteousness.  A person listening to this scripture in the 1st century would have heard righteousness as justice; so those who “hunger and thirst for justice “will find justice.   However, at least if you listen to the news media, it doesn’t seem as though justice is a priority today.

In this land of so much abundance there are too many who are hungry, homeless, and lost in a world of mental disability and addictions.  Last Tuesday I volunteered at Common Ground in Everett.  About 40 homeless and hungry people and one sweet dog showed up between 8 am and 12 noon, for coffee, tea, sandwiches and snacks.  For 4 hours, 4 days a week people who live on the streets find a warm place to talk, play a few board games, drink coffee and eat snacks, or just sleep in a safe place.

Each and every one of the people served by this small shelter was hungry for justice.  Some are homeless due to alcohol abuse or chemical addictions. Some have mental illnesses, too many are veterans suffering from PTSD.  Some are young people thrown out of their homes by their parents and some are homeless through no real fault of their own.  Some have committed crimes that prevent them from getting a job, but that is a smaller percentage than most people think. Many are homeless because they lost their job and are unable to find another one.  It is one reason why some 50 something’s are on the street.  They were living paycheck to paycheck and when the paycheck was lost so was their housing and everything else.

Every single visitor to Common Ground only wanted enough to survive on, a clean place to live, enough food to eat, and clean clothes to wear.  Is that too much to ask? Each person wanted to be recognized for the person they are, with all the wounds and scars that living a life produces.  Is that such a hard thing to ask for?

Homelessness, hunger, illness aren’t sins or crimes, even though they are often treated that way.  Homelessness is the dirty little secret we want to hide away and tell ourselves it can’t happen to me, or those we love.  Well, the truth is losing your home, and/or your family, everything you hold dear can be lost in a moment. When it happens, you very well may end up on the street asking yourself what happened.

The spiritual practice for the week is to recognize the people on the streets as our brothers and sister, our aunts and uncles, our mothers and fathers.    You might carry with you an extra sandwich, or candy bar and when you meet someone offer it to them.  They may refuse, but most likely they will accept. Shake their hand and let them know you recognize them for who they are, a child of God, a child of humanity. If you are in the position to speak up for those on the street then find a way to do it.  If you are able to volunteer at a shelter the life lesson you receive will change how you view your own life of comfort and abundance.  Even if you believe you have very little it is still more than what those on the streets have.  They believe you are rich, and in meeting them face to face you will recognize how rich you are.  You probably are saying that’s not a spiritual practice but it is spirituality in action, practicing what we are taught in the Gospels.  It does no good to pray if the prayer is not followed up with meaningful action.

May each of you find the Divine in the face of a hungry man, woman, or child and may you be righteous offering justice for those in need.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 23, 2016

Imagination and Visio Divina – Prayerful Tuesday

Working in a Food Bank
Working in a Food Bank
Sunset Yakima WA, 2013
Sunset Yakima WA, 2013
Students of Umpqua College  being led to safety, 2015
Students of Umpqua College
being led to safety, 2015

 

Many of us live in nice safe neighborhoods with few opportunities to interact with those who are disadvantaged except maybe on the street when we are approached by a homeless person.  And while disasters are all too common today I would guess that most of us are relatively unaffected by such actions as shooting incidents or natural disasters.  So today I would like you to put yourself, through your imagination and pictures, in places you might be uncomfortable with.  I have chosen three pictures only two are images that may disturb you or make you uncomfortable.  The third is a quiet scene and I would like you to ask compare your feelings of that scene with the others. This is not my usual spiritual practice but using our imagination to be in a place of comfort or discomfort is also a spiritual practice for it opens our hearts and minds to the possibilities of where we need to grow or what we fear. Finding God in uncomfortable places is just as important as finding God in places we are needed but don’t want to go.

Follow the directions for using the imagination combined with Visio Divina:

  • Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and 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 artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
  • What feelings arise within you as you gaze at the images?  Do you feel fear; are you uncomfortable?  When you gaze at pictures 1 and 3 then contemplate picture 2 what changes in you as you look at this serene scene.  Do you see the sunset in a different way?
  • Respond to the images with prayer. Did the images 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.
  • Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in the quiet moment. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.

