We Are All Just Walking Each Other Home

We are all just walking each other home,”  Ram Dass [2]

This pathway and vista off into the distance offer an image of the Pilgrimage of Compostela, which in English is the Way of St James.    A network of paths or pilgrim ways leads to the shine of the Apostle St. James the Great, in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.    Along with Jerusalem and Rome, the route along the Camino de Santiago is known as one of the three great pilgrimages of Christendom.

Wrote the spiritual teacher and author, Ram Dass, “We are all just walking each other home.”   While all of us are on a spiritual journey, Dass perceived that each of us (whether consciously or not) is on a path leading us back to our source.   Wrote another, “Even if you do not believe in life as a spiritual journey or take solace in the notion of an afterlife, the concept of walking each other home is important.   It’s what holds us together.” [3]

Emerging from the isolation of a two-plus-year pandemic, compounded by economic uncertainty, political unrest, unleashed aggression, and the unraveling of our planetary home, is it possible to hold one’s self together?  Or, as evidenced by the centuries-old practice of pilgrimage and communicated by spiritual teachers, writers, and poets, we’re not meant to take all this in alone.   What if instead, despite the brevity of our lives and the frailty of creation, we’re summoned to accompany each other on life’s way, bringing out the best in one another while doing all that we can in the time given us?

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the wake of so much loneliness and despair, open our eyes to see others on the road before, alongside, and behind us.    Teach us that holiness (wholeness) was never intended a private, super-religious affair but one that asks that we look to the welfare of the other….wherever on the journey they may be.  Remind us, that we are all just walking each other home.   We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

[1]  Photo courtesy of Patrick Mills.  The photo was taken on June 5, 2017, near O Pino, Spain on the Camino de Santiago.

[2] Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying, September 2018

[3] Carol Cassandra, https://sixtyandme.com/how-life-is-a-journey-of-just-walking-each-other-home/, adapted

Seeking Refuge: A Reflection & Prayer for the Peoples of Ukraine

 

“In scenes reminiscent of the Blitz, adults, children, and dogs hide from airstrikes, seeking refuge in bomb shelters and subway stations.” [2]

During World War II, an intense bombing campaign was waged against the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany.    For eight months, the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on London and other strategic cities across Britain, from September 7, 1940, through May 11, 1941.    Remembered as Black Saturday, on the first day of the Blitz alone, 430 people were killed and 1,600 were badly injured.

Wrote organizer, educator, and reformer, Saint Boniface, “O God, you have been our refuge in all generations.”  But what of those fleeing war’s aggression?  Or for those unable to take flight from the encroaching chaos and mayhem?    When wanton cruelty and its destructiveness encroach upon and violate the land, what recourse does the most vulnerable, human and creature alike, have?

Martyred in 754 by an armed group of robbers, the aged Boniface was murdered along with 54 others who accompanied him.     Still, his words attesting to God’s faithfulness in the face of aggression and terror remain: urging us to continue to demand justice and mercy for the oppressed, exercise unfailing advocacy for those distant as well as near, while praying that all of God’s children and creation itself, be afforded refuge’s blessing.

Prayer: God who dwells in places of refuge, be with the peoples of Ukraine, we pray.    Yet for those not in destruction’s path, compel us to be nothing less than fierce advocates and champions of the oppressed.   So that together with those distant and near, all may savor your refuge, under the shadow of thy wings and within the hallowed gates of sanctuary.   Amen.

[1] Image from Daily Mail Online

[2] Adapted from CNN’s Chief International Correspondent, Clarrisa Ward

Desert Solitaire

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit”
Edward Abbey, author of Desert Solitaire. 

Some years ago, I explored Death Valley National Park; a wind-swept terrain bordering the Great Desert Basin.  Covering three million acres, it is one of the hottest places on earth.   Yet it also possesses unparalleled majesty, made all the more intoxicating by an exquisite but at times unsettling silence. 

“Silence is God’s first language,” wrote the late Catholic Priest and author, Thomas Keating, “…everything else is just poor translation.”     While it would be decades before I encountered the practice of Centering Prayer, which cultivates an interiority of silence, the wilderness was my first teacher.    As God’s First Testament, wild spaces find their way into the chasm of the human soul.  Untethered, they speak words of silence.   Yeilding to Creation itself, they pronounce peace, even when all seems lost.

