“I love the stars too much to fear the darkness of the night.”  Willa, co-founder of Viva House

This watercolor painting of a starlit sky hangs on a wall in my daughter Lila’s room.  She carried it home from a third grade field trip to Viva House, and it quickly became a favorite piece of art in our home. In her watercolor Willa captures what we all too easily forget: Darkness is the birthplace of light. Nighttime is womb-time. Fear not.

The word “womb” in Arabic and in Hebrew, “raham” and “rachamim” respectively, also means “compassion”.  This dual meaning invites us to consider that compassion is our first and most natural home, our womb. It invites us to recognize that practicing compassion for ourselves and others nourishes our soul and guides us home.  Perhaps feeling into the compassion of the enfolding dark, and remembering that compassion is our natural state, is a practice that can support us this Advent.  It may be as easy as bringing more awareness to just how good it feels to snuggle into our warm beds at night.

In Advent we are invited to journey in and through the darkness. Darkness invites us to slow down, turn inward and rest deeply. In a culture that leaves little time for rest, the Advent Retreat being offered here at Redeemer on December 8th — “Dark Enfolding, Light Emerging, Hearts Full” — is an opportunity to experience Advent as womb-time.

A variety of opportunities to slow down, turn inward and rest deeply will be offered, including guided meditation, painting, journaling, centering prayer, chair yoga (gentle yoga while seated in a chair) and restorative yoga  (practicing stillness or gentle movement for extended periods of time to align and center our breath and body). Our lunch hour will feature guest speaker Bill Kiley, a retired police officer who will talk about his journeying in and through the darkness of racial strife towards the light of racial reconciliation. We will conclude our retreat together with a simple Eucharist.  There are a variety of “points of entry” so if you can’t participate for the full retreat, you can at least participate for some.  Click here for the day’s schedule.

This Advent may we slow down in order to feel nighttime’s sweet embrace.  May we abide in the compassionate darkness where creativity, aliveness and energy are born. May darkness grant us permission to practice self-compassion so we may find new life from peace within and share this with others around us.

~Vivian Campagna

Editor’s Note: Vivian is our interim director of youth ministry and is also a professional yoga instructor.

Please let us know you are coming!  RSVP to Cristina.

Dear Folks,

Why do we do the things we do?  Every family has traditions for the holidays… You use grandma’s china or a special table cloth, you sit in the dining room for a change instead of crowding into the kitchen, you roast a great big turkey in place of more typical fare, like meatloaf or chicken or pork chops.

Did it ever occur to you to roast a turkey at any time of year other than Thanksgiving or Christmas?  Isn’t that kind of odd?  Ambrose Bierce wrote in The Devil’s Dictionary, “Turkey: A large bird whose flesh, when eaten on certain religious anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude.”  My father saw it as some kind of penance for his sins.  He didn’t like turkey very much, so there was always a bit of complaining that circled around our holiday table, especially while he was carving.  “I am only going to eat this, because your momma says it is good for me,” he would say, usually when the white meat began to crumble or a drumstick fell onto the table.

And there are some family traditions whose origin no one seems to remember.  Do you know the story of the “ham bone” or the “first brisket?”  The details change but the scene is always a pair of newlyweds, celebrating their first holiday, and the bride is very anxious to make a delicious meal for her new husband, using an old family recipe.  One version goes like this: A young woman was preparing her first Thanksgiving dinner.  As she got everything ready for the big meal, which would be served the next day, she reminded herself to let the turkey finish thawing in the sink overnight.  So she lowered it in, and then carefully placed the dish drainer on top of the bird.  At exactly that moment, her new husband walked into the kitchen and asked, “Why are you putting the dish drainer on the turkey?”

Now a man of some experience with marriage would have had more sense than to ask such a question, especially on Thanksgiving eve, of a young, inexperienced cook who has been on her feet all day.  As soon as he said the words and saw the look on his bride’s face, he wanted to take them back, but he couldn’t.  She answered, “My mom always did that to help the turkey thaw,” and the groom left well enough alone.  The next day the woman’s mother called to see how everything was going.  “Fine, Ma.  I have everything ready to go into the oven.  I even remembered to put the dish drainer over the turkey last night.”  This seemed to confuse her mother a bit.  “What are you talking about?” she asked.  “Oh remember, you always put the dish drainer over the turkey when it is thawing in the sink,” the daughter replied.  “You said it helped.”  There was a pause on the end of the line.  “Yes honey, but we had cats.”  Old habits die hard.  Sometimes families nurture practices whose meaning has been lost or become tenuous.

