The Super Bowl and the Bombs

I have a story to tell. It happened this past Sunday evening when my husband and I had settled into our living room couch with a bowl of popcorn filled to the brim. We were ready to participate in the all-American ritual of watching the big game. But somewhere in the second quarter, it all changed for me.

Later, I wrote a poem story about my evening.

The Super Bowl and the Bombs

Super Bowl Sunday.
I sat with my husband as the game began.
He wanted to watch (he'd played in college),
and I wanted to keep him company.
I mostly caught the replays
as I ran through my emails and planned my week.

Then came the message tossed right into my box:
"Meeting for silent prayer now!
Murad in Rafah asks us for prayer now!"

My friend Joe had written me.
He'd worked with Murad in Gaza,
teaching divided peoples
ways to live in peace,
teaching non-violent responses
to those surrounded by strife.
Together, Murad in Gaza
 and Joe in America
built spaces where peace could grow.

But now Murad texted to Joe:
"Very violent bombing now --
in all of Rafah!
We may be martyrs tonight.
Pray for us, to save my family and the children."

In my living room
Super Bowl ads filled the screen:
This is the beer to drink!
This insurance will always protect you!
Driving this car (or maybe this other one)
will make you happy!

And my friend Joe wrote
"Join us on Zoom for prayer now.
The need is immediate."
Just silent words on my laptop screen;
 no drama of song or dance to coerce me.

I left the TV and the Super Bowl, 
and the Chiefs and 49ers
to battle to the end, and beyond the end.
I left Travis and Taylor for others to watch.
I left the adverts to scream
their happiness directions for others
to follow.

I clicked on the Zoom link,
and entered the place of prayer.
Joe said he'd heard from Murad again.
It was 3am in Gaza,
"and the bombs are falling everywhere here.
They may hit us at any time."

We joined in prayer as the bombs fell.
Together we wove a circle of Light 
around Murad and his family, 
around all of Rafah and Gaza
and the world.

The Chiefs won the Bowl in overtime.
but when bombing is the game, no one wins.
There's no shaking hands at the end of that game,
no "Well played today!" from one team to another.
When bombing is the game, we all lose.

If my poem story has spoken to you, please share it with others.

(Murad and his family survived that night’s bombing. Not all did.)

Testing Times

We’ve all had painful times when daily living feels like a test. However recently I’ve been thinking of times when the big challenge is to be faithful to our foundational beliefs. I’m thinking of times when it would be easier to flow with the majority opinion, when a decision to speak or act from our deepest beliefs could have hard consequences in our lives. Those are definitely testing times!

Quakers use the word testimony to describe important beliefs we express through our lives. For example, there is the peace testimony, the testimony of integrity, and the testimony of equality. We testify to those beliefs by the way we live. And it can be hard; it can be a real test.

Consider the peace testimony. Our daily lives bring plenty of opportunities to be a presence for peace in the world. There’s everything from not taking offense at an aggressive driver to speaking out for peaceful resolutions in world conflicts. And sometimes people testify by refusing to go to war.

I grew up in the Church of the Brethren, and I have a sprinkling of Mennonite ancestors. I am now a Quaker. These are historically known as the “peace churches,” denominations that have held steadfastly to the peace testimony as central to their understanding of Christian living.

Beginning with World War II, this testimony was accepted by the American government. When my Brethren uncles were drafted, they entered alternative service. They worked for the Civilian Public Service, building roads and trails in national parks and doing agricultural work and research.

It was a lot harder for some of my friends during the Viet Nam War. They were not members of a historic peace church, and they were literally tested. They needed to defend their pacifist positions before their local draft boards – who were not sympathetic. They also faced friends and family who didn’t understand. It was a real challenge, but, as they testified to their truth, they grew stronger.

Even further back in our country’s history, times of war could bring a real test of one’s commitment to peace because there was no alternative way of serving. During the Revolutionary War, all men between 18 and 50 were required to join the local militia and pledge allegiance to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. They weren’t automatically sent to fight, but it did mean they needed to turn out to drill and prepare to fight. If a man refused, he needed to pay a substantial fine or hire a substitute to take his place. In addition, he was often ostracized and condemned by his neighbors.

As a member of a peace church and a pacifist, what could he do? He could say, “I can’t afford the fine so I’ll just join the militia and drill with my neighbors. I probably won’t be sent to war to kill people.” In that case, his church judged him, and he was removed from membership. Church community was family; being cut off from them was painful for everyone.

These men were truly caught between church and state. I’ve discovered some of my Brethren ancestors joined the militia, and others refused to join. And a few of them joined the militia, and then returned to the church after the war ended! Whatever path they chose, there was a price to pay. This was truly a time of testing for them and their families.

