I am convinced that each person on the earth has something to teach every other person on the earth.  We are meant to learn and grow in this garden we call LIFE.  Sometimes though, those without the knowing or knowledge with which we’re most comfortable, can be disregarded and/or ignored by those whom we consider the uneducated or unsophisticated among us.  Nevertheless, I love the Scripture that asks the question, “has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the promised Kingdom.” (cf. James 2:5)

These thoughts come on the heels of a recent story I read about the 33 Chilean coal miners who were trapped in the bowels of the earth for 2 months and 8 days back in August of 2010.  Most of us remember the event as evening news accounts, but one writer, Hector Tobar, has chronicled the entire incident by culling the hearts and minds of the miners who lived (and thought they’d die) in the dark, fetid atmosphere of a copper-gold mine in Chile.  This passage from Mr. Tobar’s book, DEEP DOWN DARK, is especially memorable and telling:

“On August 5th, a Christian man named Don Jose Henriquez, turned to a fellow miner named Mario and whispered, “God is the only way out of this.” Before the miners Mario announced, “Don José, we know you are a Christian man, and we need you to lead us in prayer. Will you?”

From that moment forward Henríquez became known as “the Pastor” to his fellow miners because as soon as he opens his mouth and begins to talk it’s clear that he knows how to speak of God and to God … Henríquez drops to his knees and tells the men they should also do so, because when you pray you have to humble yourself before your Creator. “We aren’t the best men, but Lord, have pity on us,” Henríquez begins. It’s a simple statement, but it strikes several of the men hard. “No somos los mejores hombres.” We aren’t the best men. Víctor Segovia knows he drinks too much. Víctor Zamora is too quick to anger. Pedro Cortez thinks about the poor father he’s been to his young daughter: He left the girl’s mother, and he hasn’t even done the basic fatherly thing of visiting his little girl, even though he knows his absence is inflicting a lasting hurt on her.

“Jesus Christ, our Lord, let us enter the sacred throne of your grace,” Henríquez continues. “Consider this moment of difficulty of ours. We are sinners and we need you.” Just about everyone who was at the entrance to the Refuge or inside is on his knees … Henríquez is a man of God, and suddenly here, in this tomb, the religious severity that many of them found annoying during the everyday encounters of the A shift is exactly what they need. “We want you to make us stronger and help us in this hour of need,” Henríquez says. “There’s nothing we can humanly do without your help. We need you to take charge of this situation. Please, Lord. Take charge of this.”

 Henriquez prayer, prayed in humble trust in GOD allowed those miners trapped with him, and indeed the whole world, to see a miracle in a world in which very few miracles allegedly exist.  I believe Henriquez’ prayer has much to teach us about the power of prayer and the nature of a humble and loving GOD.  My own experience tells me that it is in the “letting go,” that the discovery of so much more is realized.  “Please, Lord.  Take charge of this,” Henriquez prays.

I am always ready to learn from the underside; from the ones who society supposes has little to offer.  Uneducated, poor trapped miners teach me that GOD does answer prayer—when we have learned to let go and let God.  What new thing have you learned from those who live on the underside of life?

Learning in Christ…and Loving It!

Freda Marie+

Mom/Spirit reminded me of her Presence again, last Sunday on Juneteenth-Father’s Day.

I was driving home after church, with Ben sitting beside me in the passenger seat. We were stopped at a traffic light just a mile or so from our house, when I happened to look out my driver’s side window which was rolled all the way down (… it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon, if you remember … )

There on the sidewalk a stone’s throw away from Ben and me were two Filipino women, walking and talking beside one another. As I turned my head and noticed them, the older of the two women happened to look up from their conversation to see me gazing at her.

She smiled. I smiled. We locked eyes for a brief, beautiful moment, acknowledging each other’s presence. And in that moment of connection, I just happened to hear, to “catch”, the word in Tagalog she was speaking to her companion.

Sarap … (pronounced ‘sah-rahp’ … like “ahhhhhh”)

Sarap in Tagalog is what you say when you’re eating something delicious, that you enjoy and gives you deep pleasure.

But it is also a word that simply conveys any experience of deep pleasure … like basking in the warm sun on the beach (if you are a beach person) … or how you might feel after enjoying a much needed nap … or reading the most exquisite piece of poetry … or … (you can take it from here!)

And it is the one word that Mom would say out loud, when I would scratch just the right spot on her back, when she was too weak and unable to scratch it herself.