Why do we do the things we do?  I talked to an old friend late one night on the telephone whose dad was dying several states away.  “It’s been really difficult,” my friend told me, “to see this stoic, old lion subdued by a tumor that we only discovered a month ago.  He was bigger than life in some ways—lost his dad, raised himself, took care of his mother when she needed it.  He was a leader in the community when I was a kid, a hero to my mom and sister.”  What’s hard for you, I asked him.  He paused.  “Last Saturday my dad said that he loved me for the first time.  He said he was proud of me.  It was great to hear, but his words also revealed something I’d longed to know for as long as I can remember.”  Another pause.  “Until last Saturday on the plane ride home, it didn’t occur to me that my dad was longing for something, too.  I don’t think I realized that he probably didn’t get much praise himself as a boy.  I hadn’t thought about why I tell my own children so often that I delight in them.  Maybe hearing ‘I love you’ keeps us from aching so much.”

Why do you do the things you do?  Are you motivated by habit or fear or love?  What do you need to do this Thanksgiving (or any day) to hear what you need to hear, see what it’s time to see, and change what needs to be changed?   A poet named Oriah offers this invitation:

It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon…
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shriveled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human…

I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

Love, David

Dear Folks,

Many of us are still reeling from the horror of last weekend, when a man opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, yelling “All Jews must die!” and killing 11 people.  That the victims had entered a sacred space and gathered for Sabbath prayers makes it especially heinous.  “They were vulnerable with their guards down, like us,” a teenager said to me on Sunday.  “Are we safe?” a grandmother I hadn’t met before asked on Monday evening, at an interfaith response to Bernstein’s Mass.  I paused before I answered, trying to hear clearly what lay beneath her words.  “We’re always better off together than we are alone,” I offered, and her face softened.  “That’s why I came,” she said.

The news evokes Charleston prayer meetings, Parkland classrooms, Las Vegas concerts and Sandy Hook, not to mention the sometimes daily violence that poisons our city.  An hour after I ran out of Halloween candy and left my neighbor’s stoop last night, a man was shot and killed 20 blocks north.  With 260 homicides since January, this weekend’s Baltimore Ceasefire comes not a moment too soon. (https://baltimoreceasefire.com)

My wife’s old friend Dorsey, now the Bishop of Pittsburgh, wrote this: “The newscasts, sickeningly, are referring again and again to this horror as a “tragedy.” It is no such thing. A tragedy is inevitable. This was not. It was murder, murder of a particularly vile and poisonous kind. Human beings have moral agency. Someone chose to hate, and chose to kill. And now we are faced with a choice as well— to do nothing, or to reject this hatred in the strongest possible words and actions, and to refute in every way, in every forum, the philosophical foundations of anti-Semitism wherever they have gained a foothold in our churches and our society.”

The staff at Redeemer is assembling words of help and hope that we’ve heard since Saturday, and we will post them on a bulletin board near the front doors at church.  Here’s some of what we’ve gathered:

“In a nation founded on religious freedom, we are shaken to our core each time we see an act of evil carried out against a group of people because of who they are or what they believe.” (Faus, Evins, Meck, and Ballenger, St. Paul’s School)

“It is too easy for us to become immune to the horrific events of mass shootings and hate crimes that flood our airwaves.  But let us not fall prey to that temptation.  Let us hold the depth of this news in our hearts.” (Bishops United Against Gun Violence)

“As parents and educators, we have to find and hang on to the potential for hope, even in the face of pain and despair.  We have to believe that we are raising a generation that will say “enough” to the level of acrimony and violence that have taken hold of so much” of our lives. (Chris Hughes, Garrison Forrest School)

“We are stronger when we connect and learn across our differences, and when we come to recognize that we have an ethical responsibility for ensuring that each and every member of our community feels safe, feels valued, feels known.” (Dan Paradis, Park School)

“I was talking to my nine-year-old daughter while we walked to school about having attended the interfaith vigil… for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue… By the time we got there, the hall and the aisles were full, so we listened on the speakers set up outside.  As my daughter remembered, it was in fact cold and wet.  It had not occurred to us that we would be standing in the rain… Others were wiser than we, and helped shield us (from the weather).  My new favorite image for the Kingdom of God is having one dry and one wet shoulder, which is what happens when more than one person tries to share an umbrella… I come back to that feeling of being cold and wet. And just being together with Muslims and Jews and Christians and atheists and everybody… There was nothing heroic or virtuous about it.  It was just where we needed to be.” (Sarah Irwin, Pittsburgh)

We are called to heal the world, to repair with God’s help the brokenness we encounter around us and inside us, to stand with those who struggle, and to comfort those who weep.  It can feel overwhelming—if you love deeply, you grieve deeply–but our hearts won’t let us ignore it.  We are better off together than we are alone.  I have been asked to give the closing prayer at a Shabbat service of solidarity this Friday at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, to which Redeemer is heartily invited.  (https://www.baltimorehebrew.org/praying/services/) Join me if you can.

Love, David