Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Spirit at play ... all along

Judy, one of my cheerleaders and my daughters' unofficial Quaker Godparent, brought me to tears Sunday. I was lingering on the message concerning Quaker Bible study and a passage from John about love:
15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him."  – John 14:15-21
As I often worship with my eyes closed, I hadn't noticed Judy readying to speak. She may have been standing. She may have been sitting. She has a beautifully lyrical and commanding voice. She could say just about anything and I would intently listen. She doesn't waste this gift on the trivial.

How I remember the Rev. Al Tomer at the Church of the Saviour
Somehow, magically, she wove the passage about John into a testament about a man largely responsible for me being where I was, at this Quaker Meeting. I won't even pretend to emulate her pure words, but she was speaking about a memorial service the day before for a retired and much-loved Methodist minister, who happened to take on Cincinnati Friends Meeting as an interim pastor for a year-and-a-half in 1998 and 1999. She, her husband and another Friend were surrounded in a sea of Methodists at the service and surprised by this humble person's renown in Methodist circles. Al Tomer emulated love and embodied God's love in human form, according to Judy's vocal ministry.

The tears began to roll. I came to Cincinnati Friends at the tail end of Al's tenure, lured by an 18-month-old who woke up one morning saying "Mommy, I know Jesus" and my mother recommending this Quaker Meeting because it was simple and, well, Al was there. The Rev. Al Tomer had been my minister during junior high and high school – and I actually listened to his sermons! Judy's words helped me recognize what a grounded fixture he was in my life and spirituality.

I was unprepared for what she said next, that Al was responsible for one of the Meeting's blessings: Cathy Barney and her family. I blushed and gushed with tears, reaching for the Kleenex box and being met with a hand on my shoulder. Two important personal revelations collided: that I had publicly been called a blessing (I struggle with confidence) and that God's hand has so obviously been at work in my life even since junior high when Al Tomer came to pastor Church of the Saviour, my family church.

I instantly understood that the work I am called to today, nurturing kids through Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, would never have happened had Al not been serving Cincinnati Friends as interim pastor. He made the transition to choosing my own, adult church and Quakerism smooth. Had he not been there, I believe I would have been too intimidated to go. He welcomed me and eased me in, shepherding my re-emerging faith and spirituality, re-awakened by motherhood and the desire to heal from an accident. And when he moved on three months later and we hired a Quaker minister, I stayed put, happy and content. Judy's husband, Paul, the first person with whom I spoke at Cincinnati Friends, asked me if they'd lose me when Al left. "Heck no," I assured him.

How Al came to Cincinnati Friends is an interesting story, one recounted Sunday in worship by Lola, who was secretary at the time. She and Mary, another longtime Friend, approached Earlham School of Religion about an interim. They suggested a retired Methodist Minister and the pair got to work gathering a list of candidates. When Lola called Al, his wife Margaret said he was already pastoring and not available. Lola was stumped and thought she'd have to come up with more names. The next morning, however, Al phoned her and said when he'd gone to bed the night before, he felt called to pastor Cincinnati Friends.

Sadly, I was unable to attend the memorial because it was an Artsy Fartsy day, which pretty much exhausts my energy. I was gearing up to transport the kids to the Milford Spiritual Center for walking the labyrinth, meditating and sketching by the river, a field trip for which they have patiently been begging and waiting. I felt moved to also stand in worship and suggest it was Al's fault, really, for my absence at his memorial. If he had not been faithful to Spirit directing him to Cincinnati Friends, I would never have come, been nurtured for 15 years, entrusted mine and my daughters' spiritual care, learned to listen to God and followed a leading to serve these needy kids.

Wow, I can see God directly at work in my life even back to junior high. I am filled with much gratitude and wonder where all else She has been at play.

• Who have been your models of love?
• How has a spiritual teacher touched your life?
• When have you become aware of God at work, the Spirit of Truth, in your life?
• What does that awareness spark?
• When/how have you understood "you are in me, and I am in you?"

Saturday was SO busy,
packing the car
arranging rides
talking at length to
one of the parents on
my front porch
praying for it
NOT to rain

and I had awoken
in some pain and

I knew I could
not manage the
memorial service

I didn't have the
energy or the time
to say goodbye

I'm not certain
I knew that I
needed to

worship, when
Judy spoke directly
into my heart, opening
it to grieve for an early
and profound spiritual
teacher and also feel
joy at the way Spirit
has been at play
all along

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

God's declaration of dependence

My mother, a real trooper with a deep faith, has hit a blip in her year of recovery from complicated heart surgery. She's had some difficulty with driving and a variety of opinion on her options.

It's often interesting through which dark waters we can wade only to stumble on what is less life-threatening and more about becoming dependent. Ouch, that really hurts. Our culture is indoctrinated with the suck-it-up-and-do-it-yourself mentality and all about personal freedom and independence. Of course it's a motivator and there is a time and place for that, but it is the antithesis of the spiritual path, the one devoted to becoming closer to Spirit. The ultimate task of such a life is surrender and TOTAL dependance, not separateness and independence.

I see that more clearly as I mature and have learned to shed some of that indoctrination. In my experience, I have learned that some events in our lives are meant to strip us ... of health, wealth, mobility and relationships, forcing us to grow more dependent on God. Living with chronic pain has transformed me in ways I could not have imagined or once desired. I have learned to trust and pray and maintain spiritual practices to strengthen my resolve and faith. I know Spirit much more intimately as a result.

Morrie Schwartz, who died in 1995, still inspires me. Of writer Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie fame, I remember reading about how the much-loved teacher learned to curb his independent streak and graciously accept being fed, diapered and held in the wake of ALS. I can't even imagine the humility that would take and, yet, he came to look on the handling as an infant, savoring the gentleness, care and caresses. This man was completely stripped and lived with more grace than most. Victor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning writes about surviving the Holocaust because the Nazis could not control his faith and sense of hope. As he so eloquently puts it:
"A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when Man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position Man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."
Ultimately God's love is all we need even when we feel diminished. It's hard to fathom that message when we are comfortable, complacent and busy chasing our independence.

When I spoke with my mother yesterday, we talked about how hard it is it ask for help and yet that is surrender. She said she was used to helping, which made it more difficult to be the receiver. Last summer when I was preparing to facilitate retreats on naming our gifts, I began to think about what it meant when those of us that are givers fail to receive. Aren't we depriving someone of using their gift and, can it be a gift if there's no one to receive it?

How can we learn to accept a loss of independence as becoming more spiritually mature and attuned?

• How have I struggled with maintaining my independence?
• When has that been tested?
• What happens when I surrender to that?
• To God?
• How do I receive the gifts of others?

when cast as
the giver,
it's so easy
to get caught up
in being where
one is needed

it eclipses our
whole identity

and we miss
the opportunity
to receive

to honor another's
gift and learn to
surrender as
we move
closer to Spirit

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