Sarap …

“How good This Is… how delicious This Is … how pleasurable This Is …”

Sarap …

It gives me deep joy and pleasure to share this with you, Beloved, today. Amidst all that is hard and painful and heartbreaking in our lives, our city, our nation, our world — the “not yet” portion of the “already/not yet” of our human experience — the Queendom is Here and Now and All Around, if we have but eyes to see and ears to hear.

Sarap …



Almighty God, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt, and throughout the ages you have never failed to hear the cries of the captives; We remember before you our sisters and brothers in Galveston, Texas who on this day received the glad tidings of their emancipation; Forgive us for the many grave sins that delayed that liberating word; Anoint us with your Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for Juneteenth, from Juneteenth Liturgy, compiled by the Vivian Traylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians. https://faithinformed.org/resources/juneteenth-liturgy

 This Sunday, June 19th, the second Sunday after Pentecost, is also Juneteenth, our newest federally recognized holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of the practice of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865 Union troops arrived in Galveston, TX and announced emancipation and the end of the Civil War, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued and two months after the war had ended. (You can read more about the history of June 19th, 1865 in the links below.)

In the collect for Juneteenth (above), we pray to do three things: to remember our siblings in Christ who received news of their emancipation on June 19, 1865; to ask forgiveness for the sins that delayed “that liberating word;” and, anointed with the Spirit, to share God’s liberating Good News with the world.

It can be easy to view historical events as far away and locked in the past (though emancipation and the end of the Civil War happened less than 200 years ago). But historical legacies remain with us and in us and all around us every day. Think of the ways that legacies of slavery, in the form of systemic racism and anti-Blackness, have segregated our city. Think of the importance of celebrating the histories and legacies of Black Americans, continuing to tell stories of life and joy as part of the fabric of our national heritage. History, what and how we remember the past, impacts who we are and know ourselves to be today.

The Church is a body that has experience connecting our contemporary lives to events in the past. Each year as part of our liturgical calendar we re-tell the stories of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, along with stories from Hebrew Scripture and the Epistles. We do not live in Ephesus, but we revisit the letters Paul wrote to the Ephesians and wonder about their lives. You and I may not have been present at the Last Supper, but we re-member it – faces gathered around a shared table, breaking bread – as we share a meal, wash each other’s feet, and strip the altar on Maundy Thursday. This is part of the power of Baptism and Eucharist: we participate in actions that span the vastness of Christian history, connecting us with all who have gone before and all who come after, suspended with them in a moment out of time while still present in our world. How we remember the past impacts who we are and know ourselves to be today.

This is just as true in our prayers. When I pray the collect for Juneteenth, I pray for the people who heard of their freedom on June 19th, 1865. But I am also compelled to remember that liberation and freedom have not arrived for all persons in our society, and my prayers turn to those still suffering oppression and injustice today. I pray to be forgiven for the ways that I have delayed that Good News of liberation or prevented it, through what I have done and what I have left undone. And I pray that, anointed by the Spirit, I can act “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of [God’s] favor.” This is what we are called to through Christ, not just Juneteenth but every day, in every time.

I wonder, what Good News will you proclaim this year?


For more information on the history of Juneteenth, check out this article from 2013 by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: https://www.theroot.com/what-is-juneteenth-1790896900 (TW: there are some graphic descriptions of racist violence) or, if you’re sharing with a high school audience, here’s a great 2021 article from Jameelah Nasheed at Teen Vogue: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/juneteenth-celebration-meaning-explainer.

You can find the full Juneteenth Liturgy, excerpted above, here: https://faithinformed.org/resources/juneteenth-liturgy.

Dear Folks,

I guess because I have spent several chapters of my life in and around schools, I am hard wired to follow an academic calendar. September is the “beginning of the year,” when new programs and practices are introduced… Initiatives climax in December and May, with final papers and exams… Summer is for planning and wondering and rest.

I could become more liturgical, using Mary’s pregnancy in December as a starting point, and organizing my body clock around Jesus’s public ministry, but to me the clang of classes begun and ended has always been more evocative than church bells. I love the intensity of the program year, with its expectations and assignments, and I’m also drawn to the sultry space of a summer day. The ebb and flow heals me. With that in mind, I offer you a particular way to engage the scripture this June, July, and August. I call it “Jane Wolfe’s Bible Study.”

A little background: Jane Wolfe was a friend and mentor of mine in Little Rock in the 1980’s. Sometime in the middle of that decade, she felt a palpable call to create a new way to study the Bible, and she presented her excitement to the Bishop of Arkansas. Funds and time were arranged, and Jane spent the year in research and reflection, fully expecting to craft a detailed curriculum for lay people. She sat with scholars of the Old and New testaments. She corresponded with leaders in churches around the world. She reflected on pedagogy.

