Holy Sunday Morning

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Sunday morning. A day of rest. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” To do that today, I share with you the words of one of my favorite poems, “Desiderata.” It has wisdom for the living of these days.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”

God Bless Us Everyone

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We are, it seems, in a season of discontent, an often vitriolic presidential campaign that threatens to divide us. Even in my own family, there is strong disagreement on the merits of the presidential candidates. There is no shortage of name-calling in virtually every news report.

We are better than that. At our core, we long for the same freedoms. Our best selves want a bright and new day of unity in our country. We want the sun to rise on fresh hope and better tomorrows. We desire to live out the Scripture that admonishes us to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.

I want to share with you the eloquent and inspiring words spoken by the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention:

I say to you tonight, there are some issues that are not left versus right, liberal versus conservative, they are right versus wrong. We need to embrace our deepest moral values and push for a revival of the heart of our democracy . . .

When we love the Jewish child and the Palestinian child, the Muslim and the Christian and the Hindu and the Buddhist and those who have no faith but they love this nation, we are reviving the heart of our democracy. . .

We must shock this nation with the power of love. We must shock this nation with the power of mercy. We must shock this nation and fight for justice for all. We can’t give up on the heart of our democracy, not now, not ever!

May God guide all of us as we exercise our right to speak and to vote. May God give us an extra measure of respect when we don’t agree. May respectful dialogue replace name-calling and vitriolic speech. May we emerge in November as a people united and determined to be the best we can be. God bless us everyone. And God bless America.

Giving Thanks for the Memories

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Retirement can bring a plethora of memories, good memories and some not so good. Giving up a life of ministry leaves a gaping hole in life. Everything and everyone moves on. Most of us are not designated “pastor emeritus.” Yet, our ministry was so much a part of our lives that retirement causes a large, empty space. All those who called upon us to speak or do workshops at various functions have moved on to younger ministers.

On the wall are myriad certificates of education and experience. The shelves are filled with awards and memories of being honored. I look at them now and again and remember fondly all that happened in my past.

Then I move into the present, which fortunately, is mostly a place of contentment. Like many retired ministers, I do feel discarded and forgotten at times, as if my years of experience mean nothing. No one remembers the angst that accompanied my calling and ordination. No one recalls the rancor leveled at all Baptist women seeking ordination in those days. No one seems to remember that women had to work harder and longer than our male colleagues. The newspapers reported the upheaval surrounding our call to a ministry position. No one seems to remember the glorious community-wide celebration when a woman actually found a place of ministry.

But I remember. I remember it well. And although memories can be painful, my life is also filled with sweet memories. I have made peace with retirement and that is a good thing. My memories give me joy and comfort as I remember so many times of ministry, so many different people who graced my life. So I say thanks for the memories. The good far outweighed the bad.

Strong at the Broken Places

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The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
– Ernest Hemingway

It’s true. I’m told by a medical expert that when a broken limb fully heals, it is stronger than the original bone. In like manner, when someone is broken emotionally, they emerge stronger and more resilient. I have a dear friend who was broken by military sexual assault. The perpetrator was not held accountable for his actions. My friend also had multiple physical injuries that required several surgeries. She went through a time of night terrors and fought post traumatic stress for years.

But that is not the end of her story. With great tenacity and courage, she pulled herself up and out of despondency. She organized a public filming of the documentary film, “The Invisible War.” She told her story. She reached out to other sexual assault victims. She wrote letters to political leaders until her voice was finally heard when she testified before a Congressional committee in Washington.

She was strong at the broken places, and today she continues her advocacy with grace and grit. I salute you, Ginny.

Fear Not

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I have experienced real fear. I am experiencing it today, in fact, because I am not feeling well, and because of my kidney disease, the stakes are higher when I am not well.

I also experienced fear more than a year ago during a hospitalization. When the emergency team rushed to my bedside, I was overcome with fear, not understanding exactly what was happening, not knowing the outcome of the emergency procedures.

Obviously I survived that day, and I emerged with a stronger faith in God. During those critical days, with fear and uncertainty as my close companions, so many comforting scriptures came to mind.

From Isaiah 41 . . . Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

From Isaiah 43 . . . Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

From Psalm 27 . . . The Lord is my light and my salvationβ€”whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my lifeβ€”of whom shall I be afraid?”

And from Deuteronomy 31 . . . And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.

What incredible comfort I found in those words! The time of crisis passed. But I took those words with me to call to mind on another day. Today is such a day.

The Darkness of Suffering

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I spent four years as a hospital chaplain, nine years as a pastor, and eleven years as a trauma counselor working with victims of violence. During those years, I learned a great deal about suffering. I observed it, empathized with it and prayed over it. I tried to discover ways to enter into the suffering with those who were drowning in it. But suffering with others is a complicated and difficult task. Feeling sympathy is easy. Knowing about a person’s suffering is easy. But entering into the suffering of others, being with them in their suffering, is very difficult.

The words of Gordon Cosby ring true to me:

Compassion is to know the pain and suffering of others. Not to know about the suffering and pain of others, but in some way to actually know that painβ€”to enter it, hear it, taste it, let it in. We talk about getting in touch with our feelings, and that is central to our freedom. The complementary step is to get in touch with the feelings of others. This necessitates getting into their frame of reference, their way of perceiving. Others’ way of seeing might seem wrong or distorted, yet it still is their experience of life…. In part, knowing that someone understands and feels our pain is the relief we need, even if nothing more can be done.

