Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Thoughts on not giving up

Here it is January 19th and we are mid-way through January 2022. Hopes for a declining or ending pandemic are dashed as the infection spreads rapidly. Just today in my corner of the world, I saw a post from news channel 9 that showed a photo with a mask from the local bus system in our county. The article mentions that the Task Force is being reactivated. I don't mind masks. I am glad to wear a mask to protect other people. As a follower of Christ, I am taught that living, loving, and leading IS about the other-- we are to love God and love neighbor. I understand that there are folks who disagree. There are followers of Christ who disagree. And that's okay. Those who lived and ate with Christ didn't always agree on things. There is nothing taught by the Holy Spirit or the written Word (to my knowledge) that says that all followers of Christ must agree. 

I am weary. I am weary from the ongoing need to pay attention to statistics. I am weary of reading about people dying-- young and old. I am weary of attempting to hold the tension of the both/and, of the different sides, of riding the middle. I am weary of not being able to move forward with the next. It's not about going back to 'what was' as that cannot be. Much like air travel has not gone back to pre-9/11 days, there are many things that will not "go back" to pre-pandemic days. I'm good with that.

Prior to pandemic days, it was easier to live into liminal space, to paradox, to both/and, etc. 

I have had my times of not knowing and Thomas Merton's prayer is an ongoing gift that speaks to me.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Yet, there is only so much liminal space that I can absorb.  The not knowing can become too much. 

I am beginning to hear the Psalmist cry out 'how long, how long?' and cry out with him.

Yet, today, on my walk around the community I saw a sign that read "Don't Give Up". I thought to myself, "Don't Give Up". 

I crossed the street to get a photo and when I did, there was a sign that had the words on the opposite side, but they were more faded. That made me chuckle a bit. Here were the same words, the same message, only more faded and worn out. Could it be that even when we are worn out, we can still receive the message of "don't give up"? Definitely something to chew on.

Whether we are reading the worn out sign or the not so worn out sign, here are some things we can NOT give up:

  • Don't give up doing good.
  • Don't give up looking at God, loving God, and loving others (as we love ourselves).

As I reflected on the message of the signs, I sat down for some afternoon reading and tea.

I picked up where I had left off in Discernment: a path to spiritual awakening by Rose Mary Dougherty and read this: "Julian's [Julian of Norwich] way of praying for others may be our most effective means of praying for self-knowledge. Perhaps for a time we give up looking at ourselves and keep our eyes focused on God. To look at God is to look at all of creation, seeing the shared God-life of all." (37)

Ah, there IS something we CAN give up--looking at ourselves and our situation. What we DON'T give up on is our focus on God. Isn't that what loving God and neighbor is about-- we focus on God and neighbor, not self or situation.

Dougherty continues, "As we do this, as we see the bigger picture, we also see ourselves in relation to it." (38)

Going back to the Psalmist David who cried out 'how long, how long' in Psalm 13-- David eventually got his focus off himself and back onto God. He gave up looking at himself and his situation and refocused on God.

From readings, from prayers, from reminders from signs and Scriptures, from hot tea and walks.. living into daily practices that help me refocus on God are the things that refuel and re-energize me.

May you find ways to regain your focus on God when you find yourself becoming weary or worn down. Don't give up on "seeing the shared God-life of all".

Rev. Deb

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

2021--A Year in Review

Many of us take time at the end of each year to look back, reflect, think over the good, the bad, the ugly. Today is December 28th and it's that time of the year.

Let's see. 2021. Somehow 2020 runs into 2021, but I will do my best to focus solely on 2021.

Clergy Convocation was online in February. The focus was on Sabbath rest.

My first residency for the Spiritual Direction program was online in April. They did a superb job of connecting us in worship, in sending us to our different groups, and bringing us back together for our sessions. 

I continued preaching solely online until Pentecost Sunday, May 23rd, on which we began our both/and services on in person and online worship.

Lots of hiking, bicycling, and walking allowed for outdoor time throughout the year.

