In my first call, so many years ago, I was privileged to be with a member of my congregation as she was dying. She was in the hospital, and was beginning her transition from this life to the next. Her eyes were mostly closed and she had not spoken for quite a while. I prayed quietly with her and after a few moments, I started to say the Lord’s Prayer. I noticed a slight movement in her hands, and I glanced at her face. She was silently mouthing the words along with me, all the way to the end. “Forever and ever. Amen.”
What a gift that prayer was to both of us. At our completely different stages, and in our totally different circumstances, it united us, both God’s beloved children, one in the Spirit. I can’t remember learning the words of the prayer– it seems as if I’ve always known them. Perhaps I learned them in Sunday School, or maybe my parents taught me, but most likely it was the constant repetition of saying them with others that placed the words in my heart, and sealed them there forever.
It is the one prayer every Christian knows, even though our wording may vary a bit. It is a bridge between communities and a constant in a changing spiritual landscape. Yet, we say it so often, we may be unaware of its affect on us. These words shape us over the course of our life, like drops of water subtly but surely shape the stones on which they fall. “Give us this day… forgive us as we forgive…for thine is the kingdom and the power…”
In my role as Chaplain, I am privileged to pray this prayer many times a week with different people: in worship, during prayer group, with individuals whom I visit. I am always moved by the experience: no matter how frail or forgetful, how distracted or isolated, these words are always there, somewhere deep inside. The very fact of having said them so often for so long makes them available to us, even when we have long forgotten other things.
So today, I offer these words to you again. Wherever you are when you read this, I invite you to take a moment to pray the Lord’s Prayer, savoring the words and phrases, and knowing that others in this community and around the world are somewhere praying them with you.
Forever and ever.
What does it mean to age gracefully? In a society so fixated on youth, what does it mean to embrace the gifts and challenges of growing older?
The second half of life, or ”the afternoon of life” as C.G. Jung put it, begins at around fifty, and contains within it a different set of tasks than the first half. In the first half of life, we are called to create our identity, establish our relationships, develop our work lives, sometimes raise our children. In the second half, we are called to be more settled, more internally focused, and to attend to the “smaller things of life” — no more needing to prove who we are, we can now decide to be who we are, as fully as possible.
Frederick and Mary Anne Brussat of Spirituality and Practice have created a list of what they consider to be the essential tasks and gifts of the second half of life:
- It is a time in our lives to put the finishing touches on our character for the fulfillment and confirmation of our true self.
- It is a time to nurture intimacy in our roles as spouses, parents, grandparents, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and community members.
- It is a time to explore everyday spirituality, discovering signs of the sacred in things, our homes, our bodies, our relationships, and more.
- It is a time to deepen and intensify our devotional life, learning more spiritual practices to supplement prayer and meditation.
• It is when we embrace it all — sunshine and shadow — excluding nothing from our hearts.
For those of us in the second half of life, it can be tempting to look at our aging as a diminishment as we focus on beauty changing, bodies slowing, and our human mortality. Yet what if we reminded ourselves that aging is a privilege not granted to everyone? What if we took advantage of the slowing down to go more deeply into prayer?
No matter what our age, we each have something to the world needs. For those of us getting older, experience, wisdom and perspective are the roots that nourish and stabilize our families and communities—if we let them.
“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
~ Psalms 139
At every age and in every stage, we are God’s handiwork.
Thanks be to God!
What does Labor Day mean to you? Does it bring up images of picnics and parades? Does it signify the end of summer? Does it remind you of the laborers whose work makes this country run? As we enter into this Labor Day Weekend, I offer up two readings for your reflection. The first is from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. It reminds us again of the kind of community we are called, as people of faith, to be building.
The second reading is from our UCC Minister for Economic Justice, Edith Rasell. As you read them both, I invite you to let them be in dialogue with one another. How does the call from St. Paul relate to the statistics from Rasell? What does our Christian faith ask of our civic involvement? And how can we use our consumer advocacy and political activism to create a more just and loving world, for all workers?
9 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10 Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.
Edith Rasell writes:
“In an unjust world, in a nation with millions living in poverty, genuine love demands our involvement. Loving our neighbors means standing with people on the margins who seek a better life for themselves, the life that is God’s intention for them.