Today, as we try to be faithful to the foundational beliefs we hold as truth, we still find challenges. We still find testing times when it is easier to remain silent. We may be tempted to avoid testifying with our words and actions even when we are faced with a clear situation of injustice or prejudice. The situations may be different from those faced by my colonial ancestors, but the challenge is the same.

I remember the old saying that emphasizes the importance of living from one’s deep convictions: Let your life speak. Our lives are speaking all the time. What do they say? Is our living in the world in harmony with the ideas and beliefs we endorse?

What do you want your life to testify to?

. . . .“be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your life and conduct may preach among all sorts of people. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one. George Fox (1600’s)

If this reflection speaks to you, please share it with others.

The Locked Chest

It was almost Christmas, and I was excitedly preparing for the arrival of my daughter Alisa and her family. I made up the beds, carefully spreading my rarely used quilts over them. Discovering that I needed two more quilts, I turned again to the chest where I stored them. But I couldn’t open it! Somehow it had locked itself, and I had no key.

This old chest had belonged to my mother, and I vaguely remembered that she kept a key taped to the inside of the chest. That certainly didn’t help me now! Frustrated and helpless, I decided to address the key problem after the holiday season when it was time to return the blankets and quilts to the chest. I had no idea what I’d do then. (Would I need a locksmith?)

How eagerly we welcomed our family from afar, and how gladly we shared news of our lives with them! We laughed as I told my locked chest story, and then I suggested others might help out by tackling my problem.

My son-in-law Sam took up the challenge. He began by studying the chest. He took pictures, and he did research on the Internet. He turned the chest upside down and found its model and serial number. I learned I had a Lane cedar chest built in 1941. Then Sam found an Illinois locksmith whose specialty was making new keys for old furniture. Could this person make a key to match this specific chest?

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this year was the tiny box that contained a new key for the old cedar chest. And, yes, the key opened my old chest — the chest that still had its original key taped to the inside lid! I was very grateful.

What impressed me most about this experience was how Sam paid attention to the chest. My approach had been to poke energetically around in the keyhole with a bent paper clip to force it open. He got acquainted with it, learned its name, and where it was made. I had used my antique chest for many years, but I had never gotten to know it.

Later, I reflected how often we humans take my approach in dealing with our fellow human beings. We talk at them and we use them, but we don’t truly give them our attention. We don’t get to know and appreciate them. And so we remain locked mysteries to each other, never revealing the treasures that are hidden inside each of us.

Unlike my old locked chest, we humans have that within us that wants to be known. We all hold such amazing stories. There are hardships we’ve faced, joys we’ve known, strange adventures we’ve had, and faithful years of work. Caught between our desire to be known and our fear of being known, we peek out wistfully, wondering if anyone cares to listen to our story.

When it feels safe to open ourselves, to share our stories, we will flourish and bloom. As columnist David Brooks recently wrote, “Above almost any other need, human beings long to have another person look into their faces with love and acceptance.” To give the “gift of attention,” as Brooks calls it, means listening with open hearts. It means having a genuine interest in understanding another person. It means receiving another human story, and accepting that it can be as complicated as our own story.

I think I’ve just discovered my 2024 New Year’s Resolution. I resolve to become someone who listens, someone who gives the gift of attention to those I meet. My hope is that I will approach others with an open heart, believing each person holds a unique treasure. My desire is to make it safe for others to open up and share their treasure.

Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So . . . be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. And may the blessing of God, who made us, who loves us, and who travels with us be with you now and forever. (Henri-Frederic Amiel, 1821-1881)

If this story speaks to you, please share it with another.

Discovering Holy Ground in Japan

a Japanese garden

Last week I traveled through Japan, learning about a unique and beautiful culture – and discovering holy ground.

I watched Japanese worshippers taking off their shoes before they offered prayers at Buddhist or Shinto temples, and I felt their deep devotion. Although I was simply a visitor, I too removed my shoes as I entered the building, and I remembered how I had taken my shoes off when I visited a mosque. Although we Christians keep our shoes on as we worship, we recognize that, in the words of the hymn, We’re standing on holy ground; For the Lord is present And where He is is holy.”

God’s presence is not limited to temples, mosques, and churches though. Holy ground, I believe, is any place that opens us to God, that awes us with beauty, that enlarges our souls with love and compassion, and moves us into knowing God is here.

We can experience God’s presence anywhere, but some places deepen our awareness of holy ground. In Japan, we walked through steep, wooded mountains where centuries-old giant cedars silently gazed down upon us. This, I thought, was a sacred space, a place where God liked to hang out. I was glad and grateful to hang out there, too.

