June 23, 2021
When we re-gather for in-person worship on July 11th it will mark the sixteenth month since we joined together in our church sanctuary. We have held two outdoors services on the parking lot in between the Wilkins House and the Church that have been wonderful, though we will not gather again until July 11th at 9:30 a.m. The anticipation of being able to worship together indoors is an opportunity I am so looking forward to. Even while practicing caution in our gathering, the notion of celebrating our oneness fills my heart and stimulates my mind into creating a meaningful worship for everyone.
The word sanctuary means a place of refuge or safety. While that can be found in many places, the idea of returning to our church sanctuary holds even deeper meaning today after these long trying months of being apart. Our Little Church with a Big Heart is a place of peacefulness and inspiration. It is a place that fills us with hope and assures us of God’s unending presence wherever we may be. It is a place that, for many of us, has helped to build a faith that has held us fast through troubled times. Gratitude and joy fill our hearts.
When we return on July 11th, we do so as changed people. Our experiences collectively and individually have touched us in many ways. Still, we are united in purpose and in mission to practice agape love and spread the same wherever we can.
For those who are not yet ready to return in person, we will continue to post on our website www.wccucc.com.
June 9, 2021
From our perch on Beech Hill, we have a beautiful view of the hills to the north of us. On summer mornings I sit on our porch, a cup of coffee in hand, and take in the spectacular view. It is never static, but always changing. Some days, the way the light falls, you can see greater definition where one hill sits in front of another. Shades of green highlighted by the sun and shadows create a soft landscape of slopes and valleys with not a building in sight. We often watch the weather slide over these same hills, sometimes heading our way and at other times slipping past our farm. This morning, I watched as a patch of fog lifted off a small body of water that I can only assume is there, but cannot see.
This ever-present yet changing view continues to teach me to remain open to the movement of life, to become aware of the subtle, as well as the dramatic changes that are forever unfolding. Even the constant presence of my faith, is evolving as I know more deeply the Spirit within. It is richer, more meaningful and more tangible when I stop to take notice.
Today, I reflect on this magnificent world in which we live, this gift of creation that we are a part of. I think of the constants about nature and our environment that I grew up with and how my awareness of the interconnectedness of all living things is different today that it was then. While the landscape is still a beautiful display of Earth’s wonders, the sky remains blue, the flowers bloom, the birds return, wild creatures grace our forests and fields, I see the changes highlighted in ways I hadn’t noticed before. I understand interconnectedness in a greater, more profound way. Like the sunlight that changes our view of the hills from our farm tracing the rises and dips where we hadn’t spotted them before, I am increasingly aware of the changes to our environment. In recent years, my enlightenment has defined hills and valleys that I had not seen in the past but am profoundly aware of today. What on the surface has seemed constant is less so, some because of natural occurrences and others because of how we are living on the Earth.
My faith has always been interwoven with my understanding of how we live our days upon this marvelous blue marble – Earth. My awe at looking up at the heavens at night or the hills and mountains in daylight has not changed, but my since of responsibility has. I believe it is an inherent part of our faith to realize that we do not govern nature, but rather nature teaches us when we listen, shows us when we are willing to see, and touches us in ways we may never have imagined when we take time to notice with our entire beings. I believe it is every bit a part of our call to discipleship.
Today, I plan to remain open to whatever I can do to ensure a sustainable, flourishing future for generations to come and that my footprints will become evermore gentle upon this blessed Earth. Perhaps, and I hope you will in your own ways, join me.
June 2, 2021
We’ve just spent the last three days with our grandsons on the coast and what times we had! No sooner had we arrived when the rain began and lasted for two full days. As adults, Ted and I found ourselves pulling up the weather apps on our cell phones hoping that there would be a change in the forecast, but Eddie and Elliot were not phased one bit. No sooner did we arrive when they scampered off to the beach to collect rocks and shells, hanging out in their pirate cave and of course, wading up to their waists in the chilly water.
Resilience has been the buzz-word for a few years now used in reference to our overcoming the perils of climate change happening across the globe. In a similar way resilience describes an outlook that does not recognize defeat, but rather opportunity in whatever situations are presented us in life. Children have that quality from the start. Resilience is a part of our human makeup. Frustration, disappointment and anger that things didn’t work out as planned, like the weather, are learned behaviors. Eddie and Elliot were not phased that the sun wasn’t shining when we got to the cottage. Instead, they immediately ran down to the beach and started exploring while both Ted and I realized quickly not to say a word about our own disappointment in the weather and joined them.
Children can teach us so much of what in growing older we have forgotten.
Make the best of every situation
Reshape challenges into opportunities
Explore life with enthusiasm
Be in awe of nature
It’s the simple things that matter most
You can be sure that Ted and I came back exhausted, but we also returned mentally refreshed and reminded that often we make life more complicated than it needs to be.
May 26, 2021
Spiritual teacher, Jack Kornfield said, “the things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another.” I couldn’t agree more. It is essentially our purpose in life. When we talk about making a difference, it is about creating meaningful connections with one another.
