Monday’s Merry-go-Round

9BE03E1D-A1FC-4BE9-8BBD-7BCFAA9F6E03It’s one of those Mondays again, those days that just weigh on you a bit too heavily. You have to push yourself to start a new week. You feel that deep-down tiredness that overcomes you and you don’t even know why. Know the feeling?

Nothing has changed. You are still in your familiar schedule. You are still the same you that feels strong one minute and despairing the next. But you feel as if you’re on the proverbial merry-go-round that just keeps circling around the same life and all that’s in it. Round and round, again and again and again.

You might even feel down on yourself for not being “strong” enough to move joyfully through your life. All of this begs the question: Why are you so hard on yourself?

Maybe you should just take a moment for yourself.

Sit back.

Marvel at your life,
at the grief that softened you,
at the heartache that wisened you,
at the suffering that strengthened you.

Despite everything,
you still grow.

Be proud of this.

Today, I pray for you this prayer that has sustained so many through generations.

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

— Ephesians 3:16-19 New Revised Standard Version (Paraphrased)

 

 

 

Starting Over

775D14C9-8802-4DEA-BD06-33C669F187B7Here’s the thing about life: things crash and break, obstacles can stop you in your tracks, you can get completely cut down. It happens to all of us.

One option is simply to give up on life. Or maybe to retreat into a private place for sulking. Another option is to be angry and to live the rest of your life angry.

But the reality is much more optimistic than any of those dismal options. Because no matter what happens in your life, you can start over. Starting over is really not so bad. I’ve done it many times and I survived it. So if we can accept the fact that something in life is over, there is hope for the days to come. 

I choose to see starting over as a fresh new beginning, another chance to do life differently. If I start over with a positive attitude, it can be an opportunity to head into the future wiser and more confident. Starting over can offer a path ahead that’s full of promise.

That’s what I’ll count on.

Seeing the Light: A Spiritual Discipline

DF9BF7FC-6583-4F1A-A78F-3F5CD0D37117I seldom talk much about the spiritual disciplines that have given me strength. A private retreat — just me and God — in a beautifully isolated hermitage was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences of my life. While there, I also practiced another of my spiritual disciplines — iconography.

Iconography is not merely a visual art, it is Christian sacred art, and has been an integral part of the worship and mystical life of Christians since apostolic times. Referred to in the Eastern Christian tradition as “windows into heaven,” icons have inspired and uplifted millions of the faithful, and have at times been the instruments for demonstrating God’s miraculous intercession in the life of humankind.

29074C09-C2E4-49B3-ACA8-FAED6A6069B8In describing the purpose of icons, the early Christians used the Greek work anagogic, literally meaning “leading one upward.” Photios Kontoglou, a renowned modern iconographer, expressed this perfectly: “Icons raise the soul and mind of the believer who sees the icon to the realm of the spirit, of the incorruptible, of the kingdom of God, as far as this can be achieved with material means.” 

So to appreciate iconography fully, we must approach it as a liturgical art form whose function is essentially spiritual. Since the creation of an icon is itself a sacred activity, the iconographer must be a person of prayer, not merely a technician. If the iconographer’s work is to inspire and illumine others, then it is essential that she leads a life of prayer and fasting that she may be inspired and illumined by the Holy Spirit, that her iconography becomes itself an expression of her spiritual life. Kontoglou writes: “The iconographers painted as they prayed.”

355CF8CB-A1B6-4D08-B5DD-DF59A9618C9AMy love of iconography resulted from the prompting of my dear Aunt Eirene. She was an artist extraordinaire and a gifted iconographer. She studied and practiced to hone her skills and each year, she went to an intensive iconography workshop at a beautiful retreat center. One year, she persuaded me (forced is a more accurate term) to go with her. Of course, I was extremely reticent to try this new art form.

At first, I called on my artistic skills and was doing a barely decent job. But then a lovely nun who sat next to me said words that literally imprinted on my heart. She said, “Your rendering of the Holy Child is beautiful. Look into his eyes. When you see the Light coming from them, you will fall in love with your icon.”

286998AD-4ACD-4E54-BBD6-EDCC0B0D4ED0She was so wise. I began to think more about the Christ Child’s eyes than my own art, and within a day, my iconography transformed from a painting to a prayer. It was worship, meditation and reverence. It touched my soul as I added color to the board, layer upon layer. It was an incredible experience to see the Light. I share with you here some of icons I created, as I remember the experience I had with each of them that opened my soul to the Light.

