Thankful

What family time looks like these days. (You can see the resemblance, right?) Thank you, Google Duo.

And thank you Zoom, which is how my extended family will gather this year. I can’t remember if I ever spent a Thanksgiving without seeing my brother and sisters at some point over the long weekend.

And I’m sure there hasn’t been a Thanksgiving since I started eating solid food when I won’t have the traditional meal with all the fixings prepared according to strictly applied family recipes. But the majority of those who will be with us this year don’t eat meat (or poultry), so that’s off the table, as they say.

I’ve always said I prefer Thanksgiving to Christmas because it’s not about getting material things but instead about food and gratitude, about celebrating family tradition and continuing family ties.

Even as so many of us will be physically apart, Thanksgiving 2020 will bring those things even more clearly into focus, I think, and even (or especially) with all that’s been happening, we will give thanks.

A moment in time

From yesterday’s bike ride. I’d go back today, but it wouldn’t be exactly the same. A reminder to cherish the moment, the present moment, whatever it happens to be.

Sign of the times

The sculpture is called “Sign of the Times” and it stands by to the bridge at the gateway to New Hope. When it was installed back in the late 1980s it was a pure clear white, but not so much any more. It’s designed so the top piece swings back and forth in the wind, but it was foggy not windy this morning. I don’t know the meaning of the somewhat cruciform shape.

I tell myself not to do it, but I check the news on my phone about every five minutes. I know that we’re all waiting this morning, voters on both sides convinced the republic is at risk if the other side wins. I watched the body cam video of the shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. this morning, tragedy unfolding before your very eyes.

I still believe the shared values that unite us are greater than those that would drive us apart, but I wonder how we’ll ever be able to recover from all of this.

These words from Pema Chodron’s little book resonated with me this morning:

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impairment, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”

Jesus also told his followers again and again to let go of their fears. “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid,” he said to the terrified disciples who saw him coming toward them across the water. “Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.” (Mark 6:49-51)

To keep my heart open and let go of fear, that’s the challenge I feel this morning.

All saints

I find myself recalling especially not just the saints of my own life and family but all those we lost this year. May they rest In peace and rise in glory, and may our remembering be both a comfort and an inspiration.

In the rain

Sometimes I wake up in the morning with words on the tip of my tongue, and I don’t always know where they came from. They might be the first sentences of a paper or sermon I’d working on; when that happens, it’s clear that my resting brain has identified the essence of a jumble of thoughts I was already having, and I accept it as pure gift.

But sometimes I’ve no idea where the thought came from, as this morning when I woke up to hear my inner voice saying, “Cultivate an attitude of joy.”

The attitude that most often inhabits my soul in this season of dying and letting go is a kind of wistfulness, a sadness that certainly is tinged with some joy at the beauty of the natural world as the leaves change color and fall, but this year there’s been more sadness than joy. I’m struggling with all the limitations of this pandemic, I’ll admit that, and I mention this not so much because I want your sympathy but because if you happen to be experiencing some struggles of your own I want you to know that you’re not alone.

This is not how I’d intended to spend this part of my life. This is not what I wanted to be doing with myself now. I apologize if it sounds maudlin but one of several motivations driving my decision to retire a year and a half ago was the feeling that none of us knows how much good time we have left. After years of letting my family support me while I was often absent to them as I pursued new and exciting opportunities I’d never imagined would be available to me in mid-life, it seemed time to be intentional about spending more of those remaining good years with my family. Now I wonder how much of me will be left when we’re finally free to emerge from isolation and resume some semblance of “normal” life.

“Cultivate an attitude of joy.”

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Fallen

I was very proud of myself for resisting the urge to pull out my phone and take this picture when I first noticed the big red leaf during a wonderful sermon yesterday, but that’s the first thing I did once we were dismissed. Outside worship is wonderful. There’s a long tradition that says the “Book of Nature” was God’s first expression of self, and being able to ponder both the Book of Nature and the Book of the Word at the same time has touched my soul.

Life and death: The long embrace

My camera and I have been hanging out in the graveyard at Solebury Friends Meeting on beautiful fall afternoons of late, as well as some of these foggy mornings we’ve been having. It’s so lovely and peaceful. There’s almost never anyone else there and it’s big enough that you don’t see much of the world beyond the walls. The old stone house on the corner doesn’t count; like the old grave markers, it’s something from another era.

