The picture was taken in the Zion National Park in southern Utah. Standing alone for centuries, it looks like a citadel.
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
Etched on the University of Texas tower
by Mary Carol Lewis
The news I received two weeks ago has had a profound effect on my thinking. That news has drawn my attention from most of the topics I thought important in my life and forced my mind on itself. The news has brought a bevy of provocative questions to my mind and demanded a re-evaluation of my responses to life and its processes.
The information that one is dying is not news: everyone is dying, and they know it. Information regarding imminent pain and distress in one's life is not a surprise either: in fact it clears up some ambiguities. And the certain knowledge that something that you do not want to do will be absorbing a majority of your time (which you would rather devote to "fun things") is not a surprise. The knowledge that the ones you love will suffer a loss when you are gone does not come as a shock either.
So why is it that the confirmation of a suspected disease organism in one's precious body causes so much turmoil? Why is one suddenly afraid? What is it that we fear? How can people who believe that there is a purpose in everything become confused and fearful when they hear that their lives on earth are likely to be shorter than those of their friends?
On retreat this weekend I learned that a healthy relationship cannot grow when there is a lot of "emotional debris" in the life of one or both people. On Sunday the minister asked us to examine the emotional debris in our lives which was affecting our spiritual experience.
I discovered bits and pieces in my life that needed sweeping up. I had become so used to them that I hardly noticed their existence until this crisis. I discovered several sources for my fears: lack of trust in others, fear of weakness, anxiety about being over-burdened, concern about the unknown, distractions in my "worldly life" were just a few.
It is interesting that we often put off cleaning up our lives until the situation is urgent. Right now I can see clearly that I need to make some changes in my life: inform myself on the relevant topics, plan my living carefully and determine to implement those plans, get back to the basics and eliminate everything (including people) that is drawing energy from me without a return. I can also rejoice in the love, wisdom, companionship, forgiveness and security God offers me. What I am wondering now is how well I will implement these plans when the urgency has lessened.
So often we assume that if God is all-powerful and He loves us, He should always heal us and keep us free from all pain. When we see that this is not happening, we doubt
1) his power, but more importantly
2) his genuine love for us.
When we came to him in sincere repentance we began to try to fathom the overwhelming nature of his love -- so much that he has forgiven all our own sin. And then he began pouring into us his own love and concern. We choose to allow Him to use us to demonstrate his love for us and for others.
We find that He does not always call us out of the pains of living, but he always gives us the grace to bear it fruitfully.
Sometimes He allows others to observe us holding His hand through the pain -- perhaps they will seek His wisdom and love as well.
Low self-esteem and a comfort zone of fear also affect our trust in God. Only if we believe that we are loveable can we graciously accept love from someone else -- even God. A healthy relationship with God or others produces synergy.
As I implement my plan, I believe I will discover a relationship with God in which His purposes are being fulfilled and I am being energized (forgiven, loved, inspired).
A personal relationship with God is a very intimate one. I can learn healthy conflict-resolution skills for issues I have with God. God has created a safe environment for me to get to know and love him -- I will use it. I will learn to recreate this same safe environment in my social life so that others can learn about his love as well.
I have noticed that my anxiety increases noticeably when I know that there is something wrong, but the procedure to determine the reality has not yet taken place. I notice I feel better after I have "processed" the information available. I conclude that most of our anxieties stem from ambiguity or fear of the unknown. But our future (and health, etc.) is never known and bad things happen to us again and again with no warning: and yet we don't live continuously in this state of high anxiety. I suppose we press those ambiguous fears to the backs of our minds. We suppress the information and fill our lives with dayliness.
Sometimes we handle bad news by turning it into a joke. When the doctor told me about my condition, I responded: "Does this mean I can start smoking?" and he laughed! (I was serious!) Another friend regaled the singles table with a comic description of his prostate cancer operation. There are a number of good things about dying. I've thought of just a few:
1) You no longer have to do things you don't want to: No more flossing!
2) You don't have to worry about the disappearance of the ozone layer.
3) You don't have to diet or watch your cholesterol.
4) Serious illness is not recommended as a weight-loss program, but it often works!
5) You don't have to continue storing books and articles you never have time to read.
6) You can ignore distracting details that plague your life.
7) Your children won't have to care for a cranky old parent.
Of course, one of the problems with this line of thinking is that prayer and medicine work miracles, and just as you are really beginning to cast off all your responsibilities, you discover that your prognosis is high for a complete and immediate recovery. Suddenly you realize that you may be faced with 50 more years of daily flossing!
