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Kirkridge Reflections 12/13-8/15

Date:    Sunday, December 1, 2013

REACT!


By Jim R. Rogers


React! React! React!  That’s what we do.  We wait until unbelievable tragedy shocks us from our comfort zone, then we do something.  Quickly.  Firmly.  Angrily.  Too late.  The recent murders at a church in Charleston, SC, has everybody, but not everybody, outraged at the presence of the Confederate stars and bars in our lives.  Now, we want its hurtful and demeaning image out of sight.  It is the culprit.  It caused a damaged young man to murder 9 human beings and turn a city and a country upside down.  It did not.  The flag is not to blame.  The life led by the damaged young man is to blame. Lives led by thousands of others who share similar views of the way things are, are to blame.
We all should indeed be outraged at this heinous crime.  Now, for whatever reasons, probably public outrage, our leaders are determined to get rid of the culprit once and for all.  Take that flag down.  While I applaud the present efforts, and abhor the loss of precious lives, it is an outrage to me, that many thousands of others are losing their lives every day, and not too many folks seem to care.  The reasons are countless, but at the root of most of the violent acts that take lives, literally and figuratively, is the lack of education and knowledge about how we raise our children. 
Home is where the start is and the beliefs, ethics, values, biases, prejudices, anger and violence have their seeds in the homes from which we come.  Who do you think put that flag into the hand of that child?  Who do you think teaches us to become who we become?  Who do you think create the many hate groups that surround the area in which Kirkridge is located? How much effort do our leaders give in finding ways to educate our citizens as early as possible and then help future parents understand the incredible importance of their jobs, raising human beings with morals and beliefs that would never lead to such a dastardly crime?
We can’t continue to turn our backs on the slow undramatic deaths occurring daily.  We have to invest in prevention that would strongly decrease crime and violence.  We have to have leaders who say, ok, the flag comes down, but that can’t be all we do.  More tragic events are on the way, but the number can be decreased if we take action now.  That’s why, after almost 75 years, the work of Kirkridge still matters.  That’s why we need the School at Kirkridge. Respond. Not react.

BIO: Jim R. Rogers is a nationally certified Parenting and Family Life Educator who spoke last year at Kirkridge on his book, The Incredible Importance of Effective Parenting – and he will be part of Bread for the Journey at Kirkridge in late September.

 

 

Speaking of Clambakes!

by the Kirkridge Staff

The July 4th celebrations are just about to begin, accompanied by the usual summertime picnics, BBQs, and clambakes! Traditional New England style clambakes are no longer exclusive to New England. In fact, the second annual clambake dinner at Kirkridge is being held on July 22nd!
More about that in a bit, but first, a little clambake history…
In New England, clambakes have been a tradition for over 2,000 years. It’s known that Native American tribes from states such as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and Connecticut cooked clams and lobsters in sand pits on the beach as a means of subsistence. They did not have massive cooking pots, so they used the earth as their cooking vessel. (OK, so there are no sand pits or beaches at Kirkridge, but the old Farmhouse kitchen has been in use since the late 1800’s).
In a traditional New England clambake a large pit is filled with seaweed and lined with stones that have been heated until white-hot over a wood fire. Then they add live clams, mussels, and lobsters, and cover that with more seaweed and a little sand. Finally, wet canvas tarps or potato sacks soaked in sea water are laid over top until the food is cooked. This all sounds like a lot of work but those who take part in creating a clambake are rewarded with a truly delicious meal!
There are many different ways to have a clambake…some include sausages and chicken as well as seafood, along with potatoes, corn, and of course, steamed clams.
Kirkridge has its own variation of a traditional clambake dinner.
 The buffet style menu includes…

Caramelized onion, blue cheese and prosciutto tart

Clam bake with clams, corn, potatoes, and sausage, with old bay seasonings

Crazy mushroom salad

Cole slaw

Cucumber onion salad

Salad greens with Gazpacho dressing

And for Dessert: Chocolate cherry cup cakes


Kirkridge hopes that the annual clambake dinner becomes a tradition on the mountain too. Join us on Wed. July 22 at the Kirkridge Farmhouse for a feast you’ll remember!
For further clambake details, click here: http://kirkridge.org/index.cfm?e=event&eventId=21027&rDate=7/22/2015

 

