Category Archives: Thanksgiving

Say Your Prayers

Now I lay me down to sleep…

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Lord bless me as I close my eyes…

Dear God, tonight I give everyone I love back to you…

The words are only the doorway, meant to be moved through. Say them knowing that God listens and waits for you. Not because you owe an account for every good, bad, and indifferent thing you though, said, or did – because you are a well loved child coming home after a long day’s adventure, and God wants you to share everything that happened.

Bath Time!

It’s one of the great comforts in life – sinking down into a steamy bath on a cold night (or a cool one during a heat wave). We are formed in water in our mother’s womb, so perhaps taking a bath is a reminder of our beginnings. For whatever reason, it’s a wonderful to end our day the way we began our lives.

It takes about twenty minutes for our bodies to become soft enough to slough off the skin cells covered with the grime of the day. A little soap on a face cloth does the rest, and we emerge restored in body; if we use the time in the tub to let go of the day, we can emerge with soul and heart refreshed as well.

We baptize with water as an outward act of a inward transformation. I wonder why I’ve never thought to take bath time as a way to remember this sacrament until now…

 

End well, begin well

Time to do the dishes…

My grandmother had us help with supper dishes once everyone was done eating – cleaning and putting away everything used for cooking or serving. Tabletops and cupboards were wiped clean, and the wet dish towels hung to dry overnight. But dish duty didn’t end there: by the time everyone headed to bed, the kitchen sink was full of tea cups and plates from bedtime snacks. Before she slept, she washed and dried all of them, returning them to the shelves and cupboards where they belonged. It’s no good starting a new day with yesterday’s dishes in the way, she’d say. I want to start tomorrow with a clean kitchen. 

Turns out, my grandmother had the right idea. Beginning the day with a clean kitchen is beginning with a clean slate. The morning tasks are done more easily when the work space is clean and all the necessary utensils are ready to use, in the physical sense and psychologically. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t always just dirty dishes: they are a symbol of a burdensome life routine. The simple investment of ten minutes and a dollop of dish soap gets a necessary chore done and offers a tomorrow without the burden of today’s leftover messiness.

Have you noticed that spiritual practices are much the same? They are simple steps and actions designed to be done at the beginning and end of the day; they are repetitive, requiring an investment of time and energy; they can’t be done once and for all, and they enhance the lives of those who do them. Left undone, life becomes an inconvenient mess.

The Jesus prayer, meditation, lectio divina, daily readings – just a few of the practices that can help you put your soul’s house to rights every night and wake up to God’s new day ready for whatever will come.  I’ll remember this when I see dishes in the sink.

 

 

Time for Dinner

If I’m the chef du jour, these words move my focus from food prep to table fellowship. If someone else is cooking, it’s my signal to leave whatever activity I’m doing in favor of breaking bread with loved ones.

What a marvelous way to meet the needs of the body while nourishing the soul in the company of others. For the meal and the time with others I am equally grateful.

 Thank you for my daily bread. Amen.

Are You Hungry?

This question is often the beginning of meal and snack prep, and a way to gauge how much food needs to be made – a pragmatic piece of courtesy.

Are you hungry? If you are, what will satisfy your hunger? When I ask such questions of others and of myself, I can better meet true physical needs and become aware of when I am eating (or offering food) when no need exists. Are you hungry is offering me the grace of intentionality in my eating and drinking, and a way for me to offer the same to others.

When asked in a spiritual sense, are you hungry? is an invitation to partake of God’s nourishing presence – as necessary and satisfying as food for the body. Perhaps Jesus spent so much time eating with others because he wanted them to make this connection. Perhaps we continue to break bread in his name because we realize that making the connection is the every day miracle we are starving for.

[This morning, I’m writing at the Dunkin’ Donuts just down the street from my home. Iced Signature Latte in hand, it struck me that this isn’t a question asked of anyone standing in the impressively long line of people working their way to the register. What can I get you, hot or iced, would you like an order of hash browns with that are the questions asked and answered. Perhaps the assumption is that anyone entering must be hungry or at least thirsty. For me on this particular day, it’s not an accurate assumption.]

