Spiritual Renewal~Chârtres

Spiritual Renewal~Chârtres

I was 16 when my eyes first saw the magestic spires, one romanesque and one gothic, of Chârtres. Chârtres made a huge impression on me, even at that tender age. It was a birthday gift to be able to travel to France with my beloved high school French teacher. A love for France and its people has remained with me. But somehow in that first trip, I missed the labyrinth and the importance it would eventually make in my life. Walking a labyrinth would eventually become an important part of my regular spiritual renewal plan. 

I have returned to Chârtres several times, but the labyrinth was never empty of chairs, until today. Today I had done my research, and I had the honor and privilege of walking and praying through the oldest inlaid labyrinth in France. It dates from around the 1200’s. 

If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. (We will put one up again a few days this summer at Middletown UMC). They come in different shapes and sizes, many are copies of the pattern found at Chârtres.

As one walks, one can use the experience for several things, one of the most “popular” is to enter into the presence of God, the middle representing being in the center with God, or being in the center of what you are seeking. Sometimes one might repeat the words “Come Holy Spirit” or “Come Lord Jesus.” Sometimes one might pray the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As it has been said, “Pay attention to your experience, without judging it. It can serve as a mirror for what you are experiencing elsewhere .”

Today, I was one of the few who took my shoes off. Since it was inlaid stone taking your shoes off was not a requirement, but for me, if we are trying to walk into the presence of The Holy One then we should show respect by taking off our shoes. After all, Moses was told to take off his shoes when God spoke to him through the burning bush as he was on “holy ground.”

Some impressions from today’s labyrinth prayer walk: The stone was cold to the foot. That had never been part of my previous experiences. Some folks, from many nations, came in to see the cathedral and were oblivious to the fact that many were walking the labyrinth. (Even though it was blocked off with chairs) Perhaps many go through life in the same manner, oblivious to the fact that there is something more and we are called to be all that God created us to be; Each person goes at their own pace, and we pass many on the journey; interacting with some, not necessarily with all, but we are always trying to show kindness; Some intentionally changed the atmosphere. There was a wonderful group of women visiting who stood in a corner and sang a capela. One such chant was “Kyrie Eleison,” Lord have mercy on me. It was a lovely enhancement for my journey of prayer; Someone else had gathered some tiny leaves from an outside bush and had dropped them along the path of the labyrinth. While I thought that it was probably meaningful for them to leave those leaves on their journey, whoever has to clean them off and get them out of the old cracks and crevices of the stone might not think so. (The story of Hansel and Gretel did cross my mind.) Finally, since I have walked this pattern of Chârtres in other places, I sort of know the way. Yet even in knowing the way, there is an inner yearning for the center and in coming out, you know the end is near, yet what are you going to do about the end looming near? How does this walk correlate with our daily life journey? 

If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. Google will show you where one is located near you. In Mariottesville, Md the sisters of Bon Secour have a lovely outdoor labyrinth that you can use anytime. May you be able to experience this journey too, and may your labyrinth journey bring you closer to God!

Spiritual renewal continued 

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Planes to new destinations! Renewal with very few responsibilities! It seems like a dream come true. It has been a very long time since I did not have a gazillion daily responsibilities. Moving into a moment by moment thought pattern is hard for me. I am always thinking of the next things that have to be done-yes, I am a classic “J” on the Meyers-Briggs scale. As I attempt to move into a new pattern of journeying in life during this next month, I am trying to discern what that pattern might look like in order to be intentional in spiritual renewal. Part of that new pattern might be giving thanks for every little detail of blessing during the next month. Giving thanks is already a part of my routine, but usually I am too busy running to be thankful in the smaller details. This day I am thankful for details, big and small; for space to “be,” for The MUMC family and Pastor Beth who have allowed space for the journey. I am thankful for good food on airplanes (Air France rocks), for the little sleep that I got on the flight, (as opposed to being miserable for not much sleep), for exciting destinations and friends who live there who have travelled this journey of life with me for over 35 years. I am grateful for different cultures that allow us to see the world through fresh eyes. In addition I am filled with gratitude to all the folks who are praying with me on this journey, family and friends, and grateful for the empty tomb that reminds us that we can all be transformed in less than 30 days. All things are possible with Jesus! How do you practice gratitude? Are there patterns that you would like to change in your next 30 days?