What I learned at 3 a.m. in a hospital bed after surgery

By Michael Morwood

Until three weeks short of my 74th birthday, I had never spent a night in a hospital. Then along came prostate cancer.
A laparoscopic radical prostatectomy and some post-surgery complications gave me more than the usual number of nights in a hospital in Perth, Australia.
The Cancer Council Australia has many booklets available to people with cancer and to their families and friends. One of them, "Emotions and Cancer," encourages cancer bearers to "tap into spiritual beliefs."
"For some people," it says, "the experience of cancer challenges their beliefs."
But it wasn't the cancer that challenged my beliefs. They had been well-challenged, discarded or reshaped over the past 20 years. What I found myself pondering at 3 a.m. in the hospital bed was how I now face the reality of my life with spiritual beliefs so vastly different from the theology in which 50 years of my life had been cemented. Also, before considering those beliefs, there came the challenge to accept and live in the now, not to focus on what life was like without the cancer, or what the future might or might not be.
My basic spiritual belief that has emerged in recent years is this: I am a human expression of whatever it is that drives and underpins the universe and all of reality. I have tried to engage the wonder, the privilege and the challenge of giving human expression to this mystery. I no longer use "God" talk except to suggest that any use of the word "God" can point to a mystery light years beyond the way Scripture and traditional theology picture "God" as a heavenly deity.
So, at 3 a.m., I found myself thinking: This is my now experience of being a human expression of the universe and whatever drives it. The universe is not doing anything to me. Certainly, there is not a God out there asking something of me.
I cannot be angry with this body that has served me so well all these years. Yes, I can regret the years of smoking and bad dietary habits that may well have given rise to the cancer, but granted the regret, I want to positively live the understanding I have about what it means to be human.
I knew for a year before the operation that I had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. In that time, as I conducted retreats and workshops on the need to articulate a 21st-century spirituality that respected contemporary understanding of our place in the universe, I found myself thinking of and appreciating the universe as gracious, expansive and magnanimous. The acronym "GEM" came to mind as a simple mantra, a constant reminder that to be the best human expression of the universe and whatever keeps it going, I need to be gracious, expansive and magnanimous.
It is a tall order, but I must say I like the feel of it. It opens me to a much wider perspective about life, about myself, and about how I am to handle illness and tough times. I've also found that it connects me much better with Jesus and how he faced life than all the redemptive theology I carried for so many years.
I have long wished that I might experience something of the "soul seeing" of Jesus and the mystics. I have read with a sense of amazement accounts of men and women of various religious faiths and those with no religious faith at all who have had the most wonderful moments of "enlightenment" in which they have experienced, as Ralph Waldo Emerson expressed it, "the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me." I have wondered why I have not had such moments. Why not most people?
Several years ago, I heard a talk on religious tolerance given by the Japanese Consul in Melbourne. The speaker shared a quote he learned as a boy from his Japanese English teacher: "Down below the stirring waves of difference and dissimilarities there lies a deep sea of humanity that unites us all."
Throughout history, the great spiritual, mystical teachers have engaged that deep sea and have tried to inspire and lead their followers to experience it and to share their experience of it. It is clearly the most central aspect of Jesus' teaching; that "deep sea of humanity" resonates with the realities of love, compassion, growth and being neighbor.
So, at 3 a.m., I found myself, sore as I was, inwardly content as I brought GEM to mind, knowing that I was in touch with a big picture of reality, not as a blinding flash of insight or as a momentous experience of enlightenment, but as a conviction: I have left the theology of a lifetime behind, and whatever it is that underpins and drives the universe has been able to touch me more deeply than ever before.
I no longer look for that big moment of enlightenment. There is a knowing now for which I am immeasurably grateful -- and I am convinced that it is readily available to anyone who engages mystery, wonder and awesomeness rather than focus on correct theological thinking. Wouldn't the mystics tell us so?
[Michael Morwood, an adult faith educator, is the author of nine books on spirituality, prayer, and the need to reshape Christian imagination and thinking. His most recent book is In Memory of Jesus.]
This story appeared in the June 19-July 3, 2015 NCR print issue

Mindfulness

By Nancy Scheirer

So what’s all this talk about mindfulness, anyway?
That was the question my sister tossed my way when I mentioned that I was part of a mindfulness meditation group at Kirkridge.
“Well, do you remember the rabbit in the film “Alice in Wonderland”, I asked, “when Alice was sitting on the riverbank and a funny little rabbit in a waistcoat went rushing by her saying....
“I'm late. I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late”! ("Alice In Wonderland",1951, Fain & Hilliard)
“Yeh, so …?” she responded as if expecting something off the wall from her sometimes silly sister. “Well,” said I, “that’s not mindfulness”.
To summarize what mindfulness is, at least my own experience with it, I decided to write this blog piece. I told my sister she would have go to the Kirkridge webpage and click on “Voices of Kirkridge” if she wanted a serious answer. 
I have found that mindfulness is about being in the present moment and finding enjoyment there, whatever you happen to be doing. It requires you to intentionally remain present rather than allowing your mind to focus on things from the past or the future. The beloved Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, refers to the present moment as our “true home”, in contrast to the world of thought about past and future, in which we can so often be lost.
You will often hear the phrase “mindfulness practice” because, for most of us, it’s not so easy to keep our thoughts in the present. It takes some practice. According to renowned teacher of mindfulness meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn , "mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." He adds that it’s about “presence of heart”.
We’ve all experienced some hectic “white rabbit” kind of days, and we’ve all felt stressed out. Mindfulness can help to bring some calm and clarity to the hassles of daily life. It has also been shown to improve memory, abstract thinking, and creativity. What I like best about mindfulness is that it allows us to find enjoyment in simple things…to delight in the sound of a bird call, to appreciate the aroma of a good cup of coffee or to notice the fresh smell of laundry as we fold it…ordinary things that tend to slip by us without our conscious awareness.
Although mindfulness can be cultivated through sitting meditation, you can also practice mindfulness while you’re walking around and paying attention to each step. People who practice yoga or tai chi which focus on breathing and movement consider these to be mindfulness practices. I find that being totally present to the moment while I am gardening or arranging flowers is very much a mindfulness practice, and yes, it is about presence of heart!
Nancy Scheirer, now mostly retired, enjoys being a Kirkridge volunteer. She facilitates mindfulness meditation groups and is co-founder of a Taoist study group in the Lehigh Valley. Nancy practices Qigong and Tai Chi, writes Haiku poetry, and delights in gardening and flower arranging. She co-facilitates the Kirkridge seasonal  “Gift of Time” retreats with Denise Crawn. See more at: http://www.kirkridge.org/?e=event&eventId=20518#sthash.ivomUd66.dpuf

The School at Kirkridge

By Pat Mulroy

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” ~ Mother Teresa

In his book, The Alphabet of Grace, Fredrick Buechner speaks of the mystical presence that defines religion, which really cannot be named. Reading from his work caused me to stop and think about how The School at Kirkridge is ultimately about the beauty and grace that lives inside each of us, especially the children! With this belief we have gathered the support to start a school.

