Reflection for December 12, 2013
Sharon L. Miller
Perhaps one of the most loaded words in the English language isChristmas. The word encompasses all of our memories (both good and bad), our family history, our joys and sorrows, dreams and disappointments.
Christ-with-us…The divine presence of God in our midst. It’s hard for me to get my head around this; it’s the kind of thing that gives me brain freeze and I reach for the Advil and then move on to making Christmas lists and figuring out what to buy my nieces and nephews.
Christ-with-us….We have heard the Christmas story so many times we can recite the verses by heart, but for many of us, the story has all but lost its meaning. I remember as a missionary child in Bangladesh celebrating Christmas with new believers. They sang the Christmas carols with gusto, sometimes moving a bit too much for the missionaries who frowned on dancing. They ‘got’ it. They understood the desperation of Joseph as he cleaned out an animal shed to make a place for his wife who was in labor. They rejoiced that Holy became human, that Jesus would live like them in a simple mud house with a grass roof and hard earth floor. He probably helped his mother carry water in clay pots from the well in the village, just like them. He might have tended sheep or goats, like their children did every day.
Christ-with-us… Perhaps one reason why Christmas has become a Hallmark card story for us, cute but devoid of meaning, is that the circumstances of his birth (and life) are so foreign to us that it seems like a fairy tale, a legend we hear once a year and then put on the shelf. Can I imagine Jesus being born to the young Hispanic family that lives across the hall from me, in Apartment 42? Can I imagine Jesus as their toddler, wailing when it’s time to go to bed, or as their teenage son bounding up the stairs with his headset on, listening to the latest hip-hop? Can I imagine Jesus serving me pastrami on rye at my neighborhood deli in Manhattan? (I know, some of you might think this highly unlikely… maybe Jesus in Ames, Iowa…but Manhattan?)
Christ-with-us….God incarnate. Word made flesh. Maybe there is no way to really comprehend it. Maybe the idea of God becoming human is just too much of a stretch for some of us. But tonight I held Luna, a two-month old baby, and I saw God in the depths of her blue eyes. Last Saturday I attended a friend’s 80th birthday party and amidst the laughter and singing and celebration, God was an unintended guest. Tonight I attended a Twelve-Step meeting and God was surely present in the compassion and the tears.
May we all have eyes to see, and ears to hear the presence of God in our lives; and as we celebrate this season, may God meet us in unexpected places and through unlikely people we meet along the way.
Christmas blessings to all!
November 19, 2013
Recently I’ve been thinking about intentional communities. I suppose it is in part because of Kirkridge’s renewed partnership with the Iona Community. It may also be a result of preparing for the Kirkridge Pilgrimage to Italy next spring. Whatever the reason, intentional communities have been on my mind. It occurs to me that Kirkridge Retreat Center exists today because John Oliver Nelson was thinking about intentional communities when he founded Kirkridge in the early 1940′s.
Being in an intentional community usually involves living by a rule. There is a commitment to following a specified rule including the discipline of prayer each day. There is the recognition that even when members are apart, they are still actively engaged in a similar activity. These are among the disciplines of being in an intentional community. There are several of us who have embarked on an experiment to see what it would be like to be part of an intentional community here at Kirkridge. We’ve agreed to follow the Iona Community Rule and see where that might lead.
The Iona Rule includes daily reading of scripture and prayer, accounting for our use of our time and resources, including money, working for peace and justice in the world, and meeting to be accountable to one another in our following of the discipline.
Our first gathering was small, but it turned out to be a lovely Saturday morning in early September. We came together to worship, to connect deeply with one another, to share a meal, and to dream together about what it might mean to be committed to one another and follow a discipline. That day’s highlights for me included sharing together how we approach the discipline of reading scripture and praying each day. There were as many approaches as there were people present. It was a rich and meaningful conversation that reinforced the idea that there is not one way to do a thing, that we can learn from one another new ways to enter into our practice and that not every method is as useful to a person as another might be.
I was also reminded in this gathering how wonderful it is to share food and conversation around a table. On that particular day as we gathered on the deck of Quiet Ways, the sun shone through the leaves of the canopy of trees above us, the air was warm and the potluck food was delicious! That meeting was encouraging. It gives me hope that this experiment of ours might actually be one that continues.
A place of deep sharing, a place of openness and honesty, a place of safety and love…I yearn for this place. Kirkridge and our intentional community are such a place.
November 6, 2013
Creating Holy Space
We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.
Wendel Berry, that saint of the soil and soul, blessed and burdened us with this poem during an interview with Bill Moyers.
My wife and I visited Paris recently and so touched symbols of the historic struggle against the tyranny of kings. We stayed near the site of the Bastille, visited Versailles and walked under the Arch de Triumphe. Napoleon built the Arch to celebrate his conquest of much of Europe. The Arch imitated the structure in Rome built by the Emperor Titus to celebrate the destruction of Jerusalem.
We know that the struggle against the tyranny of kings continues on today. We battle those forces in our culture that would deny life and light to every human being. We face the ongoing challenge of resisting evil in other nations while we also resist evil in our own nation. Those `Born in the USA,’ and those converted to the American way of life, struggle to balance pride in America’s history and reality with a necessary spirit of humility and deep repentance.
We still are called to confront the tyranny of kings–those kingly structures that reinforce unearned and unholy privilege.
Some people in our lives have gone with us into battle and they have supported our struggle against oppressive tyrannies. Experiencing the presence, warmth and love of our compatriots gives us courage, hope and faith. With tears in our heart and also joy in our voice, we can proclaim together–We shall overcome. O deep in my heart I do believe.
