A Fitting End

Yesterday in The Upper Room Chapel we held a service of celebration for Alive Now, the beloved publication which began in 1971 and ceased publication at the end of April, 2017.

Ron Patterson, Alive Now’s founding editor, came to be with us, along with former Alive Now staffers Pamela Crosby and Deen Thompson. All of the prayers, hymns, and stories in the service had been published in the magazine at some time its 47 years.

Ron sent us out from the service by reading the blessing I wrote for the last issue of the magazine. “Bless This Journey.” As I stood and listened to my words proclaimed by Ron, it seemed just right. The first editor and the last editor, joined together in love, in grief, in the certainty that God travels with us and guides us, even now, into uncertain futures.

Bless This Journey

We stand at the threshold and look behind us
At all that we have done,
At all that we have loved,
At all that is familiar,
And our hearts fill with grief,
With sadness,
With gratitude.

We stand at the threshold and look before us
At the future we can and cannot see,
At the beginnings we can and cannot imagine,
At the possibilities we can and cannot know,
And our hearts fill with fear,
With trust,
With hope.

Bless our grief and our gratitude,
Our sadness and our trust,
Our fear and our hope.

Bless this journey,
God of past and future.
Guide our steps,
Walking beside us,
Before us, within us
As we step across this threshold.

“Bless This Journey,” from Alive Now, M/A 2017. Copyright © 2017 by The Upper Room.

A Season of Blooms

In this season of blooms,
The hard work
Of birthing, growing, transformation,
Forgotten in the moment of metamorphosis.

God’s miracle of creation
Illustrated in color,
In delicate arrangement
Of petal, pistil, stamen,
Proclaiming life.

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One who created me,
Who shaped me before I was born,
Be in my heart, my mind,
Be in my voice, my hands,
As I step into this new job.
I am yours.

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This week I began a new position at The Upper Room: Director of Prayer and Upper Room Worship Life. I continue to mourn the loss of Weavings and Alive Now, but I remain grateful for the ways these publications shaped me and live on in the person I have become.

A Season of Grieving

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Today it happened. The [last] issue of Alive Now arrived. I read the Managing Editor’s introduction inside the front cover and the “Last Page” — fittingly a poem by frequent-contributor Jan Richardson — as I always do. Then I set it aside. I will savor it in its own time, during March and April. Recently I received a refund check from Upper Room Ministries [PO Box 340004, Nashville TN 37203] for the balance of my subscription. I send the check back with a note that I would MUCH PREFER having Alive Now than any refund. I asked them to look for a way to restore Alive Now as a living devotional guide. I have walked with this publication for more than two decades. The cover has a Celtic look. Beautiful. Thank you, Beth and other editors, writers, supporters.
-Deborah, Shared on Facebook

It was a year ago in January when we learned that the Weavings journal would be brought to a close. The subscriptions had dwindled down to just a few and income from subscriptions didn’t begin to cover the costs of production. In June, we made the same determination for Alive Now. The last Weavings — November/December/January — arrived in people’s homes in October. The last Alive Now — March/April — is in the mail right now.

Since the first of this year, I’ve slogged through days like I was trying to walk through an ocean. I was weighed down by my grief and the grief of readers, world-wide.

I have nearly completed all the tasks of “stopping.” I realize, now, that it has been like journeying with two best friends in the process of their dying. Alive Now and Weavings, in hospice care, are nearing the ends of their journeys.

I am so grateful that I had these two friends for so long. And I’m so sad to see them go. But I’m weary from the process of watching them end, from responding to the grief of myself and others. From taking care of the last collection of articles, the last editing, the last contracts and check requests, the last printing, the last delivery of the copy to the office. I am nearly finished with the last of everything … and I’ll be able to turn over the future of these fine publications to the movement of the Spirit and the creativity of The Upper Room staff.

I’m so grateful to all of you for walking with me, for your incredible loyalty through the years, for your writing and your photography. For your purchasing and your gifting. For your support and enthusiasm. And for your feelings of loss, your solidarity, during this season of grieving.

