This Spring marked the beginning of a year-long celebration of Penuel Ridge Retreat Center’s 25th anniversary. This special place is on 135 acres in Cheatham County, Tennessee. Backed up against a wildlife preserve, it’s a beautiful place. Two ridges frame the back edges of the center, and in the center is a beautiful lake. For 25 years, we’ve called it “the lake.” But at the first event celebrating the anniversary, the lake was named Lake Joyce. Joyce and Don Beisswenger were the founders of the retreat center. They had the vision, purchased the land, and called together a group of us who could help discern its direction. Joyce passed away several years ago. She lives on in our hearts and now in this beautiful lake, a companion to those who seek rest and solace through retreat.
Prayer of Blessing upon “Lake Joyce”
Gracious God, we come in remembrance of your child and servant Joyce Beisswenger. We recognize her love for you and all of your creation. We celebrate her devotion to life’s spiritual journey and her kindness to those who walk it. As a witness to the legacy of her love for Penuel Ridge and its purposes, we joyfully bestow upon this body of water the name “Lake Joyce.” To you be all honor and glory. Amen.
Last week I got a call from my book editor, Rita Collett, who told me my book, The Uncluttered Heart, had come off the press. She had a copy of the book on her desk and I could come and visit it. So — I went for a visit, held the book in my hands, and took a picture of it. It looks great!
When a book is finished with its printing, a few copies come to the publisher. These are precious copies that go to various people and departments — the book editor, head of publishing, production (for their files), etc. The rest of the books are sent to the The Upper Room’s fulfillment center in Georgia. In the meantime, the book is put into inventory. So it’s time for a little more waiting before the book is ready to be released to the general public.
For me, it’s an exciting time — a time of gratitude and personal fulfillment. Thanks to everyone who has had a part in this birth of an Advent resource.
I got to meet Sr. José a few years ago during a week’s session of the 2-year Academy for Spiritual Formation at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA. She called us together for sessions with the beating of a drum and tried to teach us how not to be late to the sessions (a sign of disrespect). She had us howling like wolves and dancing in the nave of the chapel. She told stories. One that made a big impression on me was that she asked a carpenter friend of hers to make her a wooden casket. She had him fit it with shelves and then kept it in her house as a temporary bookcase. She kept us laughing even as she taught us about God, about prayer, about life.
Earlier this year, she passed away. And since then, I’ve been learning even more about her amazing life. I knew she was a Seneca elder and Franciscan nun. But I didn’t know that she knew some of the modern-day leaders in the faith. A friend of hers, John Dear, recently wrote an article with stories of Sr. José’s encounters with some these people. Dorothy Day went to Sr. José for retreat. During an event they were doing together, Henri Nouwen asked Sr. José to talk with him each day about the death of his mother.
Sr. Jose taught at Matthew Fox’s institute. Below is a trailer for a documentary called Holy Rascals, which presents a different way of thinking about religion and human spirituality. The trailer has footage of both of Jose and of Matthew Fox.
My favorite part was the description of how the brain changes when people engage in regular prayer and meditation. People become more connected, more compassionate. United Methodist minister, Scott McDermott, is featured in segment three. Researchers did a scan of his brain while he was engaged in intercessory prayer. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson said that after two weeks of meditation, there were distinct changes in the brain.
That’s what I want — for my spiritual practice to be such a regular part of my life that my brain actually changes. It takes “spiritual formation” or “participating in the mind of Christ” to a new level, doesn’t it?
One morning in the early spring, my phone rang. My friend, JoAnn Miller, asked, “Do you have your camera today? The wildflowers are in bloom.” That afternoon, she drove me on a special tour of the wildflowers along highways of middle Tennessee. JoAnn took us through parks and clear into the next county to find the wildflowers.
As we drove through the rain that day, she said to me, “Now, around the next curve, you’ll see a whole hillside of Dutchman’s Breeches.” Or “Up here on the right is a bright red flower called Fire Pink.” Or “Later in the spring, the Bluebells will cover the sides of this river bank.”