Highlights of the year: 

*getting to know some of the community folks in St. Elmo through the "Sparkle St. Elmo" clean up day

*putting together a "Stations of the Cross" for St. Elmo UMC and community, using St. Elmo Ave. and the Virginia Greenway as the path

*an anniversary get-away in March

*my brother got married in April

*representing for PFLAG Athens in June at MooFest

*glamping in our friends' backyard in August

*getting to go to Chautauqua Institution over the summer to be chaplain at the Methodist House for a week. 

*preaching a series on faith and mental health, loosely based on my friend Steve's book, Hiding in the Pews. I say "loosely" because I picked four themes and Scriptures to go with them, and chose some quotes from the chapters to go along. 

*attending a 5 Day Academy in NC in October

*Trunk or Treat and goin all out with the Sponge Bob theme for my car

*attending an in-person residency for the Spiritual Direction program for the first time on the Columbia Theological Seminary campus in November

*offering an Advent study and preaching series from God Broke Through at Christmas

*participating in the St. Elmo Luminaria and Stroll by providing caroling and hot chocolate at St. Elmo UMC

*offering a 'come and go' Longest Night Service for people who wanted/needed time and space for quiet, reflection, and prayer

*Christmas Eve Candlelight Service

*spending lots of quality time with our "kids" when they were in town, cooking dinner together, eating outdoors at restaurants

*being able to see my parents at my home and at theirs

My writing this past year hasn't been as constant as I would like for it to have been. I haven't written any Haikus recently.  I need time, energy, and space to write. Most of my writing tends to be encouraging thoughts / posts on my Instagram/Facebook pages that are written during my morning quiet times.

My CEUs (continuing education units) have focused on how to do ministry during an ongoing pandemic, discipleship, enhancing ZOOM skills, Sabbath, doing creative ministry, etc.

There has been much loss in 2021. Loss of life primarily. I have walked with many as they said goodbye to their loved ones. Though that isn't an easy journey, it is a big part of my calling and one that is sacred. 

Walking with others, no matter their path, is a part of my calling that is life giving. Listening to others share their journey, asking questions, sharing my journey, allowing the Divine to meet us where we are-- all of it is sacred.

There is probably more that I'm not remembering about 2021. I'm doing this from my memories and that doesn't always cover everything.

Of course there is Cliff (our dog). And Charlie being home for both the summer and now Christmas vacation. Charlie home for the summer was a big part of our family cooking sessions and gatherings. 

As 2021 comes to a close and 2022 will begin sooner than later, I wonder what adventures are ahead. 

Whatever the adventures may be on the journey, I'm looking forward to sharing life with others and to making the best of whatever comes.

Peace to all as the new year comes, 

Rev. Deb

Some photos from 2021:

Monday, December 27, 2021

Shine Your Light

Yesterday I spent some time in the hammock resting. It was 70 something degrees Fahrenheit here in Tennessee. It would have been a great day to get into the woods, but I was too worn out from all the activity last week. Hammock time allowed me to rest and reflect.

From a week ago Sunday to yesterday, we had our regular Sunday service for Advent 4. I stayed at church all day preparing for the luminaria stroll in the community because we were offering caroling and hot chocolate. That was lots of fun. 

The luminary bags lit the pathway for the walkers on the Greenway and we enjoyed all those who joined us in singing and hot chocolate.

Then on Tuesday I had planned a Longest Night "come and go" service from 4:30-7:00 p.m., allowing people a time and space for lament, prayer, and silence. It turned out to be a special time and I am glad it came to be. 

We took a quick trip to Nashville to do an exchange at the airport of our kids-- one set leaving and another coming in. We were able to see some lights in Nashville.

Friday night was our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service with Cantata music. We were able to go outside to light our candles and sing "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World". It was a beautiful experience.

On Christmas Day evening we took a drive into a neighborhood that we had been told had great lights throughout. We weren't disappointed. I especially enjoyed the Grinch-themed decorations and the trees.

