Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Sunflowers redux

About 10 years ago, I posted a poem musing about the removal of a giant sunflower plant from my neighbor's yard.  At the time, I said the poem was a work in progress.  Since revisiting my blog, I thought I'd try an edited version now.

Looking over the fence today,
I saw my neighbor working in his yard,
Not much different from my own.

Side by side,
We tended our lawns,
Separating the despised weeds
From the soft, green grass.

As I watered my side,
I noticed a tall bunch of sunflowers
Growing in the corner of my neighbor's yard.
Lovely plants -- they reminded me of blooms
I once received as a gift.
So, so tall!
The bright flowers rose higher than the fence.

Then one day
I realized what my neighbor was doing.
The brightness disappeared, a little at a time.
I heard the sound of cutting,
And I knew that these were not to be kept.
They were counted among the weeds,
A nuisance, something to be rid of.

I wondered why he would choose to dispose of them.
They chose his yard to grow in!
So fortunate -- to have such pretty flowers
Without even trying.
Was there something in their beautiful wildness
That he was afraid to keep?

It was a shame to waste something so lovely.
I thought I should ask for a few cuttings to keep for myself.
But good manners averted such presumption.

So sadly I spied the corner again.
The cheerful smiles were gone.

And I was left wondering
Why I spent so much time caring for things that don't belong
While God's beautiful provision was cast away.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Liminal Times

“Liminal”…it’s a word that I thought I had imagined as I groped for something to describe "being neither in one place nor in another."  However, recently I have found this word, “liminal,” as I did my usual surfing about the Web, skipping in ADHD fashion from one topic to another.  Finally – confirmation of this word that even sounds tentative. 

I have had many liminal times in my life.  Sometimes it’s a feeling of being completely outside of normal time and space, and other times (usually) it’s only one aspect of my life that’s in a liminal state.  One example of a liminal period is when I wrestled with the idea of leaving the church where I first embraced the Anglican expression of Christian faith.  I no longer felt I belonged there, but neither did I belong anywhere else, yet.  When I think back on that time and other liminal times, the main image I get is one of searching, seeking something, somewhere, but oftentimes not even knowing exactly what I would find.  I think it would be very easy to get lost in such a fog, if there weren’t a guide to walk along with me.  Such a guide would be one with greater knowledge and better sight than mine; otherwise, we’d both simply wander about, lost in this liminal fog.

As I reflect on these times, I find that my guide has been the Holy Spirit.  As I prayed and listened to the Spirit, I was guided to people, books, and yes, even websites that helped me find the direction I needed to take.  In the case of my liminal time between churches, I was advised to visit other churches and “listen to what is being said – and not just the words.”  And with that, the Spirit would gently lead me to the next place that would serve as my spiritual home.

Now, as I did then, I need to reach out to my guide, the Holy Spirit.  I can listen to the Spirit’s voice as I pray, study, worship, and serve others.

When I do so, I won’t get lost.  I'll find my way.

Photo Credit: By Oliver Herold (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, September 9, 2013

Removing Distractions

I have been a member of the Altar Guild for as long as I have been an Episcopalian.  That would be about 11 years now.

The Altar Guild is a worship ministry in a given parish that is devoted to the care and setting up of worship-related items.  One regular duty of the Altar Guild is to set up the altar for Sunday worship services.  Following each service, members clean up the sacred vessels and prepare linens for laundering.  Since the priest is the person charged with making sure corporate worship is both organized and uplifting, the Altar Guild follows his or her (in the Episcopal Church, women can be priests) lead in how things are arranged and maintained.

One priest gave me this bit of guidance that has served me well for many years, and not just for the arrangement of church items.  He said, "One important thing we have to do as ministers, is to take away anything that distracts people from worshiping God," whether it's a sloppy fringe on an altar hanging, misplaced vessels or a dirty table covering.  People can go overboard and become fussy about such things, but that is not the proper intent behind our attention to detail.