The School at Kirkridge! It is the School of Kirkridge, too. Even though it feels new, it is not. The energy and excitement about what is possible fills the air in the Farmhouse and through the fields as we prepare to open in September. As the children run and play the spirit of the past is palpable, an amazing grace. The wind makes its ways through the trees and eyes are wide open as the children explore the life cycle, finding tadpoles and other creatures in the abundance of the land. We are building on a strong and beautiful past. The spirit is with us at The School at Kirkridge; we are following in the footsteps of the dreams of John Oliver Nelson and those who joined him in his vision of Kirkridge.

The foundation is strong – and as a program of Kirkridge we are building on the shoulders of those who have come before us and those who lead now. We are learning from a procession of smart and imaginative people who believe that there is a kinder and gentler way to live in this world.  We have that dream for the children, too. The archives of Kirkridge describe a vision of “an educating-participating community”. The founders of Kirkridge dreamed like we dream, that the people of Kirkridge could create a movement and vision for a brighter future. Educating young people who can go into the world, both kind and capable, making a difference. We are hopeful that the barrage of testing does not stamp out the light of creativity, that children can learn as they play. We are hopeful, like the great minds that have walked the hills and valleys of this mountain, that we can help the children to go out into the world whole. We are hopeful that we can model and inspire young people to believe they can create change, beginning in their school and moving out into their communities.

Jean Vanier, humanist, philosopher, theologian, and author, says, “In children and young people a light is present. We must listen to children. We must hear what they have to say. They are people in whom that light of God exists. They will never be able to trust themselves unless someone trusts them.”  We are blessed by the support from the community of Kirkridge. We are thankful to be a part of a history that values the deep and abiding knowledge that children each have a birthright gift – one that when nurtured expands the possibility of carrying the mission of Kirkridge into the world as people of hope, compassion, justice and service.

Join us on this great journey by reading our web page, following us on Facebook or attending one of our events.

 

When Things Get in the Way
Rev. Cindy Garis


One of my favorite stories is from the Sufi tradition and speaks of water trying to cross a desert.  A fuller glimpse of this story can be found in Belden Lane’s book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes.  However, one of my favorite phrases is:
"The brook made its way down the mountainside, through small stands of cypress trees and fields of lavender-tipped purslane, down cascading falls.  It moved without effort, splashing over stones – learning that the stream interrupted by rocks is the one that sings most nobly." (emphasis mine)
We often see those interruptions, those rocks, in our lives, not as something to be cherished, but as something to be removed.  And yet, it is because of them that the music happens.  While I do not want to minimize anyone’s difficulties and struggles, I do wish to encourage a prayerful response to obstacles.
One person who responds this way to life’s “rocks” is Oasis’ Founding Mentor, Kent Ira Groff.  Recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, Kent is finding ways to share with others how to live more creatively with ambiguity and to receive the possible gifts in adversity.
You can experience Kent’s teaching here at Kirkridge on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 (9:30am – 3:30pm) by participating in his workshop:
Living Creatively with Disabilities: Mining Gifts in Diminishments
When you or someone close to you is diagnosed with a disability (ADHD, Autism, Bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s, etc.), how can you respond with resilience and creativity rather than becoming brittle or depressed? Kent will draw on his experience as a pastor, chaplain, and teacher and his own recent Parkinson’s diagnosis to facilitate insights around three themes: recognition and acceptance; courage to find transformations within limits; and living creatively with ambiguity.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me
the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Rev. Cindy Garis is Executive Director of Oasis Ministries for Spiritual Development.
To register for this day, please go to:
www.oasismin.org/Living-Creatively-With-Disabilities.htm
Or contact Betsy Keller at Oasis Ministries, 717-737-8222, betsykeller@oasismin.org.
Oasis is delighted to consider Kirkridge a Ministry Partner and to have Kirkridge as one of its primary training sites for spiritual direction.  Learn more at www.oasismin.org.

 

Choosing How to Live
By Stewart Bitkoff

Let me be perfectly clear: most if not all of the problems on this planet are caused by humanity and not caused by God/Light.

Presently this world is the way it is right now because people wish it to be this way; having set in motion natural laws which result in chaos, conflict, hunger and disease.

For a very long time now, humanity collectively has failed to acknowledge and live by the natural laws which govern our lives, physical planet and universe.

Too many voices have drowned out, with personal priorities, that each person has primary responsibility to self, family, community and larger world. Part of these responsibilities include: guarding and using our thoughts, globally sharing, protecting and helping one another.

As a species, long have we forgotten we are responsible for our thoughts, our actions, one another and our fellow living creatures. We have forgotten, we are responsible for a Magic Wand: the thoughts we think and the actions we initiate physically and through our consciousness.

Let me ask you-why must one person have six houses and another go homeless? Why must one die from starvation while tons of foods are thrown out each day? Why must one go without treatment for disease while pharmaceutical corporations rake in billions? Why must one nation refuse to share its resources with another and threaten the world with nuclear disaster?

Yes, these are conscious choices made by people each day, all creating our collective reality. Remember our thoughts and energies govern and create a vast Kingdom.

For most people, what we think, create and do each moment and day is really up to us. How we choose to live our lives and influence others, our community, and planet through our conscious thoughts and actions, is all part of the responsibility of free will choice.

Creating reality is all part of the responsibility of living as a mature, human being.

******************************************************************

Dr. Stewart Bitkoff  is an advocate of Sufi mysticism and the perennial philosophy. Professionally specializing in the healing applications of therapeutic recreation, psychiatric rehabilitation and mental health treatment; he holds a doctorate in education and served on the faculties of multiple colleges and universities. 

Stewart’s book, Sufism for the Western Seeker, published in 2011, received an honorable mention by ‘Foreword Magazine’ for Adult Non Fiction Religious Book of Year.

 

Place matters.
By Sally Z. Hare

Sense of place is one of our birthright gifts, our innate ability to connect with all the life that is around us and that has gone before us and that is to come. The journey to the undivided life begins with a sense of place. And I feel a strong sense of place at Kirkridge.