Ruth Jewell, ©February 2, 2016

Looking Forward – Looking Back – Prayerful Tuesday

Micah 6: 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice,
and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Happy New Year 2015 A

Well the New Year is almost upon us and it has been an eventful, but mostly violent, one.  In 2014 it seems we have had more violence than peace, despite the efforts of many.  We have seen hate take over our streets and increase in our government.  Peace on Earth just doesn’t seem to be in our hearts for this baby New Year.

This last year we have seen too many senseless deaths, demonstrations, hateful rhetoric, and downright meanness.  There has been little peace in our world of late.  But this small online community has been a refuge for some. We have offered moments of personal stillness in the rush of our daily lives.  Yet in the face of so much violence prayer doesn’t always seem adequate does it.

But, every time we take a moment to offer a pray for our own peace and for the peace of others we change a piece of our hearts.  Those changes add up and become the change we see around us. We just celebrated the birth of love breaking into the world.  A love that gives out of its abundance, works for justice for all, and walks a path that honors the world we live in. In the light of that love we too can become love expressed in the world, with every prayer we offer and with every prayer action we take, the light of Love shines just a little brighter.  Yes it may seem inadequate but remember you can’t have a beach with one grain of sand.

So my prayer request for each of you this week, as you contemplate the year past and look forward to the year to come, is to offer a prayer for our community that we will find solace in our hearts and compassion and justice in our actions.  Pray for each other.  Pray for local, national, and international governments.  Pray for the children, elderly, and the sick and disabled who are most affected by hate speech and actions.  Let your prayers spill over into the way you act in the world around you.  Remember others are praying as well, you are not alone.  Let every act you do in the coming year be an act of prayer, and offering to the God or Force that guides your path.  Let this be your New Year’s resolution that you will “do justice, and … love kindness, and … walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 NRSV).

It is my prayer that, we as a people, will change the world by being the Force in the world for compassion, justice, and love.  Let us learn to walk humbly with whatever Divine Energy each of calls to in the dark.  May each of us this year light a candle of hope each day and let our light shine.

Happy New Year Everyone and may the Love of the Divine be with you in the coming year.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 30, 2014

A Conversation with a Psalmist –Prayerful Tuesday

Come Lord Jesus, hear our prayer
Come Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer

As I am personally preparing for  Christmas I have been disturbed by the amount of violence and death around the world.  Peace on earth does not seem near. So as part of my morning ritual I have been doing Lectio Divina with the Psalms.  They have brought me some comfort but this Psalm struck a chord within me and I wanted to share that with you.  So this is a little different from most of my postings, as it is part of my journaling during my meditation. I am letting you in on a small part of my conversations I held with the Psalmist and God.  They are my insights of the moment, so if I say something you disagree with please be gentle, it is after all a private conversation you are overhearing.  At the end of my journaling you will find the steps for Lectio Divina.  For your own Lectio Divina meditation you may use the whole Psalm, as I did, or only a verse or two.

Psalm 10, The Message (MSG)

 1-2 God, are you avoiding me?
    Where are you when I need you?
Full of hot air, the wicked
    are hot on the trail of the poor.
Trip them up, tangle them up
    in their fine-tuned plots.

I am in the process of preparing for a Longest Night worship service and in reading this Psalm I was struck by how it matched my gut feelings this Advent.   Every day the news is filled with stories from around the world of someone killing someone one else, often many someone’s.  Just last night news came of a hostage situation in Sidney, Australia, just one more story to add to the Ferguson, New Town, Cleveland, Seattle, Portland, Houston, Afghanistan, and Iraq stories of the last number of years.  The list is too long, too many people have died, and too many children have died.  Like the Psalmist I am left wondering “where are you God.”

3-4 The wicked are windbags,
    the swindlers have foul breath.
The wicked snub God,
    their noses stuck high in the air.
Their graffiti are scrawled on the walls:
    “Catch us if you can!” “God is dead.”

This is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration but I do not feel like celebrating.  Our elected leader’s mouth words from the Bible I read every day, yet, their actions tell me they do not believe what they speak.  Are they wicked?  Are they windbags?  Well the wicked part can only be determined by God but the windbag part . . ..  Yes they are windbags, hoping that we who at least try to live a life of compassion will not notice their plans to take the last ounce of God’s abundance all for themselves.  They write bills and say “try and stop me, from denying the basic necessities to those who cannot help being poor, sick, elderly, or a child.

