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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Prayer for the Headlines

by Angier Brock

Aware of the looming deadline for this blog, for several days I have toyed with possible topics. I considered the discovery, announced last week, of “liquid water” on Mars—a humorous phrase in some ways, yet one that makes clear the startling nature of the discovery: not all water on the Red Planet is frozen solid. But Mars is so far away. Though exciting, the astronomical news of its liquid water paled in the wake of the human tragedy at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College. I wonder about us Americans and our guns. Maybe you do, too. Among my many questions is this: Why, oh why, did the House appropriations committee, just this past June, renew a 20-year ban on CDC research into the causes of gun violence in this country? Our nation’s relationship to guns and our history of gun violence are complex and divisive. Hundreds of thousands of words from far greater minds than mine have wrestled with the subject, making it among the last topics I would want to tackle. 

I also considered writing about Sunday’s Blessing of the Animals held in many churches in early October near the feast day of St. Francis. Where I was, mostly dogs got blessed, but at least one brave cat and an even braver chicken joined the throng and submitted to having prayers said over them. Meanwhile, as our congregation engaged in that joyful tradition, record rainfalls and high tides from an unnamed coastal storm had led to record-breaking flooding and, in South Carolina, even to deaths. In parts of North Carolina and throughout my own region of Tidewater Virginia, non-recording breaking flooding also wreaked havoc with roads and property. As much fun as the Sunday blessing was, and as sweet as the children’s voices were as they sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” that also didn’t seem like the right topic in view of the catastrophic rising waters and all the questions such floods raise: How long and just how far will the seas rise? Where and how should we build? What can we do to protect human life and property in those places where we have already built? Should we re-build in those places known to be vulnerable? Again, those are questions I feel ill-prepared to take on.

All I really know to say right now is the obvious: Headlines, whether international, national, state, or local bring into our day not only news of the wise and wonderful but also stories of the deadly and catastrophic. Some days the latter eclipse the former. For me, today is one of those days.

There remains one further question: How will I respond to the news the headlines convey?
On the large scale, I have no power to change what has happened or what will happen. On a smaller scale, however, there are things I can do. I can contribute to relief organizations and to groups that work for regulations that seem sound to me. I can contact those elected officials whose job it is to represent me in both chambers of Congress. And I can pray for the people whose individual and specific human lives underlie the sweeping, impersonal headlines. I can pray for the angry and the dispossessed, for the mentally and physically ill, for the injured and the traumatized, for the grieving and the displaced. And for the rescuers and medical teams and counselors and others who try to help pick up the pieces. And for the legislators charged with doing the right thing for their people—we the people—whatever that right thing might be.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

No Worry in the World

by Tom Pappas

Matthew 6:25-34 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?

I tend to be a worrier. It doesn’t take much for me to fabricate a scenario where the most unlikely eventuality will probably happen.

My friend Dwayne jokes, “Worry must work, because 90% of the stuff I worry about never happens.” I have adapted his joke to the form, “Worry works, because I was worried about X and X didn’t happen.”

I tried this on our nephew last month during a delightful visit with him and his family in Seattle. We had completed a fabulous Alaskan cruise and added a sight seeing day. Our conversation was about my occasional ability to book inappropriate plane reservations.

For this cruise I noted that it departed at 4:00pm and we could fly in on the same day and be in Seattle at 9:56am. Perfect, I thought. Then I realized that we would depart at 6:54 from LNK, arrive at DEN at 7:25, change planes and depart DEN for SEA at 8:01. You can’t imagine how much I agonized about those 36 minutes in DEN. 36 minutes! The number of dire and expensive consequences I imagined by missing the connection is astronomical.

Also astronomical is the number of people who said, “We always get to the port city the day before the cruise.”

But we made it. We got to DEN early and left a bit late. And as I related the saga and then attempted to try my (Dwayne’s) line on Chad, I said, “Worrying must work  .   .   .” but before I could complete the joke, our nephew wisely whipper-snapped, “That’s your choice.”


Are you a worrier too? Join me in learning to believe I can choose otherwise.

I will be working on listening to Jesus, through Matthew, via Chad. Thank you, young man.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Yet Another Prayer for Meadowlarks

by Angier Brock

Last summer I took on the project of documenting Eastern Meadowlark activity in my local national park. I went to the meadow nearly every day; as a novice birder, I needed lots of practice watching the birds move through their various stages of breeding. By all accounts, they had a pretty successful season—and one I was thrilled to see unfold. By the time the meadow was mowed on September 2, the original five or six birds nesting at two separate ends of the meadow had a combined flock of about two dozen. I continued to monitor them, though more casually and less frequently, through the fall and winter months to see whether they would migrate or remain in the area. They stay, all winter, though sometimes in other nearby fields. 

In April of this year, I again began observing the birds in earnest. Believing that I had a better sense of what to look for, I went only twice a week. At first, the Meadowlark activities met my expectations: they sang and chittered, gathered grasses to build nests, carried grasshoppers to feed nestlings, and later encouraged fledglings to catch bugs on their own. Gradually, however, I realized I was seeing fewer Meadowlarks than last year. Suddenly, in the last week of August and again the first two mornings of September, I saw none. Not a single one.

Something was different this season from last. People who know more than I do about birds are trying to help me figure it out, including a wonderful park service intern who is crunching some numbers to determine where the differences lie. We had two particularly heavy rainfalls about ten days apart in June—each time, almost two inches in less than an hour. Because Meadowlarks nest in covered depressions in the ground, could rain have flooded and damaged the nests at a critical time? But the birds were here in July and most of August. Why have they disappeared now, when they were still around this time a year ago? Could they be nearby, just in a slightly different place, one where I haven’t yet learned to look? Suddenly I feel like a novice birder again.

Even as I ponder questions about the Meadowlarks, I realize I am also thinking about Spirit, for I sense some parallels. Sometimes I catch glimpses of the Spirit, as bright and quick as any bird. I begin to recognize its song and think I have finally learned how it operates, say, in my prayer life, or in my sense of call, or in my openness to patience and forgiveness and healing. Then something shifts. What I expect to see is suddenly silent, invisible. The pattern has changed. I am back to being a novice as I watch and wait again.