Outside my porch window where I am sitting I have a flowering almond in full bloom. It is one of the most beautiful shrubs with clusters of pink flowers tucked close together along the stem. Each cluster reminds me of a stick of pink rock candy. The lilacs have been extraordinary this year and so has the Andromeda with its flowers cascading down in string-like pearls at the end of the stems. The beauty in each of these is matched by their fragrance that catches you the minute you open the door. They are a delight to the senses and a great attraction to our native pollinators who dance from one flower to the next.
How grateful I am for the view this morning and the fragrance that fills the air. At this moment a male hummingbird has added its magnificent presence to the end of a branch of the flowering almond! The morning sun catches the shimmering green of its feathers and I sit in awe and wonder between the view and the keyboard of my computer.
I am looking in on a microcosm that represents a bigger picture of nature, the intricate connections between plant and animal and insect. For the moment I am enjoying being the observer, but am aware of my place within creation, our interconnectedness with all that is and our profound connections with one another that enhances our life and wellbeing. I think about the clusters of flowers so close together. They represent for me a sense of community that is at once beautiful and purposeful.
Yes, I could not agree more with Jack Kornfield’s quote at the beginning of this reflection. Our greatest moments are indeed when we touch one another. May we look for those opportunities everyday.
May 19, 2021
There is always so much work to do on the farm, especially as we prepare for planting our vegetable gardens, but it is so worth the effort. Yes, even as I complain about weeds and black flies, there is a sense of deep satisfaction when we sit down at the table to eat what we’ve harvested or stand back with a sense of fullness at the pantry and freezer shelves stocked up with what we have put up for the off seasons.
Lately, I have been potting up my seedlings into larger containers until they are ready to go in the garden. It is an important step in giving them fresh new soil and room to grow. In that way they can make the final transition into the garden more successfully. As I carefully squeeze the sides of the cell in the seed tray to release the seedling and then set it in a new pot where I gently fill new soil around it, I can’t help but think about how we care for our own spiritual lives in order that they will grow and flourish. How do we refresh ourselves spiritually? What do we do to build a root structure that is deep and wide? How are we preparing ourselves for life’s challenges and transitions? What are we doing to build a strong base that feeds our spirit with new growth and strength?
The answers to those questions will be different for each of us. Some may expand their understanding by reading, others may take time to meditate, there are those who enroll in classes that challenge themselves, and still others who see opportunities in a host of experiences that the world presents along the way. How we seek to grow our spiritual selves is less important, but that we do is critical to our entire wellbeing. If I left my seedlings within their little cells in the seed trays and never bothered to pot them up into bigger pots, they would be root-bound, thin and weak. They would be lacking the strength they needed in order to flourish. That is true, as well when we do not look after our spirit and provide it with nourishment that is essential for growth and our wellbeing.
Perhaps today is a good day to take a closer look at how you might be feeding and caring for your spirit.
May 12, 2021
Just a couple of days ago Ted asked if I would start the tractor as I walked by it on my way to our greenhouses. Of course, I agreed and was surprised when I saw a beautifully formed bird’s nest sitting right between the steering wheel and the dashboard. I immediately thought how nice it was that he found and saved it to show me. My hands were full at the time so I left it there until I could go back and get it. In the meantime, I thanked Ted for his thoughtfulness to which he replied, “I didn’t find a bird’s nest!” “Well, there is one in the tractor,” I said.
I went back up to take a picture and look more closely. Indeed, it was not an old nest but a brand new one in the midst of construction and a robin not too far away that I assumed was the owner. We actually discussed how long we could live without using the tractor. At the shortest it would be a good month and a half if not longer before her eggs would hatch. Of course, that would assume she would lay some in the next day or two and then wait until the young were able to fly off on their own. We knew we couldn’t wait that long, nor deal with the mess it would create inside the cab. Carefully, I removed it and placed the still wet nest in the crook of a nearby tree hoping, yet fully aware that it was unlikely she would continue with the nest. We were at least grateful that no eggs had been laid in it already. The discussion would have been harder to make!
While it might seem that we were making a bit more of a fuss than necessary in our brief debate about what to do, we don’t take lightly any occasion when nature around us makes itself so boldly known. It was our mistake for leaving the back window of the cab open offering what seemed a safe and dry place to make a home. From now on, we’ll do better and keep it closed.
The lesson in this story of a nest unfortunately placed is the awareness of how much interplay there is between all living things – us included, not us separate from. I believe our relationship with the natural world is not about dominion or even stewardship, but one that is about being responsible “keepers” of the land and environment we call home while we traverse this earth. This is why we started our Climate Conversations over a year and a half ago so that we could learn more about how we can leave the Earth, as has been said, “better than we found it.”
The marvels of creation are everywhere to be seen and to be treasured. How fulfilling it is when we realize how intricately woven together we are with all that God has fashioned and how much we can learn when we open ourselves up to truly see!
April 21, 2021
In honor of Earth Day/Week, I lifted this passage from Fr. Richard Rohr’s meditation earlier in the week. My whole life I have found deep satisfaction in observing nature and never doubted that the things of this world are equally a part of creation as I am. I think that is why when I became a pastor after being a middle school science teacher, the flow was a natural one. The love of all living and nonliving things of nature are to love our Great Creator.
Fr. Rohr puts it this way:
Don’t start by trying to love God, or even people. Love rocks and elements first, move to trees, then animals, and then humans. It works. In fact, it might be the only way to love, because how you do anything is how you do everything.
