Enter the Stillness

cook stove

I sat in the kitchen in the early morning and entered the stillness that comes with this place, this little cabin in the mountains. The stillness is not silent — the river roars below me, the hummingbirds buzz outside the window. I hear the chips and squeaks of the chipmunks and ground squirrels looking for breakfast.

I thought about the episode of “On Being” I listened to yesterday. Krista Tippett interviewed Pico Iyer about “The Art of Stillness.” Iyer talked about his need to find stillness after a lifetime of travel and movement. I long for that stillness, that “not doing” … and this is one of the places that I find it.

I remember that on our family vacations here, Dad would get up before anyone else and get a fire started in the cook stove. (We didn’t have another stove to cook on and the stove also heated the water.) By the time others got up, the kitchen was open for business. We ran from our cozy beds through the freezing cabin to the warmth of the kitchen and a breakfast of pancakes or hash browns and eggs.

This morning as I sat in the same chair Dad would have sat in. It struck me that he must have longed for and found the stillness of those early mornings here in the kitchen, just as I do today. A tiny, sacred sabbath space before the day begins.

Quiet my anxious mind
And open my heart.
Let me find the quiet place
And meet you there.
Amen.

Spiritual Companions

  

As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. 

Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys. 

Parents, spouses, children, and friends can become true spiritual companions after they have died. Sometimes they can become even more intimate to us after death than when they were with us in life. Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship. 

—Henri J. M. Nouwen
Bread for the Journey

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!

The Color of Memory

I wait each spring,
watching the buds grow
on Grandpa’s peony,
flown from Oklahoma to Tennessee, 
tucked in a plastic grocery bag
when I came home from his funeral.

These fuchsia petals,
these golden stamens,
these rich green leaves,
are the colors of memory.

Grandpa carrying in a bucket
of yellow sweet corn,
giant red tomatoes,
and fuzzy green okra.

Grandpa planting in black earth,
Oklahoma red clay
coaxed into fertile soil
by years of care and compost.

Grandpa in crimson on game day,
in dark suit on Sunday morning,
in carpenter khaki off to work.

Grandpa in my heart, in my mind.
Grandpa love, Grandpa wisdom.
Grandpa always present, steady
like the peony bloom
that opens every spring.

Thank you, Creator.
Thank you, memory.
Thank you, Grandpa.

 
 
Find more of my prayers in my book Christ Beside Me, Christ Before Me: Celtic Blessings.

Wisdom from Bonhoeffer

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“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

Holy Ground

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Yesterday we celebrated the life and resurrection of John Mogabgab. There was comfort in so many friends of John being together, in beautiful music, in the assuring and familiar words of the liturgy.

And I found comfort in these words from John in one of his editorials from Weavings.

When familiar contours disappear and the earth moves beneath our feet, where can we stand? We can stand in the tragic gap. This is Holy Saturday ground, the ground we occupy between the virtue we see to be possible and its actual flourishing throughout the land. It is holy ground because the unanticipated, painful, incomprehensible loss of cherished landmarks offers an opportunity to see alternate perspectives, different paths, fresh horizons. It is holy ground because we stake our lives on it, holding fast to the truth yet to be revealed. It is holy ground because it holds within its soil the seeds for courage and the possibility of renewal.
– John S. Mogabgab
Weavings

In Gratitude for Maya Angelou

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When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Written by Dr. Maya Angelou on the occasion of James Baldwin’s death.