On my way to church this morning I was listening to NPR's "This I Believe". This story is taken directly from the writing of Troy Chapman, who is presently incarcerated in Michigan for commiting 2nd degree murder in 1985. I was so moved by this essay that I had to post it....be sure to visit his blog for it is excellent....
CARING MAKES US HUMAN When the scruffy orange cat showed up in the prison yard, I was one of the first to go out there and pet it. I hadn't touched a cat or a dog in over 20 years. I spent at least 20 minutes crouched down by the Dumpster behind the kitchen as the cat rolled around and luxuriated beneath my attention. What he was expressing outwardly I was feeling inwardly.
It was an amazing bit of grace to feel him under my hand and know that I was enriching the life of another creature with something as simple as my care. I believe that caring for something or someone in need is what makes us human.
Over the next few days, I watched other prisoners responding to the cat. Every yard period, a group of prisoners gathered there. They stood around talking and taking turns petting the cat. These were guys you wouldn't usually find talking to each other. Several times I saw an officer in the group — not chasing people away, but just watching and seeming to enjoy it along with the prisoners.
Bowls of milk and water appeared, along with bread, wisely placed under the edge of the Dumpster to keep the sea gulls from getting it. The cat was obviously a stray and in pretty bad shape. One prisoner brought out his small, blunt-tipped scissors, and trimmed burrs and matted fur from his coat.
People said, "That cat came to the right place. He's getting treated like a king." This was true. But as I watched, I was also thinking about what the cat was doing for us.
There's a lot of talk about what's wrong with prisons in America. We need more programs; we need more psychologists or treatment of various kinds. Some even talk about making prisons more kind, but I think what we really need is a chance to practice kindness ourselves. Not receive it, but give it.
After more than two decades here, I know that kindness is not a value that's encouraged. It's often seen as weakness. Instead the culture encourages keeping your head down, minding your own business and never letting yourself be vulnerable.
For a few days a raggedy cat disrupted this code of prison culture. They've taken him away now, hopefully to a decent home — but it did my heart good to see the effect he had on me and the men here. He didn't have a Ph.D., he wasn't a criminologist or a psychologist, but by simply saying, "I need some help here," he did something important for us. He needed us — and we need to be needed. I believe we all do.
In case you are wondering why I chose this picture - the elephant in the room denotes the conspiracy of silence - until someone speaks the truth. And when you do speak it, watch out! That bullet will richochet off of every wall! P.S. I sure wouldn't want to clean out this elephant's litter tray.
Yesterday I read Maggi Dawn's post about the Archbishop of York's comments on our financial crisis. Proverbs 14:31 came to mind - "S/he who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." At this point some would say that those on Wall Street are the needy....but are we not to differentiate between need and greed?
Here is the Archbishop's quote:
"the President of the United States recently announced a $700 billion bailout plans for banks and financial institutions. One of the ironies about this financial crisis is that it makes action on poverty look utterly achievable. It would cost $5 billion to save six million children's lives. World leaders could find 140 times that amount for the banking system in a week. How can they now tell us that action for the poorest on the planet is too expensive?" http://www.archbishopofyork.org/1981
God of the seasons, there is a time for everything; there is a time for dying and a time for rising. We need courage to enter into the transformation process.
God of autumn, the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too, have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurity and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so.
God of fallen leaves lying in colored patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.
God of misty days and harvest moon nights, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power-filled presence. May we gain strength from this.
God of harvest wagons and fields of ripened grain, many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender. We must wait for harvest in faith and hope. Grant us patience when we do not see the blessings.
God of geese going south for another season, your wisdom enables us to know what needs to be left behind and what needs to be carried into the future. We yearn for insight and vision.
God of flowers touched with frost and windows wearing white designs, may your love keep our hearts from growing cold in the empty seasons.
God of life, you believe in us, you enrich us, you entrust us with the freedom to choose life. For all this, we are grateful.
"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is , in its deepest essence, something helpless that needs our love."
Today is the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), German mystic. During her very full life she produced major writings on theology, natural history & medicine, as well as composing music, including a symphony. At the impressive age of 60, she set off on the first of four successful preaching tours. So the next time you think it's too late for you to reach for your dream or calling, consider Hildegard!
