Stay…

As a child of around 5 or 6 years old, one day my younger brother and I were playing in our garage. We took a wooden baseball bat, put it on the floor and took turns trying to balance on it as it rolled. At one point, we got into an argument as it was my turn and my brother would not step off and aside. Each time he lost his balance and stepped off, he would step right back on and not allow me to have a turn. Nothing I said mattered and things were only settled by the activity abruptly ending with my brother being pushed off the bat and me running away, afraid that I would get into trouble.

I remember running out of the garage and into the front yard to this big maple tree. I was frightened and didn’t know what to do. My brother had fallen forward and was bleeding from where he banged his forehead. I was standing under that maple tree, my heart pounding.

Then, I looked up at the branches and leaves above me. It felt as if the tree was surrounding me. It was sheltering me in the shade, while the sun was shining all around. I felt a sense of calm as I looked out from under the shade of the tree and I knew, despite the fear, I had to make sure my brother was okay and I had to tell the truth.

As I came to that realization and was setting to walk back to the garage, one of my older sisters met me. Just seeing her helped me to feel that it would be okay. I was doing the right thing, even if I felt afraid about what would happen by going back to the garage. I needed to do it because it was the right thing to do.

Thank God, my brother was okay and lived to tell about it, with a small scar as proof. When it was all said, and done, both my brother and I told our parents the truth about what had happened that day. They were upset at my brother for his role and they were upset with me, but not so much because I had pushed my brother as the fact that I had run away instead of staying.

Thinking back to that day and forward to today, I feel very blessed as I remember and realize many of the ways that God has helped me throughout my life to know that I am doing the “right” thing at a particular moment in time and has helped me to do it. In the same way, God has helped me to know when I am not doing the “right” thing.

I find it interesting how the past can be so helpful in facing the future. Just as on that day so many years ago God helped me, God has helped me today, by reminding me of that incident and all those whom God has placed in my sister’s role…keep telling the truth; it will be okay.

“He will direct you to what is best for you to be heaven bound.”

– thank you my friend for sending this quote.

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From Shaking Dust to Slaying Giants…

Whether one uses the verbiage of today, “Shake it off!”, or that of ancient times, “Shake the dust from your feet”, there are many ways to accomplish the task of not allowing people or situations to drag me down or to take me away from being or striving to be the best I can be (that is, my authentic self).

Jesus’ words to the disciples: “And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.”(Luke 9:5)

As I sit with the thought of shaking the dust, I wonder about the situations, where it seems like the dust cannot be shaken off. What about the situations where the dust is more like mud stuck in and around one’s sandals? What is to happen then? Does the “shake” need to become a “stomp” or some other more forceful action? Do the sandals need to be soaked in soapy water until the mud softens and can be washed away? Or, do they need to be removed and replaced with new ones?

Ultimately, any of the above, could be the answer. There could also be other possibilities. It all depends on whom I am and what I am being called to by God in the situation that I find myself.

Many people are familiar with the story of David and Goliath in the Bible, but perhaps not how he ended up standing in front of Goliath. David is the youngest of 8 sons. Between the ages of 10 and 13 he is anointed by the prophet Samuel.

“The LORD said, ‘There–anoint him, for this is he!’ Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.” – 1 Samuel 16:13

After the anointing and as a young man, David is summoned to Saul (the King) as a musician.

“Saul then told his servants, ‘Find me a good harpist and bring him to me.’ One of the servants spoke up: ‘I have observed that a son of Jesse of Bethlehem is a skillful harpist. He is also a brave warrior, an able speaker, and a handsome young man. The LORD is certainly with him.'” – 1 Samuel 16:17-18

Saul is pleased with David and makes him an armor-bearer. During this time, the Philistines and Israelites go to battle against each other. Goliath is a mammoth Philistine warrior. David, upon his father’s request, is bringing food to his brothers who are soldiers in the Israelite’s army camp. While there, he asks a question about the reward for defeating Goliath and wonders aloud who the giant is that he is against “the armies of the living God.” (1 Sam 17:26). David’s questions and the conversation that results get back to Saul who requests that David be brought to him.

David asks Saul to let him fight Goliath. Saul tells him, “You cannot go up against this Philistine and fight with him, for you are only a youth, while he has been a warrior from his youth.” (v33). David tells Saul how he has fought off lions and bears while tending his father’s sheep and that he will do the same to Goliath “because he has insulted the armies of the living God.” (v36) Then he says, “The same LORD who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (v37) Saul agrees and David battles Goliath.

While the battle and victory by David seem swift, it is not without what we might call “trash talk” by the giant who scoffs at the youth and size of David and his weapons (a slingshot and 5 stones). David stays his ground though and responds, loud and clear to Goliath, “For the battle is the LORD’s and the LORD shall deliver you into our hands.” (v47) … that is exactly what happens.

To follow the story of David from his birth order and anointing to his battle with Goliath and beyond, it seems clear that “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David” and that David let the Spirit of the Lord lead him. He did so no matter what giant he faced…in doing what seemed impossible (defeating Goliath) and in acknowledging his wrongdoing and turning back to the Lord after succumbing to his weaknesses (in 2 Sam 11-12). In the end, there was no dust or mud on his sandals.

“For the battle is the LORD’s.” When I let it stay that way, instead of making it my own, I know exactly when and how to shake, stomp, soak and wash, or remove and replace my sandals…there is no dust or mud on them.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” (Is 61:1, Lk 4:18), upon us, how do we embrace It?