Editor's Note: Mary Carol Lewis wrote this upon
discovering she had cancer seven years ago. We publish it now as we
discover a dear friend has received the same diagnosis. Our prayers are
on discovering a friend's grave illnessKristi Roberts
beautiful teacup is fragile
When you are living in the middle of a gift,
by Ben Campbell
One day, when I was not looking, I found myself living in a gift. I did not expect it, and I still do not know how to understand it, but it has for a moment made sense of many things I have long believed.
The gift was Richmond Hill, the blessing within which I live. I was standing in the Novitiate, the beautiful early 19th century parlor which currently is our chapel. The windows in the Novitiate face south from the hill, looking across the river to the edge of the horizon. The sun goes across the sky from east to west, shaping the day from different directions.
In the November sunlight, and in an unanticipated moment of stillness, I realized I was breathing quietly and with an ease which had been absent only minutes before. Things that I had been praying for had already happened. Events beyond my control -- events of goodness -- were fully present. We were moving forward from a firm foundation.
When you are living in the middle of a gift, then there is a truth which replaces virtually all uncertainty. Nothing can be taken away. You are living the chronicle of what is being received. Light, air, breath, food, relationship, hope, redemption, justice, prayer, kindness, time, respite -- these things assume firm presence and stature. The capital investment of the creator in which our lives find their existence becomes an experience, not an assumption. The grace without which we would shrivel into nothing spreads its glow throughout our spirits and gives us life.
When we speak of "a gift," we are talking about something identifiable -- something we have not seen or possessed before, or something we have previously taken for granted which now is visible and appreciated. What I did not know before is the way in which a gift can suddenly illumine the whole of life and lay bare the full breadth of daily existence. I did not know that the spark of someone's generosity could set the very heavens ablaze with the glory of God, revealing the holy ground on which all of us are standing even this very minute.
Reality then becomes both insubstantial and substantial. It is no longer hard reality which forms the secure basis of experience, but soft reality. Hard reality -- the tough facts of success and failure, of matching and conflicting, of credits and debits, of physical health or injury, of need and capacity on which daily human calculations depend -- becomes not the central story but the sideline of the story. The story is in what is given. What is given happens. The sum total of the day is the ultimately incalculable total of the gifts within which it occurs. Some of those gifts appear to be payments. Others are less explicable. All are the breath of life.
The story of Christmas is just that kind of story -- the story of a purely gratuitous event which, if lived with, begins to reshape one's whole approach to life and history.
Gifts need to be received to be alive. They need to be breathed in, felt, sensed, thought about. Their fragrance, their taste, is there to be experienced. The gift becomes an energy which enlivens the spirit and expands one's view of life. Jesus was an unexpected gift to his parents, and when he became old enough to be intentional, he went around Israel giving gifts:
gifts to Jews and Arabs and Romans and Asians and Europeans and Africans;
gifts to women and men and children, to elderly and infant;
gifts to persons of all religions and no religion;
gifts to rich and poor and middle income;
gifts of teaching, of comfort, of healing, of liberation, of forgiveness, of confrontation, of encouragement, of loving presence, of insight.
Jesus, himself the gift of his father, gave the gift of his own life, lived in the spirit of giving. If there was a glow that surrounded him, if there was a spirit which accompanied him in every gathering, if there was a magic which seemed present all the time with him, it was that spirit. He was living in the gift, and therefore he was behaving like gift. Gift was the atmosphere of his consciousness, the conspiracy of his being.
The child was gift. The teacher and prophet was gift. The healer was gift. The purpose-maker was gift. And the man willing to put his own life on the line was nothing but gift.
Gratitude fills the afternoon light and we breathe in its golden richness. We find that place of simplicity out of the storm of opulence and breathe there the breath of what is most truly of value.
There is this kind of spirit in the air at this time of the year, no matter what else is happening. Evil surrounds us and has a field day in the world. Busyness, anxiety, and unsuspected misery always threaten to choke out the more delicate joys of the Christmas season. But the spirit of the gift endures regardless.
It endures because it is the deepest reality. Below the physical thing is the spiritual thing. Beneath cynicism and failure is joy and birth. The foundation is now, and will always be, gift.
On that, and only on that, can we completely rely.
This article was originally published in the December 2003 edition of the Richmond Hill newsletter.
Of Time and Scheduling
by Mary Carol Lewis
This morning as I was leaving my house in the early dawn, I was struck by the beauty of Saturn, Venus and the half moon in a clear, Persian blue sky. Beauty and precision, accurate timing: Saturn is now in opposition to the Sun, so it appeared very close to the full moon this month. And everyone on earth can see this. How wonderful is that?