Prayer: Loving God who meets us in the wild places but who also encounters us in silence, be with us in our wanderings and in our searching.  So that we may discover once again the inviolable relationship between ourselves and grounded earth.

Perfectionism’s Falsehood

 

“If there is such a thing as human perfection, it is…how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.”

Mused the famed, late astrophysicist, Stephen Hawkings, “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect.  Perfectionism simply doesn’t exist…[for] without imperfection neither you nor I would exist.”   He went on to explain that without gravity, our universe would not have evolved from simple, rudimentary elements to heavier, more complex compounds.   Yet gravity cannot function without imperfection.

If gravity is not only what keeps us functionally grounded but is the force that provides for a stable, viable existence – then what does this say about imperfection?  What if imperfection is not only a cosmic reality but is a far more truthful enterprise than our maddening quest for the perfect?   What if our aim for the perfect is not only an enemy of the good but is an affront to the genuine, the true, and the authentic?

The Franciscan author and speaker, Richard Rohr, suggests that “…if there is such a thing as human perfection, it is how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own.   Imagine if we perceived imperfection, not as a prelude to mediocrity, but a more faithful rendering of the real?   What if imperfection, like gravity, does more to hold us together than we realize?

Divine Maker, when I’m convinced that nothing less than the perfect will do, place me back on the path of the good, the genuine, and the true.  Amen.

 

O Tannebaum, O Christmas Tree

“…The forest keeps different time; slow hours as long as your life…So you feel more human; persuaded what you are by wordless breath of wood, reason in resin…Ah, you thought love [applied only to humans] till you lost yourself in the forest…these grave and patient saints…pray and pray and suffer your little embrace.Forest, by Carol Ann Duffy, the Scottish poet

This holiday season, as we hastily adorn living rooms, front porches, and workplaces with either real or artificial pine trees – what if we’re also trying to feel more human?   Yes, the Christmas tree is a much-beloved holiday tradition.  But what if trees, “these grave and patient saints,” actually slow us down, calm our fears and provide a canopy of beneficence unnamed but longed for?

Imagine if our yearnings for continuity, and to be in close proximity with those whom we love – also points to this ineffable but ancient connection to all of nature itself, and in particular, trees?   What if something seemingly common and expendable as a tree – holds not only the link to our distant past – but grasps the key to our future?

In the nineteenth century, German composer Ernst Anschutz wrote a traditional folk song, O Tannebaum, which translated means, O Fir Tree.  Later it was adapted as a Christmas carol, giving voice to our yearning:

“O Tannebaum, O Christmas Tree, how lovely are thy branches!”  O Tannebaum, O tannebaum, how lovely are thy branches!”

In this Season of Advent, be with us, Divine Maker, so that we may behold our kinship with all of creation as you ordained it, including trees.  Amen.

 

 

When You’re Summoned to Write to Your Representative(s)

Dear Readers and Friends:

In response to the humanitarian and environmental crisis that continues to unfold in occupied Palestine and the egregious loss of lives on both sides, I’ve written to representatives concerning the passage of HR 2590.   It is a bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.   I would encourage you to consider reaching out to your representatives as well.   A copy of the letter is below:

May 19, 2021

The Honorable Senator…(followed by address)

RE: H.R. 2590 A Bill to promote and protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and to ensure that US taxpayer funds are not used by the Government of Israel to support the military detentions of Palestinian children, the unlawful seizure, appropriation, and destruction of Palestinian property and forcible transfer of civilians in the West Bank, or further annexation of Palestinian land in violation of international law.

 Dear Senator…,

My name is Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle.  Ordained in the United Church of Christ,  I am an Environmental Justice advocate whose work includes challenging the systemic impact of unjust and predatory practices directed against communities of color, indigenous, and other vulnerable populations.  In particular, the occupation and aggression against Palestine and Palestinians in favor of illegal Israeli settlements, has devastated the already limited water supply, uprooted established agriculture, accelerated soil erosion, and has increased toxic waste and dumping.

I support this bill for the following reasons:

1) As we strive to reposition ourselves as a world leader in terms of humanitarian rights, holding the Government of Israel or any nation that benefits from US taxpayer funding accountable, is paramount: Humanitarian Rights at the Center of Current US Policy

2) Along these same humanitarian lines, the displacement of Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlements, violates international law: Violation of International Law.

