Here I am, Lord., Rule of Life, Spiritual Discipline, Spiritual growth, Spirituality, St. Benedict, St. Clare of Assisi, St. Francis

Rule of Life


Today is the eleventh day of Lent and Lent always orders me to order my life — again. Isn’t that what we do, put order back into our lives over and over again?

02D6C44D-9692-4DA6-86C3-0A256C32DB27That’s what I do, because I have learned the wisdom of ducks. Even ducklings sometimes step out of the line behind a Mama duck who bids them to walk a straight line, single file!

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Or even to swim in an ordered line! Something ducks are very good at!
For me, achieving a well-ordered life is a constant struggle, yet something I need and want. What do I mean by “ordered life?” I envision for myself a life that longs to move toward physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Especially spiritual well-being.

Perhaps I will turn to ducks for an inspiration to order my life or, even more compelling, perhaps I will turn to one of the streams of spirituality that comes from very deep in the Christian tradition — the wisdom of Benedictine Monasticism.

Now, stay with me! I’m not going out on a shaky spiritual limb.

Saint Benedict wrote his rule of life in the 6th century and thus left us with its simple and stable legacy of “Ora et Labora”: “Prayer and Work.” Today’s monasteries and convents still function under a Rule of Life, the best-known of which is that of Saint Benedict. A spiritual rule of life offers a fundamental rhythm for the balancing and ordering of life. Several years ago while seeking a deeper spiritual life, I entered into the novitiate of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. In the process to full profession into the Order, I was asked to write a personal rule of life.

Rule of life? I had no idea where to start. Nor did I really know what a rule of life looked like! I found this definition from a very helpful website, “Sacred Ordinary Days.”

A rule of life is a commitment to live your life in a particular way. It is meant to be crafted with prayer and discernment, in partnership with God, as you consider the way God made you and the values God has inscribed upon your heart. Once written, it serves as a tool that can help you make decisions for your life and determine how best to order your days. A rule is different than the goals, intentions, or resolutions we tend to set for ourselves. Those methods are task-based and measurable, and they’re often focused on what we do. A rule of life, on the other hand, helps you become. It is comprised of several simple statements that guide the posture of your life and the living of your days. It is not lived perfectly but can be lived faithfully while fostering within you an integrated and embodied life of faith.

So, attentive to the lives of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi, I began discovering and creating my rule of life. What I learned in that experience is that crafting a rule of life is a spiritual discipline, whether I am writing, drawing, designing or graphing it. If you know me, you know that mine was handwritten because, for me, writing becomes the sigh of my soul. Once I began writing, I sensed a pull drawing me inward. The writing called me to open up my spirit to God in a deeper way and, from that place, to write down the ways I desired and intended to follow Christ and order my Christian life. In a nutshell, that’s what I discovered about a rule of life.

Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., an American Benedictine nun, theologian, author and speaker,  explains the idea of a rule of life more clearly in her writing about Saint Benedict’s Rule. She describes how the Rule of Benedict provides an opportunity for transformation for everyone who chooses to follow its wisdom.

All in all, the Rule of Benedict is designed for ordinary people who live ordinary lives. It was not written for priests or mystics or hermits or ascetics; it was written by a layman for laymen. It was written to provide a model of spiritual development for the average person who intends to live life beyond the superficial or the uncaring.

Benedict was quite precise about it all. Time was to be spent in prayer, in sacred reading, in work, and in community participation. In other words, it was to be spent on listening to the Word, on study, on making life better for others, and on community building. It was public as well as private; it was private as well as public. It was balanced. No one thing consumed the monastic’s life. No one thing got exaggerated out of all proportion to the other dimensions of life. No one thing absorbed the human spirit to the exclusion of every other. Life was made up of many facets and only together did they form a whole. 

A rule of life is rooted in Scripture, pointing always to Christ; and, in the words of Saint Benedict, it is “simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.”

Lent is upon us. I don’t know about you, but I need to get my ducks in a row and, more importantly, I need to revisit the rule of life I wrote decades ago. I have a notion that, while my life has changed over the years, my rule of life hasn’t. But my need for genuine repentance is this: I don’t even remember my rule of life. What did I write? In what ways did I live it out? How many years or months or weeks did I live by it? Why is my rule of life now lost in a pile of old papers? I contritely confess that I remember (sort of) only this small part of it:

I will live my life and speak truth in the manner of love, for God is love
and, in Christ, I live and move and have my being.

