My Summer Travels with Thoreau

          “I have traveled a good deal in Concord,” Henry David Thoreau once famously said of his frequent walks through his home town.   Usually when we think of “travel,” we think of visiting places away from home, places remote maybe, or ancient; places filled with history, with art; places to awaken our imaginations, relax our often over-busy lives.

          But for Thoreau, who never ventured far from his native Concord and his Walden Pond, travel simply meant a careful observation of all that lay immediately around him.  Travel meant having eyes to see what can be so easily overlooked in all the familiar places of our lives.

          These days, living as I do with CFS/ME, I no longer travel much beyond the street on which we live.  But I am learning to travel with Thoreau, learning better to see and appreciate the immensity that lies right here on our little street.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve seen in my spring and summer “travels.”

not the Arc de Triomphe

just a simple arch celebrating

life ever-renewing

inviting us to walk beneath its bower

to mini triumphs of our own

***

lantana basking in the summer sun

reaching beyond its confines

to dance and frolic

in its tiny corner of the world

***

nature’s votive candles

tucked in a niche of the Cathedral of the Wind,

lit, perhaps, in memory of earlier

leaves and flowers that have come and gone,

sanctity of all of life

***

tiny green beetle

bulging black eyes

legs stippled and striped,

antennae extending into the unknown;

mystery of life

***

 

delicate lace tatted perhaps

by Belgian fairies working late

beneath the sliver of a silvered moon,

each tiny stitch a miracle of love

***

a piece of bark shredded from a tree,

limp, but yet alive

with ancient memories,

nature’s sculpted art displayed

on shelf of bright green grass 

***

a lone pine cone

seeds of new life expectant held

in soft green sheltering arms

beneath an endless sky

beckoning to new horizons

here and after here

***

Yes!  I have traveled a good deal on my little street and am thankful for each marvel that has brightened my summer days.

  

All Thumbs

This morning I’m all thumbs,

scrambled as my too-dry eggs,

twisted as my knotted

necklace chain; I drop a pill, lose a

thought, ill at ease with the garbled

verbs and adverbs of my life.

*

My larger world feels scrabbled too,

justice tangled in the skirts of power,

truth slips between fingers grasping

flimsy straws of status and esteem.

*

Meanwhile, a finch sits quiet,

nipping at our thistle seed;

two chickadees meet at the suet;

leafy branches glimmer in the early

morning sun; the stillness holds me

close, an almost holy sigh, whisper

of a somewhere time, God’s thumb

to wipe away the tangles of our tears.

Lest We Forget-5; A Monthly Reminder

(A father cradles his dead child after a bombing raid in Aleppo in 2016)

his arms full of emptiness,

his mind blank,

his heart shredded

in a thousand pieces

mirroring the rubble

of his shattered life

          Let’s not let ourselves forget the horrors that so many refugees experience.  Aleppo.  With all the terrorist attacks around the world, Aleppo now seems so long ago and far away.  But the ruins of Aleppo remain, reminding us of the 4 years of horror and devastation endured by the citizens of this ancient city.  It is estimated that 31,000 people were killed during the years of fighting, until Aleppo finally fell to Syrian government forces, aided by the Russians, in December, 2016.  Thousands more citizens of Aleppo became refugees in search of a new home, a new life.

          Let’s remember to pray for these refugees.  Remember to encourage our government to be responsive to the needs of these desperate people.  Remember to share some of what you have with those in need.  Here again are some agencies through which you can offer help:

               Church World Service     cwsglobal.org/our-work/refugees-and-immigrants/

               International Rescue Committee     https://www.rescue.org/

Growing Season

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk so that by it you may

grow into salvation I Peter 2:2

          Summertime.  Growing season. 

          I’m remembering a summer day long ago now.  The memory is still so vivid.  I stood behind my desk at the Williston Park Reformed Church on Long Island, and I felt so small.  I had arrived the day before, fresh from a beautiful ordination service in Michigan, and I felt so blessed to be starting down this new road of pastoring.  But I remember calling a friend on the phone and saying, “I feel as though I’m wearing a dress that’s two sizes too big for me.”