 

 

 

 

Celebrate!

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New Faces of Congress!  Top row (L>R) Deb Haaland, Rashida Tlaib, Judge Veronica Escobar, Jahanna Hayes;   Bottom row (L>R) Ayanna Pressley, Sharice Davids, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Some voters hoped for a Blue Wave, others a Red Wave. There wasn’t much of a wave on either side of the aisle, at least not the enormous wave they wanted to see. What we did see was a Women’s Wave, at least 117 women elected on Tuesday, 100 Democrats and 17 Republicans. Now that is something to celebrate! Here’s the scoop, by the numbers:

  • Of the 117 women elected, 42 are women of color, and at least three are L.G.B.T.Q.
  • With some ballots still being counted, women have so far claimed 96 of the House’s 435 seats (it is expected to rise to 100), up from the current 84.
  • At least 12 women won Senate seats, which will bring the total in that chamber to at least 22 (that number is expected to rise by two), of the 100 seats that exist. There are now 23 women.
  • Women won nine governorships, of 50 total. Six women currently serve.
  • Overall, at least 10 more Congressional seats will be occupied by women than before.

On a night to remember and celebrate, here is what some of the women who made history said in their victory speeches:

“When it comes to women of color candidates, folks don’t just talk about a glass ceiling; what they describe is a concrete one. But you know what breaks through concrete? Seismic shifts.” 

  • Ayanna Pressley, who will become the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. She beat a 10-term incumbent in the Democratic primary and vowed to pursue “activist leadership” to advance a progressive agenda.

“We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think of Kansas. We know there are so many of us who welcome everyone, who see everyone and who know that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed.”

  • Sharice Davids, a former White House fellow, is a lesbian; she and fellow Democrat Debra Haaland of New Mexico are the first Native-American women elected to Congress.

“In my family, there were no girl chores or boy chores. There’s just things to get done. So that’s what we’re going to do. I’ve got some big plans for this state.”

  • Kristi Noem, a Republican, will be the first female governor of South Dakota. She’s a four-term congresswoman who campaigned on her conservative record and her experience working on her family’s farm.

“We launched this campaign, because in the absence of anyone giving a clear voice on the moral issues of our time, then it is up to us to voice them.” 

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat from New York, became the youngest woman elected to Congress at age 29. She has never held elected office, and like Ms. Pressley, she defeated a white man who had served 10 terms in a Democratic primary.

So there you have it — a real occasion for celebration. No doubt, these women will re-shape America’s leadership. If you know women at all, you know that they often work harder, work longer, work with a passion that changes the world.

Congratulations and God speed to each of them. 

To the new faces of leadership: We applaud you. We celebrate you. We’re proud of you. We’re holding you in the light. We’re counting on you.

 

 

Statistics in this blog are from Maya Salam, published in a special post-election edition of The New York Times Gender Letter.

 

 

 

Remembering

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“Shoes on the Danube Promenade” by Can Togay and Gyula Pauer.

I cannot let it go — the unconscionable tragedy against the worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue. One week after eleven people were gunned down there, 100 people gathered on a cold, drizzly Saturday outside the still unopened place of worship for a “healing service.”

We gathered in Macon as well, to stand in solidarity, remember those who lost their lives, pray for their grieving families, and keep vigil with our Middle Georgia Jewish community. I do not know the capacity of Temple Beth Israel, but I do know that every pew was filled, people were standing along every wall and in every corner and flowing out onto the sidewalk. I was moved, as were many, by the outpouring of love and support expressed in the Macon Shabbat Service.

And so it should be. All of us must pay close attention to the stark reality that this was one of the deadliest attacks on Jews in United States history. To guard against this kind of violence, we  must link hands without considering race, ethnicity, religious tradition, gender, age, sexual orientation or any label that divides us. We must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We must never forget the history that allowed hate and violence to harm various groups of people.

During WWII, Jews in Budapest were brought to the edge of the Danube, ordered to remove their shoes, and shot, falling into the water below. Sixty pairs of iron shoes now line the river’s bank, a ghostly memorial to the victims. It is one of many memorials erected to remind us, to ensure that we will never forget and never repeat such history.

May God make it so.

