Friday, May 28, 2010

In Homelessness - Gratitude

I had the great privelage of working with "Tom," of having RN Peggy as a colleague and publishing the following article in our Pastoral Care Department Newsletter:

An Unorthodox Sight-seeing Trip to Chicago

(or How Tom and Ed Fed the Good Wolf)
By: Peggy Moran, M.S., R. N.

In the recovery community, there’s a Native American tale that resonates with those recovering from addiction. It goes like this:

The Two Wolves Story

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life….

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil—he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.

The other wolf is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather “Which wolf will win, Grandfather?” The Elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Tom and Ed’s Story
When Tom, a seasoned Chicagoan and hockey player, with 6 months of sobriety and his house-mate, Ed (Florida native), who both live in a local shelter for homeless men and women, were told by their case worker to “Get out of here, have some fun in Chicago!” they excitedly made their plans.

They tried the free admission to the Shedd Aquarium along with 500 other people…

Next! They then walked along the lake marveling at the Chicago Skyline., heading for Navy Pier. Chicago…City of Big Shoulders in the words of Carl Sandburg. Were Chicago’s Big Shoulders big enough for the stories of Tom and Ed?

At Navy Pier, they enjoyed the Crystal Garden, art, views of Lake Michigan and people-watching. They walked along the river, spotting the architectural stars of the Chicago Skyline, Willis tower (grrrrrr, still Sears to me!), Trump Tower, Marina City, the Wrigley Building, among many eye-popping structures.

They made a stop at Harey Carey’s, no, not to admire the Dutch architecture. But to gaze in wonderment at the photos of sports stars that cover the wall.

At long last, tired, they prepared to return to to the PADS shelter where they lived. But they had one last stop, Tom’s spontaneous idea. He took his friend to Lower Wacker Drive. No, not to show him where the movies The Blues Brothers or Batman were filmed. Not to show him the section of Chicago that used to be called The Emerald City because the lights were always green. Tom had a different idea…. A spiritual one. He wanted to show Ed, that even though they were residing in transitional housing, they had much to be thankful for: a roof over their heads, a warm bed to sleep in at night, and a lot of support from people like Kathryn, Linda, and Wendy, at the PADS support services center. Tom wanted to see the look on Ed’s face as he grasped the magnitude of the dire situation that some of their peers were in and the lengths they had to go to for survival.

He wanted to look back at how far he had come in his recovery, feel compassion for the homeless men and women still out there, shunned by society. He needed to embrace his gratitude to his Higher Power and to all the earthlings who were there to help him, because he was ready to help himself. A crucial timing of spiritual proportions.

Upon return to his treatment group on Monday, many of us were struck by Tom’s intuitive, spontaneous decision to take a look at the past and to learn from it; he felt moved and feel grateful for all he had learned and gained, by reaching out for help with humility, courage, and gratitude.

God of love and grace, I am filled with awe at Tom and Ed and Peggy. I am grateful that you have allowed me to share a small part of this journey with them. I pray that you continue to open them to your presence in their living and do not cease opening me to your presence in their living. Amen

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Prayer for Shavout and Pentecost: God's Spirit Overcomes

Psalm 119:30 – 32

דֶּרֶךְ-אֱמוּנָה בָחָרְתִּי; מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ שִׁוִּיתִי.
דָּבַקְתִּי בְעֵדְו‍ֹתֶיךָ; יְהוָה, אַל-תְּבִישֵׁנִי.

דֶּרֶךְ-מִצְו‍ֹתֶיךָ אָרוּץ: כִּי תַרְחִיב לִבִּי.

Ich habe den Weg der Wahrheit erwählt; deine Rechte habe ich vor mich gestellt.

Ich hange an deinen Zeugnissen; HERR, laß mich nicht zu Schanden werden!

Wenn du mein Herz tröstest, so laufe ich den Weg deiner Gebote. Luther Bible 1545

I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set my heart on your laws.