A few days later, I walked through a very different holy ground – Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. This place of quiet beauty is located where the first atomic bomb was dropped, where fires raged, where thousands were killed instantly, and even more thousands died later. Today there is green grass and trees, a few monuments (one dedicated to the children), and a deep-toned Peace Bell to ring. There is an eternal flame dedicated to peace, and there is the skeleton of a large building, the solitary remnant of that dreadful destruction.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is also there. Although I didn’t remove my shoes as I walked through the museum, I felt like I should have. The walls held pictures of individuals who died on August 6, 1945 or in the time following, together with their unique stories and a few small possessions. Rooms were crowded but strangely silent as we gazed into the faces and learned the stories. Here was the story of a school child, here a mother and baby, here a father who had hurried into the bombed area to find his family and died later of radiation poisoning. The Museum tour ended with displays that told of efforts to limit atomic weapons in the future.

Why is this place of unbelievable suffering, this evidence of the inhumanity of war, a sacred place? I believe the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum speak of the power of healing and hope. The evil event has not been erased, but, through the decades, the hope and work for peace has been redemptive. Redemption happens when love, compassion, and healing rise through an experience of deep suffering and pain. Through our silent grief as we walked in the Museum, through the deep bonging of the Peace Bell when we pulled the rope and offered prayers for peace, we pilgrims joined the hope for peace.

Later I wrote this poem “Hiroshima Pilgrimage.”

Sixth day, eighth month,
eighth hour of the day:
the heart of darkness explodes
and the inhumanity of humans
is revealed in blinding light.

Many years later, the pilgrims come.
We shuffle silently through darkened rooms;
we read flowing Japanese calligraphy or
blunt-nosed English letters.
Both punch their truths at us.

In silence we meet the victims.
Not by the thousands, 
but singly they appear.
We see his picture, read his name, hear his story,
view his small book, lunch box, half shoe
left behind.
Then comes another face, and another,
and another and another.
Nearby a table holds cloth fragments,
infant sized, child sized, adult, too.

Circling deeper into darkness,
we enter the time beyond,
a time when weeks followed weeks,
and suffering lasted longer 
than flesh that didn't heal.
A people lost in hell wandered helpless
until they dropped.

Here within this grim memorial
we pilgrims read the stories,
our souls stunned into silence.
The eyes of those gazing back at us
ask questions:
"What now? You know my story now;
what will you do about it?
How will you bear witness to my truth?"

We travellers read the stories and were challenged to participate in the redemptive work of peacemaking. My prayer is that all of us, each in our unique way, will join in this sacred work.

Ringing the Peace bell in Hiroshima

If this writing has spoken to you, please pass it on.

Living This Season

Some years ago I wrote a book about wise decision making, Decision Making & Spiritual Discernment The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way. I had led many workshops on this important subject, and, of course, the book brought more invitations.

I am still privileged to join with others and explore this topic, this “sacred art of finding your way.” In fact, I just finished a series of meetings with a thoughtful group from a local church. Together we talked about opening to God’s guidance and becoming attentive to our lives. Together we looked at the steps we take to live out our decisions.

This group, however, offered unique situations to consider. Perhaps their workshop should have been called Decision Making 201 because many of their stories brought especially difficult and complex situations for us to consider. This was an advanced class!

What made this class different? Most participants were within the “older adult” season of life. Many had retired, and some had moved to a retirement community. The decisions they faced reflected this chapter of their lives.

We were looking at decisions of relinquishment (deciding to let go of something) and experiences of diminishment (it’s gone – even if we haven’t let it go). For example, retirement from a job can mean relinquishing, not only a paycheck, but also an important part of one’s identity. “Who am I now?” wonders the physician or teacher or – . We may need to let of of possessions, activities, even a beloved home, knowing that we simply can’t continue as we were. And most likely, we have experienced diminished strength or stamina – or hearing. I remember my mother’s grief when she could no longer sing in the church choir.

Our culture values accomplishments and growth. It values taking on new activities and expanding our worlds. In this season, we are out of step with the world around us. What does it mean to live a full, rewarding life while in a time of letting go?

I, too, am in this older adult chapter of life. I haven’t moved to a retirement community, but I’m aware of physical diminishments and the need to let go of some activities and possessions. I’m also asking the question “How does the Spirit invite me to live fully and continue growing now?”

I remember Mary. She was my 97 year old aunt, and I regularly visited her in the nursing home where she lived for 10 years. She glowed with love. She offered friendship to the aides, the hairdresser, the neighbor to whom she gave her newspaper, and to me. She sang old hymns quietly to herself to stave off pain at night, and she enjoyed reading old books. She enjoyed the fresh local strawberries I brought, and loved hearing about my grandchildren. She lived a whole life in half a room! Once she said, “I wonder why I’m still here,” and then she answered her own question. “I’m still here because I’m still learning. I’m still loving.”

