Saturday, January 30, 2016

No Regrets

From The Guardian

God saw everything that s/he had made, and indeed, it was very good. Genesis 1:31

It’s Thursday afternoon. I finished up the communications I needed to make before tomorrow’s Sabbath day, then I looked on Facebook. A friend had shared the link to a video. I watched it. You might want to, as well.

What is your biggest regret in life? That’s the starting place for the video. I regret that I didn’t get out of my marriage sooner. I feel the weight of those lost years sometimes. Because of two fantastic young adults (actually three, now that Jay married last fall), I never regret having tried, only having clung to what became a toxic relationship. But that’s not my biggest regret.

What’s your biggest regret? Not the kind like “I wish I’d tried ballroom dancing” that would have been nice, but doesn’t shift your world view. I mean the one that changes you so that you never look at life the same way.

I regret that it took me so long to start growing into “me.” I regret… well… sometimes, people think I’m a little wacky – I’m more daring than a lot of people. A big part of my reason is that I’m afraid of how I’ll feel someday if I look back and realize I missed my chance. Because I have missed some chances. I missed getting to really know some people who came into my life briefly, whether because I was too concerned about what other people would think, or because I was busy and didn’t take the time.

I used to put myself in a box, trying to behave in ways people wouldn’t find fault with. I thought that’s how I was supposed to be. But as we all learn, there’s always someone who can criticize… anything.

Slowly – too slowly for my satisfaction – I gave up that life and began embraced the me I believe God creates me to be (for God is still creating, you know.) I skip down the sidewalk, laugh gustily, and belt out those show tunes when Kay sits down to the piano even ‘tho I may be hoarse later. And, although the “Pastor” etched across my forehead leads me to some caution these days, I generally take the risk of telling someone I care. If not, I may regret it forever.

What is God inviting you into, today? Who did you meet this month that you’d like to get to know better?

We have only one life. Really, all we have is today. Tomorrow and yesterday are concepts. We can’t touch them or live them. “Today” is it, for any of us.

Like other pastors I regularly tell people that I’ve never heard anyone say, “I wish I spent more time at the office.” Most regrets are about relationships – not being nurtured, or never tried.

I read "Warning" (“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple…”) when I was in my 20s. It struck a chord in me as I suppose it did so many others. It nudged me further on the path of self-discovery. If you haven’t read it, do! It’s not just for women, although we may need to hear it more because of the voices of our youth still playing in our minds.

No one can rewind the calendar – what’s done is done. Still, when we play it safe, we can rack up the regrets. God wants us to celebrate this life we’ve been given, in ways that nourish not only ourselves, but all of God’s beloved creation. Moping sucks the energy out. Dancing, making love, eating and laughing with friends add to it.

What will I regret? It’s a good question for each of us. There are lots of things we can do, many things we could say. Plenty of them, we can skip and never look back. But, some – if we don’t do them – will haunt us forever.

You’re still breathing. That means you still have time. If there’s something you’ve been regretting, today is the day to face it. Face the person. Face the situation. Try.

Watch the video.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Loss... and Presence

I had the beginnings of a blog entry laid out in my mind by Tuesday – a good one. But I don’t make time to write until Saturday, so that idea has long since disappeared.

I woke up this morning wondering, “What topic?” I made tea, ate breakfast. I took down the Christmas tree – all right, it’s late, but it’s artificial, and I put it up late. And as I was working at it, I bumped a bulb, it fell off and broke. And I sat on the floor next to it and cried. I remembered how I’d said to Kay as I placed it on the tree last month that, I’d miss this one if it broke. I cried for all that’s wrong in my life. I cried for the world.

Then I cleaned up the mess and continued on. By the time I got to the point of removing the lights, I had my topic for today.

Grief is something everyone experiences. But I have to clarify. So often we think of grief as being what we go through when someone dies. And it is, yet it’s also something we feel when we lose just about anything – a job… a relationship… the ability to do something we’ve always done… a dream… independence (this’s a big one when friends have to move to assisted living). We can experience grief over many things. I remember Jay’s grief (and horror) when he accidentally hurt a small animal as a young child.

Grief is universal; everyone goes through it at one time or another. Another thing that’s almost as widespread is our sense of loss when we want to let a grieving friend or loved one know how much we care. We don’t know what to say or do; the words we have seem inadequate.

So, often, we do nothing. Or almost nothing. We send a card if it’s a death. We avoid them (or the topic) altogether if it’s a job loss, or a divorce, or … so many other things. Maybe we’re afraid of making them feel bad if we focus on their vulnerability. Maybe we don’t want to expose our own.

Today I thought I’d share Jayneann’s list for helping grieving loved ones – two lists actually, but both of them are short.