Spiritual Renewal

This was my 5 year old Great nephew’s portrait of me. How is it that a 5 year old perceives that you are always on the run? For me, it is time to just “be.” Even Jesus tells his disciples,  “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31. 

So that is what I am doing. It is time for sabbatical! While there will be fun times involved with family and friends, much of the time will be spent in spiritual renewal. This is a time to allow Jesus to speak deeply, once again, into me and over me. I am eager to listen. I have no expectations except to pay attention and listen. 

For much of this time I will be disconnected, off the grid. Some of the time will be spent with the Taize community, and the majority of the time will be spent on the Camino de Santiago. 

While spiritual renewal is something I try to do on a frequent basis, I have never been able to spend this much time for renewal. It is an exciting prospect. I will try to post here from time to time, and, upon my return, hope to share more of the experience on this blog. 

Spiritual renewal is important for us all. While this is a big journey, I try to ensure there is spiritual renewal in smaller forms regularly in my life. What do you do for spiritual renewal?

The Greater Family Win! (And 5 ideas for new wins.)

The Greater Family Win! (And 5 ideas for new wins.)

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Life is a balancing act, and so is parenting. When the kids are young, if we can be lucky enough to have some play time, get dinner in them, not have any tears and get them to bed on time it feels like a win! When they are teenagers, if we have gotten everyone to the right places, managed to watch the kid’s games, made sure the homework was done, get them dinner, not have any meltdowns and to bed, it can be a win. A question for the family win column is, “Have we added any spiritual direction to that list of family wins?”

Parents, you are responsible for your children’s spiritual health. Part of the very core of our being is spiritual. Part of raising our kids is to give them a healthy understanding of who God is and how God acts in the world. This is not something to hold off on or to “wait until they are older.” Rather, this is something they can participate in for the present time, no matter what their age. Just as a small child is learning about balance, and movement and talking and sharing, so too they need to learn now how to know God and how to participate in things that bring us closer to God. If part of their core being is spiritual, are we feeding their spirituality from a young age? If a child grows physically faster in the first 18 months, should not learning about God be a top priority during this time of intense learning?

Here are 5 things you can do now, no matter their age to help them grow into who God created them to be.

  1. Obviously prayer should be at the top of the list. Teach them to give thanks to God for meals and thanking God for the day and for family at bedtime are core wins. Teach them to pray to God at times of hurt. Teach them to talk and listen to God. Model that prayer time so that they can see you praying too.
  2. Story time can include a children’s Bible that tells them God’s stories. Whatever your bedtime rhythm might be, consider including a chapter each night from a children’s Bible that they can understand. (The Beginner’s Bible, or the Jesus Storybook Bible .) Bible story time began with my children when they were six months old. Now they are modeling that same rhythm of life for their own children. When kids are older this can be a time of reading the Bible together.
  3. Teach them the rhythms of the church calendar year. Today was the first Sunday in Lent and our Associate Pastor asked the children what season we were in. Lent is an easy four letter word that children can learn, and it is great teaching tool for young absorbent minds. They can learn that this is a season when we try to grow closer to God by doing something special for God. Pastor Beth suggested giving away a toy that we no longer need to someone who will need it. Maybe it can be a season to collect food for the hungry or maybe it can be a season to write love note to those in nursing homes. There are so many ways that a child can serve the world. Teach them about these times, especially Lent and Advent, that are designed to draw us closer to Jesus.
  4. Our children are never too young to teach them to serve others. Jesus calls us to serve the least of these. How do we help our children understand that we share our blessings with others. How do we teach them to have hearts that can break for the things that break God’s heart.
  5. Take advantage of teaching moments and show them what God is calling us to do in situations that could be major decision moments. When I was given too much change from the local cashier I stopped, showed the extra money to my kids and asked them what I should do. While it took a few extra seconds in the line, everyone saw that it was a moment to teach the kids the difference between giving back what was not mine or being dishonest and pocketing the extra money that I was mistakenly given.