Mary had experienced severe pain and loss. She had needed to adjust to a different way of living. She had also found friendship, new interests, and new people to treasure. She had opened to receive blessings within the nursing home chapter of her life. If we, like Mary, want to live fully as older adults, we need to be awake to blessings in our lives. We must choose the spiritual practice of gratitude.

The most important spiritual invitation never changes, no matter what age we are. That is the call to be a loving presence in the world. While there are many ways to live from love, I think there are special ways that an older adult, in the midst of diminishments and relinquishments, is called to give love.

A friend calls it a “hospitality of presence.” It’s the simple gift of being with another, of listening, of sharing stories together, of touching a hand, of being someone who cares. Mary shares her newspaper, John writes notes to old acquaintances, Sharon volunteers for Meals on Wheels and offers a listening ear while delivering dinner.

I challenge all of us to discover more ways to be carriers of love. May we pay attention to the divine Spirit that will show us the need for love and will nudge us to respond with open hearts.

The Great Aquifer

Here in eastern Pennsylvania, we’ve recently had four days of rain. Sometimes it came as a downpour, sometimes as a drizzle, and I welcomed it all. We needed rain after our hot, dry summer. The grass, the newly planted perennials and shrubs, the trees shedding dry brown leaves, all needed a good soaking. And, as water seeped down through the soil, it began to replenish our aquifers.

Aquifers are those deep places underground where water saturates a layer of permeable rocks. They are earth’s water storage tanks. At some locations this groundwater bubbles up and creates springs and streams. Often we humans have to dig down to reach an aquifer and bring the water up. The well outside my house burrows deep underground to bring us water for the laundry, for taking a shower, and for a sweet fresh drink. We need aquifers! During a drought, however, they are not being refilled. And, unfortunately, some of them around the world are definitely shrinking because we use the water faster than it is replenished.

Water is life; we cannot live without it. The Hebrew scriptures, shaped by a desert culture, frequently describe our human need for water – and they compare it to our need for God. The Psalmist wrote “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, O God.” (Ps. 42:1) Isaiah calls across the centuries, “Come, all you who are thirsty; come to the waters. . .” (Isa 55:1) And he wasn’t referring to the well at a nearby inn!

In the New Testament, Jesus was traveling through Samaria when he met a woman drawing water from a well. He told her he offered “living water,” and that, when she drank his water, she wouldn’t be thirsty again. It would be like unlimited refills from a spring that doesn’t run dry, from an aquifer that doesn’t need replenishing.

The Great Aquifer of God never shrinks or needs replenishing. Sometimes it bubbles up in a fountain of everlasting love, and we can rejoice and run about in the spray like children. Our lives are rich and full and joy-filled. We are immersed in God’s presence and are grateful.

But there are also hard times when our spirits are thirsty, and we seem to have lost the connection to the Source. It can feel like we are traveling through a barren land without a green oasis in sight. We wander without a clear direction, lost in a dry world with problems that seem unsurmountable. We desperately need a drink from God’s Great Aquifer.

In those times, we often grow quite frantic, looking everywhere for water that will sustain us. What we actually need is to be still, to take time to quiet ourselves, and to send roots deep from wherever we are. We may need to clear out all kinds of loose rocks, all kinds of clutter in our lives to find a still place. I invite you to picture yourself as a tree sending roots deeply into the soil, trusting that your roots will reach God’s Great Aquifer. And it is there. It never runs dry. Then you will discover that you actually are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.” (Ps. 1:3)

Yesterday a friend told me how strongly rooted she feels these days, as though the roots of her soul are drawing sustenance from an underground source. She is a graduate student, a wife, and a mother of young children, and she knows what it is like to be running dry! But now she is filled with a humble gratitude and a renewed clarity about her life. Listening to her trying to describe the indescribable, I knew she had tapped into the Great Aquifer of the God of Love, and I was glad.

Blessed are those which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. Matt 5:6

If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it with others.

The Voice From My Attic

The bulging folders in my attic had lain undisturbed for over a quarter century. I knew what they held, but I’d never looked at them. I hadn’t been ready to take them on.

Finally, I decided it was time. I opened the first folder and scanned the first page. At the top were the words A Call to Commitment. They transported me right back to the church of my childhood: I’m ten years old, sitting on the third bench from the front on the right side with my mother and younger brother who is wriggling restlessly. The church is sparsely filled as usual. I’m looking up at my father who is in the pulpit opening his Bible, beginning to preach in his gentle, thoughtful voice.

