Glimpses of Healing and Hope

by Pastor Jen Shenk

 

It was a random picture I snapped with my phone
the last day of summer vacation,
the day before a new school year.

 

 

The August air hung heavy and hot
with white puffy clouds set against a
brilliant blue sky.


All three boys climbed up on a spider web
going higher
higher
higher
until they were each stretched to their limit.


I watched them
suspended on cables woven together, connected,
their silhouettes standing out from the sky beyond.


Now, today,
I watched them leave for school.
Releasing them into this vast, open world.


I cannot go with them.
It will be their own journey to climb
to struggle
to stretch to their limits.


But they will not be alone.
They will be undergirded and supported by a vast network
of a spider web of their own:

   Teachers who know school isn't just about test scores
   Classmates who share a smile and end up becoming a friend
   Grandparents who celebrate new beginnings and growing up
   Friends, cousins, pastors, family, babysitters, neighbors,
   The list extends in a beautiful and complex network of connection.


They will climb while I watch.
I will see them get to the top and
I will feel joy right alongside them
when they conquer fears and get stronger,
holding onto their web for support when they need it.

A web of support that
stretches when necessary
yet is
stronger than steel.
So delicate it's barely visible
unless the light catches it just right.

Calm and believing,
I will give thanks for the infinite number of threads
that connect them to me,
to each other,
and to others all around.

I will give thanks
that I am not the only lifeline they know.
I will feel grateful for the sturdy and tender web

set against a vast open sky
that will give them strength to climb
higher,
higher,
and higher still.

 

*                           *                           *                           *                           *

I wrote the above poem six years ago, but I’m struck by how timely it still is even today. And while it’s obviously written from the perspective of kids going to school, I think it can apply to all sorts of transitions, new beginnings, and growth.

 

As I reflect on our summer series of scattering seeds, and how each one of us has Divine DNA (aka. God’s Spirit) planted within us from the moment we are created, I think the Divine Intention is that-- ultimately--  we bear fruit. However, it’s almost impossible to bear fruit unless we are connected. We need to stay connected to God through spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, and regular worship. And we need to foster connections to one another-- being in real relationships where honesty, grace, love and forgiveness are abundant.

 

Who is in your web of support? My prayer is that our congregation can be a strong part of this web that supports, undergirds, encourages and equips you for what God is calling you to do.

 

May you know strength, peace, and joy as you grow in faith-- climbing, stretching, and leaning on God and others in the journey!

 

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:4,5)

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10 of our high school students as well as 5 adult sponsors and 3 delegates recently attended MennoCon'19 -- the biannual national convention of the Mennonite Church USA. Their actual words and reflections and experiences will be available soon as a podcast but in the meantime, you can look through the archives of MC USA's articles & photos from the last week to get a taste (yes, I had to do it -- this will make more sense once you see what the name of the archive is!) of what happened and how it impacted Mennonite people around the nation (and world).

We believe this is such a powerful experience that we spend the year prior to the convention hosting fundraisers and selling/auctioning items to raise enough money for every youth in the church who wants to attend to have the opportunity to do so. This year we partnered with another local Mennonite church to charter a bus to Kansas City, and that turned out to be a great experience for our youth as well. 

Our church's Congregational Principles and Practices, in part, read as follows: "Welcome and celebrate the gathering of God's diverse people in our church and community (intercultural, intergenerational, and interchurch)." and "Nurture authentic relationships with God and one another in Christian community so that we might stretch and grow in Christ individually and collectively." We believe that attendance at MC USA's convention is a great way for us to live out both of these practices and principles in a meaningful tangible way.

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by Danile Martens

That connection between enlightenment and house holding…forces us onto rougher ground than that of the smooth purists— but it gives us traction.

Wendell Berry to Gary Snyder in A Distant Neighbor

 

These days the work becomes more rigorous: lifting and tossing damaged hay, moving soil, bending and stooping to prepare ground for planting.   It is true that spring’s coming can be enjoyed from behind glass windows, or at one’s ease on patio or deck: the barely perceptible softening and greening of fine branches, the emerging bulbs and flowers.  It is pleasant to take a walk through woods wildflowers, hearing songbirds, feeling the warm air currents; but the immersion experience of house-holding in spring is rougher terrain. The body feels the increase of activity and complains in joints and old injuries. Mud and animal shit are tenacious and abundant. One’s hands dry and are darkly lined in creases.

