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.

Have You Ever Been Lonely …

Dad passed away two years ago today. He had been in an Alzheimer’s decline for quite a while and though we knew it was the end, we didn’t know when “the end” would be. I was working at my office when my phone rang. It was Anna, my step-mom’s, number, but it was the chaplain at The Manor who told me that Dad was near the end. They had called to let me speak with him one last time over the phone. I don’t remember what I said other than “I love you.” It was such an act of love and charity for them to reach out to me in that way. As soon as I got off the phone, I made my flight arrangements. While I was waiting for my plane, I got the call that Dad had died.

I’m so grateful for Anna, who cared for Dad with such love, selflessness, and dedication for so many years. And for all those who helped to take care of him and loved him no matter what.

Even after Dad couldn’t remember who I was, he could play the piano. There was one song that he always came back to when he sat at the piano. As he played through his repertoire, he would returned to the song, “Have You Ever Been Lonely.”

I didn’t know the song before I heard him play it. But the words seem so appropriate for his journey.

Have you ever been lonely?
Have you ever been blue?
Have you ever loved someone,
Just as I love you?

By Peter DeRose and Billy Hill
Made popular by Patsy Cline

I asked him how he learned to play the piano by ear. (I wish I could play by ear!) He loved to tell the story about Grandma Ida Mae giving him lessons when he was a little boy. He said he would rather be outside, playing, so he would ask her to play the song and he would memorize it. That saved the time he would have spent practicing so he could go outside with the other kids. And in his last years, that part of his brain still functioned … what a gift. And though I can’t play the piano by ear, I received his legacy of music.

And I’m so grateful.

Marty

Charles and MartyToday is the 30th anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s so strange to have her frozen in time at age 48. I wonder what wisdom she would have to share with me today?

Today, I want to share a tribute that my dad wrote in the Grace United Methodist Church newspaper (Tulsa, OK) soon after she died.

As I shared with the worshipping community last Sunday morning, one of the expressions of love and sympathy which came to me and the family was in the form of a round crystal pendant which was so faceted that, when it turns in the sunlight, sends out a shower of rainbow-colored circles of light on the walls and ceiling of the room. It was accompanied with this sentiment: “To be hung in the sun to make living rainbows to remember a life beautifully lived.”

“Living rainbows” and “a life beautifully lived”; to me, that expressed Marty’s life. I am not one who believes that there is only one person in life with whom one could be happy in marriage or that marriages are made in heaven, but I will always believe that when we met for the first time, God may have said, “Hey, that would make a very good match!” And so a lonely preacher boy, who was shy, found a girl who made him feel very much at ease in her presence and God gave him the courage to pursue the relationship.

I was attracted by her unassuming ways, her intelligence and keen wit. She had a positive, sunny personality, a ready smile for everyone, and a way of making people feel at home in her presence. She never put on airs and never tried to be anything other than who she was. She was charitable toward all and accepted life as it came to her. She never complained about life or about her illness, accepting it with great courage and faith. . . .

As with any two persons whose lives have been intimately linked together in marriage, a part of Marty will always be a part of my life. I thank God for her life and for the many gifts she shared with me and with others. As Elvira Glossybrook [Marty’s alter-ego] might say, “I’ll declare, that Marty is sure fun to be with.” And so she was.

Celebrating Dad

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I’m still celebrating my saints. Today, Dad would have been 84 years old. I’m grateful for the gifts he gave me:

  • My love of “the family business.”  Dad was a United Methodist pastor and, since I was a little one, I wanted to be a preacher’s wife. In grade school, I finally met a woman pastor realized  that I could be clergy. So today I carry on the family business as an ordained Deacon appointed to The Upper Room and to Edgehill United Methodist Church. (I always enjoyed Dad’s delight when I would tell him my vocation during those last years when he was battling Alzheimer’s.)
  • Photography. I found this photo after he passed away. Dad took it in Mooreland, Oklahoma during my first year of life. It’s the only self-portrait I’ve seen: Dad shooting his picture into a mirror. The reflection in the table is of a picture of Grandpa Richardson.
  • Music. Dad had a beautiful tenor voice. I can remember him singing from the pulpit from time to time. Grandma Richardson was a music teacher who passed along her talent and love of music to Dad. And he passed it on to me. Today when I preach, I like to weave a song into the sermon.
  • Art. Dad began drawing and painting when I was in grade school. I’ve only just begun to test out this part of myself with the cartoons I’m drawing of Jack. I’ve been sketching daily cartoons (a sort of daily journal) for about five years. I remember Dad writing letters to us using cartoons instead of words.
  • A love of nature, watching birds, BBC, public radio, Mexican food … I could go on and on.

Dad’s legacy lives on in me. And I am grateful.

God of sunrises and sunsets, God of feeding birds and charcoal pencils, God of music and prayer, thank you the life of Charles H. Richardson. And thank you for his gifts to the world. May we remember Charles and, in remembering, give thanks to you, the Artist, Musician, and Loving Creator of life. Amen.

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.