From my Reading – February

“We should honor the gifts of the mind to understand and make sense of religious experience. A framework of convictions provides a circumference for the practice of faith. For instance, I’ll sign on to a declaration proclaiming God is the Creator, Jesus is the Christ, and the Spirit is the Giver of Life. But too often Western Christianity has compressed faith into rational formulas capable of consent without consequence, partitioned from emotive experience, and devoid of mystery” (Wes Granberg-Michaelson).

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” . . .  it is not an enviable position, this Christian thing. Following Jesus is a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world. To allow what God for some reason allows—and uses. And to suffer ever so slightly what God suffers eternally. Often, this has little to do with believing the right things about God—beyond the fact that God is love itself” (Richard Rohr).

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“A practice of gratitude is not about dismissing sadness, anger, fear, or confusion. Rather, it offers us the opportunity to see that we often experience multiple feelings at once; to welcome joy into the same places where we hold grief; to turn our attention to what is quietly growing and breathing day by day, which, to our possible surprise, includes ourselves” (Kristin Lin).

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“I don’t want to distance the secular but always bring it closer. It’s only then that ordinary things and moments become epiphanies of God’s presence. Some man said to me once, “I want to become more spiritual.” Yet God is inviting us to inhabit the fullness of our humanity. God holds out wholeness to us. Let’s not settle for just spiritual. We are sacramental to our core when we think that everything is holy. The holy not just found in the supernatural but in the Incarnational here and now. The truth is that sacraments are happening all the time if we have the eyes to see. . . .” (Father Greg Boyle).

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“A sky full of God’s children! Each galaxy, each star, each living creature, every particle and sub-atomic particle of creation, we are all children of the Maker. From a sub-atomic particle with a life span of a few seconds, to a galaxy with a life span of billions of years, to us human creatures somewhere in the middle in size and age, we are . . . children of God, made in God’s image” (Madelyn Le Engle).

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“What if not a word is lost? / What if every word we cast; / Cold, cunning, cold, accurst / Every word we cut and paste, / Echoes to us from the past, / Fares and finds us first and last, / Haunts and hunts us down?” (Malcolm Guite).

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 “God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk” (Meister Eckhart).

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From My Reading – January

“Jesus never told us to put our trust in the larger institutions of culture or even the church. That doesn’t mean they are bad or that we should abandon them, but we must recognize that they are also subject to the paschal mystery, the dying and the rising of all things. And I think we must be honest that we’re at the downside of the curve. All the indices suggest that we are at the end of the dominance of the United States, Western civilization, and even of Christianity. The question for us becomes: What will we do about it?” (Richard Rohr).

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I bless this day for the wonderful adventure it can become as I walk through it with the eyes of wonder rather than boredom, use every opportunity to express peace rather than irritation, and choose love over fear”  (Pierre Pradervand).

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Belief, the act of holding a set or system of beliefs, is not the same thing as faith, even though we often use the words imprecisely and interchangeably” (Brian McLaren).

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“Humility is to see things as they are. It isn’t to think of oneself as a worthless worm who God reluctantly redeemed. It is to fix our heart on God’s worth—which is the literal definition of worship—and know our worth in light of God’s worth. Jesus could be lowly and humble of heart because he knew who and whose he was. He had nothing to prove, so he could come as a baby and grow into a man who loved freely” (Brian Morykon).

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“I enjoy watching birds. They remind me of that line from the old song by Civilla D. Martin, ‘His eye is on the sparrow/And I know He watches me.’ December in Michigan, where I live means deep snow and frigid temperatures, which makes life hard for birds. So I feed them. And I remember that through the birth of Jesus, God provides for my deepest spiritual needs, too” (Lou Lotz).

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As I see it . . .  God acts in history and in your and my brief histories not as the puppeteer who sets the scene and works the strings but rather as the great director who no matter what role fate casts us in conveys to us somehow from the wings, if we have our eyes, ears, hearts open and sometimes even if we don’t, how we can play those roles in a way to enrich and ennoble and hallow the whole vast drama of things including our own small but crucial parts in it” (Frederick Buechner).

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“Let me add my bit today. Let me hunger for justice and then do it. Let me show compassion. Let me write an encouraging note or say an uplifting word. Once again, let me live today in such away that on your great day of judgment I can look back on this day and not be ashamed” (Cornelius Plantinga.)