And some places also bless us with memory and spirit–some places breathe compassion and courage and vision. We all have our particular places, and many of us have a shared place – Kirkridge, the church on the ridge. A place of worship built amidst the glories of the natural world.
In the Rodin Museum in Paris, we enjoyed the sculpture often titled Praying Hands–but the title Rodin gave to the intertwined,
up-reaching hands was Cathedral. Rodin celebrates the mystery of human yearning and spirit creating holy space. A daily task for each of us and a daily task for Kirkridge.
October 28, 2013
Honoring the Land, Celebrating the Season
Having just arrived home from a month long trip to Scotland with a week on Iona, I could not wait to see the colors of the trees here on the mountain. Yes, they were colorful in Scotland however, here, they always seem more beautiful than any place else!
While I personally have deep Christian roots, I have always found my connection with the Divine through my relationship with nature. This has led me to the study of Celtic Shamanism and over the past year, I have spent quite a bit of time in England, Ireland and Scotland working with the stories and myths of these lands.
As with many indigenous traditions, there is a time of year that represents the celebration of the Harvest. In Scotland and Ireland, this time was known as the Celtic New Year, or Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), better known to us today as Halloween time.
In ancient Celtic times, it was believed that at Samhain the veil between worlds was at its thinnest, and that it was possible to communicate with the ancestors and others who had passed by saying their name aloud and honoring their memory. Yet to protect themselves from unwanted communication from the less desirable spirits, turnips and gourds were carved ; candles were nestled inside them and placed in windows, people dressed in frightening masks and candy was placed out as offerings to the faeries and the spirits, all in hopes of keeping evil spirits at bay. Does any of this sound familiar?
As the Celts believed that everything began in the darkness, their year was divided into two parts; the dark (which began approx. Nov. 1) and the light (which began approx. May 1). Samhain, therefore, represented the beginning of the New Year, a time of reflection, remembering those who have come before us, a time for deep inner growth, and a time to take stock and consider the future.
This past year at Kirkridge has been a year filled with exciting new ideas, shifts and changes. Most recently we have honored the ancestors of this land and protected its future through a partnership with The Nature Conservancy.
We have begun to look toward the future with the construction of a new Welcome Center and Bookstore, new projects such as the TIP program, www.tipatkirkridge.org , and the possibility of starting
a school at Kirkridge.
The beginning of the Celtic New Year and the winter months has always seemed like a gift to me; a time of nurturing, reflection and a time of rebirth. Like the seed that grows in the darkness of the earth while the snow sleeps on the grass, or the life that grows in the darkness of the womb, let the coming winter months be a time for us all to reflect on these Kirkridge ventures, as well as our own; to set positive intentions, goals that will continue to grow in the darkness of the winter so that we may blossom into the coming of light half of the year.
Happy (Celtic) “New Year!
Reflection for September 23, 2013
Praying- Take Two
Sharon L. Miller
Prayer doesn’t come easily for me, as I seem to have what they call ‘monkey-mind.’ The more I try and focus on praying, the more elusive any sort of prayer becomes and so I usually give up.
Several years ago, I was feeling overwhelmed with life… too many commitments, too many phone calls, too many emails, just too much of everything but what I truly needed – space and silence. So I decided to spend a week hiking the ancient pilgrim trail, the Camino in northern Spain.
As I walked to the subway, my backpack weighing heavy on my shoulders, I thought of John Bunyan setting out on his journey in Pilgrim’s Progress and of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales. I hoped that I would not find myself in the slough of despair the way Bunyan did, or set upon by robbers like those walking to Canterbury Cathedral.
Two days later, I found myself walking alone on forest trails in the foot hills of the Pyrenees. The first couple days were not prayer-centered, life-giving or inspiring as I had hoped. I was afraid. I didn’t know where I would be sleeping at night, I wasn’t sure I could manage my backpack and I was worried I would get lost. I was also acutely aware of how the backpack pulled on my shoulders, how my toes jammed into the front of my boots when descending a hill, or of the periodic pain in one knee. And I kept thinking of the work I had left behind, the report that hadn’t gotten written, the phone call I hadn’t made, the letter that needed to be sent. Periodically I would then berate myself for not being more “spiritual”, for allowing myself to focus on the mundane, for not taking this opportunity to think about God, prayer, etc.
By the third day I had begun to relax and trust – trust that I would find my way, trust that I would be safe and would find a bed for the night. My body had adjusted to the backpack, the boots and the trail. I found I could exhale and breathe again and I got into a rhythm in my walking and soon forgot I was even walking. I moved through the landscape in slow motion, aware of the sparrows lined up on a fence, a white horse in a red field of poppies, the sound of a lark in a nearby field, the wind swirling dust on the path, shadows moving swiftly across the land as clouds scuttled by, a long line of ants moving across a log. I thanked God for my strong body, for the sparrows, the ants, the horse, the wind, the clouds and the trees. Now I was making progress! This was prayer.
Long after that pilgrimage was finished, I realized that acknowledging my fear, my discomfort and my anxiety was also a prayer, a prayer every bit as valuable and no less authentic as my prayers of thanksgiving.
Sept. 6, 2013
Sharon L. Miller
It is not that prayer changes God, or awakens in God purposes of love
and compassion that God has not already felt. No, it changes us
and therein lies its glory and its purpose.
- Hannah Hurnard.
There was a young Hispanic man I used to pass as I walked from the subway to my office. I don’t know who he is; I’ve never met him. But for some inexplicable reason, I found myself praying for him each time I saw him (and found would be the operative word, as it was never planned in the beginning). I would pray for his family, pray that God might bless him and be with him that day. I no longer see him, but now I pray for an older woman who is often at our bus stop. She looks like she is poor and care worn and could use a hug and a new sweater. I have no idea if my prayers have any effect on the life of the young man or the old woman. I’d like to think so, but I don’t know.