I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.

I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.

Friend Eric recently returned from a trip to visit family in Germany and brought back small inspirational cards featuring the above Psalm quote in German. His gift came just as Christian friends celebrated Pentecost and Jewish friends were moving away from the festival of Shavuot. Both celebrations remind persons of faith of the truth of God in their hearts and in their lives. Each recalls the power of God to at once breakdown the human barriers which too often unnecessarily separate us from ourselves, one another and God; all the while offering us gentle guidance along the path which leads us closer to truth and freedom which God intends for us—the living of authentic lives of devotion, compassion and care.

Let our prayerful hearts come this week confident in the power of God to help them overcome the differences which divide; may they come confident that especially when they cannot comprehend, the truth of the Lord will hold them fast. May they find guidance there along the path and by such grace the freedom to allow the power of God’s truth to guide in the leading of authentic lives of devotion, compassion and care. Amen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What do You Expect In a Psychiatric Hospital

May is Mental Health Month; the American Psychological Association is hosting a Blog Day that I thought I’d tag on to as I’ve been a Chaplain in Behavioral Health Services for a long time and promoting an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to good mental health is an important part of what I do:

The first time I thought I might become a Chaplain in a psychiatric hospital it was 1978, I was 21 years old; a college senior. In all honesty, this was an absurd idea, but there I was at the William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute, a part of the South Carolina State Hospital, in Columbia South Carolina, bag in hand, ready to be the first woman in an undergraduate unit of Clinical Pastoral Education offered by the hospital. I lived on the grounds with female interns in other disciplines, in an old, old building upon which one could still discern the shadows of letters, long removed, over the entrance: State Insane Asylum.

I remember my Supervisor asking us on our first day what we expected a psychiatric hospital to be like and what we expected from our training quarter. I remember telling him that the experience was so foreign to me that I had no expectations. (My mind has always drawn a total blank when I am overly anxious.) In the past thirty-two years (much of it spent in this same ministry) I have had more opportunity for training in pastoral care and ministry and psychology and theology and biblical study. I have had great experiences in continued Clinical Pastoral Education, continued to grow in therapy and spiritual direction and clinical supervision. In all of these, by some grace, I have increased my capacity to hold my own anxiety, and I believe, at long last, I can form some semblance of an answer to my first Supervisor’s question:

In 1978, my father had just died after a ten-year-long battle with degenerative heart disease and my mother was only just ramping-up into the acute and chronic phases of enough  Axis I and II diagnoses to teach a class in diagnostics. I was only just beginning to explore the graces and gifts which would sustain and save me—a faint inkling of God and some blind, stupidity of faith to grudgingly follow; and gifts enough of intellect and abstraction to seek to fashion within some lopsided vessel of containment, which, when cracked, I would haul weakly to more tender and experienced hands for care. I was expecting to find in a place of absurd ideas, amid other suffering souls a ministry of care, that same strength in the absurdity of faith that called Abraham to the sacrifice of Isaac, when to lose him would have been to lose faith and strength and all. And, I expected to drink there from that same well of courage and endurance which sustained Jacob through a night long wrestling match with his divine attacker—broken, healed, blessed and prevailed before he could continue on is way.

I expect, in the psychiatric hospital where I work and in the care in which I engage today, to find people just like me who are hurting. I expect to pray for grace and mercy as I listen to their stories of suffering and of loss, to their tales of violent attacks and merciless engagements. I expect to hold with them, in some misshapen vessel of containment we manage to fashion between ourselves, the absurdity of frail faith, when doing so, for them, risks losing more than I ever pray to comprehend. And, I expect that there, despite the lisp and cracks, is the well of courage and endurance from which we draw some drops of sustenance of courage and endurance, broken, healing, and blessed as they are, so they can continue on their way.