          I thought of that time recently as I read St. Peter’s encouragement to the recipients of his first letter to “grow into” their salvation, to “grow into” their faith.  “Grow into.”  In that little phrase, Peter reminds us that faith is not a stagnant commodity.  Not something we either “have” or “don’t have.”  Faith is more like a dress or a suit that we put on—one that is two or three sizes too big.  Faith is something that requires our constant “growing into.” 

          I think I grew a bit into that two-sizes-too-big-for-me dress during the years I served as a pastor, but I know I never fully grew into it.  I think, too, that I’ve grown into my dress of faith over the years, but I know I never have and never will fully grow into it.  There’s always so much more of God to learn about.   So much more of God’s creation to learn about.  So much more of Scripture to learn about.  So much more of myself to learn about.   (And please forgive all those sentences ending with a preposition!) 

          It’s always been interesting to me to note how eager most people are to grow in so many different areas of their lives.  Eager to learn new skills.  To hone old skills.  To develop new interests.  To read more.  To listen more.  To travel and/or explore more.  But all too often I’ve also noticed that many people remain “stuck” in a faith they learned in their childhood but have not really explored and developed in their adulthood.  For so many, as J.B. Phillips reminds us, their God is simply “too small.”  And the problem is that a “too small” God often disappoints us.  Such a God “will often prove inadequate in the tests of real life.”* The problem also is that a “too small” God does not challenge us to be all that God intends for us to be.

           “Growing into salvation.”  Growing into faith.  Not just a summertime task, but really the task of a lifetime.  A task that requires honesty, diligence, commitment.  A task that calls for patience  and humility.  A difficult task.  At times a heavy task, because of all the questions and doubts we must confront.  But nevertheless, a most rewarding task.  For it’s a task that calls us into an ever deepening relationship with ourselves.  Into an ever deepening relationship with others.  And most especially, into an ever deepening relationship with the immensity of the God of our faith, a God who is always so near, yet always just beyond our grasp.

***

*Robert Corin Morris, Wrestling with Grace

 

 

 

This Little Light of Mine

 “This little light of mine,

I’m gonna let it shine;”

my husband hums the familiar

tune as I sip my morning tea; later

he will sing with the church choir

this syncopated psalm of thanks

for little lights that bravely shine

in all the darkness encroaching

on our deeply troubled world.

I will not hear that joyful sound, but…

*

outside my window, a little

light shines quietly for me, a floral

candle of delicate, shimmering filaments,

lacy whiteness whispering its quiet radiance;

so unlike the neons of our gaudy

world of celebrities and ego tweets,

so unlike bright chandeliers

aglow with pomp and pride that

only shadow deeds of darkness.

*

Bless you, little light; shine on

in your wee corner of this vast

and anxious world; few will see

your radiant smile, but those who do

will quiet sing a psalm of thanks; will even

shine, perhaps, a little brighter themselves.

Lest We Forget-Monthly Reminder #4

Alan Kurdi, September 2015

          This is a picture we are likely never to forget.  Alan Kurdi’s family was fleeing from the chaos and fighting in Syria.  They tried to reach one of the Greek islands in a small rubber inflatable boat designed to hold eight people.  But, tragically, there were sixteen people in that small boat, and it capsized shortly after leaving Turkey.  Alan’s three-year old body was later found washed up on the shore.  The bodies of his brother and his mother were also found washed up on the shore.

          There is understandably much debate and disagreement about how best to respond to the vastness of the needs of the refugees fleeing from so many ravaged places in our world today.  But perhaps we can all agree to remember these people as we go about our daily lives. 

          Remember them and offer daily prayers for them.

          Remember them and pray, too, that our government will be wise and compassionate in deciding how best to respond to this global crisis. 

          Remember them and contribute to an organization that is working to help refugees.  Here are a couple of suggestions if you would like to make a donation:

               Church World Service     cwsglobal.org/our-work/refugees-and-immigrants/

               International Rescue Committee     https://www.rescue.org/

***

Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”  Luke 9:48

But Why, God?

The Baptism of Jesus, by He Qi

(contemporary artist who blends Christian images with Chinese folk art)

(used with permission: www.heqiart.com)*

18The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Luke 7:18-23

***

          “But why?” was little Andy’s perennial question to any member of our family.  Andy was a long-ago young neighbor whose mind was persistently bursting with questions.  And he wanted answers.  Why was his world the way it was?  Why did people do what they did?  We’d all try to come up with reasonable answers, but often Andy’s response to our answers would simply be another “but why?” 