These folders in my attic held hundreds of pages of sermon notes, more than fifty years of sermon notes. These papers, covered with a small, fine handwriting and yellowed with age, were the notes from my father’s lifetime of ministry.

Ammon Bucher Meyer died in 1991, but his voice lives on in these pages. I began to flick through the folders. There were sermons from World War II (While Men Die), sermons addressing injustice (Race Problems), sermons on following Jesus (The Mind of Christ). I was awed by the depth of his thinking, the gentle teaching of his stories, and the strength of his faith.

Yes, this man was my father, but I hadn’t known this aspect of him. I was the child listening from the third pew on the right – and then I grew up and moved away. As I held his sermons in my hands, almost able to hear his voice again, I rediscovered him.

Then I remembered that, despite his half century of ministry, Ammon never actually chose ministry as his profession! And his congregation never paid him to be their minister.

A century ago in his denomination, the congregation chose men from their midst to serve them as ministers. This call was from God, and one didn’t turn it down. They were expected to serve as a minister while earning their living in other ways. Ministry was learned “on the job.”

Ammon earned his living as a farmer, a teacher, and a school administrator. At the same time, he ministered faithfully, freely giving his time and energy. He married and buried, he counseled and taught. He attended endless meetings and spent many hours in sermon preparation and prayer. He had extra tenderness for those who suffered and extra patience for young people with their questions.

His hardest task was bringing people together when they were bitterly divided. At various times, this congregation was divided over theology, worship practices, and even which of several meetinghouses to use. Sometimes Ammon was deeply discouraged and questioned whether he was called to serve. I recall one particularly painful time when his peace-making efforts failed, and a small group of members angrily left the congregation. He almost gave up then, but he was faithful to his calling.

Despite conflicts and long hours of unpaid work, Ammon continued, year after year, to serve faithfully. In the end, I believe he was blessed through his long service. He’d helped the congregation grow into a more unified community, and his faith had deepened and sustained his ministry. (His final project was preparing the congregation for a paid pastor.)

No, Ammon didn’t choose ministry. He was called, and he grew into it. I can picture him at the beginning of his journey, 23 years old and nervously stepping forward to preach his first sermon before people who had known him since he was a baby. His subject was Jesus Our Friend, and I hope he felt the loving support of the Friend that morning! He didn’t know the challenges of the ministry that lay before him, or how he would choose to remain faithful to his call.

We can all choose to live faithfully, each of us in our unique way. Of course being faithful is a challenge. There are times of questioning and doubt, perhaps a new shaping of the call. But, as we are committed and willing to serve, we can grow to know that this work, this service is ours to live out. As Mother Teresa said, “We are not called to be successful, but to be faithful.” And may Jesus, the Divine Friend, strengthen and guide us all.

Ammon Bucher Meyer, 8/31/11-4/6/91

Ammon’s ministry papers have been donated to the Elizabethtown College (PA) Archives.

If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it with others.

Being a Nurse Log

A fallen tree trunk lay beside the path.

There it lay, a fallen giant of the forest. Surrounded by tall powerful trees waving their strong limbs in the wind, this one was helplessly stretched out on the forest floor with all its shallow, spreading roots exposed for all to see.

Last week I was hiking with my family in the temperate rainforest of the Alaskan panhandle. Although icebergs floated nearby, in the forest, green life teemed around us. Tall spruce and hemlock trees were draped with moss, and small ferns lifted their fronds from the spongy forest floor. On low bushes, berries ripened hurriedly in the Alaskan summer while behind them, massive rocks bordered the hills.

Before me, stretched out next to the path was a nurse log. Probably struck down in a storm years ago, this fallen giant was slowly decomposing, and, as it rotted, it nursed new life. Ferns, moss, flowers, lichens, and even baby trees – all rooted on the trunk and roots of this fallen tree and were fed a nutrient-rich porridge of humus. The downed tree offered the stuff for life itself to other living beings. One expert wrote that a fallen tree’s “rotting years” could be as long as its upright growing years. What a rich, long-lasting legacy!

Touching the log, I thought to myself, “I want to be like a nurse log.” Like a nurse log, I would nurture life even after my own life ended. But unlike a nurse log, my nurturing of future life depends on how I choose to live now. It depends on the legacy I shape now.

We never know for sure what effect our own lives might have on a future generation. Beyond the land or money kind of inheritance, there’s the inheritance that we can give through the example of our lives. It is rooted in the ongoing influence of our decisions.

As I grow older, I am more aware of how my living today helps or hinders the flourishing of other lives. I want to choose life-giving paths. I want to make decisions now that will be my small part in helping the earth and its people to flourish in the future. That is the legacy I want to give!

