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.
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