I have recently had the privilege of making a new friend—let’s call him Vernon.  Vernon is a well-traveled, well-read, and retired neurosurgeon who led the field of neurosurgery for much of his working life.  He is truly a scientist down to his toes and everything must have a rational, scientific explanation…even if science hasn’t caught up to articulating it yet.

So, imagine my surprise when he started asking me questions about GOD!  In these his later years, he is searching for he knows-not-what.  His very busy mind is driving him crazy because he has not been able to align his rational thinking with this deep question mark that seems to be hanging over his head.  Having traveled around the world and enjoyed much of the finer things of life, he finds himself asking, “so what?  Is this it?  Is there more?”

Of course, questions like these are right up my alley.  Our spirituality is nothing if it doesn’t somehow respond to the questions of meaning in our lives.  Questions like WHY AM I even HERE?  As we have talked more about this subject it struck me that Vernon never spoke much about how situations or circumstances or even people made him feel.  He had a myriad of thoughts about these things, but no feelings about them.

If you are living the human experience, and you are if you’re reading this reflection, you have feelings that are reflections of the emotive experience of being alive.  All of life is energy and emotions are simply energy-in-motion.  That is why Fear…a strong emotion has a self-conscious and reflective side to it which can be articulated.  If we find we cannot express our feelings, we are allowing these strong emotions to get stuck within us which have been shown to make us physically sick or sicker.

As Vernon and I have spent time together talking about this GOD-thing even more, I have come to realize that life’s experiences are to be felt as well as considered with the mind or thought about.  In other words, to block off our feelings shuts off a part of our aliveness…and dare I say it, separates us from GOD.  You and I are meant to both think and feel.  It is who and what we are.

So, what do we do with difficult feelings like fear, sadness, anger, guilt, or shame to name a few?  We certainly don’t pretend they are not there.  Try this. We can close our eyes and discern where in our body this feeling sits; cradle it with compassion and love; and watch its transmutation.  It will change.  Try it and see. Learning to process our emotions in this way is very calming to our nervous systems and is overall beneficial to our lives.

Vernon and I are learning together that we can experience GOD through our feelings more deeply than we can through what we can intellectually speak about GOD.  The Divine, after all is to be experienced in this school of LIFE.  At the end of the day, it is about learning to express gratitude for the experience of being alive—right here and right now.  So how do YOU feel today?

Holding You in LIGHT!

Freda Marie+

The British rock band Queen and singer David Bowie teamed up in the eighties to write and release a song called “Under Pressure”:

Pressure: pushing down on me,
Pressing down on you, no man ask for.
Under pressure that burns a building down,
Splits a family in two,
Puts people on streets …

That’s the terror of knowing
What this world is about.
Watching some good friends screaming,
“Let me out!” …

Most everyone I know, these days, and for awhile now, is feeling Under Pressure, to the nth degree. Whether it’s a personal situation or family issue(s), or simply the general state of our city, nation and world amidst our ongoing global pandemic, the pressure, anxiety and stress are over the top.

For many, this feeling of pressure has morphed into a feeling of despair. How is this ever going to get better? When will things finally change for the good? How long, O Lord, how long?

Several weeks ago, we heard a lesson from Hebrew scripture, telling the tale of the prophet Elijah and how he fell into despair. Fleeing into the wilderness and finding himself under the shade of a solitary broom tree, he throws in the towel: “This is it,” he claims before God, “I’m done, it’s over. Take my life. It’s hopeless. I’m without hope.” Millenia later, poet W. H. Auden would give voice to this sentiment:

… The stars are not wanted now; put out every one:
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods:
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And it is here, in this place of deepest despair, that Elijah becomes aware of a messenger from God. And God’s message?

“EAT! Get up and eat!!!”

Reminds me of my former Italian neighbor Marcella, who used to say to me: “Mangia! Mangia! Si no, serai mangiada!!!” “Eat! Eat! Or else you yourself will be eaten!”(A more passionate version, perhaps, of the British notion, “Come now, and have a cup of tea ….”?)

God’s word is at once instructive and practical, down to earth and grounding, while also clearly conveying: “You may be done with life but Life isn’t done with you! God … Holy Mystery … is not done with you! So hang on, have something to eat, and then take just the next step before you. And remember: I AM with You.”