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“I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward” ( Charlotte Bronte).”

 

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From My Reading – December

“We are to be grateful not just in the good times, but also in the bad times; to be grateful not just in plenty, but also in need; to maintain thankfulness not just in laughter, but also through tears and sorrow” (Brian McLaren).

 

“Any Christian “perfection” is, in fact, our ability to include, forgive, and accept our imperfection. As I’ve often said, we grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central lesson of how spiritual growth happens, yet nothing in us wants to believe it” (Richard Rohr).

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“Gratefulness is a touchstone, offering us what we need not simply to survive difficult times but to appreciate them for their exquisite complexity, buried blessings, rich opportunities, and deep teachings” (Kristi Nelson).

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“Society will always look to the rich to solve its problems. Whether it’s Musk with Twitter, the wealthy businesspeople running for political office, or our cabal of nightmare corporations we’ve entrusted to fight climate change, we remain erroneously convinced rich people hold the answers to the world’s problems.

We must begin recognizing that the rich are no more special than we are, and wealth is not a blue checkmark of competence or virtue. Not in this world and certainly not in heaven. And if we can do that, then perhaps we can also begin to understand that if God’s community does indeed belong to the poor, as Jesus said, then they might be worthy subjects of our respect in the here and now” (Tyler Huckabee).

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“In truth, the heart must crack open if the soul is to become free. And you simply cannot think your way into that” (Terry Patton).

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“God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself. He doesn’t show why things are as they are. He shows his face. And Job says, “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see thee” (Job 42:5). Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf.  At least for the moment”  (Frederick Buechner)

 

 

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From My Reading – October

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more than important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all the particularity, as I have have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually” (Frederick Buechner).

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“I can see that one loving gesture is practically divine. We have to do small things and believe a big difference is coming. It’s like the miraculous drops of water that seep through mountain limestone. They gather themselves into springs that flow into creeks that merge into rivers that find their way to oceans. Our work is to envision the drops as oceans. We do our small parts and know a powerful ocean of love and compassion is downstream. Each small gesture  can lead to liberation. The bravest thing we can do in this world is not cling to old ideas or fear of judgment, but step out and just do something for love’s sake” (Becca Stevens).

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“It turns out it is extremely difficult to draw close to someone you find absolutely abhorrent. How do we listen to someone when their beliefs are disgusting? Or enraging? Or terrifying? . . . An invisible wall forms between us and them, a chasm that seems impossible to cross. We don’t even know why we should try to cross it. . . . In these moments, we can choose to remember that the goal of listening is not to feel empathy for our opponents, or validate their ideas, or even change their mind in the moment. Our goal is to understand them. . . .

When listening gets hard, I focus on taking the next breath. I pay attention to sensations in my body: heat, clenching, and constriction. I feel the ground beneath my feet. Am I safe? If so, I stay and slow my breath again, quiet my mind, and release the pressure that pushes me to defend my position. I try to wonder about this person’s story and the possible wound in them. I think of an earnest question and try to stay curious long enough to be changed by what I hear. Maybe, just maybe, my opponent will begin to wonder about me in return, ask me questions, and listen to my story. Maybe their views will start to break apart and new horizons will open in the process. . . . Then again, maybe not. It doesn’t matter as long as the primary goal of listening is to deepen my own understanding. Listening does not grant the other side legitimacy. It grants them humanity—and preserves our own” (Valarie Kaur).

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“If something comes toward us with grace and can pass through us and toward others with grace, we can trust it as the voice of God” (Richard Rohr ).

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“If your everyday practice is to open to all your emotions, to all the people you meet, to all the situations you encounter, without closing down, trusting that you can do that – then that will take you as far as you can go. And then you’ll understand all the teachings that anyone has ever taught” (Pema Chodron).

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“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” (Audre Lorde).

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On Turning 80

I now have a habit of posting every five years about “turning” a certain age.  On October 4, I will turn 80.

I never thought I would reach 80.

When I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2014, my life expectancy was four years. I began chemotherapy and after three years was declared to be in remission. I was chemo-free for several years. In 2021, the cancer roared back and I began chemo again.