And when she met with the Bishop a year later, she sheepishly presented him with an empty notebook. “What’s this?” he asked. Jane answered, “It’s what the Spirit has given me—an empty notebook and three questions. You probably think I’m crazy, after a year of conversations with experts, but this is what I’ve got.” The practice she discovered was both simple and profound. I continue to use it 40 years later, and I offer it to you for the summer.

The questions:

  • What Lord are you saying to my heart?
  • What Lord is the response of my heart?
  • What Lord would you particularly like for me to remember?

The practice:

  • Buy a notebook.
  • Over the course of the week, read the lectionary readings assigned for the coming Sunday several times. (lectionarypage.net)
  • One day each week, write the three questions on a blank page of your notebook, and sit with them.
  • Write your response to each question. If nothing happens at first, that’s fine. If you fall asleep on your notebook, that’s fine, too. At a certain point, words will come. Write them without editing or second-guessing or criticism.

The result:

  • You will be showing up—to yourself and to God.
  • Something in you will open up. Some part of you will speak. Some part of you will hear.

Summer is for wondering and planning and rest. I’d love to hear what you discover.


Dear Folks,

We are so accustomed to thinking of Pentecost as a Christian feast, we can forget it had been a Jewish celebration for centuries before Peter stood up and addressed the murmuring crowd 2000 years ago. All those people from the known world, speaking every language, wearing their indigenous costumes, cooking spicy ethnic foods, had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival of first fruits, bringing barley and tender vegetables as a thank offering to Father God and Mother Earth. Picture the Sunday Farmer’s Market under I-83, multiply it by 100, and you’ve got some idea of the excitement and organized chaos of the feast.

Boisterous and fun, full of exotic sounds and smells, Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Ten Commandments, a set of laws which marked the people’s freedom from slavery. This extraordinary covenant of values articulated God’s dream for humanity: that despite our considerable frailty, we could establish a community marked by justice and compassion. And when things fell apart, the covenant modelled repairing the breach through forgiveness and the hard work of reconciliation. No wonder the people returned every year—Pentecost gathered up the bits and pieces of their lives in a practice of productive remembering. “This is who God is, and who we are on our best days,” the worship reminded them, despite their everyday reality of exhaustion and loss. “And with God’s help, we can build a less violent, more loving world.”

We could use that kind of good news today.

For whatever reason, something amazing happened on that morning so long ago—a mighty wind began to blow through the crowd, at first making it hard to hear anything, but then when their ears began to clear, everyone was able to understand each other and to make themselves understood… Despite all the superficial differences that our wounded eyes and ears are drawn to, the covenant articulated by the Ten Commandments calls us to the inner truth of humanity: each person is a child of God, a unique blessing to help heal a broken world, an essential member of the One family. Pentecost gives us our marching orders to help however we can.

David Brooks describes it this way: “Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a relationship or field she never imagined. Solving this particular problem wasn’t in her plans, but she discovers this is where she can make her contribution.”

This perspective grants us a measure of freedom to throw ourselves into lost causes, to place ourselves on the side of those who are most vulnerable, to take risks and dare great adventures. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we realize the Holy Spirit teaches that success isn’t about personal accomplishments or gain, but about helping someone else. Pentecost invites such engagement.

How will you be one who hears and heals this week?


Dear all,

I don’t have any new words in the face of another horrific school shooting, especially one that comes on the heels of the white supremacist attack in Buffalo two weeks ago. So let me offer you words from others in our Church. Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a group of over “100 Episcopal bishops who have come together to explore means of reducing the appalling levels of gun violence in our society, and to advocate for policies and legislation that save lives.” (Bishop Sutton and Bishop Ihloff, our bishops here in MD, are both members.) They offer liturgical, educational, spiritual, and advocacy resources to combat the evils of poverty, racism, and violence.  Below is a series of prayers (adapted) remembering people who have been affected by gun violence, around our country and here in Baltimore.

If you are looking for ways to respond at this time, the Episcopal Public Policy Network has a variety of advocacy resources available. On their Action Alerts page you can find a template of a letter you can email to your senators (though calling and leaving a voicemail is even better!) about expanding background checks. Organizations like Baltimore Ceasefire 365 work to promote peace here in Baltimore, with quarterly Ceasefire Weekends and community events.