Carrying this advice to other areas of my life, I seek to remove those things (such as petty jealousies, preoccupations, negativity) that distract me from God and doing his will.  I try to avoid being a hindrance to others in their spiritual journeys.  Better yet, I strive to be helpful as they seek God's will in their lives.

I'm not always successful, but these are my goals. 

Photo Credit: By Christopher John SSF [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Short Reflection on Psalm 121

Psalm 121
I lift up my eyes to the hills,
From where is my help to come?
My help comes from the Lord,
The maker of heaven and earth.

From The Psalter of the Book of Common Prayer 1979

The psalm is one of comfort and encouragement, and has been one of my go-to psalms when I need assurance of God's presence and protection.  Years ago, I made myself a pocket card so I can carry these words with me.

When I'm faced with a particularly daunting challenge, I am reminded of God's presence in the form of these words.  They are, simultaneously, a warm blanket (The Bible is not a "warm fuzzies" book – be glad when you do find a warm, fuzzy section.) and strong armor, preparing me to meet whatever trials I may encounter.

Do you find comfort and strength in the Psalms?  Which ones speak to you?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Do Not Say "I Am Only..."

In the Revised Common Lectionary used by the Episcopal Church, one of the Old Testament readings for this week is the following:

Jeremiah 1:4-10
The word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the LORD."
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

For many of us, the last few weeks have been the waning days of summer. No matter what the calendar tells us, summer ends with the first day of school.  Some U.S. school districts have already begun the school year. Others, like our local district, will begin this week.

As we begin the school year, it wouldn't be surprising if we -- students, teachers, parents, family members -- felt as Jeremiah did when he said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."  I know I have felt "I do not know how to speak, for I am only..."  Fill in the blank -- only a woman?  Only a homemaker?  Only a teacher?  Only a lay person?  The list of "onlys" can go on.

God has the answer to that: As he told Jeremiah:
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."

The key words here are "go to whom I send you" and "speak whatever I command you."  When we listen to God with careful prayer and discernment, we are acting in accordance to his will. We can be confident that God is with us, and we can move forward without fear.

In my case, I'm the grandparent of a boy with diabetes.  I am his caregiver while my daughter works during the day.  There will be many times in the school year when I may be called to advocate on his behalf in order for him to get the accommodations he needs to be successful in school.  This is my calling, my God-given role for this time in our family's life.  

God will give me the strength and wisdom to advocate on my grandson's behalf, to assist his mother in his care, and to speak with authority regarding his needs.

What has God called you to do?  Where has he sent you?  Spend some time with these verses and see where he leads you.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Homeless Guy at Church

This happened many years ago.  I hope I've become less prejudiced since then.

There was a time, when I was a Catholic (I'm an Episcopalian now), when I was between churches.  I wanted the faith experience of a liturgical service, but I was struggling with the Catholic Church's teachings on certain topics, such as human sexuality and women's roles in the Church.

A friend had invited me to a Mass hosted by a organization of gay Catholics (a group of Catholics but not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church) called Dignity.  There was a rotation of diocesan priests that led the Mass.  

So here I am, surveying my surroundings, waiting for the Mass to begin, when I see a scruffy old gentleman with a bit of stubble take a seat not too far away.  Since he was evidently in silent prayer, people gave him his space.  I thought, "How nice that these people are so accepting of anyone who walks in, especially a homeless person like this man."

I spent a few moments bowed in silence.  When I looked up, I saw our priest for the evening.  A scruffy old man, now wearing a liturgical stole, greeted us.

"Good evening.  I'm Father John."

1 Samuel 16:7

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Rule of Benedict -- Stability

Stability is a virtue that is at odds with our culture.  We want it all and we want it “yesterday.”  With microwaves, high-speed Internet, email and instant everything, we have lost the ability to be patient and wait.   In my own life, this impatience often manifests itself in expecting a same-day response to an email sent in the morning. (Update: This impatience also manifests itself in expecting an immediate response to a new Facebook status or link.)