A few months ago I was once again declared to be in remission, but now I will need to have monthly chemo for the rest of my life. My doctor made it clear that while this chemo-cocktail will inevitably fail, there are others we can try – until they all fail. Because one of the components (Revlemid) of my current chemo-cocktail caused  terrible  mental confusion and as well as  multiple falls, the doctor reluctantly eliminated it. He is amazed that I am in remission without it. However, he share that most new treatments also contain Revlimid. I told him that I wouldn’t take it. He  agreed and said he would start researching others that are Revlemid free.

So part of beginning my 80’s is facing the increasing reality of imminent death.

October 5, the day after my birthday is the 2nd anniversary of my husband’s death.  Life without him has been very different. He was ill for several years and I was his caregiver.  The first year after his death I felt quite useless; so much of my time had been spent meeting his many needs. Recently, as I face another anniversary, I have been experiencing moments of real struggle with grief.

When I shared my unusual bouts of sobbing, my friend Barb, a retired hospice nurse, reminded me that “grief is so random.” She suggested that anniversaries are likely to provoke times when even beautiful memories (in this case hearing the song “My Girl” which Fred used to sing to me) are cause for grief.  I am finding the truth of this as I am reminded that music (especially by the Temptations) was one of the things that brought us together.

My post “On Turning 75” has a list of many things I had learned. Re-reading it just now brings back so many memories. My 80th birthday finds me facing the difficulties of living alone and independently – and without a car. I am recognizing that all my life I was involved with helping others. As I approach my 80’s, I am learning how to ask for help and accept it graciously and without guilt.  This has been harder than I ever dreamed it would be; I didn’t realize how much of my self-esteem was built by being a helper.

God has found many ways to teach me the lesson of receiving and  understanding that I still can be  a helper, just in very different ways. A statement I have always loved by Anne Lamott  helps on this journey: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” And another thought helps me accept that I can receive the help of others without being upset that I need it:  “If something comes toward us with grace and can pass through us with grace, we can trust it as the voice of God.”  I am blessed to remember that I can be the conduit of God’s grace.

My other issue as I turn 80 is accepting the fact that the Revlimid did permanent damage to my brain. I have the normal forgetfulness that comes at this age and that all my friends complain about, but this is something different. I can be in the middle of a conversation and totally go blank about what I was talking about.  No one else cares, but I am totally embarrassed and disappointed because I couldn’t share what was important to me at the time. Going “blank” affects everything in my day. Sometimes I can laugh when I can’t remember what my last thought; other times it is totally frustrating and frightening. (It also complicates writing a blog!)

My goal as I turn 80 is to continue to learn to accept who I am, flaws and all, knowing that God will continue to grace me with his love and total acceptance.

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From My Reading – September

“Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. That, I suppose, is the final mystery as well as the final power of words: that not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate. And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental; and a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth” (Frederick Buechner).

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“I’ve spent the last decade calling in the peacemakers to view their peacemaking in light of the Hebraic concept of shalom. I define it as God’s dream for the world as it should be, nothing missing, nothing broken, everything made whole. Because shalom is God’s dream and God is love, our shalom practices must be rooted in love. Therefore, I’ve invited peacemakers to resist peacemaking that is rooted in anxiety and to choose peacemaking out of a posture of love. When love enters the equation, everything changes. We begin to ask ourselves what we’re for instead of what we’re against” (Osheta Moore).

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“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other” (Mother Teresa).

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“Opposition gives us a sense of standing for something, a false sense of independence, power, and control. Compassion and humility don’t give us a sense of control or psychic comfort. We have to be willing to let go of our moral high ground and hear the truth that the other person may be speaking, even if it is only ten percent of what they are saying. Compassion and dialogue are essentially vulnerable positions. If we are into control and predictability, we will seldom descend into the vulnerability of undefended listening or the scariness of dialogue. If we are incapable of hearing others, we will also be incapable of hearing God. If we spend all day controlling and blocking others, why would we change when we kneel to pray?” (Richard Rohr).

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“Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we are waiting” (Joyce Meyer).

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“To love, we need to be sensitive to those around us, which is impossible if we are always racing through life engrossed in all the things we need to do before sunset” (Eknath Easwaran).