I thought about how much we long for everything to fit logically into the compartments we have created to hold all the pieces. We were delighted as a creation to discover that there are 24 hours in a day. Sunrise and sunset are set on a course that can be predicted with accuracy. There are about 28 of these "days" in each lunar month, and we immediately designed calendars to match them (a little inaccurately). We noticed seasons and created names and preparations for them. We received promises using those terms: "As long as the earth remains, seedtime and harvest shall not perish from the earth." Our prophets noticed and wrote about them eloquently: "For everything there is a season: A time to live, a time to die..." We designed and set clocks. We created and maintain calendars. We live by schedules, and even the animals have a surprising understanding of time.
But God has more and greater schedules than we can imagine. Within our own solar system the planets do not use a schedule that we can easily follow and predict, and some of them do things outside our lifetimes: Mars moved closer to the earth this year than it has in 65,000 years and won't be back for another 264! Each of the planets move on their own schedules, and we have to look up the information in order to follow them. And outside our little "home" there are wonders that we have yet to predict and understand.
When you begin to realize how complex the scheduling of the universe is, you are not surprised that the discoveries of the early astronomers were rejected by the church. The church represents to the people what is "true," what is "established," and what is "known." Therefore, anything that put to rout our understanding of time or scheduling must be false and heretical.
One might ask:
Einstein said that the larger our circle of knowledge grows, the bigger becomes the circle of what we don't know.
And when I mentioned my thoughts, someone asked me, "Are you aware that there is no such thing as time? There is only the consciousness of Now, or lack thereof. We are always living in NOW. If you could focus your attention to NOW, you would experience reality."
But God and his creative skills and his plans continue to be beyond the mind of man. What does it all mean? What will we reject next that is beyond our comprehension?
This article appeared in the November 2002 edition of the Singles Network Newsletter and was excerpted from the December 2, 2001 sermon by Reverend Peter G. James, the senior pastor at Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia: www.viennapres.org
Princess was a Nuisance
by C. A. Baum
She was only a mixed-breed scrap of a dog. Her colors were black and tan, but her eyes were what made me take her. They were warm and had gold flecks in them. Other than that, she was nothing unusual, or as my father put it, " A damn nuisance." I called her Princess.
Dad preferred his hunting dog, a massive hound named Rudy, who followed him everywhere. Rudy had status; Princess was barely tolerated. At mealtimes, she would wait until Rudy ate, then settle for scraps. She slept beside my bed, content that at least one person loved her.
One day Princess started barking like mad near the railroad tracks that ran beside our house. We realized something was wrong when Dad said Rudy had gotten loose. We followed Princess, who led us to Rudy’s lifeless body beside the tracks. His neck was broken.
Dad stumbled back to the house in shock. The task of burying the huge dog fell on me. As I dug, Princess sat next to the body with a perplexed look in her eyes. When I lowered Rudy into the grave, she showed alarm. When I began to cover him with dirt, she became visibly agitated, so much so that I hurriedly unburied Rudy and made certain he was dead.
When I finished the burial, Princess tried to unbury him. I chased her away. She tried again. I held her to me and told her through my tears that her friend was gone. An odd expression came over her features, and she walked over to the grave and lay across Rudy’s final resting place.
That night I tried to get her inside, but she wouldn’t budge. I tried to get her to eat, but she ignored the bowl. Next day the same thing. That night a howling rainstorm roared in. She was still there the following morning and kept her vigil throughout the rainy day. I told Dad I was worried, but he said, ‘She will be in when she gets hungry and wet enough." He clearly was not concerned over what he considered an inferior animal. More important, he was doing his own grieving. Until then he had not been able to even look at his pet’s grave.
The next morning Princess was still in place. I ran downstairs, determined this time to drag her off. I stopped when I saw Dad emerge from the parlor carrying his buffalo-robe blanket. No one was ever allowed to touch that blanket. He told me to stay put. I watched from the window as he shook out the blanket above Princess’ soaked form, wrapped her up, and lifted her into his arms like a child. He told us to get towels and warm soapy water. My sister and I wanted to care for her, but he would not allow it. Never looking up as he worked on the bedraggled animal, he said the job was his alone.
He cleaned off the mud and dried her shivering body. Then he took her in his lap. For a long time he sat there, tears running down his cheeks; the only sound in the room was the rain beating on the windows. Finally, he declared that as long as he lived, Princess would sit at his feet, sleep on his bed, and eat from his plate. He said that he had never known such loyalty from man or beast and that he would honor her always.ª
Carol Ann Baum is a New Jersey-based free-lance writer. She writes, "My father and the dog are long deceased, but never forgotten; nothing in the heart ever is." Reprinted by permission from Modern Maturity, a publication of AARP, January, 1999, (202) 434-6850, Washington, DC.
by Don Seeber
Sometimes, it is only after loved ones have died that we recognize the little ways in which they affect our lives. The big impacts are fairly obvious while they are still around: their influences on our basic personality our hobbies, vocations, spiritual life, and so on. I went to West Point largely because my father was a West Pointer. I played baseball and basketball because I have an older brother who did the same. These are all easy to understand.