In the U.S. today, 47 million people (nearly one in seven) live in poverty and over one third of us (some 106 million people) live below twice the poverty line, the amount that many researchers think is a minimally adequate income level. At the same time, there are 1,591 billionaires and 7.1 million (or 8.4 million[iv] or 9.6 million) millionaires, depending on whose study you read. Over one in seven people in the U.S. is receiving food stamps that provide, on average, less than $1.50 per meal, per person. The dire statistics go on and on. Some 9.5 million people are unemployed. Millions more are jobless but have given up looking for work and, therefore, are no longer counted among the unemployed.
Over one-quarter of all jobs in the U.S. (28%) pay poverty-level wages, so low that a full-time worker cannot keep a family out of In 2013, 42% percent of Hispanic workers, 36% percent of black workers, and 23% of white workers earned poverty-level wages. Read about the difficulties faced by young workers. Learn about wage theft, the common practice in which employers fail to pay workers all the wages they earn.
The federal minimum wage, $7.75/hour, has not increased in five years. Some states or cities have a higher minimum wage (check your state) and in a few places the minimum wage is nearly high enough to support people at a meager, but adequate, standard of living. But in most locations, the minimum wage needs to be raised. Corporate profits are at record levels (more). Corporate giants can well afford to raise their workers’ pay. The United States is a wealthy country. There is no justification for poverty, oppressive work conditions, or lack of opportunity. Things do not need to be this way. Our involvement could make a difference.”
This Labor Day, amidst the picnics and the celebrations, let’s not forget the work of so many unseen workers who are living in need in this land of plenty. May our words and our deeds honor them, and may our faith shape our own work toward justice for all.
“I’ve had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags.
I am out of here.
So begins a poem by Killan McDonnell titled “Perfection, Perfection.” It floated across my computer screen this week, a gift from Parker Palmer, and amidst the many, many wonderful memes and notes I received, it was the one I needed to hear. You see, even I, who has so many opportunities to practice the spirituality of imperfection, still sometimes need to be reminded that perfectionism is a disability, a false goal, an illusion. It keeps us from trying something we aren’t sure we can do and it keeps us from enjoying the beauty of what is.
I still have the note, written to me by my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Vaughn, in which she gently points out to me that getting 100% on my papers isn’t the only goal for a good student – having fun, getting some things wrong and learning from them, she wrote, are things she hoped I would do more of. Being the good little girl that I was, I decided to listen to her, and turns out, she was right. I don’t remember anything about the papers and tests on which I got perfect scores. Not really. I do remember the time I risked playing the cymbals in a band for a program at school (it was a disaster) and how it was okay, anyway. I do remember making a birthday cake for my high school boyfriend: (baking two cakes, actually, because the first one was too done for my liking); decorating it meticulously; and having the dog jump up on the table and eat part of it while I was primping in thebathroom.I remember how much we laughed about that (later in the evening, after I stopped crying). And I remember that most of the regrets I have in my life are from things I didn’t do because I wasn’t sure I could do them perfectly.
This Sunday we reflected on the story in Matthew in which the disciples are floating off on the choppy waters, unmoored and scared, only to see Jesus walking toward them. Peter stands up in the boat, and asks Jesus if he can join him. Jesus says, “Come.” So Peter, being Peter, starts out on the water, makes it a few steps — then realizes that he probably doesn’t know what he is doing, and begins to sink. Jesus reaches out a hand, and pulls him to safety.
It’s a story with many layers, but I was struck by how Peter’s faith, imperfect though it was, was enough to get him out of the boat and into Jesus’ hands. It was only a little faith, an imperfect faith, but it was the catalyst for a new way living and being. It was imperfect, but enough.
Perfectionism, in faith and in life, is an illusion of the ego. It restricts our vision and keeps our actions in safe and manageable boxes. And most of all, it is not what God asks of us. God asks that we be fully alive, with all the messiness that entails. Jesus shows us that even faith the size of a mustard seed (hardly impressive) is enough. And so we need to be reminded every now and then to try things we aren’t sure of and laugh at ourselves when we fall short. Because the strength of our relationship with God and with each other doesn’t come from our ability to achieve but from our desire to love.
