As many of you know, starting next month, at 5pm on January 30, 2022, we will begin offering YogaMass monthly here at Redeemer in the church ( … and in the spirit of Advent, “Stay Awake!” for more details, coming soon!).
YogaMass was conceived by The Rev. Gena Davis, an Episcopal priest in Houston, TX https://www.yogamass.com/. As she writes on her website: “So why a YogaMass®? Bringing together the practice of yoga, breath work, meditation, and Holy Communion is a way to encounter the Risen Christ on our mats, and to tap into the deep well of God’s divine light within us, so that it may shine through us and flow out into the world. “
“Tapping into the deep well of God’s divine light within us, so that it may shine through us and flow out into the world” is a wonderful image of intention for every day, and especially during the season of Advent.
Below is a story I recently came upon, by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, describing how she encountered God’s divine light through an ordinary human being on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. I share it with you, below, in the hopes that Christ’s light may shine through you and flow out into the world, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, today.
“Some years ago, I was stuck on a crosstown bus in New York City during rush hour. Traffic was barely moving. The bus was filled with cold, tired people who were deeply irritated—with one another; with the rainy, sleety weather; with the world itself. Two men barked at each other about a shove that might or might not have been intentional. A pregnant woman got on, and nobody offered her a seat. Rage was in the air; no mercy would be found here.
But as the bus approached Seventh Avenue, the driver got on the intercom. “Folks,” he said, “I know you’ve had a rough day and you’re frustrated. I can’t do anything about the weather or traffic, but here’s what I can do. As each one of you gets off the bus, I will reach out my hand to you. As you walk by, drop your troubles into the palm of my hand, okay? Don’t take your problems home to your families tonight—just leave ’em with me. My route goes right by the Hudson River, and when I drive by there later, I’ll open the window and throw your troubles in the water. Sound good?”
It was as if a spell had lifted. Everyone burst out laughing. Faces gleamed with surprised delight. People who’d been pretending for the past hour not to notice each other’s existence were suddenly grinning at each other like, is this guy serious?
Oh, he was serious.
At the next stop—just as promised—the driver reached out his hand, palm up, and waited. One by one, all the exiting commuters placed their hand just above his and mimed the gesture of dropping something into his palm. Some people laughed as they did this, some teared up—but everyone did it. The driver repeated the same lovely ritual at the next stop, too. And the next. All the way to the river.
We live in a hard world, my friends. Sometimes it’s extra difficult to be a human being. Sometimes you have a bad day. Sometimes you have a bad day that lasts for several years. You struggle and fail. You lose jobs, money, friends, faith, and love. You witness horrible events unfolding in the news, and you become fearful and withdrawn. There are times when everything seems cloaked in darkness. You long for the light but don’t know where to find it.
But what if you are the light? What if you’re the very agent of illumination that a dark situation begs for?
That’s what this bus driver taught me—that anyone can be the light, at any moment. This guy wasn’t some big power player. He wasn’t a spiritual leader. He wasn’t some media-savvy “influencer.” He was a bus driver—one of society’s most invisible workers. But he possessed real power, and he used it beautifully for our benefit.
When life feels especially grim, or when I feel particularly powerless in the face of the world’s troubles, I think of this man and ask myself, What can I do, right now, to be the light? Of course, I can’t personally end all wars, or solve global warming, or transform vexing people into entirely different creatures. I definitely can’t control traffic. But I do have some influence on everyone I brush up against, even if we never speak or learn each other’s name. How we behave matters because within human society everything is contagious—sadness and anger, yes, but also patience and generosity. Which means we all have more influence than we realize.
No matter who you are, or where you are, or how mundane or tough your situation may seem, I believe you can illuminate your world. In fact, I believe this is the only way the world will ever be illuminated—one bright act of grace at a time, all the way to the river.”
This year I am so thankful for Sacred Ground, a small group dialogue centered on the American story of race and racism. It’s a sensitive, prayerful resource designed by Episcopalians, and new groups are forming right now. Here’s what several Redeemer parishioners are saying:
For me, the work of Sacred Ground was the work of getting closer–closer to the truth of my country’s history, closer to my fellow Redeemer parishioners, closer to my own, often unexamined, beliefs. It’s the most rewarding experience I’ve had in a long time.
I came to Sacred Ground confident that I had a pretty good grasp of the history of slavery and race relations and that I was going to learn about what interventions might work. But I did not understand much of the history, and I was not at all prepared for the national reemergence of racial equality as a seriously debatable issue in America. The Sacred Ground discussions were simply invaluable.
The Sacred Ground curriculum opened my eyes to a history I had not learned, giving me context to better understand current times. The small group discussions opened my heart to a deeper understanding of God’s love for us and His wish for us to live in beloved community.
I grew up with black people and thought I was enlightened about race issues. This program opened my eyes to the reality that I was not, and I will never be the same.
During the pandemic, Sacred Ground has been a gift. I’m joining the course for a third time because I want to know more folks at Redeemer, and I want to stay engaged in conversations about our nation’s history.
Sacred Ground was a powerful way for me to build deeper relationships with people in our parish, and to move together from reflection and prayer to action. The world needs us to take action, however small, to dismantle unjust and oppressive structures and build the beloved community.
For me, the Sacred Ground films and readings and the small group discussions gave me a solid understanding of the history that underlies so many of the challenges confronting our city of Baltimore and a deeper appreciation for how we, as followers of Jesus at Redeemer might more faithfully—lovingly—engage with the community in addressing those challenges.
The third cohort will be led by an extraordinary group of parishioners: Catherine Gearhart, Erin Hagar, Sarah Hoover, Steve Jencks, Patty McLean, Kate Pisano, David Wallack, Christina Way, and Ted Winstead. Each of them speaks of being profoundly moved by the course experience, and I encourage you to join one of their circles now forming.
What will center you this Thanksgiving, in these challenging times? And how are you being called to grow? Consider the gift of this blessed nation, a wonderful yet flawed experiment in democracy, always striving to more fully embody its ideals… where all people are created equal and invited to pursue their happiness, where individual rights are balanced by a commitment to the common good, where life and liberty and laws are for all, and not only a few. How can we make our country better, now? And what part do you play in building God’s beloved community?
Here’s a blessing for your table this week: May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember now that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love. (William Sloane Coffin)
I love the Sam Cooke classic, “A Change is Gonna Come.”
I must confess I have been reduced to more hopeLESSness than hopeFULness since the return to the States from my pilgrimage to West Africa. My daughter warned me to stay away from the what-passes-for-news in the mainstream and social media these days and I did while I was away, but came back to the chaos that exists in the atmosphere of the States. From my perspective the fact that this present darkness is so prominent across the news wires says to me that I must remain consciously a follower of Jesus as Christ and as a holder of the LIGHT.
Of course, I have always contended with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING through prayer because it is the way I was raised, and holding the light has meant learning a new way of praying since my return from Senegal. I began praying in color recently and it has expanded my view of the Truth in even the most sorrowful and angering moments. Inevitably, prayer restores me to a place of peace and hopefulness. Intentional time with GOD always returns me to the truth.
Yesterday, trying to find the tranquility that I experienced just days before in Dakar, a line from Langston Hughes came forth: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” (from the poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”) Meditating upon this line, drawing, and coloring I came to the place of considering that we are ALL in the midst of the waters-of-change for that is what water and indeed, life does. Life changes us and sifts us to become our fullest, best, highest, and most-whole (holy)self. This Self is who we truly are and we are becoming her or him all of the time. This Self is the Christ-Self within us. Sometimes, it is good to be reminded of this truth.
I am continuing to process my experience of feeling totally safe, totally accepted, and totally acceptable without trying in a place I had never visited versus feeling unsafe and unaccepted and unacceptable in the land in which I was born. This is part of my reality living in the diaspora. It calls for lots of prayer to keep holding the Light. Over there I learned that having things don’t make the difference in life, but having laughing, joyful, loving relationships with others does.
I discovered my true Self while on the Continent. My ancestors were with me. My soul is deep like the rivers and yours is as well. I consciously choose HOPE…not in a government, circumstance, or situation…but in a GOD who raises from the dead to New Life. The change we seek is surely coming. I am not persuaded by what my sensory organs tell me, but rather what my Soul speaks because I know she knows.
As we continue to be bombarded by the darkness around us in the exchange of truth for lies and systematic and pervasive injustices for justice, I cannot afford to lose hope…and neither can you. The risen Life of Christ is where I choose to live. If we remember to keep the main thing the main thing…All Shall (certainly) be Well. Live on in LOVE!
Praying & Trusting always,
The end is upon us! Well, the end of our time with the Gospel of Mark is upon us. This Sunday marks (no pun intended) the last week in our year long lectionary cycle with Mark. When Advent begins on November 28, marking the start of a new year in the church, we’ll begin our cycle with Luke. (We get John on 11/21, Christ the King Sunday.) Mark will come around again in two years, when we arrive in Advent 2023.