I vaguely remember those words, but I intend look through my archived treasures and scraps of paper to find my rule of life and to revisit it. Maybe I will even begin living it again. From now on, I want to remember to remember it, so that its expressions will become like the air I breathe. And I will remember what Saint Benedict wrote 1,500 years ago, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way. The love of Christ must come before all else.”  

As for me, the one thing I do remember so strongly about the act of writing my rule of life is that I was on a spiritual retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a sacred place that made me imagine the lives of the desert mothers and fathers, the monastics who sparked spirituality for centuries. I also remember that, as I was writing, I would continually relive my ordination and its deep meaning for me. I continued to think and write on the day I had to finish, while the prayer of my heart and the longing of my soul continually whispered the same words sung at my ordination many years before:

Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord. I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

“Here I Am, Lord”
Daniel L. Schutte (b.1947)
Arranged by Ovid Young (1940-2014)

More Information on crafting your rule of life:

I found this website to be very helpful for people who want to craft a rule of life. Remember that your rule of life is for you, your way of enhancing your life and increasing your devotion to God. So every person’s rule will look different. 

All Shall Be Well, Ash Wednesday, Contemplation, Joel 2:12-13, Lent, Return to me with all your heart, Sacred Space

ALL SHALL BE WELL . . . A VIDEO BLOG ON SPIRITUALITY – EPISODE NUMBER 3

“ALL SHALL BE WELL” is a video blog that will help us enhance our personal spirituality and lead us into sacred pauses that will nourish our souls.

Welcome to “All Shall Be Well,” where we will explore together our spiritual center, create a moment of sacred pause and join together in contemplation and silence. In this episode, I want to focus our thoughts on spirituality and Lent. Today, Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent. God speaks to us through the Prophet Joel in chapter 2, saying,

Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart
    and not your garments.

Finding sacred space as Ash Wednesday leads us into Lent

Belonging, Beloved Community, Matthew 17, Rejection, Transfiguration of the Lord

Beloved Community

Outside is gloomy and raining today. Although I love rain — drizzly rain, soft rain, even driving earth altering rain — I can do without the gloomy part. Still, when there is gloominess around me, it invites me into contemplative moments. Those reflective kind of moments when transfiguration happens. And so today, the rainy drizzle leads my reflection to two places — to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus and to the story of Yonah, who sings “Stranger to the Rain” in the theatrical production of “Children of Eden.”

This, in fact, is the Sunday of the Transfiguration of the Lord. In remembering the story that is told by all four Gospel writers and referred to by Apostles Peter and Paul, I always recall the response of three of Jesus’s disciples — Peter, James and John. On that high mountain with Jesus, they experienced a high moment when Jesus was transfigured. I always wonder what their soul emotions might have been when they witnessed Jesus glowing with a dazzling, holy light. Might they have felt fear, awe, exhilaration? Could they have felt that in that light, something holy rose up in them?

However they might have felt inside, they must have felt some sort of draw, something beckoning them to stay there on the holy mountain. They wanted to stay in the radiance of these moments with Jesus and with the Prophets Elijah and Elisha. They may have just wanted to be together in that beloved community.

From Chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel . . .

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Whatever the reason — being together in community, taking in the bright radiance, or being immersed in the miracle — the disciples wanted to stay on the mountain and to be in that holy moment together. Isn’t what all of us want? Don’t we all long for holy moments? Don’t we all want to be a part of beloved community?

Throughout this pandemic’s long season of isolation, many people are experiencing the loss of community, the loss of being together with the people they care about. I have heard stories of this kind of loss from countless people, and usually they are also mourning being away from their places of worship. They mourn for the loss of being together and for the loss of their holy places. Like the disciples, it seems that being together and being in holy places is what they need.

I have thought about those needs, the attraction of them, the longing for them. My conclusion is that these are places where people are accepted, unconditionally. We want to be with people who do not ostracize us, in worship places that never name us unworthy or turn us away. Being ostracized always hurts no matter the reason. But people are ostracized every day — for their race, their religion, their gender identity. People are ostracized every day for simply being who they are, because “who they are” does not fit in to someone’s world of acceptable people. People ostracizing other people has been a shameful reality through the ages.

I have been ostracized many times in my life, for many reasons. The idea of being ostracized brings to mind one of my favorite musicals, “Children of Eden.” Act 2 begins with the story of Noah and his sons preparing the ark before the great flood. It seems God is about to ostracize all the earth’s people except Noah, his family and their gathering of animals. But Noah’s story has another arc, the story of his youngest son, Japheth and his future bride, Yonah.