A nurse log invites a wide variety of life forms to root in it, not just trees of its own kind. I want to be generously open-hearted, too, and lovingly foster others no matter who they are. I believe all of our lives are interwoven, and that suffering from drought or war in land far away touches all of us. I want to live now so that those who live after me are encouraged to recognize that we are one human family and to know that this troubled earth is home for all of us.

Being a nurse log, like raising any young ones, is a powerful exercise in hopefulness. I choose to nurture hope in the future, hope for the healing of the earth and for the healing of its peoples. In our present time in the world, it is easy to feel powerless and discouraged. If my voice and actions now demonstrate hope for the future, those who come after me will perhaps be more fortified by hope as they work to create a better world.

To become a human nurse log
one must live 
as a generous giver
 a compassionate lover;
one must live in hope
believing that
someday 
others will send their roots deep 
into the humus of our lives
and thrive.

The roots of the nurse log nurture plant life, too.

If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it.

The Old Paint Can and Me

This summer’s big project is replacing some windows in our house. While professionals are doing the installation, my husband and I decided to paint the new window frames ourselves. We’d use the old paint stored in the cellar that matched the woodwork of each room. It was only eighteen years old!

A worthy plan, I thought, and my father who worked his way through college as a painter would be proud of me. I began to explore the dusty shelves of old gallon cans, brushing away spider webs and dirt and trying to read the faded labels written so long ago. I eventually discovered a cryptic scrawl on one can: “Study wood.” And on another: “Master bed.” These I could use.

The challenge was just beginning. Rusty and misshapen, the first lid stubbornly fought my efforts to lift it. I used a putty knife, and then a screwdriver. I persisted; the lid resisted. I kept prying at it, and the lid shifted but still clung tightly to the dried paint on its inside edge. Finally, bit by bit, I pulled all around the lip, and the lid slowly lifted.

What a mess inside! Instead of the soft peachy-pink I expected, it was bluish-brown with a thick, hard crust. Oops, this must be the wrong can. Discouraged, I began to search the shelves again, but nothing else seemed likely. Finally, I decided to stir the paint in the can I had opened. If I couldn’t use it, I needed to dispose of it. I pulled off the surface crust and found — an oily bluish-brown mess underneath.

I began to stir. And I stirred and stirred. At first nothing changed, but then wisps of pink began slowly to appear. As I kept on stirring, the thick paint recovered more and more of its soft pink shade. I stared in delight as my “Master bed” paint gradually reclaimed its true color.

Finally I was ready to paint. I dipped my brush into the smooth pale color, and spread paint onto the frame of the window through which the sun would shine, through which the world would glow in morning freshness and in evening peace. I had recalled the paint to its true identity, a thing of beauty and service.

This small, frustrating episode of the old paint can reminded me how I can be like a stubborn old can of paint! I, too, can be resistant and closed. I can fight against my world changing. And sometimes my crust can persuade people there’s no hidden beauty underneath.

The truth is I, and perhaps all of us, need God’s help to crack open our lives and stir us up. It is so easy to remain closed. Guarding ourselves under a tight lid and a thick skin may feel safer than being open, but we’re not fully living when we’re hidden away. We need the Divine One whose patient persistence pries open the sealed places. What happens when our lids come off? Yes, we are more vulnerable, more likely to feel pain. We are also more likely to know love and joy. We become more alive and awake to this amazing world we live in.

When God stirs us, we can slowly become more like the person we were created to be. God’s stirring might be experienced as a fierce challenge or as a gentle nudge stretching us in new ways. We might see a need and offer to help. Perhaps we discover colors, I mean gifts, we didn’t know we had inside us. And when we use them, when we care about and are involved in the world, our own unique beauty is revealed. We have grown into ourselves.

I’m glad I patiently kept working on the old can of paint. And I’m especially glad God keeps on working on us so we can become our true colors!

If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it with another.

Hafiz or Yeats: Hope or Doom

Newspaper headlines proclaimed that 16 people were killed in shootings across the United States this Memorial Day weekend. On the next page, an article celebrated the fact that roses now are at their peak in southern Pennsylvania. I look out my study window and agree. My rosebushes are loaded with blossoms that glow in the morning sunlight, releasing their sweet perfume into the air. To paraphrase the 14th century Sufi poet Hafiz, the roses have again opened their hearts and given us all their beauty.

Bombs fell last night on Kyiv, destroying homes and lives, strewing the streets with pieces of shrapnel and roofing. And yet, I know where there is a small twiggy nest, carefully built with ancient bird knowledge and lined with a bit of soft fluff. Soon there will be pale brown eggs resting in it. Birds sing their morning joy in my backyard; and they sing in Ukraine, too.