Mucking in spring, as opposed to viewing it, is participating in the rush of growth and disposition of fecundity.  Having one’s hands and nose in the soil, makes emerging from it into warmth and light that much brighter.

The tended garden provides traction of many kinds:  Laying leaf mold mulch between the rows of seeds recalls shuffling in fall under the trees of the woodlot. Strategizing inducements to attract the beneficial tiny helpers of the topsoil— fungi, bacteria, insects, worms– reminds me that I am not alone in my endeavor.  I appreciate the view from the earthen row of the sprinkling of tiny birds against the blue heaven.  Planting, I am one with the soil.

The outsourced life, on the other hand, misses these anchoring activities. Life is derived from commodities provided by others’ ingenuity and strategy.  Goods and services are disconnected from biological cycles, as well as from familial sympathy and generational forethought. Entering physically into the larger themes of life and death, infolding and unfolding, allows one to hitch to the Great Life through which one is connected to all that is.  Seasonal changes and the weather become the backdrop of success or failure of a crop, and a measure of reasonable labor or daily exhaustion. The inevitable dry period, short or long, enters one’s bones, and its end comes as mercy.  Farming, we join ourselves to the earth, acknowledging its discipline.

Traction also comes from limitation: I can do this much, but further affect is beyond my power. Superstitions and petitions are equally unavailing: one simply waits and watches for the rains. We can supply moisture in the meantime by contrivance, but we are always aware that irrigation and rain are separated by orders of magnitude.

There is the daily pull against the earth’s fecundity: life constantly rising.   We must have it or die, and yet, some interference on the crop’s behalf to the ever-growing weeds, the constant pressure of marauders, is necessary. Traction becomes, literally, planting feet to dig or chop or pull against the earth.

Enlightenment is tethered, referenced: by what effort today will I receive the gift of daily bread?. What grace will be creased with soil and drenched with sweat? By what exertion will my soul rise up in gratitude for what is given?

 

Note: This article originally appeared on https://restorationfarm15.wordpress.com/blog/.

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by Pastor Janice Sutter

In March, Dave and I traveled southwest to explore national parks, drinking in the beauty and gaining perspective as we marveled at God’s creation in those places. Without knowing what to expect, we entered Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, a park known for its boulder fields and Joshua trees, a distinctive type of yucca. Long ago, when travelling Mormons saw these trees in the distance, they thought the trees looked like Joshua welcoming them to the Promised Land.
 
Much of the land in this park lies in the overlap of two deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. It’s a transition zone and home to diverse species of plants and animals found in both deserts. This spring they have had more water than usual.
 
As we drove deeper into the park, we noticed more and more wildflowers. Just a few gorgeous blooms at first, and then whole carpets of color! An unexpected gift! The desert was in bloom! A super bloom! An explosion of wildflowers that exceeds typical spring blooms.
 

As we talked to locals and the park rangers, we learned that the last time this desert had bloomed like this was in the 1940s. That is, some of these wildflower seeds hadn’t bloomed for 80 years. They lie dormant in the drought for years, being preserved, able to bloom when the time was right.
                      
When these dormant seeds have the right combination of rain and warmth, they come to life again. They bloom! And this is what we took in: the desert in full glory blooming with color. Beauty everywhere! The conditions were right. Seeds that had been dormant for 80 years blossomed! A miracle!
 
The walk through the desert in Joshua Tree this March became a way for me to think about Easter. I don’t know how to explain what happened on that first Easter morning but I can see how conditions were right for the miracle of new life to burst forth! For the impossible possibilities of God to blossom!
 
Jesus gave his all for God’s mission. He remained true to himself and true to God’s way of nonviolent, active, self-giving love. Jesus gave his all, and that self-sacrificing love (his choice -- not forced on him) released something into the universe.
 
Conditions were right, enabling us to see evidence of the mighty power of God. God burst forth with the miracle of life, raising Christ from the dead. From Christ’s death came new life! God took what Jesus offered and released a super bloom!
 
By Jesus Christ’s self-giving love, God released, empowered, and raised up a whole community of people to carry on Jesus’ Way of self-giving love. The good news of Easter includes this: we can be part of God’s super bloom. 
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Easter has come! Jesus has risen! Now what? Come join us on Sunday mornings for our new Eastertide series: My Heart Sings: Joy in Meeting Jesus.