5-6 They care nothing for what you think;
    if you get in their way, they blow you off.
They live (they think) a charmed life:
    “We can’t go wrong. This is our lucky year!”

These insufferable, so called leaders lie and twist the truth until even the best of us are confused and dazed by the avalanche of untruths they let loose on the public. Whether they are religious fundamentalist, political leaders, in the United States, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, British Isles or anywhere they claim the spotlight and they believe no one can stop them.  They are on a role and the rest of us “be damned.”

7-8 They carry a mouthful of hexes,
    their tongues spit venom like adders.
They hide behind ordinary people,
    then pounce on their victims.

They mark the luckless,
    then wait like a hunter in a blind;
When the poor wretch wanders too close,
    they stab him in the back.

10-11 The hapless fool is kicked to the ground,
    the unlucky victim is brutally axed.
He thinks God has dumped him,
    he’s sure that God is indifferent to his plight.

The words they spit from their mouths cause fear in those who have minds that are weak and malleable. Letting these poor souls do the violence they pretend to abhor only to turn on them when they caught in their snares.

12-13 Time to get up, God—get moving.
The luckless think they’re Godforsaken.
They wonder why the wicked scorn God
and get away with it,
Why the wicked are so cocksure
they’ll never come up for audit.

We wait for you O God to respond, to let us know you haven’t forgotten us.  We wait and we wait.

14 But you know all about it—
    the contempt, the abuse.
I dare to believe that the luckless
    will get lucky someday in you.
You won’t let them down:
    orphans won’t be orphans forever.

The Psalmist sings of your knowledge of the violence we see every day.  But do you really hear the cries of the children who have lost limbs to bombs, to parents who have watched as their children are killed in front of them, as ISIS hangs those with different beliefs, as children shoot children?  Have we not sent enough children, parents, loved ones to you to serve as a sacrifice?  Do you care?

15-16 Break the wicked right arms,
    break all the evil left arms.
Search and destroy
    every sign of crime.
God’s grace and order wins;
    godlessness loses.

My heart wants to believe as the Psalmist did that you will intervene in the bloodletting of this world, but I know you will not.  It is not up to you, O God, to set this world back on the track of compassion, justice and peace.  That really is our job.  We are the ones who created these people who mock everything you have wanted for all.  We are the ones who must “gird up our loins” and speak out against injustice, violence, hatred, and war.  Only we who believe in justice, mercy, kindness, peace, compassion will change the lives of those who are oppressed, abused, injured, and starved by those who mock the world as you, O God, planned it.  We must stop cowering in our homes and our places of faith and become the prophets, the messengers, the hands, feet and voice that will bring down those who would enslave us to a life of poverty and misery.  Then, and only then, will the Psalmist’s dream come true.

17-18 The victim’s faint pulse picks up;
    the hearts of the hopeless pump red blood
    as you put your ear to their lips.
Orphans get parents,
    the homeless get homes.
The reign of terror is over,
    the rule of the gang lords is ended.

Gracious Spirit I thank you for this time of blessed meditation.  May the words and images I have seen transform my actions into walking with you in greater joy.  AMEN

Practicing Lectio Divina

  1. Choose the portion of the Scripture you wish to pray.
  2. Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent, focus for a few moments on your breathing.
  3. Read the chosen text through, slowly and gently. Listen to yourself read, let yourself to savor each word and phrase.
  4. Read the text a second time. What words or phrases stick out for you? Remember God speaks to us in silence and in our listening. The words that pop out do so for a reason, pay attention to them.
  5. Read the text a third time. Are there any other words that speak to you?
  6. Sit now in silence, letting the words you have heard, speak to you and for you in your prayer, your conversation with God. What images, ideas, words spring forward?  Or maybe all of them are present in mediation.  Sit with those insights as you experience the presence of God.  Give your insights to God.  Do the insights give you new meaning or transformation of your actions, or prayer life?
  7. Now rest in God’s arms. Let God’s presence give you comfort. Do you feel the pull to return to your meditations? Then begin again. If not close with a prayer of gratitude for the time you have spent in God’s presence and the insights you have received.

Ruth Jewell, ©December 16, 2014