Saturday, July 30, 2011

How Do You Hear the Music?

Do you hear music with your ears?  Your mind?  Your heart?  Your spirit?

I hear music with my body.

Thursday night, a chamber music group of students from Garth Newel performed at the church where I preach.  The sanctuary has wonderful acoustics and it was an amazing evening of lovely music by gifted musicians.

I sat in the back and soaked in the experience.

I couldn’t help noticing, as I have so often before, the others in the audience, so many known to me so well.

Paul sat with eyes shut, head down, listening, it seemed, with every fiber of his being, focused in utter stillness of concentration.

Diane leaned forward, as if she were being embraced by the musical notes filling the air.

Sue and Laura never seemed to move a muscle, so intense was their concentration.

I could only see Les from behind, but it seemed as if he were smiling.

Most folk sat in stillness.

I always wonder at that.

How can they sit so very still?

My body simply won’t be still when there is music.

Toes tap of course.  And the head bobs.  But the body also sways.  Facial muscles respond with smiles and frowns and my mouth makes surprised o shapes.  And my hands take on a life of their own, reaching forward as if to grasp the notes from the very air.  And sometimes I have to physically resist the equally physical urge to jump to my feet.

A quick review of online literature suggests that science has long known that humans have a physiological response to sound and particularly to music.  But the discussions are all about our internal responses: the change in heart rate and respiration, even the suggestion of chemical changes in response to music have been measured.

The question I ponder this week is how are my mind, spirit and body responding to the music that is God in my life?  Where are my feet taking me in response to God’s claim on my life?  To whom are my hands reaching out?  What rhythms are inciting me to act?  Are they God’s rhythms?  Mine?  What symphonies of sound are claiming my attention?

FB survey: just for fun. Check out McDowell Pres’s FB profile and respond to the survey, “What is your spiritual life adjective this week?”, borrowing from musical adjectives heard at the concert. Just click on the link, become a friend if you aren’t already, and join in

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chocolate Communion

Last year, dear friends from Scotland sent me a chocolate fountain as a thank you gift.  Sunday at church, we celebrated Chocolate Communion.

I know, I know, if it’s not session-approved bread and wine (or at a minimum, Welch’s grape juice), it aint’ communion.  But bear with me.

The fountain ran with chocolate the entire service and the delightful smell filled the sanctuary.  Folks came up at the appointed time and got their fruit and sweet treats dipped in luxurious chocolate.  We even had a litany.

But what came after the dipping and eating and laughing . . . that was holy ground.

For our prayer time, I asked for the names of people or groups we wished were there with us, sharing in the bounty.

“The people of Somalia,” came one voice.

We prayed that those who lack so much could enjoy the sheer pleasure of more than enough food to eat.

“The people of Norway,” came another voice.

In sorrow, we mourned and prayed that those scathed by senseless violence could be surrounded by the comfort of friends and loved ones sharing even in a simple meal.

And then came Wes’ tear-filled voice, “Pam,” he said, referring to his wife who died last year after struggling against the cancer that would take her life.

We spoke of the communion of saints and the great cloud of witnesses.  We pondered their presence, as real as Jesus’, at table with us.  And as I looked at the many gathered faces, tears were streaming.

It wasn’t church in the usual way last Sunday.  The preacher went and hugged folk where they sat.  People were talking and laughing.  And crying.  Masks were taken off and we were just a family, sitting around the table, sharing our memories and our pain as well as our joys and hopes.

So much loss fills our lives together and apart.  So many treasured loved ones have died.  Too many for such a small community.  We all feel the loss.

And yet, there we were, with our chocolate smiles shining through the tears, grateful we could be together.

That, dear friends, is communion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Our Words Matter: The National Debt Debate Gets Personal

The recent public debates about our national debt have reminded me of a very important lesson:  our words matter.

Truly, I do not know enough about economics to even have an opinion on what we as a nation should be doing about our debt right now.

But in speaking with a gentleman on a fixed income who relies on his monthly check to survive and who was genuinely frightened that his check might not come this month, I was reminded yet again how very much what we say matters to others.

Politicians and others on all sides of the debate have filled the airwaves with threats of government shut-down and of the government running out of money to pay its bills, including the ‘bill’ owed to those who receive monthly government checks under a myriad of programs.

This talk was not even a ripple in my own personal pond as I believed such talk to be hyperbole, an exaggeration to get attention.  But that’s an easy position for me: I do not receive a monthly check controlled by those threatening that the money has run out.

I am reminded of the boy who cried wolf: how will we the people know when there’s a genuine crisis if every political disagreement is couched as one?  And if there was no crisis this time, why would we allow people in genuine need to be so frightened that they must worry where their next meal will come from?

Musn’t we take better care not to become monsters in our effort to win the point?  Shouldn’t we remember that people are actually listening to what we say?  Shouldn’t we do better by them?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gasping or Grasping

On the ferry to Liberty Island from Battery Park in New York City, I listened and watched as folks were seeing Lady Liberty come into view, for many, perhaps, for the first time.

A Spanish-speaking woman standing near me gasped when she saw her – “Ohhhhh”, she exclaimed in delight.  Others were similarly moved by the sight.

The thought, unbidden, in my head in that moment: “It’s their story now.”  Somehow, it seemed fitting that this should be so, that the ones already here move over to make room for the next generations coming to these shores, that they might weave their stories into this tapestry of a nation.

Later, sitting and people watching again, a random snatch of words from the mouth of a born-in-the-USA-beautiful-blonde woman float by me.  All I hear is “our liberty”.

And I think to myself that by its very nature, liberty ‘belongs’ to no one and that as we (whoever the we may be) do not confer it, ‘it’ isn’t ours to take or take back.

I really don’t know what the born-in-the-USA woman was talking about, but random snatches of liberty afloat around me made the air sweeter while the possessive ‘our’ made it heavier.

I wonder what new stories will be written by those coming to these shores, seeking their own destinies.  I’m guessing that in another hundred years, some will still be gasping in wonder as others are grasping in fear.  I hope I’m wrong about the second part.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I am not a vegetarian, but I did grow up a town girl, so the processes of producing the meat I eat were generally at a far remove from my awareness.  Save for the time I saw my cousin Mike kill his first chicken (which made a lasting impression), I haven’t even been witness to how meat comes to my table.

Of course, I intellectually know about how such things happen.  But I haven’t been mindful of much else, simply because I haven’t had to be.

Thursday, that changed, albeit at a remove.

Throughout the day in the village where I live, I could hear the sound of gunshots.  It’s unusual this time of year, as there is no hunting season just now.  And generally, even in the country where I live, I don’t much hear gunfire.  The sound is a jarring one.

I wondered what it could be, but did nothing to investigate other than to speculate: maybe somebody’s target shooting, I thought.  But they shouldn’t be doing that so close in to ‘town’ (referring to the area where I live with roughly 75 other souls).  Or maybe they’re sighting their guns.

Later, at a church gathering, somebody suggested it was a local family slaughtering their cattle.  They shoot them? I asked.  The one who suggested this alternative looked at me a bit funny, as if to say, How long have you lived here?  Translation: Of course they shoot them; how else did you think farmers slaughter their beef cows?

I never thought about it before.  I know larger farms take their cattle to the slaughterhouse.  I never thought about how smaller farms slaughter on site.  Chickens, at least on my uncle’s farm, got the axe.  I guess I thought, if I ever thought at all, that cows got similar treatment.  But a cow is a very different animal than a chicken and killing a cow has to be much more challenging in all its practicalities.  An animal is hardly likely to stand still while it’s throat is being cut.

All these musings swirled around in my head and the word ‘mindfulness’ emerged.  I have not been mindful of how cows exit this world in order that I might eat beef.  Mindfulness is the process, the effort, of staying aware; of being in touch with things in each present moment.

Of what shall I be mindful in the slaughter of cattle that I might eat beef?  Perhaps there is no better place to begin than in thankfulness.

Native American spirituality has the hunter prepare for the hunt by offering up a prayer of thanks and apology for the life of the animal taken that the hunter and his family might live.  It is said that the act of taking an animal’s life is a sacred act, in the understanding that all life is interconnected and the sacrifice of one for another that the other might live must never be taken lightly.

In other words, we must be mindful, not only of our own needs and their fulfillment, but also of the cost of the meeting of those needs.

Source for Native American practices:  Mitakuye Oyasin: We are all related, by Fr. David Gallus, OSC, at

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Let Us Be

Today, let us simply sit.

Letting go of worry.

Letting go even of hopes and dreams.

Letting go of letting go.

Let’s just sit.

And be.

In the midst of the sorrows and even the joys.

Let us be.

Which is different than the Beatle’s advice, “let it be”.

Let us simply be.

Take the week off from worry. . .
from fretting . . .
from planning . . .
thinking about . . .
stewing . . .

This week, let’s not . . .
‘work on’
anything . . .
Not even on letting it all go . . .
Whether the ‘its’ in our lives
stay or go . . .
Let us simply be.

Let’s just relish
our own created-ness . . .

Let us be.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I'm So Glad

Weeks ago, somebody spoke to me about suffering in a way that gut punched me - bringing back, as it did, memories of Tom Fox . . . of his murder in Iraq . . .

I called dear friend Anita, who was there through it all.  She reminded me of something important: when it comes to suffering the pain of loss, it’s not something we ‘get over’, at least not in the sense of it no longer being true.

The fact is, all that happens to and around us affects us – always.  The ‘it’ of the thing becomes a part of all our continuous present moments.

I won’t ever be over Tom’s death, his murder.

Tom’s passing from this life is a part of my story too, simply because I knew him.

Recently, I began reading James Loney’s book Captivity.  Jim was kidnaped along with Tom and two others: Norm and Harmeet.  The book is compelling reading.  I have dreaded picking it up.  The only thing that got me to is that if Jim could live it and write it, the least I could do is read it.  And I am.  Often I put it down, doubled over with the pain of remembering.  But I am reading it.

This past week, I have been in Indianapolis for the Presbyterian Big Tent gathering.

One of the gifts of being here is the continual and random encounters with people I have known but not seen face-to-face in a long time, most of them from my time at PTS (Princeton Theological Seminary).

Over and over again, we say the same thing to each other: “I am so glad you’re in my life.”

When I hear it, I understand perfectly.  I feel exactly the same way.

All of the ‘its’ that become a part of the fabric of our lives certainly include the tough and painful times: the deaths of those we know and care about, the suffering of another whose life intersects with our own, our very own personal suffering.  And those suffering moments do, as my friend Anita maintains, become a part not only of our past, but also of our continuing present.

What is so easy to lose sight of, however, is so too the good ‘its’.  And the joy of friendships past is indeed a present reality.

Molly, Bridgett, Kiran, and so many others, I am so very glad you’re in my life.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life Under Saddam Was Good for Us

An Iraqi Christian tells those gathered something that is hard for us in the United States, mostly Christians ourselves, to hear.

Life in Iraq under Saddam was better for them, for the Iraqi Christians.  Much better.

I don’t know why Saddam chose not to oppress Christians.  But he didn’t.

The implications of the statement of my fellow Christian born in Iraq are sobering.

“He was a murderous dictator, with nothing good to say about him, but life under Saddam was good for us.”

That’s what the man said.

And he is not the first one I’ve heard that from.

“Saddam was good for us.”