 

Easter is not just a day. In the season of Eastertide, we celebrate the Risen Christ who brings us the gifts of joy and new life! In these springtime weeks, we’ll encounter the stories of people whose hearts sing as they meet Jesus. These women and men, some disciples and some strangers, have their lives turned upside down as they meet Jesus. Their despair turned into dancing. Their worst moments rescued. Their futures restored. Their hearts singing! In this series we celebrate new life in Jesus, our own transformation, and the joy that we might have if we are open to encountering Jesus. We’ll hear about the joy experienced by some among us as they share about songs that help their heart sing. 

 

"You changed my despair into a dance—

you stripped me of my death shroud and clothed me with joy!

That’s why my heart sings to you, 

that’s why I can’t keep silent—Yahweh, you are my God, 

and I will thank you forever!"

-Psalm 30:11-12, Inclusive Bible translation

 

Apr 28  Meeting Jesus in the evening    John 20:19-31           

 

May 5  Meeting Jesus by the sea            John 21:1-14               

 

May 12            Meeting Jesus at the table          Psalm 23                     

 

May 19            Meeting Jesus in a crowd           John 7:53-8:11            

 

May 26            Meeting Jesus in early morning John 20:11-18           

 

 

June 2  Meeting Jesus by the pool         John 5:1-15                 

 

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During the Lenten season, many Christians pause to reflect on Jesus' last days and His sacrifice and sometimes give up (fast from) something in their lives that may keep them from reflection & thankfulness. Some people begin a new practice (praying or meditation, regular exercise, healthier eating, daily Bible readings, etc.) during this season in the church to help them focus on our Savior.

Our denomination, Mennonite Church USA, has provided a free resource for those who wish to dig deeper into this time and what it means to us as followers of Jesus. This resource, entitled Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast, promises clear accessible language that connects congregational worship and life at home, child- and family-friendly suggestions for responding to the season's themes and scriptures, and the opportunity to engage Christian practices and to consider how God is at work.

You can read more about this resource and download a digital-friendly, as well as a print-friendly version, by clicking here to access the MC USA website.

Let us know in the comments if you find this resource helpful and use it during the Lenten season this year.

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by Sabbatical Pastor Harold Yoder


What is the first think you think of when the word forgiveness is mentioned?

What emotions come to the surface?  What incidents from your life quickly come to mind? The times when you needed to be forgiven?  The times when you needed to forgive someone who wronged you?

Forgiveness is an act that we are often called upon to experience simply because we are so very human.  We are so imperfect, so prone to make mistakes, so in need of correcting our thoughtless and sometimes purposeful acts that hurt others deeply. Research in the area of forgiveness points out the need for forgiveness simply in terms of our own health – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The holding tight of hate, grudges, and the desire for revenge all hurt us much more than the person we despise. And furthermore, lack of forgiveness leads to a spiraling upward of acts of revenge that only leads to more hurt and hate, and not to a return of loving relationships that we desperately need in our lives.  The difficulty of the ongoing efforts to bring peace in many parts of our world all point out the long term effects of lack of forgiveness.

All religions point out the need for forgiveness.  But the followers of Jesus Christ have a unique and wonderful model of forgiveness. As we begin the season of Lent, we are again reminded of how Jesus, while suffering on a cross undeservedly, asked his Father to forgive those who put him through such suffering. And we are reminded that through his sacrificial death on the cross Jesus provided for our forgiveness and a way to a new life that offers forgiveness to others. We are freed from self-centered desires for revenge and retribution and can focus on attitudes and actions that deal graciously with our own wrongdoing and wrongdoing that others do to us.

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by Barbara Devereaux

“There is a quiet humility about the earth in the winter months, as animals and people retreat inside to do their deep work.”  Madisyn Taylor

 

Just when we thought we were going to enjoy a mild winter, Mother Nature did a one-eighty and polar vortexes slipped over the Midwest sending us into a deep-freeze.  People and animals suffered from the severe cold, but I was heartened to see how many people worked to make sure brothers, sisters, and animals survived.  

 A friend of mine took in an assortment of stray cats into his house.  They didn’t get along with each other and he spent several days trying to be a feline peacemaker – not easy!  People in South Bend donated time and food to shelters.  School bus drivers drove around offering rides to those who appeared to be in need of them.  South Bend Animal Control rounded up pets left outside. 

Goodness is all around us and, as we all know, the worst of times will bring out the best in people.  Lent is just around the corner and we will be exploring how many among us have come though the worst of times to emerge into grace-filled sunlight.  “Blessed Hunger, Holy Feast” invites us into the deep work of winter stillness that precedes the miracle of spring.

 

Note: This originally appeared in the February 2019 Kernels monthly newsletter.

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