Monastic stability consists of centeredness, commitment and relationships (Chittister, Wisdom 150).

To be centered is to have our center focused on something larger than ourselves – to be where God is and to know that God is where we are.  Recently I wrote a poem that describes my own longing for centeredness.
Looking for You

I climb a ladder to reach you,
Deep inside my spirit.

The night stars twinkle,
Dazzling light illumines the way.

I reach out my hand,
My fist grasps only air.

You can’t live long without it.

Empty rooms beckon,
I fill them with comfortable words.

Hold me close by your side,
Hold me in your light.

I eat and drink.
You fill me with nourishing hope,
Fill me with delight.

I flounder in the darkness,
Why won’t I remove the blindfold?

I Search.
And you cannot be found.

I Surrender.
And your presence surrounds me.

The last couplet, especially, points to the need to be still, to stop the frenetic activity and allow ourselves to experience the God who has been present all along.

Centeredness is what enables us to weather the changes in life over which we have no control.  This is reflected in the philosophy of twelve-step recovery groups.  Step One reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or any other addictive or problem condition) – and that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Step Two adds: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  Step Three continues, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”  It is that centeredness in something larger than our problems that helps us overcome them.

The next element of stability is commitment.  Commitment is another value that does not mesh with the prevailing values of our culture.  So much of our life is disposable or interchangeable.  We tend to quit when things get tough.  Commitment – sticking it out during the tough times – gives us the opportunity to learn about ourselves and the opportunity to grow.

Committed people are those who strive to be pure of heart – to be the ones who can see God wherever they look.   I wrote the following poem in response to a discussion about the "pure of heart."

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
In every one and every thing.

In the young and in the old,
In the poor and in the rich,
In the light and in the shadow,
In the heavens and on the earth.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
In every one and every thing.

In the trees and in the soil,
In sickness and in health,
In joy and in sorrow,
In life and in death.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
In every one and every thing.

Being able to see God in everyone and everything gives us the ability to respectfully listen to one another because we are responding to the presence of God in each other.  This seems easy as long as we confine this requirement to listening to those whom we like or with whom we agree.  The challenge is to respond to God’s presence in those who irritate us, wrong us, or whose views differ profoundly from our own.

The third element of stability is relationship.  The vow of stability is a call to connect deeply with others.  We confuse “community” with living in groups.  We live in apartment buildings and neighborhoods without knowing one another’s names.  We work for the same companies, attend the same schools, and never see one another (Chittister, Wisdom 155).

How can we maintain stability in a mobile society?   Rev. Lovejoy, the beleaguered pastor in Fox TV’s “The Simpsons,” sums up the lack of stability in our society in his lament: "Today's Christian doesn't think he needs God. He's got his Hi Fi, his boob tube, and his instant pizza pie."  People choose isolation over connection.  Mobility is not the enemy – alienation is.  When we are so disconnected from the world that the sufferings of others do not affect us, we become “a cardboard cutout that breathes” (Chittister, Wisdom 156-7).

So where is our hope for stability?  We hope in the consistency of God, not our own strength or fidelity.  It is God’s fidelity that keeps us going when things get tough.  Stability gives us time in life, time for God and time for others (Chittister, Wisdom 156).

Works Cited
Chittister, Joan.  The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages.  New York: The
Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.

Chittister, Joan.  Wisdom Distilled from the Daily.  San Francisco:
Harper San Francisco, 1991.

de Waal, Esther.  Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine
.  Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse    Publishing, 1997.

de Waal, Esther.  Seeking God.   Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1984.

Earle, Doug.  Personal Email.  14 May 2004.

Earle, Doug.  Sermon: Sixth Sunday of Easter.  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
    San Antonio, 16 May 2004.

Earle, Mary.  Broken Body, Healing Spirit: Lectio Divina and Living with Illness.
Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2003.

Vest, Norvene.  Desiring Life.  Boston: Cowley Publications, 2000.