Yesterday, May 25, was the second anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. The work of preventing gun violence is connected to movements for racial justice and equality: the work of each is to bring about a world where all people can flourish, without fear of harm, no matter who they are, fully alive. As we pray for God’s kingdom to come, let us remember that we are part of its realization and revelation. May our prayers drive us to actions of love, made stronger by our God whose power, working in us and with us and through us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.


Remembering All Who Have Been Affected By Gun Violence

(Adapted from A Moral Call: a Vermont Interfaith Prayer and Remembrance Vigil, December 15, 2015 and June 1, 2020 Bishops United Against Gun Violence)

Leader: We raise our prayers in remembrance of the victims of gun violence, both those who have been injured and those who have been killed, in Uvalde, Texas and in Buffalo, New York; in cities and towns across our country, and close to home in Baltimore. We hold their memories dear. We treasure those lives permanently altered through injury or those taken in senseless acts of violence, and we pray that they might find rest and peace. May their lives continue to make a difference in our world.

Together we pray.

All: God of Mercy, heal our broken hearts.

Leader: We raise our prayers in remembrance of the families and friends of the victims of gun violence in our nation and in Baltimore. Comfort those who mourn. Dry the tears of those who weep. Sustain those who feel diminished. Impart courage to the hearts of those who feel helpless.

Together we pray.

All: God of Peace, sustain our broken hearts.

Leader: We raise our prayers in remembrance of all communities torn apart by gun violence. We are too familiar with places like Parkland and Orlando, Florida; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Columbine and Aurora, Colorado; El Paso, Texas; Newtown, Connecticut; Charleston, South Carolina; and the neighborhoods of our own city. Each incident of violence affects all of us in our daily lives and work. Renew our resolve to pursue peace in our cities and towns and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

Together we pray.

All: God of Comfort, encourage our broken hearts.

 Leader: We raise our prayers in remembrance of school teachers and administrators who put their students’ needs ahead of their own safety. We pray for security guards and first responders, including police, fire and rescue personnel who witness the horror of gun violence while in service to our communities, and we pray for all those with responsibility for law enforcement. We give thanks for the call to protect and serve and to seek justice, and we pray that their emotional wounds will be healed.

Together we pray.

All: God of Courage, inspire our broken hearts.

 Leader: We raise our prayers for those lives taken by gun violence through suicide, and also for those lives taken through accidental shootings, especially when those shootings involve children. Console and strengthen those whose despair is great.

Together we pray.

 All: God of Hope, comfort our broken hearts.

 Leader: We raise our prayers in remembrance of all people impacted by gun violence, as gun violence knows no boundaries but can affect all peoples; it can affect us where we live, where we worship, where we work, where we study, and where we play. We especially pray for communities that live in fear of hatred and harm, targeted for who they are, that they may see the coming of your kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

Together we pray.

All: God of Love, transform our broken hearts.

Leader: We raise our prayers for those who have committed acts of gun violence and for their families, in our nation and especially here in Baltimore. We remember those suffering from mental illness who have gone untreated, and those suffering from loneliness and isolation. We recognize and condemn the scourge of hatred and racism that too often leads to acts of violence. We pray for those who would use guns, power, and violence rather than respect and dignity to reconcile differences. Grant us the strength to pursue justice with a voice of love.

Together we pray.

All: God of Forgiveness, enlighten our broken hearts.

 Leader: We raise our prayers for all community leaders and elected officials. Give them insight, wisdom, and courage to address head on the epidemic of gun violence. Give them fortitude and courage to stand for peace and justice, shoring up abundant life in our communities rather than coveting profit or power. Prevent their discouragement in the face of frustration or failure. Pour forth your Spirit on all our neighborhoods and break the chains of violence that bind your people.

All: God of Power, strengthen our broken hearts.

Leader: We pray today for ourselves and for others in our lives who have been touched by gun violence. During the silent pause, I invite you to offer the names (either silently or aloud) of those for whom you pray.


Together we pray.

All: God of Astonishing Mercy, Compassion and Immeasurable Love, restore our broken hearts and enliven our confidence to find new ways to revive our world to become one of peace. Amen

I took a stroll down memory lane this morning, walking through the Gilman and Bryn Mawr campuses on my way to work.

So much has changed … and … so much remains the same: the fields (some now turf, where there used to be just grass) … the buildings (old, familiar nooks and crannies peeping behind newer, brighter additions) … the trees (that sweet tree planted in memory of a fallen classmate still blooming green by the Owl Gate) ….

