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Archive for September 2012

SIMPLE GIFTS

There we were, sitting around the dinner table, sharing stories.  It was quite a group:  Annette, June, Evelyn, Kathleen, Ruth, Valerie and me.  We had just finished the toasts for the Bury’s 70th Anniversary celebration here at church and the stories started flowing about our respective weddings.  Evelyn was married during the Depression, when no one had much “extra” to go around.  June and Annette shared about the challenges of putting on a wedding in the midst of World War II.  We laughed about “making do” – that old-fashioned concept of taking what you have and making it work.  During the war, sugar rationing made having a wedding cake difficult, it not impossible; the coupons which allowed for two pairs of shoes per year made buying special shoes to wear during the ceremony an unacceptable extravagance (ask Annette what she wore on her feet…).  When I was married 32 years ago, people still thought of wedding receptions as primarily cake and champagne fetes; maybe a buffet table with finger foods, but the sit-down, formal dinner was not yet standard.

Somehow, expectations have changed.  In my 25 years of officiating at weddings, I have seen the whole experience evolve into something new.  Dresses, flowers, shoes (!), attendants, photographers, videographers, multi-course meals –  so many expenses for one day, so many expectations, so many complicated plans.  Most of the weddings I’ve been blessed to be a part of have been truly beautiful and sacred.  However, I have not noticed any discernible difference in how happy the bride and groom are based on the extravagance of the affair.  If anything, the more details, the more stress they feel.  In other words, we have added many variables to what we expect and think we need for these celebrations, but we haven’t added to the joy.

I think that’s true about much of our lives.  The culture in which we are imbedded gives us a certain sense about what we need to be happy.  Yet our faith tells us that what is essential is not measured by how much we have but rather by how much we love.  The meaning and joy in our lives comes from loving God, loving one another, and service.  Everything else is extra.  Everything else is temporary.

I have a dear friend who has just returned from an extended stay in India, where she saw poverty and deprivation unlike anything she had previously experienced.  She came back with a question that is framing her way of looking at all of her interactions now, at work, at home, in the world:  “What is essential?”  If she finds herself getting over-stressed, or anxious, or angry about a situation, she asks herself, “What is essential here?”  What things do I need to understand, what actions do I need to take that support what I believe to be essential in my life?  Do I really need whatever I am fighting for?  Must I have what I am reaching for?  Or can I let that go and instead return my focus to what matters most in my life?  Can I simplify my wants to reflect what I truly need?

The old Shaker song, “Simple Gifts”, reminds us that it is a blessing to discern what it is we truly need to be happy.  It is a gift that frees us from the agitation of always wanting what we don’t have.  It is a gift that roots us back in the basis of our faith.  I leave you with these words.  May they speak to you of the simple truth of God’s love for you, a love that always brings everything we need.

 Thanks be to God. 

Kim

Click here for the 9-26-12  Newsletter…

“God Bless You”

My neighborhood coffee shop was busy, as usual.  As I sipped my coffee, I was surrounded by people, most of whom were either working on their laptops or reading.  In spite of the intermittent noise of the espresso machine, it was a rather quiet group, each of us engaged in our own solitary pursuits.  Suddenly, someone sneezed – I didn’t see who – and voices from behind books and computers all piped up:  “Bless you!” – “bless you” – even, “God bless you.”  In that one moment we were reminded that, in fact, we weren’t alone at all.  We were surrounded by fellow travelers in this life, strangers who, at least for an instant, became well-wishing friends.

I’ve been thinking about that moment and those words lately.  In the Book of Proverbs, we read, “The one who blesses is absolutely blessed.”  And Jesus started perhaps his best known teachings with these words:  “Blessed is the one…”  What does it mean to bless and be blessed?  What does it mean when strangers and intimates alike use the same word to wish you well?  Is it the same as saying “good luck” or “best wishes”?  Or is there something more to the word “blessing”:  something deeper and fuller, even sacred?

Observant Jews are taught to say 100 blessings, or berakhot,  every day in response to a wide variety of happenings.  They are short and simple prayers, that always begin with the same words:  “Blessed art Thou, our Lord, King of the Universe,  for…”   and then finish with words like “bringing forth bread from the earth” or, when one sees a natural phenomenon, “doing the work of Creation.”  100 times a day people stop, and at least for a moment, recognize the Presence of the Holy in their midst.