I used to think of prayer as a magic wand and God as the magician. When I was disavowed of that belief through sore disappointment, I went through a period of time when I didn’t believe in prayer. Those who prayed, I thought, were engaged in wishful thinking, nothing more.
I know better now.
Years ago I met two elderly English women who lived in a small house in Hong Kong. I had heard that they prayed. That’s all anyone seemed to know about them. One day, my curiosity got the best of me, and I climbed the steep hill to their home. After tea and biscuits (they were English after all), they invited me to join them in prayer. I apprehensively sat on the bamboo mat in their prayer room and waited to see what would happen. First they prayed for me (much to my embarrassment), then they prayed for their Chinese neighbors, then for the elderly folk who lived in the nursing home at the bottom of the hill, then for the poor of Hong Kong, then those struggling to live out their faith in China… and soon their prayers circled the globe as they prayed for friends, family and strangers continents and worlds away.
Later I heard the Jewish legend that there are never less than thirty-six just people in the world who greet the Shekhinah [the divine presence] every day. If they ceased their praying, the world would come to an end. I am sure those two women were numbered among the thirty-six. I could never count myself as one of the thirty-six righteous, but in my own small way, through my haphazard attempts at prayer, I try.
Reflections from the Ridge – June 5, 2013
By Michael Morwood
On a recent early morning walk, in Melbourne, Australia, I took a path overlooking a valley. In the valley ahead of me, a small creek opened into a straight stretch of water about 200 yards long and 10 yards wide. In the center of the creek was a black swan, slowly, elegantly making its way toward where the water disappeared from sight below me.
I was struck by the silence, and the V shape of the ripples in the water behind the swan as it moved, center stage.
As I continued walking, I was able to see where the open stretch of the creek ended and there sat another swan, motionless in the water as the first swan paddled toward it.
It was like watching a loved one waiting expectantly for the lover to come.
The meeting was exquisite, evocative of the depth of friendship and companionship.
I continued my walk, reflecting on the billions of years of ceaseless transformations that had produced these two swans and how they expressed something deep and awesome about the universe itself – attraction, bonding, beauty, communication.
In the midst of this sense of awe and wonder, the thought arose, “And me, I am part of the same universe story, with the human gift of being consciously aware of this incredible beauty.”
You begin to look at life and what is around you differently when the universe breaks through to you in moments like this.
A week later, I found myself on the same path. It was a somber walk because later that morning I would hear the results of a biopsy taken three days earlier.
Lower down, near the creek, I looked for the swans but they were not there. I continued up the path to the top of the rise and again looked down over the creek, now well below me. As I paused, the two swans came as if from nowhere on my right. About 40 yards in front of me, in perfect fly-by formation, they flew past me at eye level, turned, and flew beyond the other end of the creek.
I stood there, stunned and amazed. What were the odds of this happening just when I was there at that time?
I continued my walk thinking the universe has ways of communication we humans know so little about. And yes, you do begin to look at life and what is around you differently when the universe breaks through and invites you to embrace a much bigger picture of reality.
I decided whatever the biopsy results, I would try to stay with the big picture.
Later that day I thought the fly-by swans were telling me not to worry. The results were good news.
Reflections from the Ridge – May 22, 2013
By Ann Quinn
Can you see the stars? The pollution and lights make it pretty rare at my home……but I can see the moon, in all its glorious phases. It is my constant reminder that we are made of stardust.
At Kirkridge, I can see the stars, and it is thrilling to see the million points of light. Stunning advances in physics, cosmology and astronomy now offer us a new story of our universe: Our universe began 13.7 billion years ago and our solar system about 4.5 billion years old. The universe is expanding (not contracting or stable), and the forces of expansion and contraction are organically inherent in everything. Everything that is in the universe was implicit in the moment of creation. Everything. That means you, and me.
Could we lie on the ground on a warm evening and watch? Or, since my body isn’t so young, could we sit on a bench wrapped in warm coats…. And watch? Look? Wait and see? This new story of the universe offers me a new way to experience a connection with all that is.
For most of history, humans have had a story of their relationship to the cosmos, but recently ours has come apart. Until now. This new story or organic interdependence is now confirmed by science. Humans are the result of billions of years of evolution, and now, we are the universe reflecting in upon itself. We are God’s eyes and ears and hearts, as St. Teresa of Avila says. We can grow in consciousness to “take up your cross” and follow Christ, to live in Love, to see the fullness of life, in all its ugliness and all its grace and beauty.
Michael Morwood, Kirkridge’s resident theologian, makes this new perspective accessible. He knows cosmology and he loves Jesus. And these are not two separate worlds but one. We are all One. Divine Presence is active everywhere, all the time. Read Michael’s books. Listen to him teach. Let’s co-create an Earth of Justice and Love. Yes!
Michael Morwood’s next program is in September. Come see the stars at Kirkridge!
Reflections from the Ridge – May 1, 2013
By Ann Quinn
High in the night sky, the full moon shines into our quiet home in the middle of this night, saying: re-member how infinite and beautiful the cosmos in which we live! Re-member who you really are! An organically connected being, made of stardust!
Home – where is it? what is it? This home in which I live with my new husband? My Grandparents home in upstate NY, where, as a child, I learned to lie under a big pine tree, watch the clouds, feel the grass on my body, smell the earth….. pondering… being.
Where do I really live? How do I experience deep communion – with myself; with family, friends, fellow human beings; with Spirit, God, Creative Flow, Holy One with 10,000 Names? Such an invitation during a sleepless night at 3 AM!