Table Blessing:  Thank you for the world so sweet, thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you, God, for everything. Amen.

Taking a turn

To turn, turn, will be our delight,

’til by turning, turning we come ’round right.

[These are the last lines of Elder Joseph Brackett’s Simple Gifts, a Shaker song. The last lines were a reference to turning one’s life toward God, and also an instruction for the dancers to turn back to their original starting places.]

Turning means a change of direction – up to down, left to right, front to back, over to under and any of these in reverse. Turn is found in all kinds of contexts, and all of them hold the possibility for change. We can turn over a new leaf, give someone a turn, turn something over in our minds, have a turn, take turns, and lose a turn. Turning cartwheels on the grass or spinning around and around seems to turn the world over and over, making us dizzy. It isn’t really the world that’s turned, but it sure feels that way. What a wonderful feeling such turning can give us.

When the world isn’t the way I wish it would be, sometimes I’d like to turn the whole damn thing over and give it a shake. But the world isn’t my personal snow globe, and it’s much too big for me to spin in my hand. Perhaps there’s another way, though: turning myself, giving my perspective a shake, is well within my abilities – an existential spin or cartwheel that can help me see the world from a different angle. Sure, it might make me dizzy, but isn’t that part of the fun? And such a turn might be the best way for me to come ’round right…

[Liz Story, artist. Click Simple (gifts) Thanksgiving above for details.]

We shan’t be ashamed…

‘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 gained,

     To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

          to turn, turn will be our delight,

               ‘til by turning, turning we come round right.

Simple Gifts, Joseph Brackett

From high school through grad school, I washed dishes, cleared tables, sat diners, waited tables, catered, and tended bar. I worked in hospital cafeterias, fine dining establishments, and a couple of Mexican food restaurants. With such a background (and because no one else knew or would admit to knowing how to tend bar), it was inevitable that I’d work in the seminary’s catering service. I oversaw hundreds of special dinners, and mixed more drinks than any other student in the seminary’s history. It was a lot of fun, the pay was decent, and the commute was a walk across campus. That’s why I found it puzzling that many of the other students found such work distasteful. Why was setting tables and refilling coffee cups, laying plates of food before professors and administrators somehow beneath the station of a graduate student?

I never felt that way about serving food and drink. Arriving before a function to set up, serving guests throughout the meal, then breaking down the room when it was over was elevating the biological necessity of eating into an aesthetically pleasing social experience. I made sure the socially awkward didn’t stand alone, making introductions among guests and bowing out once the conversation got going. Getting everyone seated in the right place and making sure the food arrived warm and beautifully plated was an exercise in good timing. It was forthright and literal service to others: simple work, done well, filling a basic need. Where’s the shame in that?

Was it because I was paid for my service, or because it was hands-on work in a place that set great store in the cerebral and intangible? I’m still not sure. I do wonder if part of the issue was the implied servant status that accompanied food service work. If that was the real issue, the irony is really hard to miss:

Jesus bent down to wash the feet of his disciples and he bowed his head to God in prayer. If such are the actions of God-With-Us, how can there be shame in any simple act of service?

[For more on Joseph Brackett and Simple Gifts, click Simple (Gifts) Thanksgiving above.]

Finding Ourselves

A few years back, the book club I joined read two books by women whose first books had sparked marvelous discussion and admiration. One was autobiographical in nature, the other fictional; both were full of pain, difficulty, and loss – but infused with a hope that difficulties can lead to greater understanding and love. The same could not be said for the second books by the same authors. Both were autobiographical, but without a larger love that could offer generosity to the great wide world. Both authors “woke up,” convicted by the belief that only by putting their wants first could they mature into the people they wished to be. Families were left, temporarily or permanently. Friends and lovers were notable for their shortcomings, not their attempts to overcome them. Women who grew in different ways were discounted as immature or sleepwalking through a world not of their own making. Neither book ended on a particularly good note as neither women seemed to feel embraced by their own lives.

Many of the book club members saw the authors as only selfish, self-promoting, and defined by anger. The writing was admired, the women’s conclusions contested. The conviction both authors professed – that women whose life paths went a different way were immature or somehow inferior in their understanding of the world – didn’t set well. Many decided they wouldn’t bother reading any more works by either author.