Because of the imminent flood, Japheth is on a deadline to find a partner to bring on the arc. Japheth doesn’t want his father to choose for him, because he is already in love with someone. He announces he will bring his future bride to dinner. Noah and the family eagerly prepare to meet Yonah, but Yonah is not the kind of woman they expected.

Japheth tries to bring his true love Yonah, the servant girl, to the table, but Noah stops him. Yonah bears the mark of Cain and this causes a furor. Yonah is not one of them. She is of another race. Japheth is furious that his family rejected her and storms off just as animals start appearing on their way to the ark.

After every person and animal is onboard the ark, Noah sees Yonah standing alone and apologizes that he can not take her with him. Left alone, the “black girl bearing the mark of Cain” feels the devastating pain of rejection. Filled with emotion and overcome with sadness, Yonah sings “Stranger To The Rain,” singing of her pain of being ostracized, how she is accustomed to being rejected, but she also sings of her resilience to bear it. “I’ve learned not to tremble when I hear the thunder roar. I don’t curse what I can’t change . . . I won’t say I’ve never felt the pain, but I am not a stranger to the rain.”

I find priceless wisdom in the words Yonah sings.

Shed no tears for me
There’ll be rain enough today
I’m wishing you godspeed
As I wave you on your way
This won’t be the first time
I’ve stayed behind to face
The bitter consequences
Of an ancient fall from grace
I’m a daughter of the race of Cain
I am not a stranger to the rain
 
Orphan in the storm
That’s a role I’ve played before
I’ve learned not to tremble
When I hear the thunder roar
I don’t curse what I can’t change
I just play the hand I’m dealt
When they lighten up the rations
I tighten up my belt
I won’t say I’ve never felt the pain
But I am not a stranger to the rain
 
And for the boy who’s given me the sweetest love I’ve known
I wish for him another love so he won’t be alone
Because I am bound to walk among the wounded and the slain
And when the storm comes crashing on the plain
I will dance before the lightning to music sacred and profane
 
Oh, shed no tears for me
Light no candle for my sake
This journey I’ll be making
Is one we all must make
Shoulder to the wind
I’ll turn my face into the spray
And when the heavens open
Let the drops fall where they may
If they finally wash away the stain
From a daughter of the race of Cain
I am not a stranger to the rain
 
Let it rain

She describes herself as an “orphan in the storm.” And the truth is that, at times, I have described myself as an orphan. It is a feeling of being alone, being put out and rejected, being told you do not belong, being ostracized. I hate that feeling, but I love the feeling of being “one” with my community and “one” with God — Beloved Community.

Here is an audio of “Stranger to the Rain.” I wonder if you can imagine Yonah standing alone, Noah looking at her with guilt. She looks at Japheth who stands far away, sometimes turning away from her, for looking at her is too painful.

Amanda Gorman, God's presence, Hope, Spirit wind, Spiritual and emotional darkness

Just Hope

I just read a powerful quote by poet extraordinaire, Amanda Gorman, in an interview published in Time Magazine. In the article, Michelle Obama interviews Amanda Gorman.

Optimism shouldn’t be seen as opposed to pessimism, but in conversation with it. Your optimism will never be as powerful as it is in that exact moment when you want to give it up. The way we can all be hopeful is to not negate the feelings of fear or doubt, but to ask: What led to this darkness? And what can lead us out of the shadows?

More than anything else, her words are about hope, just hope. We throw the word “hope” around quite often, hoping for this thing and then that thing. But that’s just hope, not necessarily real hope. Real hope is a hope that looks beyond the present moment, hope that is the glow from your soul, hope that is an abiding thing that is hidden in your soul.

The last thing I want to do today is give you all the definitions of hope I can find on the internet. In fact, if you wanted to, you could find hundreds of good quotes about hope on the internet, maybe even thousands. Like these:

Quotes and definitions may be popular, even relevant at times, but what I have desperately needed in my darkest moments was not a new definition of hope or even a lovely quote written on a picture of clouds. What I needed in my personal dark nights of terror was the kind of hope that had the gentle power to heal the deepest recesses of soul and to lift my spirit to the brilliant light that is never fully gone.

Just hope? Oh, no! Not just hope, but the abiding, living hope we know as the constant presence of God and the wings of Spirit breath. For this hope, thanks be to God.