What struck me deepest on my first visit to Kirkridge was the view. The beauty, of course. But even more, I noticed that how the view changed as I stood in different places, as I moved from the Farmhouse at the base of the mountain to Turning Point, midway up the mountain, to Nelson Lodge at the top of the Kitatinny Ridge of the Pocono Mountains. Since that first visit I have seen Kirkridge many times over the years, in every season. Each time I notice something I didn’t see the last time; each time Kirkridge opens me up in ways that my inner landscape meets its outer beauty, and my perspectives deepen.  There is something about the light and the rock, the trees and the mountain, the valley and the animals, something that is more than a beautiful place.

It’s been called a thin place. In A New York Times article a few years ago, Eric Weiner wrote that a thin place allows heaven and earth to come closer. “They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.”

So what exactly makes a place thin, Weiner asks in his article. “It’s easier to say what a thin place is not. A thin place is not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things too… Thin places relax us, yes, but they also transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.”

My friend Sandie, a longtime science educator, tells me that Kirkridge is one of the places where the earth first cooled.  I love having some sense of that geological history as I stand on the Kitatinny Ridge. The name Kitatinny comes from a Lenape Native American word meaning "endless hill" or "great mountain," and I also feel a sense of the Lenape people who lived on this land more than 10,000 years ago.

So this thin place has a long history, deeply rooted in courage. Founded 74 years ago as a place where reflective practice and action for justice, the early seekers who came to Kirkridge showed great courage as they embraced the paradox of spirituality and social justice.

The word courage comes from the Latin, cor, meaning heart. When I am at Kirkridge, I feel my heart open. Yes, place matters.

                                                                                                 --- Sally Z. Hare

Sally Hare is a national facilitator of the Circle of Trust®. A lifelong teacher and learner, she is Singleton Distinguished Professor Emerita at Coastal Carolina University and president of still learning, inc. Sally has recently become Chairperson of the Kirkridge Board of Directors.

Reflections for April 2015

How Did Jesus Let Go of His Cross?

Chris Glaser

I would have been angry. And exhausted. And resentful, bitter, unforgiving. And not just of those who tortured me verbally and physically, spitting in my face, nailing me to that cross, but all those who looked away, pretending it wasn’t happening or worse, that it wasn’t important, and fearful of a similar fate if they defended me.
Those fair-weather multitudes I fed with spiritual truths and a little boy’s lunch: where were they? Those I healed with prayer and touch? Those I made glad with the egalitarian promises and parables of the kingdom of God among us?
And my disciples, cowering in hiding! Betrayed, denied, abandoned by those dearest to me, who professed to “love” me. Worse yet, they never seemed to really “get” me, never seemed to understand what I was about, never fully bought into my passion for the world and my compassion for all the little ones in this world.
No wonder I felt God-forsaken.
If it weren’t for the women who followed me and that closeted disciple Nicodemus, I would still be up on that cross, to be devoured by the birds of the air and the beasts of the field as my muscles stretched to the breaking point in the heat of the sun, my lungs gasping for air.
Now, thank God, I can rest in peace. The tomb is cool and dark, the strips of cloth hugging my wounds, the cold stone holding me, my mind and heart at rest, at rest in God. Will anything come of my sacrifice? The way I lived my life for others? The insights the Spirit spoke through my words and my ways? God only knows.
I’m glad to be away from all the noise and chaos outside. I never want to go back there again. Though, there were moments of tranquility and comfort—going up on a mountain to pray alone with God, Mary anointing my feet with a fragrant oil, the beloved disciple cuddling on my lap during our last meal. I feel sorrow for them, but I can no longer help them. I can’t get out of here; this is it.
But then to my surprise, God calls me into action again. I rise to the occasion. Each one who witnesses this resurrection is of two minds*, belief and doubt, from the first to the last. Belief will give them hope; doubt will cause despair. But this is how I let go of my cross: I choose to believe.

* Matthew’s description of witnesses to the resurrection that some believed while others doubted is better translated that each witness was of two minds. The word used literally means “standing in two places.” That is comforting.

Reflections for March 2015

A Story Hidden in Plain Sight

by Cara Haley

It was early March in New Hampshire, cold and snowy. Anytime we had some melting, the mud appeared. My mom invited me to go to the Boston Flower Show with her. We were ready for spring!
We walked into a huge exhibit hall full of beautiful gardens. There were sunny yellow daffodils, purple hyacinth, forsythia in bloom, and the sound of moving water caught our ears as we entered the hall. But what I really loved was that in every garden on display when you looked closer you saw fairies. If you hurried by, you would miss artful details of fairy houses, tea tables, tiny pools for fairy bathing: whole fairy communities hidden among the gardens. You had to slow down, look carefully and let your eyes focus on the story hidden in plain sight.
We snapped lots of pictures to share with others on our facebook pages. It was while we were taking a break to review our pictures that mom noticed the story of Jean Vanier winning the Templeton Prize. I asked her who Jean Vanier was and remembered that I had learned about the special communities he has built all over the world for people with developmental delays and mental illness to share their lives with others. People just like me living with others who don't have disabilities, living as equals, giving each other a chance to bloom. People taking time to notice the fragile, beautiful details.

Cara Haley will be 28 years old May 15.  Her mother remembers driving to the hospital for her delivery and seeing the apple trees blooming to welcome this new soul into the world.  Cara's life has been one of struggle and triumph.  She is a person who lives every day with autism; she sees the world differently than most people do.  Anxiety and depression are a part of her struggle as she tries to fit into a world which seems cold and confusing.  From the beginning, Cara has been an artist, creating her world with a variety of media, including words.  She and her cat, Emma, live in in an apartment, beautifully decorated with her art, in Concord, NH where she works part time at a church nursery and continues every day to define her place and purpose in the world. Recently Cara has been donating her paintings to fund raiser auctions for pet rescue associations.