I understood how the book club members felt, and I also understood the authors’ newfound acceptance of the importance of their own stories and voices. The world is not a fair place, and women’s contributions have been undervalued and suppressed. Waking up to the injustice of it is not an easy experience. The question is whether this waking up inevitably leads to a single interpretation or stance for all women (not much is said about men in either book).

I believe the authors were women who were growing into their potential, and that their second books were autobiographies of a transition rather than of a final resolution or destination. Rejecting what demeans the self and limits the soul is necessary, but not something that can support a good and holy life by itself. The next step must be taken: loving the brokenness of others as much as our own shortcomings. Unless and until love and joy define how we see self and others, we aren’t yet where we need to be. Or, as Joseph Brackett put it:

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

Lord, help me love everyone who comes my way – and love the person you made me to be! Amen.

Elder Joseph Brackett, Simple Gifts, The Carols of Christmas: A Windham Hill Collection; Windham Hill Records, 1996; Liz Story, performer, recorded at Luna Recording Studio, Prescott, AZ, 1996

Finding My Place

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

[For Simple Gifts complete lyrics and Liz Story’s version of this song, click Simple (gifts) Thanksgiving above]

One of the hardest parts of playing violin or singing in a chorus is learning how to find my place once I’ve lost it – something I found out during my high school years. It wasn’t so hard if I was playing the melody, or singing a familiar and simple piece of music; it was frustratingly difficult when I was responsible for the second violin part or singing alto in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. When I lost my place, the rest of the musicians didn’t stop to wait. The music continued on, with or without me.

To pick up my part as a player or singer, I had to listen to the other players and singers. Only then could I match their notes to my sheet music and find my own part. Then it was a matter of rejoining the other players and singers on the right note at the right tempo. I may have lost a few bars, but that was better than playing on when I knew I was lost. It was also better to keep quiet and rejoin when I could than to give up altogether and leave the rest of the performance the lesser for my absence.

Losing my place happens in the larger sense, too. My life falls out of sync with the rest of the world and I cannot find my way back without stopping to listen to others. Some time out when I’ve fallen behind or gone the wrong way is the only way to get to where I ought to be. I may have to let the world go along without me until I find my place, but that’s okay. I won’t continue playing against the rest of the world and I won’t give up altogether.

Rejoining, finding where I ought to be, is the gift that keeps my imperfect self an integral part of this beautiful symphony we call life. Perhaps it’s the same for you…

Free For or Free From?

‘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 gained,

to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

to turn, turn will be our delight,

‘til by turning, turning we come round right.

[by Elder Joseph Brackett. For more information, click simple (gifts) Thanksgiving above]

Freedom is an interesting word, often understood in one very particular way: Freedom From something – want, fear, duty, work, responsibility, etc. A winning lottery ticket may buy freedom from a job and from having to curb spending because of budget restraints. Needing no job may bring freedom from a work routine with its inevitable irritations and time constraints, and freedom from holding one’s tongue around the one who signs the paycheck. Money can buy the latest security system to safeguard expensive items, and it can buy the services of others to clean the house, cook the meals, even transport the kiddies to school and soccer practice. 

I doubt freedom from is what Joseph Brackett was writing about; “to be free” is followed by “where we ought to be,” “simplicity,” and “to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.” This isn’t a freedom from something: it’s a freedom for something. Freedom means the ability to find ourselves in the right place, which is defined by love and delight. It means recognizing what is eternal and holy, bowing down before it and bending our wills to the loving guidance of God the Almighty and Compassionate.

We will all serve someone or something – our own desires, the interests of others, an addiction, or something else entirely. Freedom lies in recognizing this truth and choosing what or whom we serve. I suspect that choosing to serve God freely is the only thing that frees me from anger, greed, anxiety, and selfishness.

It may be a simple choice, but it’s not an easy one…

Simple Gifts, written by Joseph Brackett, The Carols of Christmas: A Windham Hill Collection, Windham Hill records, 1996; Liz Story, performer, recorded at Luna Recording Studio, Prescott AZ, 1996]