As I reflected on the past week of lights, services and the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I wrote this: "One light can make a difference. Be that light. Allow your unique brightness to offer light for others until it is no more. Let us be lights for one another." I posted my reflective quote with this photo of mine from the candlelight service: 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a bright light. He shined truth, justice, and love into many places. His light will continue to shine as his words are shared and as his actions are remembered. That is how light continues to shine when people are gone. We remember them and their impact on us. One of the many quotes being shared upon his passing is this one: "Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness."

Who are the lights in your life that are no longer with you, yet they continue to shine because you remember their words and their actions? Name them. Give thanks for them. They have made a difference in your life. 

Who are the lights in your life that are still with you, shining a way in the darkness, offering you hope? Name them. Give thanks for them. They are making a difference in your life.

You, too, can be a light. I can be a light. Again, my quote from yesterday: "One light can make a difference. Be that light. Allow your unique brightness to offer light for others until it is no more. Let us be lights for one another."

Shine your light!

Rev. Deb

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Refiner's Fire / Sancti-fire

April 9, 2016 firepit DD

This morning I listened to the Advent devotional hosted by the Sound District of the North Carolina Conference  and Jon the Methodist. At the end, there was a statement that caught my attention (paraphrased): 'the deepest thing within us is not sin, as some would have us believe, but rather the image of the Divine, the Creator. And that is the what the Refiner continues to work to reveal.'

Pause. The Refiner is working to reveal the image of the Divine that is deep within us. Soak that in.  Breathe it. 

The song "Refiner's Fire" was played.

I have been chewing on these thoughts as well as some others. It is an ongoing journey to be me, to become me, to live into who and whose I am. And, to do so with love and acceptance. The sign says, "love and acceptance practiced here". 

Yet, I tend to practice it better for others. However, if I cannot practice it for myself, then I cannot do so for others. I know that. I teach that. I don't always get it right. It is what it is. I recognize it and move forward with the recognition and knowledge. 

With all those thoughts swimming around in my mind, I read these precious words by Carol Collier:

"Death has come for someone who showed me great kindness when Suzanne died.

This woman knew a certain hell on earth and was an overcomer. Her hell did not strip her of her kind and generous heart. 

Again, I weep. 

I am no stranger to death. It has come into my house and stolen from me. 

It has taken the young, and the old, and the in-between people who have graced my life. 

Too many, too soon. 

My heart has been tendered by death and sorrow is a companion of mine. Death has not made me hard and cold. 

It is a warm fire that draws me close and makes me more open to its light.

How? How is it that the horror of death would be a light in my life?

I chose not to turn away or hide in a holy huddle. I chose not to bypass with a spirituality that does not make space for lament. 

Funerals are not happy-clappy parties. 

Death is a sancti-fire. It burns away self-centered ness, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-exaltation. 

It leaves you face down on the ground anguished in body and soul. 

I think about a Christianity that is rooted in the Sermon on the Mount. The blessed ones are those who mourn, who are poor, who are meek, who are hungry for things to be made right. 

Things to be made right. No more death. No more suffering. No more hell on earth. 

This is not a Christianity of wealth and power and might. You know, an Americanized Christianity. 

It is a Christianity that identifies with Jesus who came for the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed. 

Death is the most honest thing in life. 

And, as a Christian, it is the place where I come into the most intimate times with Christ Jesus. 

I am disrobed of all my pretense in the loving presence of my Savior. 

One day all will be made right. 

As we wait, may we be sanctified by our grief. May we be more meek and merciful. May we lay down our weapons and walk in the likeness of Christ."

Wow. Beautiful. Powerful. Words from the depths. 

The word "sancti-fire" caught my attention. "Death is a sancti-fire"."  Pause. No, hard stop. Breathe in the fullness of that statement. Death is a holy fire, a refiner's fire.

Carol continues: "It burns away self-centered ness, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-exaltation."

The sancti-fire of death burns away dross that keeps us from living our fullest, as we are created to be, in the image of the Creator. 