As a gift to you on this day, I offer a video of Amanda Gorman presenting her hope-filled poem, “The Hill We Climb.” I know I previously sent a video of her presenting her poem at the Inauguration, but this video is worth watching. Find it HERE.

“The Prayer”, Dark night of the soul, Darkness, Fear, God's presence, God’s creation, Light, Spiritual and emotional darkness, Stars

In Darkness, God Will Whisper to the Soul.

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Throughout my life there were times, many of them, when the only thing I could do was pray. In spite of knowing that praying was the very best thing that I could do, my soul held a kind of dark, helpless, hopeless sadness. My brother’s serious illness has taken me into that “dark night.” Thinking of him in the hospital’s ICU fighting the ravages of the coronavirus brought me to darkness, especially at night while trying to fall asleep. Lying in bed, I experienced panic attacks. Being unable to visit him brought even more darkness to my spirit. The fear of losing him triggered every past trauma I have suffered throughout my life.

The dark night! The unknown! Yes, I fear it. I dread it. And it is here with me now.

The writing of Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross (1542–1591) gave me a kind of marker that helped me measure my current experience of “the dark night.” He described his darkness as a place of  “unknowing.”

Yet when I saw myself there
Without knowing where I was
I understood great things;
I shall not say what I felt
For I remained in unknowing
Transcending all knowledge.

— St John of the Cross

I suspect that every person has sometimes been in places I can only describe as the “dark night of the soul.” It is a place most people experience as abandonment by God. It is a place where I have found myself many times. And yes, I fear it. I dread it. Perhaps you fear it, too.

Many people believe that the dark night of the soul comes to them because of something they have done, some sin they have committed that results in God’s absence. Yet, we find the experience of darkness in the life stories of those we think of as having been faithful followers of God. People such as Mother Teresa, C. S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen and Martin Luther. Each of these suffered particularly intense episodes of the “dark night of the soul.” 

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In his secret journal, Henri Nouwen wrote   about a dark season in 1988 in which he could not feel God’s love. He had brought millions of others into a more tender and intimate experience with God, but he writes that he was in a “dark night of the soul.”

C.S. Lewis’s dark night came after the death of his wife Joy, the love of his life who died four years after their marriage. Lewis explained that he experienced the emotional pain of Absence — not just the absence of his wife, but the immense Absence of God, his “dark night of the soul.”

Mother Teresa’s darkness came at the very founding of her Missionaries of Charity and lasted to the end of her life, with little respite. Martin Luther’s dark night plagued him as a young monk, and then in several other forms as a Reformer.

The dark night! The unknown! Yes, I fear it. I dread it.

It is for me a time when prayer is my only response. At least, what I understand of prayer. At times I have found myself turning to music to quiet my soul in my darkest night. One song that I turn to almost every time in the darkness is “The Prayer” written by Carole Bayer Sager, David Foster, Tony Renis and Alberto Testa. “The Prayer” is a song of safety and inspiration.

Carole Bayer Sager speaks about how the song’s theme of safety is so important to her:

I think it embodies everything I looked for my whole life. “Lead us to the place, guide us with your grace, to a place where we’ll be safe.” I didn’t find that safety until my mid-40s.

I wonder if the words and thoughts in “The Prayer” might comfort you on this day, reading its words and listening to the video I’ve embedded below.

I pray you’ll be our eyes
And watch us where we go
And help us to be wise
In times when we don’t know

Let this be our prayer
When we lose our way
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe.

I pray we’ll find your light
And hold it in our hearts
When stars go out each night
Remind us where you are.

Let this be our prayer
When shadows fill our day
Lead us to a place
Guide us with your grace
To a place where we’ll be safe.

A world where pain and
sorrow will be ended
And every heart that’s
broken will be mended
And we’ll remember we
are all God’s children

Reaching out to touch you
Reaching to the sky.

We ask that life be kind
And watch us from above
We hope each soul will find
Another soul to love.

Let this be our prayer
Just like every child
Needs to find a place
Guide us with your grace.
Give us faith so we’ll be safe.

The dark night!  The unknown!  Yes, we fear it. We dread it. Praying ourselves through it may seem impossible.

