Dear Folks,

What’s the most impactful book you’ve read this summer?  For me it is the debut novel of Ocean Vuong titled On Earth We are Briefly Gorgeous.  The work is autobiographical, written as a letter to the protagonist’s mother, and it traces the trauma his family has experienced, first in Vietnam, and then in the United States.  The narrator invites us to experience his most intimate moments of processing pain and claiming strength, seeking to understand his mother and her mother, as well as himself, and the choices they have made to survive.  It is a story of physical and emotional discovery, how the body remembers, and keeps the score.

For me, the narrative was an invitation to walk around in shoes quite different from my own, and to realize how much we have in common.  Heller McAlpin writes, “The son knows that chances are slim that his mother, whose grasp of English is limited, will actually read his confessional missive. (The story) is more about processing and articulating difficult memories than about direct communication. Grappling with the limits of language, he is “trying to break free” by writing.  The result is a fractured narrative of a fractured family, torn by harrowing experiences — those of the mother and grandmother in Vietnam, and of the boy they raised together in Hartford, Conn., in the 1990s. Abused by his loving but mentally ill mother and tormented by schoolmates, the narrator, Little Dog, eventually finds solace in his first love affair, a tragic relationship with a rough American teenager ravaged by drugs. His true salvation, however, comes mostly in reading and writing, which cracks open his understanding of his family’s history.” (NPR interview with the author)

On the face of it, the author’s experiences and mine couldn’t be more divergent.  And yet our work as sons is much the same: Listening deeply to the members of our family systems (what is/was said and not said), honoring other’s pain and then distancing ourselves from it, if need be, acknowledging our personal struggles and strengths, and forgiving each other for being human, all of which is prelude to healing.  Writing our narrative sets us free.

Not everyone needs to read someone else’s work to accomplish this task, but it helps.  You might consider D. Watkins The Cook Up, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Ernest Hemingway’s A Separate Peace, the poetry of Mary Oliver, the healing stories of Jesus, or the Book of Genesis.  Each one presents an individual navigating family and self-discovery, love and loss, surviving and thriving.

Keep a journal, or make mental notes, and move from reaction to response.  We will never make the world a better place, or heal ourselves, if we are stuck in patterns of reactivity.  Do the hard work of identifying other’s pain and your own.  Then consider how you are more than your struggles.  Practice gratitude: every day discover three things that you are thankful for, and see the world through that set of lenses, instead of only how you (or others or the world) can’t measure up.

Love you a lot,
David

The Transfiguration, Kelly Latimore

This Friday, August 6th, we mark the Feast of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-32, Matthew 17:1-13). Luke recounts how Peter, John, and James go with Jesus up a mountain to pray. Jesus is transfigured: his clothes become dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appear, talking with him about his earthly departure in Jerusalem. The disciples (though sleepy) witness the majesty of the moment. Peter wants to stay on the mountain, suggesting that they build three dwellings, one for each of the holy men. But as Peter speaks, a voice comes from above: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Then Peter, John, and James are alone with Jesus on the mountain again.

The Transfiguration is often interpreted as a taste of what is to come: the transfigured Christ foreshadows the Risen and Ascended Christ (Holy Women, Holy Men). I think it also speaks to our human desire to build houses for God – our good intention as well as our desire for control.

Glitch Transfiguration, Kelly Latimore (and Elliot)

The iconographer Kelly Latimore posted the above image to his website last month (the original is at the top of this post). “Glitch Transfiguration” was created accidentally with his nephew but it captured something important in the process. He writes,

“Like Peter in Matthew 17, we are often tempted to try and create our own transfigurations. Create our booths. Although we often mean well using grand displays of music, liturgy, and art to bring “The divine down to earth”…what we are trying to contain is always right in front of us. It is divine that Jesus doubled down being human – wounds and all. Peter fails to see that Jesus cannot be confined to one location. He can’t tie down and domesticate the wild spirit of God’s Kingdom. We are being called to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, into the unknown. The light we think we hold has already been reflecting and scattering in all directions…”

I know that I, like Peter, often want to corral or curate experiences of God. It’s laughable, because obviously I can’t…but I still try. “Be here, God! In this sermon!” Or, “Be here, Jesus! In this service project! In this curriculum! Don’t you see how well organized it is? Don’t you see all the preparation I’ve done so that you can be present?” And my desire for God becomes a desire that everything goes according to (my) plan, without a glitch. Look at this nice booth – stay right here in it!

Like I said, laughable. God is always present, everywhere – it has nothing to do with me (or anyone). The desire to make God’s presence known isn’t a bad one: it’s part of living sacramentally, of striving to be outward and visible signs of God’s inward and spiritual grace. (And, when we fail, trying again, because our failure has nothing to do with the reality of God all around us.) It’s a balance, always: between wanting things to go a certain way (often inflected by pride but hopefully guided by prayer and preparation!); of being guided and led by the wisdom of tradition and community; and of the wildness of Holy Spirit, constantly reminding us that God is much, much bigger than we could ever imagine, that Jesus is never tied to a certain time or place, and that the Spirit is thoroughly capable of working in and through our glitches, too.

As we move into August and approach the start of a new program year, here is a prayer to attend our preparation and the holy glitches that will occur:

God, you transfigured Jesus on the holy mountain, revealing your Son to his friends. Mercifully grant us deliverance from the distraction of our own desire, from the disquietude of this world, so that we may behold Christ in his beauty all around us. With your Spirit direct our attention to your works, so that we may seek you, and the knowledge and love of you, in all that we do and are. Amen.