– N. Gordon Cosby
Source: Seized by the Power of a Great Affection

One additional lesson the years taught me: Suffering is much more than pain. Suffering is more than grief. Suffering is the deep-down and relentless assault of one’s soul and spirit. It is utter darkness. It is feeling alienated from the healing God. It is feeling completely alone in an abyss of unrelieved torment.

Medication cannot touch it. Sympathy cards, flowers and covered dishes cannot ease it. Only presence is effective, abiding presence with the sufferer, entering into deepest silence, being near to dry the tears that won’t stop, sitting vigil for as long as it takes.

May God give us the inner strength to suffer with those who suffer, to share with them the healing, renewing grace of a compassionate God.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you.

– Isaiah 43:2

When the Moon Is New

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A new moon holds a hint of promise to me. It’s a sign of hope, an event that will lead to something fuller. It marks starting over, the beginning of something that will fully bloom into something more magnificent. New moon refers to the first visible crescent of the moon.

Some religious groups, such as the New Israelites of Peru, keep the new moon as a Sabbath of rest. No work may be done from dusk until dusk, and religious services run for 11 hours, although a large number of the devoted worshippers spend 24 hours within the gates of the temples, sleeping and singing praises throughout the night.

In many faith traditions, the new moon is viewed as a special time. For me, the beauty of a new moon is breathtaking. Though my faith does not commemorate the new moon in any special way, I am often moved to offer praise to the God who created it. And praising God is always a good thing.

When the moon is new . . . It’s a time of wonder, a promise of hope, a new beginning, and a very appropriate time to praise the One who created the moon and the stars as gifts for us.

Serenity . . . The Peace of God

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Even in retirement, I find it difficult to set aside quiet hours, hours of peace and serenity. I tend to get caught up in current politics, the news of the day, and all of the interruptions that come up. Yet, I need quiet time. I need times of reflection and contemplation. It is during those quiet times that I find the peace of God. I find serenity and find myself dreaming new dreams again.

Bishop Steven Charleston writes about the gift of God’s peace that waits “beyond the clam our of the day.”

Quiet the hours that surround us, still the moments through which we pass. The peace of God is a gift, freely given, to any and to all, waiting just beyond the clamor of the day, available to whoever will receive it. No illness or strife, no worry or hurt can keep this calm hand from reaching us, no distance, no time. The feeling of what is holy is serenity, an assurance that love will never be lost, that mercy is as certain as forgiveness, that none of us has walked this way without reason. Heaven waits behind closed eyes, the other world of what is now, the blessing we were born to live.

Indeed, we were born to live this blessing and to find what is holy in our times of serenity. And so I work to keep out distractions and worries, reaching out for the calm hand of God.

Out on the Fringe

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I have often found myself out on the fringe, out of step with those around me, almost subversive in my thoughts and actions. Not subversive in a negative way, understand, but subversive in the ways of justice and peace. I am grateful that I have a sensitive spirit that feels compassion for those who are what we might call “the outcasts.” I am grateful that God gave me the gift of empathy.

But with gifts, there are always responsibilities. It is not enough just to feel empathy. I must act on it, advocating for those who need an advocate, or as Jesus might say, “seeking justice for the oppressed.”

Doing so might very well put me out on the fringe. Steven Charleston describes it like this:

I would like to say a brief word in support of the lunatic fringe. I have been a card carrying “fringer” for quite some time now, out here on the margins of polite society where the really interesting people hang out. I have met wild eyed dreamers, optimistic visionaries, unrepentant seekers, and more than a few average folks who just like to think for themselves. Out here there are no party lines to follow, no castes or outcasts, no gated communities of the heart. There are only envelopes being pushed, barriers being broken, and love being risked as love always is. I just want to say: I am glad to have you out here with me.

I hope I will always be out on the fringe pushing the envelope!

Night Prayers

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I have had some dark nights of the soul in my life. And it seems that when night falls, the fear is greater, the mourning is harder, the sorrow is more intense, the Lonliness is almost unbearable. In those times, I would pray for the morning, hoping beyond hope that I would survive the night. Sleep would not come and I spent hours worrying. I spent many of those kinds of nights in the hospital, fearful, lonely, worried about my health and wondering if I would ever get well.

I can remember that during those long nights, I would call my husband for support. The time didn’t matter. I might call at 1:00am or even closer to the dawn. My husband was always faithful to talk me through the night crisis.

But when I was completely alone, my prayers emerged from the depths of worry and fear. I was almost desperate to talk to God and hear God’s voice of comfort.

Steven Charleston describes night prayers.

Night is drawing near. Soon the night prayers will begin. The after-hours prayers. The prayers without the need for words. Spoken from the heart, the language of those who work the late shift of sorrow. Night prayers turn bar rooms into churches, motels into cathedrals, truck stops into shrines. Night prayers are first time prayers, last chance prayers, prayers tossed up into the stars to see if anyone is there to catch them. Prayers without expectation. Tonight I will pray with the midnight seekers and the far from home angels. I will offer my own night prayer. For them, with them, in the congregation of the all night diner.

I love the words that speak of tossing prayers “up into the air to see if anyone is there to catch them.” I can attest to the fact that God was always there to hear my night prayers. Thanks be to God.