Parker Palmer’s work started forming me circa 2000, when I was in major transition to create a new life after leaving my corporate career and then my husband’s sudden passing. For a long while, grief grew into deep listening….. while I sat with Parker’s Let Your Life Speak, The Active Life, Courage to Teach, A Hidden Wholeness — learning to live whole and free, from a Deep Center, an Inner Home, made of Presence, Love, Something More.
Many Kirkridge retreatants share that they have the experience of “coming home to Kirkridge”, a place designed to support the inner journey, while living in community, in the Beauty and wonder of the Kittatinny Ridge of the Appalachian mountain range.
Come Home to Kirkridge. Join us May 22 – 24 at Coming Home: The Journey to Undivided Life based on Parker Palmer’s work. Join us any time. You are welcome here.
A dear friend and meditation partner wrote a sweet song which plays with “OM” the original sacred sound of the universe in Sanskrit and “home”. The refrain is:
There’s no place like OM in the morning,
There’s no place like OM at night,
There’s no place like OM every hour,
There’s no place like OM in sight.
Welcome home to Kirkridge.
Ann Quinn is honored to be a trustee of Kirkridge, a Spiritual Director and retreat leader, grounded in interspiritual wisdom. A 2001 graduate of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, she is currently Adjunct Faculty offering the Shalem Personal Spiritual Deepening Program in the Philadelphia Area.
Beyond Strangers By Tillie Chase
As I’ve continued to reflect on hospitality, I have been thinking that hospitality is a mutual activity. We can try all we want to welcome someone and offer them hospitality, but if they are not ready to be welcomed, our efforts may not be perceived as much. Likewise, there are some people who are not motivated unless there is something in it for them. As a result, some attitudes about hospitality are more oriented toward those we know, than they are towards strangers.
Perhaps I’ve come to this idea of mutuality as a result of the training I’m currently engaged in to become a Spiritual Director. I realize that God in particular is very gracious and does not intrude where God is not invited. It’s up to us to open ourselves to God before God will impose God’s self on us. Among the things we learned early in our training was to always have a third chair in the room and to point this out to our directee. It is a way of being clear that there is an obvious place for God in the encounter. This technique is also a reminder to both parties that God is invited to be present and that we do not do this work apart from God. In so many aspects of our lives we may lose sight that healthy relationships thrive on mutuality and yet, as I’ve learned in Spiritual Direction, it is all about nurturing a healthy relationship with God. The only way that I’ve been able to accomplish that is through speaking and listening, inviting, and responding; in other words fostering a mutuality model of relationship with God and others. So how might this idea of mutuality change or expand our understanding of hospitality? One reason why it is so hard for us to be truly hospitable is because open hospitality exposes us to the probability of entering into a transforming relationship. It might mean that someone we have never really trusted or thought appropriate might become one who introduces us to God’s truth in an unexpected and perhaps even alarming way. I’ve come to realize that the process of being transformed can be difficult and frightening. Allowing ourselves to be transformed by someone else means giving up control and graciously accepting the hospitality offered. This is certainly true for the Kirkridge Community. The programs and other opportunities for coming together at Kirkridge always include the concept of being open to those who are different from one another because that is how we learn and grow as people of faith. Just as Abraham offered hospitality to unknown strangers as an act of generosity and self-protection, we too offer hospitality to those in our community who are most in need. This act does something to us as well–it opens us to God’s work within us.
Reflections from the Ridge – April 12, 2013
by Rev. Tillie Chase
I’ve been thinking about hospitality a lot recently. Kirkridge is a place where radical hospitality is perhaps the most important part of who we are. In the dictionary hospitality is defined as “the friendly reception and treatment of guest or strangers.” When we hear this familiar verse from Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb.13:2, NRSV) we are immediately reminded of the story in Genesis of the strangers who visit Abraham. It’s a somewhat romantic idea, but we fail to recognize what was behind the stories of hospitality in the First Testament.
Originally, hospitality was not so much a welcoming of the stranger as it was a defensive strategy for the host. Travel in the ancient mid-east was treacherous and so when strange travelers showed up in a community, they were welcomed, provided food and water, and foot washing as a way of providing hospitality but also protection of the host. Once the traveler was offered all that good food and good rest, they were less likely to attack or steal from the host’s community. The transformation of this defensive strategy into something more benign is interesting.
By the time we get to the gospels, we hear that welcoming the stranger is an expectation that is related to acceptance of the one who is different–the outsider. Jesus is dependent on the hospitality of others for his care and shelter. We need look no further than the relationship that Jesus had with Mary and Martha and many of the other women who accompanied the disciples to realize this. Hospitality in the New Testament is clearly about fellowship and worship. It is likely that hospitality was a significant factor in what connected the early house churches to one another. It also seems that by the time of the New Testament the power equation has changed–no longer does the power reside with the stranger–it now resides with the host.
This is what makes the hospitality of Kirkridge so significant. Kirkridge welcomes everyone, there are no exceptions. Kirkridge is a place where people from different perspectives can come together and respect and learn from one another in a safe place that comes from our trust in a loving God who welcomes everyone.
Reflections from the Ridge – March 25, 2013
Beauty on the Mountain
Most of those who will come forward this Thursday in Holy Week will be embarrassed. Feet are private, often ticklish, in most cases not one’s most attractive feature. In Jesus’ day it would have been a servant who got down to wash sandaled feet dusty from the road. When we take off our shoes and socks in church and put our feet out there for all to see and someone with whom we are not intimate to wash, well…I think I will stay home and watch March Madness, at most hold on tight to my pew.