We will be conducting a ritual of honoring and releasing Weavings on February 21 at 2:00 p.m. (CST). I hope you will think of us during that time. Also, we have back issues of Weavings available for sale for a short time. (And we have a place for you take a survey and share your stories of Alive Now.)

Thank you all for your support. We at The Upper Room welcome your prayers as we discern our next steps. And I’ll be moving on to a new role at the office. And, like Julian of Norwich reminded us, “All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”

Thanks be to God for these two friends, Weavings and Alive Now.

Thirty Years

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Thirty years ago today I joined the staff of The Upper Room as assistant editor of Alive Now magazine. I was awarded the generous, extravagant, unheard-of salary of $15,000 per year, after which I went out and bought a car.

How can I adequately express my gratitude for these years of formation, of shaping and nurturing my being?

To my Saints, living and passed on to the eternal, I give great thanks. To Mary Ruth, John, Rueben, Hoyt, Laura, Moses, Joyce, Henri, Dorothy, Julian, Hildegard, Dietrich, and so many more. To Deen, Stephen, Marjorie, Michael, Janice, Judy, Bill, Don, Jerry, Trevor, Vance, Flora, and too many to name.

For retreats and prayer times. For brainstorming sessions and staff training. For laughter and tears. For parties and chapel services. For writing and editing and copy sessions. For print resources and for digital expressions. For immersion in creativity, undergirding our passion to help people grow in their relationships with God.

I see myself 30 years ago, and then I look at myself today. I write and talk and think — and don’t remember how I learned the things I know. I know many ways to prayer. I know the wisdom of Christian mystics. I know the ever-increasing hungers for sacred ways of living. I have stayed in this place and been gifted with a culture that values and embraces and teaches these things.

This thirty years — my post-graduate work in Christian spirituality. My Ph.D. in the Christian Life. My apprenticeship in growing closer to God.

In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld: “For all that has been — Thanks. For all that will be — Yes.”

Slogging through Grief

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Yesterday I sent the last issue of Alive Now to the production department. Its publication date is March/April 2017. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been proofreading, getting final sign-offs, sending corrections to the designer. Each task has brought me one step closer to the end of this publication that has been like a dear friend and mentor to me.

I’m grieving, heart-sick. In this one year, I’ve closed two beloved publications: Weavings and Alive Now. These two resources have been a part of my life for over 30 years. It’s like losing best friends. Alive Now was the place of my first published writing. In the Alive Now office under the care of Mary Ruth Coffman, I fell in love with words, with editing, with the spiritual life. Mary Ruth, John Mogabgab (editor of Weavings), and many others mentored and guided me on this path, setting the course of my career as an editor, writer, leader, mystic.

I will be a part of shaping what is next for The Upper Room as we seek to serve these audiences in new ways. But right now, I’m too heart-sick to think about that. I guess it’s like trying to replace a beloved pet with a new puppy or kitten. I’m just not finished with the grieving part.

Many of you are also grieving the closing of these two publications. I’ve been hearing from you. I have a request: If you have been touched by one or both of these publications, please help us as we discern the future.

  1. Fill out a survey for Alive Now and/or Weavings, telling us a bit about yourself and your needs.
  2. Join our email list (at the links above) so that we can keep in touch and we can let you know when we have new resources available.
  3. Tell us your stories about Alive Now and Weavings — how we met and how you have used the publication.

Thank you for being a part of our journey. Please help us share the word about our research and continue to pray for us as we develop new resources for those who are hungry for a sacred way of living.

Advent Practice and Hashtag Prayer

  
Alive Now, one of the publications I edit, has been participating in an Advent practice of “praying with your camera in your hand,” or praying with your eyes – Visio Divina

We’ve shared the graphic (above) with the words for each day and invited people to see, pray, hashtag, and share. Churches and people all over the world are observing Advent together in this way. Even a church in Jerusalem!

