Personal Essay

My roots go deep and broad like the oak. They ground me, strengthen me, feed me. Like an umbilical cord they bond me to those who came before; to my ancestors, my tribe, my clan, my Lord. They lead me to the womb of my being.

Dark, ephemeral, shrouded in the mists of time the ancient forest of my being lies waiting for my return. Soaring on the broad and beautiful back of my friend Owl, gifted with the wisdom and truth of ages past, I search. We dive and then the screech of recognition. The veil between worlds parts and my heart leaps at the sight of Home. The canopy of primordial yew and oak enlivened by the Tree of Life and the gifts of all who have glimpsed Her beauty greets me. The chatter of forest creatures housed in Her roots and branches reaches my ears like a long-lost song. I drink of the dew on Her leaves. I wrap myself in the comfort of Her bark. I am at peace. I am at home. I am at one. I AM ME!

I am compassionate, humble, loving, stubborn, an empath. I AM ME.

I was working in the testing center of a community college when a young man came in to take a placement test hoping to test out of having to take English 101. He had taken the test multiple times and failed to achieve his goal. He was near the end of what should have been his last semester and was desperate to try one more time to pass the test. At the time the school had implemented a $2 retake fee for anything after the second attempt. After hearing this, the young man was in a panic and crying, stating he didn’t have the money and really needed to take the test. In my compassion, I went through my pockets and told him I would pay for his test. I did not tell him it was the last $2 I had. I simply gave him the money for his test and moved on. He went to the cashier to pay. Every single one of my coworkers believed I had been duped and he was either buying alcohol or drugs (not sure what drugs $2 will get you). I told them I didn’t care. They were shocked when he came back to test! I could not stay in the room while he tested so I waited in the lobby. When he came out, he was grinning from ear to ear and jumping for joy that he had finally passed. He practically leapt into my arms enveloping me in a bear hug that seemed to last forever! I couldn’t help but be taken in by his joy. It only takes a few moments of compassion to give another person hope.

Compassion. I was raised to meet people where they are at the time I meet them. My mother instilled this into me from a very early age. This teaching along with my deep connection, my grounding to God and faith are the threads with which the tapestry of my humanity is woven. Compassion.

Hopes and dreams flit around me like fireflies. We play an endless game of catch and release that changes daily depending on my mood, desires, and energy level. And yet, there are those constants, those faithful fireflies that stay by my side on this journey through the forests of my life. These are my fervent prayers for peace and love and hope in an all too often peaceless, loveless, hopeless world surrounding me with their light. A light that illumines my path, my soul, my place in this sacred story of being.

St. Francis and the Mustard Seed

What follows is my meditation on the connection between the Prayer of St. Francis and this past Sunday’s gospel from Luke.

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The Prayer of St. Francis. The Peace Prayer. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” Luke’s gospel for today has the apostles asking Jesus to “increase our faith”…as if it is His responsibility to build them up, to do their work for them. He replies with “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.” If you had even the smallest amount of faith you could do great things regardless of how shrouded in doubt you may be. It is not the amount of faith that you have in yourself, it is the faith you have in Him.

Where there is hatred may I be able to sow that mustard seed of love. Where there is injury may I be able to sow that mustard seed of pardon. Where there is doubt may I be able to sow that mustard seed of faith. Where there is despair may I be able to sow that mustard seed of hope. Where there is darkness may I be able to sow that mustard seed of light. Where there is sadness may I be able to sow that mustard seed of joy.

I Will, With God’s Help

Today was Heritage Sunday at St. Matthew’s. With the service held at the beautiful old church at Humphrey Heritage Village using the service from the 1879 Book of Common Prayer, the old time hymns, the members of the congregation who take the time and effort to dress in period clothing, the potluck lunch on the grounds of the Village after the service, and the pie auction it’s always a fun time of fellowship and laughter while remembering our history in Enid and as a church. Today was made extra special with the baptism of the youngest member of the Humphrey family!

I always enjoy baptisms, especially those of children. You never know how the child is going to react to being sprinkled with water and given the sign of the cross. Some are comfortable because their parents are comfortable. Some squirm and wiggle and some cry no matter what the parents do or how comfortable they might be. There is that slight skip in the heartbeat when a young child is given a lighted candle (children playing with fire)! Most of all my heart and soul are refreshed and nourished by the repetition of our baptismal covenant.

Baptism is one of the two great sacraments given to us by Christ. One of the two, along with the Eucharist, that we all participate in. We are reminded during baptisms that we all play a part in bringing up the youth of the church, that we are all godparents to those being baptized. In the language of the 1879 service we were reminded that we are the sureties, those responsible, for this new member of the church. I have always known that as the body of the church we are responsible for each other but baptizing this young man in that 1879 language struck a chord with me today.

I was reminded of my own baptism nearly forty years ago. I was baptized when I was four at the nondenominational church we were attending at the time. It was one of those drown them in the water tank/swimming pool baptisms. For some reason we were expected to speak in tongues shortly after baptism. Is this how they knew it had taken? Other than feeling like I’d been put through a near drowning and feeling as though I needed to join in the speaking in tongues that was happening around me, I don’t remember much else from this momentous occasion. I have many memories from that age and before, but I couldn’t tell you whether the congregation attested to their responsibility to help me with my walk with Christ or not.

What I do know now is that whatever I do in my life I do have a responsibility to my fellow man, and I will do my very best to follow through with my baptismal covenant…

I WILL, WITH GOD’S HELP!

