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.”
The last several of summers, I’ve had the chance to help with SOULfeast, the Upper Room’s summer spiritual formation retreat. I’ll be there again this summer — July 13-17 at Lake Junaluska, NC. I’ll be leading worship and will be doing a workshop on photography. I hope you’ll consider joining me there.
Roberta Bondi, author, professor, and theologian, will serve as the Keynote Speaker for the week, and preachers, Rob Fuquay, Tim Bias, Candace Lewis, and Dana Trent, will lead us in spiritually rich worship each night.
Our theme for the week is “Living Psalms” — how the Psalms apply to our daily lives. There is still time to register and join us for this special event. Check it out.
This week I paged the January/February 2011 issue of Alive Now. “Paging an issue” is when the editor sits down with all the potential copy (poems, quotes, scripture, stories, etc.) and the theme (“Living in the Present” — in this case) and decides what goes on what page.
I was trying to get this task finished all of last week and, instead, ended up doing quite a bit of “housekeeping.” I put up pictures in my office, cleaned out files, and alphabetized all the Upper Room books on my shelves. Then on Monday morning of this week, all the chores completed, I faced the task of paging the issue.
I had a bad case of “Editor’s Block.” After working on the web for 14 years, paging a printed copy of a magazine seemed so — permanent. On the web, it’s easy to take something down or change it if you don’t like it. Not in print. What gets published is ink on paper.
I started thinking about wandering around the building and visiting with people. That’s when I remembered Mary Ruth — my boss, mentor, and editor of Alive Now when I worked there in the 80’s. She must have faced the same thing. When it was time for an issue to be paged, Deen (the Editorial Assistant) and I waited with expectation. Once Mary Ruth completed her task, we had a whole bunch of work to do — picking out photos, typing copy, sending permissions requests, etc. But until she paged the issue, we sat around watching the deadline approach … watching the deadline pass. And where was Mary Ruth?! She was not at her desk! She was off wandering around the building again.
So, now I know … I’ve got a new understanding of Mary Ruth’s “wanderings.” It’s a daunting task to pick what goes into the magazine and on what page it will be seen. It’s a holy moment; a time to be open to the Spirit — listening hard to the whispers of guidance — even as we wander the building, stare out the window, or compete a few housekeeping tasks.
Creating God, guide this task, these choices, that these ideas and words and paragraphs would become instruments of your grace in the form of a magazine. Amen.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve been named Editor of Alive Now magazine. Alive Now is one of six devotional magazines published by The Upper Room. It happens to be the place that I started my ministry here back in 1986. January/February 2011 will be the first issue that I work on.
I’m looking forward to helping “unclutter hearts” all year ’round. Also, I’m excited to be able to take what I’ve learned in the internet world back to a print publication.
Today I taught two sessions at the United Methodist Women’s assembly — on Prayer in Our Daily Lives. There are thousands of women here in St. Louis! I have seen the women from around the world. The beauty of God’s creation showing through these beautiful people.
Today I saw …
Women — young and old.
Women standing on the corner protesting the wall in Gaza and women walking across the street wearing hats that looked like Hershey’s Kisses.
Women in heels, flip flops, and sensible shoes.
Women in blue jeans, in the garb of Fiji and in African dress.
Women of every color and hue, age and size …
All of us, sisters in faith. Thanks be to God for the opportunity to be in this place at this time. A holy place full of powerful mothers, sisters, and daughters of the faith.
I would quit my job (if I had one) and join a missionary band.
Today in chapel, I got to meet Remember Seven — four young adults living out my dream. KT Wallis, Matthew Green, and Tobias Batemen are from Australia. Joy Stovall is from Canada. In February, 2009, these four served in Zambia and Zimbabwe and found their lives changed by the experience. They told this story: At the Mwandi Ovc Centre in Zambia, they worked with a project that feeds 250+ children six days a week. For many of these children, these 6 meals a week are the only food they receive. On the seventh day, there is no food. While serving there, they ate with the children for six days and didn’t eat on the seventh day. Their band is named after this experience.
