Missing table fellowship…

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “Missing table fellowship” or “Sometimes I feel isolated”…either would have been an appropriate title.

So what do I mean by that?

Many of you know that I have lived with MS (multiple sclerosis) since 1976. It’s gone mostly pretty well–at least since the first five years. Because of the vagaries of this auto-immune disease, there is some unpredictability to my life. I’ve learned to live with that.

But there’s one change MS has made to my experiences that creates that sense of loss. The one constant in my schedule is a daily nap. Sometimes it’s as short as 30 minutes; other times it’s as long as a couple of hours. There’s no specific time I have to take it–but I usually do it around noon. That’s what sometimes makes me feel isolated.

When I go to retreats or other all-day events, the schedule is often very full, with meetings leading right up to lunch and beginning again shortly after lunch. So my choices are (a) to forgo my nap…which really isn’t a choice, because if I do skip the nap, I suffer the consequences the next day, or (b) skip lunch in order to take my nap. Obviously, my choice is (b).

But that means that I miss table fellowship. It’s more than just sitting around the table, eating. It’s the visiting, the sharing, the continued development of community.

The people that I attend these events with are always very nice and very welcoming…but I often feel a little bit on the outside because I’ve missed that time of fellowship. (And when I fill out surveys afterwards, I usually mention that concern.)

There have been some events that I’ve attended where the schedule is wonderful! There is time set apart after lunch for everybody to spend some quiet time however they choose…napping, meditating, walking… At those events, I feel fully a part of the community, and I am very appreciative of the sensitivity of the schedulers.

I’m not casting blame on anyone. We’ve traditionally filled our schedules full, trying to get the “most bang for the bucks” when we pull a group of people together for these types of events. Sometimes, when I’ve mentioned my need for some time for a nap, the schedule has been arranged to allow that–not just for me, but for others who might find it useful as well.

I’m wondering if maybe it’s time that we consider that a period of intentional quiet time should be an important part of a scheduled event. I may use it for a nap (and so might others)…some might use it as an opportunity for meditating, walking, processing the events/information of the morning…

Maybe the Spanish custom of a siesta after lunch is something we should consider more seriously!

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This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Music…sacred time

This last weekend was busy. There was a funeral visition, a baby shower, watching the news coverage of the “March for Our Lives”…and I attended three concerts in three days. Not something I normally do, but  the music just happened to fall that way.

They were three different concerts. The first was an organ concert on a new organ. The second was a symphony concert with Yo-Yo Ma as the guest soloist. And the third was a choral concert of film music.

All three were enjoyable. All three had moments that touched me.

But there was one moment that reminded me that music can create sacred space and sacred time…and brought me to tears.

One of the selections in the symphony concert was by Leonard Bernstein, whose music I enjoy. However, this was music of his that I had not heard before–“Three Meditations” from Mass, arranged for cello and orchestra. The conductor gave us some background, both of Mass and of these specific pieces–that are the reflective times as the mass celebrant is struggling with a faith crisis…when all he has known / believed is being shaken.

They’re powerful pieces–and Yo-Yo Ma presented them with soul and passion.

But…and this is the sacred experience…as the last one quietly ended, leaving questions hanging in the air, there was a moment, a breath, and then the ‘cello began the “Prelude” from Bach’s unaccompanied Cello Suite #1 in G Minor .

There was a hush in the hall…a sacred hush.

When the piece ended, I think everyone recognized that we had experienced something special…a sacred time. And it somehow seemed sacrilegous to break the silence with applause…although we eventually did.

We shared in moments of questioning…of, perhaps, our own faith crises. We had seen young people asking–no, demanding–help in creating safer places. Much of what we have known in the past doesn’t seem to hold true any more, and there seem to be questions…more questions…and yet more questions, perhaps without answers.

Yet in that sacred time in Helzburg Hall in Kansas City, Yo-Yo Ma and Bach acknowledged those questions–and responded with a prayer…the music of hope.

“Do you want to be healed?”

A number of years ago, I wrote a poem based on the incident in John 5:1-15–when Jesus encountered an invalid at the Pool of Bethsaida who had been waiting for thirty-eight years for someone to help him into the pool when the water was first stirred up (according to tradition, by an angel) so that he could be healed. I’ve found it interesting that Jesus’ first question to him was “Do you want to be healed?”

I thought of that this week, as I began reading a book that I’m going to be working through with my spiritual advisor – Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merritt. As I was spending some intentional quiet time after reading the first chapter, I started to do some journaling, a spiritual practice that has been effective for me.

To my surprise, the first thought that came to mind was the title of this post: “Do you want to be healed?”

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you know that I went through a very difficult dark night of the soul a few years ago…a dark night that lasted about three years. By the grace of God, I was able to come through it–and I have felt very much that significant healing took place.

But as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that healing is not a one-time event or activity; it’s a journey.