But Jesus did it. Taking the role of a servant, he got down on his knees and washed the feet of those fishermen. Always larger than life, Peter objects. Seeing, however, that this was in some way essential to following Jesus, he relents. What happened there that night has come down to the church as a formative event, telling us who we are and how we are to be together. Washing each other’s feet as a prelude to that first Eucharist told those disciples who they were. When we let go and follow Jesus’ lead, we learn something about ourselves and what it means to belong to each other in Christ.
We are talking about being servants to one another. You can read about it in Philippians 2. You can also see it every day in people who hear and follow this new commandment, the mandatum novum that gives this Thursday the Old English name of Maundy (John 13:34).
Up here at Kirkridge we could come up with a good many examples, but these days we are thinking about two unassuming friends who, as they move to a new home, leave us an example of service to others. Don and Alice will demur when they read this, but those of us who have shared life with the Murrays see in them what it is we act out on Maundy Thursday. In every aspect of Kirkridge’s life they have given themselves freely, from planting flowers and hosting weddings, to repairing roofs and toilets to coping with the shortage of money. Add to that the joy they have found living at Quiet Ways as Kirkridge volunteers and our neighbors, and you see a modern-day version of Jesus’ footwashing.
At Kirkridge this Holy Week 2013, the familiar words of the biblical poet seem to ring out more clearly:
“How beautiful on the mountains,
are the feet of one who brings good news,
who heralds peace, brings happiness….” Isaiah 52:7 (The Jerusalem Bible)
Charles Rice, a trustee of Kirkridge, is Priest in Charge, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Mendham, NJ
Reflection from the Ridge - March 12, 2013
The Promise of Lent Charles Rice
The Gospel for the third Sunday in Lent, Luke 13:1-9, takes us to familiar territory, the places where people suffer and question: Why this, to those people, to me? Jesus does not answer that question, but he does clarify one aspect of human suffering. He relieves us of the burden of Maud’s theology: “God will get you for that.” The simplistic theodicy of her 60′s television comedy show is still with us and widespread. In this way of seeing our situation, God zaps people for bad behavior.
There is, of course, a measure of truth in Maud’s way of seeing it. Bad behavior can lead to suffering, and right action carries its own rewards. But Jesus’ life and teaching rules out that preacher’s pronouncement that Aids is a plague sent by God, or that New Orleans is flooded as reprisal for its loose ways. No, says Jesus, you must not think this way. Those poor folks who were in the wrong place when an earthquake brought down the tower of Siloam, or those killed at their worship, were not targeted by divine wrath.
On the contrary, Jesus says, God is the patient gardener. In the little parable of the fig tree (vss. 6-9) we have a picture of the demanding landlord: “What? No fruit! Chop it down.” But the weight of the parable lies not with him but with the gardener. All patience and hope, he will dig around the tree and give it some fertilizer: “Maybe next year….” It is here that we meet the loving kindness of the forbearing One, always hoping, always striving with us. That is the promise of Lent and its call to repentance: one more season of cultivating and pruning, hoping that maybe this is the year when down among the new leaves a small green fig will appear.
Reflections from the Ridge – Feb. 22, 2013
Singing on the Mountain Marcia Gleckler
A cherished part of the early Kirkridge worshipping community was hearty singing. John Oliver Nelson’s favorite hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” was among many others that found voice on the Mountain.
A long line of musicians have left us singing as we’ve journeyed back to our own lives away from the Ridge after an inspiring weekend. As mentioned in my earlier Reflection from the Ridge, Carrie Newcomer prompted our group to write on the theme, “Have You Got Power?” in response to storms in our lives when the physical and figurative lights go out. Carrie’s own words in her song, “If Not Now, Tell Me When,” challenge us to look at the causes for violence in our land that leave us disheartened about the safety of our children and wanting meaningful conversations about gun control:
Although there will be struggle We’ll make the change we can. If not now, if not now, tell me when.
Sitting at the feet of the remarkable musician Ysaye Barnwell is mind-blowing. It is unfathomable, the rhythms and harmonies in the African-American oral tradition that soar from our soul-filled weekends with her, even with disclaimers from some of the participants that “I’m not a singer.” We leave the Mountain not only awed by our own performance, but grateful to have greater understanding of the urgent social needs that are a part of our national and local landscape.
For twenty years and counting, Carolyn McDade has led retreats at Kirkridge. Her career has spanned writing and singing music for everything from anti-war rallies to chanting the names of endangered species of birds and animals. Her devotion to protecting the sacred of the earth, with her deep poetic and musical insights, has sent us away singing our own resolve to make a difference in the world. As Carolyn says, singing is an act of courage, “to really sing, in the way that disrobes the heart and lays its curve into the world.”
In any quiet meditation, her words, “Spirit of Life,” edge us closer to our own sacred, to our own witness in the world:
Spirit of Life, come unto me Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion Blow in the wind, rise in the sea Move in the hand giving life the shape of justice Roots hold me close, wings set me free Spirit of Life, come to me Come to me.
Reflections from the Ridge – Feb. 11, 2013
By Marcia Gleckler
In a late 2012 retreat with Carrie Newcomer, her singing and writing prompts brought a group together following massive devastation by Hurricane Sandy and earlier storms. They wreaked havoc on so many people, including some of us attending the retreat. Together with Carrie, we composed a song called “Have You Got Power?” referring to power outages many of us had experienced in our homes and communities. There were many analogous references to the deeper meaning of the question—for our souls, for facing illness or brokenness of relationships or overwhelming grief. In the darkness of our lives, where do we go for light, for power, for a way through the storm?
Part of the tradition of early Kirkridgers was group worship. The community residing at the foot of the Mountain, or dispersed to places of work and residence across the country, came together through their commitment to daily disciplines of worship and prayer.
