A Certain Beauty

foggy trees
There is a certain beauty to a foggy morning. The trees framed in soft light against the sky.

The peony shut tight against the dampness and darkness of the morning.

peony

The mushroom cup holding a sip of dew.

mushroom

The dandelion seeds pulled together in dampness.

dandelion

The rose petal drooping with the weight of the morning dew drops.

rose

Look and see the beauty of a foggy morning.

Pine Cone Memories

I saw this pine cone on a walk yesterday near the Colorado cabin where I’m vacationing. I’ve been coming to this cabin all my life. Seeing the pine cone reminded me of how much I have always loved sharing this place with others.

When I was here as a child, I liked to write letters to friends telling them all about what I was doing on vacation. But before I mailed the letter, I would walk down to the river and pick out a beautiful little pine cone to include in the envelope. I wanted my friends to hold a part of this beauty. I wrote “Hand Cancel” on the outside of the envelope, addressed and stamped it, and put the little pine cone in the envelope with my letter. I didn’t know until many years later that when the recipient opened my envelope, she found my letter — and — a pile of pine cone dust. It makes me chuckle to remember.

Now I guess I’m attempting to share this place digitally. And, I realize, that while it may not be a pile of pine cone dust that folks receive, it’s still not the same as being here.

I wish for you places of rest and beauty where you see, feel, smell, taste, hear the blessings of God’s creation.

Prayer for Dad

Dad, Mom, and BethMy dad (Charles H. Richardson) passed away at 9:53 a.m. on Wednesday, December 7. I was on my way to the airport to fly to Oklahoma. I shared Psalm 139 and this prayer at his service on Friday.

Loving God, we give you thanks for the life of your servant, Charles. We knew him as father, husband, uncle, grandfather, preacher, musician, photographer, artist, compassionate listener and friend. We loved him and we saw glimpses of you in his photographs of mountains, flowers, and sunsets; in the way he loved chocolate pie or made pancakes for breakfast; in hikes in the mountains or trips to the zoo. We heard your voice through his sermons, his prayers, the songs he sang, the music he played, his infectious laugh, his telling of stories. We felt your love through his smile, his hugs, his gentle presence, his willingness to listen, to give, to be present with others.

Comforting God, we miss your servant, Charles, our father, husband, grandpa, uncle, friend and colleague. We give you so much thanks for his life and for the privilege of knowing him for this short time on earth. Be present with us in our loss. Comfort us in our grief. When we are overcome with sadness, sit with us and wrap us in your love.

We thank you, we praise you for your many gifts, but especially for the gift of Charles. It’s in great gratitude for this gift that we pray in your name. Amen.

Here is a link to the obituary for my dad.

Centering Prayer Journal

daisiesThis is a repost from my article on Alive Now’s blog

I starting practicing centering prayer in February as I was working on the July/August 2011 issue on Finding Time. Centering prayer seemed to be a good spiritual practice to include with this issue. And I realized that if I was going to invite readers to try out centering prayer, I should be willing to practice it myself. Before February, my only experiences with centering prayer had been in a Sunday school class at my church. I went to three or four sessions, but ended up falling asleep each time. So I joined a more active class instead.

My time for centering prayer is in the early morning after breakfast and walking the dogs. I kept a journal for a while and share some of my experience with you here. As you can see, I’m still “practicing.” I hope you’ll share your own thoughts and experiences, challenges and successes, questions and comments. Blessings!

2/19/11 – God, I feel like a failure this morning in my prayers. My brain cannot concentrate on you. Every little space I create gets filled up in seconds with a thought or distraction. I could never achieve that peaceful connection that I am longing for. Help me, God, to let go of my expectations and accept what happens. I am longing for you, God. Please fill me. Amen.

2/21/11 – God, I thank you for this time. It seems I fight through chaos and distractions, only to find you in the final minutes of my mediation. I forget that you are present even if I cannot seem to reach you. I stood in your presence, I felt, for a few seconds at a time. Fog swirled around me, but I was fully present to you. Thank you for the luxury of 20 minutes of quiet. I pray for mothers and fathers for whom such a time seems impossible. I am yours. Amen.

2/22/11 – Somewhere between dozing and distractions of dogs walking, licking, and barking, I may have felt you. Saw glimpses of you. Walk with me into this day, O God. I need your presence. Amen.

3/13/11 – There is within me a sort of hall of presence where I meet you, God. It expands so large within me. When I can find the way, I open it to you and you come inside. Quiet, expansive, spacious oneness with your presence. I thank you, God.