Our job as conscious humans is to awaken early to this innate beauty and goodness in all of creation. Why wait until heaven when we can enjoy the Divine Flow in all of nature now?
Being fully present to the soul of all things allows us to say, “This is good. This is enough. In fact, this is all I need.” We are now situated in the One Loving Gaze that unites all things in universal attraction and appreciation. This is enlightenment and we do not have to sit on a cushion for forty years to recognize and enjoy it. In fact, I can almost guarantee that we will recognize and enjoy it more as we spend more time in the natural world with slow and quiet realization. And then a leap of deep contentment!
Blessings on this Earth Week,
April 14, 2021
On these spring mornings, everyday seems a miracle of growth and renewal. The chorus of birds fills the air at first light. Not only can you hear their songs, but sitting still and watching, you begin to notice their movements from limb to lawn, fence to post, and so on. We’ve been particularly observant lately ever since we put up two bluebird houses in the hope that they will nest in them. They have been paying attention to these new real-estate opportunities so we may be lucky enough to have them as our neighbors. The morning activity and energy of all the birds is a lot more than I can conjure up even after a cup of coffee, but I sure enjoy being a quiet bystander taking it all in.
It is not just the increased activity of the birds, but the plants breaking through the earth, the landscape getting greener and the tree buds swelling with promise. Every year it is the same thing, but I never grow tired of it. I have been equally enthusiastic at the first sight of a daffodil bulb pushing through the remnants of snow time after time. Spring holds in its gentle touch an awakening of Earth and in that there is always the promise of a fresh beginning that fills our souls.
If you haven’t already, take a moment to marvel at the changing, awakening world around you today. In all of its wonder there is also a great wisdom to learn from what we can observe right outside our windows. The masterful Creator fashioned a world that flows naturally from one season to the next. May we find peace in this moment and strength for our day.
Jesus once encouraged his followers to worry less and trust more by saying, “So I tell you, don’t worry about the things you need to live—what you will eat, drink, or wear. Life is more important than food, and the body is more important than what you put on it. 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or save food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them.
Blessings on this spring day,
We began this Lenten journey A Pathway Forward six weeks ago. I hope it has been for you a meaningful time of reflection on your personal relationship with God. It has been that for me as I prepared my thoughts and crafted my words each week. What I have shared over this time has challenged me to examine my own faith and deepen my sense of knowing the presence within.
We’ve taken a look at intentionally allowing time to engage in relationship with God through simply being, listening, seeing, asking, and accepting the powerful presence of Spirit within us. Today, we turn our reflection toward knowing; knowing in a way that words cannot adequately express, but that we sense in our deepest selves. It is a knowing that brings with it a tremendous peace, contentment, and joy.
This knowing I am speaking about it different, yet related to the knowing I am sure you have experienced when something negative has happened in your life and though you haven’t heard in that moment, you have felt it within. This has happened to me on many occasions. Once when my daughter, Rachel, was 5 years old and visiting a friend’s home, their dog bit her. At the time I had no cell phone, but suddenly I had an unsettling feeling that something was wrong before anyone could reach me and tell me what had happened. I believe that feeling came over me because of the deep connection that she and I share with one another as so often is true with loved ones. You may have your own stories of similar experiences. They are powerfully real and while they have to do with a spiritual interconnectedness with another, this knowing I write about today is one that comes from a deeply satisfying connectedness with all that is Holy, all that is Divine, all that is God and Spirit and Peace within our own beings.
While this Pathway Forward journey has encouraged us to consider Jesus’ time of meditation, prayer and contemplation in the wilderness hopefully in so doing it has allowed us to take a long look within ourselves to see and recognize the presence of God there. Our ability to allow for this time of introspection in our daily lives will build in us a deeper, stronger, more complete awareness that we are one with God in Spirit, one with each other, one with the all creation.
As you know from previous reflections, I find the early morning hours to be some of the most centering times in my day. It is in these moments when I am able to tune into a sense of knowing beyond words that there is a spiritual presence that moves in and through everyone of us, that weaves all of life together. In that place of knowing there is a peace that truly surpasses all understanding, but nonetheless leaves the soul deeply satisfied.
Perhaps the closest I can come to expressing what I mean is the sense of awe and wonder that comes over me when I stand/sit in the presence of nature. This morning the birds that have returned were singing to their hearts content, the chipmunks scampered across the rock wall, the air was filled with the warmth and smells of springtime and the entire moment was wrapped in a beauty that words do not adequately define. I was in that place of knowing and how fulfilling it always is. I hope you, too, can find that place in your days and that they will carry you forward in peace and harmony.
March 17, 2021
Dear Friends along this journey,
We are in the fourth week of our Pathway Forward journey through Lent. This time draws us into ourselves as a practice of introspection and discovery toward personal awareness and wholeness. Often, especially as people of faith, we are encouraged to put others before ourselves, to reach out rather than turn within. This sense of commitment to service is a significant part of our faith. It is an absolute necessity if we seek to build a better and more compassionate world.