Obviously, in addition to these practices at home, children will continue to grow spiritually if they are deeply connected to a church family; a place where they can go to worship, go to Sunday School and learn what it means to be a young disciple of Jesus. What spiritual practices can you add for your children today? What would you add to this list?

Are you ready for the holidays?

It seems like a benign question, “Are you ready for the holidays?” In fact just about every random conversation that you have with a perfect stranger or people you know will begin with this question. While it seems like a simple question, it is actually begs to go deeper than trees, and cards, food and cookies and gifts.

The “holidays” whether you practice Jewish tradition of Hanukkah or Christian tradition of Christmas are based on what God has called us to do. These traditions are all about God and what God has done, so getting ready for the “holidays” begins with getting our hearts right with God. Getting ready for the “holidays” calls each of us to prepare our hearts, and spend time with God, listen to God and do things that are in line with what pleases God.

So what pleases God? Caring for each other and reaching out to those in need. Bringing our our checkbook and writing checks to those who are serving the poor, or their communities. Doing a special good deed that brings a smile to someone’s face who is in a changed circumstance this season. Reaching out to those who are sad or suffering. These are things that please the very heart of God. As we ask over and over, “Are you ready for the holidays?” remember it is a call to prepare our hearts, and please God with our actions, our words, and our deeds.

Grief-5 Basic Steps

This is the season when our grief hits us the hardest. We are entering into those seasons of great memories, and hard memories. Because of changed situations, waves of grief might be falling upon us.

Waves of grief: I remember it well, and it has the potential to come  again, over and over again. Washing over me and my family. Its like the ocean. You think the water has stopped, all is calm, and suddenly wave after wave begins to splash all around you, above you, and sometimes carries you away. I had forgotten how grief comes in waves.

One of my call verses to ordained ministry comes out of my first story of grief. When my own young husband died suddenly in a car accident 25 years ago leaving me behind with two babies-the unbearable grief almost got the best of me–but God was there all along. God is with you too, though you may not feel it at this time.

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2 Corinthains 1: 3 has the Apostle Paul’s greeting the people from Corinth with these words:, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

Now I am here to walk alongside of others in their own grieving process. In all that experience it still does not “prepare” you for the next time when you will be in the midst of grief. The second worst day of my life came three years ago, when my brother-in-law, the very one who had stepped in to help me when my husband had not been there, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. This kind of heart attack is called the widow maker, and virtually there is nothing anyone can do when it strikes. One day he was healthy, working out in the pool and helping strangers in the nursing home, the next morning he woke up not feeling very well, and died shortly thereafter. Ron was only 61, loving life, and serving others.

And now my cousin’s husband, suddenly departed this earth on Thanksgiving day; and all the loss of the people I love at the church I serve. It is never easy.

So how do we cope? How do we survive? How do we go on living when sometimes there seems to be very little to live for? Here are 5 basic steps, a very good place to begin. Sometimes in the beginning of grief, we need to go over these basic steps daily for a long time:

1) Grief is a process, it takes time. While this seems basic sometimes we forget that grief is not something we “get over” quickly. We can be grieved over many things: Loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, kids moving out of the house, divorce, a change in our own health status or that of one we love. I remember when I attended a grief support group for young widows and they told me I would not feel whole again until 5 years. I remember thinking, “There is no way I can make it that long in this condition.” 5 Years was right, I did not feel fully alive again until 5 years later. (Sorry to be the bearer of that bad news, but keep reading there are things you can do NOW.)

2) Take time to grieve. Give yourself space and permission. Some circles call this the “white space.” This is unplanned time to allow yourself to be, to remember and to be sad.

3) Tears are healthy. Use them. Take time to cry. It might seem that you have already been crying far too much, maybe it seems that there are no more tears left. Tears also help you process. There is a chemical element of tears that is cleansing. After the two year point when my tears no longer came at regular intervals several times a day, I would take some space and listen to music that would MAKE my cry. This did two helpful things: It helped me control my emotions in public, and it allowed the grief process to continuing working in me.