***

Missionary, author and speaker Elisabeth Elliot, who died in 2015 at the age of 88, had a radio program years ago called Gateway to Joy. On it, Elisabeth told of her deep despair, when her husband Jim was murdered in Ecuador, where they were serving together, leaving her alone with an infant daughter.

“When I went back to my jungle station after the death of my first husband, Jim Elliot, I was faced with many confusions and uncertainties. I had a good many new roles, besides that of being a single parent and a widow. I was alone on a jungle station that Jim and I had manned together. I had to learn to do all kinds of things, which I was not trained or prepared in any way to do. It was a great help to me simply to do the next thing …. I’ve felt that way [other] times in my life, and I go back over and over again to an old Saxon legend, which I’m told is carved in an old English parson somewhere by the sea. I don’t know where this is. But this is a poem which was written about that legend. The poem says, ‘Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.’ Sometimes life is so hard you can only do the next thing. Whatever that is just do the next thing. God will meet you there.” https://www.crosswalk.com/family/career/just-do-the-next-thing.html

Here’s the poem (anonymous) below. May it give you some hope and courage, as you and I, together, simply do the next thing.

~ Cristina

 

From an old English parsonage, down by the sea,
There came in the twilight a message for me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
It has, seems to me, God’s teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring,
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt has its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus. DO THE NEXT THING.

Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing Christ’s hand
Who placed it before you with earnest command,
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings. DO THE NEXT THING.

Hurricanes and tornadoes. Evacuations and refugees. Floods, fires and pandemics.

As I sit and write in what we call “the blue room” of our home, the sun shines brightly outside and the air feels a welcome and refreshing cool. The storm has passed. And amidst the brightness of this new day, I am acutely aware of …

… folks in Louisiana grappling with loss and devastation once again …

… individuals and families, having left all they’ve known in Afghanistan, seeking refuge in new lands …

… adult friends grieving the death of their parents, and other friends recovering from surgery …

… a young man struggling with addiction and another man searching for employment …

And … I am also aware of …

… children and youth returning to school and our friends at Govans Elementary School enjoying the glory of their new 21st century school building …

… the grandchild of a friend discovering the wonder of a dryer ball and a young woman in college jazzed about her courses and professors …

… a colleague celebrating a birthday and another embarking on a new degree …

… a new program year starting here at Redeemer …

Endings and beginnings. Grief and hope. Heartache and heart exultation. Life in ALL its fullness. I wonder: how do you ground yourself, amidst the Fullness of Life and all it holds? What life-giving practice(s) do you have in place, to anchor you as the winds blow and the waters pour down?

Perhaps you’re a runner or a walker. Perhaps it’s time with scripture or time in meditation and prayer. Perhaps it’s sitting with a cup of coffee or tea and gazing out the window. Perhaps it’s playing with a child; knitting, crocheting, or painting; talking with a trusted friend. Perhaps you’re still searching for such a practice … or are so pressed for time that you can’t imagine taking the time to do any of the above …

Over the summer, I did a deep dive into my yoga practice, becoming certified as a yoga instructor. I cannot with words do justice to how meaningful and life-giving this practice has become for me; I can only tell you that it has, and that it is, and that I realize I am just at the beginning of a journey. And that I am excited to begin to share with you the fruits of what this journey holds.

Each of us … you and I … are temples of the Living God. You may not feel like a temple of the Divine, right now, and/but you are! And the world, our precious world, deeply and desperately needs each and all of us to awaken to this truth … live into it … and fully embody it.

So stay tuned for more … and in the meantime … Inhale … Exhale … again … and again … deeply, mindfully and fully … God’s Breath is Breathing You …

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

Thirty-five years ago, I discovered Paulo Freire and his seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  I was teaching adults to read in Southeast Washington DC and on Capitol Hill, when a literacy mentor suggested his book, and Freire’s insights turned everything we were doing inside out.  We threw out our brand new workbooks and replaced them with the words the students wanted and needed to read: instructions for the safe operation of heavy equipment, ingredient lists for the cleaning products they used, and the Bible(!).  The shift in the class dynamic was striking: rather than snoozing through a lesson at the end of the work day, the students asked to meet first thing in the morning, and they were there before I arrived, poring over the texts they longed to understand.

