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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Prayer for the Openers of Eyes

by Angier Brock

A few weeks ago, toward the end of migration season, I went on a bird walk at New Quarter Park, about ten miles from my house as the crow flies. The usual cast of local feathered characters appeared—American crow, turkey vulture, chipping sparrow, seagull, even a bald eagle—along with a wonderful assortment of transient birds—Northern parula, American redstart, black-throated blue warbler. Who knew they were around? I did not. However, because someone took the time to show them to me and to point out their chief identifying characteristics, I continued to see them over the next week or so. After my Centering Prayer group met the following Monday morning, a redstart showed up in a tree outside the church parlor window. In the church yard and again at the corner a half a block from my house, parulas were feasting in hackberry trees. In a tree alongside a meadow path where I walk my dog, two female black-throated blue warblers became visible. This is the ninth autumn I have lived in Yorktown. Those birds have passed through here each of those nine years. Until this fall, I had failed to see them.  

I am grateful for bird-walking companions who help open my eyes. I am also grateful for parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, pastors, friends, colleagues, and even the occasional stranger for doing the same. By their example and by their instruction, they have showed me things about myself and the world I inhabit that I would otherwise not have seen or known how to name. They have opened my eyes by sharing knowledge and experience, offering insights, challenging my assumptions, touching my heart with their compassion, and shoring up my spirit with their love. Even when I have not known them personally, they have done this through books they have written, sermons they have preached, news they have broadcast, art they have made. Sometimes an offhand comment is what made a difference. 

Back in the eighties, walking from a graduate classroom to chapel, I was engaged with several classmates in a conversation about inclusive language. I remember saying something along the lines of how it didn’t bother me to hear God always referred to by masculine pronouns because I knew that God wasn’t only male. “Well, it bothers me,” one of my male professors said. He said it quietly, more to himself than to the rest of us. I’m not sure anyone else even heard. But as clearly as though he had pointed out an eastern phoebe on a woodland edge, I suddenly saw something I had never seen before about the way I use language: often habitually, and sometimes unthinkingly. I have tried ever since to be more aware—and inclusive—in my own speaking of God.  

We have just celebrated the Feast of All Saints. High on my personal list of saints would be those who have opened my eyes. I thank God for them and for all the many ways in which they have helped me see.

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.