Yet, might we look at darkness and the unknown in another way by reflecting on the creation story in Genesis? When I consider God’s creation of day, and night, it seems that God’s astounding creation of day and night reside in a continuum where neither are bad. They just are! When I consider our gift of “In the beginning,”I cannot help but look on in awe and wonder as God and Spirit create light out of darkness.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” 

God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.    — Genesis 1:1-3, 16-19

God saw that it was good. In that, I have confidence. I see the brightness of the day, and the night, night that God has filled with a glowing moon and glistening stars — light in darkness. Perhaps this thought, this truth of Scripture, will help us to not fear the darkness of night, for without it, we would can never enjoy its light. And as for the dark night of the soul, the unknown that we so fear, perhaps we can embrace it as a place to linger and to wait for the Spirit to guide us into the realization of God’s presence, even as we are experiencing God’s absence.

One of my favorite writers, Mirabai Starr, knows about the way of unknowing personally and intimately. She describes what happens between the soul and God in the “dark night:”

The soul in the dark night cannot, by definition, understand what is happening to her. . . . she does not realize that the darkness is a blessing. She feels miserable and unworthy, convinced that God has abandoned her, afraid she may herself be turning against him. In her despair, the soul does not recognize that God is teaching her in a secret way now.

At the same time that the soul in the night becomes paralyzed . . .  a sense of abundance starts to grow inside the emptied soul. . . . God will whisper to the soul in the depth of darkness and guide it through the wilderness of the Unknown.

Barbara Brown Taylor intentionally moved herself into an experience of forced darkness, a place where her intention was to stay there for a long period of time. In that darkness, she said this: “St. John of the Cross says that the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation.”

The dark night!  The unknown!  Yes, I still fear it. I will probably always dread it. But after being in dark spaces so many times, I think I can stay there now, knowing in my heart of hearts that my soul’s dark night really is God’s best gift to me, intended for my liberation.

The dark night!  The unknown!  Yes, I still fear it.

I may fear the darkness, but I love the stars.0F63D52B-65D9-49F5-AA31-A5A12364D676

Though my soul may set in darkness,
it will rise in perfect light;

I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night.

― Sarah Williams, Twilight Hours: A Legacy Of Verse

In my soul’s darkest nights, I learned that the light of the stars is always there, even in the times when I cannot see them. I also learned something profound about prayer — something so profound, so holy and intimate — that I am at a loss to describe it. I learned that a part of prayer in the dark is the miracle that Spirit holds me close and God whispers to my soul.

I know that the stars still comfort me in the dark, that in the darkest of my soul’s nights, I can still pray. For that, I give thanks to God.

Activism, Beloved Community, Black History Month, Change, Civil Rights Movement, Community activism, Freedom, Injustice, Justice, Montgomery Bus Boycott, Persistence, Racism, Rosa Parks, Segregation, Social justice, Transformation, Transforming Injustice

A Birthday Celebration for Rosa Parks

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Celebrate with me the birthday of Rosa Parks! 

Born in Tuskegee, Alabama on February 4, 1913, she continues to be remembered in the hearts of the American people. What a “herstory” she lived! And how could I even begin to tell her story here? What we think we know about Rosa Parks, in fact, is more like a fairy tale than an accurate picture of the person she was and the powerful transformation she brought in the quest for racial justice.

Rosa Parks was not one to dwell on one event — one bus ride, one boycott, one street named after her — she instead set her “eyes on the prize” for the long haul. She was one persistent woman. She was a mentor to the young people who would ultimately see the prize of equal justice under the law. Rosa Parks was not just a woman to be remembered by holding down one seat on one bus on one day. Instead, she set her sights on the transformation of injustice and never stopped moving towards justice for all.

I cannot tell her story adequately, but I can point to some of her milestones . . .

In August of 1955, black teenager Emmett Till, visiting relatives in Mississippi, was brutally murdered after allegedly flirting with a white woman. Till’s two murderers had just been acquitted. Rosa Parks was deeply disturbed and angered by the verdict. Just four days after hearing the verdict, she took her famous stand on the Montgomery bus ride that cemented her place as a civil rights icon. She later said this when the driver ordered her to move, “I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back.”

Rosa Parks sat in the black section, but when the white section filled up, the bus driver demanded that the four black passengers nearest the white section give up their seats. The other three black passengers reluctantly moved, but she did not. She recounted the scene: “When he saw me still sitting, he asked if I was going to stand up, and I said, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.’ I said, ‘You may do that.’”

