Presence of the Saints

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Among the many blessings I received at last week’s 5-day Academy for Spiritual Formation on the Psalms was the presence of a friend who knew my paternal grandparents, Ida Mae and Holt Richardson.

At the end of the first worship service, Sharlyn said to me, “When you began the opening service by singing, I thought of your grandmother.” Grandma taught high school music classes to Sharlyn in the little school in Lenapah, OK. Grandpa was the school superintendent. An invoking of Grandma Ida Mae’s presence — in our week, in my music.

It was such a powerful reminder of the presence of those who shaped me and who passed along their gifts to me. Grandma and Grandpa’s gift of music, Dad’s years of shaping and leading the worship services I attended every Sunday, my parent’s commitment to start me in piano lessons in first grade. These wonderful people, these wonderful gifts. Thanks be to the creator!

Wisdom from Bonhoeffer


“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This Easter week is the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of our saints. A Lutheran pastor, he was killed in a Nazi concentration camp two weeks before the camp was liberated by Allied forces.

When I was in seminary, I met one of Bonhoeffer’s friends from his days at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Paul Lehmann spoke about his friend’s struggles with the evil that was happening under the Nazi regime in Germany and his decision to return to Germany despite the personal danger he was in. After his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Nazis for plotting against Hitler.

This week, as we have celebrated the resurrection of Jesus, as we have mourned the terrorist attack in Kenya that killed 148 university students, as we have heard about or watched the video of a man killed by a policeman in a traffic stop in South Carolina … I have wondered what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would make of our world today. What wisdom, what courage, what challenge would he bring to us?

I am tempted to turn away from all of this overwhelming evil, unbearable sorrow, senseless violence. I want to take pictures of spring flowers, celebrate National [fill in the blank] Day on Facebook, watch puppy videos. I don’t want to listen to the Spirit for how I might be called to take a stand on injustice, to speak out against racism or homophobia, to reach out to someone who is grieving. I call on the Great Spirit, the Saints, the Holy One, to guide me, to guide us, through the difficult days in which we are living.

Pray for us, Dietrich. Cry for us, Holy One. “Grant us courage, grant us wisdom, for the living of these days” (Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930). We are yours, Prophetic, Loving God.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Read more quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God Comforts All Who Mourn


I need this today as I assist in the memorial service for my friend, Linda Zralek. Comforting God, be present and wrap us in your healing blanket of love. Amen.

God of the brokenhearted, it is hard to be in mourning during this joyous time of year. But I know that you come to all of us, especially those filled with tears as captives to grief. Wrap them in your comforting spirit. Amen.
– From The Uncluttered Heart

Remembering Mom


Mom died on this day in 1983. I was in Divinity School that fall and wasn’t with her when she passed away. In July, she had learned that that her brain tumor was back and inoperable. I had gone for a visit in August and then again in October. Sometime in the fall she had been moved from home care to Deaconess Hospital in Oklahoma City. (Pre-hospice days.) Dad had let me know her death was coming soon, so even though her death was a shock, it wasn’t too much a shock.

I think that Grandma had wanted me to come home and care for Mom. I don’t know what Mom wanted, but I was young and “on a mission” and really didn’t want to put my education on hold to go home. In consequence, her dying journey was not one I shared. I wish I had been closer, to learn from her how you do this part of life.

The last time I visited her was in October. She was in the hospital and still conscious, but unable to speak more than a word at a time — and those words just came out of no-where when you weren’t expecting them. I remember Grandma there — dressing her, putting makeup on her, fixing her hair. Grandma was wondering out loud what color a sweater was … and mom chimed up, “Fuchsia.” It surprised both of us.

I was getting ready to go to the airport to go back to Tennessee and wanted to say something. We were alone and I think I told her how much I loved her and thanked her. I don’t really remember. But I do remember that I was getting ready to leave and said, “I love you, Mom.” And she said to me, “I love you, darlin’.” The sweetest words I ever heard.

She still travels with me. I always wondered about how “old people” could talk and think so much about those who were dead and gone. And now, I find myself thinking and talking about Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma. I feel their presence. I forget they are gone and think about calling them. It’s not dementia. It’s love. It’s the presence of the Communion of Saints. They are not gone. They are here. Thanks be to God.

The Trees Remember

Cottonwood tree at Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

The trees remember
and tell the story
of cries and terror,
of brokenness and blood.
Of children murdered
and mothers weeping.
Of grandmothers and babies
lying dead on the sandy ground.

The trees,
watered by blood and tears,
stand witness
to evil, unleashed,
hatred, unchecked.

The wind carries the cries
to those who will hear.
Stand by us.
Weep with us.
We are your brothers and sisters,
your grandmothers and grandfathers,
your sons and daughters.

and do not turn away.
Take courage from the trees.
Stand witness
and tell the story.

Yesterday I took a pilgrimage with our Rocky Mountain Annual Conference to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre. On November 29, 1864, 675 United States calvarymen attacked a peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe village who were camped under the protection of the United States government. Over the next 8 hours, the mostly women, children, and elderly men were run down and slaughtered. The troops were led by a Methodist presiding elder. More about the Sand Creek Massacre.

Sand Creek Pilgrimage

sand creek
Photo from the cover of the bulletin of the opening worship service

Tomorrow morning our Rocky Mountain Annual Conference will load up in 13 buses to take a pilgrimage to the site of the Sand Creek Massacre, which occurred 150 years ago this year. We take this pilgrimage in remembrance of and reverence for the men, women, and children who died and whose bodies where desecrated. And in repentance for the fact that the leader of the massacre was a Methodist minister. There is no way to make up for this atrocity.

