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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cinderella: Seeing the World in a Different Light

by Beverly Bernard

This past weekend, we were in Connecticut attending my granddaughter, Megan’s, play.  She is in the 6th grade and the kids put on “Cinderella”.  They did a fabulous job, really excellent and wonderfully enjoyable from the acting and the songs, to the sets and the costumes; terrific job.  But I also realized something else:  in the Cinderella story, Cinderella, though poor and treated badly by her step mother and sisters, always is kind and obedient toward them.  She deflects their injustices toward her with acceptance.  She is Christ-like in her attitude toward them, turning the other cheek.  She is not resentful toward them, nor vengeful.  She continues to express hope in the goodness that will come and her only reaction to more drudgery and work is a sigh, not an unkind word.  Because she sees the world in this different light, she can sing joyfully from her poor condition, and shine like a princess when it is time for the ball.  It is no surprise that the Prince sees something special in this girl because she brings a light into the room with her goodness. 

I wonder sometimes at the cynicism of the worldly, those who are sophisticated and far from naïve. They think that those who see the world in “rose-colored glasses” are in for trouble.  But Christ called us to be as little children, to see the world with fresh eyes.  Two weeks ago, when I had the cataract in my left eye removed, I could not believe how beautiful the world looked, how vivid and full of color and detail.  I could suddenly see the freckles on a friend’s face, the individual needles on the pine trees in our back yard, and the beautiful purples and blues that folks were wearing.  I also spent the first week after surgery scouring my house, seeing dirt and tiny tot fingerprints that I hadn’t noticed before now.  But I was happy to do it.  While cleaning I thought of my toddler grandchildren, the ones who still need to hold onto the wall as they descend the stairs.  They bring me joy and it is because of them I live where I do. 

Thinking about this new view of the world, I remembered holding my first grandchild when she was about 8 months old, taking her into her backyard and walking from tree to bush to flower, to show her up close all the glory that was out there.  I remember her little hands reaching out to touch the bark of a tree for the first time.  The joy it gave me, to be privileged to be her Nana, on this beautiful mid-summer day, holding her and seeing the world through her eyes.

Reflection:  What would Cinderella suggest to you to see in a different light?  What is the “cataract” in your own eye?

Beverly Bernard is a retiree, living in Swanzey, NH.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Pledge to Make it Stop

by Tom Pappas

In my email last Tuesday was a list of eight books that I had been assigned to “skim” before our next One Book One Lincoln selection committee meeting on March 27. Luckily for me, I had read one of them last winter so I have only seven serious books to read in two weeks. I don’t skim.  On a related matter, one of my favorite movies was on last night so we watched The Shawshank Redemption.  

It bothers me that as a long-time Christian I am so hooked on revenge themes. Curiously, The Count of Monte Cristo is referenced in Shawshank Redemption and it’s a novel that I’ve read multiple times, savoring Edmond Dantès’ delicious retaliation against those who betrayed him.  I try to believe that God has given me a sense of justice and it’s not the suffering of the perpetrators but the vindication of the offended that moves me.

So far, I’ve read 100 pages of the story Emmanuel Jal tells about being one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. Horrible things are happening in our world. Human beings can be despicable to other human beings. Atrocities, which I choose to not relate, occurred in our very recent past.

So far, I’ve read 100 pages of the story Slavomir Rawicz tells about being a Polish prisoner of the Soviets and being sentenced to 25 years hard labor in Siberia – to which he was force-marched the last 800 miles in deep snow. He also was treated wickedly by other people as recently as the mid-20th century.

Andy Dufresne is abused by the warden, the guards, and other prisoners in Shawshank Redemption. Fiction, true, but a cool movie that in most every scene the viewer is invited to ask, “How can someone do that to another person?”

The morning paper carried a story today about the parents of Ty Smalley from Perkins, Oklahoma. The Smalleys are telling the story of their 11-year-old son, a victim of school bullying, who took his life. Wow, I find it scary that children can be so cruel as to drive their classmate to suicide.  Again, how can someone do that to another person? Furthermore, how do children get a notion to do it at such a tender age?

I’m a bit overwhelmed by the profound examples of our human condition and some people’s willingness to race to the bottom when it comes to inappropriate behavior. I’m thankful that I have been spared such experiences in my lifetime. I don’t bully and except for the bowling alley incident in 7th grade haven’t been on the receiving end.

I despise it.  I don’t understand it.  I’m rarely there when cruelty happens, but if ever I am, I pledge to somehow make it stop.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Walking the Labyrinth in Spring

by Cynthia Ries

Spring arrived in Cleveland yesterday. The weather was gloriously warm and it propelled me to tend to my garden. Five years ago I transformed my concrete-covered backyard into a contemplative garden complete with my very own labyrinth. It’s a source of joy for me throughout each season.

My garden was in pretty bad shape though. The unrelenting winds off of Lake Erie had toppled shrubberies and the dogs dug holes all over. Shriveled leaves cluttered corners. Plants left to grow brown were broken off and matted down. And my lovely five circuit labyrinth needed a lot of attention. So I pulled out some of the weeds, raked the limestone to make the path more even, and put stones back in place. And then I walked.

I thought back to the June day when it was installed and how I fussed over it that first year to make sure the path was raked and clear, that nothing obscured my walk. Now I laugh because my lovely little backyard labyrinth is a metaphor and teacher for my own path in life.

This time I left some of the weeds and plants that were growing in the path, and some of the stones I left in a different place. And I added some sea glass pieces given to me by my California friend into the turns. I realize now that I love what my labyrinth has grown into. It has grown with me over these five years. It’s not the same and I am not the same.

