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Thursday, October 27, 2011

What About Bob by Tom Pappas

My friend from church, Bob, had his name in the obituaries this morning. Part of the newspaper information made me wonder if there was another person with his not very common name.  The age was right. Seatbelt worn, no alcohol involved - seemed right. But he lives in Lincoln, not the nearby village mentioned in the article. Maybe he moved.  Services at the cemetery, not the church; I wondered about that. The church secretary indicated that it wasn’t “our Bob”.

There is a bit of guilt in being happy for my friend knowing that some other family of his namesake has lost a son, father, brother.  I am relieved, nonetheless. 

I am taken back twelve years when my marriage of 30 years was abruptly ended by an entirely unexpected seizure in the night. My world changed forever in an instant. In the ensuing days, I became acutely aware of one of life’s qualities. God gives us this wonderful, fragile gift and we don’t really own it.

In pondering that reality, I found it appropriate to make a promise to myself to eradicate a certain phrase from my experience. Too many times I would finish an experience or a conversation and wonder to myself, “Why didn’t I  .   .  .?”  It seems as if I were being unnecessarily cautious with what I said and did as well as giving too much weight to my imagined opinions of others.

I don’t for a minute believe God would cause Bob to die so I would get back in touch with this personal pledge. (I have been generally happy with my ability to keep it!) But I do think it’s fair and the right way to honor the life of another to use a sad event to live truly for God.

“Our Bob’s” Facebook page didn’t mention his name being listed in the obits until I wrote on his wall. I wonder how his life or view of life will change because of it?  What moves you to change your perspective?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Prayer After Liberating a Tree by Angier Brock

The tree, a common hackberry, stands across the street from my house on a small but steep embankment. Even the one relatively flat approach to it presented challenges: the tangled ground cover was a tripping hazard and it hid the entrance to a groundhog burrow, itself an ankle-twisting hazard. Moreover, the ivy vines climbing the trunk had grown way too large for pruning shears. To cut through them required the use of a pruning saw. What all this meant for my aging and sometimes arthritic joints was that the job was strenuous work. But it was also straightforward work. The point was to rescue the tree from the ivy that threatened to strangle it, and rescue it I did, in about thirty minutes.

I have to admit that I enjoyed thinking of myself as a liberator, even of a tree, even if briefly. And no wonder. Our planet earth is in dire need of being freed from famine, over-population, pollution, poverty, and a host of other things so numerous it is hard to list them all, let alone know where to begin tackling them in order to make a difference. So too in my own life there is much from which I could use a little liberation. You know the kinds of all-too human afflictions I mean. Greed, prejudice, self-righteousness, self-absorption, depression, loneliness, fear, and rage are but a few. What if a good saw and thirty minutes of vigorous work would free us and our world from the “vines” that threaten to strangle us physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually?

Alas, it is not that simple. Or perhaps it is. My experience with the hackberry tree reminds me that while I cannot do everything—I cannot rescue all of the trees in the world, or even in my own neighborhood—I can do something. It also reminds me that while pruning shears and handsaws are not appropriate for every task, there are nevertheless tools I can pick up and use day after day. Reflection is one, time spent in intentional silence. Another is service. A third is reading: whether it be poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, sacred or secular, the point is to spend time with words that foster in me a more discerning heart, a greater generosity, and, above all, the courage to try again.

What about you? What tools of liberation are at your disposal? When and how do you use them?

The ivy around that hackberry tree will probably grow back. Sooner or later it will need pruning again, though if I am vigilant, the task next time may not be nearly so onerous. In the meantime, other vines will threaten other trees, and weeds will creep into the garden. My prayer is not so much to take care of any of them once and for all. It is rather to be able to keep close at hand the tools that can help me be an instrument of liberation. And to remember to use those tools over and over and over. . . .   

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Borders of the Seasons by Terry & Tracy Moore

I wonder what life would be life if we didn't try so hard to live within rigid borders.  As I sit at our dining room table and watch the color-filled, cascading leaves raining down, I become aware of how the change of seasons flow one into another.  It’s not like there is a line of demarcation between them, one day it’s spring than the next summer, then one day it’s summer and the next fall.  And then one day its fall and the next winter and then the seamless cycle begins again as winter flows into spring.  We as humans seem to perceive borders between things as necessary and real.  We create or try to anyway, borders around us to keep us safe and protected, when what they actually often do is only keep us separate one from another and from the rest of God’s glorious and magnificent Creation.  We are created to be relational with our Creator, with each other and with all manner of created things. 