At the end of Carrie’s retreat, Jean Richardson offered a book for us to consider as a meditation source: An Almanac for the Soul: Anthology of Hope. The book is dedicated to the “widely scattered, yet ever gathered Iona Center Community.” Iona of course was part of the early vision of John Oliver Nelson to bring church leaders together in this country following the storms of WWII
I began to delve into those reflections, including words by Howard Thurman in a January meditation: “There is a fallow time for the spirit when the soil is barren because of sheer exhaustion.” All the anxieties of trying too hard, creating pressures on ourselves, begin to wear us down; it is time to work out new designs, Thurman says. The fallow time is a chance to clear out dead roots and dream new dreams.
At this time of the year, our days marked by wintry landscapes, the fallow ground perhaps covered by layers of snow, together we can again dream the dreams that the Iona community, John Oliver Nelson and others left as their legacy. We clear away the debris accumulated by the storms in our lives. We wait for the spirit to reveal new, enriched soil for plants awaiting rebirth and for new seeds to grow. We find new ways to respond to the darkness of our lives, new sources of light and power. Have you got power?
Marcia Gleckler is ignoring her soon-to-be 80th birthday by staying active, celebrating her three sons’ achievements, publishing her first book, and always relishing her Kirkridge connections, including nine years on the board.
Reflections from the Ridge – Jan. 24, 2013
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Sharon L. Miller
In February I am leading a Kirkridge pilgrimage trip to India. Going to India raises all kinds of anxieties for people – there are the crowds, the dirt, the heat and the beggars. There are always the beggars. I was raised on the Indian subcontinent and beggars were as common in my life as the large black crows that woke me each morning and the call to prayers from the nearby mosque. I often gave money or food to people who were begging, but I also learned to brush aside the dirty hands of the children pleading for baksheesh and to avert my eyes when I passed the old man whose face was disfigured by leprosy.
The last thing I thought I’d face when I came to the U.S. was more beggars. I had been raised with an image of America being a land of plenty, a country where there were not beggars, a land with enough bounty for all. I was wrong.
Nearly every day in New York City I see people begging. There is the old man near my subway stop, with the heavy dirty coat five sizes too big for him, asking for change. There is the young woman sitting on the sidewalk holding a sign that says she is trying to get enough money to return home to North Carolina. There is the older woman I see almost daily, who never asks for a dime but clearly is living on the street. When she’s gone, I worry about where she is and if she’s OK.
Clearly the needs of the poor can be overwhelming, no matter what country one lives in. On a deep level, the poor raise challenging questions for me: How do I spend my money? What do I do with my discretionary income? How much do I give to organizations that help the poor? What are my responsibilities in a world of great inequity?
Years ago, I attended a Mennonite Church as part of my dissertation research. The Mennonites are known for simple living, but now some of the children of farmers were lawyers and doctors and they faced a different dilemma: what did it mean to live a simple life when they had the means (and social pressure) to live with plenty. How much was enough? It’s a question I ask myself too rarely: How much is enough? What does it mean to be a generous human being in the face of great need? I’m sure I’ll be challenged by these questions in the weeks ahead!
Reflections from the Ridge – Jan. 11, 2013
Pray for Those Who Persecute You by Sharon L. Miller
Before I had ever heard of Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat, every evening my mother read to us children from Fox’s Book of Martyrs. This 16th century book of early Christian martyrs tells in graphic detail of believers being stoned, beheaded, crucified, impaled and burned at the stake. I suppose mother hoped their faith would inspire us, but more often it sent me to bed with nightmares. Today there are Christians around the world who are persecuted and killed simply because they are Christians, and I confess, I rarely think of them, much less pray for them. Open Doors, a Christian organization that publishes an annual list of the countries where Christians are persecuted, lists North Korea as the top offender, followed by Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Most of the countries in the top fifty are ones where Muslim fundamentalism has taken hold. Coptic Christians in Egypt find it increasingly difficult to live under the Morsi regime. Nigerian militants on Christmas Eve burned two churches, killing twelve Christians. South Sudanese Christians are fleeing in the face of attacks from the north. The Christian minority in Syria are being targeted by the rebels because of their close ties with the Assad regime. And the list goes on. Surprisingly, China has dropped to number thirty-seven on the list. How are we to respond? One Long Island woman, Pamela Geller, has chosen to fight hatred with hatred. Her organization, American Freedom Defense Initiative, has posted large prominent banners in the subways stations in New York City. The most recent one is a photo of the Twin Towers in flames and alongside a quote from the Quran, “Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers.” Last September, her banners read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel.” I have to confess, I long for a can of spray paint. There is another way. George Fox (1624-1691) founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers) was frequently persecuted and jailed for his faith but his response was in stark contrast to Geller. He prayed for those wishing him harm:
Eternal source of love and forgiveness, Direct us to have the spiritual insight
Reflection for December 31, 2012
Being the “Christ-light” by Don Parsons
I asked someone what might be the one word we most need to carry with us into 2013. “Hope,” she said without hesitation. “We have not experienced much hope this fall.”
Many of us feel that, particularly in these recent weeks, we have been weighed down with darkness and fear. The litany of places yearning for “peace on earth, goodwill among all people” is long: Syria, Cairo, Afghanistan, Gaza, Newtown, Connecticut. Many known to us have lost their homes, and cannot find meaningful work; some are dealing with frightening illness, or shards of grief evoked by an empty chair. In parts of our global village, terrorist bombs shatter the marketplace, brutal regimes are spilling the blood of their own people, while the financial crises of countries half a world away threatens our own way of life. Where might we find hope, in such a shadowed and difficult world?