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Connecting the pieces…

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A year or so ago, and over the course of a number of weeks, I was in the waiting area of a medical center for a portion of each weekday morning. On the way to the waiting area there was coffee, hot water for tea, and small packages of graham crackers and salted crackers. The waiting area itself had chairs, a TV and magazines like most waiting areas, but it also had a table with a partially completed puzzle on it and all the remaining small pieces, also waiting.

I remember arriving each morning and after a short period of time, looking to see how much more of the puzzle was left to be done and how many pieces I might locate and place in the time that I was waiting. At first, this was how I spent at least a portion of my half hour wait each day. Then, as the weeks progressed there were more people in the waiting area and I found my time less and less filled with finding and placing pieces of the puzzle and more filled with conversation between and amongst fellow wait-ers. Those who were once strangers became familiar over a short period of time.

It is interesting how our lives intersect with the lives of others. And how, even over a brief period of time or through a short exchange, we can affect each other’s lives.

Each lifetime is the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
For some there are more pieces.
For others the puzzle is more difficult to assemble.
Some seem to be born with a nearly completed puzzle….

But know this. You do not have within yourself
All the pieces to your puzzle…

Everyone carries with them at least one and probably
Many pieces to someone else’s puzzle.
Sometimes they know it.
Sometimes they don’t.

                      – from “Eyes Remade for Wonder” by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

As I continue to sit with the memory of that waiting area, I recall how it felt as if time was suspended or even ceased to exist. There was a reverence in the air as we listened to one another and shared conversation and laughter as we waited. It was as if we were on holy ground. A pleasant surprise…

Recently, I attended an 80th birthday party, and while it was much noisier than the waiting area of that medical center over a year ago, there was also a reverence in the room. At one side of the room there was a slideshow of pictures from throughout the years. As I sat and watched the pictures from old to new, seeing both family and friends…those who had passed and those who were present, sadness was replaced with gratitude as I was reminded…How precious life is! There was a feeling of holy ground in the pictures and in the room in the hugs and kisses, and in the smiles, greetings and conversations that were exchanged during the celebration of a “piece,” a special and beloved piece, that belongs to the puzzle of each of us present at the party, whether in spirit or in person.

So, I praise God as I say thank you Auntie D. for your beautiful spirit, your love, and your example throughout a lifetime. And, thank you to the nurses, technologists and patients in the waiting area of that medical center for your hospitality, sharing and caring during a short and uncertain period of time.

Each and every piece of the puzzle no matter the shape, size, or length is a gift, or has a lesson that is a gift. Sometimes that is easier to see than at other times. Either way, whether we see it now, or later, one spirit bowing to another is always a beautiful thing.

Tradition, Tradition…Tradition!

A number of years ago I went to see a production of Fiddler on the Roof at a local theatre. Since then, every so often I catch the movie, usually at some point after the beginning or midway thru, on television. In fact, it has become somewhat of a regular occurrence for me to see or listen to at least part, if not all, of Fiddler on the Roof once or twice a year…Ah, tradition!

As this past year wound down and we moved from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, tradition has been very much in the air. I guess it is every year though. However, as I live and breathe, and think about tradition, I cannot help but “feel” tradition.

Tradition is so much more than the same thing over and over, and over. The heart and soul of it is the spirit of it…the sentiment, memories and feelings that accompany tradition. It is not all about keeping everything the same as it was before, but rather about coming together in the same spirit as before.

Continuing to ponder tradition, I envision the lighting of the torch at the Olympic Games. While the games always start with the lighting of the torch and end with the extinguishing of the flame, these two events and pretty much everything in between are never really the same from one Olympic Games to another. The location, costumes, and uniforms change. Sometimes variations are made to the rules or scoring rubrics and events are added or dropped.

As I sit with this image, it seems to me that one surefire way to kill a tradition is to keep it unchanged, year after year, after year. As time goes by, the focus may shift from the spirit of the tradition to the material of the tradition (the things and steps involved in making it all happen the same way). When that happens, the Spirit is shutout and the decline begins. Then tradition cannot help but lose what makes it special, becoming rote and more of a chore than something to which one looks forward or wants to embrace and celebrate.

Simply put, without substance and without room for change or growth, anything, even the most cherished tradition, will eventually become extinct. All things evolve.

“Tradition, which is always old, is at the same time ever new because it is always reviving – born again in each new generation, to be lived and applied in a new and particular way…Tradition nourishes the life of the spirit; convention merely disguises its interior decay.” – Thomas Merton

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The Drummer’s Beat…

As I looked up at the mantle and gazed at the figurines, snow globes, and miniature nativity scene, I felt a sense of peace, joy and wonder at the collective Spirit of the message that each piece seemed to hold. Each piece was as if reaching out…some toward an accompanying figurine or character and some into thin air or rather into the great beyond. Each and every one, though, different as they were in race, gender, dress and demeanor, reaching out in their own ways.

Each figurine and character had a purpose within their time and setting…a higher purpose…one that was, and that is, timeless. One that serves to unite. We all have a place and time on earth to which we belong, and we all have a purpose in life. We hold that in common and there is nothing that could be more important.

As my eyes come back to the drummer, I can’t help but think about how beautiful it is that there is more than one beat. More than one way to be faithful to God and to each other as we strive and search for meaning and fulfillment in our place and time, and in each setting.

“Re-examine all that you have been told . . . dismiss that which insults your soul.” – Walt Whitman

In this New Year, may God continue to give us the grace to discover or re-discover and walk to the beat that is our own from birth…one that enables us to serve God and each other, in our own way, and for the greater good…one that leads to peace.

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