While each of us is very much a part of that giving and serving mindset, it cannot be accomplished well without knowing who we are within, what drives our desires, our hopes and dreams. When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he responded with, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” then he added, “there is another like it – love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) His implication is clear that self-love, self-awareness is a necessary piece in the equation of love, of bringing about meaningful change. This then, is that time of being, of listening, of seeing, of asking and of accepting that gives us perspective and purpose for our lives, that opens us up to our very core.
We might ask what is meant by accepting as we journey inward? Last week we spoke about asking and surely whenever we ask, there comes with it the expectation of an answer. The asking we discussed was not about material things or wellbeing, but about a wisdom that is aligned with the very essence of God; a wisdom of love that transcends all things. The answers to our asking are less tangible responses, less clearly distinguished actions and more in the form of acceptance – acceptance of the indwelling of holy presence; acceptance of our dynamic personal inner being; acceptance of these two intertwined together – what is holy and who we are united in peace and harmony of soul. Acceptance evolves out of that truth and shapes our lives.
Generally, we think of acceptance as something we do as a reaction to circumstances in our lives. We accept or reject. Some events we have control over and others we do not. On one hand we may accept with feelings of gratitude the positive aspects of life while on the other we may meet unpleasant events, negative circumstances with anger and frustration. In either case, there is a matter of acceptance or rejection, consent or refusal. It’s pretty cut and dry.
Still, there is another way to understand acceptance as we consider Jesus in his final days. The road down which he was traveling was wrought with increasing action against him and yet, he placed one foot in front of the other moving ahead nonetheless. I think of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane asking that, if possible, he could avoid what was to come and then in the next breath saying, “yet not my will, but Thine be done.” In this example, Jesus raised the concept of acceptance to a new level in his radical act of love.
While we are not being against to go to the cross in that same way, it does compel us to consider our willingness to accept the role of service to others; a role that is foundational to our faith. There is great truth in bringing about peace and harmony when we accept using our gifts and talents for the betterment of all. In so doing, we will discover a deeper sense within ourselves of wholeness and well being. When we tune into the presence of Spirit within, we begin to hear and see, to seek and find with a heightened sense of knowing that brings us closer to accepting the truth that indeed will set us free.
March 10, 2021
We have spent the past three weeks on our Lenten Journey: A Pathway Forward examining our inner selves that we might readily encounter God there. By simply being, taking time to be in that place of spiritual presence, we have looked more closely at what it means to listen in order that we might hear God in the silence. We reflected on how we can see through the eyes of our hearts and recognize the expressions of love that we are and our purpose in living that truth in changing the world around us. In Jesus’ time in the wilderness, it is these deep encounters with God that gave him strength and in these moments he no doubt sought greater wisdom and guidance for what was to come. His meditation, his alone time in the wilderness is what defined his oneness with God and Spirit. It is a model for us in discovering our own relationship with what is Holy and Divine.
Each of us has surely asked for matters of health and wellbeing, for protection and a sense of security, for good fortune and dreams come true, and perhaps a few material things added in, not just for ourselves, but those we love, as well. It is a perfectly normal thing to do, but there is another type of asking. In Matthew 7:7-8 Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” These are reassuring words. They encourage us to be about discovery for in it we grow.
Asking is a vital part of our spiritual pathway forward when we recognize it as an opportunity to grow within our souls, to touch the Spirit and be set on fire with purpose. Our asking in this way is not about things, but about awareness and presence. It is about seeking an even greater connection with God and Spirit.
In the practice of faith, our asking generally takes the shape of prayers. These prayers are often filled with requests, hopes, assurances, along with praise and thanks. Occasionally, we add in moments of silence that often don’t last long enough to even begin to feel the essence of God’s presence. They are like a one-way call and then we hang up. This is not at all meant to chastise. This is how we have learned to pray and there is most certainly great value and worth in it. However, let me share with you a profound healing and wholeness that comes from a different kind of asking. It is an asking not for something, but to become aware of divine presence.
When Jesus spoke in Matthew of asking, seeking and knocking, it came in the context of lessons he was teaching on the errors of passing judgment on others, on choosing the easy way through life, on allowing oneself to be misguided. Rather than heading down those pathways, Jesus was encouraging them to ask and seek and knock for the one thing that would fill them, to search after wisdom. It is not a wisdom that comes from intellectual knowledge, but a wisdom that rests in the depths of our beings and is aligned with the very essence of God. It’s available to every one of us who go within and invite the Holy with us. In actuality, the Holy is already there waiting for us. Enter and be filled.
March 3, 2021
This meditation marks the third week of our Lenten journey, A Pathway Forward, in which we consider the spiritual journey Jesus took into the wilderness following his baptism. It was, for him, a time of deep introspection and discovery of purpose as it can be for us, as well. Our first meditation was On Being, in which we explored the empowering posture of presence as we recognize the Spirit that dwells within us. In it we challenged ourselves to find intentional time to be in that place of presence. Our second meditation was On Listening where we considered the role of hearing more than audible sound, but what arises out of the silence within. Today, in our reflection On Seeing we examine a deeper meaning to sight and the awareness of how what we see influences our souls.
Come; let us join together in our Pathway Forward…
The apostle Paul wrote these words in his letter to the Ephesians (1: 18), “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you…” These words are part of a meaningful and heartfelt prayer that Paul expressed on behalf of those who were wrestling to more fully understand their newfound faith. Indeed, sight is more than what we see through our eyes, but what we “see” by virtue of our entire being. That is exactly what Paul meant when he spoke of the eyes of the heart – a deeper, more spiritual seeing.