 

 

 

All Saints

05314FDF-2986-4602-8EF9-B1839FE693CEWe all need a glimpse of hope and comfort in these troubling days. Our thoughts and prayers are with our brothers and sisters of the Tree of Life Synagogue, and we are shocked at this and other recent acts of violence and evil. So today, I share with you the writing of Jemma Allen* in hopes that you will find her words as compelling and comforting as I have.

This week in many liturgical traditions we observe All Saints Day, and perhaps All Souls. In some places there is an opportunity to say the names, to light candles for, to ring the bell for those we love but see no longer, parted from us by death.  

All Saints and All Souls compel us to look death squarely in the face,
to acknowledge our mortality, and the mortality of those we love,
and still to make our song: Alleluia!

This is a season where we boldly proclaim
that death is not the last word.
Death, and fear of death, does not hold the power
to determine how we will live.

We are the dearly beloved children of the living God,
we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection,
we are looking to a future where justice and mercy kiss,
where nations will not learn war anymore,
where the lion lies down with the lamb,
where all things are reconciled to God.

This is our hope.
It is a hope that no power can destroy, tarnish or mar:
not white supremacy,
not anti-Semitism,
not any kind of hatred,
not any system of domination,
not any disease,
not any heartbreak. 

And when we cannot hold that hope for ourselves,
let us lean into the hope we can hold together
as communities of life, as communities of resistance,
as hope-bearers and pilgrims on the Way. 

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Give rest, O Christ, to your servants, with your saints,
where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.
You only are immortal, our Creator and Maker;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth we shall return.
All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

 – Russian Orthodox Kontakion of the Departed, Jim Cotter’s translation.  

 

*Jemma Allen is a priest in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia and a counsellor and spiritual director in private practice.  She serves on the Board of RevGalBlogPals and counts the RevGal community as one of her communities of life and resistance.

Holy Ground

470DF6B9-F261-497E-8A59-58EABE4E7898My friend, Buddy Shurden, shared an experience he had while serving his first pastorate near Ethel. Mississippi. He tells of his frequent habit of calling on Early Steed to pray. He wrote that Mr. Early Steed always began his prayer the same way, every time. 

“Lord, we come to you one more time from this low ground of sin, shame and sorrow.”

Buddy Shurden reflects on the term Mr. Early used, “low ground,” and adds, “Oh! If Early could see us now.”

Indeed. Low ground.

We are standing in the wake of waves of violence . . .

Fifteen pipe bombs mailed to two former presidents, a former secretary of state, a news outlet, and others;

Eleven worshippers killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, in Mr. Rogers’ real-life neighborhood;

Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Jones, 67, killed in a Kroger in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.

We are standing on pretty low ground these days. There’s no doubt about that. Yet, even in grief, with memorial vigils going on around the nation, we can still hear the faint voice of Mr. Rogers singing, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

And that resonates with us as we watch neighbors grieving alongside neighbors, Muslim neighbors reaching out to help their Jewish neighbors at Tree of Life, and the news outlet that was targeted with multiple pipe bombs speaking the names of the victims and telling bits of their life stories.

Maybe it feels like low ground we’re standing on these days. But if we look around, and listen, and watch while genuine love is being shared between grieving brothers and sisters, and friends who are grieving with them, we have to admit that this ground we’re now standing on might just feel more like holy ground.

Birth Song

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“Love” – Himba Mother and Child by Ciska McCormick

Little Grandmother — a world-renowned spiritual teacher, Shaman, Wisdom Keeper and the gatherer of the Tribe of Many Colors — tells this beautiful story.

Of all the African tribes still alive today, the Himba tribe is one of the few that counts the birth date of the children not from the day they are born or conceived, but from the day the mother decides to have the child. When a Himba woman decides to have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child who wants to come. After she has heard the song of this child, she goes back to the man who will be the child’s father and teaches him the song. When they physically conceive the child, they sing the song of the child as a way of inviting the child to earth.

When she becomes pregnant, the mother teaches the child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people gather around the child and sing the child’s song to welcome him/her. As the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or gets hurt, someone picks him/her up and sings to him/her his/her song as a gift of comfort.

In the Himba tribe, there is one other occasion when the “child song” is sung to the Himba child, who has now grown up to be a tribesperson. If a Himba tribesperson commits a crime or does something that is against the Himba social norms, the villagers call him or her into the center of the village. The community forms a circle around him/her and they sing his/her birth song.