Oh, there are other things that burn this dross away, true. Death comes not only in physical loss of loved ones,  but in many forms. Yet this eloquently written piece captured my attention and connected me with the earlier message I had heard.

This season of Advent, this season of waiting and lament, is not to be rushed through or ignored. It offers many gifts, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

May it be so.

Rev. Deb

P.S. if you are needing or wanting space and time for reflection this Advent season, I encourage you to find a Longest Night/Blue Christmas service online or in person.  Many are held on December 21st, the longest night of the year.  I created a document for our 'come and go ' time at St. Elmo UMC that offers reflective readings. I will post that in a separate post. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Sacred Sorrow

A blog post I read the other day from In Search of a New Eden by author Justin Coutts caught my attention. "The Deep Mystery of Sacred Sadness" was written in June 9, 2019 yet it resonates with the season of Advent and what I have been experiencing.  It also dovetails with Carol Collier's writings on lament that I shared in a previous post.

There were many noteworthy nuggets in it.  This is one that I posted in the comments because it "shimmered" for me, catching my eye.

"So, if you find yourself feeling a heaviness in your heart, don’t assume that means you are off track. If you find yourself mourning for the state of the world, then you are mourning with Christ. Do not fight the sadness, do not run from it. Be at peace with it. Be comfortable in it. And know that it is fleeting just like our meaningless lives. Learn to rest in the beauty of the Divine Sorrow. For not only are we empty in our being but God is just as much grief as love. If we are not tangibly soaked in the tears of Christ then we are not living in the truth. This is the sacred sorrow."

This whole quote is chock full of meaningful words.  Here are some that stand out to me:

  • 'Don't assume that means you are off track.'
  • 'you are mourning with Christ.'
  • 'Be at peace with it [the sadness].'
  • 'Learn to rest in the beauty of the Divine Sorrow.'
  • 'God is just as much grief as love.'

Toward the end of the piece is this phrase: "the sorrow of God is peaceful and even beautiful."

You can read the entire article here: The Deep Mystery of Sacred Sadness

Maybe the mention of autumn colors (next to last paragraph) and their beauty as they signify death captures my attention as I continue to observe the beauty in the leaves as they let go, as they fall, as they return to the earth. (See photo at the top that I took on a walk.)

I invite you to share what catches your attention as you read this piece.

May Divine Sorrow add to the adventurous journey, 

Rev. Deb

Monday, November 29, 2021

Advent and a time of lament-- words of wisdom from Carol Collier

I read these words below written by Carol Collier on her Facebook page. I've been following her for a while and finally got to meet her in person at a community clean-up day.  Carol has a deep love for God and others. The depth of that love comes through her writing. I asked permission to share these two posts in my blog because they resonated deep within me as we begin this Advent season. I don't know what will resonate within you. But I share Carol's writings here for reflection. Thank you, Carol, for allowing the Holy to shine through the depths of the sorrow and grief and for reminding us to be with ourselves in this part of the journey.


Written by Carol Collier:

"I went, last night, to a Service of Lament.

It was quiet and still, and as we entered into that prepared space we picked up a stone to hold in our hands throughout the service.
The stone became the tactile reminder that we, and the world, are burdened.
The music was beautiful and mournful. Gorgeous voices accompanied by guitar and violin and piano.
At a certain point in the service we participated in a litany of named sorrows and griefs.
As each one was named, I felt a sob ~ no, no, I felt a wail ~ consume my body, as tears ran down my face.
I let them flow and fall to my chest.
~There is this billboard around town that says boldly “Save America, read the Patriot Post.”
I cannot identify exactly what it is I feel when I see that billboard. I can only know that something in my body registers revulsion.~
We have now entered the season of Advent. No, it’s not the “hap-happiest time of the year.”
It is the time when we remember the first coming of the Savior of the World.
We look back and remember his first coming and we look forward to his second Advent~ the time when he will come again.
As I let myself be immersed in the realities of a disordered and traumatized humanity in a broken, fractured world, and as I wail for all that we have done to ourselves and all that has been done to us, Advent reminds me that there is only one who can save us.
Anything other than Jesus is a lie, folks (and I’m not so sure his main thing is to save America. In fact I’m pretty sure America is not the reason he died on the cross.)
Weep, wail, rend your clothes for we are in desperate need of a Savior.
He has come, and he will come again, and all will be made right and all will be well.
In the in-between time, the now and not yet time, may we keep our eyes on the true Savior of the World.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"

