“You don’t have to prove anything…”

“‘You don’t have to
prove anything,’ my mother said.
‘Just be ready
for what God sends.'”
William Stafford, his final poem, written on the morning of his death

William Stafford came from a highly literate family, even though his determinative years emerged during the depression.  Nor did he have the advantage of growing up and attending schools in the same setting.  Instead, his father moved his family from town to town in search of work.  To help out, young William worked as an electrician’s apprentice, delivered newspapers, worked in sugar beet fields, and raised vegetables.    Perhaps, despite being frequently uprooted, the tasks of everyday work, along with reading and paying attention even to the ordinary, proved to be formative.

“You don’t have to prove anything,” his mother had once told him.  “Just be ready for what God sends.”   Written on the morning of his death, these words reflect a man for whom attentiveness and readiness were an indelible hallmark of his writing.    Be it a grassy riverbank, the rustle of leaves on a sturdy oak, the brilliance of stars in the night sky, inflections of speech, or musing on the wisdom of Native Americans, his parents, and other writers, his was a life that “followed that golden thread” to where it would lead him.   His legacy as a writer, a poet, and a conscientious objector, was forged through being ready for what God might send.

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the face of the unraveling of our planet and, at times, our lives, remind us that we don’t have to prove anything.    Instead, teach us to be attentive and ready for what you might send, for this is where your Message of consolation, encouragement, and strength is made real.  Resting in the assurance of your boundless love, we pray this in all the holy names of God. Amen.

 

 

God is always needing to be born…

 

“We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the Divine Son takes place unceasingly but not within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, but I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and culture?” Meister Eckhart

Eckhart was ahead of his time. So it shouldn’t surprise us that his preaching and teaching in 13th/14th century Germany was considered, at best, scandalous.   Considered a heretic by the church hierarchy, the suggestion that the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, having been born in the person of Jesus, still needed to be delivered elsewhere was shocking. Deemed unorthodox and, thereby, dangerous, Eckhart was summoned to be brought before the Inquisition.

But what if God needs to be born time and time again…and by each of us no less? What if, as scandalous as this may sound, “we are all meant to be mothers of God?” If this is so, the implications are nothing less than profound! Imagine if the practice of genuine forgiveness – is nothing less than birthing the grace of God? Imagine if making honest amends for whatever wrong we’ve done can usher in the holy? What if helping an elder cross a busy intersection, giving a weary store cashier a warm smile, or protecting a section of forest from further development, can birth God?

Prayer: Divine Maker, In the wake of so much sorrow and isolation, you summon us to be nothing less than mothers of God. We give thanks that your summons is not in opposition to a life of freedom, joy, and peace…but attests to the luminescent reality that the Kingdom of God dwells within. We pray this in all the holy names of God. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

The Blessing of the Longest Night

This is the night when you can trust,
that any direction you go,
you will be walking toward the dawn.  [2]

Can we trust that the direction we’re headed will get us there?   How about those times when we were certain that the path was the right one…only to discover that we’ve lost our way?     What of those times when we’re unsure what lies beyond the bend?

But to the ancients, Winter Solistice signified that despite missteps and misfortune, something altogether mysterious was afoot.   From the neolithic structures in England and Ireland, the worship of the gods Apollo and Saturn by the ancient Greeks and Romans, observances by the Native Americans, and the ancient Persian festival of Shab-e Yalda, this union of awareness emerges and takes hold.   Even when Christianity emerged onto the world scene, ancient winter solstice celebrations became incorporated into Christmas.

What, then, is the Blessing of the Longest Night?    Though the world’s peoples are separated by geography and culture; language and religion; ethnicity, national identity, and borders; the longest night ushers in a shared human experience.   A shared experience marked by a sense of wonder and celebration.    Despite all that divides us as the human family,   for the briefest moments, we become one.   A union and blessing that walks us and all creation toward a new dawn and a new beginning.

[1] Image by SASCHA SCHUERMANN Credit: AFP/Getty Images

[1] An excerpt from Jan L. Richardson’s poem, Blessing for the Longest Night.

 

 

When You Can’t Pray….

“Often the longings of prayer, are diffused and muted longings,
that one barely feels at all.” [1]

How can one pray, when there isn’t the remotest desire or longing to do so?  For that matter, how can anyone fall back on prayer when they’re painfully aware of its insufficiency?    In the face of so much unnecessary suffering, exploitation, and violence, why even suggest this practice (other than not knowing what else to do or say)?

Writes author, James Finley, “There is, it seems, a deal that [our] heart makes with itself, so as NOT to admit that it harbors a longing so deep that it can’t continue…” [2]  What I think he speaks of here, is that ironclad agreement we make with ourselves – often without being consciously aware of it.   For when the mowing down of civilians is routinized; human and civil rights systematically usurped; forests, rivers, and its creatures plundered; institutions routinely violated, and fascism lauded by those in public office – is it any wonder we’ve learned to cope by shaking our heads and doing what we can to get through another day?

Yet when you’re worn out, and you can’t pray or even want to for that matter, could recognizing this be a new beginning?    Yes, the great sages and mystics throughout the ages gifted us with meaningful and beautifully composed prayers, but their stories are incomplete if we forget their own struggles. Perhaps, as James Finley has observed, “…despite their doubt and [disheartedness], through it all they perceived that God continued to love them anyway.”[3]

Prayer: Divine Maker, who knows me better than I know myself, thank you for continuing to hold me in love, even when I don’t believe in you.   Thank you for believing in me, even when I have lost faith in myself.   We ask this in all the holy names of God.  Amen.

 

[1, 2 & 3] James Finley, from Christian Meditation

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)

 

 

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