A Chance to Bloom
Jean Vanier, an advocate for people with developmental disabilities who helped create an international network of residential communities that champion the rights of their residents, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize.
A Roman Catholic layman and a lifelong student of philosophy and theology, Vanier is best known as the founder of L'Arche, French for the Ark, a global network of communities where those with and without disabilities live side by side as equals.
The network was begun in northern France in 1964 when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him as friends. It has evolved into 147 L'Arche communities, in 35 countries.  In addition,  a support group for families of people with disabilities, known as Faith and Light, has spread to 82 countries.
In a statement at a news conference in London, Vanier, 86, said those with intellectual disabilities offer spiritual lessons and gifts to a world too driven by success and power.
 
"They are essentially people of the heart," he said. "When they meet others they do not have a hidden agenda for power or for success. Their cry, their fundamental cry, is for a relationship, a meeting heart to heart. It is this meeting that awakens them, opens them up to life, and calls them forth to love in great simplicity, freedom and openness.
"When those ingrained in a culture of winning and of individual success really meet them, and enter into friendship with them, something amazing and wonderful happens. They too are opened up to love and even to God. They are changed at a very deep level. They are transformed and become more fundamentally human."

Reflections for February 2015

Taking on the Mystery

By Robert Raines

King Lear, with daughter Cordelia in prison moments before their deaths, gives us a soaring doxology of the human vocation culminating with the invitation to “take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies. (Act V, Scene 1).”
Taking on the mystery of things is to wear it like a shawl, to put on a cloud of unknowing, to live into a luminous darkness.
We may experience the mystery as random and contingent, silent as stone in the face of human sorrow. We may question our way into a whirlwind of no answers lie Job, or feel forsaken like Jesus. But there may come moments of unexpected grace when the veil is thin and we know that we are known. The mystery is always elusive, pregnant with surprise: as the Holy Spirit, in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings”. We may entrust ourselves and all we love into the mystery, hoping that love is at the heart of the implacable silence.
Taking on the mystery is yielding to grace, letting go of all explanations, analyses, ideologies, self-images, images of God, agendas, and expectations.
Taking on the mystery is undergoing the finitude of our years, hallowing our diminishments, and living into the solitude of our own integrity.
Taking on the mystery is undergoing the pain of learning that there are no empires favored by the Holy One: not the Roman, nor the British, nor the American, nor any other.
Taking on the mystery is undergoing the grief of understanding that there are no theologies favored by the Holy One: not Judaism, nor Christianity, nor Islam, nor any other.
Taking on the mystery is acknowledging that we cannot name the mystery, though we try; that we cannot claim the mystery, though we do. The mystery names and claims us, inviting us to take it upon ourselves as if we were God’s spies.

A Beacon on the Hill

by Jean Richardson

Kirkridge, when originally designed by John Oliver Nelson, was to be a beacon on the hill. All of the buildings have at least one room shaped as a light house.  Over the years we have tried to live up to this call, sometimes with greater success than at other times.  Over the years, portions of our campus have been residential school, a recovery center; we have offered programs for the unemployed and hosted Thanksgiving dinners for families who have a parent in prison.

I just returned from the sleeping rooms of Turning Point where I found special students from Bangor Area High School hard at work vacuuming, dusting, picking up laundry and dusting. Not only were they working, they were laughing and joking with one another and their teachers.  Presently during the school year we weekly host one to three transitional work classes from the Bangor Area School District. Kirkridge has participated in this program for seven years.  Kirkridge volunteers its staff and offers its space free of charge to the district in order that they can have a community space to evaluate the job skill potential of these special young adults. None of this could be accomplished without the faithful work of Gail Shook head of housekeeping services. Over the years, all of us have watched the progress of these students and are proud they enjoy coming to Kirkridge.

Is this work sharing the light of Christ? I believe so. At the entry of Turning Point we have a Celtic Rune framed in the hallway. The last line reads "Often, Often, Often, Goes Christ in the stranger's  guise."   Kirkridge since 1942 has tried to answer the call to share light from this hill to the community and the world. Still today our work continues. As I write, I am watching two guests sit on the bench over- looking the hill engaged in a conversation.  On this sacred mountain, not only do we discover here light in one another, we are given the gift to find the inner light within ourselves.

In gratitude for your support,

        Jean Richardson

Reflections for January 2015

Experiencing the Divine

by Pat Mosunic

“Our capacity to experience the divine around us here and now in its unfolding glory and in its pain, is mysticism.” (From:  Discussions in the New Cosmology by Richard Scaine)

Recently returning from two and a half weeks in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil, this quote spoke to me and helped me understand the passionate feelings I was experiencing. On one hand, the beauty of nature and the evolving concern for the care of the Amazon, “The Lungs of the World”, coupled with the devastating greed and violent death threating abuse of the poor communities in the Amazon left me wordless.  I believe Richard Scaine gave me new insight into the meaning of mysticism.

Isn’t our experience here at Kirkridge similar in many ways?  The natural beauty that surrounds us and the loving care expressed for all people opens our hearts to hope and justice in a world highly influenced by corruption and greed.  As we pray and share our stories at Kirkridge, we hear the heartfelt need for healing by many who come with brokenness.  On a weekend retreat, the listening and respect shared by all opens the doors to support and caring that goes beyond words.

Realizing my time limitations in Brazil for the future, I now discover opportunities within the Kirkridge community to respond to the mystical challenge of appreciating the good and the beautiful while opening mind and heart to the reality of pain and suffering that surrounds us.  Sitting, sharing a meal and daring to co-create a more just world is a privilege Kirkridge offers all of us.