"Part 2 ~ Advent
It is often in the depths of lament that God will show us how to live out the story of redemption here on this earth ~ how we can seek justice and love mercy, how we can care for the least, the lost and the littlest.
The problem may be that we won’t allow our hearts to be broken which can make us susceptible to false gospels that claim power over the humility of Christ.
Just sayin’"

~Carol Collier

This second post caused me to reflect and I posted this as a comment: "Lament and brokenness are powerful places to allow growth. To rest there, to be in it, to not rush through it-- to learn."

As we begin the Advent Season, where do you find yourself this year? This liminal space of now and not yet always causes me reflection. It seems even more poignant this year. The ground of my soul/soil is being prepared for what is to come. (A phrase I picked up from a Hearts on Fire retreat several years ago.)

I will be spending time this Advent season waiting, watching, listening. As I look for the coming of the Christ Child, I am open to the Christ within me to speak to me, to guide me, to teach me, to bring healing.  Emmanuel, God with us, can handle all the sorrow and grief of the world.

I am grateful for the reminder from Carol in her Part 2 Advent post: "It is often in the depths of lament that God will show us how to live out the story of redemption here on this earth ~ how we can seek justice and love mercy, how we can care for the least, the lost and the littlest.
The problem may be that we won’t allow our hearts to be broken which can make us susceptible to false gospels that claim power over the humility of Christ."

May my heart be broken with that which reveals the light of Christ.

Hope, peace, joy, and love this Advent!

Rev. Deb

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Join me in creation

Join me in creation, in the woods. Join me on a walking path. Join me in the creek.

Right now I mean via writing, but I am open to walking with and hiking with you, if you are in my area. Being in the woods is not only nature therapy for me, but it is where and how I connect with the One who created me and who continues to create.

Yesterday I had the thought of a "log in the woods" and I wrote a short piece and titled it "A Log in the Woods":

"On a fall day with leaves blanketing the forest floor, friends walked the path in front of them. The leaves above them displayed brilliant colors of red, gold, and yellow. When they came upon a fallen log across the path, they stopped. They climbed up on it to sit and swing their legs. They watched leaves fall to the ground as the gentle wind blew. The silence filled the space, connecting them to one another and to their Creator. They were grateful for this time of space and grace. Sometimes words are not needed." [DD, 11/15/21]

Being in the woods may or may not be part of your spiritual connection time.

As you read the short piece above, does it resonate with you in any way? What comes to mind? Who do you picture being with you, if anyone? Where are you? What sensations do you experience in your body? What thoughts come as a result of it?

I looked through my photographs to see if I had a log photo with fall leaves. I couldn't find one. Instead, I found this log photo from a summer trip this past July to North Carolina and the Fires Creek area.

Fires Creek, Nantahala National Forest, July 5, 2021
[photo is mine]

It's a different scene in the woods. If you've ever been to Fires Creek, even in the heat of summer, you know the water is chilly (until you acclimate to it).

Take a moment and picture yourself in the scene. Make your way into the clear water. How do you react to the coldness of the water? Look down at the stones beneath the clear water. Make your way to the log. You are invited to climb up on it and sit awhile or lean up against it, taking in the beautiful scenery around you. Take several deep breaths in and then let them out. Can you smell the different blooms on the banks of the creek?

Whether the short piece or the photo actually helped you place yourself into nature, I do not know. Maybe, just maybe you experienced your heart rate decrease and your breathing get deeper.  Maybe, just maybe you experience some peace and calm.

Peace on this day, 

Rev. Deb