3/14/11 – I cannot find the space except for short glimmers of you. I open up the left side of my awareness and try to hold off distractions with my right arm. That doesn’t work. Help me to relax into your love. I cannot control or fight my way there. I’m powerless over these distractions. Help me, loving God.

3/16/11 – Even without distractions I am flighty in my thoughts. My expectations are high and I struggle to force things out if my mind. Perhaps surrender would be a better way – force does not work. And still I meet you for moments and glimpses. I am grateful.

3/19/11 – It’s a curious thing, this spaciousness that I slip into. I don’t know how to make it happen or how to stay there once I find myself there. But it is a relaxed place. Like I have relaxed into God’s arms or lap or presence. I’m grateful, God, for this gift from you. Amen.

3/22/11 – Presence. Your presence, O God, through the distractions. I am yours. Amen

3/25/11 – It’s a morning when I feel like I failed my prayer time. I tried to control all the noise, but once it got quiet, I still couldn’t quiet my own mind. God, you are my God. I search for you. Thank you for your presence. Amen.

3/30/11 – I start out in a darkened place. I am broken before you. I don’t want you to see me this way. I start writing in my head even while I try to let go of the thoughts. I am broken, God, and standing before you. Have mercy on me. Then there is a spacious place that is around me and holding me in. Thank you, God, for letting me enter your presence.

3/31/11 – Some days I finally reach you just before the end of the allotted time. Thank you. It is enough. Amen.

4/1/11 – Even in the quiet of the morning I have trouble making a way clear to you. My brain keeps working on problems and I am unable to give myself over to you. A glimpse will have to suffice. Thank you, God. I am hungry for that spacious connection with you.

4/3/11 – I’m not ready for centering prayer in the midst of distractions – such as the dog chewing on his new bone. I need quiet, and still I lose my way. But I do better with silence and peace. It’s baby steps and gratitude and lack of judgment. That is what I need. Thank you God, for the glimpses of your presence.

4/4/11 – My brain hops around like a bunny. I hold tension in my arms trying to find the right position to meet God. I’m powerless over my attention. It seems impossible to be still for 20 minutes. It’s glimpses. Just glimpses. Thank you God for the glimpses of peace.

4/6/11 – Another day of some longer glimpses and I am grateful. Peace is wonderful. Thank you for the presence.

4/8/11 – I’m scattered and unable to concentrate. Gather me up, God, in a single-minded focus on you. Amen.

4/12/11 – Missed a few days and I’m totally out of practice. Didn’t even get to the narthex of your presence, God. Thank you for being there, even though I couldn’t find you. I need your help.

4/13/11 – I’m still fighting to be here. And fighting does not work. I am yours. I am here. Help me, God.

4/16/11 – Seems as though I mostly squander the time I have with you, God. My mind drifts off into all kinds of thoughts and I forget what I’m doing. I can’t remember to concentrate on you and waste most of the time far away from your presence. I’m sorry, loving God. I know you have forgiven me. Thank you.

4/21/11 – My brain is a clutch of bunnies hopping around, unable to focus. Bit there are glimpses of you. And that is enough. Thank you. Amen.

4/22/11 – Why is it that I don’t get to peace and presence until 20 seconds before my alarm goes off? Thank you, loving God, for those 20 seconds.

4/25/11 – I didn’t know it would be so difficult to learn to sit for 20 minutes in quiet. Thank you for this time of learning. I am yours. Amen.

5/3/11 – On this morning after I haven’t slept well, I am fairly peaceful and connected. Thank you, God, for your quiet presence inside of me. Amen.

5/4/11 – Maybe practice does help. It wasn’t a long stretch, but I was able to reach a deep place for a while near the end of my 20 minutes. I don’t know how it happened. It just did. Thank you, Spirit. Amen.

5/12/11 – Such a hard time getting anywhere today, thoughts float through my mind and I chase them on. Planning, solving problems, investigating noises. My brain is in a fog. But for short moments, I slip though the fog into the space that is you, and my mind quiets for that moment. Thank you, God, for moments with you. Amen.

5/18/11 – God, every time I think I’ve mastered the quiet, I find that the chatter is back. I cannot control my brain. I forget to surrender to you. I love you, God. I am yours.

5/20/11 – Thanks, God. Even with dogs barking from time to time, I found the quiet place. I’m grateful.

6/30/11 – I am trying to let go of the tension in my body. Seems like I am trying too hard to concentrate on the word rather than letting go, relaxing into God’s love. I’m trying to force my mind to be open. It doesn’t work so well.

