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.
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,
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.
When I was in high school I played for our school’s basketball team, and one of the skills we were always practicing was how to pivot: when you were handling the ball (but not dribbling), how to plant one foot and rotate or turn around it with your other foot, to find an opening to pass, to move, to make something happen and keep the game going.
You and I, and we all together, know a thing or two about “pivoting” after having lived through the last year and a half. Dare I say, we might even consider ourselves pseudo-experts on this life skill! Can’t breathe in someone else’s air? Let’s “pivot” and wear masks wherever we go. Can’t go to the office or school in person? Let’s “pivot” to online work and schooling. Oh … wait … the numbers have changed so it’s maybe safe now and/but in limited numbers and with alternating schedules? Let’s “pivot” again and switch to a hybrid model!
Here at Redeemer, we’ve pivoted and pivoted and pivoted again, to find an opening, to make something happen, to keep the game going. In addition to recently returning to indoor worship (still with masks and cognizant of spacing), our latest “pivot” has involved beginning to live-stream services so we can maintain an online presence.
“Pivoting” has something to do with perseverance. Something to do with being willing to stay grounded while at the same time turning direction and looking for options. Something to do with being willing to be flexible, to do something differently, to take on a new vantage point. As a basketball player, pivoting allows you to see the rest of the court, where your teammates are, where an opening is. Similarly, as a human being in life, pivoting allows you to see what’s possible, to not remain stuck, to find a new way of moving forward.
In the service for an ordination of a priest, found on our Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer that goes like this:
“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look
favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred
mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry
out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world
see and know that things which were being cast down are being
raised up, and things which had grown old are being made
new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus
Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Pivoting, I think, has something to do with being open to how the holy mystery of God’s Spirit is working in and through us, to create something new.
As a player on the court and as a human being in life, of course, there are other moves and other plays; pivoting over and over again, by itself, gets tiresome and weary. The good news is that life, like basketball, is a team sport (if you let it be), always in relationship, with one another and with that Holy Mystery in which we all live, love, breathe and have our Being. We are in this together! And we are never, ever alone.
What are you reading this summer? Here’s a list of what I’m digging into over the next few weeks and why:
We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America by D. Watkins. Watkins grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Baltimore and was featured in our VOICES series a few years back. He is an editor at large for Salon, a professor at the University of Baltimore, and the founder of the Baltimore Writers Project. His bestselling memoir The Cook Up is heartbreaking and inspiring at once, an intimate look at how two brothers make their very different ways in the world. This more recent work features the voices of the most vulnerable residents of East Baltimore whose honesty uncovers systems of injustice and charts a course toward change.
Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Tangier Island by Earl Swift. Tiny Tangier Island is home to a small fleet of crab and oyster boats and 470 hardy people who live an isolated and challenging existence, and lays claim to the title of soft-shell crab capital of the world. Twelve miles from the mainland, the life and industry of Tangier is slowly being erased by the Bay—day by day, wave by wave. Experts believe it will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change, as the deeply religious and conservative Tangiermen ponder the end times.
Stoner by John Williams. I discovered this novel in a recent trip to the Ivy Bookstore, where it is a staff pick for summer. It tells the story of William Stoner, a poor Missouri farm boy born at the end of the nineteenth century who embraces a scholar’s life at university, makes a mess of his marriage and family life, threatens scandal in the discovery of a new love, and finally embraces a saving, essential solitude. The New York Times calls Stoner “a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, that it takes your breath away.”
Eleanor by David Michaelis. Eleanor Roosevelt’s life is a remarkable story of transformation. Born into a prominent Gilded Age family, her childhood was marked by sadness and secrecy. The orphaned niece of the President, she married her distant cousin Franklin, who betrayed her for his younger, prettier secretary. As her husband struggled to recover from polio, Eleanor became a voice for a nation which longed for healing and later was an architect of international human rights. My BUILD friend Joanne Stanton told me she is reading this book because “Eleanor never gives up, and that’s the kind of people we need to look to in these times.”
I hope you will give yourself time and space this summer to wonder: what have you discovered over the last 15 months, how have you changed, who or what have you lost? What do you want to carry with you and never lose sight of again? Sinking deep into a novel or piece of non-fiction may give you exactly the perspective you need to make sense of the pandemic, the racial reckoning, and the political turmoil that we have navigated. Books on tape or podcasts are amazing if holding a book isn’t in the cards for you right now. Ask a friend to read something with you, and you’ll double your pleasure and insight. I can’t wait to hear what you learn.