I guess you could say that much about a lot of the graveyards around here, but one thing that sets this place apart for me is the number of names I recognize, both the family names that have been in this area since William Penn (literally) and the individuals I knew before they took up residence here. There’s something comforting about strolling along and noticing those names here and there. It’s good to be reminded of who they were and I think of it as a nice visit with old friends, even if they don’t talk back.

I also love the way this tree is swallowing up the tombstones (and, presumably, what remains of the folks beneath them). Like seeing old familiar names, it reminds me just how big and persistent life really is.

Rituals

Sometimes it’s the little rituals of our lives that hold us in place when we feel most ungrounded. And sometimes you have to be to be ready to modify those rituals, or make some new ones.

So, two old rituals yesterday, and one that’s fairly new for us.

Church in the morning, though we gather outside now. I miss the music, but I like hearing the birds. I even kinda sorta like the passing motorcycles, because this wouldn’t be New Hope without them.

Then home to a breakfast my father used to make: fried tomatoes, sprinkled lightly with brown sugar, with a pile of bacon on the side. Because my dad fried the green tomatoes that never got around to ripening in his garden, this was the only time of year he made that meal, and though I like to indulge myself with red ripe tomatoes, I only make it in September. Because.

Then, in the afternoon, we were off on what has become a new pandemic ritual for us: a long drive in the country. The object is to follow pretty backroads, preferably some you haven’t seen before, get to someplace nice where you can get out and stretch your legs, and get back home before you need a bathroom break. We headed out through Hunterdon and Mercer counties in New Jersey, stopping for a short walk at the Herrontown Woods Arboretum near Princeton, cursed the fact that we couldn’t stop on impulse at a favorite restaurant on the way home, and called it a day.

Sometimes the way ahead seems so unclear, and sometimes the sun comes right down out of heaven and traces the path for you.

But for some reason, we crossed the creek in the picture and turned right. It turned out fine. Next time, though, I’ll bring my boots and my walking stick.

Praying in sadness

These are some thoughts I’ve been pulling together for myself as I try to pray through the sadness I’ve felt since covid put an end to the life I’d been planning to lead in 2020. I offer them in case they help, though every pray-er is an individual and the issues for each one of us might be quite different.

First of all, the sadness is real and legitimate. There’s plenty to be sad about, even if there are also still reasons for gladness. Own it. Bring the sadness to prayer. Many are the voices who remind us that we begin where we are in prayer, and sometimes that is in sadness. God will meet you there.

If not knowing how to pray means not knowing how to begin, just say, “Here I am, I’m sad.” If it means not knowing what to say or ask for, don’t worry about that. Put the question to God – how would you have me pray? – and then listen and wait for what words might come. Remember the line from Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Let that prayer that is already present in you be your own.

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In passing

So many losses, just so many. So much grief. We ourselves lost two beloved friends this past week, and we talked this morning about those losses and others who went before them over the past six months or so. That feeling of wanting them to be there, and knowing they aren’t and never will be again. Of course they’ll always be present in a way, as we carry them in memory, but we want to hear their laughter again, feel their embrace, be uplifted by their wise words and gentle spirits. And that won’t happen again in this world.

And so we cling more tightly to our memories, to each other, and to friends who are still with us. In each case the ones we’ve lost have taught me things about what it means to live a good and meaningful life: how to love, how to care, how to teach, how to be present in ways that break into the loneliness that’s there to some degree for all of us. Perhaps that’s the root of the phrase, “May her memory be for a blessing.” We re-create our late friends for ourselves by becoming a little more like them as we go on. 

One of the most frustrating things for me in these past difficult times is the feeling that my life has been put on hold, but of course life doesn’t stop for those of us who aren’t dead. The life we’re living now is our own real and true life, and as a dear friend now gone liked to say, quoting Paula D’Arcy, “God comes to you disguised as your life.”

And so we go on, rising on our good days to the challenge of living, really living. I’m in the process of preparing to facilitate a Zoom discussion that will include talking about Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” – a book that impresses me more and more the longer I sit with it – and I came across this Thurman quote:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Amen.