We limit ourselves when what we see merely enters our sight through our eyes as a simple glance of things around us. It is as if we are driving down the road and taking notice of the road signs and the sites along the way, but retaining none of them. They pass through our vision and nothing more. Yet, when through our sight we begin to observe what we see, when we actually see the petals and the center of the flower, we become aware that it is not just any flower, but one that has its own patterns and designs. Even more, when we look long enough to witness that same flower we see its place in the landscape, its relationship to the bee that has landed to capture the pollen and we discover that our sight has opened us up to a deeper experience than a simple image in our mind.
I trust that we have all experienced what I just wrote. How can we not see beyond our eyesight into the wonder of this natural order of things, living and nonliving that make up our planet. It is no wonder that there are countless photographs of rainbows and artwork that attempt to capture the marvels of our world down to intricate patterns that nature creates everywhere we look. Seeing is much more than having eyesight. It is when what we look at catches a ride through our veins and fills our entire being with wonder. That sort of seeing is without a doubt a spiritual awareness of the interconnectedness of all things.
Imagine if we take the example of a flower I used earlier and apply that seeing to one another. At first glance, a person might seem generally the same as another. Yet, at closer observation our sight opens us to the other’s outward appearance. We become aware that this is not just another person, but it is a particular individual with unique characteristics. If we take the time to continue to see, we begin to witness this individual in action, in relationship and comprehend more of the deeper qualities that define who they are. We see with the eyes of the heart the things of the heart that truly matter.
It is always easier to look outside ourselves and see the world beyond us, but now let’s take that same vision and turn it inward to see within our beings the truth of who we are – made in the image of love and destined to be expressions of that love wherever we are.
It is this deeper seeing, this seeing through the eyes of the heart that is a profound part of our pathway forward.
February 24, 2021
Last week we began our Lenten Journey with a focus on what it means to Be; to simply be in the present moment – to feel it with all of your senses; to be wrapped in the moment. I realize it’s not as easy as it at first sounds. We each carry with us many voices that hold us in the past and others that project us into the future, so much so, that we can’t hear the silence for the clamor in our heads. Yet, listening to the silence is a significant part of being. Perhaps it makes a bit more sense if I phrase it, listening in the silence. For when we take the time to quiet ourselves, sit or walk peacefully, being present in that very moment, we will indeed connect with the presence of God. J. Philip Newell captured it well in his book entitled, Listening for the Heartbeat of God in which “the emphasis is on the goodness of creation and of humanity made in the image of God.” This often slips past us in our busy days unless we take that precious time to be still and listen.
Remember, that during Lent we are using Jesus’ time in the wilderness as a model for our own time of introspection. He went alone in order to be fully present to God and to deeply connect with that source of grace, peace and love. Jesus went off alone so that he could listen, not necessarily to audible sound, but to sound that arises in moments of silence.
I’m not speaking in the same way that Simon and Garfunkel did in their song The Sound of Silence performed when we all a whole lot younger, if born yet! What they were expressing is the lack of communication between people that made for a deep profoundly disturbing silence of injustice and sorrow. On that we can talk another time. Rather, in this reflection I am speaking of the sound we discover in meditative silence that ultimately liberates us and all the world.
When I was a child, hoping for a day off from school, I remember lying in bed listening for the sound of snowfall. I wonder if you know what I mean. It’s not really a sound, but a lack thereof, a muffled silence, an insulated quiet. That’s the closest I can come to what I mean when I suggest we listen in the silence of our being. Lighter than our breath, but deeply revealing of our truth. When we learn the value of taking time to remove ourselves from the noise and busyness around us, we emerge wiser and stronger.
This is not a new idea. Even in the 1600’s Philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Indeed, there is great satisfaction and fulfillment that will arise out of taking such time when you can, even in short snippets.
The model Jesus gave to us is worthy of adoption. Often we focus on his words, his teachings that are of great value for our lives. We reflect on them in sermons and writings. We study them; unpack their meaning and try to live by his words, but his posture of meditation and prayer eludes many finding it difficult to carve out the time in busy lives. However, when we learn to value that quiet time, when we make it a priority to take moments to simply be, when we consider the importance of prayer, and by this I not thinking of prayers filled with words, but silent listening, we will know without a doubt God’s presence and be filled with grace.
In these days of Zoom meetings and far too much time on our devices, I discovered on a couple of occasions that in the middle of some work I was doing on the computer the screen went black much to my horror! Why, because I hadn’t plugged it in and the battery was drained. It’s a great analogy for the drained energy we can feel when our emotional and spiritual resources are used up because we haven’t plugged in to recharge.
Plugging in spiritually energizes our entire lives. Jesus understood that. That’s why we hear so often of his taking time to be in the presence of God, the presence of the moment from which he listened in the silence to the unspoken sound that gives breathe to Life.
As we journey through this season of Lent together may we discover that our efforts at being and listening, no matter how imperfect they may be, will open a door into our spiritual selves that refreshes and renews. When we learn to listen in the silence we will undoubtedly begin to “hear” in a new and deeply fulfilling way.