A WAY OF ENTERING INTO THE NEW YEAR,
SAILING WITH THE JOY OF CREATIVITY

by John Fox

WHAT THE WIND REALLY DOES

 "I thank you Father for hiding these things from the
 learned and the wise and revealing them to the
 innocent and simple"   Jesus

 The micro-fine minds of middle level managers
 shall one day transform into dandelion galaxies,
 dotting the land of Santa Clara County
 as God's technological upgrades, blown
 into the breeze by a child
 who knows that such singing
 in action is the truest religion,
 and who in innocence
 does not know that priest-executives,
 who live in only the world of right answers,
 poised and trying to rivet the sun to the sky,
 cannot follow what the wind really does
 with the sweet song of Life.

 John Fox

I am grateful to Jean Richardson for asking me to compose a message for the New Year.   I have such admiration for the work of Kirkridge, for Jean and Pat, for the sacred space they hold at Fox Gap Road in Bangor, PA.

I take a risk starting my essay with this poem – written thirty plus years ago -- but it relates to the core of my topic in this letter.   Thinking of the value of risk, John Lewis’s wonderful saying, “get into good trouble” comes to mind.  Getting into good trouble couldn’t be more necessary than right now.   Racial injustice, climate change, human trafficking, income inequality all ask for us to be good trouble-makers.

From its 1942 origin, Kirkridge held out to people a way to make good trouble.  The call was to picket and pray.

Like a picketer a poem can take a stand; its intention is to disrupt the status quo.  The poem and the poet wants hearer or reader to stop and pay attention.  The poem can do this any place and time, where ever and whenever injustice happens.  The poem is a hand-made placard lifted up to announce something important and essential; something obscured by our busyness and unconcern, something that needs to get noticed.

The poem as picket breaks down the hypnotic trance propaganda of war.   Contemporary Greek poet, Odysseus Elytis, said it like this:

I have something incomprehensible to say,
like birdsong in the time of war.
Odysseus Elytis

The healing poem is also a way to pray: joining pen and paper with the magic of word and voice/breath, a simple path is made that welcomes and helps sustain an open heart.  In turn, that open heart makes a place for your authentic voice to reach for light and take root.  That authentic voice, by its nature, honors interiority and invites – sometimes cries out for – connection.   So much of what we are seeking is this, connection.   We can begin to notice and feel what the wind really does.
I understand that through social media there is a liberating communication possible for people, particularly for those who are oppressed and separated from one another by a society/government that wields fear and intimidation.  People can find one another freer of that oppression.  This way of connecting beyond such an iron-fisted grasp grows and expands our awareness of each other and of the planet we live on.  It is a useful and heartening tool to be sure!

Yet it is not clear to me how much soul-making and the actual building of a beloved community is facilitated by technological advances, or more accurately, and perhaps ominously, the explosions in technology.
What does this over-reliance do to our capacity to gather up courage?  Or create a place of solitude within ourselves?  What about helping us with the humility and inspiration that comes from not knowing -- because we are willing to let ourselves be touched by, even feel the great and sometimes disturbing impact of mystery?
 
By solitude and courage, humility and inspiration, mystery and not knowing, I mean a direct experience you cannot Google!
As someone who is yet to own a “smart phone” I am getting more and more uncomfortable with what I see as the daily, minute by minute, addictive reliance on these “hand-held” gadgets. We are fascinated by them? at the expense, I feel, of genuine, creative and vulnerable human connection.

Not only human connection but in relationship
with creatures,
with the whole natural world,
with our inner world (sans silicon!)
with the place (at any given moment) we are in.

We see something inexorable about how things are going.  I am increasingly aware of how out of the mainstream I am!   At a point like this, as a way to side-step irritation, even anger, I turn to humor and irony to help me cope better and more, recover my spirit and perspective.
 
For humor: I fear my discomfort will one day result in the following diagnosis and I imagine this ending up in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  In advance of receiving that diagnosis,? I herewith compose the details of it for you:
People with Techno-Antisocial Misanthrope Disorder (756.4) suffer from delusional beliefs in the importance of eye contact and the significance of the handwritten word. They are known to stand in lines of people and fail (or refuse) to hold a communication device, let alone hold it in front of their faces, clearly demonstrating a defiant and disruptive unwillingness to participate in normal behavior. In more extreme cases, people who fall under the 756.4 diagnosis will actually voice these histrionic “concerns” in public and this may be related to a wide-range of thought disorders so often associated with this diagnosis.

My joking around is only partly not serious!  A little while ago, when I was second in line at the local Le Boulanger cafe, the guy in front of me (twenty-something) rather than stepping up to give his order to Jose who was standing patiently at the register, this guy continued to thumb type his way through cyberspace.  It felt plain rude to me.
 
First, I looked at Jose’s patient face. Then, I exhorted this fellow to forsake his selfishness and get with it!  “You’re up buddy!” I said. He looked up from his smart phone and said to me, rather clinically, “There is something wrong with you.”
No doubt, there is.
 
I am proud how this work with poetry-as-healer affords people a path to grow with simpler technologies.  Pen and paper! Our true need for this simple path of the open heart and authentic voice will, I pray, never diminish.  Yet our need is not always in sync with our preoccupations and the force of what corporate hypnotism does to stoke that preoccupation, which are of great financial benefit to corporations so in love with mass conformity.

Still, because of a child blowing a dandelion, because of what the wind really does, I have hope.  That is, at the core of my being, I choose to do what I can to feed and encourage listening to this authentic voice, to make a place for us to pay attention to this opening of heart.
Yours.  Mine.  The one we do not yet know, the one who is sitting right next to us.

This fall I attended a talk by Matthew Fox about his new book on Meister Eckhart. Fox gave a great image of hope.  He said hope comes with sleeves rolled-up.  I like a poetry that shows up with rolled up sleeves. I welcome a poem whose elbows are bent, ready to carry something, someone.