The writer of the fourth gospel offers us a profound clue. In his nativity story John offers us no shepherds, no angelic host, no shrieking baby drinking in his first gasp of air. Instead he reminds us that, in Jesus, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot smother it…” Thank you John, for calling us back to where our centre is located, to where our hope can be found.
So wherever life is shadowed, and the way ahead seems difficult, we are called not only to look for the light of Christ, but we are called to be the Light of Christ – keeping the darkness at bay as we care for each other and for this earth home of ours, in our persistent struggle for justice and peace among all people.
Howard Thurman, for many years the Dean of Theology at Boston University, helps to give us a game plan as we face the challenges of the new year:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among people,
to make music in the heart.”
(Howard Thurman, “The Mood of Christmas”)
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs,” Dr. Thurman advises. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs most is people who, in the Spirit of Jesus, have come alive.”
As we face the unknowns of 2013, let us find ways of being sources of Christ-light for each other and for our shadowed world, so that, in the spirit of Jesus, we will be able to stride into the new year, enlivened with God-given, unquenchable hope.
Reflection for December 4, 2012
Keeping the Darkness at Bay
by Don Parsons
Even though many of us in these Advent weeks would like to get right to that “decree that went out from Emperor Augustus” so we can sing Christmas carols, the gift of this season is that we have to wait a bit. I’m glad that Advent gives me time to prepare, heart and soul, for the incredibly transformative mystery of the Holy birth.
I need to be reminded that even though the darkness sometimes seems threatening, we are never on our own. God is always with us. The darkness of these days takes many forms – nations posturing at the United Nations, the lives of Syrian children being cut short, hunger and disease still lurking in the Sudan, the poor and the hungry still marginalized. One of the gifts of this season of waiting is that we are given time to explore how we might keep the darkness at bay.
I’d like to suggest that we do that by following where Jesus goes, and doing what Jesus does – visiting the lonely, sitting with the sick, befriending the stranger, holding the hand of sorrow, being with the least, and the marginalized, and those who struggle as we work for a more just and hope-filled world.
In a neighbouring city, my denomination operates a downtown mission which every year organizes a No-Charge Christmas Store. Three thousand struggling families come through its doors in Advent, and are invited to select food and gifts that congregations have donated. Volunteers staff “the store”, and my last time there, I was assigned the “Gift” section.
A young man in his early twenties, unshaven, with several tattoos and piercings, came and stood in front of the many gifts available. He walked back and forth, paused, pondered the decision he had to make. “I’m sorry to take so long,” he said. “I have a five year old son, and a two year old daughter, and because I’m out of work, this will be the only gift my kids will get this year. I want to make sure it’s just right.”
At last he picked out a brand new soccer ball for his son, and a plush teddy bear for his daughter. “Do you think I’ve made the right choice?” he asked me. I assured him that his kids would be thrilled. He then shook my hand, wished me a “Merry Christmas”, and with tears welling in his eyes, said “Thank you, thank you, thank you…” It was a moment when, for me at least, a glimmer of hope was keeping the darkness at bay.
In this waiting season, as we prepare for God’s birth in our lives, let us be on the watch for moments when in some simple, beautiful way, we might offer another a flicker of hope to help to keep the darkness at bay.
Reflections for Oct. 15, 2012
“I think we would be able to live in this world more peaceably if our spirituality were to come from looking not just into infinity but very closely at the world around us- and appreciating its depth and divinity.”
- Thomas Moore
By Nancy Scheirer
Have you ever listened intently to the sound of a rushing stream and felt somehow changed by the experience? Have you paused recently to appreciate the subtly changing hues of a vivid sunrise? Some time ago I came to realize the value of taking time to perceive the world around me in a spiritually mindful way. Whenever possible, I tried to include in my daily To- Do List, a present moment reminder such as “go outside and sense the personality of the morning”, or “take a photo of an iris blooming”. I have come to cherish these sacred moments. Observing the natural world always brings me to a higher place.
To be sure, finding the time to observe things in a contemplative way can be a challenge, especially on days when we’re inundated by a ton of must-do’s as well as emails, phone calls, and social media messages. Our hurried pace of life today is reason enough to give ourselves the gift of time to “look closely at the world around us and appreciate its depth and divinity”, as Thomas Moore suggested. You need not travel far to find these holy moments…simply watch a spider as it spins a web, or listen with eyes closed to a cat’s purring. You may find a surprising joy there!
Two years ago I attended a Kirkridge retreat led by Carrie Newcomer called “Writing Mindfully: Exploring the Sacred Ordinary”. That retreat revealed, for many of us, the value and healing in telling our stories from the richness of our everyday experiences.
Several of Carrie’s songs reflect this idea…
“I believe in a good strong cup of ginger tea, nd all these shoots and roots will become a tree, ll I know is I can’t help but see ll of this as so very holy.”
Carrie asked us to take some time each day to notice how things that generally appear “ordinary” in the world around us can become “holy” when observed with the heart and mind. She encouraged us to record what we noticed in a notebook, a practice I have continued. Perhaps one day my notebook will become something more. For now, I will simply share with you some of my autumn “noticings”, with some photos that I have taken to accompany them.
Noticing This morning I noticed three young pine trees growing upside down on a shimmering blue forest floor.
If you listen well as autumn leaves fall upon the frosted ground you will learn that every leaf lands with its own singular sound.
An October Day Today the trees are chanting in sacred tones of glorious amber and fiery red.
Tomorrow the hallowed breath of autumn will lightly touch each leaf and whisper… “fall, fall”.