Image: “Jew at Prayer”, Marc Chagall

The Psalmist prays:

“My sins, O God, are not hidden from you; you now how foolish I have been. Do not let me bring shame on those who trust you Sovereign Lord Almighty! Do not let me disgrace to those who worship you.”
(69: 5-6)

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays."
Sørren Kierkegaard

My we bring our hearts in prayer this week asking to open them to the depth and truth of our being, to those things about ourselves which are held tenderly and in mercy by our God, but which remain in the dark hiddenness of our own frailty and fear. May we seek at prayer the courage and strength of the incomprehensible depth of God’s tenderness and mercy for our lives that our living may be in tenderness and mercy for all who would call upon our care. Amen.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Proverbs 3.3

“Do not let mercy and truth forsake you; bind them round your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.”

In the Hebrew Bible, the word ‘emeth, is often translated into English as truth or faithfulness implying a divine, religious or ethical context.

In the last book of C.S. Lewis’ classic series of children’s literature, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, there is a character named Emeth. Emeth has lived his whole life outside of Narnia, the mystical land where animals talk, magic is common and good eventually, always, conquers evil; a land whose true ruler is the Christ figure, Aslan, a talking Lion.

Emeth’s country, Calormene, is a conquering and violent place where people worship a violent and spiteful god named Tash. In the Last Battle, it seems that perhaps, this time, the good Narnians will succumb to the Calormene’s, evil and the dreadful followers of Tash. Among the followers of Tash, Emeth, seems cut from a different mold, a seeker of truth and the good amid the violence and evil, one whose heart is pure. As the Last Battle closes, Narnia is coming to the end of time. Aslan has returned to his people, his army, at long last, has defeated the evil Calormene. Aslan is leading all the characters who are still with him “higher up and further in” to a place that can only be heaven. Somehow, among them is it the “evil foreigner” and follower of the “violent Tash,” Emeth. The others wonder out loud to Emeth how he comes to be among them. Emeth recounts for them an earlier conversation with the Christ figure Lion:

‘Lord, is it then true… that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites.

For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?’ I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’

But I said also, ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’ ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.’ The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis.

Let us bring our hearts of prayer asking to live as seekers of Truth wherever it may lead. May we pray to follow our hearts, that they be opened to Mercy as our guide, the truest north on all the journeys of our living. And may our living become our fervently prayer of mercy and truth in the world. Amen.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

John Rutter- "For the Beauty of the Earth"

John Rutter's "For the Beauty of the Earth" one of my absolute favorites. It would be impossible to come up with a more fitting 100th post. With most sincere apologies to our amazing church choir who sang this so beautifully this mourning,  the above, by the Paya Labor Methodist Girls School Choir, Singapore is wonderful.

Since I was a little girl destroying the pretty dresses my mother dressed me in by playing in the vacant lot next door, I have found myself at most at home and closest to God in the beauty of the earth. Please enjoy.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Prayer Grieving My Mother in Adoption

The New York Times Sunday Magazine, August 17, 1997

It rained the day of my grandmother’s funeral, a fine drizzle that clung to our dark coats like a silver veil. She died this past December, a few weeks short of her 90th birthday. We buried her in the family plot just behind my mother, who died at 42. The official documents listed my grandmother’s cause of death as acute respiratory and coronary failure, backed up by advanced breast cancer – an absolute calamity of the chest – but I believe otherwise: that despite all her ailments, she died of loneliness and quite possibly a broken heart. She kept asking for my mother until the very end.

The bonds between mothers and daughters have always been tight in my family – too tight, most of us have complained. It’s as if the women believe that the harder they cling, the more they can protect. If only that were true. Our stories are marked by departure and longings, by frustration and despair. My great-grandmother, Ida, leaving Russia at 36 with three children, saying goodbye to the mother she would never see again. My grandmother, Faye, a stubborn, willful woman with a love so enduring and irrational that it often drove my mother to slam down the telephone or retreat into her bedroom to scream at the walls. My own mother, whose early death from breast cancer left behind two angry teen-age daughters and a mother who walked around for months refusing to accept – was never able to accept – the truth.