The Himba people view correction, not as a punishment, but as love and remembrance of identity. For when you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another person

Finally, when the Himba tribesman/tribeswoman is lying in his/her bed, ready to die, all the villagers that know his or her song come and sing, for the last time, that person’s song.

May you hear, in your heart, your own birth song, and may it give you peace, hope, courage and strength for life.

 

*Little Grandmother is the author of the book: “Message for the Tribe of Many Colors,” published in 13 different languages. Her talks are freely available on the web and on YouTube and have been viewed by millions of people all over the world. You may follow her work on her Facebook page, Little Grandmother Kiesha, as well as on her website: www.littlegrandmother.net. You may purchase her books at www.earthmotherpublishing.com, or you may contact her at beautyawakens@gmail.com.

 

 

Weep with Those Who Weep

AD620082-4B5E-47C6-B2B0-0D553454614BWhat a caring and compassionate ministry it is to sit beside someone who is grieving and remind them of God’s grace. In recent days, I have wept for and with so many friends who are grieving for what they have lost because of the Florida hurricane. To be sure, there were losses in Georgia and in the Carolinas, but the devastation in and around Panama City was catastrophic.

Hordes of compassionate people traveled to Florida to help. They will clean up debris, repair or rebuild homes that sustained damage, do electrical work, provide help in the shelters, share their hearts and God’s heart, and stand beside families as they pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Mostly, they will weep with people, and that’s what will help more than anything else.

Author Ann Weems paints a sparkling vision with her words that speak of the “godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” But then she tells of a deafening alleluia arising from the souls of those who weep and from the souls of those who weep with them. From that weeping, Ann Weems tells us what will happen next. “If you watch,” she writes, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.”

I like to think that the caregivers who traveled to Florida did a lot of weeping with those who needed it and that they stayed near them long enough for them to “see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies one by one.” When all is lost — when you learn that your loved one has died or you stand in a pile of rubble on the ground that used to be your home — seeing the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies would be for you a manifestation of pure and holy hope.

Without a doubt, Florida is experiencing “the godforsaken obscene quicksand of life.” Their memories of this devastating time will be cruel and long-lasting. They will remember better days, neighborhoods that once thrived, schools that were destroyed and friends who are trying their best to recover. But what grieving people will remember most is the care someone gave them and the loving compassion of strangers who became forever friends. I am reminded of the words of poet Khalil Gibran:

You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.

― Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.    Romans 12:15

Make Room for the Unimaginable

C0F3E414-0365-4F43-890F-EAF928810C56Don’t you love skies . . . blues and purples, the sun’s brightness, the dark black of night, clouds and stars? It is good for us to look into the heavens and lose ourselves in the beauty of God’s creation, to make room for the unimaginable.

There is a beautiful poem in German by Joseph von Eichendorff, in which the poet says to God, “You are the One who breaks up above us those roofs that we so firmly build, so that we may see the heavens. And therefore I will not despair.”

We do build firm roofs that completely cover us, fences that separate us from neighbors, walls that divide us one from another. And we hear a great deal of talk these days about building a wall that is designed to keep people from other countries out. Visitors living in this country despair at the possibility of being deported. Even those who have been here for years and have followed all the rules.

There was a time when immigrants were welcomed here, encouraged to dream of better lives for their families. It was a time when their dreams brought them to a land of freedom, without oppression. My grandparents dreamed that dream when they came to America with my infant mother. And so life began for them here, among neighbors, in a safe and welcoming haven. My brothers and I are the products of that dream. 

So I am sad about the wall and hope in my heart that it will never be built. 

I am reminded of the Berlin Wall. It stood for 10,316 days, from 1961 until 1989. A guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin, it was sometimes referred to as the Wall of Shame. Over 100,000 people attempted to escape and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall. More than 200 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall, but it stood solidly, forbidding passage. It was a blight on Berlin’s landscape that proclaimed absolute division. I remember the day of the wall’s destruction, June 13, 1990.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB shares a beautiful truth:

Build the walls so lightly that you are still aware that you have neighbors. And build the roofs so lightly that you can look through and see the stars.”

That kind of roof God does not have to break. If we build our life in that form, we are people of hope. If we build any more firmly . . . we should expect that God shatters it all, to make room for the unimaginable, so that we will see the stars.