God's Soul is the wind rustling plants and leaves, the dew dancing on the grass, the rainy breezes making everything to grow. Just like this, the kindness of a person flows, touching those dragging burdens of longing. We should be a breeze helping the homeless, dew comforting those who are depressed, the cool, misty air refreshing the exhausted, and with God's teaching we have got to feed the hungry:
This is how we share God's soul.
- Hildegard of Bingen, Hymn - from A Little Daily Wisdom - Christian Women Mystics by Carmen A. Butcher, p.195
Presence is what we are all starving for. Real presence! We are too busy to be present, too blind to see the nourishment and salvation in the crumbs of life, the experience of each moment. Yet the secret of life is this: There are no leftovers! There is nothing -- no thing, no person, no experience, no thought, no joy or pain -- that cannot be harvested and used for nourishment on our journey to God. ~Macrina Wiederkehr I find this so encouraging - God does incorporate it all for good.....Hallelujah!
"Bishop William Wiedrich tells a wonderful story of a conductor who, while directing a large group of percussionists, raised his arms & signaled a huge corps of timpanists to sound their instruments. The din lasted a moment, then he raised his hands again & waved them to silence. Addressing the percussionists, he reminded them of a principle they had obviously overlooked: 'The music,' he said, 'is in the drum, not in the mallet. One does not beat the music into the drum; one coaxes the music out of the drum.' Then, taking a mallet, he struck the drum & gently let the mallet rise off the skin, as if the mallet were pulling sound from the kettle. The resulting sound was musical, full & resonant.
The cross is like the music of the timpani; it is not something one puts on, but rather something that is coaxed out of us. The wearing of the cross is not an accessory to life, but rather the embrace of life itself. Indeed, Christians do not wear the cross as an emblem of exclusitvity or a talisman of spirituality; Christians bear the cross within, in the daily embrace of all that it means to be human. To be a Christian is not to take the cross upon onself, but rather to have the fullness of life coaxed out of oneself. For life was not imposed upon Jesus. Life was not beaten into Jesus; nor is life beaten into us. The life is in him, and he is in us even as the music in in the drum."
Sam Portaro, "Brightest & Best", p. 163-4
Picture - Holy Cross - San Clemente, Rome (Detail of Apse mosaic, 12th Century)
This poem came from my dear Celtic Christianity instructor, Tom Cashman. It was written by Carol K. Everson, who dedicated it to Lin Cashman, her Spiritual Director. If you are curious as to what can occur in a Spiritual Direction session, then this is for you...
She traces the sign of the cross
with oil on my forehead.
She blesses me in the name
of all the God names that we share,
a triple trinity born of past analogies,
metaphors, and hard-won truths.
Then she listens,
deeply, completely, thoroughly,
as I ramble on about the things
that God has done and shown
and not done and hidden,
saying things I didn't know I knew
about things I didn't know mattered.
She asks a a question: "What is God trying to tell you?"
Yet again, I have forgotten to ask the obvious.
And the simple questions are the hardest to answer.
I glance at the small altar with the picture of Jesus.
I look out the window at a varied thrush
drinking from a terracotta bowl.
What is God trying to tell me?
She waits as silence spreads ever outward
engulfing the whole world.
Absentmindedly, I wipe my brow,
surprised to feel the fragrant oil-slick.
Now I know!
God is trying to tell me that,
even if I never know the answer,
even if I never remember to ask the question,
It's good to be home! I had a lovely time at my daughter's in Snohomish....my granddaughter Rita can now say "gamm"....close enough! I taught her Pat-a-Cake and how to march with her drum....very important concepts that can only be taught effectively by a grandmother...
The last 3 times I've visited Roshane there has been a poultry story to report. During the first visit a couple of months ago, I saw a duck nestled between the dogs as I stepped out onto the back porch. I had never seen a duck there before. As far as I knew they owned 2 horses, 2 dogs, 2 pigs, and several hens and a rooster but no duck. I asked Roshane what that was all about. She sighed and told me that it had recently flown into the yard and has never left. The duck spends its days following the Lab and the Boxer around. Odd...
