that the whole earth is a sacrament-
a limitless possibility of encountering
God reaching toward us.
During this time of disorientation and separation, we’re asking members of our St. George’s community to offer poems, reflections and images they’ve created as doorways into prayer. We will share them with you weekly. They may be ways to face what you are feeling today. They may be reminders of beauty and communion. We pray they will be signs of hope and the nearness of God in all things.
Image: Nina Bisognani
I am grateful for every simple and necessary thing: souls with open hearts and listening
ears, both human and creature-kind.
The achingly beautiful stories of this earth, told in a million, quiet ways: an egg,
hatched; how dusk settles like a rose; the hush of fresh snow amidst pine woods.
I want to see it all as if for the first time. Again.
I hope to try and hold on to this mystery in the core of my bones—this earthy and
divine river that flows through all things. But should I find myself unable to contain such
a gift, may it be—I pray—that the mystery holds me.
– Kathryn Yingst
Image: Melanie Kyer
I love to cook and bake, especially at the holidays. I am often using tried and true recipes, or maybe no recipe at all, just improvising by how the chili tastes, or how the dough “feels.” Sometimes, though, it is a new recipe or one I don’t use very often, and I have to “trust the recipe.”
For Christmas Eve, my husband’s family traditionally has French Onion soup, so since we were home this year, it fell to me. The recipe requires caramelizing a lot of onions. I am not very patient and I wanted to move on to the next step many times before they were just the right golden brown. But I waited. I stirred. Each time I looked they were just a bit more soft and had gained just a bit more color. There was no specific time listed to cook– I just had to wait as long as I possibly could and trust they were caramelized enough. It might have still been a good onion soup if I had stopped earlier, but in the end, the wonderful sweetness was truly revealed by slow gentle roasting for what seemed like forever. Trust the recipe.
After Christmas we made orange marmalade for the first time. I had never made it, so I kept checking the recipe which this time happily came with more specific instructions: cook until the marmalade reaches 220 degrees. And yet, even though I knew exactly what to wait for, there was a long time when it felt like progress was frustratingly slow. The marmalade looked and smelled beautiful– did I really need to wait for the thermometer to tell me when to pour it into jars? Well, if I hadn’t, I might be enjoying orange sauce instead of lovely marmalade. Trust the recipe.
Much of the past few months have felt like that. We have waited for the election. We have waited for the birth of Jesus, our Christmas traditions, and the magi. We have waited for a vaccine to be developed. Sometimes it has seemed like those things would never happen. Through it all, it has seemed like stirring the onions or making marmalade: we know we are not done stirring, but it is so hard to wait. Why can’t we just move on? Trust the recipe.
But do we even have a recipe for these times which we have never seen before? Scientists may have developed a vaccine, but we do not know how long it will take to be administered to everyone, nor do we know how long it will take before our lives are “back to normal.” So now what? I like to think the recipe does lie in the hands of our “Master Chef.” The problem is, on our end, it is more like the soup recipe than the marmalade one. We know the method set out for us, but we don’t know the “time” or the “temperature” when everything will be finished. We can pray to discern the will of God in our lives and to live accordingly. We can distance and wear masks. And we can practice patience that ultimately, the soup will turn out well.
In other words: trust the recipe.
January 8, 2021
Image: Barbara Ryther and Nina Bisognani
Reflecting on 2020
We are leaving the old year and with it many things we are probably happy to leave behind,
but there are some things we will bring with us into the new year.
We, the writers and artists of this reflections page, are grateful for the blessings and lessons
which have come to us in 2020, without which we would not be who we are.
For us they include:
“The opportunity to take family walks together and really pay
attention to each other and to the sights and sounds of nature…” -Melanie K
“A bright yellow goldfinch that brought joy to my life
by waking my interest in the dozens of birds
and other creatures in my own backyard…” -Nina B
“A reminder to nourish old friendships,
because they’re the roots that sustain me,
as well as new friendships,
because they’re the branches that help me grow…” -Barbara R.
“Being able to sing choral masterworks
in an international virtual choir,
created specifically because of the pandemic,
and in doing so make lasting friendships from all over the world.”–Barbara K.
“I am grateful to have learned more about letting go.
During this pandemic, I learned how hard,
and sometimes painful, it is to let go of things,
ideas, and traditions that have both meaning and memories attached.” – Sudie B.
“The importance of allowing myself time to decompress—
walks along the ocean or on the trails, enjoying a snuggle with my cat,
and chatting with friends. These things have brightened my days.” – Kathryn Y.
What are those blessings and lessons that came to you?
Image: Nancy Davison
Guide me, Lord
When my life seems pinched and lonely, remind me to look up and out at the moon and stars.
To look down and in at flowing water and tiny blossoms in the grass.
When I struggle for control, loosen my grip and help me trust your plan in all its random glory.
When I am weary, when I am weary, give me rest and a sense of gratitude and of renewal.
– Nancy Davison
Image: Barbara Ryther
Christmas Eve Meditation
This Christmas is unlike any other, and it feels very strange. Because of a powerful microbe we can’t even see, we’ve been deprived of many of the trappings of our normal holiday celebrations. No parties, few– or limited–family gatherings, smaller piles of presents under the tree, the need to ask for help from a food pantry for the first time ever.
Perhaps it is worth remembering that Mary and Joseph were also in a strange place, and that the events of their son’s birth were extraordinarily unusual. A stable, really? Angel choirs? And filthy, smelly men, men who lived on the edge of society, tending sheep being the first people to welcome the newborn into this world? Unusual indeed. It came at a time and place—ancient Judea—where people desperately needed hope. How impossible it must have seemed, even as he grew to adulthood in modest surroundings that this baby was destined to be that source of that hope.