In the full Bonwit Teller shopping bags my grandmother used to carry wherever she went, she kept a framed photograph of her mother, a serious woman in a dark print dress who died before I was born. I used to laugh at her for this, teasing her for dragging around a picture of an old woman in the bottom of a tattered paper bag. My mother would hush me, telling me to leave Grandma alone. Only later did I realize the poignancy of this act, how important those bags were to my grandmother’s feelings of safety and well-being, and how the image of her mother must have provided the same: how my mother understood this and how, by gently quieting her daughter, she showed loyalty to an aging mother who at other times nearly drove her mad.

I treasure these memories now, along with the stories these women told me about their lives. As we sat around the kitchen table or took long drives in the car, they handed down women’s culture, replete with all its tales of hardship and triumph, loss and rebirth. My grandmother spoke of her mother’s ability to stretch a piece of meat far enough to feed seven, and about how she herself studied to become a lawyer only to find she didn’t have enough money for the exam fee. My mother told stories about maturing faster that her peers, about how her mother hadn’t prepared her for her menstruation and how she swore, at age 9, that she would tell her daughter in advance. (She did, when I was 8).

But now there is no one left who can verify my memories of these women, who heard the exact stories they told me, or can add to them, or tell me which details I’ve got wrong. At 32, I’m the only woman left in my maternal line, and few things I’ve encountered have made me feel quite so alone.

I was acutely aware of this as I stood at my grandmother’s grave in the gentle rain. Damn it! I wanted to cry out. The last one gone! I understood that I represented a symbolic end point, but I did not yet realize that I could represent a beginning, too. So it is perhaps not all that surprising that when I learned I was pregnant less than two months after the funeral, I received the news with uncharacteristic calm. It was a statistical fluke, one of those birth-control failures that pull effective rates down into the 90-odd percentiles, or so the gynecologist said. I didn’t disagree. In the frenzy that followed – planning a wedding, buying a house and all those doctor’s visits – there wasn’t much time to sit and reflect. Which is probably why I didn’t notice for months that this year I’m bridging the gap between death and birth. I’ve lost all my mothers, but I’m in the process of becoming one, and it’s a sweet and healing continuity that added an unexpectedly profound twist to Mother’s Day this year.

I cried when the ultrasound technician told me the baby is a girl. How will I protect her? How will I accept that I can’t? Each time I feel one of her kicks, already signaling her independence, I feel a blend of joy and wonder and fear and grief unlike anything I’ve known before. And this is what I think: that maybe this child wasn’t an accident after all. Maybe in a family where the love between mothers and daughters was always unquestioned and absolute, a vacuum can’t exist for long. Maybe, just maybe, when the last mother dies, a new one must be born.
"Ask any woman whose mother has died and she will tell you that she is irrevocably altered, as profoundly changed by her mother's death as she was by her mother's life."

Twenty-eighty years since her death there is integrity, dignity and grace, in the ongoing struggle of grieving my mother. My adopted mother. The only mother I have only known. My Mother's Day prayer asks Jesus to help me find those places within myself which are her bests gifts to me; those places where she can live on.  With Jesus' help, I pray live in ways which offer to those in need of connection and care those gifts which were her gifts to me. Amen. 

Friday, May 7, 2010

For Mother's Day, Chagall's
"Mother and Child in Front of Notre Dame" 1953.

In my 50's, at long last more able to be true to my self: I can see more clearly in the shadows within, some pale reflection of birthmother, Patricia. I can hold, with gentleness and compassion, both the extreme brokenness and frail blessedness of my mother, Frances. And, I can speak softly in my heart, and in my living, of my own three Dear Little Ones whose tender hearts have rested for so long with my own dear mother’s. With gratitude, Happy Mother's Day.
Psalm 9

9The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,

a stronghold in times of trouble.