3) The continued occupation and aggression against the Palestinian peoples including the illegal seizure of their property, has devastated arable land, led to the depletion of water resources and increased toxic waste and dumping: Environmental Degradation of Land Due to Occupation

On a personal note, I saw this flagrant violation of the land and its people firsthand when visiting Palestine several years ago.    Traveling with a seminary delegation, we stayed overnight with Palestinian families in occupied Bethlehem, toured a Palestinian farm whose lush olive trees were later uprooted by Israeli soldiers, and met advocates who against overwhelming odds sought to provide a measure of protection and well-being for their communities.   Throughout our visit, the barrier that cut deep into Palestinian-occupied territory loomed large.  Still, through it all, I observed an unparalleled commitment to human dignity, was afforded generous hospitality, and experienced a quality of kindness that touched me deeply.

As a minister, advocate, and constituent, I urge you to support the passage of this bill.   Given the current escalation of violence in this region, I believe this bill addresses some of the root causes behind it.   As your constituent, I would appreciate knowing where you stand, relative to this issue and in particular, this bill.

Thank you, Senator…, in advance for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle, (followed by your address)

 

 

Earth Day and the Spring Song of Justice

Commemorating the 51st anniversary of Earth Day while speaking to the “spring song” of justice long-denied for those in the black community, a poem by the late African-American poet, Langston Hughes.  Given the events of this past week, his words are timely.
               An Earth Song 
            It’s an earth song,
                    And I’ve been waiting long for an earth song.
                  It’s a spring song,
                     And I’ve been waiting long for a spring song.
                        Strong as the shoots of a new plant
                        Strong as the bursting of new bud
                        Strong as the coming of the first child from its mother’s womb.
                  It’s an earth song,
                     A body song,
                     A spring song,
                    I have been waiting long for this spring song.

Changing God’s Mind

 

Book of Jonah - YouTube

 “When God saw that the people had changed, how they turned from their destructive ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that would be brought upon them.”   Jonah 3:10

How often does God change God’s mind?

The story of Jonah is recorded not as an account but parable.   Here, a prophet called, Jonah, after emerging from the “belly of a whale” astonishingly succeeds.  Cut to the heart by the prophet’s warning, the entire city mends its ways.   When seeing that the people had turned from their evil ways, God changes his mind and spares the city.

But what if God wasn’t poised to destroy the city of Nineveh?  What if Nineveh, like the fall of the Roman empire or the rampant deforestation leading to the collapse of Easter Island and Norse Greenland, were well on their way to destroying themselves?  What if the figure of God in this parable and elsewhere, isn’t bent on bringing about the destruction of whole civilizations as much as trying to get our attention – using prophets like Jonah  – before it is too late?

Prayer: God of the Whale and the Dolphin, who broods over the waters of the deep, in your steadfast love summon us to make amends for the harm we have committed against each other and this planet we call home.   Teach us to turn from the violence that readily insinuates itself into every corner of human life.   Quell our voracious appetite for hoarding, while abolishing the meanness that festers and the parsimony that corrupts.

 In your mercy, transform us by thy grace.  So that you can change your mind about us, once more.  Amen.

 

 

Stepping into the Woods

 

Stepping into the woods and down a narrow path of gnarled branches on both sides, within the span of a heartbeat I entered nature’s womb.   Sometimes straight, other times the trail would veer off and curve into an unbidden direction.   Though not sure what lay ahead nevertheless I walked on, held fast by its raw but tender embrace.

Wrote the psalmist, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” [2]  Though heavy-laden with grief, the tightly knit trees, and forest floor held fast incarnating the Spirit’s embrace.    Lovingly hemmed in from all sides, the sweet caress of your hand was upon me and this sojourner felt secure once more.

Creation’s Glory, be upon us this day and those ahead, we pray.   Lay your hand upon us, and smooth our furrowed brows.    Through your incarnation, surround and sustain our broken hearts, so that we may be strengthened for the work that lies before us.    For just as the path before us is uncertain, hem us in from all sides – so that whatever we say or do – will illuminate your mercy, justice, and steadfast love.  We ask all this in Christ’s name.  Amen.

[1] Photo image by Barry McArdle, Fells Reservation

[2] from Psalm 139:5

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