I’ve been teaching the use of hashtags and how to use them. “Tag your photos by typing in the hashtags #AliveNowMag and #adventphoto. Then click on the hashtag to see and pray the photographs of others.”

There is still plenty of time and need for Advent practice. This time of Advent starts to speed up and some sort of practice of stopping, praying, and listening is more important than ever. 

Visit my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, or search for me on Instagram and pray with all of us these last days of the season of preparation. 

Blessings,
Beth

On Injustice, Advent, and Jubilee

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Repost from the Alive Now blog.

I was standing on the street visiting with an African-American friend when a car containing mutual acquaintances pulled up about ten feet from us. The folks in the car motioned for me to walk over to their window to talk with them. I won’t go into the details of what happened, but when they drove away without acknowledging the presence of my friend on the sidewalk, I realized that I had been given the gift of glimpsing the racism that he sees, experiences, and lives every day. In those awkward moments after they drove away, we stood in silence. I finally said, “Well, that was rude.” And then I had a further gift. The barrier was breached, and we were able to talk for just a few minutes about his experiences of being a person who is treated differently from me because of the color of his skin.

In this world, in this time, when there is so much hurt, so much injustice, so much anger and despair, I still live in a place of privilege, protected from the small and large slights, injustices, and downright dangers of looking different, of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jesus came to bring release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. That’s the message of Jubilee, the message of Advent — and I’m mostly on the privileged side of that equation. Most of the time, I’m the free one rather than the captive. Most of the time, I don’t see the daily injustices of racism and classism that oppress persons of color or those who live below the poverty line. It’s uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as the fear of a mother who, when her black son leaves the house, prays that he will come home again safely. It’s not as uncomfortable as a community who feels threatened by the very system created to protect it.

I pray for wisdom to know how to be a Christ-follower today — in this place and in this time. To live faithfully and with courage. To be God’s heart and hands in the world. To have the opportunity to speak truth, to acknowledge that things are not right. To be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. I want to make a difference in this hurting world. And I wonder, how can we be prophets, healers, followers of Christ when a world of hurt, injustice, and anger is boiling over.

Break into this world, God of Light.
Open our shuttered eyes, shuttered life,
to the stories of injustice.
Open our locked-up hearts
to your spirit of love and compassion.
Give us courage to speak truth to injustice.
Guide us as we seek to be bearers of hope
in places where there is no hope,
Bringers of comfort where there is despair,
Sources of courage where there is only fear.
Come quickly, Emmanuel.
Amen.

Share with me your hopes and dreams, your thoughts and actions.

Jubilee … and Native American Heritage Month

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Cottonwood tree at Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

Repost from Alive Now’s blog.

I don’t know where to start in sharing the thoughts and feelings that swirl around in me. November is Native American Heritage Month. And November is Thanksgiving — a day when many of us celebrate “The story of Pilgrims and Indians coming together to share in the harvest.” And this November is the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre in Southeast Colorado.

I am so limited by my European-American heritage and blinders. I am a descendent of a conquering force that decimated the people who lived in this country when my ancestors arrived. But I’m wondering, what if our Native brothers and sisters could have had a Jubilee year — when all they had lost could be returned to them from centuries of cruelty, oppression, marginalization, and genocide? Reparation for lost lives, lost lands, lost languages, lost heritage?

I (We) can never, ever, ever make up for the wrongs that have been done to the indigenous people who lived in harmony with this land. The Oklahoma land where my grandmother grew up — “free” land that her father won in a land lottery — taken from the Kiowa and Apache people after the territory of Oklahoma had been promised to be a place for native peoples. The land where my family’s cabin sits in Colorado — “free” land taken from the Arapaho and Comanche people after gold was discovered in the mountains. The land where my house sits — “free” land taken from the Yuchi and Cherokee after the native people of Tennessee were forced to walk the Trail of Tears following the “Indian Removal Act” of 1830.