As I walked by Bryn Mawr’s lower field, I remembered what it felt like to try and scoop up a ball for the first time with a lacrosse stick. I recalled voices cheering from those silver metal bleachers on the sideline and noticed the same orange pipe-frame of the lacrosse net. I saw again, in my mind’s eye, the carpet of autumn gold gingko leaves covering white and grey stones along the driveway by the science building.

And I thought of my mother, where she was born, how she entered the world: in the middle of a world war halfway around the world, her family fleeing from invaders. I thought of her coming to America by herself, what she did with her life, all she accomplished, and all she and my father made possible for me and my sister. I thought of her legacy to us, to me. I thought of her joie-de-vivre, her acts of caring, her faith.

And then, continuing up Melrose, across Charles Street, to our church campus, I thought of our Redeemer community and the times we are living in. I thought of our city and our work together. What shall my legacy be? What shall our legacy be? Shouldn’t all children regardless of zip code, and not just in north Baltimore, have green fields to play on and blooming trees to walk by? How can I, how can we, use our education, power and privilege to serve, love, and live the way Jesus commanded? How shall I spend the time I have left on earth, however long that may be, in a way that my own children, when grown and strolling down their own memory-lanes, might remember me fondly, with love, gratitude, pride, and a sense of legacy, themselves?

There is a Jewish saying, echoing sacred scripture, that goes something like this: Let us not be overwhelmed by the enormity of our world’s grief, the enormity of the tasks before us. Do justly, now (… here, where you are, today …). Walk humbly, now (… here, where you are, today …). Love mercy, now (… here, where you are, today …). We are not obligated to complete the work but neither are we free to abandon it.

So wherever you are, whatever you are doing, however you are feeling, today: Breathe in the air, deeply, because you can. Lend a hand or your heart to someone else who could use a lift, because you can. Be kind and gentle with yourself, because you can.

And remember, always, that you are loved and treasured beyond measure.


Do you find yourself using words like never or always to describe experiences or situations in your life?  For example, do you say things like: “Oh, I NEVER win anything” or “He ALWAYS forgets my birthday?”

The tribe I currently run with say that our thoughts, the way we perceive our reality, and the way we speak of it all contribute to whatever it is we are currently experiencing in life.  In other words, when I say “it always rains when I wash my car,” sets me up to experience an inevitable thunderstorm on the day I wash my car; not because the Universe or G-D has colluded against me, but because my subconscious mind is living a self-limiting belief that directs my conscious mind to deliver.  Subconsciously, I hold this belief to be true—and so it is.  We human beings are way more powerful than we give ourselves credit for.

Trust me, we ALL hold self-limiting beliefs that we have developed early on and we have to intentionally engage them in order to be liberated from who we may believe we are into who we really are.  Y’all, we really are divine reflections of GOD.  Let’s look at a case in point from the Scriptures.

In the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is teaching the crowd on the lake of Gennesaret from a fishing boat.  After speaking he tells Simon Peter, one of the fisherman, to put out his net into deeper water for a catch.  The first thing Peter says is, “well we’ve been doing this all night and have caught nothing.”  You can just hear the self-limiting belief that is driving his lived reality.  Sometimes you catch fish, sometimes you don’t.  But what if life is not as arbitrary as that?  What if you can “catch” all of the time?

A new belief…that fish can be caught if he does something differently…works.  This new belief was acted upon based on Jesus’ suggestion that Peter should go into deep waters and then verse nine says that the disciples were amazed at the number of fish they caught.  It was actually an overabundance.

We can never do what we have always done and get a different result; we all know what that way of thinking is called.  So what would happen, I wonder, if we began to think about the issues we are faced with in our lives like the great political divide in our nation or the murders in our city differently?  What if we began to ask a different kind of question in order to receive a different kind of answer?  Is it possible that we, like Peter, are fishing for answers in our “usual” way when new questions need to be asked instead?

Back to never and always.  What if we let go of the extreme ways we speak and show up in the world in order to take on more life-giving and liberating realities?  I know it is hard; I am working on it too.  But, if there is ONE thing I believe about the resurrection and life in the Risen Christ, it is that the old ways of being must  be retired in order for a new way to take hold and grow.

“Going deep” may mean different things to different people, yet at its core it means reconsidering who we are and how our humanity has been supra-naturally changed  to make room for more peace and joy in life.  I meditate, some of you garden, run, or wash the car.  Whatever gets us to an inner stillness to connect with our souls, and to hear the small voice within will do the trick .  Ask the Spirit for help.  She is always good for that!