My journey of healing actually began about forty years ago, when–due to some circumstances that had taken me to the end of my rope–I had several sessions of counseling that helped me uncover some areas of pain I had not even been aware of. My counselor helped me bring them to the light so that they could be healed.

So when I was trying to find a way through the dark night, the idea of counseling was not something I balked at. Instead, I recognized that–again–there were areas of woundedness that needed healing…that I could not heal on my own. My counselor at that time was a great help.

And so, as the time has gone on, I had thought that the wounds in my life had all been healed.

But then I borrowed this book from the library and–as I read through it–felt that it was one I needed to spend more time with. So I bought it…and now am beginning working through it.

So…do I want to be healed?

Sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes it feels easier to hang on to the hurts we’ve experienced; they’re comfortable, in an odd sort of way. And healing may require confrontation–with myself and with the past. It may cause me to discover things about my attitude that I don’t really want to know.

But life without healing isn’t really life.

So yes, I do want to be healed. It’s not necessarily an easy journey or process…it takes courage and trust. But yes, I do want to be healed–to be made whole…to live in the spirit of shalom.

A prayer for peace

How long, O God? How long before we realize that each life is of worth? that the world we inhabit is incredibly diverse and beautiful? that we are not just consumers but are called to be stewards?

Forgive us, God.

We have looked for ways to divide into groups that call others “less than.” We have said that some lives are not as important as others. We have ignored the beautiful diversity you have created in humankind.

Forgive us, God.

We have trashed and misused your creation. We have exploited the earth’s resources, and we have hunted some species to extinction.

Forgive us, God.

We have decided that because we are humans, we can do anything we want–and we have ignored your call to be stewards of all you have given us. We have instead consumed to excess, leaving some with nothing while others have far more than they need.

Forgive us, God.

Remind us that we are dependent on each other–that what hurts one will ultimately harm all. Help us realize that we must be stewards or we will none of us survive.

We–all of us…humans, animals, our world, our planet…all of us yearn for the time when all the world will live in peace. Give us the courage to work to make it so.

Amen.

A prayer for a new year

Creator…

We stand at the threshold of a new year. The days stretch before us…clean, bright, waiting for whatever we will write on them. That is both an exhilerating and a frightening prospect; will we write things that will support others…bring us together? or will they be filled with division and hate?

There are so many possibilities!

Grant us the willingness to walk in the path you have called us to…a path of healing, of hope, of wholeness. Give us strength to persevere when things and people around us would conspire to call us to take the easy way.

Help us to look at those around us with empathy…to be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt…to listen with open ears rather than our preconceived notions. May we see you in the faces of “the other.”

Most of all, as we move into the future, give us the courage to truly mean this prayer…to live it, not just say words that disappear into the air.

It will not always be easy. But you promise to walk with us–and we claim that promise as we move into this new year.

We pray this in the name of the One who showed us how to live. Amen.

Pray for your enemies

Jesus is reported to have said a lot of things that are difficult to understand. One of them is this…to pray for your enemies and those who “despitefully” use you. When I read that when I was younger, I thought, “Yeah….right!” It didn’t make a lot of sense.

Then several years ago I got caught in a downsizing situation that was very difficult. There were some individuals involved in those decisions that I blamed…that I didn’t like. Actually, it was more than that–I hated them.

But this scripture kept coming to mind. Finally I gave in and told God I would pray for them. I’m sure that sometimes God cringed at my prayers, because sometimes they went something like “Okay, God…you told me to pray for them. So here I am. I don’t know what they need…and I don’t really care. But you take care of them!”

Not very Christ-like…but very real responses to the way I was feeling.

Fortunately I was able to find another job in that institution and to stay long enough for there to be healing and reconciliation.

But these last few weeks, I’ve found myself responding to yet another situation that has involved a lot of my friends losing their jobs…and being hurt and angry. I don’t blame them. That’s a normal–and sometimes healthy–response to what’s happened to them through no fault of their own…as long as they don’t get stuck in that anger.

What I’ve found happening in my own life, though, has been surprising and unexpected.

The situation was beginning to bring back some feelings and emotions from a few years ago. I knew I didn’t want to go back there, but I was really finding myself struggle. And yet…despite my cynicism and anger, I also found myself praying. That in itself wasn’t surprising–but what did surprise me was who I found myself praying for.

The prayers weren’t just for my friends who lost jobs and my friends who were still there but grieving losses, but I also found myself praying for those who had made some of the decisions that brought us to this point…some of whom I had had anger with previously. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure why I was praying for them sometimes, but I kept feeling the need to do so.

And it’s out of those experiences that I’m finding myself getting through this. It doesn’t negate what I believe is a need for significant accountability, but it’s also allowed me to respond more from a position of grace and empathy.

I like the way this scripture is expressed in The Message:

 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.”

We pray for our enemies not just because they need the prayers (they do)–but because of how it changes us as well.