Haiku for autumn
Suspended in blue,
A gathering of pine needles-
In gloriously varying ways, we Christians think of Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the one who has gone on before us and shown us the way. We also know we are surrounded by a mighty cloud of witnesses.
Some days, especially when my life seems to be taking a dramatic turn, or when the losses are heavy or the joys are powerful, when new opportunities are dramatic — some days I remember those witnesses in my life and sense their presence with and for me — blessing/challenging/encouraging me.
Who are those witnesses for you? Who are those saints who now from their labors rest but who give us inspiration, courage, and joy for the journey?
One of the great blessings of Kirkridge over the years has been its calling together faithful and struggling witnesses to the mountain. Often folk come to experience the spirit and wisdom of heroic and powerful Christians who lived both inwardly and outwardly with passion and pizazz. John Oliver Nelson gifted Kirkridge with the phrase–Picket and Pray. We would do well to make it Picket and Pray and Party.
At Kirkridge events we are blessed by one another and by the amazing community that gathers. Creative and faithful and courageous folks are indeed building the Kingdom in a glorious diversity of ways. We are reaching out to one another to bring healing for ourselves and our communities. We are, in ways that will surprise us, transitioning into being that mighty cloud of witnesses for the future.
One of the witnesses for me and for many others is John Yungblut. I met him for the first time at Kirkridge. John had been an Episcopal priest who suffered a nervous breakdown, which was also a spiritual crisis. He became a Quaker and a writer and was committed to a program that supported isolated liberals in Mississippi and Alabama in the early sixties.
John envisioned and lived out a Christian faith that was intellectually open and honest, that was spiritually grounded, especially in the mystics like Meister Eckhard, and that was committed to the struggle for justice. Though he eventually lost the battle with Parkinson’s disease, he is a radiant part of that mighty cloud of witnesses.
Kirkridge continues to call and engage people who seek transformation and joy, both for themselves and for the world that God so loves.
Reflections for September 4, 2012
The Soul of Democracy by J. Brooks Smith, Kirkridge board member
New Orleans and the Gulf Coast endure a devastating hurricane while the Republican National Convention meets in Tampa.
We are reminded that government does matter–and that it sometimes dramatically fails as in the initial FEMA response to hurricane Katrina in 2005. But sometimes government works–dramatically. Hopefully that will be the case when the $14 billion investment in infrastructure around New Orleans is tested this hurricane season.
Remembering Katrina also reminds us of the best of America – the thousands of congregations and tens of thousands of individuals who volunteered to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, our national political process unfolds. We have an abiding fear, especially in national elections, that big money will buy extensive and deceptive, and sometimes racist, advertising that will undermine the integrity of the election process. This year people like the Koch brothers are donating $100,000,000 or more to the electoral process thru super Pacs. The airways will be flooded with their advertising — but not with thoughtful wrestling with the issues that really matter to this nation. Is the Soul of Democracy for sale–or did we not even notice that it has already been sold and nobody bothered to tell us? At its deepest and best level, what is America about? Lincoln said America was the `last, best hope on earth.’ Back then we were one of the world’s few democracies—albeit one with very serious flaws. Can we work our way through the current political morass and find a path forward — together? Or will it be: raise the money, buy the votes thru the media, get the power — and then serve the interests of those who contributed the money? Will we have government of the people, for the people, by the people? Or will there be an abundance of rhetoric about caring for the American people, when in fact what is meant is caring for a particular group of people? On NPR, I heard Michelle Bachman leading a chant at a rally: It is time to take back America. Imagine who was most likely at that rally. Were they immigrants, new American citizens, people of color, poor folks? What is the Soul of Democracy and especially of our American democracy in this, the year of our Lord, 2012?
Christianity’s “Aha” Moment by Michael Morwood
Every now and again we experience an “Aha” moment of insight that leads us to understand and interpret our human experience in a new way. There are also historical moments of such insight. We are doubtless living in one now as science and religion stop battling one another and come together to expand minds and understanding with awe, wonder, enchantment and appreciation. The “Aha”, however, may well depend on how disposed people are to surrender deeply ingrained attitudes and approaches – and even strongly held religious beliefs – for this “Aha” brings an understanding that the Mystery commonly called “God” is not a deity, but rather an all-pervasive Presence “charging” and sustaining everything that exists. This Presence is Spirit, is Breath, is Everything, is Everywhere, is Beyond All Understanding, is All Around Us. When we look back with this understanding of a Presence always here, always active, we can see and interpret past “religious” events in a vastly different light. Revelation, for example, is not seen to be stemming from a God outside of this world breaking into it from above. Revelation of the Divine Presence comes from all around us, comes from within and among us. Revelation, within the human community, is the Divine Presence bursting into clear expression in the words of men and women in tune with the patterns of the Divine at work everywhere. The Jewish prophets imagined their God spoke to them and told them what God wanted. That understanding goes hand in hand with the religious worldview of the day. Today we might view and interpret their experience somewhat differently. Yes, the Divine Presence broke through with clarity into their consciousness – but not from above or outside. Rather it is a Presence embedded deep within the very fabric of humanity. It is a Presence that consistently alerts the human species to co-operate, to stop the violence, to be compassionate, to be just. Jesus gave human expression to this Divine Presence and challenged everyone to see what he saw, to understand what he understood about this Presence in everyone’s life, and to give expression to it for the betterment of the human community. Hopefully, sometime soon, the “Aha” will dawn for Christianity and it will stop being distracted by doctrines about Jesus getting people into the heavenly realms where a God supposedly lives. Hopefully it will see and understand and give expression to what Jesus really preached and was prepared to die for – justice, as expounded by the Jewish prophets giving clear expression to the Divine embedded in humanity.