February 17, 2021 (Ash Wednesday)
Here's an Ash Wednesday Reflection accompanied by an inspirational image I took of frost on the window of our greenhouse.
The season of Lent in the Christian faith coincides with our seasonal changes, particularly here in New England. While it is a practice within Christianity to mark this journey of faith recalling Jesus’ time in the wilderness where he was tempted and challenged, it is also a deeply symbolic time of emerging from the darkness of winter to the increasing life-stimulating light of spring.
From the Companion to the Book of Common Worship: “The Lenten journey from the ashes of death to resurrected life begins on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, which signifies a time to turn around, to change directions, to repent. This first day of Lent reminds us that unless we are willing to die to our old selves, we cannot be raised to new life with Christ.” Our old selves are that which keep us in the past carrying the burdens of our experience and in the future yearning for something new. Life in Christ is knowing the fullness of life in this present moment, here and now, and discovering inner peace.
Access to that new life is before us. Come; let us journey within to discover that truth…
If we follow the biblical story, we learn that directly after Jesus was baptized in the traditional cleansing practice of his day, he spent 40 days and nights alone in the desert. Alone is something many of do not think much of, but in reality it is the most valuable time we can take in the midst of our busy lives. For Jesus it was a pivotal moment, a turning toward the purpose and plan for his life; a time of engaging the deeply powerful presence of God at the core of his being. It was a time of awareness and fulfillment. So it can be for you and for me.
In the Protestant Church the Ash Wednesday service has not held the same prominence that it does in the Catholic Church. Rarely, though more frequently in the past few years, do Congregational Churches administer ashes as a symbol of penitence. However, Ash Wednesday has always marked the beginning of a time of introspection, a practice of humble recognition of where God fits into our personal lives. May this journey together assure us that life is fuller and richer, more meaningful and more balanced when we put God at the very center of all that we do.
I encourage you to find a moment in each day to simply be. Don’t fill up these moments with words, but rather focus on your breath and quiet your mind. Allow thoughts to come and go as they will. Recognize them and let them go. Just be. When that seems difficult, focus on your breath in and out. Try to do this for at least 10 minutes and if you can, at the beginning of your day. It may not be perfect. Trying to practice being is something that is foreign to many of us who have been programmed to be about doing, but I assure you it will be a fulfilling and enlightening time.
Surely, this practice is what Jesus was doing over those 40 days and nights in the wilderness. He meditated. He listened to the breath of God. He tuned himself into the heartbeat of God, the presence of Spirit within. And it gave him strength to overcome the obstacles that lay before him, the courage to face the challenges, and the certainty that he was not alone. So it can be for us – a time of knowing God more fully and feeling grace with more certainty.
The peace we seek in our lives, the transformation we desire comes when we take time to recognize the presence of God within. It is the most assuring and stabilizing time we can make in our daily lives.
The other day, exhausted and sweating from attempting to loosen the snow off the roof of one of our greenhouses, I plopped down and lay on my back in the snow to rest. I know it might seem crazy, but it was a wonderfully peaceful moment. Before long I started to notice as I looked up at the trees, the patterns of the branches, the dried up leaves that still hung on in places, and a fresh feeding area that a pileated woodpecker had made in the side of an old pine tree. When we take time to be in the presence of the wonder that is God in our midst, we will always be amazed and we will certainly be fulfilled. To be is to know God within.
February 10, 2021
A few weeks ago I mentioned that my appreciation for jigsaw puzzles came from my grandmother who, as long as I can remember always had one in progress on the end of her dining room table. She taught me a great deal about the skill and patience it took to put it altogether. There were also wonderful lessons for life that I gleaned along the way from tackling jigsaw puzzles. Below are 11 points outlined by Rev. Alex Wood that David and JoLynn Johnson were kind enough to share with me. If you haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle lately, you might enjoy the diversion on these cold winter days.
EVERYTHING I NEED TO KNOW I LEARNED FROM A PUZZLE
1. Don’t force a fit. If something is meant to be, it will come together naturally.
2. When things aren’t going so well, take a break. Everything will look different when you return.
3. Be sure to look at the big picture. Getting hung up on the little pieces only leads to frustration.
4. Perseverance pays off. Every puzzle went together bit by bit, piece by piece.
5. When you get stuck in one area, move to another. But be sure to come back later (see #4)
6. Variety is the spice of life. It’s the different colors and patterns that make the puzzle interesting.
7. Establish the border first. Boundaries give a sense of definition and order.
8. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations. Some matches are surprising.
9. Take time often to celebrate your successes – even little ones.
10. Anything worth doing take time and effort. A great puzzle can’t be rushed.
11. When you finally reach the last piece, don’t be sad. Rejoice in the masterpiece you’ve made and enjoy the well-deserved rest
February 3, 2021
We all have our stories to tell as we reflect on this strange time in our lives. There are tales of deep sorrow, of disappointment, of loneliness and fear, and there are stories, too, that have opened our eyes to see resilience, wonder, beauty, compassion and gratitude. Among these stories I have one that might also be a familiar experience for you – reconnecting with old friends. We all get busy with life and lose touch with some along the way, but interestingly during this pandemic there have been several with whom we have reestablished connection with either by phone or email for the first time in a long time. What a joy it has been to hear their voices, read what they’ve been up to and learn about how they are doing. Why now? Could it be that there is something that stirs us within at times such as these, something that moves us toward nostalgic thoughts that bring comfort?