The Christian Celts had a similar tradition of creating blessings for every occasion in life, joyful and painful.  Jesus himself taught us to extend our blessings to the poor, to those who suffer, to those who feel alone.  Nothing is too small to notice and lift before God; no one is too insignificant to reach out to with a word of blessing. 

John O’Donahue, the Irish poet, says that giving and receiving a blessing is like being within a protective circle of light.  And so I leave you with that image:  wherever you go, you are part of that circle.  May you notice the blessings that fill your days and may you know the blessing that you are to the world. 

Thanks be to God!

Kim

9-19-12 Newsletter

BAYLANDS WALK

My walk along the Baylands trail was a challenge.  Not that the trail was difficult, because it was flat and relatively smooth.  But as I walked among the grasses and the shrubs, looking out at the Bay, I was walking into a biting wind. It was so uncomfortable that I almost turned around to go home.  Yet I kept walking. I’m not sure why.  Maybe it was ego (“I’m not going to let a little breeze stop me!”).  Or maybe it was just that I had a certain distance I wanted to cover, and was unwilling to let myself stop before I’d reached it.  So I persevered, one step at a time, willingmyself to continue, telling myself it would be over soon.

And then I saw it.  As I rounded a corner, a bush full of brilliant red berries stood right before me.  In the midst of a muted landscape of greens and browns, this bush was like a trumpet in a quiet room.  It was so beautiful it took my breath away, and I stood still for a moment, finally aware of the magnificence of the setting, wind and all.  It took a bush with burning red berries to bring me fully into the presence of God’s creation and to remind me that I was walking on holy ground.  What just a moment before had been a task to complete became a prayer of gratitude:  for beauty, for life, for creation.

Nature does that sometimes.  God often uses the materials of the natural world to invite us again and again into the mystery of God’s presence.  A burning bush.  A roiling sea.  A star in the sky.  Even a powerful wind.  Things that seem, at first glance, to be ordinary, until we stop and look.   Today, as the days continue to shorten and the evenings grow cooler, look around for God’s invitation to you.  What parts of our  world helps you remember that you are walking on holy ground?  Where are you surprised by beauty?  Look and listen for God’s Word of love to you, spoken in the language of creation. 

 

We are nourished by the gifts of creation and we are responsible for them, as well.  There is a beautiful prayer inspired by Chief Seattle that is found in the United Methodist Book of Worship, and it expresses this dynamic very well:  we are recipients and stewards of the gifts of our world.  How privileged we are when we notice them!

~ Kim

A Prayer for God’s World

 

Every part of this earth is sacred.
Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore,
Every mist in the dark woods,
Every clearing and humming insect is holy.
 
The rocky crest, the meadow, the beasts and all the
People, all belong to the same family.
Teach your children that the earth is our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.
We are part of the earth, and the earth is a part of us.
The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst.
The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the air is
Precious, for all of us share the same breath.
The wind that gave our grandparents breath also
Received their last sigh.
The wind gave our children the spirit of life.
This we know, the earth does not belong to us.
We belong to the earth.
This we know, all things are connected.
Like the blood which unites one family,
All things are connected.
Our God is the same God, whose compassion is equal for all.
For we did not weave the web of life.
We are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
Let us give thanks for the web and the circle that connects us.
 Thanks be to God, the God of all.

 

Click here for 9-12 Newsletter

THIS SUNDAY’S SERMON

This Sunday afternoon Bill Van Cleve arrived at church with a vase of roses in one hand and a sermon in the other.  He’d found the “sermon” (printed below) in the Sunday newspaper.  As I read it, I was taken with how well this early Peanuts cartoon is able to summarize a major dividing line among Christians:  the line that divides those who believe that misfortune (illness, natural disaster, personal tragedy) is a punishment from God, and those that believe misfortunes occur to all people in life, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. 

For those of us in the second category, God’s role in our lives is to give us the strength to go forward, the trust to lean on God, and the ability to put aside superstitious beliefs about others.  For those of us who reject the theology of a petty, punishing God, the example of Jesus’ life shines a light on our own:  he, too, suffered; he, too, struggled.  But he never blamed God and he never blamed others.  He was freed to live fully and compassionately — and so are we.

Enjoy the “sermon.”  God is, indeed, still speaking — and sometimes in the most unlikely of places!  Thanks be to God!

(and thanks to Bill Van Cleve and Charles Schultz, too…)

~ Kim

Click here for 9-5-12 Newsletter