Mark is the shortest and oldest of the four gospels. It was most likely written during or just after the Jewish rebellion against the Roman occupation of Palestine (66-70 CE). Rome quashed the rebellion and destroyed the Temple, an act of religious, spiritual, cultural, and communal desolation for the Jewish community. In the middle of this catastrophe, Mark preached a message of hope. Confronted with tragedy, a system that seemed intractable, Mark described God’s radical love and reordering of the world, incarnate in the person of Jesus.
This Sunday’s Gospel, Mark 13:1-8, is at the beginning of what is sometimes called the Markan Apocalypse. Apocalypse means a revealing: Mark is revealing what is to occur as God reorders the world. The temple will be thrown down, a time of suffering will follow – and these are just the beginning of the “birth pangs.” If this seems dire, well, it was a dire time. Jesus was critiquing a world that had its priorities backwards, in the same tradition as the Hebrew prophets. Reading Mark with an eye toward Advent, you can hear echoes of Mary’s Magnificat, too: “he has scattered the proud…brought down the powerful from their thrones, lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:46-55). Through Jesus God is bringing about a world of justice, freedom, and peace: a sanctuary for all people.
This is good news indeed, good news intended for people the world order kept out, left out, pushed out – for the stranger, the refugee, the prisoner, the sick, the oppressed – for people who desperately need and long for a change. It is also startling imagery for those of us who rest comfortably in the world of the status quo. Our lives must change in this reordering – how must we live more fully into God’s will so that the hungry are filled with good things? – and that, too, is good news. This is a hopeful message of total transformation, an answer for our prayer that God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. As followers of Jesus, we are bound up in this, called to be co-workers with the Spirit, changed and changing in the process.
The systems and structures that created the world God is turning upside down are still active all around us. We are caught up in them every day. Racism is one such system. One of the most important things people of faith in our country can do today is to confront racism and the ways it has created a world that deals death. There are sign ups in this week’s E-Redeemer for Sacred Ground, the Episcopal Church’s reading- and film-based curriculum on race and faith. It was created by members of the church to be used in an Episcopal context, grounded in scripture and theology. Over 90 members of Redeemer have already completed Sacred Ground, digging in deep to questions of who we are, what our history is, and how we are called to respond. If you have not participated already, I encourage you to sign up for our next set of cohorts.
I wonder: How is the Spirit moving in you? What new life is being called forth? Where might God’s abiding grace and love sweep through? How might you respond? May this be a time for new beginnings – a time for revelations. They go hand in hand with endings, after all.
Sometimes, what you really need to do is just kick off your shoes, throw up your hands, and dance.
It doesn’t matter what you look like when you dance; or what exactly it is you’re doing with your arms and legs and feet; or whether or not you’re moving to the beat; or even if you’ve actually heard this song before, or not.
That’s what 20 women — “Ruth’s Sisters” — from Redeemer remembered last Saturday night, in a conference room-turned-movie theater-turned-dance floor, at a retreat center in western Maryland, in view of Sugarloaf Mountain and a sea of fields and autumn-bedecked trees.
We had just spent the morning delving into the story of Ruth and Naomi, and how hope and new life can spring out of even the most desolate and destitute of situations. Our afternoon was spent engaging in a variety of endeavors, including “wild writing” (have you ever tried writing non-stop for 10 minutes, putting pen to paper and allowing whatever comes out to just come out?), Tai chi (“meditation in motion” that produces serenity through gentle, flowing movements) yoga, hiking, napping, talking, sharing …
On a coffee table-turned-altar were rocks, borrowed from our Redeemer campus, which served as paperweights holding down small slips of paper on which we had written down the burdens that weigh heavily on our hearts, that we wished to “lay down” for the weekend, in order to be fully present to one another and whatever grace our retreat might provide.
After dinner, we pushed the conference room chairs to the sides of our meeting space and moved in the more comfy sofas and chairs from the lobby, so we could watch Mamma Mia and eat popcorn “in style”.
And it was after Mamma Mia that the dance party happened, thanks to a sister’s Spotify playlist and some i-Phones converted into disco lights on the floor.
We gathered last weekend to lay down our burdens, lift up one another, and gain some insight into how to navigate life’s transitions gracefully.
What we were reminded of is how life-giving laughter and good food (that you yourself don’t have to prepare!) can be; how nourishing it is to be part of a loving, caring community; how the beauty of nature revitalizes your soul; how taking time to slow down and exhale is vital; and how, sometimes, what you really need to do is just kick off your shoes, throw up your hands, and dance.
P.S. A poem from our retreat, for further reflection …
As every flower fades and as all youth departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.
- Hermann Hesse