Category Archives: Meditation

Impressions

Snow Steps

On a snowy afternoon, I took a right out of the driveway instead of my usual left, walking away from the cloud-covered mountain view in favor of the smaller scale quiet of trees and stone walls. No breeze played in the branches and all the houses stood silent. My own breathing and the tck-tck-tck of my boots compacting the snow were the only sounds overlaying the peth-peth-peth of falling flakes. In the snowfall-filtered light, at the end of my road, I entered a sanctuary as holy as any stone cathedral.

It remained only for a few minutes, bourn away by the sound of a truck engine starting somewhere close by. I turned around and pointed my boots homeward. Mine were still the only impressions in the snow, marking a solitary progression from home to unexpected holy ground. They would soon be lost, buried by the falling snow or overridden by tire tracks. That’s okay -such signs don’t need to remain once their work is done. The encounter, not the sign, is what lasts – an impression and a message: surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

Amen

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore live in him, and he in us. Amen.

I say it at least eight times in the typical worship service. Recently, I’ve been thinking of different ways of saying Amen, ways to help me mean it when I say it: I’m in! Sign me up! Absolutely! Thinking of Amen as a verbal way of raising my hand rather than a place-holding word to keep the rhythm of the service on track keeps me from thinking I am merely a passive observer rather than an active participant. It also brings to mind what I’m in for…

Do I want to see love transform this world into a place where everyone knows they are unique and sacred? Absolutely!

Am I willing to give up the partial identities that drain joy from my daily life? Sign me up!

Will I join with others to serve those whom Jesus loved – the poor, the needy, the desperate? I’m in!

And the hardest one: will I let go of my preferred way of seeing and acting in the world to bring about God’s kingdom? Am I willing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Let’s hope I can say with conviction and joy: I’m in!

Indwelling

Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.

[For full prayer, click Humble Access above.]

Exactly what are we doing when we take part in communion/eucharist/mass? Remembering, honoring, participating in Jesus’ last meal with his disciples? Are the bread/wafers and wine/grape juice symbolic, connecting us to something larger? Do these common elements somehow change into the body and blood of Christ? Our answers to such questions depend on our particular traditions and our life experience. There is no single correct answer because there is no single way to experience communion with God and with the people who join with us in this sacred act.

It matters how we approach the bread and wine, but not because our theology needs to be affirmed or corrected. It matters because we are seeking something much bigger than a correct understanding. We are seeking what God in Christ offers: living in the love of God, and the love of God living within us.

Indwelling – God in us and us in God – is the point. The theological particulars of how we understand this can provide a doorway into this indwelling, or they can be a wall that keeps us out.

Property Values

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

[For full prayer, click Humble Access above.]

Years ago, at the end of a delightful meal in the company and home of people I had just met, the conversation turned to the story of the neighbor across the street. At the end of a nasty divorce, the man of the house left and the woman and her two children remained. To keep up with expenses, the now single mom had brought her sister in to live with her. A few minutes were spent discussing how hard it was for single parents to make ends meet, and how important it was for children to remain in their homes when possible.

An abrupt end to the whole conversation arrived when my hostess said, “It’s too bad they’ll have to move, but it’s against the home owner’s association policy to have two heads of household in the same home. The rules protect our property values.” For her the matter was settled. There could be no exceptions to the rules, no matter how those rules might cause additional damage to an already stressful situation. Property values were at stake.

It’s easy to judge my hostess for her lack of compassion and questionable values. Still, I wonder how my own past thoughts and decisions would have been different if the property I most valued was mercy?

Philadelphia Row Houses by Colin Fredrickson

Crumbs

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house if Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:21-28, NRSV

For Jesus, it was plain that he was sent to Abraham’s children – all those who served the God of Jacob, Leah, Abraham, and Hannah. God knows he had his hands full with that destiny, and may not have given anyone who fell outside that focus much thought. Until an outside voice cries for help, desperate enough to break through any barrier to save her daughter.

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.