What NOT to do…

1. Don’t EVER say (even if you absolutely believe it):
  • God needed another angel
  • She’s in a better place
  • God needed him more than you did
If your grieving friend says it, go ahead and agree, but it can be like a slap in the face to hear it from someone who thinks they’re being compassionate. And,

2. Don’t EVER say, in any variation, “Aren’t you over that, yet?”
Grief takes as long as it takes. Each person is different. And even for one person, each experience of grief is different. Grief is cumulative. She may cry over the great-uncle she barely knew, or even her goldfish, but what she’d doing is revisiting old griefs. Let her cry (let yourself cry ); it’s healing.

Having said that, what are we to do?
  1. Be Present. Show up at their door, even if you’re clueless about what to say. This is soooo important! It'll mean so much to them. Don't skip it. You can stand there in silence and they’ll say, “Thank you.” (Amazing, isn’t it?) So go! Don’t stress; just do it. Even if you stick your foot in your mouth by saying who-knows-what, as long as you don’t say something on the Don’t list, what they’ll remember is that you cared enough to show up.
That’s it. Short list. Just show up.

Oh, sure, there are other things you can do, like bringing food, or babysitting (or otherwise giving of your time). You can listen – that’s a great one – and keep in touch. They’re all fine things. But what we need to understand completely is that what people need, first and foremost, when they’ve suffered a loss is our presence.

If you want someone to know you care, be there.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the [others] also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. ... Jesus began to weep. John 11:33, 35a

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Beads for Prayer

Something exciting happened yesterday that I want to tell you about.

I pray … and meditate. At least I try. Lately my prayer life has been rather up and down. Some evenings, my prayers feel… connected. Some mornings, usually when I go into church sanctuary, I feel prayerful. But a lot of times, not so much. Same with meditation. I focus on my breath, out and in, as I practice being present in the moment, out and in… then I come to and realize I was thinking about anything but being available for God as Spirit.

Still, I keep at it. Do you remember that definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results?

A few years ago, I heard about praying with beads, and thought, "This might be neat; maybe I should make some." But I didn’t. Last year, I found a necklace at a consignment shop. While I’d never wear it as jewelry, I liked the beads. And the idea of prayer beads returned.

All five of the world’s major religions use something small and hard to rub in their fingers as they meditate or pray.
  • Buddhists use a 108-bead mala to recite mantras – 108 is the number of afflictions they believe a person must overcome in life.
  • The Hindu mala also has 108 beads – they use that number believing there are 108 names for Brahma, the creator. 
  • Jewish people don’t use beads, but their prayer shawls (tallith) have fringe on the corners, each with 8 strands having 5 knots (tzitzit). They move between the knots as they pray. With 613 commandments in the Torah (First five books of the Christian bible), plus the Hebrew letters for the word tzitzit adding up to 600, plus the 5 knots and 8 strands, you have 613.
  • The Muslims subha has 99 beads - to represent their 99 names for Allah. (Many subhas only have 33 beads, but they just go ‘round 3 times.
  • And, of course, Catholics use the rosary. In early Christian history, the religious prayed the Psalms every day. Most laity were illiterate, but someone suggested that they could say the Lord’s Prayer 150 times (for the 150 psalms). But if you’re really praying it’s easy to lose track, so someone thought of a strand of beads. Eventually, the practice changed, so that now, Catholics use the 10 small beads to say an Ave Maria, and the larger beads to say the Lord’s Prayer. And, most rosaries now have 5 sets of 10 beads (and they, too, go around 3 times, too).[1]

After the Reformation some leaders steered Protestants away from praying with beads, so we didn’t… for generations. Then, in the 1980s, Protestant prayer beads started showing up, thanks to a group of Episcopals, praying with beads began to be more accepted.

I’d read some of this history when I first heard about the Protestant beads. Still, I'm indebted to Kristen Vincent, for her research and stories.

But, back to my experience yesterday, The beads had been gathering dust on my dresser until I moved them to the sauna. Maybe they'd get used there. (I bought a sauna this fall because I was tired of my perennially cold feet keeping me awake at night, or of having to soak in an overly-chlorinated bath to warm up before bed. I hear taking a sauna is good for you, but I can't say yet. Still, I’m sleeping better.)

My evening sauna time is usually spent in meditation and prayer, but as I said, my efforts haven't felt fruitful lately. Except… last night, I picked up the beads, closed my eyes, and prayed, fully present until the beeper sounded twenty-five minutes later. Wow!

I didn’t follow any special pattern. I just prayed, holding and feeling first one bead then another, moving slowly from one part of my prayer into the next. I had a concern I wanted to include in my time of prayer, but other than that, no plan. 

And it worked! Maybe it’s partly the physical, tactile aspect. I don’t know. 

There are other ways people focus their prayer or meditation. I’ve tried some, but this was a new experience for me, one I’ll be trying again.