Someone in my town lost their apartment last week. They couldn’t pay the rent, and they were way behind on utilities. And yet, the strawberries at the roadside stand are sweetly delicious, and I’ll probably make strawberry shortcake for dinner this evening.

Public discourse overflows with ugly sniping hostility and name-calling. The subject may be elections or debt limits or guns; the language is designed to inflame. And yet, two days ago, I rejoiced with others as a couple in their late 60’s who had journeyed together for twenty years tenderly spoke their marriage vows. Life is finite, they declared, and we choose to pledge ourselves to love.

My daily life this spring holds roses and birdsong, new nests and faithful love. Springtime itself is evidence of a renewal of life and hope for a harvest. I know I am blessed in living amid peace and security so that I can truly believe in renewal and hope for the future.

And yet. I dare not turn away from the grief and pain of others’ lives. I can’t read about peak rose blooming season and skip the page about bombings in Kyiv. I can’t ignore the need for affordable housing and simply lose myself in the gifts of delectable strawberries and birdsong. For many people, this is not a hopeful season but one of destruction and despair.

In his famous poem “Second Coming,” William Butler Yeats wrote, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

Is he right? Is our world in a doomed time of destruction when, as Yeats believed, “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed”? Or can the “centre” be rebuilt with springtime hope and love – in spite of guns and bombs and inflammatory threats? I don’t know. I only know what Hafiz has said.

In Ladinsky’s translation of Hafiz, I read this poem:

It Felt Love
How
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to the world
All its beauty?

And the answer followed:

It felt the encouragement of light
Against its
Being,
Otherwise
We all remain
Too 
Frightened.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons we are too frightened to open our hearts. In a time when “things fall apart,” we seek to protect our hearts by remaining closed rather than take the risk of opening.

The title of the Hafiz poem is “It Felt Love.” The encouragement we humans need so that we will open our hearts and give our unique beauty to the world is love.

May we open our hearts and give to the world the beauty of our nest-building, our peace-making, and the sweetness of our loving. May we take the risk of living in love so that Yeats’ prophetic poem of doom will not become true. May we live in hope.

If this reflection has spoken to you, please share it with others.

Mehr Licht

Sixty years ago, a young German girl named Barbara came to live with my family in Pennsylvania and attend school with me for a year. It was also sixty years ago that a young American boy named Larry joined a German family for a year. Thirty years ago, Larry and I and our daughters welcomed exchange students into our home. With all of them, we have created family ties that have deepened through the years. They are brothers, sisters, and daughters in our hearts. Recently, we traveled to Germany to visit them.

In Dusseldorf, brother Christian took us to an art exhibit called Mehr Licht (More Light), and I learned about early Romantic artists who fell in love with light. They saw a world that glowed with light streaming through the sky, revealing miracles of shape and color. They painted light reflecting from twisted trees and rough hewn rocks, from small brookside plants and from the tumbling brook itself.

I am not a painter, but I too revel in the beauty of light as it touches the world around me. I especially rejoice when I notice the extraordinary presence of the Light that glows within people.

Quakers speak of the Light as the Divine Light of God, and we believe each person carries this Light within them. I want to remember to focus on the Light within others when I interact with them. I want to be aware of each person as a unique expression of God’s presence. I must look for signs of loving-kindness, signs of open-hearted caring. When I see these signs in another, then I see the Light within them.

Here is an example: We traveled by train to Hamburg – immediately after a rail strike. Train schedules were in chaos, and trains were crowded and running late. But the tired travelers were patient, making jokes, and helping each other. Often those with seats offered them to those standing. Perhaps my white hair helped, but the man who gave me his seat stood for two hours!

This trip gave me many opportunities to notice the Light within those we visited. We attended a reunion of the five brothers in Larry’s exchange student family. It had been 15 years since they were together, but they gathered for a brother’s 80th birthday. They are strong-minded, busy, successful men who live all over Germany and Switzerland. Their ideas and ways of living have grown apart, and they could easily argue. But I saw them at their best.

I had the privilege of seeing the Light in the brothers. Within their laughter and sharing, I saw how they cared about each other. They would all return to their own lives, but, if there was great need, they would be there to help.

I saw the Light within sister Barbara and her family in their passion to protect the natural world. They know that the rich diversity of life in their country village is endangered. Together with others whom they inspired, they’ve preserved bubbling springs, small ponds, and the meadows around them. They have protected roadside wildflowers and small brown toads. Although there have been disappointments, they have hope for the future because young people care about the environment.