It’s fitting for me to have this backyard labyrinth, because the labyrinth is what gave me the conviction to pick up and leave a 25 year career in NYC to move back to Cleveland and reclaim my Uncle’s home as mine. It’s not where I grew up, and yet  it is now very much my home. And my garden and labyrinth is what made it feel like home and helped me grow roots in a new city. It grounded me to a new sense of place and discovery.

If you are new to walking a labyrinth, the basic instruction is: “releasing on the way in, receiving in the center and returning when you follow the return path back out of the labyrinth. Symbolically, and sometimes actually, you are taking back out into the world that which you have received.” My decades in NYC were transformative, but it was time for me to return back home and to grow in different ways.  Walking helped me process what I knew to be true in my brain to then resonate deeply in my heart.

I am blessed to be part of a wonderful spiritual community called Veriditas, whose mission is to introduce people to the labyrinth. We organize pilgrimages to Chartres, France, to the cathedral womb of one of the world’s most famous labyrinths. It’s a powerful experience to be there and walk its inlaid stone labyrinth dating back to 1201. Chartres is where I connected all my life stirrings and came to understand that I could make a big life change.

One night on a pilgrimage, our group had the cathedral all to ourselves. We prayed silently in the ancient crypt below the cathedral, then wrote what it was that we were releasing on our walk onto a slip of paper. I walked down the corridor and placed my paper in a burning bowl. Then, as I went up the stairs into the cathedral I saw the candlelit circle of the labyrinth. It was that night and at that walk that I found the courage to release my present life and walk into the future on a new path.

Hildegard von Bingen coined the word Veriditas, loosely translated as “the greening power of God’s healing.” Her work and inspiring words are what the labyrinth is all about. It’s what I have come to learn from trusting my own path, and trusting the walk that I have been called to walk, whatever condition it is in.
Weeds and all.
Trust yourself, trust your own will;
and trust the devotion in your own soul.
~Hildegard von Bingen

[Cynthia Ries is Executive Director of Greater Cleveland Community Shares and teaches nonprofit management at NYU and the New School University. She is a member of Marble Collegiate Church and serves on the Board of Directors of Veriditas. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio.]

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prayer in the Words of St. Patrick

By Angier Brock

In Christ of the Celts, Philip Newell recounts a story from the Irish oral tradition in which St. Patrick is summoned on the Last Day into the presence of God. Patrick responds by saying he will not appear unless all of his people are allowed to accompany him. Three times this happens, the same summons and the same response, until God agrees that all of St. Patrick’s people may join him. But God also requires that Patrick do one thing.  

Because the story stops short of revealing what that one thing is, I am free to imagine my own way in. And so I wonder: If I were summoned into God’s holy presence—and could take “all my people” with me if I agreed to the one thing God asked—who would “all my people” be, and what is the one thing God would require of me?   

These are provocative questions. The first asks me to ponder how expansive (or limited) my sense of “my people” is. Although I would like to believe I would err on the side of inclusion, there are definitely people I would be tempted to exclude. I suspect that whom I would “allow” into heaven reveals a lot about how open I am to the possibility of forgiveness and grace.

The other question is also difficult. Do I imagine God would ask of me one clear, grand, and dramatic gesture—for example, to sell everything I own and give all to the poor, or to take a vow of silence and never speak a word to anyone again? Or would God’s demand be more subtle—something along the lines of asking that I become more fully the me that is created in God’s image, the me that God knit together in my mother’s womb. Wow. What would that look like? And would it be any less difficult to do?

Of the many traditions associated with St. Patrick, one is his authorship of a prayer, often called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” or the “Lorica of St. Patrick,” essentially a paean to the Trinity with an emphasis on the Christ. Originally written in Gaelic, its wording varies somewhat in different hymnals and recordings, with some versions being a bit more contemporary (and less flowery) that what follows. Here, however, are two verses of a commonly used 1889 version penned by a woman named Cecil F. Alexander:
I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heavens,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea, around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay, God’s ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach, God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech, God’s heavenly host to be my guard. 

What if what God requested of Patrick was simply that he live into this prayer? What if God wants that for you and me as well?  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Hope is the Memory of the Future

by Terry & Tracy Moore

Terry and I are preparing to leave today for Grand Prairie Alberta, Canada.  Terry has a job opportunity there and we are going to meet the people he has been in contact with by phone and by email and to see the town and the countryside.

We feel excited about this Grand Adventure, however it may turn out.  During the last month we have spent a lot of time talking and praying and reflecting on what this possible move could mean for us. We are aware, amidst the excitement, that there is also sadness for leaving family and friends and this area of the country where we have both lived all our lives. 

It feels like our Lenten discipline this year is one of letting go and also opening to new possibilities. A friend shared the opening quote with me earlier this week as we were talking about this possible/probable move and I have been sitting with it in silence, seeking what it means for me, for us.  Then I came across the following quote and it offered an expanded view of the opening line – much to ponder and pray about.

True hope is rooted in a Reality beyond ego and illusion.Hope that rises in our hearts is like a buoyant bubble of champagne; for some, it brings tears of relief, while others, may sense a new way to the future that will bring healing to us-personally, communally, nationally, globally-to all of Creation.Hope recognizes that many challenges await us on the path, obstacles and possible pitfalls that may delay outcome.In hope we are made new; for it is a sure and steadfast anchor of our soul that enters "the inner shrine behind the curtain," where the Divine Guest abides.So, in the Silence, let us embrace Love and dare to hope: the promise for all of Creation.                                                                                                    ~ Nan Merrill

May your lives be filled with Hope, as we journey through Lent and the end of winter into Spring, when Easter comes again.