God of justice and healing, open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, to the moving of your Spirit. Make us worthy to walk on this sacred ground. Come, Spirit, come, and show us the way. Amen.

Why We Are Going to Sand Creek
By Charles Schuster
Chair of the Task Force on the Acts of Repentance
Rocky Mountain Conference

For those United Methodists who may wonder why we are doing something with the 2014 Annual Conference we have never done in the history of the Conference, here are some reasons why it is imperative that we make the trip to the site of the Massacre.

  • Most importantly we have been invited by the descendants of the Massacre to join them in a trip to this sacred place.
  • On the 150 anniversary of the Massacre we are reminded that the government censured John Chivington and took his commission and the Territorial Governor, John Evans, was removed from office for his complicity in the Massacre, the Methodist Church did nothing to Chivington, a Presiding Elder (District Superintendent) and he was allowed to continue his ministry.
  • While we cannot repair the pain our church has created, if we do not acknowledge it, we will perpetuate the pain by our unwillingness to own what happened.
  • Sometimes the right thing to do is not the most convenient. The time has come for us to do the right thing.
  • If we truly wish to remember Sand Creek and the 150th anniversary we will need to visit the place where the Massacre happened. It becomes much more real to us if we can actually visit the site. People who have actually visited the Oklahoma City Muir Building site or the Shanksville field where Flight 93 crashed are brought to the point of a silent witness. Such an emotion is evoked as one stands at the Sand Creek site. We will be inspired by the experience.
  • This is a great opportunity to learn something about ourselves, our church, and our connection to each other. We will be changed by the experience.
  • There is no way to overestimate the value of this event. It will be emotionally draining and deeply moving to stand with the Sand Creek Massacre descendants to experience their grace filled welcome to their sacred space.

Remembering Dad

Beth with Dad
Beth with Dad

My dad — Charles H. Richardson — passed away one year ago today. I grew up watching him every Sunday morning as he led worship in little Methodist churches in Oklahoma. Because of him, I wanted to work in the church. Dad gave me many gifts–love of nature, music and photography. When I was ordained, he was here to lay hands on me in the ordination service.

His last years were lived in the darkening stages of the disease of Alzheimer’s. Every day, his world shrank just a little bit more. When I was with him a couple of years ago, we sat and ate dinner with my brother and Anna, my step mom and Dad’s wonderful caregiver. Dad said to me, “So, tell me where you have lived.”

I answered, “Well, I was born in Norman, you know, and then we moved to Mooreland.”

Dad said, “Oh, I did a stint there in Mooreland. What’s your last name?”

“It’s Richardson,” I said. (My heart was getting heavy.)

“Well,” he exclaimed, “My last name is Richardson! Who’s your daddy?”

I said, “You’re my dad! I’m your daughter, Beth.”

He turned and looked at Anna and she nodded to him and said, “That’s Beth. She’s your daughter.” He looked a little uncertain, and then he stood up, opened his arms to me and said, “I need to give you a hug.” I stood up and we hugged — a good, long embrace.

We sat back down at the table and he listened as I told him about myself: how I had been to seminary, was ordained in the United Methodist Church, worked at The Upper Room, had written a couple of books. He was delighted to know who I had become.

Our dinner conversation turned to other things, and then he turned to me and asked, “Do you know my daughter?”  And I said, “Yeah. Isn’t she great?” As the rest of us chuckled, he looked at me closely and said, “Oh. You’re her, aren’t you?”

Over the following years, when we talked on the phone, I always ended up introducing myself to him. And he was always delighted to know me, to learn I was his daughter, to learn I was ordained in the United Methodist Church, and that I worked for The Upper Room. It was a wonderful ritual for me and such a gift of affirmation that, even if he didn’t remember me, he was excited about who I was and who I had become.

Today on this first anniversary of his death, I’m sad, but grateful for his life and for the gifts he gave to me. Thanks be to the Creator for the gift of Dad.

Remembering Mom

momMy mom passed away 29 years ago today. I was in seminary in Nashville and she was in Oklahoma. We had learned during the summer that her brain tumor had grown back and was inoperable. My mom wanted me to stay in school rather than come home for the duration of her life, so I decided to become an expert on death. I enrolled in Pastoral Care for the Sick and Dying. I read books like May Sarton’s The Reckoning. I wrote poetry and did art about death and how I felt.

Mom was cared for at home by Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and many, many people from Grace United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. At some point she was moved to the hospital where she lived for several months before she died. (I guess hospice care had not come to Oklahoma yet.) In October of that year, Dad called to say I might want to come to see her while she was still conscious. I flew home, all ready to have meaningful conversations about life and death and whatever Mom wanted to talk about.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it didn’t happen. (Life is funny that way.) Mom couldn’t really talk … at least with words. Every so often she would say a word or two that let us know she was still in there. But she spoke with her eyes and with the squeeze of her hand.

One day, Grandma was there getting Mom dressed, fixing her hair, and putting on her make-up. We were trying to figure out the color of the sweater Mom was wearing. Mom said, “Fuchsia.” (Only thing she said that day.)

I wanted to do death “right.” And ultimately, I realize, I did. I was there with her and she was there with me. We sat in silence or I talked to her. I feasted my eyes on her and felt my feelings. When it was time for me to leave for the airport. I leaned over and hugged her. “I love you, Mom,” I said. She said, “I love you, darlin.” Those were the last words I she spoke to me.

Some weeks after that she slipped away into sleep. And on the 16th of November, 1983, she passed into the loving arms of God. I’m grateful beyond words for Mom.