It is not that difficult to connect today’s events with those of the first Christmas. A year ago none of us expected to find ourselves unable to celebrate Christmas as we have done in the past. We are in a strange place too.
Hoping to return to the ways we are happiest celebrating Christmas we have little choice but to put this year’s celebrations aside. We must do so to survive this pandemic so we, and those we love, will still be here to celebrate a Christmas with all the people we hold dear, and in all the ways we’ve become accustomed to.
So let us celebrate Christmas as best we can—and do so however small, however different it may be. Sing carols with the virtual choir at one of our YouTube services, find your own candle to light when we sing “Silent Night.” Go big and find the YouTube celebration from our National Cathedral. Or do both!
If ever there was a year for “Christ to be kept in Christmas,” this is it: It is still the birthday of our king. Let’s celebrate it as best we can. God came down on Christmas. God is with us. Joy to the world. The Lord IS come.
– Barbara Kautz
Image: Nina Bisognani
As we enter the season of Advent, we begin to experience some of the darkest
times of the year. The sun sets earlier and rises later than we might like.
Diminished are the fall’s last rays of healing warmth. We begin to feel the chill of winter approaching.
Many of us try to avoid the longer nights by putting candles in windows and decorating trees with sparkling lights. Light brings us comfort, and joy over what lies ahead.
But the skies have grown darker and we fear what we cannot see.
Creaking floorboards late at night in a lonely house.
Strange shadows on the walls.
The sound of coyotes howling at the moon.
Fears of people unlike us, of personal failures, of hunger, sickness and death.
We tend to store our inner fears in the outer darkness. Such fears are passed along through generations. Imagine the whole world suffering from a collective fear of the unknown. How thoroughly have these fears altered our lives since ancient times.
Though we often think of darkness in a negative way, darkness and light are both a part of God’s plan. In Genesis, darkness precedes the light. As we journey through these dark days, heading toward the light of Jesus’ birth, we enter a restful time of quiet anticipation.
This is the time of Advent. A time of HOPE.
We can see the stars in the heavens in all their glory.
The brightest of those stars led the way to the birthplace of Baby Jesus.
Stay awake, says a small voice inside us, lest you miss the greatest light in this season when it arrives. His spirit may enter our hearts as an owl whose soul comes out at night with wings beating softly; the light of the world and our salvation.
– Nina Bisognani
Image: Barbara Ryther
Advent 2020 – A dialog
It’s dark, Lord, and I cannot see the road ahead.
It’s Advent, too, Lord—You know it’s my favorite season.
But this one is so different.
How I long for the traditions that have always marked this time for me—
Stirring the pudding…rehearsals…baking…
decorating…finding the right gift…
Lessons and Carols…time with family and friends…hugs…
And so much more….
This new place without the old comforts feels so foreign.
How can Christmas come in a world so strange?
A world of masks…a world of warnings…a world of rising deaths?
O my child, yes. This Advent is different.
The traditions that marked this season for you are on hold—
for a while, anyway…
Let go of them.
Prepare for something new.
I am calling you to go deeper with me–
Deeper into my Word–
Deeper into my world.
The path ahead seems strange and dark, but I am with you.
Look for the Light.
– Sudie Blanchard
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
On them has light shined. Isaiah 9:2
Image: Barbara Ryther
Image: Barbara Ryther
Thanksgiving Prayer for Families in Quarantine
We thank you for family and friends,
For those with us in person and those with us in spirit.
Please help us all to know we are never alone,
Help us all to feel the presence of your love.
We thank you for our home as it is and not as we wish it could be.
We appreciate the blessing of living in such a beautiful place,
Please be with those who have no home or place to rest.
Help them to find strength and beauty wherever they are.
We thank you for the blessing of having food and the money to buy what we need,
Please be with those who struggle today to find enough to eat.
Help them to find resources and support.
We thank you for the chance to work and learn and play safely at home,
Please be with doctors, nurses, police, grocery workers and all those who put themselves in
danger to help us be safe.
Help them to feel your powerful protection.
We thank you for our health today,
Please be with those who are sick or scared,
Help them to feel your healing touch.
We thank you for the blessing of science and learning.
Please be with those who make difficult decisions for the sake of our town, country, and world.
Help them to be guided by research and justice.
We thank you for your mercy when we may have been unkind.
Please show us where we need to listen and use our hearts and minds,
Help us show to others all the blessings you have given us.
These things we ask you as we rest tonight and every night,
That tomorrow we may make the world a better place in your name.
Melanie M. Kyer
November 23, 2020
Image: Nina Bisognani
Love Lasts Longer Than Time
They met in high school. When he walked past her desk, she was immediately drawn
to his red socks. She looked up to see a handsome ‘strapping young man ‘ with
blonde hair and lovely blue eyes. At that moment she told herself one day they
would marry. Time passed. They fell in love. And, as predicted, they became
husband and wife.
Both of them had suffered losses. My Italian grandparents died by the time my
mother was 15. Her mother contracted blood poisoning from an unsterilized
instrument while helping the town doctor deliver a baby. The story is that
Grandfather Henri died two years later of a broken heart.
As today there is no known cure for corona-virus, ninety years ago there were no
antibiotics in York, ME.
Mother had no Italian relatives to help her through her grief but she had a strong
faith in God. It was her close relationship with Him that got her through a
frightening and otherwise unbearable time. Thanks to the kindness of a local
business owner, she was offered a part time job after school. She graduated
valedictorian of her class.
Because of his own personal tragedy, my father spent most of his growing years in
foster homes. Life did not go smoothly for him at first. After he and my mother
became friends, it was their love that helped them both heal.
Over the years, my mother and father became inseparable. They worked together,
hunted together, golfed together. With God’s help, they created a new family with
four healthy daughters.
Things weren’t always perfect. There were hard times and occasional squabbles.
However, their love was always alive beneath the everyday trials.
As they grew older, they began to worry about each other. Neither of them wanted
to die first and leave the other alone. For the last two years of their lives, that was a
constant battle. They actually passed on within seven weeks of each other.
I am convinced they are still holding hands somewhere, somehow. God’s enduring
love for us all sustains my belief that love lasts longer than time.
Image: Barbara Ryther
Image: Nina Bisognani
Victoria, Amor Vincet Omnia
“Listen,” she says
like a wood thrush
embraces the sky.
Who am I
to refuse such beauty?
She gathers me
with scented blooms
and the pink ribbons
The dew of her laughter
blankets the meadows
as ewes shake sleep
from their wooly heads.
I walk the rocky slope
to the sea
and she is there,
her glass green garment
gliding towards the horizon
before she turns
with a mischievous smile
to thunder back.
I cannot escape her
nor do I wish to.
“Listen,” she says.
Amor Vincit Omnia
Amor Vincit Omnia
Amor Vincit Omnia.
Image: Melanie Kyer
Choices and Their Consequences
From the moment we wake up in the morning we make hundreds of decisions, some without thinking, like how much cream to put in the coffee. Others change the course of our lives and those around us forever, though we may not know it at the time.
When I was 16 my parents made one such decision: they agreed to sign the paperwork enabling me to become an exchange student. They thought I would never be chosen and did not want to hurt my dreams. But I was chosen, because on the other side of the Atlantic, a girl 18 days my junior, who lived in a suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark convinced her parents to sign similar papers agreeing to host an American high school student for a year. None of us had any idea how far reaching those decisions would be, and just not for that year, but well into the future, and for the rest of our lives.
Or consider the day I sat in the office of the Chief Nurse of Vietnam, having to decide which of two large hospitals I should ask to be assigned to. Both hospitals could easily find a slot for my best friend from college when she arrived six weeks later. Weighing what I knew about each hospital was of no help. One specialized in caring for burn patients, the other for people with brain injuries. I chose the latter and because of that my friend was introduced to her husband – something that might not have happened had I made the alternative choice.
I was 16 and 22 when those decisions were made. Now I am 73. I will always be grateful for the decision to have been an exchange student, but sometimes wonder about that second one. Would Joanne still have met her husband, would I have met Jim much earlier? Given that both men were medical evacuation helicopter pilots and that Jim lived next to the other hospital it is hard not to think about how the choices I made influenced our lives.
It is human nature to wonder about making choices like this. We may look at the homes where we live, the relationships we have with each other, even our membership in St George’s and wonder what would have happened if we’d chosen otherwise. It can make for sleepless nights, be fodder for unusual dreams, the plots for novels–or make us wish for different outcomes.
Whether we come to believe we’ve made the right choice or not we can’t go back. We can only look at our actions and decide how we could make things better for the people around us, and for ourselves.
Next week we are contemplating making very important decisions. However, it isn’t the outcome of the election that matters most. It is what we do after it is over. How will each one of us react to the elation or disappointment we will feel about the outcome—at every level of government? How will we approach people we care about who had hoped for a different election result?
Because I know the members of St George’s, I believe we will care, that we will want to make things better for our friends and ourselves. If that’s not true then why do some of us regularly sit outside for the entirety of a cold autumn night to express our concerns for our neighbors in need and the services provided by YCSA?
Like most people I wait for the future, with hope, much like I did a month after I turned 17, and boarded a ship to Europe– and an unknown future. I do, however, believe the answers are there—in our love of God, and with Jesus as our guide. As was read in the gospel for this Sunday, October 25th, Jesus was asked to rank the importance of the ancient Hebrew commandments. This was his answer: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.
Words to live by, not just now, but always.
Image: Nina Bisognani
An Abundance of Caution
We welcome the changes brought by the fall season with full hearts
And an abundance of caution.
The warmth of the sun on our backs, the refreshing air that fills our lungs
Remind us autumn in New England is one of God’s greatest gifts.
Children wearing masks return to the classroom, or not.
They make us proud by bravely accepting the ‘new normal’ of a changed learning environment. And they proceed with an abundance of caution.
Sometimes the tears in their eyes betray a fear of the unknown, something we
have come to feel ourselves. Still, they continue to march forward. We are awed by their resilience.
They will be stronger people for having lived through this, we say.
And we try to develop that strength ourselves
With an abundance of caution.
Leaves turn glorious colors before they fade and fall to the ground.
A feast for our eyes which we hope will carry us through leaner times to come.
As the days pass, the air is getting cooler. Afternoons we sit by the firepit, feeling the not too distant chill of winter approaching.
We make hearty soups and shop for warmer clothes
With an abundance of caution.
Outdoor dining will soon be a summer memory. Restaurants make plans to open at 50 % capacity . Masking and social distancing are now the law.
We consider revisiting the places we joyfully frequented a year ago,
Cautiously and with trepidation.
Political strife is now rampant in our once peaceable country. We try to address our myriad of problems. Coronavirus seems to have taken center stage.
We long to stay in touch with our friends and relatives. We miss them so.
God helps us to imagine creative ways of reaching out to one another. Frequent emails, texting, and ZOOM meetings have become a way of life.
And we continue forward in this unpredictable journey
Knowing we are not alone. Knowing God is watching over us.
With prayers and an abundance of caution.
Nina L. Bisognani
Image: Barbara Ryther
So Many Masks
Masks for Halloween.
Masks for Carnival.
Masks for mystery and surprise.
Starting as children we think masks are fun.
Yet the older we get the more practice we get with other masks.
Masks to hide our pride or our embarrassment
Masks to hide our envy or our boredom
Masks to hide our anger or our pain.
But the masks we wear today are different
These masks are not always fun but neither are they for hiding.
Lovingly hand sewn, improvised, or professional
With bright colors and patterns, wit and humor,slogans and symbols
Masks of all designs.
Our eyes smile
Sometimes we shrug
As if to say “Isn’t this strange?”
This mask is for you
I don’t know you, but I am responsible for you
We are responsible for each other
I care about you
We care about each other
Because if we didn’t, what would we care about?
Image: Nancy R. Davison
I have been trying to paint the terrible beauty of wildfire for years. My watercolors are pretty but lack the power and the threat of uncontrolled flame. My interest was basically esthetic and generically humanitarian until a few weeks ago when the Oregon fires threatened my sister’s house in Eugene. She watched the Holiday Farms Fire, upwind and 12 miles away, grow and spread as reported by local news. Packed their cars. Put Go bags by the back door. Taped the windows against the heavy smoke and hazardous air. I waited and watched with her through our nightly phone calls. Wildfire suddenly became an immediate and urgent subject.
I went back to my printmaking to find that messing about with different layers of printer’s ink gave images of unpredictable intensity and brilliance.
For this piece I rolled out a stripe of yellow, dropped the paper face down on the inked glass and rubbed the back to transfer the color to the paper. Leaving the paper pinned in place, I peeled it back, cleaned off the yellow and rolled out the orange. I used a card to scrape out the whites. Then I pulled the paper back down and rubbed it to print orange over yellow and white. I applied the dark red with a piece of matboard, working into the printed surface – adding darks and details, balancing the composition.
The air in Eugene is mostly clear with hints of distant smoke. The Holiday Farms Fire is contained and the wind has shifted. My sister and brother-in-law have resumed their daily round, their long walks in the afternoon. ‘Normal’ is just a memory. The drought and the unseasonable heat continue as fires flare up and fade from British Columbia to Baja.
Nancy R. Davison
Image: Robin Klitch, niece of Melanie Kyer
Orange is a warning.
Traffic cones and ribbons mark construction sites.
Hunter vests and blazing hats pierce through the trees,
Where even bright fall leaves hail winter’s cold.
Orange tells us: Pay attention!
You have looked away so long,
The very sky at noon has turned to orange
In a jarring surreality.
Orange is the fire burning,
Pain reflected to the sky,
As if the heavens themselves are screaming:
What will it take to roust you from your sleep?
This orange does not know what it will be–
Though it seems mighty, it pleads like a child.
Is this the sunrise that will wake us up
Or sunset bringing even darker night?
Peddling my red bike
on the Eastern Trail
announce my progress
dry and crisp
and scented faintly
of fermented apples.
the latter is my own
This season tends
to pull me in
are ever present
in their green gowns
with a balsam kiss.
This is why I come.
Not just for the firs
although their allure
would be enough.
it is the sapsucker’s call
that welcomes me.
it might be a whisker twitch
before the cottontail
suddenly remembers the time.
I peer between small oak
where pockets of velvet moss
are lit by the sun
dance above still pools.
It’s a magic that draws me.
it is the aspen
their bows bending low
again and again
touch my face
even if just by intention
as if to say, “Breathe.”
it turns out
always seem to know
what I need.
it is me who knows.
Of this I am sure:
there is a solace
in the gentleness
So I lean in.
The Psalms Project
Here in our Meditations During Pandemic blog, members of our congregation are offering new psalms written in response to the times we are passing through—psalms of hope, beseeching, thanksgiving, lament.
As you read what is shared, we invite you to pray and reflect. And, if you find that your own psalm rises in your heart, we invite you to write and share it! Using the form below will allow you to offer what you’ve written, and we’ll in turn share it with the community. If you’d like help to work on something you’re writing but aren’t ready to share yet, use this form to ask for a partner and companion in the writing process.
Share your own psalm with the community
Image By, Nina Bisognani
A Cry for Help
I lose heart as seas warm, ice melts, heat unlocks old germs, and the globe spawns new ones.
I struggle to feel your love and to remember that you are always with me.
And I am afraid.
Give me a sign that you are still with me,
That your covenant with humans still holds.
Touch the hearts of all who are lost, fearful, angry, or sad,
That they may learn to live in love.
Raise up good leaders, wise and full of hope.
Teach me each day that my future is in your loving hands.
By, Barbara Diamond
Grant us patience, Oh God.
We are weary and irritable.
We love our community,
But they get on our nerves,
When they manifest our own flaws.
Let us see them and ourselves as your children.
Give us joy as we keep on going.
Each day, we sleep, wake, eat, drink.
The days seem all the same.
The drab minutes tick by
But pierced with distress as the
Larger world touches us.
Give us your grace to endure
And live gratefully in the life you have given us.
Let us see the miracles that take place every day.
We look to you in confidence and hope.
By, Barbara Diamond
Images: Nina Bisognani and Barbara Ryther
My heart cries, my very bones weep.
Emotions wrap tightly around me, binding my hands and my breath.
My steps are seasoned with the salt of my tears.
Anguish pours unstopped through me, suffocating my thoughts and my voice.
I am sorrow at the people and places I am now kept apart from.
I am grief at the millions of people suffering and dying.
I am anxiety at the divisions that tear us from each other.
I am anger at the lack of answers.
I am alienation from the people who don’t think as I do.
Who will hear me?
Who will release me?
I turn blindly to my God.
My God is the past, present and future, for whom ‘now’ is less than a moment.
My God is comfort to those who are sick and grieving, and a welcome home to those who die.
My God is a world of living beings, all created in His unknowable but familiar image.
My God is answered prayer, even when the answer is not heard or understood.
My God is the God of people who don’t think as I do.
My God will hear me.
My God will release me.
I turn obediently to my God.
By, Barbara Ryther
Enough: A psalm for modern times
My God, you have blessed me,
For I have enough.
My home is not a mansion:
It is cluttered, cramped and sometimes needs repair.
But it is enough in a world where others have no home.
I am not perfectly fit:
My weight is high, my knees not always strong,
But it is enough in a world where others are dying.
I sometimes feel alone:
My tweets don’t garner likes; my “friends” don’t call.
But it is enough in a world where many despair.
And yet, while I may have enough, my world does not.
My world, the world you made, cries out in pain.
Injustice and intolerance flow like a polluted stream
Through your magnificent creation.
Disease and poverty cut with indiscriminate siege,
With no regard to guilt or innocence.
I gaze into the beauty of your sky,
And raise an angry fist — but, Lord, to whom?
I know you hate this wickedness as well,
You cry with us when we cry out to you.
And so I see my own fist in the sky,
And know I have not truly done enough.
By, Melanie M. Kyer
Images: Nina Bisognani and Barbara Ryther
A Psalm of Thanksgiving
In the morning when I rise
I sense my household come to life:
Water running, appliances working, the smell of fresh coffee wafting through the air
And I am grateful for the normal sounds of a normal day.
I open my eyes and give thanks that I am alive this day
Because deep in my heart I know that these simple acts on this day
Are Your blessing
Then, O God,
When I cry out to you, it is not in fear or sorrow, or pain, but in thanksgiving.
My days of quarantine have been filled with singing, with prayer, with the joy of being a part of a family.
Yes, there have been times when we have felt the confinement of this quarantine. We have not walked away from words said in anger or frustration, as once we would.
We shouted, caused tears, stormed out.
But You, O Lord, taught us to forgive. And so we have.
And, Lord, You, above all others, knew danger far more serious surrounded me.
I stood at the edge of the abyss, but I did not know it.
I did not fall into the pit.
I did not have the stroke waiting to befall me.
You sent people who cared about me: family, friends, doctors and nurses
The people who made the hospital safe for those of us who needed their help but did not have COVID.
You held me in your hands while they slowly, carefully, and sometimes annoyingly
Pushed me to seek help. Help I did not know I needed.
But You did.
And, I am alive.
By, Barbara Kautz
A Prayer Inspired by Psalms
The sun still rises every morning, but the texture of our lives has changed.
The air is filled with sickness; the earth a minefield of broken dreams.
Friends and loved ones have passed away. I fear there is more destruction ahead.
Grief stretches from family to family; across continents, along the corridor of a
pale-lit sky. At night, stars are dimmed by angry clouds heralding the pandemic’s
My heart is filled with sorrow; and longing for what once was.
I am a hollow vessel; a bird with a broken wing.
For so long have I cried out to you, to no avail. Each hour feels like a year.
What will happen as we try to come together again; as children return to school;
as we struggle to become one nation, one world united?
Sometimes I falter. Am I praying for the wrong things? Are you really there?
I begin to pray in the morning while still in bed, before the outside world
enters my troubled mind. I pray for strength, endurance, and your will for me.
In the depths of my being I believe you are listening.
Wednesday Eucharist in the memorial garden awakens my spirit. I feel a holy
presence in the simple setting of our worship there.
My soul takes refuge in your divine love.
I believe you will look after us all, until the storms have passed.
By, Nina Bisognani
Images: Barbara Ryther & Nina Bisognani
In John Calvin’s introduction to his commentary on the Book of Psalms, he wrote that, “I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, ‘An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;’ for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.”
The Psalms can meet us and lead us anywhere, consoling and confronting. Perhaps we need them in a particular way right now.
Over the coming weeks, members of our congregation will be offering new psalms written in response to the times we are passing through—psalms of hope, beseeching, thanksgiving, lament.
This sharing comes with an invitation: we invite you to read, pray, reflect, and to write your own psalm. We’ll be providing a way for you to submit your psalm to be shared.
O One whose true Name
remains a mystery to this clay mind
fully revealed to my heart
is sung as a song, joyously
For in you is my beginning
my first breath
and into your hands
will I lay my head
when breath, at last, escapes me.
I am the child
who cried to you in the night.
I am the woman
who called to you, childless.
I saw you in the sun lit leaves of the aspen
as they shook with compassion.
Like wildflowers fill a meadow
you filled my emptiness.
I have heard your river voice.
When the path became unclear
you leaned close
not to offer the hem of your garment
but to let me peer
into your agape eyes.
Be not far from me now.
By, Kathryn Yingst
Now I lay Before You My Tiredness
I lay before you my tiredness
and ask for new energy.
I lay before you my frustrations
and ask for more patience.
I lay before you my resentment
and ask for peace.
I lay before you my judgement
and ask for inspired understanding.
I lay before you my anger
and long to be forgiving.
By, Peggi Stallings Gregory
Image: Nina Bisognani
Breath of Life
By, Barbara Diamond
We all need to breathe.
Creation requires oxygen.
Yahweh is the sound of breath
Going in and out. Hear it?
Breathing is both God and life.
So why do we say,
“It takes my breath away,”
Or “She was breathless with joy”
Without seeing suffocation
Or ventilators puffing?
Virus sufferers see machines
As doorways to death. Police kill
Suspects with chokeholds. Children
Breathe dirty air and then die
As asthma takes their breath away.
“Breathe on me breath of God,”
And on my sisters and brothers
Who are dying for lack of breath.
May I please enter and join God’s
Love for the actual breathless?
Please forgive us, dearest God,
Your heedless, greedy human race,
Who steal habitats and unleash germs,
Who hire cops to prop up systems,
Who make smog along with stuff.
We are helpless without you.
We try to honor you and
Every living plant and creature.
Please let our recent horrors
Wake us up to breathe out love!
Image: Melanie Kyer
By, Nina Bisognani
The summer of 2005 was unseasonably hot. By mid July, I recorded 23 consecutive days of weather in the ninety degree range on my calendar. Humidity was nearly unbearable. I was miserable. Evidently, the blueberries loved it.
Bushes that had gone unnoticed for years were suddenly overladen with plump, juicy berries. For at least three weeks, my daughter and I spent most of our spare time filling coffee cans and mason jars with blueberries. We ate blueberries on our cereal, made blueberry muffins, froze more berries for holiday pies. What we couldn’t eat, we shared with neighbors.
We were not the only creatures watching in awe as the bushes kept producing. A fat robin perched daily on a nearby tree branch had an eye on those berries too.
Before breakfast, when the morning sun looked like a white lozenge rising in the sky, the robin was already feasting on our breakfast berries. That bird guarded our most prolific bush as if it were his own prized possession.
At midday, when the sun was hottest, we took cover in shady spots and rested. By end of day, the sun looked down on us like a sore red eye. Soon the temperature would cool.
In the evening, with the help of ceiling fans, the house became more comfortable. After dinner we ate berries over ice cream; enjoying natures gifts and fond memories of that blueberry summer.
Image: Barbara Ryther
My One Thing
During this pandemic, I have been trying to be patient with myself. To recognize that my best efforts may vary widely day to day depending upon sleep (or lack thereof), how many Cape Cod Mesquite BBQ potato chips I’ve consumed, and/or how long I’ve spent catching up on the (bad) news. The wear and tear of X many months of a pandemic is no small thing. Still, I’m a Type A, and I’m wired to get things done.
So, I’ve settled on a goal of accomplishing one thing every day. I’m not sure whether it helps to give myself some structure, or whether it is fulfilling a personal need to check off an achievement box. Maybe it’s a little of both.
I’ve found satisfaction in being able to say at the end of the day that I not only got out of my pajamas and put on a fresh sweatshirt, but I also did this one thing. Now, to be transparent: many, many times, my one thing has often been that I put dinner on the table for my family. I’ve found this task has taken more effort these past few weeks because of the cumulative and exceptionally draining emotional toll of trying to be a functional adult and parent during a global pandemic.
Other days, I’ve not only gotten dinner on the table, but I’ve also done something mind blowing like give the dog a bath. Or finally stack the Tupperware lids so they stop falling out of the pantry. Once, I even repainted our coffee table, but out of an abundance of caution I am considering that a fluke. Each day is its own, and I am learning not to put pressure on myself as to how well I navigate them.
Today’s goal was to pick dandelions to help feed the new bunny arrivals at The Center For Wildlife. Our side yard is pretty much exclusively dandelions (don’t judge—it’s eco-friendly), so there were plenty to harvest while still leaving a feast for the bees. I had recruited my teenager in an effort to get both of us into the fresh air and sunshine, and to coax her out from behind a screen. We were making good progress, as I could only count on one hand how many times my daughter had asked to be released from nature to retreat back into the cavern of her room. Within a few moments, though, I noticed that she had become quite still. She was looking down with concentration. This child did NOT bring her phone out here, I thought, instantly irritated. I managed to keep my cool.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she replied, “I’m just watching a bee.”
She wasn’t on her phone. My outdoor avoidant child was sitting quietly among the dandelions, WATCHING A HONEY BEE. I avoided a jaw drop, but only just. We sat for a bit while the fuzzy little bee made its way from flower to flower. While I don’t know what was going through her mind, I do know that my daughter’s curiosity about this small creature gave her pause. And I loved that for her.
We’d end up having cereal for our supper, but a glamorous dinner wasn’t today’s goal. My one thing had somehow become much more.
Powerful images, like words, can inspire thoughts, memories and emotions to guide us during our spiritual journeys.
This week we offer two provocative images that invite your reflections: a single candle in a window and a beautifully
decorated old bike.
What do these images mean to you?
Hiking an unfamiliar path,
I stare at the parched ground and realize:
I am thirsty, too.
I am thirsty for a hug from a friend,
Thirsty for a room of voices raised in song,
Thirsty for a high five from a kid who’s scored a goal.
Thirsty for the chatter in a neighborhood café.
It is a thirst more than the thirst for water.
I see friends across a parking lot,
I leave a gift on someone’s front door steps.
I wave through a computer screen,
I open a handwritten note from the mail.
These interactions feed my soul and thirst,
but only– only — just
touch the surface, like sucking on ice chips
when you really want a tall cold drink.
And yet I know what happens when rain falls
Too quickly over dry parched ground,
The flood does much more harm than good
To wash away the life it came to save.
So I will wait for now
And quench my thirst
Lost and Found in Louisiana
It was day 44 of my 58-day cross country bike trip and I had had it. Two days earlier someone had bombed the Boston Marathon. Although everyone I knew who had been at the finish line was safe, I hated being 1200 miles away, somewhere in Louisiana. Of the 28 women on our tour I was one of the slowest riders, and thus almost always rode alone. I was tired of being one of the last women to our motel, and especially tired of fighting with the balky front brake connection on my expensive bike. I wanted to go home.
We have a saying in our house when things get difficult, a saying from my husband’s days as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. So I wasn’t surprised when I called looking for sympathy Jim told me to fly the mission.
That day we were to bike 88 miles. Although it would be hot, it would not be hilly. I was sure I could bike every mile.
For most of the first 30 miles I was in the lead. Confident I would continue to be part of the pack, I stopped to use an ATM. Leaving the bank parking lot I made a crucial mistake, and turned right instead of left. After a couple of miles I discovered I was alone. No one in front of me, no one catching up. I was lost in Louisiana.
The smart thing would have been to turn around and correct an obvious mistake. But this was not the first time the printed directions on our guide sheet had been wrong. Usually there were further back roads than the ones we biked on and taking them would eventually lead to the intended route. I pedaled on.
After about eight miles I arrived at a dilapidated looking store with a sign outside indicating it sold fishing equipment. I got off my bike and hobbled into the store, hoping to ask for directions to my intended route.
The store’s inside was equally shabby looking. Along its walls, blackened from age and cigarette smoke, were a vast array of everything an angler might need. To my right was a refrigerator case filled with cold drinks. To my left, in the front of the store, was a worn wooden counter, and behind it sat a young man who looked like he should have been in school. In the back, four men, dressed like they’d just come out of a bayou sat smoking and talking. When they looked up to see who had come into the store, they saw a middle aged, overweight, hot and sweaty woman dressed in biking shorts and a “Go Army” biking shirt, wearing a gray helmet, covered in yellow reflective tape, on her head. Not necessarily a pretty sight.
With sinking heart and sagging body I listened as the boy behind the counter examined my maps, read my directions and told me there was no short-cut. I had to return to the intersection where I’d made my mistake.
Hot and thirsty, and brimming with a mix of frustration and self pity, I retrieved a large bottle of orange juice from one of the shop’s coolers. Before I could pay, the young man behind the counter told me it was on the house and wished me luck. Thanking him profusely, I turned to leave.
Standing between the door and me was a young black woman dressed in a bright pink business suit. She was taller than me and wore her black hair curled under in a smooth pageboy.
After saying a polite hello, I started to walk past her and out of the store. I expected nothing more than a similar greeting or maybe just a smile. Instead, she spoke to me making a statement I will never forget. “Excuse me for stopping you, but God told me you were in trouble, and I should pray for you.”
God wanted her to pray for me, this stranger in her peculiar outfit? In the middle of a run- down convenience store? Although I was both surprised and grateful. I thought about thanking her then declining her offer. But I didn’t. If this lovely young woman wanted to pray for me, who was I to turn her down? I was not on some holy mission, I was simply kicking a very large item out of my bucket and off my list.
How had God told her how lost I felt, and not entirely because I’d made a wrong turn?
She asked for permission to touch me and I demurred. I didn’t fear her touch, I simply felt if she held onto me I would throw my arms around her and begin to cry, ruining her business suit in the process. But touching my helmet would be fine. So there we stood, between the cooler case and the front door while she placed her hand on my helmet and fervently asked God to be with me, to give me the courage and the strength to get to my destination. A sense of peace, and with it an acceptance that I could persevere despite my mistake, washed over me. I returned to my bike after thanking her profusely. This beautiful young woman. This messenger from God in a hot pink suit.
Image: Sudie Blanchard
The Old Stone Wall
I’ve been walking this old country road for nearly 50 years.
The stone wall beside the road has been here longer than that.
It hasn’t changed.
Season by season, the trees and underbrush have grown around it.
Spring brings fresh green growth and in fall,
asters grace the wall with purple.
Chipmunks, mice and other small creatures have made their homes
in the chinks and crevices of the old stone wall.
They have lived and died here.
But the lichen-covered stones themselves have stood solid.
Last week at sunset, I took a walk along this wall
and for the first time, I saw the graceful curve it made along the road.
I noticed anew the angle it made around a tree at one end.
The wall hasn’t changed, but I have.
I have walked by this wall countless times…
As a newlywed, hand in hand with my love..
As a young mother, toddler in one hand, stroller in the other.
Then, in what seemed no time, those babies became parents themselves,
and grandchildren skipped beside me on this road by the old stone wall.
Over the years, friendships have grown and developed here,
as I have shared this well-worn path with others.
This summer—a summer shadowed by pandemic and unrest—has been different.
This summer night, I walked alone by the stone wall—
there were no grandchildren, no visiting friends this time.
Even my love stayed home.
This summer, on the edge of “old” myself, I am seeing these old stones again,
but with new eyes.
As I walk by the old stone wall this time, it comes to me.
It’s not the only thing that I am seeing again, as if for the first time.
I am seeing many things with new eyes.
It’s a summer of unveilings.
And I wonder–Is this the beginning of wisdom?
Image: Barbara Ryther
I cannot feel my skin and hair fall off,
But all of us are crumbling creatures still.
Consider now the crab, the snake, the frog,
The lobster, lizard, goldfinch, bighorn sheep.
All molt their outer layers to grow again.
Crustaceans, form a new, soft shell within.
The birds shed feathers while they grow some more.
The dogs lose hair in spring and fall – or more…
At least , they say, it does not hurt to molt.
The birds may itch; the snakes feel too exposed.
For us the transformation seems so mild.
In general, hair and skin slough off unseen.
Our cousin beasts prepare for their new lives.
For us, the present moment is the thing.
We try to see the Spirit when she comes.
But might we grow new skins for novel times?
And should we learn to throw off useless shells,
Or drop our winter fur so we stay cool?
And at the last, let go our mortal souls?
Should we, like them, prepare ourselves to molt?
Someone wrote recently that it’s as if we’re all sitting on a spider web, and if there’s a tug on one part
we all feel it.
It’s an interesting image.
A web can look fragile but in fact be very strong.
One part of it may break, but the whole still holds together.
It can conjure up thoughts of scary spiders or sparkle with dew jewels.
And it’s true that a small twitch – or a large tug – will move throughout the whole web.
Our world does feel fragile right now, and we sometimes struggle to see its strength. It’s easy to see where it’s broken, but sometimes hard to see that it’s still holding together.
We are all together in this broken, beautiful, fragile, scary, strong, connected world. We feel not only
our own pain but the pain of others. We share the inspiration of others. We wake up each day to see
something new that seems broken and something new that’s beautiful and strong.
Pray for yourself. Pray for each other. Don’t turn away from the brokenness, but see also the beauty.
– Barbara Ryther
The Wiggly Bridge
The bridge is closed.
I didn’t want to cross it until it closed.
And now I see it taunt me from afar.
The bridge is closed.
It was a wiggly bridge anyway–
The other side a dark forest of unknowns.
The bridge is closed.
The path to get there shifting sand and rock,
Requiring a thoughtful, measured step.
The bridge is closed.
But I have faith I’ll walk that path someday,
To tread the shaking trestle, step by step.
I will see the other side.
– May 8, 2020
Image:Mei Li Yingst
Artist Statement To Go With Kitty O’Meara’s ‘And the People Stayed Home’ Poem
Mei Li Yingst (Age 13)
This is a pen and ink drawing on white paper. It has a lot of photo editing to make the black darker and white lighter, because I used 4 different pens. Each window has a different part of the poem, with the poem written on a banner in the middle. I sketched it out on the computer, and then drew on paper. The whole picture has a lot of contrast, yet simplicity from the limited color palette (grayscale). When I read the poem, the line (what I wrote on the banner) stood out to me. I loved how so much was happening at the same time, but they were still. I found it really poetic. All the people in the picture are pretty close together, only a building away, connected with the banner. Everyone is doing something different, but they are still connected, and in a way, together.
Note: You can read the poem from which Mei Li drew inspiration here: https://www.ttbook.org/interview/viral-poem-virus-time
Compline has Become My Solace
Fifty years ago I was a 2LT in the Army Nurse Corps, assigned to a neuro-surgical ICU in Vietnam, working 12-hour shifts, six days a week in a windowless Quonset hut. Our ICU was considered the worst place to work in the hospital, our death rate higher than that of the ER. Our reputation set us apart. No one wanted to visit Ward 5 just to say “hi.”
The nature of a Quonset, combined with our reputation, created a sense of isolation. We learned to depend on each other because, inside the curved metal walls of Ward 5, we were all we had. At the end of the day friendship of five fellow nurses sustained me. Often, we could be found sitting in someone’s room, writing sanitized letters home, making light of our lives so our mothers would not worry too much about us.
So, I can easily envision the strain medical teams, in gowns, gloves, and N-95 masks endure, caring for COVID-19 patients, even though they may not be physically isolated after work in quite the same way we were.
With the passage of time and then retirement my contact with other women of my generation has shrunk. Outside the women in my church family, only one person lives close by. Once we worked side by side helping babies into the world, our gloved hands touching as we kneaded a mother’s abdomen so her normal post birth bleeding would not become a hemorrhage. Now my friend is isolating, too.
How could I find fellowship in this difficult yet oddly familiar situation, reminding me so much of my life in Vietnam?
The answer came in late March when Ryan invited the congregation to join him at Compline—via Zoom–every night at 8:30 PM. Now, as the moments tick toward 8:30, I stop whatever I’m doing, sign-on to the St George’s Zoom meeting page, then greet people as each of us join—from our homes. Always, Ryan and Sudie encourage us to breathe deeply, let go of the day’s troubles, and share our concerns. And then use the words of Compline to release those concerns to God—and pray. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we are close to tears, but for those 20 minutes I find joy, and gratitude that I am not alone.
The Rocky Beach
When first birthed
From its mother rock
Each stone was sharp, jagged, unbending.
Now, eons of storms and pounding surf
Have rounded the edges,
Smoothed the surfaces.
Each stone different.
Some black, others white—
Speckled ones abound.
Many flat, more round—
Mica glitters from granite globes.
None shaped like its neighbor.
All together make the rocky beach—
A rough-hewn edge to the sea
Sparkled by the sun.
May one stone chosen from many
Be a reminder that we are each like this—
Born of the same Source.
Each is unique,
Each is being worn smooth
By the storms of life.
Together, with our various shapes,
Sizes, colors—and our various gifts—
We return beauty to God’s world.
I remember when my daughter was younger, she had asked what Easter was about. I gave her the historical context; I shared our Christian belief in the Resurrection. But I also tried to convey a deeper sense of the symbolism. “It’s about new life,” I told her. “…about love, and hope.”
To me, Easter is like buds pushing their way into the world on dormant limbs. It’s like holding a single determined flicker of fire on a moonless night. It is the whisper of the Universe when the sorrow of one more headline feels enough to crush me, saying, “And yet…”
And yet, today I awoke to spring daylight, feeling rekindled.
And yet, I held my lover’s hand. I spoke to a cherished friend. I sipped a cup of lavender tea.
And yet, on my evening walk, the cry of the loon echoed between the blue grey shores of the harbor, painting me into the watercolor of sunset.
And yet, I heard my child’s gentle breath as she slept tucked beneath my arm.
The hard parts of life sometimes soften; sometimes they are unwilling.
Easter is breath to my fainting heart. It is the Universe reminding us of everyday miracles–resurrecting me from the tomb of despair with the astonishing hope-promise: “And yet…”
I have learned to listen for her whisper. Her voice is breezy soft like a lily field; so intensely beautiful that I find myself leaning towards it. This, I’ve discovered, is exactly the needed leverage for rolling away stones.
– March 27, 2016