It feels funny to me, now, to think of how we even now ‘border’ things within manmade time frames, instead of within the flowing cycles of the moon, as our ancestors did.  Like the seasons listed above, someone decided that there are 4 specific dates on the calendar when one season changes into another, like the recent September 21st, which here in Michigan is often celebrated by organizations with an “end of summer” festival.  There is a much older way to honor this change – they are called the spring and fall equinox and the summer and winter solstices and they do not fall on the same calendar date each year, rather they are based on the movement of the moon through her cycles.

I do understand why we feel the need to create borders, whether borders of time, that allow our days to have some structure, or borders between locations, like countries, so that we feel our place and space belong to us alone.  Seems to me that our ideal places, like the Garden of Eden and Heaven, are places without any borders. 

One of our favorite poems is called Footprints and it depicts a scene along the seashore where there are footprints left in the sand.  Sometimes there are two sets and sometimes there is only one and the author asks God why and God replies that when we see only one, it is because God is carrying us.  As I picture this scene now, I am aware of the ever changing line between the seashore and the water.  This border changes on a regular basis as the tide ebbs and flows and so, the footprints are impermanent, being washed away each time the tide comes in.  If we are to remember that God is always with us, we need to have faith that even though we may not see any footprints at all, our Creator is with us, sometimes walking alongside us, sometimes carrying us, always within us, where there are no borders created by our physical form to keep us separate.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spiritual Amnesia by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

This morning I came down with a case of spiritual amnesia.  Spiritual amnesia is that illness where you forget the things that have connected you with God.  (Don’t try to claim it on an insurance form, because I just made it up.)

I raced into the office this morning, running late.  There was the stop at school to bring the forgotten gym shoes, then the bank, then the dry cleaners. I had lots on my plate, so there would not be time for my usual practice of beginning my day with journaling, scripture, and prayer.  This is spiritual amnesia.

I forgot that gratitude matters.  I forgot that, even on a busy day, prayer helps.  I forgot that especially on a busy day, prayer helps.  I forgot that writing in a current journal or reflecting on an old one often brings helpful perspective for the day.  I forgot that bringing my life to God is what sustains me over the long haul.  I had spiritual amnesia. 

The great thing about spiritual amnesia is that God never forgets.  So when I did sit down to pray, the gifts of that spiritual practice were there once again.

Now if I could only remember where I left my car keys….

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In Praise of Apples by Andi Johnson

"What a healthy out-of-door appetite it takes to relish the apple of life, the apple of the world, then!"  ~ Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples

[Warning: This blog may be hazardous to your diet.]

Here in the northeast, it’s apple pickin’ time.  It probably is where you live, too.  And, most of us know a place to pick the “best” apples.  I know several.  It’s a true community and family event at these places.  You get your basket, go into the rows of trees, and pick those ripe, juicy apples from the trees.  You strike up a conversation with the person at the next tree over, making a connection with that person.  (If you’re lucky, these places also sell the cider, and perhaps cider donuts.  If you haven’t had a fresh, warm cider donut, you’ll have to find one.) 

Eating one of apples on your way home, and thinking about whether you have the ingredients to make a crust, and eat the pie. (Don’t forget the butter…and the vanilla ice cream or sharp cheddar), your mind wanders through your years: watching your mom or grandmother make that perfect apple pie.  The making of the crust: rolling it out, and placing it in the dish.  Peeling & cutting the apples.  Adding the spices, a little sugar, and placing it all into the bottom crust.  Carefully rolling out the top crust, and crimping the edges.  You bake it in the oven, and making the house smell scrumptious. 

Of course, Pillsbury makes it easier, and we all must have apple corer-slicer-peelers for just such occasions.  I could even pick up the local apples at the grocery store. 

But, for a change, I think I’ll make my pie the way my mom and grandma did: to honor the past, to think about the connections of the generations before me.  Stopping for the food rituals, going through the old recipes, often help me think of those who have gone before me. 

Time to go apple pickin’.

How are you called to make connections with your ancestors?

P.S. Don’t forget to put on the coffee or tea, and invite a friend over to share in your creation.  And, it’s okay to have apple pie for breakfast.