~Rebecca

 

Both icons are by Kelly Latimore. You can see more of his work on his website: https://kellylatimoreicons.com/

I’ve been reflecting lately on the gift of seeing things with new eyes.

Take, for example, our main outdoor courtyard (St. Paul’s courtyard) at Redeemer, off the circular driveway by Melrose Avenue.

Prior to the pandemic, this courtyard for me, and I think for many others as well, was simply a space to walk through, to get from Point A to Point B.

Today, it is both outdoor sanctuary and pastoral meeting ground; a sacred space of gathering, connecting, sharing, being together. The sky-dome enchants with clouds floating overhead, the eaves provide shelter from sun and rain. The circle of benches and chairs recall Eucharistic meals and confidences shared, staff and liturgy meetings, recovery groups. This space has come alive for me, and I will never see it as just a space to walk through, again.

The same goes for Biddle Street in east Baltimore. Prior to Redeemer joining BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development) as a member institution, I had driven down Biddle Street countless times, thinking nothing in particular about it, again just passing through from Point A to Point B.

Now when I drive down Biddle, I think of my friends and colleagues in BUILD, Johnston Square leaders Regina Hammond and Gill White, and his new wife, Clarinda. I notice the community garden at the corner of Biddle and Valley Streets, where Redeemer folks have weeded, planted and watered alongside Johnston Square residents. I look at Johnston Square Elementary School, across from the garden, and wonder what Principal Olumiji is up to.

Tomorrow afternoon, our Junior Warden, Steve Sutor, will be making a presentation on Zoom to the American Institute of Architects, highlighting The Church of the Redeemer and, in particular, our magnificent modern church space, designed by architect Pietro Belluschi. Many of us are seeing and appreciating our indoor space with new eyes, having had to be away from it, for so long. The photographs and visuals in Steve’s presentation are stunning and also facilitate seeing and appreciating Belluschi’s brilliance with new eyes. If you’re able to attend virtually, please do!

My hope and prayer for you and for me, this summer day and everyday, is that we are able to see and appreciate things afresh, with new eyes.

Love,
Cristina

The longer I live the more expansive I seem to become and the more awesome and mysterious I discover life to be…even in these weird times.  A case-in-point revolves around a seminar that I was privileged to attend at Well for the Journey, a non-profit spiritual wellness center in Towson.  It was my first encounter with the organization although I have been on their mailing list for almost a year now thanks to our dear sister, Judy Wright.

The seminar was called Discovering the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or “Tapping” as it is generally called.  While there I met members of my Tribe; others who are living the dual-life of matter and spirit as holistically as they can.  Together we were introduced to not only the practice but also the science of the practice.  It turns out that EFT is a form of “energy psychology” and it has documented, peer-reviewed evidence of diminishing PTSD in veterans of the Armed Forces by 48%!  This, in addition to other published, peer reviewed results.  Of course, as a former scientist, I was intrigued.

The actual premise of EFT is based upon Traditional Chinese Medicine and utilizes the same principle as acupuncture and acupressure—other Eastern forms of healing which study and utilize the body’s subtle energy systems for healing.  Although Eastern medicine has made some slow inroads into traditional Western medicine like acupuncture, reflexology and acupressure, it has been the quantum scientists who have been more apt to align its concepts with quantum theory.

Nevertheless, nothing beats my own experience of using it for the first time and then several more times throughout the week. For example, as a highly-sensitive person, I am very susceptible to external energies or stressors that I then somatize and feel within my own body.   Sometimes this sensitivity expresses itself as an ache or pain or even itch in certain areas like my back.  Learning some of the initial tapping or acupressure points, I have found a way to diminish my aches without taking acetaminophen which I had previously been want to do.  I have used generalized “tapping” with really good results and have been simply amazed.  I am encouraged to take a deeper dive into exploring more long-term possibilities of EFT for healing.

As I learn more and more about things like energy systems, meridians, and chakras, I realize that LIFE is a gigantic mystery and that we humans are still babies of all that the essence of LIFE (GOD) has to teach us.  Sometimes though, I wonder “how teachable are we?”  It is pretty apparent that what we think we already know is doing little to save us (or our planet) from ourselves.  I think I will just stay open & receptive to the ONE who IS!  Awe and Mystery are wonderful things.  I am convinced GOD is both!

Staying open & receptive,

Freda Marie+

As some of you may know, two weekends ago over the July 4th weekend, more than a dozen gravestones were spray-painted with swastikas at German Hill Road Jewish Cemeteries here in Baltimore. This recent anti-Semitic vandalism is the latest act of hatred and violence towards Jewish people that has occurred this summer in our city and around our nation.

As my friend and colleague at the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies informed me and others, anti-Jewish hate crimes continue to be the highest category of hate crimes in our country yet vocal support and sympathy for the Jewish community is often minimal.

Lest there be any doubt, let us be clear: We, as people of faith and followers of Jesus here in the 21st century — and as leaders in our workplaces, schools, businesses and neighborhoods — stand in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters; and with one, united voice, we condemn any and all such acts as abhorrent to our civil society. An attack on any one of our faith communities is an attack on all of our faith communities.

Ancient Jewish teachings counsel:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

I invite you to reflect, wherever you are today: How are you taking a stand against hatred, today? How are you embodying the love of God as made visible in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, today? How are you helping to build the Beloved Community that is God’s dream for each and all of us, today?

Let us individually and collectively resolve to continue our work of building relationships across difference, and striving together to build the Beloved Community, where the dignity of each and every human human being is upheld, respected and honored.

Cristina