The Journey to Holy Joy

The Journey to Holy Joy

Kneeling at the communion rail at the late night Christmas Eve service I locked eyes with the baby Jesus reaching out while in the arms of his mother, Mary, and was immediately brought to tears. I knew then that I was about to go on a journey with my friend and teacher. Since then there have been many moments of tears, laughter and questions shared quietly between us. The season of Lent created space for these moments both in time and soul. This was much needed space in a hectic life, both internal and external.

Many years I give up some minor thing (screen time, some food or other, caffeine) and go through the motions of Lent. This year I chose to give up something I struggle with daily: my frustration at even the most minor thing. It was not a perfect experience. I failed and restarted frequently. Yet, it was the opening I needed to continue the journey of growth started at the communion rail. It opened me to listen for the whispers in the stillness, to continually let go of my frustrations, my self, and freely listen.

I am, in part, an auditory learner and the Lord knows this. I often retreat into the quiet solitude of my inner island where all other senses diminish and I can truly, earnestly and comfortably listen. To many an outside observer it looks like I’m asleep…admittedly I often slip away to this place while sleeping…and my soul continues listening and learning while the body rests. Many time I am fully aware of my surroundings, but focusing only on auditory stimulus: music, singing, the nuances of a lecture/sermon/or other talk, the still small voice speaking directly to my soul. These are the times I crawl up into my Father’s lap and rest.

Like Advent, Lent can be a time of anticipation; a time where we are seeking the next best thing. We spend our time walking with Jesus through his life and, as Fr. John discussed, asking “what’s next?” We rush headlong through the story without stopping to listen because we think we know and we want to rush on to the next stop. Taking this time to let go of my frustrations allowed me to slow down and not rush for the “what next.” This allowed me to journey through this Holy Week from the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the humble service of the last supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet on Maundy Thursday to the betrayal, trial, torture and death of Good Friday to the emptiness (no, stillness) of Holy Saturday to the triumph over death that is the Easter resurrection with joy. The “madman in a world of sad ghosts” type of joy. The wake up smiling and laughing at the joyous joke’s on you moments at 3:30 am everyday from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday. Alleluia, the Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed!

Patterns

Patterns

Ever since I was a very little girl I’ve been drawn to patterns. From the colorful quilt and afghan squares that my mother and grandmother would lay out and sew together into fabulous and beautiful patterns to the wonderful shapes and colors that would come together into the intricate puzzles I’ve done for as long as I can remember. From the way numbers come together to form everything from the mundane telephone or Social Security number to the curiosity producing Fibonacci sequence or the irrational Pi. How we grow from babbling to speaking to reading to writing in what is a relatively short span of human time (or maybe within the infinite alwaysness of God’s time). How the seasons shift from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. How the human life is punctuated, like the story that it is, by dates and times and colors and shapes.

Today I am thinking about the patterns our lives take, how the span of a human life can be covered in one single winter season–Yes, I know the scientific/astronomical timing isn’t perfect (again, the infinite alwaysness of God’s time).

A short three months ago, the beginning of December we started the liturgical year with the joyous anticipation of the Advent of the Christ child, our hopes and dreams made flesh. We then moved into the bright lights and sounds of youthful Christmastide. All this as nature grew tired and slipped into the restful sleep that “knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” As nature sleeps Our Hope has been hard at work readying for Spring, which always comes. He has been tilling the soil of our hearts, sowing the seeds of faith, hope and love, showering us with the living waters, preparing us for the darkness of death, rebirth and resurrection. The death, rebirth and resurrection that is the start of spring; the fact that however cold and dead the winter of our lives may be Hope springs eternal! This readying, this tilling and sowing and showering, this piercing through of the darkness by the light is what I am seeking from the coming Lenten season.

On the Feast of Stephen

On the Feast of Stephen

We all know the opening stanza of the carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

The Good King sets out with his Page to find this poor man and give him alms to help him through the harsh winter. In this deed Wenceslas is following in the footsteps of today’s saint, Stephen.

Not all was going well during the early years of the church. Roman persecution was the norm, the Jewish leadership was angry and unsure (this Messiah business got in the way of their business). The Greek widows and orphans were complaining about not getting their share of the alms. The Apostles just didn’t have time to deal with all of this! Enter Stephen and the six other men the Apostles decide to entrust with the daily management of the almsgiving and care for the poor, the first deacons of the church, with Stephen first among them.

Our only knowledge of Stephen comes from the 6th and 7th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles where he is ordained a deacon, ministers to the Greek Jews, angers those in power, is tried and convicted in the Sanhedrin for blasphemy (by way of false witnesses) and subsequently stoned to death for his trouble. In Acts 6:5 and 6:8 he is described as “full of faith…the Holy Spirit…grace and fortitude.” I can only imagine that one must be full of all these things in order to endure what he knew was nothing more than a kangaroo court, not unlike that which Jesus endured not long before, and yet stand firm in that faith, Spirit, grace and fortitude to the point of forgiving those who were killing him. With his last breath he prayed: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Even Paul, who was there, later had to confess that “when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I stood by and consented, and kept the garments of them that killed him”

It may seem odd in this joyous time of Christmastide, still basking in the warm glow of the birth of the Christ child, of hope, that we should step back into the cold of winter and remember the first of His martyrs, but as I was reminded this morning by a Facebook post by Fr. Tim Schenck, it is good to be reminded that the cold is still there. It means the work is never finished; that there is a price to be paid for warmth and hope and faith and fortitude.

Let us pray:

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.