[1] Kristen E. Vincent,

Saturday, January 9, 2016

and then... life happened

I couldn't find where this was originally posted, but thank you, Julia.
Okay, last week’s entry was deep; and in all honesty, I’m not sure I even liked it. (I’ll have to go back and check. I may want to edit.) But I was feeling quite busy what with one thing and another, and needed to post something, so… there it is.

Still, being aware of that, I thought we’d go in a different direction today. I saw this diagram and thought, this is so me. Is it you, too?

    When you were 16, what were you going to do with your life?
    Who were you going to be?
    What line of work were you going to do?
    Who was going to be part of your life?
    Where were you going to live?

You get the idea. Next question, how has all of turned out for you?

Me? At 16, I was going to live “somewhere else.” I didn’t know where and didn't think about the house, but I was going to live away from the megalopolis that the East Coast had become; in the country, maybe, definitely with a yard to dig in. I’d have a small, fuel-efficient car. I’d teach junior high band, hopefully get married, to some yet unknown man, and definitely have a house-full of kids – one biological, the rest adopted.

Never dreamed I’d go into pastoral ministry… never thought I’d be divorced… never would I have put up with having only 2 kids… At least I got the car part right.

Life has taken me places and into situations I never planned, as it does for all of us. Some of this has been great. I’ve seen Michelangelo’s Pieta, and let me tell you, it was breathtaking. I finally got my Masters – in Divinity, no less! Met some great people, learned a whole lot (including about how much I don’t know.)

Some of it wasn’t so great. The marriage was so painful that the leave-taking was actually a relief. The absence of all those children left a hole in my heart that's still mending.

My life is so different than I planned, but then, what did I know at 16? And, with all the good and bad that has happened, I’ve also learned to trust – myself, but also God as Spirit. She nudges and prods, often without my knowledge, but increasingly with my participation.[1]

For instance, just now I was distracted by the music I put on. At first, I was impatient about losing my focus, but then I realized it was my favorite song on the album (a very different recording of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.) If I hadn’t “woken up” to the nudge, I’d have missed hearing it until next December (since I’m packing up Christmas music tomorrow.)

Would you take a couple minutes and share a bit of your story? (It’s a lot easier to comment than it was before.) Maybe tell about a way your life is different than you ever could have planned, maybe even better. Or if it’s not better, then what have you learned so that you can live in wholeness? (Me, I keep my Christmas tree up a few weeks after neighbors’ have been left curbside; and I make a point of watching the squirrels and birds in the winter wilderness of my yard.)
[1] At the Washington Island Forum last June, I listened with delight as John Bell repeatedly referred to the Holy Spirit as “she,” afterward adding that the word for Spirit in the Hebrew is feminine.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Take a breath; we're going deep.

Isn't this a great picture? I've been wanting to show it to you since I found it months ago. Today – a day when we're going deep, theologically speaking – seemed like a good day.

Before we go any further, though, you really need to know that theology simply means "what you believe about God (and all the other important things)." If you don't get this, you'll just feel overwhelmed. But that's all theology is. Really.

I’m assuming that since you’re reading this, you’re either a Christian, or you at least think about Christianity. So today, I ask a question of you…

What is your “Theology of the Cross”?

Uh? What is she talking about? Let me explain... as I've been preparing for my ordination interviews later this winter, I’ve been asked to work on my theology of the cross. And until quite recently, I was clueless about what that meant.

I’ve found this to be the case – a lot – since I got into pastoral ministry. Maybe it’s because I was in my 40s when I began, but there are lots of “church-speak” words and phrases that I’ve had to Google before I could put together a decent response. This was one of them. What I learned was that …

Theology of the Cross is a term Martin Luther came up with to explain his belief that the cross is the only source for knowing about who God is and how God saves. [1]

That sounds a bit weird to me, but I keep at it…

As Luther put it, “God receives none but those who are forsaken, restores health to none but those who are sick, gives sight to none but the blind, and life to none but the dead … has mercy on none but the wretched and gives grace to none but those who are in disgrace. [2]

Ooooh, this I can understand. It reminds me of Jesus’ words: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick." Matthew 9:12, among others...

While Christianity focuses on the hope and love we find through God’s grace, the cross is about death, pain, and loss. Luther’s idea was that this paradox is key to our religious belief.

Okay, that went a bit deep again...

A theology of the cross says that God is with us most consistently when things are falling apart and when we've reach our limits, rather than in our strongest moments. And, God is always involved with us (and everyone) exactly as things are at that very moment – not the way they might be, the way we wish they were, or imagine them to be – but as they really are.

I think I understand now! We don't need to pretend with God. God gets it. We're fragile and easily hurt. Sometimes we feel so lost. But when we're lost or broken or [insert the world that describes where you've been] God is with us, and will continue to be with us in the worst that life throws at us. Thank God!

So, what's your theology?

[1] Wikipedia
[2] Luther, The Seven Penitential Psalms, 1517.