But why do I call all Wrens "Jenny"? I never gave it much thought until I attended my grandmother’s funeral. There I was reminded of what comfort it is to look back at the lives of departed family members and friends and realize the little things they leave with you. I remember the wrens that inhabited a couple of birdhouses in my grandparents orchard in St. Joseph, Missouri. Grandma called the females, "Jenny Wren." Now, I don’t know where the name came from; whether it was from a poem, folklore, or if my grandmother came up with the name on her own. But, even though I have heard other people use the name, I will always remember that it was in Grandma’s orchard that I first heard the name. And now, whenever I see or hear a wren, I call it "Jenny" – even though it is probably a male if I hear it sing. However the name came about, it seems very appropriate for such a diminutive and nervous, but tenaciously protective little bird. And it brings precious memories of my grandmother back to my mind.Reprinted from Pelican Post, June 1996, Southport, NC.
Eight Priceless Gifts
from someone who loves me
Really listen – no interrupting, no daydreaming, no planning your response. Just listening
Be generous with appropriate hugs, kisses, pats on the back and handholds. Share your love with family & friends.
Clip cartoons. Share articles and funny stories. Your gift will say, "I love to laugh with you."
It can be a simple "Thanks for the help" note or a full sonnet (help on the web at CyranoCyber.com). A brief, handwritten note may be remembered for a lifetime, and may even change a life.[Editor’s note: I wrote "10 things I like most about you" for four of my friends.]
A simple and sincere, "You look great in red!" "You did a super job!" or "That was a wonderful meal!" can make someone’s day.
Every day, every place you go, do something kind for someone around you.
There are times when we want nothing better than to be left aloe. Be sensitive to those times and give the gift of solitude to others.
by Jan Edmiston
Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Contribute to the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord." No,’ if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12: 9-20, verses
A Response to the Fighting Words heard since September 11, 2001:
The people of Afghanistan are needy. Their misery quotient is one of the highest in the world. Their people are starving. They live in ramshackle homes if they have homes. They have very little in terms of standard comforts.
In the days since the terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the twin towers, people have streamed into churches who have not been in a house of worship for years. People are re-writing their wills, putting their affairs in order re-thinking their priorities. What do we do next? Not just as a nation, but as individuals.
One of God’s peculiar blessings out of this tragedy is that people have become more aware of what is good and noble in life. Are we willing to let God avenge the evil we have experienced? Justice is one thing. Vengeance is another. "Moving on" is not merely a psychologically helpful step – it is a step of faith. Now more than ever we need strong voices who have the opportunity to speak God’s Word in these days when so many are speaking words of hate and ignorance.
As we stand on the cusp of war, with a charred Pentagon two miles down the road and the remains of the World Trade Center in a heap on the ground, there is hope in this God we say we trust. What kind of people do we want to be in these days? Do we want to be like the noble, strong, brave people we have seen and read about in the last few days? Or do we want to succumb to the temptation of being like those who created this chaos?
This is place to which God has called us: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. One true God – worshipped by Jews and Christians and Muslims alike – is the only ultimate Super Power. And God will have justice against all evil. Jesus is a perfect model. All the world is looking. What kind of model are we?
An excerpt from "Fighting Words," the September 23, 2001 sermon of Jan Edmiston, Fairlington Presbyterian Church, 3846 King Street, Alexandria, Va. (703) 931-7344 www.fpcusa.org
"The Future is something which everyone reaches
C. S. Lewis
When We Do Not Know How to Pray
Late one evening, a poor farmer on his way back from the market found himself without his prayer book. The wheel of his cart had come off right in the middle of the woods, and it distressed him that this day should pass without his having said his prayers.
So this is the prayer he made: "I have done something very foolish, Lord. I came away from home this morning without my prayer book, and my memory is such that I cannot recite a single prayer without it. So this is what I am going to do: I shall recite the alphabet five times very slowly and you, to whom all prayers are known, can put the letters together to form the prayers I can’t remember."
And the Lord said to his angels, "Of all the
prayers I have heard today, this one was undoubtedly the best because it
came from a heart that was simple and sincere."
California Wild Fire Experience
of Scott Adams
Recent True Story:
Doorbell too. DING-DONG-DING.
C'mon, c'mon, wake up! There he is. Open the door.
"Invested in Individuals since 1995"
Network 4 Pilgrims/Christ Covenant Int'l Ministries