We traveled on to our exchange student daughters, to Maren and her family in Hamburg and to Anna and her family in Dresden. What joy to see them, to experience their lives and see how the children have grown! I saw how the Light in Maren is bright as she serves the teachers and children with whom she works. She is both fierce and gentle in her efforts to provide a good learning environment in spite of the twin afflictions of Covid and a construction project at her school. Anna’s patient care and nurture for her family expresses her Light within. Even her cheerful chauffeuring is an “I love you.”

Our trip ended in Munich with brother Michel and his wife Tina. As we sat over cake and coffee and shared our stories, I felt the strength of the Light within them. The suffering they’ve known has deepened their compassion. Acceptance of aging has brought them greater wisdom.

Suddenly I realized how much I’d been blessed by the Light in everyone I met on this trip. I knew my own inner Light had grown brighter as I saw the Light within others. All of us are Light-bearers; each of us carries a unique expression of the Divine.

Now I have returned home. I want to continue to look for the Light throughout my daily life. And I hope all of us will sing together:

This little Light of mine,
I'm going to let it shine, 
let it shine, let it shine,
             let it shine!

Spiritual Lessons at a Volleyball Tournament

I recently attended a high school girls’ volleyball tournament. My granddaughter Ruth was playing, and the stands were filled with family and friends watching our favorite teens. We watched as they served, jumped, and spiked, as they carefully set the ball for another to hit or dove to the floor for a save. All that energy, strength and skill exploded on the courts, and all those ponytails bounced wildly. Outside the gym, the corridors teemed with girls hanging out together, checking their phones and snacking while waiting their turn to play.

It seemed like a strange place for spiritual lessons! But spiritual truths need to surface in a variety of ways in our lives so we can discover them anew and relearn them. I expected to learn about volleyball at the tournament. I didn’t expect a refresher course in spiritual wisdom as well. It was there, however, if I paid attention.

What did I notice that day at the tournament? The first lesson was I’m not alone; it doesn’t all depend on me. These girls had learned to join together, using their individual skills on a team for a common purpose. They depended on each other. Sometimes I feel alone, as if I’m the only person who cares about an issue, but somewhere there are others who are equally concerned. We can form a team. Together, we are stronger, whether we want to win a volleyball game, battle an injustice, or worship in a faith community. Sharing a purpose and a passion brings hope. And when I falter, another will pick up the ball – and perhaps pick me up, too!

A second lesson from the volleyball day: The other side is not an enemy. At a volleyball tournament, I learned, one never boos the opponents. One only cheers for your team with a supportive “Great hit!” or an encouraging “Good set!” Can I remember to have that kind of respect in dealing with my opponents, persons whose purposes and goals are fundamentally different from mine?

At the tournament, teams lined up and walked by their opponents, touching hands with them before the game. The ritual emphasized their shared reality. “We are all teenage girls who love this game. And we’re going to try hard to win.” It helped me remember the reality I share with those on “the other side.” We are all humans who want the best for those we love, even when we heartily disagree on what that is and how to obtain it. If I remember that, I can strongly oppose the goals of “the other side,” yet act with respect.

The third spiritual lesson is one I always need to relearn: It’s all about paying attention. Volleyball is a fast moving game, requiring players to be totally alert in their own positions and vigilant about everyone else’s movements. These girls were poised to move quickly in any direction at any moment. They were fully awake and attentive.

Fortunately daily life isn’t a super fast volleyball game, but we are called to pay attention and be awake to the world. When we experience joy or pain, when we notice miracles around us, we feel more awake. When we pay attention to subtle nudges from God that can guide our living, we are more aware of God’s presence. Sometimes I drift along, less than half awake, and miss most of what is stirring within me and around me. Perhaps I’m weary or bored; perhaps I’m late and rushing to reach my office before my client arrives. I’m not aware of the present moment. I’m not paying attention to Here and Now.

Yesterday my husband and I hiked through a nearby woodland and looked for early spring wildflowers. I paused frequently in delight at their shy, delicate beauty. There were glowing white bloodroot, tiny humorous Dutchmans- breeches, the small spring beauty, and the yellow bowed cap of the trout lily. Often appearing singly or in a small clump, they were almost hidden among last year’s brown leaves. In searching for these subtle treasures, I was more fully alive. I was awake to the sacred present moment.

Dutchmans-breeches

Spiritual truths show up all the time, whether we notice them or not. I’m glad I noticed the volleyball truths. I need to remember them: I’m not alone; it doesn’t all depend on me. The other side is not an enemy. It’s all about paying attention.

May we all be awake to the Spirit’s wisdom, however it shows up. May it guide our lives and our decisions.

If this writing speaks to you, please share it with another.