Last June I participated in a pilgrimage to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. One hundred and fifty years ago on November 29, nearly 200 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho people were killed on the banks of the Big Sandy River in southeast Colorado in an massacre by U.S. Cavalry troops. The leader of the Cavalry was a Methodist minister. During the days of the pilgrimage, we learned what had happened, listened to the stories of those who were descended from the survivors, prepared our hearts and spirits, and rode together to the site of the massacre.

We walked a hill overlooking the valley where so many had died. A hot wind seemed to carry the cries of the women, children, and old people who had died at the hands of the troops. We listened and learned and prayed and cried. One young adult descendent told us that his people, still today, associate United Methodists with the killers on that day.

There is so much I cannot do to make things right. But here are some things I can do:

  • Learn the stories about the places I live and move. Every place in this land has stories to tell about those who lived here before the Europeans arrived.
  • Listen and bear witness to the truth. It is so easy to ignore what happened, to make excuses. But harm was done and generational trauma continues in the Native American community.
  • Participate in The United Methodist Act of Repentance and Healing with Indigenous Persons.
  • Develop relationships with indigenous people.
  • Sponsor a runner for the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run. On the anniversary of the massacre, runners start from the site of the massacre and run the 180 miles to Denver. The run is a prayer, a remembrance for those who were killed. Sponsorship for one runner costs $500 for travel from Montana, Wyoming or Oklahoma, food and lodging. Gifts of all sizes are welcome.
  • Recognize and accept that repentance is life work.

Creator of all people,
Heal the wounds.
Open our eyes and ears and hearts.
Transform us into people of compassion and justice.
Lead us to true repentance.
We are yours.
Amen.


Photo: Cottonwood tree at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre. Photo by Beth A. Richardson.

The Anniversary

Brainard LakeThis is a repost from my article on Alive Now’s blog.

When the 9/11 attacks happened, I was in Colorado on vacation and away from television. We had scheduled a hike on that day and decided that since there wasn’t anything helpful we could do, a hike would be a perfect response — a sort of physical prayer. The images I remember from that day are mountains and water, fragile flowers and blue sky. It wasn’t until over a week later when we were finally able to fly home that I saw all the images of devastation. I’m grateful that pictures such as the one above are what I associate with that terrible day.

I know that anniversaries of tragedy are especially difficult. It’s been over 25 years since my mom died and I still feel the loss deep in my spirit when that date comes around every year. I cannot imagine the pain I would feel if her death was a part of such a gigantic national tragedy. I pray for those for whom this news event brings such deep pain.

This week’s gospel reading from the lectionary is Matthew 18:15-20. Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has wronged him. “Seven times?” And Jesus’ answer, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” And then Jesus goes on to tell a parable about settling accounts.

I’ve been thinking about this scripture falling on the anniversary of 9/11 and wondering what will be preached in churches this Sunday. (I’m grateful that I’m not having to prepare a sermon for such a difficult day!) I’m wondering what God is saying to me, to us, through this scripture and through this season of remembering. I’d like to invite you to take some time to pray the scripture using Alive Now’s Audio Lectio recording.

Here are a few random thoughts from me:

  • We are a broken and fragmented people. Our culture is divided to the point that we often jump — too quickly — to judgment, labeling, and condemning others rather than seeing them as human, vulnerable, children of God.
  • Forgiveness is our calling as Christians. It’s perfectly appropriate that we study and pray this scripture at this time.
  • Yes, we are called to forgive — over and over and over. But forgiveness is a very individual step, part of a process of healing and reconciliation. I cannot say to you, “It’s time for you to forgive.” Forgiveness is a gift given by God at the just the right point in a person’s healing process.
  • I wonder what Jesus would say to us today? to our national leaders? our faith leaders? to our children?

Share your thoughts. What does it mean to be people of faith in a post-9/11 world? What message is God giving you through this week’s Audio Lectio?

Related Resources


Photo Credit: © Beth A. Richardson. Brainard Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado.