I seem to be overwhelmed a lot these days — but this time, it was with love. We’ve had an art festival at my church this past week — “Art on the Edge.” Over two dozen of us Edgehill UMC folks displayed some of our artwork at the church. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night, we had a reception and received musical gifts from some of our professional musicians.
Friday night, Barbara Bailey Hutchison performed. We finished up the evening with an auction of some of the pieces from the show. (Proceeds from the sales were going towards the “The Red Houses” — two houses we are purchasing for ministries with the neighborhood.)
I was sitting there at the auction when a mystery item was brought forth — it was sitting on an easel covered with a green cloth. The auctioneer (Pastor Judi) said that the item was a painting by Barbara Bailey Hutchison and that we would begin the bids without even seeing the item. “$100!” someone called out. And then, “$200!” The auctioneer said, “OK, now we’ll pause the bidding and see what it is. When the cloth was pulled off, I looked at it, blinked, twice, and thought, “Hey, that’s me.” While I was staring at me, my friend Jenni finished off the bidding — “$300!” “Sold!” cried Pastor-Auctioneer Judi.
I was still sitting there looking at the picture and feeling overwhelmed with love — by Barbara, by friends, by my family, the congregation of EUMC. What an amazing week — celebrating the Giver and the Gifts. (And raising a bit of money for The Red Houses — gifts of ministry for the Edgehill neighborhood.)
Life seems too full right now. Not all bad stuff … just too much of it. Too many opportunities, too many challenges. Sometimes I wonder about how I can handle all that’s getting thrown my my way. God, I ask, are you sure you know what you’re doing?
These are the things God tells me. Just breathe. Stay in the present. Do the next right thing. Trust me. Be grateful.
“These words, ‘You shall not be overcome’, were said very loudly and clearly. … God did not say, ‘You shall not be tormented, you shall not be troubled, you shall not be grieved’, but God said, ‘You shall not be overcome.'”
Julian of Norwich Revelations of Divine Love
Thanks, God, for the gift of life. For the opportunities as well as the challenges. For the blessings as well as the tears. For the love as well as the pain. I’m grateful. Amen.
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.