          John had a similar question for Jesus, the one for whom he had prepared the way.  The one whom he had baptized.  The one on whom he had seen the Spirit descend.  The one whom he had identified to his followers as the Son of God and the Lamb of God.  In those early days, John had been so sure of Jesus’ identity.  So certain that here at last was the One.  Since then, it was true, he had heard some good things, many good things, in fact, about the ministry of Jesus.  He’d heard about the healings, the exorcisms, the powerful teachings.  But he had also heard some disturbing things.  That Jesus ate with sinners.  That Jesus’ disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath.  That often they didn’t observe the prescribed ritual laws of washing their hands before they ate.

          Jesus simply wasn’t acting the way John the Baptist had understood God’s Chosen One would act.  “But why, Jesus?  Why are you doing these things that are so contradictory to our Jewish laws?  Why aren’t you insisting that your disciples be as ritually clean as good Jewish people are supposed to be?  Why are you mingling with sinners and allowing yourself and your reputation to be tainted by them?  I was so sure you were the One we all awaited.  But now I’m not so sure.  Did I prepare the way for the wrong person?  Were my preaching, my baptizing, and my faith in you all miserable mistakes?”  John was in prison when he asked these questions of Jesus, and he was no doubt experiencing a dryness in his soul, a shriveling of his faith, a desert emptiness of his spirit.

          John was well accustomed to desert life.  He had lived and preached in the desert and knew its harsh terrain.  But this “inner” desert was different.  Much more uncomfortable than any actual physical desert could ever be.  John didn’t like the barrenness of not being sure.  Didn’t like this lack of clearly defined answers.  Didn’t like that Jesus wasn’t behaving in just the ways John thought he should be  behaving.  This desert called for a stretching of his faith far beyond his comfort zone.  But why, Jesus, but why?

          So it so often is with us, is it not?  We have a positive faith experience, and God’s love and presence seem so very real in our lives.  And then difficulties strike.  Questions arise.  God’s absence hovers all around, and we lose our footing in the shifting sands of uncertainty.  God is not acting, not “performing,” in the ways we had expected.  Questions haunt us and chase us through the deserts of our doubts.  And so, with Andy and with John, we cry out, “But why?  But why, God, are you not behaving in the way we had hoped, in the way we had expected?  Why does my friend have to live with cancer?  Another with Parkinsons?  Yet another with double depression, while I, meanwhile, can do so little to help, as I’m coping with this CFS/ME day after day after day?”

          Jesus does not give John the answer that John was hoping for.  John would no doubt have been more than satisfied if Jesus had simply said, clearly and emphatically, “Yes, John, I am the One for whom the world has waited.  I am the Messiah for whom you prepared the way.”  But that’s not what Jesus says.  Instead he asks John to simply notice what’s been going on around Jesus.  To look and listen to the stories of all that Jesus has been accomplishing.  To look and listen and then to determine for himself just who Jesus was.

          God so often responds to our “but why’s” in the same way.  Like John, we would prefer decisive answers to all our questions.  Explanations that are clear and definitive, answers that leave no room for questions or doubts.  Instead, “Look and listen,” God says.  “Look and listen to all the stories of my activity in the Scriptures.  Look and listen to all the stories of saints down through the centuries who have sung of my reality in their lives, in spite of their deserts of hardship and persecution.  Look and listen to the many different ways I have been active in your own life and in the lives of those around you.  Look and listen and let these stories nurture and enrich your faith.  Look and listen and let these stories renew your confidence that I am indeed with you and for you.”

          Poet Mary Oliver tells us that “there are so many stories more beautiful than answers.”  Her words so clearly echo the words of Jesus to the disciples of John, the words of God to us.  Much as we might want definitive answers, perhaps we can learn instead to find courage and see the beauty in the stories that are given to us.  A beauty that expands our horizons.  A beauty that deepens our awareness.  A beauty that helps us live with all the questions we carry with us throughout our lives.

***

*HeQI@2014 All rights Reserved

**Snake,” by Mary Oliver, House of Light,1990