Many people have imagined Rosa Parks on that bus as an old woman tired after a long day of work. Yet, in her autobiography, My Story, Parks writes, “People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” 

Rosa Parks endured significant hardships in her life, both during and after the boycott. She was unjustly fired from her department store job. She received an almost constant stream of death threats, so many that she eventually left Montgomery to seek work elsewhere, ultimately moving to Detroit. There she served as secretary and receptionist for Representative John Conyers, befriended Malcolm X, and became active in the Black Power movement.

In 1995, she published her memoir, Quiet Strength, focusing on her Christian faith.  She insisted that her abilities to love her enemies and stand up for her convictions were gifts from God: 

God has always given me the strength to say what is right. I had the strength of God, and my ancestors.

Rosa Parks died in 2005 at the age of 92 and she became the 31st person, the first woman, the second African American, and the second private citizen to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.

  • More than 50,000 people came through to pay their respects. 
  • Her birthday is celebrated as Rosa Parks Day in California and Missouri.
  • Ohio and Oregon celebrate the day on December 1, the anniversary of her arrest.

One last milestone of her remarkable story . . .

In 1994, the Ku Klux Klan applied to sponsor a section of Interstate 55 near St. Louis, Missouri, which would mean the Klan’s name would appear on roadside signs announcing the sponsorship. In 2001, the US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Missouri cannot discriminate against the Ku Klux Klan when it comes to groups that want to participate in the adopt-a-highway program. Of course, while the name of the Klan is aesthetically disgusting to many people, this decision was a victory for free speech and equal protection under the law, right?

54FF516B-B94C-4ADC-AF10-4BE8CF2BF64BIn the end, the Missouri Department of Transportation got sweet revenge! Sure, they couldn’t  remove the KKK’s adopt-the-highway sign, but few would dispute the state’s ability to name the highway itself. So the KKK is now cleaning up their adopted stretch of the highway named by the Missouri legislature and christened as “Rosa Parks Highway.”

Rosa Parks did not crave the spotlight. Nor did she care all that much about highways and byways bearing her name. She probably did want to be known as a person who persisted in the struggle for racial justice. She told us that in these words:

I would like to be known as a person who is concerned about freedom and equality and justice and prosperity for all people.

You are remembered as such a person, Mrs, Rosa Parks! Happy birthday in heaven. You are our inspiration. You are one of our sheros, our wonder woman!

All Shall Be Well, Contemplation, coronavirus, Darkness, Sacred Pauses, Sacred Space

ALL SHALL BE WELL . . . A VIDEO BLOG ON SPIRITUALITY – EPISODE NUMBER 2

“ALL SHALL BE WELL” is a video blog that will help us enhance our personal spirituality and lead us into sacred pauses that will nourish our souls.

Welcome to “All Shall Be Well,” where we will together explore our spiritual center, create a moment of sacred pause and join together in contemplation and silence. Tonight my thoughts will focus on the dark times of our lives, the spiritual and emotional darkness that sometimes engulfs us and the ways we can dwell in our darkness to learn the secrets the darkness teaches us. We will listen in sacred space to hear the sigh of our souls.

Finding sacred spaces while hopelessly trapped in darkness

Religious Liberty, Soul Freedom

What Is Religious Liberty, Anyway?

I have been thinking about religious liberty these days. For many different reasons.

Religious liberty. What does that even mean? I Googled “religious liberty” just to see what definitions I might find. Being a long-time Baptist minister, I decided to consult our own Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty. Here’s their definition:

“Religious liberty” is the freedom to believe and exercise or act upon religious conscience without unnecessary interference by the government.

Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, https://bjconline.org/religiousliberty/


There you have it. Succinct. Simple. A very good “brass tacks” definition. The definition gets right to the heart of the matter. Still, I ask myself what religious liberty means for me.

My grandmother’s Greek village, Aperi, on the island of Karpathos, which is part of the Dodecanese Islands (literally “twelve islands”). These are a group of 15 larger, plus 150 smaller Greek islands in the southeastern Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Turkey’s Anatolia, of which 26 are inhabited.

My grandmother came to Ellis Island with my two-year old mother in tow, fleeing from the oppressive regime of Benito Mussolini. She left her tiny Greek village, Aperi, and arrived in New York Harbor where Lady Liberty stands, ever shining freedom’s light. My grandmother was “free” in America. She now had a “path to citizenship” and the freedom to exercise her Greek Orthodox faith. Her story is part of the story of my religious liberty, at the heart of it.

