Monday, January 28, 2013

Faith in Community

Woman Who Builds Community
I follow a blog by Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor of an interesting faith community in Colorado, and sometimes her sermons just leave me thinking, "Wow!"  This one really made sense to me and I encourage my readers to go listen to it, or read it as she offers it.  Basically she addresses how faith is a spiritual gift - one of many many and that we don't all have it, nor do we need to all have it.  That's the benefit of community - we share our various gifts.

I know so many people who don't go to church or temple any more - they don't think they belong because their "faith" isn't strong enough.  Some aren't interested - and that's ok.  But some I've talked to feel that as pain,  they miss a congregation.

I know others who say - "I don't need to go to church.  I can talk to God anywhere, I find him most in the woods, in nature, etc. "  All true - we can find God all over the places, sometimes in the most unexpected places.

But for many of us, who have some belief, it's the community that we long for, just because it is where we find support and encouragement for the times we lose it.

One of my stories is that many years ago when I first started attending church after a long absence, I was going through particularly difficult times.  I remember being in the pew, asking for help at the time that the congregation was offering a communal prayer.  I tried to join in but my voice caught in my throat and I couldn't.  I started crying silently.  There was a family sitting behind me and the man had a very deep voice.  What I noticed was the vibration of his prayer in my chest.  I had an overwhelming sensation that it was ok that I couldn't say what I wanted to, that someone else was doing it for me.  It was one of a number of small instances, easily explained away as "wishful thinking" or some other justification to dismiss a holy moment.

Not everyone needs church or faith.  There are many other ways to be in community.  What is important is to figure out what we do need for our own nourishment and growth, and then to make those connections happen.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Prayer Flags

As I spent time in the last couple weeks of 2012, trying to maintain a balance of  remembrance for the lives that had been lost in the Newtown shootings, with a sense and duty of joy that the promise of Christmas offers, I decided to make prayer flags to hang on my porch.  My reasoning was that I didn't want to be in a state of constant vigil, but I also didn't want to forget.  I wanted  to keep these precious  people in mind; if there were actions that could be taken to prevent such happenings, I wanted to be mindful and responsive.

In some of the news reports, I read that there were at least twelve somewhat similar events of killings in the US in 2012.  So I looked those up.  And then there were natural disasters throughout the world, where hundreds of lives had been lost.  And I decided to mark those, too, though I couldn't use individual names, of course.

On New Year's Day Al and I went to a special concert organized by Amy McTear that was a beautiful way to release pain and sadness and embrace the blessings of the new year.  Early in the concert she chanted a Yoruba grief prayer: "Mother, hold me.  This is hard.
                                                                                                  Earth, hold me.  This is hard.
                                                                                                  Help me."
It was simple and powerful, reminding me of the cry of all who have lost loved ones to violence, illness, anything that feels like unbearable sorrow.  Using this prayer interspersed with the names of people or events felt right.

As I've explained this project to friends, I've tried to justify it in my own mind.  Making the flags, looking up the names, reading obituaries or news reports of the cyclones, hurricanes, etc. has deepened my sense of compassion, in all these situations.  I find I'm more sensitive to reading the daily weather reports, paying attention to not only what goes on locally, but also, thinking of those who live under threat in different parts of the world.  As I come and go from my house, I think about the people represented, their families;  sometimes it is just to consider a more general group, sometimes I take time to read a few names.  The flags increase my appreciation for  children on their way to school, people driving to work, folks heading out to see a movie.  And hopefully the cheerful colors recall the brightness of the lives that were cut short; reminding me to appreciate more fully the lives of those in my communities.

I will make more flags, a series on blessings. And they will fly with the sorrows - reminding me that we give thanks in all our days.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany Parchesi

Today is Epiphany, the day in the Christian church when we celebrate the "showing forth" of the Christ child.  It is now that the story tells of the arrival of the Magi, the Three Kings; though it could be just a grand story, there could have been more kings, maybe there were some queens - who knows?  But the story has a purpose that goes beyond facts.

I teach a Sunday School class of first to third graders.  I like to plan activities that will help them engage in the stories we tell.  Nothing in our teacher's guide was grabbing me so I turned to a book I have on my shelves - To Dance with God, by Gertrud Mueller Nelson.  And she had the perfect solution - a suggestion to make an Epiphany Parchesi game.  I had fun putting it together.   She suggested drawing in a simple pathway, adding some pictures, and designating some squares with hazards or good luck.  A nice feature is that you can play the game with as many children as are present, just by adding more buttons for tokens.    Since the teacher of the pre -k/kindergarten class was sick, we absorbed those children into the game, too - and the kids seemed to have a fun time with it.

The game allowed us to imagine what a journey like that might entail - sandstorms, mountains, deserts, the night sky.  It gave the children time to tell what they knew about the story.  I was really pleased with how well it worked for a multi age group, and how much they got into it.  I really loved seeing their imaginations at work.  We may play it again.  Or we may come up with other versions - and they could plan the hazards and gifts that advance the traveller.