So I return to the words of Killan McDonnell, a 93 year old Benedictine monk, as he reflects on perfectionism:
“I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelos’s radiant David
the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
I hadn’t seen her for quite awhile. We were friends, but the kind of friends who enjoy each other and work together on committees, yet don’t really know each other very well. So I was glad to see her again at one of our get-togethers, and I told her so.
‘Where’ve you been?” I asked. “You’ve been missed!”
“Thanks,” she replied. “I’ve been sick for the past few months. But I’m getting back on my feet now, and feeling much better.”
I immediately felt terrible – how could I not have known she was sick? Granted, it had been a few months, but still, we’re all busy and …
“I’ve been depressed.” She said it matter-of-factly. Like “I’ve had hip replacement surgery” or “I’ve been doing cancer treatments.” “I had to concentrate on getting the medical help I needed.”
My friend wasn’t talking about feeling a little blue, or having a down day. She was sharing with me that she had been clinically depressed, to the point she was unable to function in her daily life and required medical intervention.
Since that day, I have been with her several times when she has referred to this experience with others. She always speaks of it in a very straightforward and non-dramatic way, but in a way that makes it clear the seriousness of what she went through – and her commitment to helping others in the same situation.
Part of what she does that is so very healing is simply speaking the words and acknowledging the truth about mental illness. It really is an illness, like cancer and arthritis and heart disease, but because as a society we have somehow confused it with a character issue or a sign of personal weakness, people don’t talk about it. It has been stigmatized to the degree that people often don’t get the help they need when they need it most.
You know, we’ve done that with other illnesses before, ones we didn’t yet understand. Epilepsy was a sign of demon possession. Leprosy was a sign of an unclean spirit. Addiction was a sign of weakness. Cancer was an indication that “something was unresolved in your life.” One by one, we’ve knocked those myths down, as science has led us toward new understanding and new hope. It’s past time to do that with mental illness, as well. Because there really is new hope in this arena. And though it is estimated that 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness in his or her life, by far most of those people will be successfully treated and have high functioning, fulfilling lives. Like my friend.
There are so many things we don’t know about one another. We assume that all is well when sometimes it isn’t. We don’t ask questions, for fear of invading someone’s privacy. And most debilitating of all, we don’t acknowledge our own needs or ask for help when we are in the midst of depression or anxiety or any myriad of illnesses that can be helped – and thus we lose hope when we don’t need to.
So let’s take a page from my friend’s playbook. Let’s be clear about what mental illness really is. (see the following page on facts) Let’s step into the 21st century and resolve to view this type of illness with the same scientific lens we’ve learned to treat others. And most important of all: let’s be honest about who we are and what we need. Because what I don’t know about you – and what you don’t know about me – can hurt us.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are burdened and heavy laden.” May we remember those words whenever we feel the burden of any illness. We don’t have to carry it alone. We are surrounded by the love and the light of God, which no darkness can ever overcome. Ever. Thanks be to God.
(If you or someone you know is currently suffering from a mental illness, please know you can reach out to me. I am just a phone call away: 650-369-0344. Other resources: your own physician; the national suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255. In an emergency, call 911. For additional mental health tools and resources, visit the Network of Care website at www.sanmateo.networkofcare.org/mh.)
Facts About Mental Illness
- Mental illnesses are brain disorders that alter how people feel, behave, & perceive the world, but, like physical illnesses, they are biologically-based.
* People who suffer from a mental illness can be just as effective as those with any other illness (i.e. Abraham Lincoln suffered from severe depression)
- A surprising number of high level jobs are filled by people who have experienced mental illness.
*Many of our great works of art, music, & literature were produced by persons with mental illness.
- A person’s character has nothing to do with whether they develop a mental illness.
* Mental illnesses strike those with all kinds of temperaments, beliefs, morals, & backgrounds.
- The primary factor determining whether a person will develop a mental illness is their bio-chemical makeup
*A mentally ill person is just as frightened, upset, & physically ill as someone suffering congenital heart disease or any other physical illness
- Learning the facts about mental illness is the first step to a fair attitude toward people with mental disorders
Used with permission from The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
160 Birch Street
Redwood City, CA
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- June 2013
- May 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
- August 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- October 2011
- September 2011
- August 2011
- July 2011
- June 2011
- May 2011
- April 2011
- March 2011