Returning often holds a valuable place in our lives throughout our journeys. It might be a matter of returning to a physical place or particular people or even revisiting our faith. Returning can be healing and hope-filled.
I recall the Sunday after the tragedy of 9/11. The Mystic Congregational Church in which I served as senior pastor was packed. There was standing room only in a church that seated about 350. Many were returning to their faith roots in search of community support, familiar words of hope. It happened everywhere. In the midst of crisis we often return to seek comfort in what we have known.
We will remember 2020 and the beginning of 2021 framed by the pandemic, strained by ongoing racial injustice and stained by an insurrection on our Capitol. It is a time that has found each of us clinging to that which we find comfort in – our faith, old friends, and familiar places. May we continue to find solace in them as we persevere through the challenging times still before us in the hope of more positive days beginning to unfold.
January 27, 2021
You may have read in previous reflections that I really enjoy the early morning hours outdoors. Recently, it has become a daily routine. I’m not sure when that happened, I know the snow was on the ground. Now, I’m hooked on it and so is my canine friend, Bentley who waits at the door expectantly after his breakfast, of course. With a cup of hot coffee and Bentley, I bundle up and venture out under the stars, or snowy sky, as it is today, for my morning meditation – about twenty minutes of peacefulness and awe.
Had you asked me a few months ago if I would be doing this, especially on these really cold mornings, I would have told you there was no way, but something in me has changed. I’ve always cherished the quiet of the morning hours, but adding to it the wonder of being outside in the crisp cold of winter has been invigorating. As long as I bundle up properly, the temperature doesn’t bother me. The fresh air clears my head, the quiet presence of communing with nature, whether it is marveling at the stars or snowflakes, the peace that fills my soul in those moments sets the stage for the rest of my day. It’s my morning prayer, my meditation.
I share this because it makes me think about preparedness in other ways in our lives. I face the cold of winter morning because I dress accordingly. In a similar manner we can face the challenges of our daily lives when we clothe ourselves with an attitude of hope, possibility and confidence. Through those lenses we can step into our days with gratitude and the certainty that whatever comes our way we will persevere. A positive outlook, our sense of being in control of our lives shapes how we deal with all that life presents us with and in actuality, often determines what we face.
We have the ability within ourselves to decide how we will step into each day. Faith and trust in the Spirit that dwells within along with gratitude for that truth give us enormous strength. Like the rest of our morning routines, may we strive to clothe ourselves daily with an attitude of gratitude and the confidence of hope. It’s amazing what a difference it makes in how we move through life and the positive impact we make all around us.
January 20, 2021
Dear Church Family and Friends,
When I’m out for a jog and face a hill I try not to look up, but rather keep my gaze a little bit ahead of me and draw my focus within to my stride and breath. It’s easy to look to the top of the hill and become overwhelmed. The mind is an amazing thing and loves to tap into our weakness telling us we can’t do it, we’re too tired, whatever to make us give up. Yet, there is another voice in our minds that reaches deep for our strengths, the conscious awareness that we are every bit capable of achieving our goals. Silencing the negative is difficult, but with focus in the right place we can actually discover there is more power within us than we think.
This works not just in running, but whenever the way seems difficult to travel. I consider this in light of where we find ourselves in the history of our country when differences are being magnified and common ground seems less attainable. When we try to consider how to approach the days ahead, it is essential that we set our focus on the immediate actions that we can take, those things right in front of us, within our own grasp. In that vein, Al, John and I tolled the church bell last night along with churches throughout our nation to remember the 400,000 lives lost to the pandemic and we rang it for unity. In order to overcome the challenges before us, we must look to what we each can do. Our actions and our words can work to bring much needed healing and peace.
One of my favorite Bible verses is from Mark 9:24 when a father seeking to have Jesus heal his son, responds to Jesus saying, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” As we face this time in our history we might wonder how on earth things are going to get better, can we get beyond these days? Perhaps our best response can be a sincere, “I believe we will and can. God, help the part of me that is filled with doubt.”
Blessings and peace,
January 13, 2020
Dear Friends and Church Family,
Today my reflection is the work of Richard Rohr. After two friends told me about his daily meditations some time ago, I signed up to receive his emails. In the midst of our current circumstances as a nation, I share a portion of today’s with you below.
May we find hope and renewed commitment to follow in the ways of love as Jesus exemplified.
Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation
Love Is the Protagonist
Like me, Brian McLaren has spent many decades “on the edge of the inside” of the institutional Church. Although he often critiques the stories told by Christian denominations, he has never tired of the Jesus story or failed to believe in its power to transform the world. Brian and Gareth Higgins write:
Jesus came to subvert all stories of violence and harm, not repeat them.
Instead of patriarchal stories of domination, he taught and embodied service, reconciliation, and self-giving.
Instead of stories of violent revolution or revenge on the one hand or compliant submission on the other, he taught and modeled transformative nonviolent resistance.
Instead of the purification stories of scapegoating or ethnic cleansing, he encountered and engaged the other with respect, welcome, neighborliness, and mutuality.