She doesn’t argue the point with Jesus, or pretend that she is one of the flock. She doesn’t even contradict him when he relegates her to dog status, worth so much less than a child. She doesn’t ask for a place at the table, she just claims her right to the smallest grace – the crumbs that are so small that they end up on the floor, out of sight and mind of those enjoying the banquet. She turns Jesus’ image on its head by claiming her place within it; she gains a demon-free life for her daughter, and Jesus, perhaps, sees the scope of his life’s work widen to include outsiders as well as insiders.

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

Worthy or not, everyone has a right to claim the crumbs.

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. Prayer of Humble Access

Merciful

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.

When we come to God in all our humanity, flawed thinking and acting on full display, will we be welcomed or rejected?

Since God came to us in Jesus, proactively seeking us out and offering love, I’m going to go with welcomed.

When we come to God in all our humanity, acutely aware of our flaws and mistakes, will we accept God’s love or reject it because we only want what we have earned?

An answer of yes isn’t as sure a thing, because it’s entirely up to us rather than God.

Say yes, for God’s sake as much as ours.

Right Place

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight. Simple Gifts, Traditional Shaker Hymn by Joseph Brackett

If I hadn’t been walking; if I’d hadn’t been walking to church earlier than usual for a meeting; if I had set a different meeting time; if there had been a noisy car passing. But I was walking past Ye Olde Tavern on November 13th at 8:33am, with no cars in sight. For whatever reason, the universe conspired to have me where and when I was that Sunday. When I heard a dull knock on a tree, I looked up.

Pileated Woodpecker

[Birds of New Hampshire & Vermont, by Stan Tekiela; Cambridge, Minnesota: Adventure Publications, 2016, p. 69

In my whole life, I’ve spotted half a dozen of these startlingly large and beautiful woodpeckers – most of the sightings while hiking on wooded mountain trails. Yet, on a typical morning’s walk, in downtown Manchester Center, in the valley between the Green and Taconic mountain ranges, one appears right above my head.

After a few seconds, with a flash of feathers, this amazing moment passed – being in the right place at the right time is no guarantee of an extended visitation. But the moment was long enough for me to see where I was for what it was: a valley of love and delight.

I suspect that if I paid attention, every day would hold a right place/right time experience. Where and when else would such experiences be?

Free

Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free…

I am free to walk with my face and hair visible – and without an escort. I am free to wear a hijab. I can commune with God and neighbor in a temple, synagogue, mosque, meeting house, or church; I can choose not to worship God. I can drive across the country without documentation beyond a valid license and car registration. I can run for political office. I can vote. All these things are available because I live in a place that offers civil liberties as part of the rule of law. This kind of freedom, this freedom from soul diminishing restrictions, is a rare gift that is too often under-valued or not valued at all by the ones who receive it. It’s in its absence that freedom is seen for its true worth.

There’s another aspect to freedom: what I’m supposed to do with it. Freedom from various things is in the news all the time, but freedom for acting in ways that show love for God, self, and neighbor rarely gets air time. How I use my freedom reveals how I honor the gift that it is.

I doubt there’s a better time to assess just how well I’m doing with my freedom than right now.

Aaron Copland

Simple

Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free, tis the gift to come down where we ought to be

And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we shall not be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight, ’til by turning, turning we come round right.

Traditional Shaker Hymn, Joseph Brackett, Jr.

Right thought.

Do no harm.

Right Action.

Tell the truth.

Clean up after yourself.

Take care of God’s creation.

The basics of a good life are not particularly complex. Jesus put it this way: Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Self. That’s it: six words that open the door to a beautiful, holy life. Why do we do our best to make it more complex, adding unnecessary and often harmful additions and provisos? If I had to guess, I’d stake my money on another basic truth:

Simple and easy are not the same thing.

At My Feet

A Closer Look

If the sun hadn’t glanced off the field as I walked to town, I’d have missed it. But it did. Condensation + Sunlight + Vantage Point = Illumination.

At first, I saw only the sparkling. Then, the amazing variation in color and form. Finally, abundant and sacred life with its own purpose. A whole world of wonder at my feet that asks of me nothing but attention.

Soon, the winter will bury the field in snow, and these blades will crumble into the soil, making way for next year’s growth. It won’t last, just as my own life won’t. But isn’t it amazing? And isn’t it enough?

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the world of the Lord endures forever. I Peter 1:24-25