 

More on Centering Prayer


Photo Credit: Beth A. Richardson. “Colorado Daisies.”

Grandpa’s Peonies — 2011

I wrote about Grandpa’s peonies a couple of years ago, so this year, I thought I’d document their growth. They bloom early in spring before much else has started blooming (even the other peonies) and every time they bloom, they bring me delight. This year’s spring was cool, so it took over a month between when the plants started coming up until when they bloomed. These photos span from around March 17th through April 23rd.

I call these “Grandpa’s peonies” because they came from Grandpa Tom’s yard in Norman, Oklahoma. After his funeral, I dug up a little clump, put them in a grocery bag, and brought them home to my front flower garden in Tennessee. When they bloom, Grandpa and Grandma Wilson are right here with me.

Here they are after the peonies started coming out of the ground. (You can see all the things they hide during the summer — the hose, down spout, etc.)

Getting taller and greener. I like how the stalks are red.

Now they’re all leafed out — and hiding the ugly stuff. Behind the peonies, the lilies are starting. And in the lower right part of the photo, you see the Lamb’s Ears. (I love to rub those leaves!)

Finally, a little peony bud — and some ants. The ants love the nectar produced with the budding of the peonies.

And, finally, this little triangle of color. I like that little shape that you see before the peony opens up. (And more ants.)

The buds on a rainy morning …

And . . . the first bloom. These are the old-fashioned, single-bloom peonies. I love the little yellow things in the middle of the flowers. The colors are so intense this time of year.

A riot of blooms on Easter weekend. Thank’s Grandpa and Grandma!

 

God Weeps

fog over water

I first wrote this piece after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. I rewrote it for the sorrow in the world today.

350 dead. … 1,000 dead. … 10,000 dead in one prefecture. Trains, boats, entire villages washed away. Thousands missing. How many will have died when the counting is done? My ears hear, but my mind cannot comprehend these numbers … In this place far away from Tennessee, in a country I do not know and may never visit, people are suffering, people are crying.

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
        she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
– Matthew 2:18, NRSV

These words of the prophet Jeremiah apply today, too.

Voices are heard in Tokyo, Sendai, Kesennuma,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
Mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers,
        friends and strangers weeping …
They refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

What can I say? How can I respond? These grieving, devastated people live so far away. But they are my sisters and brothers. They are children of the Most High, the God who must be weeping, too.

God of Compassion, with you and all the world family, we weep and mourn. Comfort all who are alone or afraid, who wail in loud lamentation, who cry silently. Let us be your heart reaching out to those who grieve. Let us be your hands working to assist those who still live. For you are the God who stands with the least and the lost. Come by here, Lord. Come by Sendai, Minamisoma, Ichihara, and Tokyo. Come by all the places that need your comforting and healing presence. Amen.

Support the Relief Effort

United Methodist Committee on Relief

The Keeper

Beth in the 1980s
Beth in the 1980s

This was my first-ever published writing — in the “Patterns” issue of alive now! J/F 1985. I wrote this following my mom’s last trip to Colorado before her death in 1983 from a brain tumor. This piece speaks to me today as I prepare the “Living in the Present” issue, J/F 2011.

Yesterday at the top of the Trail Ridge, I was getting really frustrated because Mom was so slow. I had to walk her to the bathroom and wait while she went and washed and dried her hands. I walked out. Dad wanted to go to the gift shop, but Mom wanted to look at the display in the visitors’ center. So I stayed with Mom.

I was so angry because I did not want to see the display — we’ve seen it so many times before — every year the very same display of stuffed tundra birds and pictures and charts. As I watched her walk around and read each display like it was the first time she had read it, it all of a sudden hit me that she might never see it again. Each trip for her could be her last.

The reading of the display, the rituals that we participate in as a family — certain things to be done (mail a postcard to Aunt Eileen from the top of Trail Ridge, read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”), certain things to be said (“When are we gonna get there?” “Smell that cool mountain air.” “We’ll have these moments to remember.”) — all these things take on new importance as we/she lives every day as a holy one. Mom is the keeper of the ritual right now. In the participation in these family rituals, there is a combination of such pain and joy, such comfort and such vulnerability.

From Alive Now, J/F 1985. Copyright © 1984 The Upper Room.

Caring without Numbing

Crucified Christ
Crucified Christ -- on a wall in Tuscany

[I wrote this article after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. But I return to it as new disasters occur and I find myself overwhelmed by tragedy. 2010 has been a difficult year — from the earthquake in Haiti to the Nashville floods to the Gulf oil spill. How do we care without numbing?]