After they got back home, they decided to quit their jobs and start a missionary band. Now they are traveling — singing, telling their stories, and witnessing to the presence of God in their lives. Remember Seven recorded a CD of songs inspired by their experiences. They live on a portion of the proceeds (and the kindness of their hosts) and send the rest of the money to projects in Africa. They are in the United States traveling until mid-November. Check out their travel schedule and see if they might be coming near you. And consider buying their music.
Yesterday afternoon I sat with other staff around the edges of the Board of Directors meeting for The Upper Room. Once a year, the board of Upper Room Ministries has its official meeting, hears about the work of the organization, and helps guide us in our work.
Victor Perez (International Spiritual Director, Walk to Emmaus) started the meeting with a devotional time that blew me away. He had everyone turn to the devotional for yesterday, August 6, 2009, in The Upper Room magazine. Different sections of the devotional were read by different voices — the long scripture was read in Spanish. The short scripture was read in French. The meditation itself was read in English. The prayer was prayed in Korean. And the thought for the day was read by our youth delegate in English.
It was powerful enough to realize that yesterday around the world people were reading that same meditation in all those languages, plus at least 36 more. But I was sitting in the back near the two women who were doing simultaneous translation of the proceedings — one translating to French for a board member from Congo. The second was translating into Portuguese for a board member from Angola.
During this time of meditation, the two translators were standing on each side of me, speaking quietly into their microphones, completing my impression that I was sitting smack dab in the middle of the world. It felt a bit like I had stepped into the scene from Acts 2 — all those different languages bringing to me the word of God. “Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.'” (Acts 2:7-11)
Meeting Sarah Wilke
We’d “had church” and could have gone home after that, but then we got to hear our new World Editor, Sarah Wilke, introduce herself to the board and to us. She joyfully and enthusiastically shared her spiritual journey with us. At the end of her sharing, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung led us in praying for Sarah and her ministry. We all stood and all of us, board members and staff, raised our hands toward her and poured prayers and love toward her. How remarkable … what a holy moment.
I had one more glimpse of the holy yesterday. Both our church’s pastor, Judi, and intern, Andrew, are out of town on vacation. So I got the call that our oldest member of the church has entered the final stage of her life. My neighbor, Deen, and I went by last night for a short visit. We sat with Ms. Mae and her daughter. I held her hand and we prayed with gratitude for Mae’s life and for God’s love, grace, and comfort to be especially present during the coming days.
O Holy One, I don’t know how it is that you blessed me yesterday with these glimpses of your presence in the world, in my life. But I’m grateful. Thank you for giving me open eyes and an open heart that I might witness you walking among us. Thank you. Amen.
I’m wondering — Where have you had glimpses of the holy in recent days?
I had a remarkable experience today helping lead an informal chapel service for a group of communicators from Africa. They were 12 clergy and lay from Uganda, Mozambique, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Zimbabwe. They were in the U.S. for a three-week training organized by Nancy Neelley, Program Manager for Central Conference Communications, UMCom. Stephen Bryant invited me to help lead singing in a morning prayer service in the chapel of The Upper Room.
The group has been together for a couple of weeks already and enjoy singing together. As soon as they found their seats in the chapel, they were ready to sing in that place. I was unprepared for what happened when I invited their informal song leader, Emmanuel, to lead us in an opening hymn. He started a song and all 12 pour out of the pews, gathered in the space in front of the altar, and began to sing, clap, dance, harmonize, praise God. Tears came to my eyes, it was so beautiful. As soon as one song wound down, someone in the back started another song. The energy was incredible.
Steven Bryant talked to the group about the mission of The Upper Room. And then, my colleague, Kathryn Kimball, the person who cares for the Chapel and Museum, gave a live interpretation of the carving. (Visitors to the chapel usually sit in the pews and listen to a recording that explains in great detail what is going on in the carving of the Last Supper. But Kathryn stood there and talked with no script.) She told about the story in the carving — the moment at The Last Supper right after Jesus has said, “One of you will betray me.” She described the different reaction of each disciple and invited us to ponder what we saw and where we might be in the story. Entering a time of reflection, I sang “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” Finally, Stephen led the group in a short discussion of what was seen and where in the story persons might have seen themselves. We finished the service with more singing, led by our congregants.
I was moved by the experience, honored to have been present, incredibly blessed to have been given the gift of music by 12 young communicators from the continent of Africa. God speed, my new friends.