Instead of inhabiting a competitive story of accumulation, he advocated stewardship, generosity, sharing, and a vision of abundance for all.
Instead of advocating escapist stories of isolation, he sent his followers into the world to be agents of positive change, like salt, light, and yeast.
And instead of leaving the oppressed in stories of victimization, he empowered them with a vision of faith, hope, and love that could change the world.
January 7, 2021
Dear Friends and Church Family,
On one hand, this morning has felt like any other morning – let the dog out, let him back in and feed him, make a fire in the wood stove, pour a cup of coffee that was set to brew at 5 a.m., sit to meditate, pray, breathe in the morning air. On the other hand, this morning is not like other mornings. I didn’t wake up in a peaceful state. And while I met the needs of Bentley, the wood stove and poured my cup of coffee, I came to my quiet reflective time with a heaviness of heart struggling to take in what took place at our Capitol on Wednesday and yet, is there really any surprise? A fueled fire can get pretty hot. This I know from burning firewood for heat all these years. This we know when people are stirred up over a cause and rather than put their emotions in check, they are encouraged and provoked until the fire begins to burn out of control. And it did figuratively speaking, within our Capitol on January 6, 2021. A day that will forever be etched in our minds and written in our history books. A fragile day in our democracy.
I want to think that this moment in our history will be a wakeup call for everyone of us. Clearly, there is plenty of heartache, fear, and worry in our country. We know this to be true. And we know, as well that the only answer is to come together in compassion, kindness and love not just for those we are comfortable with, but even more so with those we hold at a distance. We know that hatred, violence, disrespect, discord are outward signs of inner pain. With that in mind, as people who have put our confidence in hope and love, how can we move forward compassionately and openly in search of common ground?
President Lincoln’s words, “our better angels”, have oft been used lately, each time with a yearning to invoke that which is in us to strive toward harmony and peace. As we begin this new day, may we indeed, rise up to be beacons of hope and demonstrate with our own lives a sense of goodness and love. It is the only way forward.
Keoka Lake , KLA photo
January 1, 2021
Dear Church Family and Friends,
Surely, our “Happy” in Happy New Years is shared with a tremendous amount of relief and hope. On the threshold of 2021 we look back to the past year with all of its challenge and heartache, but not without recognizing that in the midst of it all the bright light of hope has never faded. For all the stories of worry and fear, sorrow and loss, there have been, as well, stories of kindness and compassion, love and care. We have witnessed immeasurable acts of goodness – people putting others before themselves, supporting the local community and those who have been in need. Even the darkest moments in life are graced with rays of hope. When we choose to live in the light, to live with gratitude and allow a positive outlook to dominate our lives, darkness cannot succeed.
A few mornings ago, I took my usual walk outside with my cup of coffee and sat in one of our Adirondack chairs to watch the moon set in the west as the horizon in the east began to lighten. It has become my morning meditation – bundled up for warmth, hot coffee in my cup, my dog at my feet relishing the petting and extra attention. While the full moon setting is beautiful to witness, other mornings the sky is full of stars and sometimes its cloudy with little but the stillness and quite. Those are the external things, but within I practice peace and calm, gratitude and wonder. I never fail to find it within when I take those moments “away”.
May you find places of peace and calm in this New Year; places that fill you with hope and allow you to see the light of possibility in each new day.
July 7, 2021
This Sunday we will be meeting in person for the first time in a long time and I am so excited! Okay, so everyone is expected to wear a mask and we will practice social distancing and some of what we did in the past will be modified, but yahoo! – we are going to be together again! Just seeing your smiling eyes and feeling the warmth of kindness in our gathering is something I have been longing for. As I prepare, I have to admit that I have butterflies in my stomach. It’s a big deal re-gathering after all these months and I wonder if I’ve gotten a bit rusty. I suppose I’m over thinking things a bit, but nevertheless these thoughts keep creeping into my mind when I least expect them. When I am out weeding, cleaning the house, or making bread my mind slips over to Sunday morning. Can the service be meaningful even though we can’t sing yet? Will it feel awkward for everyone to be donning a mask and refraining from those long sought after hugs? Will we feel clumsy wondering where to sit and which way to enter and exit? Everyone needs to feel welcome and relaxed and joyful. Can this be achieved in spite of our limitations?
Probably the answer to each of these questions rattling around in my mind is – “yes”. It most likely will feel a little odd and awkward, but the most important thing is that we will be together and how we have longed for that day! Perfection and process are far less important than uniting together in our common faith and giving distant hugs with our eyes and hearts.
Sunday will be a time of celebration more than it is on other Sundays. This Sunday, July 11th, marks a special moment. Never in our lifetime have we been separated by a pandemic. Driven apart out of necessity at a moment when we have needed each other even more for support. Yet, we found remarkable ways to stay connected in spite of physical distance and that has enriched us, strengthened us in faith and hope. There is much we would welcome moving on from as we step over the threshold into re-gathering and there is much that we seek to retain from lessons we have learned along the way.
We are writing a new chapter in our church’s history and as well as in our personal lives. Let’s share this moment together this Sunday as we celebrate together. And for those who cannot attend for whatever reason, know that we are united in spirit.