…The secret of life
is love, that casts its wing
over all suffering, that takes
in its arms the hurt child,
rises green from the fallen seed.
from a poem by Gregory Orr

I’ll suggest another image for hope.  Hope is a power that we barely see and because of this it does significant work, almost in secret.  You won’t hear about poetry-as-healer on CNN.  No commentator or pundit gives poetry credit for the power and beauty it delivers every day.  But nearly invisible, like yeast, poetry, when given voice, kneads its magic into our fibers and raises us up body, mind and soul.
I’d like to offer you a concrete example of some one practicing courage and hope, of soul-making and concern for the beloved community.  Sharing this here, in this new year message, through the Kirkridge community, is my way of reaching out to you to something that should matter to each of us.

This year I have been in conversation with Karina Epperlein about her film Finding the Gold Within.  Karina, with poetic grace, considerable grit and meticulous attention, gathers in a feature length film the rich lives of six young Black men.   Finding the Gold Within is one of the truly timely things happening in our country.  Karina’s directors statement puts it this way:

"Finding the Gold Within probes what it means to be young, Black, male, and "other." The project comes with a rare kind of intimate access - an unusual opportunity. It initiated in me the filmmaker a clear, strong vision: young Black men who have been prepared and are ready to navigate the world in non-ordinary ways. It seems the right time to look deeper, to give voice to those marginalized; we all know the abysmal statistics. What better way than through personal stories?"

What I love about this work is the way Karina steps deeply into these stories and the lives of these young men.  Many times she has been able to fly them to attend premiers and screenings of this film so they can be present and talk with people.   Finding the Gold Within is about them, these young men, their families, their life path.
Yet, as close as Karina gets (and this is the magic!) she simultaneously gets out of the way.  Karina told me that African-American audiences have appreciated the un-interfering means by which these stories are told, especially the absence of cliché.  I had the good fortune to spend a weekend with her when she was filming some of the sacred circle work with Alchemy, Inc. in Akron, OH.  Holding the camera, I saw she was at once light on her feet and unflinchingly steady.   She says further:
“The young men are allowing us to have an intimate look, but they are also looking back at us. Cinematically, the film is exploring America's historically embedded fear of "blackness." Each young man is on his unique path: how can he break free of the worldwide stereotypes of African American men? Can he find the gold within? The willingness of our six protagonists to be fully awake, to struggle and create new cultural identities, individually and collectively, will inspire us all.”
 

One of the young men wrote this in his journal:
Now is when we have to step up, abolish stereotypes and expectations; finding the treasure chest in our chests and the valves cased in our voice box - we have a voice.
— excerpt from the writing of Alex, 17, Participant in Alchemy, Inc. Akron, Ohio
When I consider the gifts of Finding the Gold Within, I am reminded of something feminist and poet Adrienne Rich said:
I feel that participation with others in creating a way of life that would give all of us respect, and the joy of creativity in all senses, need not be a burden.

 

When the film was given a premier screening in Oakland, at its conclusion, Avon Kirkland, an esteemed elder Black producer and director, reflected on his experience of seeing it:

 

I rose in the audience and thanked Karina Epperlein for her insightful and moving documentary. Finally we had a film that reveals the often difficult inner lives and striving of black male teenagers. In stark contrast to the stereotype, these young Black men find within themselves a sense of authentic self-worth and learn to avoid self-destructive behaviors.

 

But as I was making those remarks I felt a great sadness welling up inside me, so much so that I finally had to pause to avoid weeping.  As I recognized what I was feeling I shared it with the audience: as a now elderly Black man raised and educated in the segregated South, and as an a Black PhD graduate student in a predominately white university, I had encountered the very same problems as Karina's subjects fifty years ago! In those fifty years so much and yet so little had changed.  We’ve got more work to do….

Avon Kirkland, Producer, Director (Ralph Ellison: An American Journey (AMERICAN MASTERS), Simple Justice (AMERICAN EXPERIENCE)

If this subject, that is so pertinent today in our country – that Black lives matter – and in particular as a way to learn something about the lives of young Black men mattering, if this moves you, I hope you will read about the work of Karina Epperlein: GoldTheFilm.com

Let me return to where I began, something about the sweet song of Life. I would hope that in this fresh year, we set aside our technology to discover and feel what the wind really does.  Feel it upon your cheeks. See what happens around you.  Here is a New Year’s invitation: take this: What the Wind Really Does…and let it be the title for your own poem.

What I wish for you in 2015 is this: in whatever form that brings you satisfaction, uplift, healing and wholeness go deeply with something creative, sail with the joy of creativity.  May you touch the lives of others with this creative joy.

Sincerely Yours,

John Fox
author of Finding What You Didn’t Lose: Expressing Your Truth and Creativity Through Poem-Making,  Founder, The Institute for Poetic Medicine

p.s. Kirkridge offers opportunities for this joy of creativity!  In fact, I’ll participate in such a gathering called Bread for the Journey: A Celebration of Poetry  and the Human Spirit September 30 – October 3, 2015.   Others joining include the creator of this retreat, Michael Glaser along with Judy Brown, Renita Sheesley Banks, Evie Shockley, Jim Rogers, Kathleen Glaser and Naomi Shihab Nye.