We started each class with a paragraph from the gospel of John, and then split up into groups determined by job.  The janitors might put together a shop vac or change the pads on a floor polisher, and the cleaning crew talked through what chemicals shouldn’t be mixed on a surface.  Each day the learners brought with them whatever they needed to de-code.  And at lunch they asked for more time with the gospel.

I’ve gone back to Freire lately, this time reading a transcript of a lecture he delivered in Sweden in 1988.  He was speaking to a conference of social workers, but he could have been talking to anyone who believes in the world as it could be.  Do you dream of a society without injustice?  How can we bring it into being?

He speaks honestly about how often our rhetoric is divorced from action.  “It is much easier to talk than to do,” he says.  Yet he calls for a convergence between what is said and what is done as a measure of personal and systemic integrity.  How can one call on love as a virtue, he suggests, and not engage in practical actions of love?

Second, Freire admonishes us to develop a permanent curiosity toward oneself and in those with whom we work or otherwise engage.  Orient your relationships around questions and have the humility to accept how little you know about the other person and what makes her tick.  Ask her how she is, what she cares about, what makes her hurt or angry.  Balance your search for competence in what you do with your commitment to be in relationship with those you serve.

Develop your tolerance of difference in others, so that you can see beyond it to what you have in common.  A commitment to grow in ease with difference leaves you with more energy to fight for change, Freire argues.  Further, be patiently impatient or impatiently patient with how things are.  Being only patient risks a corrosive complacency and accepting that things cannot change.  On the other hand, impatience can often alienate the very partners you need to help shift the status quo.  Hold them in tension, he advises.

Lasting change comes not by changing someone’s mind, but through engaging and mobilizing hearts, including our own.  Consider this: those who make change are the ones who have been changed themselves.  Society is transformed when we transform.

If you call on love as a virtue, what are the practical actions of love you engage in?

Love,
David

I don’t know if you are aware, but the August energy…yes—energy, not weather, was already being intuited as a grey, murky, and sticky one; given to potential tumult in relationships, communications, and general feelings of destabilization.  Certainly with all that is happening in Afghanistan and Haiti, not to mention the rising variant COVID cases around us, there is plenty of evidence to support those intuitions.   I certainly feel I have been confronted with that grey gloomy stuff since the beginning of the month and maybe you have too.

I have learned several really good techniques to stay centered, focused, and grounded and thought I would share them here with you.

  1. JUST BREATHE. No, really.  Slow, deep breathing are really important to both your body and psyche right now.  When you feel your emotions going into overdrive, go off alone (outside is best), sit with your feet on the ground, back straight, cross your hands, place them on the center of your chest near your heart and BREATHE DEEPLY.  Inhale to a count of 3, hold, exhale to a count of 3.  Repeat at least 4 times or more until you feel yourself shift inside.  You will definitely feel a “shift” within.  Remember the Scripture, “BE STILL and KNOW THAT I AM GOD.” (Psalm 46.10)
  1. “LET GO, LET GOD.” Use this phrase as a mantra when you find yourself unable to accept what you may perceive as the “unacceptable.”  For example, on the road to an appointment and finding more traffic than you expected you suddenly realize you will be late, just let go of the worry, judgment, and mind chatter that forms the drama around being late.  Choose to let it go into the mystery of GOD so that you can remain present in the NOW.  This one always prevents me from moving off into some storyline in my head that is not in the least helpful to my mind or my blood pressure!  Scriptural reference:  “You shall keep them in perfect Peace, whose mind remains on you.”  (cf. Is 26.:3)  GOD’s Presence is NOW.
  1. Find SOLITUDE in nature. This means no earbuds or others talking with you.  It means paying attention to the rhythm of nature around you—the call of birds, the flutter of leaves, the scampering of a squirrel or rabbit, the passing clouds in the sky.  Mother Nature herself is the great healer if we will allow her to be.  Even sitting on the patio and watching birds come and go is healing.  Anything that disconnects us from our usual mind chatter is satisfactory. Sorry, but this isn’t the time to read that book either.  My Scriptural reference here is Psalm 19: 1-6.

These are my favorite ways to help me move quickly into a more balanced, energetic state of being. They have done wonders so far this month.  So, what about you?  Especially those of you who are more kinetically-informed than I am.  What do y’all do to stay focused, centered, and grounded these days?  Let me hear from you!

Breathing—in—and out—

Freda Marie+

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