With Love,

Freda Marie

Dear Folks,

On Wednesday, the Office of Government Relations of the Episcopal Church reaffirmed our denomination’s commitment to “equitable access to women’s health care, including women’s reproductive health,” calling this access “an integral part of a woman’s struggle to assert her dignity and worth as a human being.” Since 1967, the Episcopal Church has maintained its “unequivocal opposition to any legislation on the part of the national or state governments which would abridge or deny the right of individuals to reach informed decisions (about the termination of pregnancy) and to act upon them.” **

Lay and ordained leaders throughout The Episcopal Church counsel women, men, and families who must make decisions relating to pregnancy and childbirth, adoption, family planning, and infertility, walking alongside individuals in the midst of this intimate and challenging dimension of human life. Informed by this ministry, the Church addresses the topic of abortion from a position of lived experience of both laity and clergy, recognizing the moral, legal, personal, and societal complexity of the issue. The diversity of views within the Church reflects this complexity, as well as our commitment to be a meeting ground of mutual respect and dignity. While the Church opposes abortion as a means of birth control, family planning, or sex selection, it fully supports a woman’s right to make informed decisions on her own health and to act accordingly.

The Church further believes that “legislating abortions will not address the root of the problem,” and expresses the “conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church.” The Office of Government Relations will continue to advocate at the federal level to protect reproductive rights.

If you would like the opportunity to talk and listen in community about the events of this week, Rebecca+ and the clergy team will be offering a time to reflect on the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion and the Episcopal Church’s stance on abortion and reproductive justice and health care after the 10 am service on Sunday. We will gather in the south transept.


** All quotations are taken from episcopalchurch.org

This Sunday, the seventeen pilgrims preparing to travel to Ireland this summer, myself included, will have a conversation about what gifts we bring to our little community of voyagers. (Apologies for the spoiler if I’ll see you at Sunday’s meeting – you have extra time to think about our prompt!) We will share about the gifts we see in ourselves and have the opportunity to share the gifts we see in one another.

No matter our age, sometimes the question of, “What are your gifts?” can be difficult to answer. I have frequently had the conversation with friends that it would be so much easier to write cover letters and do job interviews (or build a dating profile) for one another instead of slogging through our own because we’re great at talking each other up – but not necessarily so good at it for ourselves. In a culture saturated with expectations of self-optimization and perfection, it can be difficult to recognize the gifts we possess when we are taught instead to see only what we lack.

You can be better, we’re told, if only you look this way, or buy that product. You can do better, at school or at work, if you try harder and do more. And not only can you, you should – and you should do it in this way.

I am not knocking the disciplines of perseverance and determination that are the hallmarks of hard work. Sometimes we have to grit our teeth and practice the things that do not come naturally to us. And that’s an important, healthy, experience that, hopefully, teaches us and helps us grow. Serving our communities, as Christ calls us to, can be difficult taxing work, at the same time that it is life giving not only to ourselves but to those around us. To offer our gifts, in their great diversity, is living fully. But living up to expectations set by society, or what the world deems “success,” is often a losing game, an exhausting game.

It’s also a game that excludes people who, for a variety of reasons (think of ability, age, race, gender, class, sexuality) aren’t able to achieve the “success” society demands. What about when our gifts are not seen as gifts at all, but deficits? A quick example: Disability activists and scholars are doing important reframing of the idea of disability as an important and rich piece of identity that contributes to the fullness of life of an individual or community, rather than as a hindrance to a full or good life. (A wonderful conversation on this topic can be found here; it’s a recording of a conversation between Rabbi Julia Watts Belser, Professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University and Associate Dean Bill Goettler of Yale Divinity School from 2019. I commend it to you!)

On Sunday, our group of pilgrims will reflect together on the gifts we bring to our community, and on how God is calling us to use those gifts. What kind of community do we want to build together for our pilgrimage? What are our priorities? How can we commit ourselves to one another and to God in this particular experience?

And these aren’t questions just for pilgrims: they’re questions for all of us. At the beginning of Romans 12, Paul invites his readers not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by renewing their minds to discern God’s will, presenting their whole selves to God (Romans 12:1, NRSV)). He goes on to remind them that just as a body has many different parts, each with their own function, so too does their community – do all members of the body of Christ (12:4). The gifts differ “according to the grace given to us,” but all are important to the body as a whole (12:6).

So I wonder:

What gifts do you bring to your community? What gifts does your community see in you? And where and how is God calling you to use them?