10And those who know your name put their trust in you,

for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

May we bring our hearts in prayer asking to commit them to the care of the One whose promise of strength always holds true. May we seek to rest our hearts even more fully in the One whose presence we have known when all else seemed beyond our strength, when our suffering seemed far too much for us to bear, and when the pains of our daily living seemed more than we could endure. Let us come calling upon the Name of the One who is the stronghold of our hearts, asking to trust them and all that is our daily living, to the care of the One whose strength has always proven true. Amen.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

(Psalm 71: 1-2)

“Lord, I have come to you for protection;
Never let me be defeated!
Because you are righteous, help me and rescue me.
Listen to me and save me!”

“Love, like truth and beauty, is concrete. Love is not fundamentally a sweet feeling; not, at heart, a matter of sentiment, attachment, or being ‘drawn toward.’ Love is active, effective, a matter of making reciprocal and mutually beneficial relation with one's friends and enemies.

"Love creates righteousness, or justice, here on earth. To make love is to make justice. As advocates and activists for justice know, loving involves struggle, resistance, risk. People working today on behalf of (the disenfranchised and), the poor in this country and elsewhere know that making justice is not a warm, fuzzy experience. ….

“For this reason loving involves commitment. We are not automatic lovers of self, others, world, or God. Love does not just happen. We are not love machines, puppets on the strings of a deity called ‘love.’ Love is a choice -- not simply, or necessarily, a rational choice, but rather a willingness to be present to others without pretense or guile. Love is a conversion to humanity -- a willingness to participate with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives. Love is the choice to experience life as a member of the human family, a partner in the dance of life, rather than as an alien in the world or as a deity above the world, aloof and apart from human flesh.”
Passion for Justice, the Rev., Dr. Carter Heyward, Episcopal Priest and Howard Chandler Robbins Professor of Theology, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA.

In the thought of the Hebrew Bible, it is only because God’s intrinsic nature is righteousness (tsaw-dak)—to be just, to bring about justice and to save—that God actively chose us for mutually beneficial and reciprocal relationship. It is only because this loving relationship involves a commitment, a sometimes seemingly irrational one on the part of God, that we have dared across so many millennia to ask that our prayers for protection, victory, help, rescues and salvation be heard.

Let us come this week in prayer. Let our hearts of prayer speak boldly our deepest longings for protection, victory, help, rescue and salvation. Let us pray with the confidence of our faith across centuries of this commitment to the love and healing of broken lives in our broken world. Let us pray with hope, remembering that our faith is an ancient choice made for us by the One whose very essence is very essence is to save us, love us, heal, protect and defend us. Let us pray for the faith to choose to love and heal other broken lives in our broken world. Amen.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge….”
(Proverbs 1:7a)

Yir’ah, is the Hebrew word translated here as fear. But the Hebrew concept of fear of God is not the stomach knotting, heat-up-the-back-of-the-neck, trembling that causes us to freeze and cringe or make panicked choices. Yir’ah is more akin to awe; the feeling that we can get when we look up at the night sky and feel overwhelmed by the immensity of space and simultaneously terrified at the thought of our own smallness. The feeling of being overtaken by the truth that there is a reality far, far greater than ourselves and our own lives and that somehow we are intimately and inextricably a part of it and its purposes.

Living a life in “fear of the Lord” is to live a life in trembling awareness that our living has ultimate meaning. That the choices we make have an ultimate significance far beyond our abilities to think or feel or ascertain their value. It is living our days in trembling awareness of the Divine presence all around us.

Albert Einstein wrote: “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive form so this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the rank of devoutly religious men.”

May we come in prayer this week seeking the Diving presence in all that is around us. Many we come asking that our small and prayerful hearts be opened to the truth of the impenetrable mystery of our existence; to the depth of wisdom, of radiant beauty, of awe which is at once incomprehensible to us and woven most intimately into our very beings. May we seek there to make choices for our living which will deepen our knowledge of the Divine reality by which grace we are free to know and choose. Amen.