So I have asked myself this: When I ponder the working definition of religious liberty, do I also acknowledge the heart of its meaning in my life? I’m not so sure I do, because I take my soul freedom for granted as something I have always had. Religious freedom is, of course, a pillar of American life, written into the U.S. Constitution in the first 16 words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

As clear as those words are, it’s not always obvious how to apply them in our society. Again, the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty boils it down by stating the specific points below as precise areas that call for advocacy for religious freedom.

The targeting of religious minorities.
The rise of Christian nationalism.
The politicization of houses of worship.

So getting to the heart of it . . . getting to my heart is a story I experienced many years ago, 1979 to be exact. It was the year my husband and I arrived in East Africa as young, very green, missionaries. The brutal Ugandan dictator President Idi Amin had just been deposed and was exiled somewhere in another country. He was no longer in Uganda, but the destruction he left behind was. His genocide, his destruction of the country’s infrastructure, his looting of homes and businesses, his dismantling of schools and burning of textbooks, his murderous reign of terror, his banning and burning of Christian churches — all so visible in faces of the Ugandan people.

I could barely force myself to look because everywhere I did look, I saw the remains of pure evil. And yet, the lush green of banana trees, the snow-capped mountains, the verdant rainforests, the hillside tea plantations, the majestic waterfalls were all there, unblemished signs of God’s creation. And those beautiful people, widows and orphans, living with deep loss and yet standing and and surviving and repairing. Their faces may have been drawn and downcast with mourning, but their sparkling eyes still reflected hope.

In our first days in Ugandan, we visited a nearby Anglican church for Sunday worship. As long as I have memory, I will remember the spontaneous, heart-felt prayers of that congregation. One woman stood spontaneously to pray. She prefaced her prayer with this passage of Scripture from her memory. The text from Lamentations so accurately described their lives.

Remember, Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!

Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,

our homes to aliens.

We have become orphans, fatherless;
our mothers are like widows.

We must pay for the water we drink;
the wood we get must be bought.

With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven;
we are weary, we are given no rest.

Lamentations 5:1-5 (NRSV)

Then she prayed. She wept. I wept. Everyone in the congregation wept. The prayer time ended; the worship went on with scripture, prayer music and homily. At the end, as if to defy their mournful reality, they stood to their feet to sing. And sing they did, in jubilant praise. “O Lord our God, you have turned our mourning into dancing,” they shouted, as they sang louder snd stronger. Their mourning turned to dancing. Up and back, through the church aisles, all over the sanctuary, they moved and swayed, dancing with joy. And they sang:

Dance then, wherever you may be. I am the Lord of the dance, said He;

And I’ll lead you, all wherever you may be;

I am the Lord of the Dance, said He.

“Lord of the Dance;” Hymn text by Sydney Carter, 1963.

Yes, I know I am all over the map today in my attempt to explain soul freedom, religious liberty, freedom of religion, or whatever one might call it. But Uganda is the place — among those worshipping people — where I learned the heart-meaning of religious liberty.

The Ugandan people gave me the gift of truly understanding soul freedom. As the days moved on after that worship service, the people became our friends, close friends. And on a day I will not forget, a widow who had lost most of her family as well as her tiny mud hut with a roof of banana leaves said this to me. “They burned our churches, but we still worshipped. They decimated our religion, but we worshipped still. They murdered our priest, but we continued to speak to God the words he would have said. Oh yes, we were afraid in our secret “church,” but we worshipped, and whispered our prayers, and sang our praises to our God, ever so softly.”

That’s where I learned that taking my religious liberty for granted would not be my way, not ever again. In my lifetime, I have never had to worship in secret. I have never had to silence myself from speaking the truth of my faith. I have never been in a hidden “church” fearing that a government official would raid my sacred space and kill me.

Ah, those bright-eyed Ugandan people who persevered and persisted, who never lost hope, who never ceased their worship — their prayers, their singing, their dancing — in praise to a God who was present with them through every evil day. They were my teachers about the real and true meaning of soul freedom.

And by the way, Uganda’s underground churches flourished during the evil reign of the ruthless dictator, Idi Amin. God’s Church in Uganda grew, and grew strong, even as the flames of burning churches filled the countryside. Perhaps the courage of the people rose from the flames. Perhaps the smoke that rose from those fires became holy smoke, enveloping the people and rising with their prayers to God, just as the smoke of burning incense symbolizes the prayer of the faithful rising to heaven.

For soul freedom, O God, we give you thanks. Amen.