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“In terms of the spiritual journey, trying to find faith with the intellectual center is something like trying to play a violin with a saw: it’s simply the wrong tool for the job. This is one reason why all religious traditions have universally insisted that religious life cannot be done with the mind alone; that is the biggest single impediment to spiritual becoming” (Cynthia Bourgeault).

 

 

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A New Heart and a New Spirit

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove from your body a heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26.

Recently I was told that my blood tests show no cancer. “You are in currently in remission!” my doctor said. I will still need monthly chemotherapy. The current chemo will stop working and the doctor will need to find another chemo cocktail that does not contain the Revlimid which scrambled my brain for months and caused fall after fall.

When I told this news to a friend, she said, “Well, my prayers and yours have been answered.”  I had to admit that I have never prayed that I will be healed from cancer (or diabetes or cellulitis – which have also been my companions).  I have only prayed that I will maintain a spirit of hope and gratitude and continue to be “blessed to be a blessing”

So when I came across the verse from Ezekiel 36 which appears at the start of this blog, it occurred to me that this is the promise God is fulfilling in my life: that I will have a new heart and a new spirit in the face of my eight-year battle with blood  cancer and after the death of my husband nearly two years ago.

This “new heart” allows me to be at peace during this time of lost  independence as well as  the loss of balance and strength. This “new spirit” brings me  confidence in God’s presence and  God’s promises as the world around me (and all of us) becomes increasingly precar-    ious.

A friend recently commented on my “amazing attitude.”  I was surprised by his words because there have been so many occasions in my nearly 80 years when my attitude has been horrible; I have spent many dark nights asking God for forgiveness.  I told my friend that my attitude began improving  as I sat in Alanon circles learning about “letting go” and when I “met” Ignatius of Loyola and his teachings about relinquishing.  The work of Dallas Willard and James Bryan Smith led me to teach the Apprentice program which introduced me (and my church) to the concept of “spiritual formation” which changed my life forever.

These experiences are a few of the ways that God gave me a “new heart” and a “new spirit.”  I continue to be open to learning more in the time I have left. And I continue to be grateful to God for  exchanging my “heart of stone” for a “heart of flesh.”

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Remembering Frederick Buechner

Many authors have influenced my spiritual formation over the past thirty years.  But the one I have loved and appreciated the most is Frederick Buechner. Buechner died on August 15, and I am heartbroken. As a writer, I have thrilled to the beauty and originality of his writing. As a seeker, I have been blessed by his wisdom and daring. As someone who is filled with wonder at the depth of God’s grace, I have been moved by his constant growth in the understanding of that grace.  As a person nearing 80 years of age, I have begun to understand the depth of his thinking. I mourn his death, but I am comforted by the fact that his life-giving writing remains.

Below is the notice of his death sent by his son-in-law.

It is with great sadness—but greater appreciation for his long and exceptionally well-lived and listened-to life—that I write to share the news of the passing of my father-in-law, Reverend Frederick Buechner. He died peacefully in Rupert, Vt. on August 15, 2022, at the age of 96.

Frederick was a life giver to countless many around the world. He told the stories of us all: through overwhelming love, unbearable pain, great laughter, artistry, humility, and awe. His wonder at the miracle of grace around him never left him, and his writing, preaching, and presence will be with us forever

Throughout his life, Frederick enjoyed the support of an uncommonly devoted readership. His readership nourished him and helped inspire him to write nearly 40 books now read in over two dozen languages world-wide.  On his family’s behalf, I wish to extend our most heartfelt gratitude.

The following quote from Buechner hangs on my “office” wall.  It seems appropriate to share it on the day we learn of his death.

          By Letting Go

“We find by losing. We hold fast by letting go. We become something new by ceasing to be something old. This seems to be close to the heart of that mystery. I know more know than I ever did about the far side of death as the last letting-go of all but I begin to know that I do not need to know and that I do not need to be afraid of not knowing. God knows. That is all that matters.

Out of Nothing he creates Something. Out of the End he creates the Beginning. Out of selfness we grow, by his grace, toward selflessness, and out of that final selflessness which is the loss of self altogether, “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man” what new marvels he will bring to pass next.  All’s lost. All’s found. And if such words sound childish, so be it.  Out of each old self that dies some precious essence is preserved for the new self that is born; and within the child-self that is part of us all, there is perhaps nothing more precious than the fathomless capacity to trust” (A Room to Remember).

 

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