Reflections for December 2014

Another Advent
The Church is well into its new year.  A colleague at Drew observed that whereas the secular year ends with overindulgence and begins with a hangover, the Christian year begins in hope and ends in the fulfilment of the Feast of Christ the King, the celebration of the Reign of Christ.  Whatever the shape of the passing year—this has been a difficult one for our country and the world—seeking to muster hope would seem the better response as we leave behind the old and embrace the new.
So we look for signs of hope, however worn or fragile: the birth of a child; people in love and homes at peace; confidence that wintry trees will turn green again in spring;  great and simple acts of human generosity.  These signs encourage us and kindle our hopes, especially in this season of good cheer and annual generosity.
Some will choose the path of avoidance or escape.  Wouldn’t it surprise you if in answer to your question “What are you doing for Christmas?” you heard “Why, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus”?   We could no doubt do that in Las Vegas or on Old Broadway.  But there is something else afoot ,  something closer to the extravagances of December in America. Anyone attempting to keep an Advent of watching and waiting will understand.
Now doesn’t this sound crabby, even short on hope?  We might do well, however, to listen to the great preacher of Advent, John the Baptist. He takes the pulpit on two of Advent’s four Sundays. On both Days his message is clear: pay attention to how you are living. Do not hesitate to take a new direction, to repent and live out the Gospel.  This is a time, he declares, to get serious.
Christmas presents to us the Hope of the world, God taking our human form, coming among us to share our troubled lot. What would that mean to us if we took to heart, for example,  the report last week from the Lima Conference that in the near future the temperature of the earth will rise by 3.6%. Once that mark is reached, there would be no turning back and the end of humanity would come into view. Knowing that, how might we keep another Advent, celebrate the Birth of Christ?   -Charles Rice, former member of the Kirkridge Board

Reflections for November 2014

Reflection for Thanksgiving

This is the season of gathering around table. This week our tables will be both large and small and have places for friends, family and perhaps a person or two whom we have never met. There will be familial conversation, recent tales and stories of old.
 
Over the years of serving as director of Kirkridge I have come to realize it is always the season to gather around table on this mountain. It is truly one of the rare and wonderful gifts we offer every day of the year to our long-time Kirkridge family and those guests coming for the first time.
 
Ponder this for a moment: Guests at the Farmhouse have been gathering around the same tables for over 70 years. Those wooden tables are blessed with years of conversation concerning deep theological issues, tragedies of far too many wars, dreams of creating a kinder world and the challenges of decades come and gone. If the tables could speak, they would tell tales of high adventures and of human tragedy, of hardship and of love.
 
Not long ago, I was sitting with a group of long-time Kirkridge guests at the Farmhouse. One cold Sunday morning around the same tables I listened to their stories of coming to Kirkridge and what a formative place it was in their lives. For this group of young GLBTQ women and men Kirkridge has not only welcomed them when the church did not, it provided for them a beacon of hope in their lives.   
 
The Agape retreat has been more than an annual retreat; for many of its participants it has served as a lifeline through the years. Neill Johnson and Grace Fala, witnessing the damage that the mainline church and culture was having on the spirits of young GLBTQ women and men, decided to host their first Agape retreat in 1994 under the leadership of Robert Raines. Every year, Grace and Neill have provided steady, prophetic and loving leadership to this program. This year the Agape participants, now older, gifted Kirkridge with $2,100.00 out of gratitude for the many times the table was open to them through the years.
 
This Thanksgiving I will be sharing my Thanksgiving meal at the Farmhouse around the same tables. When prayers of gratitude are said, I will think of many of you who over years past have gathered and graced these special tables.  I will take time to give thanks for the gift of sharing meals with many of you--the courageous, prophetic and loving men and women of Kirkridge. You have inspired me to walk with faith in darkness, challenged me to learn from the wisdom of the past and offered through many seasons lifelines to sacred possibility. You will be with me at the table. While we might not always sit around the same physical table, we are a Kirkridge family and that is a gift of God to be celebrated.
 
Happy Thanksgiving.

The Courageous Leap

By Katherine Ferrara

I wrote the following poem while going through many transitions all at once; including-  moving; watching my children grow up and into a new phase of life; and losing / taking care of aging parents. Change is hard but it is inevitable. The world around us changes --and, at the same time, we change- day by day.  The Earth turns, our cells die and regenerate, and each day -we wake up a day older and changed from the day before.

The TIP group is a source of support and encouragement to those of us who deal with the uncertainty of our children's futures. Sometimes we must hold in our hearts and advocate for the dreams of the young adult not able to express it themselves. Each day, we learn together to take the courageous leap toward change and growth for our precious children.

The oak tree stood
mighty and proud and all knowing (but not really)
Until the thunderous storms blew through
The tree shook and rattled
And nearly lost most of its leaves (but not all)
 
Seasons of sunshine and moonlight
Of sweltering and shivering
 alternating
with a balmy refreshing breeze (and it was grand)
 
When the winds of change came -
Slowly and all at once
Threatening to uproot and displace that tree
It held firm once again  (well,  it tried)
but that time
the tree just
finally
gave
up
Leaf by leaf by leaf,  letting them all fall to the ground
 
Later
 the mighty but naked tree
Stood tall and waited
and waited some more
In the piercing silence
For the fresh new buds of Spring

Reflections for October 2014

Fannie Lou Hamer electrified the nation with her testimony to the Democratic nation convention in August of 1964.  This glorious woman who had been jailed and beaten and threatened because she was committed to justice for Negroes, especially in Mississippi, quickened the conscience of at least part of America.  On national television she said, “I question America, is this America, teh land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our phones off the hook because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?

I have just returned from the 50th anniversary reunion of staff and volunteers who went to Mississippi to open up Mississippi to justice, to call Mississippi to respect the rights of all human beings, to demand as best as we could that Christian Mississippi repent of its horrendous sins, to stand with the heroic folks of Mississippi who had been struggling, sacrificing and dying for way too long.

I attended Wesleyan University.  Martin Luther King had come to our campus after the Birmingham bombing and before the assassination of JFK.  He called me into the movement.  So in the spring of 1964, when student volunteers were being recruited, I signed on.  We trained in Oxford, Ohio.  James Forman, the leader of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee, organized a simulation for us so we understood what might happen if we demonstrated at a county court house and a mob gathered and attacked us. Photos of the training show Andrew Goodman in a black t-shirt listening intently.  I am wearing a white t-shirt standin