The earth seems to in great chaos — shootings, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, floods, tornadoes. As we follow story after story of heartbreaking disaster, I wonder: “How can I continue to see, to hear, to read about these tragedies of human life? How can the aid workers continue to do their tasks as they hear the stories, see the losses, attempt to respond to the incredible needs? How can the survivors reach out to others when they have lost so much? How do they do it? And how did Jesus continue to care for people, day after day after day?”

JESUS MODELS CARING

The scriptures tell us that people followed Jesus everywhere. There were so many people with so many needs around him all the time. And Jesus met the needs of those people — touching them, healing them, feeding their spirits and their bodies. Jesus’ eyes saw the hurt; his ears heard the crying; his hands touched the wounded places; and surely, his heart felt pain — their pain, his pain — at seeing so many people with so many needs. I wonder, “Did Jesus ever experience compassion fatigue?” (I surely do.)

The scripture also tells us a little bit about how Jesus dealt with all the needs around him.

First, Jesus took action: He spoke with people. He touched them. He listened to them. He healed them. He gave of himself whenever he could. We can’t and don’t need to be Jesus; but we, too, can take action. Many of us can give financially or donate material goods to those in need. We can participate in community events responding to the disaster. We can help our families, friends, and children think of ways to take action.

Second, Jesus prayed: He lived his life through a series of “holy moments.” He sought God. He listened to God. He made time for his relationship with God. We can “pray the news.” Whenever we hear, see, or read about the disaster, say a prayer. Let that intersection become a way that you connect with God, asking God to be present to those in need around the world. Write a prayer list and pray it at least once a day.

Third, Jesus took time apart: He went away in a boat. He went up the hill and left his disciples behind. He sought out times to be alone with God. We can take time apart also. It may not seem that it’s ever possible, but think about the times in the day when you are alone. Standing in line at a store, driving in the car, sitting at your computer … these are times when you can take some deep breaths and turn your attention to God. Time apart for us today might mean “time away from the media.” Take a daylong fast from the news. Instead of watching the news, take that time to meditate or read the scriptures. Allow God to take care of the hurting places in the world by turning the world over to God during that day.

CARING FOR OURSELVES

Intense pain in the world and in our lives can be distressing and overwhelming, reminding us of our own grief and sadness. Just as Jesus took time away from hurting people, we also need to take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual selves.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try praying this “rope’s end” prayer by Flora Slosson Wuellner:

Living Christ, I’m in over my head. This situation is getting beyond me. Take over; take over all the way. Fill this room, this place, [this world,] and all of us who are in it with your empowered presence. I give all of this to you. I thank you that you are here and that your light and love are enfolding us at this very moment. In your name, in your word, in your power. Amen. [Used with permission. From Prayer, Fear, and Our Powers, copyright © 1989 by Flora Slosson Wuellner. Published by Upper Room Books®.]

As I think about how I can respond to the people, the pain, the tragedies that surround me, may I remember Jesus’ example: his compassion, his action and interaction, his life of prayer, and his trust in God.

PRAYER

Loving God, touch and heal the hurting all around the world. Give us wisdom, compassion, and loving hearts to respond as members together in the family of God. Help us to follow the example of Jesus in our actions, in our spiritual lives, in our families and communities. Show us how to love without tiring, to care without numbing, to pray without ceasing. Amen.

Where Is Home?

Old cabin
Our cabin in the 1940's -- before Richardsons

Perhaps it’s because of my dad’s decline into Alzheimer’s, but my return to the family cabin is especially powerful this year. It is like all the memories Dad has forgotten were waiting at the threshold of the cabin for someone to enter.

I’ve been coming here since I was a little girl. Today as I came through the door, I breathed in the familiar smells of this place and felt the presence of loved ones who are no longer here — grandparents, great aunts and uncles, my mom.

A movie played in my head — I heard the sound of Mom’s laughter and saw her smile; I felt the pokes of nails I was sorting to help Grandpa Tom with his construction project; I saw myself, early in the morning, running through the freezing cabin to reach the warmth of the kitchen and Dad’s blueberry pancakes.

I am home.
Not the home where I live all year round …
But a place I feel most grounded,
Most connected, most spiritually myself.
A lifetime of my memories
Sits on these shelves,
Vibrates in this air,
Roams around these rooms.
In this place
I am … truly … home.

Reflection:
Where is home for you?