4) Find out how you “process” things and DO it. I have discovered that I process life events with pictures. So I pull out pictures of my loved ones and go over them and remember. (I even did this when my dog died, I loved my dog!) Maybe you process by telling your story. Find a trusted friend or a pastor who will listen to your story. Tell it over and over again, this helps the processing. I have also found that writing to my loved one in a journal helps me process. This had an added benefit in that months later I could reread my journal and really see that I HAD made progress in my grief work even though sometimes it FEELS like you are standing still.

5) Don’t leave God out of the mix. The Risen Christ Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the ages. (Matthew 28:20) The biblical witness reminds us from the beginning to the end that we have a God who loves us, who cares for us and who will be an abiding presence with us.  But in the midst of our grief sometimes we feel that God HAS abandoned us, we feel that God has forgotten us and we feel like God doesn’t care about us. God is big enough to hear your cries of pain and hurt. There are very real persons of faith, particularly in the Psalms of Lament (Psalms 22, 88 and many others,) who cry out in their pain and they ask the question, “God where were you and where are you now?” (Psalm 22 is what Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”) Cry out to God, and when you cannot seem to pray for yourself, ask others to pray with you and for you. (Get on a church prayer list, have faithful friends pray for you, find a Christian prayer and healing service near to you.)

This is a contemporary praise song that helps me in times of being in the desert by Hillsong United entitled, “The Desert Song.”

Grief work is hard, but whatever you do do NOT do nothing. Doing nothing will only help you become bitter and self destructive. REALLY! May the God of all comfort comfort you in your pain and grief.

In Christ,

Pastor Sarah

Read Thru the Bible~1 Corinthians 1-2 (Unification of the Universal Church)

Read Thru the Bible~1 Corinthians 1-2 (Unification of the Universal Church)

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(Pictured, the ruins of ancient Corinth.)

The ancient city of Corinth located in Greece, was where Paul shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ during his second missionary journey. (Check out Acts 18) After Paul spent some time with them, maybe up to 1 1/2 years there, Paul and some compatriots left Corinth to go start new churches. As Paul continued his travels he heard there was some conflict among the Corinthians, so he sent this letter and other letters to follow, to help the faith community work out their differences, and to remind them that it is by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and no other message that we are saved. Our read through the Bible video has an excellent description of what was going on in this faith community.

As we read chapters 1 and 2 today, perhaps there are two things Paul would continue to scold us for today in modern life application. First and foremost, there is this question of unity. If we are all unified by the Gospel of Jesus, why is there so much division in the Universal Church? Perhaps this will be the first question we are all asked on the day of judgment. While Paul used the example of different leaders coming through the city and their teaching, we have the different denominations that have been used to divide us. Paul says, “Let there be no divisions among you!

Friends, can we put aside our differences and work together for the Gospel message? In addition to denominational differences, we have differences within our own denominations, we have theological issues that continue to divide us. Can we agree to disagree and move forward?Many people believe that we are now in  a post-Christian world. If that is truly the case, we need each other. Paul appeals to us to work together for the common good, which is the Gospel message.

The second point Paul brings to us is that the Gospel message must be in the forefront of all we do. “ For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” All other things fall into the background against this simple and profound truth. Yet we in the Universal Church have found all kinds of things to argue about and we have forgotten to keep this truth in the forefront. By the way, this is not a one time thought that Paul gives us, but rather we see this theme running throughout his letters. Paul says the reason we are here, the reason that he has been willing to risk his life over and over again, is to bear the truth of the Gospel message. Christ died for our sins, was resurrected, and we can have his cloak of righteousness in exchange for our sinful nature, just for accepting his grace and mercy given to us at the cross. This is the simple truth. We in the Universal Church try to make it too complicated.

John Wesley said, “If your heart is as my heart, take my hand.” Can we as the Universal Church have unity and together point to the work of Jesus on the cross? We have a long way to go. What is one thing you can do, for a neighbor who is of a different denomination, for a friend who is of a differing theological opinion, to show unity among us. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Check out this song with the same title.