The second poultry incident occurred while we were preparing for dinner on my next visit. Jeremy was cooking crab in a pot out in the yard & Rita was running around in the summer sun. Suddenly we heard her yell and Jeremy realized that the rooster was attacking her. Thinking she had somehow fallen on the rooster he didn't think too much of it. Rita was fine. After bringing the cooked crab inside we heard a scream - Rita was being repeatedly pecked by the rooster (he is no longer allowed to roam the yard. I've heard they can be downright nasty.) Rita is almost two and he had never bothered her before this attack! Very Odd...
And this time I came face to face with a hen. I arrived in the early evening and made several trips to the car to bring in my "stuff". The second time out the front door I stopped and saw what you see in the picture. There was a chicken perched on the porch. I called to my daughter to come and look and she said, "Oh, she lives there." Huh? I looked forward to her explanation so here goes...
Several weeks ago this particular chicken had a harrowing encounter with their dogs. They like to "play" with the chickens which escape their henhouse and it never ends well. But this hen survived. However, when she returned to the hen house the other hens wanted nothing to do with her and started pecking at her so she took up residence on the front porch. She passes her afternoons and evenings on the porch railing. And yep, she's spending the rest of her time with the dogs and the duck. They have seemingly accepted her as one of their own! Very, very Odd!
"The success of love is in the loving - it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done."
This quote has been attributed to Mother Teresa who died 11 years ago today. So often we believe love has to be a reciprocal action - I'll love you as long as you love me....but does it?
Her quote reminded me of a similar dialogue which took place in an odd film, "Adaption" that came out about five years ago. It starred Nicholas Cage, who played twin brothers who were attempting to write a screenplay. They had differing views on just about everything but Donald's view on love has always stayed with me:
Charlie Kaufman: There was this time in high school. I was watching you out the library window. You were talking to Sarah Marsh.
When we enter into solitude to be alone with God, we quickly discover how dependent we are. Without the many distractions of our daily lives, we feel anxious and tense. When nobody speaks to us, calls on us, or needs our help, we start feeling like nobodies. Then we begin wondering whether we are useful, valuable, or significant. Our tendency is to leave this fearful solitude quickly and get busy again to reassure ourselves that we are 'somebodies'. But that is a temptation, because what makes us somebodies is not other people's responses to us but God's eternal love for us."
To claim the truth of ourselves we have to cling to our God in solitude as to the One who makes us who we are.
Several days ago I took a walk on Elizabeth's+ delightful Labyrinth that is situated in the woods next to her home. I had not walked on it in over a year and was surprised by how much it had changed since the vegetation had grown considerably - or was it me that had changed? From the photo it looks rather flat but in actuality it has lots of twists and turns and obstacles (roots) to climb over - just like life. But don't be fooled - this is a labyrinth that demands your attention at all times.....no mindless strolling allowed here or you may end up on your butt!
I kept trying to remember what it was like during the last time i had entered it.....did this path turn to the right? Am i on the wrong path? Am i going the wrong way? Didn't i just make this turn? There was lots of chatter going on in my head and I had to stop occasionally just to quiet my thoughts.
Several times i looked up from the path in an attempt to see what lay ahead on this journey to the center & of course the path i thought would take me there was not the one that eventually did! It's true what they say - spiritual journeys are seldom linear. And that says a lot about all of our paths of discernment, does it not?
"What is a labyrinth? It is a path for prayer that leads from yearning towards joy, meaning, hope & peace. While it can be used for personal explorations, it also invites communal participation. What is planted here flowers in the gardens of our lives. Whether perplexed, overjoyed, confused, hopeful, hurt, distraught, happy, or simply curious, as we pray, God meets us here. It is not unusual to emerge from the labyrinth inspired, encouraged, grateful, and clearer about next steps." J.K.H. Geoffrion - Christian Prayer & Labyrinths
O God, we pray for the victims of Hurricane Gustav in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Cuba and the Gulf Coast of the United States. Many of these areas have already been battered by storms of poverty, hunger and official neglect; aid them with your mighty power. Comfort all those who mourn, restore all those who suffer loss, and help those of us who live in safety to reach out to them in service; in the name of Jesus, who understands our every suffering, and the Holy Spirit, who draws us ever closer in unity with you. Amen.