I was amazed at her knowledge of these tiny, delicate gifts from the creator. We drove over 50 miles, and JoAnn knew which roadside to watch for the Trout Lily and which hillside to see the Shooting Star just coming into their peak. She showed me a glimpse into her world, where her open eyes and years of patient watching have led to a gifted knowledge of springtime beauty.
How many worlds do we miss because we don’t take the time to pause, look, and learn about the immense creation around us? Praise God for the lowly wildflower and for those, like JoAnn, who really see them.
We lay Tigger the Scottie to rest this last Wednesday. He died peacefully at the vet, surrounded by strong women who loved him. Two of the women present for his death had been there for his birth and had cared for him when his mother’s milk had dried up. They fed him and his siblings every four hours with a baby bottle for weeks. Tigger was purchased and went to live in his new home, but was returned at about six months when his genetic illness surfaced. He had “wobbly Scottie” and his new owner was thinking of putting him down. He was given a new life with the family who helped him come into the world.
Though he was disabled, he led a full (and sometimes spoiled life). Towards the end of his life he could go up stairs but not down them. We would often find him waiting for us at the top of the stairs, waiting patiently for us to find him. He became increasingly less mobile and unable to eat. The last several weeks, he had been in “hospice care” until he was ready to go on beyond the rainbow where he is free from the bonds of disability and illness.
I’m grateful to God, to the universe, for letting me share Tigger’s life for a time. Teacher, lover, friend … he is missed.
Lately I’ve been reflecting that my time at The Upper Room has given me more than a just steady job for more than 20 years. I find myself talking to my web development colleagues about organizing a web page using “The Mind of Christ,” “The Heart of Christ,” and “The Hands of Christ.” Or I’ll discover that I’m trying to figure out the right web application for teaching Lectio Divina. “Weird!” I think to myself. “I sound like Stephen Bryant [the boss of The Upper Room]” It’s not a bad thing … but when did that start?
Even more than the breadth of knowledge about spiritual things, my spiritual self has been formed by working here. I don’t know why it surprises me that my relationship with God has been influenced by this place and these people. In my time working here, I’ve been mentored and nurtured by some of the most knowledgeable, creative, and humble spiritual leaders in the Protestant world.
I’m grateful for these gifts … and extremely sad that we are going through another round of layoffs of our staff. Since the beginning of the year, we have lost 14 staff people, whose jobs have been terminated because of the sinking economy. We are in a time of great change, great grief. We cherish your prayers … and we need God’s love, presence, and healing.
Grandpa’s peonies started blooming yesterday. My Grandpa Wilson was a gardener. His entire back yard in Norman, OK was dedicated to a garden that he started harvesting in February (potatoes) and finished harvesting in late fall (turnips). He rotated crops, planting and harvesting three vegetables per season in the same rows. His compost pile, at times, was so tall that he had to walk up on top of it — about 5 feet in the air — to dump his compost bucket.
Grandpa was born in the early 1900s in Kennelworth South Africa. His parents nearly starved during the siege of Kimberly in the Second Boer War. The story is that they were starving, but Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma had planted a garden and knew there was food to be had. Great-Grandpa took a sack and snuck through the enemy lines one night to get to their garden. Though overgrown over with weeds, the plot was full of vegetables. Great-Grandpa filled up his sack and brought the food back through the siege lines.
Grandpa Tom didn’t have a lot of use for flowers (“You can’t eat them”), but there were a peonies planted in the back yard. After his funeral, I dug up a clump, put them in a grocery sack, and brought them back home to Tennessee. Early in the spring, they bloom, bringing alive memories of my Grandpa Tom. I’m blessed.
Had a special birthday celebration a few weeks ago when I got to spend the day in the north woods helping to make maple syrup with the good people from Maple Leaf Orchard, Spring Valley, Wisconsin. Mark and Sue Christopher guided us through the process and, at the end of the day, fed us and sent us off with some of the syrup we helped make. What a bonus.