All Shall Be Well, Amanda Gorman, Inaugural Poem, Inauguration 2021, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris

America! January 20, 2021

The day of Inauguration has come. Long awaited! Hope renewed! Refreshing winds of newness blow across us! We saw a unity of different people and heard a diversity of voices — Lady Gaga, Garth Brooks, Jennifer Lopez, Fr. Leo O’Donovan, Rev. Silvester Beaman, Amanda Gorman. The poem recited by Amanda Gorman is what I share with you today.

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world, 

The Hill We Climb

When day comes we ask ourselves
Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry a sea we must wade. 

We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.
In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice. 

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. 

We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president

only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, 
but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect.
We are striving to forge our union with purpose.
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us, but what stands before
We close the divide because we know to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.
We seek harm to none and harmony for all.
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true.
That even as we grieved, we grew.
That even as we hurt, we hoped.
That even as we tired,
we tried that will forever be tied together victorious.
Not because we will never again know defeat,
but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
and no one shall make them afraid.
then victory won’t lie in the blade,
but in all the bridges we’ve made.

That is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare.
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit.
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a forest that would shatter our nation rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
This effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.

In this truth,
in this faith we trust for while we have our eyes on the future,
history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption.
We feared it at its inception.
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour,
but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter,
to offer hope and laughter to ourselves so while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert, how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be a country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent, but bold, fierce, and free.

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because
we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation.
Our blunders become their burdens.
But one thing is certain,
if we merge mercy with might and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with.
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the West.
We will rise from the wind-swept Northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.
We will rise from the Lake Rim cities of the Midwestern states.
We will rise from the sun-baked South.
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover in every known nook of our nation,
In every corner called our country
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

Amanda Gorman (born March 7, 1998) is an American poet and activist from Los Angeles, California. Gorman’s work focuses on issues of oppression, feminism, race, and marginalization, as well as the African diaspora.nGorman published the poetry book, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough. In 2017, Gorman became the United States of America’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. She became the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration, reciting her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20, 2021.

Beloved Community, Community, Love, Martin Luther King, Jr., peace, Stars

THE RADIANT STARS OF LOVE

The year was 1963. I was 14 years old. So it could not have been that I was unaware of what was going on in my city, but more likely that I was sheltered from it. I’m referring to two events: the day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and incarcerated in the Birmingham jail; and in that same year — Sunday, September 13 — the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed, taking the lives of four little girls as they left their Sunday School class to go into the sanctuary.

It was a white supremacist terrorist bombing, just before 11 o’clock, when instead of rising to begin prayers, the congregation was knocked to the ground. As the bomb exploded under the steps of the church, the congregants sought safety under the pews and shielded each other from falling debris.

Five months earlier, on April 12, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested with SCLC activists Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, and other marchers, while thousands of African Americans dressed for Good Friday wondered what in the world the future might hold.

As a child, I would proudly sing a song I learned in school, “Birmingham’s My Home. In the days of 1963, I was not so proud that Birmingham, Alabama was my home. Today, I feel deep shame to admit that even at age 14, I had no idea what was happening or why it was happening. To be sure, I was not yet “woke” in any sense of the word.

While incarcerated, Dr. King wrote a letter. Some of his most eloquent, scorching, but hopeful words were penned during his time in the Birmingham Jail. These words he wrote from there are quite striking to me:

“. . . in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”

How is it that we have not yet seen the “radiant stars of love and brotherhood” [and sisterhood] “shining over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty?” Why does the struggle for racial justice still play out in the streets of this nation’s cities as the oppressed still cry out against the injustice that continues to hold them in chains?

I will not attempt to answer those unanswerable questions. I will point out the mountains that still stand ominously before us. We cannot move those mountains, it seems, as they loom over us — immense, towering, formidable, oppressive. The rocks, crags and peaks of them looking like peaceful protests by persons crying out for freedom in June, white supremacists violently storming the United States Capitol just 12 days ago, and the terrifying Coronavirus that still threatens after so many months.

How will we see the radiant stars of beloved community, of hope, of peace when we cannot move those mountains? Words cannot move mountains, but words can give us the strength and courage to try. And so I leave you with Dr. King’s words as we honor him on this day:

“Out of the mountain of despair, the stone of hope.”*

I wish for you radiant stars of love, the sunlight of hope that is new every morning, and the glistening wings of peace to guide your way.


*Dr. King delivered this line during his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. It now appears is one of the most prominently featured quotes on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington.