Glimpses of Healing and Hope

November 13, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

 

Transitioning from this life to the next

Pastor Janice spoke two Sundays ago, as we observed All Saints Day at Kern Road, of the recent loss of her aunt. In the last year of walking with her father’s sister before her death, Janice said she saw her aunt give up possessions and her apartment, her strength and independence. 

Whether our sorrow at the loss of loved ones manifests as “crying, weeping, wailing, silence, pondering, wondering,” Janice suggested “our grief means that our love is strong, not that we don’t trust God.” Of those who have gone before us, she said, “We honor them because we love them, we miss them; ordinary things become extraordinary because they remind us of those we love…smells, sights, sounds we shared.”

Though my 96-year-old father had fractured his hip a week earlier in a fall, I could not have known that I would be looking back on Janice’s words of wisdom so soon, as I left church after that All Saints worship service for the drive to eastern PA. Daddy had eaten a hearty meal of pureed food soon after surgery that morning to repair his hip, according to my mother and brother who visited him, but, by the following day when I arrived, my dad did not recognize any of us. 

I had not waited with a loved one seemingly in the act of dying since I was 12 years old, when my great grandfather passed away at his home on the fainting couch as my mom and I and my six-year-old brother visited. This time I waited again with my mom, who carried on with grace, caressing the forehead of her partner of 72 years while the room filled and emptied as med techs from my mother and father’s personal care apartment, a long-time friend of mine, some of my parents’ church friends, women who lovingly serve meals in the personal care dining room, nursing and hospice staff floated in and out to the tune of Daddy’s slightly labored breathing and a CD of old hymns playing quietly on a boom box in the background. 

Mom and I wondered, quietly to ourselves and aloud to my dad, who would greet him on the other side of this transition…might it be his son Greg, who died 43 years ago, or his parents, or some of his father’s large family of aunts and uncles and cousins who would welcome him at the close of his nearly 97 years here on earth?  Whatever one believes about the past, present, or future, these passages are difficult, perhaps most difficult for those who do not easily imagine a life after this one, where the joys of reuniting with family and friends suggest memories of failing bodies, failing minds, and the general absurdities of life could melt away.

“Death is disorienting,” a good friend texted, and so it was, in a new way each time we passed another milestone: upon first learning Daddy had broken his right hip, realizing he likely had had a stroke after surgery, discovering he no longer recognized us, watching him begin hospice, seeing him propped up in the sunshine in a wheel chair, being there as he took his last breath (which we recognized as his last breath only because another never came), IDing him for the undertaker, seeing his obit at the funeral home’s website, viewing a photo of the newspaper death notice.

My two brothers and I are grateful for cousins who helped transport our mother to the hospital to see our father in our absence the week after his fall; for medical personnel who took care of our father and supported us in our exploration of what to do next; for social workers from inside and outside our family who helped us comprehend hospice and when to begin using it; for retirement community caregivers, other staff, administrators, residents who lovingly inquired about our parents and lifted us up in the midst of a difficult time; for the hospice nurse who visited on Sunday to pray with my mom and my dad and me; for the gift of pre-paid funeral arrangements made nearly two years ago and the minimal funeral home follow-up necessary in the moment of loss; for local PA friends who made visits to our mother on occasion, some with flowers and another with a Ten Thousand Villages “strength” stone.

And what helped us carry on in the short run? Chuckling together with family and friends and caregivers, not only at Daddy’s foibles but at all the ways he made us laugh, brought comfort. Debriefing nightly and eating ground cherry pie with the local friend who housed me was invaluable. As the one of my dad’s three children most likely to post on social media photos and shout-outs for accompaniment on the journey of waiting together, I took consolation from my Facebook friends, including a high school classmate who reminded me of Daddy’s living on through his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I loved the many-colored heart emoticons and expressions of caring left by friends and family and acquaintances.

A friend from Jim’s earliest days of teaching college in Upland, IN, wrote:  “Oddly, it seems to me, one of my favorite memories was being with my father when he passed. I hope you will have the same experience. Our love to you and your family during this difficult time.” Countless family and friends wished us peace and blessing, love and prayers, light and strength, grace, hugs, and the comfort of memories.  One shared that he was leaning my way, another that she was crying with us, yet another said, “May God hold you all in your grief and breathe comfort and joy over you.” I am grateful for each and every sentiment that came our way.   

My mother’s youngest sister fondly recalled via email the pastel pink, blue, yellow, and green glass tea set my dad gave her when she was a child.  My uncle happily agreed to share at an early December service a tribute to my father, with whom he worked as a research chemist in the early years of their professional lives. 

When I arrived back home, the KRMC senior breakfast folks offered a warm space Thursday morning to share semi-publicly for the first time about my dad’s death, more KRMCers spoke condolences and came along side on the journey of loss Sunday morning, some with heartfelt hugs and tears in their eyes. Another invited me next weekend to hear a performance of Brahms’ Requiem, a wonderful piece I have sung several times but never in the midst of personal loss.  It opens with these words,  “Blessed are those who mourn.” 

The Open Fifths and Notable Women provided solace through their Saturday night concert at Goshen College, where songs like Abide with Me (which I already had chosen to be included at my dad's memorial service), along with Wanting Memories, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Angel Band opened the floodgates and spoke to my personal grief in myriad ways. 

How we confront crisis and find comfort will look different for each of us…combing through old photos, writing, listening to good music, and connecting with family and friends console me. How have you accompanied others on the grief journey?  How would you want to be accompanied?

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October 30, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman 

Lighting candles for those we have loved and lost...

Last year’s blog post for All Saints’  Day began like this: “How do you keep alive the memory of those lost to you, sometimes much too soon, sometimes after long, meaningful connections?  When do you take time to recall those who have gone before you…perhaps on their birthdays or the days of their deaths?  All Saints’ Day, observed on November 1 on the liturgical calendar of the church year, offers another occasion to reminisce about family and friends we have loved and lost.”

Twelve more months have passed; new input from my favorite spirituality writers and my own experiences add robust material to a burgeoning file on All Saints’ Day and coming to terms with new ways of interacting with those we have loved and lost. I am intrigued by the questions Jan Richardson raised in her keynote address at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in Orlando this past August.  “When absence erupts in our lives, how do we call upon the presence of love that goes deeper than our loss? How do we open ourselves anew to the presence that endures far, far beyond death?”

Speaking of the recent loss of her husband of several years, Richardson explained to her listeners, “I will tell you there have been nights when the only prayer I could muster has been to simply listen to the beating of the heart inside me and to trust that Gary’s heart was in mine and mine was still in his, and that both our hearts are held in the heart of God, who encompasses us, and holds us, and is present to us in a love beyond imagining.”

Richardson went on to make this fascinating observation: “The mystery in all this is that when our hearts break, they can become bigger.  If we can stay with the sorrow and, more important, if we can stay with the love that goes deeper even than the sorrow, that is more fierce than our fiercest grief, our hearts become more open than we ever imagined they could.”

Claiming in no way to understand her meaning completely, I remain awash in memories of a few weeks back, memories of two young men long gone from this physical world who resurfaced unexpectedly in new ways this month. Just days before observing the 43rd anniversary of the death of my 18-year-old brother on October 15, his best friend from high school sent me a series of journal entries made during their senior year. Shedding light on my brother's jams with his band in my parents' basement followed by my mom's lasagne for supper, summer double dates, Dairy Queen runs, college farewells, and finally the pain of my brother's death and memorial service, the notes gave me a window into the life of the brother I did not get to know during his growing up years from eight to 18 while I was off to college, getting married, and occupied as a young reporter and eventually with our first child.

On the heels of reading those intriguing journal entries, I discovered more good news from another friend, the younger brother of my boyfriend who died just after I turned 16 the summer following our sophomore year of high school; my friend had just learned from their sister that their long-deceased brother planted a tiny weeping willow not long before his death. Seeing that flourishing tree these 55 years later was both astounding and grounding.  Who might have imagined that more about this one, who left us so long ago, could be unearthed even yet?

It is my hope that all who suffer losses would find ways to be in touch with those they have loved and lost. My spiritual director’s comment when I shared these stories gives me continued hope: It’s almost like these two souls are aware of your openness to continue to experience them in a variety of ways.” Another pastor friend commented: these stories remind me of the need to honor the dead and be open to what they bring to life.” I understand that these experiences are not something everyone seeks; neither will science validate or verify such occurrences. And events like these do not become available at our beck and call; we do well to notice them when they cross our paths. I find them sustaining.

Richardson’s sharing with leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States further noted that grief is not something that we can figure out; it’s not a problem to be solved with intellect and reasoning, or with platitudes. When we are sorrowing, when our losses have pushed us to that painful wall, the invitation is to be present, to let ourselves lean, just lean against that wall and press our ears against that wall until we can sense and hear and know something of those presences that abide, that continue, that linger on the other side—those presences that live. To lean against that wall until we can hear their beating hearts—those hearts that continue to beat on the other side of that wall—that, as it turns out, might not be a wall at all; might not even be a veil. It might be something more like a threshold that we will never fully cross in this life, but across which something can still happen: a conversation, a communion.

Here’s another good word from Joan Chittister about All Saints Day: This feast was introduced to show us the kind of people we ought to be imitating if we ourselves wanted to live life well. Death did not silence them. Who are your saints now? Who are the people you look back on with respect and awe? Live in a way that the memory of you lives on in the people left behind.

May you find thresholds of conversation and communion with lost loved ones during this season of All Saints’ Day observance and beyond as you seek what those now gone continue to bring to life and as you live in a way that others will remember well when you are gone. 

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October 23, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The evangelical tradition focuses on the proclamation of good news, missional outreach, and the centrality of Scripture

As guest preacher Sunday, KRMCer Josh shared from his growing-up experience in the evangelical tradition, one of the six streams of faith Kern Roaders have learned about in our current worship series. 

Recognized by Streams of Living Water author Richard Foster as the Word-centered life, a life founded on the living Word of God, the written Word of God, and the proclaimed Word of God, “The evangelical tradition is comprised of three great themes: first, and foremost, the faithful proclamation of the gospel; second, the centrality of Scripture as a faithful repository of the gospel; and third, the confessional witness of the early Christian community as a faithful interpretation of the gospel,” Foster goes on to say at the Renovare website.  

Josh began his sermon by mentioning three things that the evangelical tradition is not…it is not limited to individual, personal salvation; it is not about just a literal reading of scripture, and it is not only about winning souls for Jesus, he said.

The gospel has to do with the proclamation of good news, according to Josh, though somehow in some places, the evangelical tradition has become a message of individual salvation with an emphasis on getting into heaven…a narrow view, he said, adding that the good news is more about liberation from oppression or captivity or blindness, usually aimed at the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden.

The good news has many dimensions, he noted, including the individual dimension to be sure, but also political and economic dimensions by which a kingdom/community might be freed from systems of injustice and concerns in the here and now, as well as the future.

A literal view of scripture may bring with it a presumption, Josh said, that lends itself to black and white beliefs. “Jesus shows us how to read Scripture with an eye to new possibilities of understanding,” he offered. Jesus, rather than Scripture itself, is the absolute authority. “We have to read the Scripture individually and communally through the lens of Christ with the aid of the Spirit,” he suggested, pointing out that “words take on added nuance as the Spirit intercedes.  A rigid view of Scripture can lead to divisions over essentials and nonessentials.” 

Noting that Jesus responded to both physical and spiritual needs, Josh said that the evangelical tradition’s emphasis on missionary activity may sometimes leave physical needs unmet.  Noting that Jesus’ healings sometimes led to relief from fever or to standing up and praising, Josh explained that conversion can come in a variety of ways, both physical and spiritual.

The good news, he said, is about liberation, about a deep and rich exploration of Scripture, and about responding to the needs of others…the evangelical tradition is, indeed, an important stream in Christian history.

The Renovare site poses it this way:  As I think about the divinity and humanity of Scripture, I am challenged by this question: What if, instead of reading the Bible, I let it read me? What if I focused less on getting all the way through the Bible each year and more on allowing the good news about life in the Kingdom to get all the way through me, to soak down deep, saturating my soul? (Then) I discover the best news of all. Jesus is alive, immediate, present, and available to teach us how to enjoy life in his kingdom, here and now.”

Referencing the evangelical tradition as the “Word-Centered Life ” or Living the life-giving message,” the Renovare site says the tradition encompasses much more than simply converting people. The evangel–the ‘good news’–is God’s great message to humanity: that all can be redeemed and restored to its intended design. This is the message embodied in Jesus himself, rooted in the word of God, and ultimately expressed through the lives of those who follow Christ. It is a living tale of grace spoken in and through word and action.”

Some of the words and actions Kern has participated in include (top row of above photo collage) teaching our children, singing and praising, retreating and praying; (second row) outreach via our Ten Thousand Villages store, local food pantry collection, 2001 response to 9/11 (at a suburban Chicago church); and (third row) our worship visuals proclaiming Christmas and Easter good news. How have you been part of circulating the good news? 

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October 16, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Raising our hands to catch the balloon fire as we sing 'Let the fire fall' 

Today’s blog post highlights the charismatic stream, the fourth tradition in Kern Road’s Six Streams of Spirituality worship series.  To date, we’ve featured the contemplative way, the holiness stream, and the incarnational tradition, with a week off from the series for a Project 606 commentary last Monday while I was out of town, missing the service which featured the social justice stream and, appropriately, the 25-year-celebration of KRMC's Ten Thousand Villages store.  

Streams of Living Water author Richard Foster’s Renovare website reminds us that “the charismatic tradition focuses on the power of God’s Spirit moving in and through us. Just as a car requires fuel to run, and our bodies require food for survival, so our souls rely upon the Spirit of God for spiritual energy. Through the Spirit, we are able to do more than we could on our own steam, and these abilities not only remind us of God’s presence, but equip us to build up our communities in love.”

The Renovare site further explains that “Jesus lived and moved in the power of the Spirit. This Spirit is manifested in so many ways—the wisdom of his teachings, his ability to see to the heart of individuals, his insight into the very dynamics of good and evil. People have wondered where Jesus got his ideas and his convictions; he was filled with the Spirit of God in which he put his full trust.”

Of this tradition Foster says in his Streams book, “Frankly, there are no ‘noncharismatic Christians’….the Christian life is by definition a life in and through the Spirit.”

“What a gift the Holy Spirit is,” Pastor Janice exclaimed, recalling Jesus’ explanation to his disciples: “I have to go away, but God will be present to you through the Spirit when I am gone.” This is what the charismatic stream helps us to know…the life and truth and fruit of the Spirit, she added.

The obvious strengths of the tradition, according to the Renovare site, are “an ongoing correction to our impulse to domesticate God,” a continuing challenge to spiritual growth, and “empowering for witness and service.” The stream's “perils include the danger of trivialization, when we focus on the signs and wonders rather than on the Spirit’s project; the gifts are not an end in themselves, but a means to build the kingdom,” the Renovare writings warn.

As we sang the John Michael Talbot song Let the Fire Fall for our hymn of response, Janice and a helper rained down red balloons on us, which we took turns keeping afloat as they came our way (see photo above). Andrew reminded us during sharing time following the song that it has been said that being moved to laughter and tears on the same day marks a good day; noting that he was moved to tears at memories of singing this song in his youth, Andrew added that a belly laugh followed the tears as he watched Jim kick one of the red balloons to loft it as it settled in our midst!   

My personal experience of charismatic worship is limited.  I remember a short-lived phase of yearning for the freedom to raise my hands in joyful song, but no one around me was so inclined and the desire faded.  One friend, who told me two years ago that he prays in tongues, shared that those prayers rise in response to a sunset or some other thing of beauty...a mode of praise or thanksgiving for him. Reluctant to ask about this prayer expression at first, when I finally mustered up the courage, he guessed, “And you want to hear it?”

I was curious, of course, but would not have made that request.  He prayed a short paragraph of fluent syllables that I did not understand, but I intuited warmth and care and asked if he could translate what he had prayed. “No,” not really, he answered, but his assumption was that what he had voiced had something to do with gratitude for the knowledge that we are God’s beloved children.  That response melted away for me a long-standing childhood prejudice. 

As we look at each of these six traditions individually but begin to connect the dots of our own experiences representing all of the traditions, I find articles like this one from Carl McColman intriguing. “It is perfectly possible for a devout, practicing Christian to be contemplative without any experience of charismatic gifts. And it’s just as possible to be a charismatic Christian without any sense of being called into the deep silence of contemplation,” McColman says.

“But in my experience, many people drink from both wells. Maybe at different seasons of their lives, depending on their needs and the specifics of God’s call in their life. It’s also possible that a Christian enjoy both the restful silence of contemplation and the exuberant joyfulness of charismatic worship as complementary dimensions of one faith in the Triune God,” McColman concludes.

As we learn more about each of these streams of faith, what mix emerges in your own experience? May we become equipped to take in both the restful silence and the exuberant joy along with bits and pieces of the other four traditions!

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October 9, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Last week, after the Las Vegas shootings, an Instagrammer I follow posted a beautiful photo of one of her morning glories with the caption:  “Working hard to stay focused on some positive things today, just when you think the news cannot get much worse.”

Already in overload after weather-associated and politically-related trauma, the country fell into new grief and pain on behalf of the wounded, families of the deceased, and those who witnessed the horror. I found helpful posts like “I light a candle for…” from friend June and The Mennonite’s Call to Prayer after Las Vegas Shooting

I heard Rep. John Lewis call for Congress to be bold and brave and courageous, a “headlight rather than a tail light” as the country continues to seek resolution on gun control.  Lewis spoke of “kneeling protests” as we attempt to move forward from yet another outrageous act of violence in our midst.

“Maybe the first change we make is to go through a day and look everyone we see in the eye,” country singer/songwriter Amy Grant said in an MSNBC interview.  “We spend so much time doing so many things that don’t really matter; what really matters is our connection to each other.” 

Psychology Today offered Coping with the Psychological Trauma of a Mass Shooting and Religion News Service’s After Las Vegas, who says prayer doesn’t ‘work’ suggested prayers without action might be suspect. 

But most helpful and hopeful of all the advice and inspiration I came across last week in the wake of Las Vegas was the invigorating worship service I attended yesterday at Salford Mennonite Church, a Franconia Conference congregation in eastern PA, where both Jim’s and my mother’s families worshipped during their growing up years.

Constructed around introduction of the denomination’s work on a new hymnal, the service featured five songs being considered for the new collection and three favorites (For the Beauty of the Earth, I Sought the Lord, and My Life Flows on) shared by members of the congregation, who were invited to offer a story about a “heart song” from the old hymnal that they hope will remain in the new hymnal.   

In a moving Lament for Las Vegas, congregants carrying candles in memory of Las Vegas, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Nickel Mines, and other scenes of recent mass shootings processed down the center aisle to place their flames on deep window sills throughout the church. Associate pastor Beth spoke for all of us in her prayer: “We come to you with our hearts sometimes in shreds for what we witness in our world.  Let us hear your voice that whispers the way that we should go.” We learned a beautiful Kyrie Eleison (Lord, have mercy) as a sung response. 

“In 2016 the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee began work on a collection intended to replace Hymnal: A Worship Book (1992) and supplements Sing the Journey (2005) and Sing the Story (2007). This new collection will take into account the diversity of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA and will be available in bound and digital formats,” according to the project’s website which also notes that “some say Mennonites do not have a liturgy or a set form of worship, but it is in singing together week after week where Mennonites express their Christian faith.” 

Donations to Project 606 can be made at this site, where we learn that “hymnals are generational, of a particular time.  Pick up any historic hymn collection and you will find a unique window into who worshipers understood God to be.  Our understanding about God and being God’s people are fluid, not static.  God is revealed to us as we open ourselves to language and art forms old and new, from near and far.” Before the committee began its work, $100,000 of the $606,000 needed for the project had been donated. To date, $378,000 has been raised.

Congregations are invited to download Resonate Sampler 2017 plus accompaniments and artwork here for one-day use Sunday, October 22, during Great Day of Singing worship services.  College Mennonite Church in Goshen will host a regional hymn sing Sunday, October 22, at 2 p.m. in connection with the Great Day of Singing event.  

For more on the new hymnal project, see this YouTube video of singers rehearsing a candidate for inclusion from Zimbabwe and this YouTube video which reveals more about why Mennonites are creating a new hymnal as those working on the song collection consider what the church is singing presently and what the church should continue to sing for the next generation. You can follow the project's progress on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

(Editor's Note:  For those of you who have been following the streams of faith stories here the last three weeks, they will be back next week!)

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October 2, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Deep peace of the running wave, the flowing air, the quiet earth, the shining stars…the incarnational tradition focuses on the relationship between the invisible spirit and physical reality, helping us to see Gods divine presence in the material world in which we live.

“Home, for me, this place where I first encountered the mysteries and wonders and struggles of life, is the Pacific Northwest, where I grew up among the tall fir trees and wide and wild rivers and the forceful Pacific Ocean and moss-covered rocks and serious banana slugs. My memories of the Northwest are enchanted: full of wonder and fascination and rapture,” guest preacher Gwen told KRMCers gathered Sunday for the third in our worship series offering glimpses inside the six streams of spirituality described by Richard Foster in his Streams of Living Water.

Describing her connection to the land where she spent her childhood, in particular to a special rock, Gwen spoke of the calming effect of that experience: “Regardless of the circumstance, if I could just sit on that rock, sprayed by the chilly water and touched by the warm sun, watching the occasional fish jumping through the current, sitting on that rock, along the Salmon River, I was in God’s presence. I was at home. Comforted. Loved. Supported. This was sacred space wherein I experienced God’s presence in and through and as the mysterious, enchanted creation that surrounded me.”

Identifying the incarnational stream on which we focused Sunday as “both mystical and concrete, earthy and cosmic, matter and spirit,” Gwen suggested that the “heart of incarnational spirituality” involves living “in the world enchanted by the presence of God expressing love in us and around us and through us,” ultimately preparing us “to pour ourselves out for others, even as Jesus did.”

Also referenced as the sacramental life, the incarnational tradition centers on the relationship between the invisible spirit and physical reality, helping us to see Gods divine presence in the material world in which we live. God manifests God’s self in God’s creation, even in the midst of mundane activities, whenever and wherever we acknowledge God, according to the Foster/Renovare website.

Christine Sine of Mustard Seed Associates speaks of the incarnational tradition as central to Celtic spirituality, in which the presence of Christ was “almost physically woven around the lives of the Celts.” Sine suggests that, in the spirit of the Irish faithful, God not only encircles and protects creation but also enlivens, activates, and inspires it.

Gwen proposed that the incarnational stream begins “with a willingness to step away from analysis and critique and systematic legalization and to rest in the enchanted world that is the embodiment of the love of God made visible to us.” And perhaps stepping away as well from our screens and other preoccupations so that we don’t “unintentionally miss out on the enchanted Presence of the wind rustling through the autumn trees, the crickets joined in a chorus of life as we walk by, the woodpecker, the squirrels, the geese, our own steps through the crackling leaves, calling us to listen. We miss out on the flowing water in the nearby river and the heat from the sun and sound of the mockingbird, calling over and over again. This is the beginning of incarnational spirituality: love made known to us in matter and spirit—right here. Right where we are.”

Her vision of the enchanted life looks like this, she said: “wherein our eyes are opened to be surprised by the wonder-filled and holy presence of the God of Love in the concrete and beauty-filled expressions of love and awe and mystery all around us. And wherein our response to this enchanted life we have been invited to embrace is a free-flowing outpouring of love to the world around us.”

We do not have to look far to find suffering these days, according to Gwen: “In the stories of those whose lives have been turned upside down by disasters in Puerto Rico and Bangladesh and Houston and Mexico, in Syria and Florida and the Gaza Strip; in the trauma and suffering created by a history of slavery in our land and the racial injustice that continues to threaten our people and divide our land into those who have access to wealth and security and sustenance and those who do not; in the pain and fear of those in our midst who are undocumented and living in tenuous circumstances or those who are finding their way in life along the LGBTQ spectrum or those whose daily existence is a challenge because of family struggles or depression or anxiety.”

She challenged us “to find ways to express, in tangible terms, the love that is and can be the source of sustenance for us all. This takes attention and creativity and a willingness and intention to receive the love of God into our lives so that we can find ways to pour it out in the suffering world around us.”

In a small move toward the incarnational tradition, we chose to use grapes instead of grape juice to celebrate World Communion Sunday yesterday. I loved how Gwen prepared us to take in the spiritual significance of this ritual which uses physical props to make its point: “On this day, people around the world will take this very real bread, and these very real grapes and they will hold them in their hands, knowing that these are material things infused with spiritual significance. And these very physical elements will serve to remind and inspire and enliven all who walk this earth seeking to embody love in the manner of Jesus, the Christ.”

How have you been reminded, inspired, enlivened to embody love? In what tangible ways might you share the love that is the source of sustenance for all?

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September 25, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The holiness stream focuses on an ever deeper formation of our inner personality, our heart, to enable us to live whole, functional lives in a dysfunctional world.

Renovare, the organization founded by Quaker theologian Richard Foster, also author of Streams of Living Water, describes the holiness tradition as highlighting “the re-formation of our hearts so that we are able to respond appropriately to the challenges of life. The word ‘holiness’ has some negative connotations today, but the original Greek meaning of the word virtue is simply ‘to function well,’” according to the Renovare website.

“Virtuous life is not about rules or judgement, perfectionism, or some kind of merit gained by good deeds. It encourages us to the ultimate goal: not to ‘get us into heaven, but to get heaven into us,’” the Renovare statement continues. “It is attentiveness to the source of our actions, to the condition and motives of the heart, and taking on new patterns of life that flow naturally from within.”

About this tradition and its connection to Jesus, Foster says in Streams of Living Water, “We see Jesus consistently doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. We see in him such deeply ingrained ‘holy habits’ that he is always ‘reponse-able,’ always able to respond appropriately. This is purity of heart. This is the virtuous life.” 

Yesterday, as our Kern Road worship service focused on the holiness stream, the second in our six spiritual traditions series and what Renovare references as the ‘Virtuous Life:  Responding with integrity,’ we learned from Pastor Janice that this tradition is commonly seen as the one in which Anabaptism came into being.

Becky shared in her reflection on the holiness stream that the word ‘holiness’ reminds her of her “19th and 20th century ancestors founding Bible schools, railing against the vices of alcohol and earrings on women, their strict adherence to the Sabbath, and devotion to prayer and Scripture reading.”

Her words took me back to the early years of my Mennonite upbringing when it seemed to me that the church spent much time exhorting young women in particular not to participate in the ways of the world.  We were expected not to cut our hair, to wear our skirts long and never to dress in pants or shorts, to avoid makeup and jewelry.  Families did not own television sets or buy gas or restaurant food on Sundays. 

While claiming the holiness path as her own, Becky said she resists “the language of holiness because it speaks to me of trying to be righteous and I spend very little time thinking about my own righteousness, or lack thereof.  For me this path isn’t about building up my character, rather it is profoundly outward looking.  It is about reaching out to gain some kind of wisdom about the world so that I may discern how to live in it well.”

Acknowledging that people of faith occupy the streams in different ways based on personal circumstances, Becky noted that her own context, “the suffering of our planet and its creaturely inhabitants” brings a “strongly environmental flavor” to the holiness path in her time and place.  “Deep in the core of my being I know that to be a follower of Christ means that I must attend to the world God created and seek to live in such a way that I am a blessing to it and not a curse.”

For Becky that commitment plays itself out in a variety of ways, including how she gardens, “building up my soil and plantings so that more creatures can find life” and as she composts and recycles and chooses “a plant-based diet to testify to the inherent value of other creaturely lives.”

Janice reminded us in her sermon that a “holy life is one that functions well, rather than (the living out of) a list of dos and don’ts.”  The collage at the top of this post reflects some of the ways Kern Road enables us to function well as a community of faith and as individuals within that community (from top to bottom and left to right): marching for the marginalized, offering gratitude for the harvest, participating in the Indiana/Michigan Mennonite Central Committee relief sale, honoring those who have gone before us, supporting our newlyweds, observing the season of Lent, learning from our Muslim neighbors, celebrating Advent, making music together.

Becky noted that she experiences the holiness tradition “as joyful and electric because I have tasted grace.  God has enthusiastically said ‘Yes’ to me in Christ.  I don’t have to get everything right, but I am asked to live and be in this world in a way that testifies to the good things that God wants for the world.”

And what about her ancestors?  “God has said ‘Yes’ to them too.  Although they got caught up in moral battles that didn’t matter, they also got many things right.  They looked after people in need, treated illnesses without expecting payment, fought for women’s right to vote, and resisted racial injustice where they encountered it.”

How has the holiness tradition impacted your life? How are you being called to respond to your circumstances with integrity, to function well where you find yourself?

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September 18, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Finding places of beauty, spaces of silence and serenity as a contemplative

I created the photo collage at the top of this blog post (above) back in early January 2017 for the first entry of the new year. Writing then about finding quiet spots of beauty and respite, gifts from the Divine that offer balance in chaos, I find now that the same collection of photos provides a proper pictorial introduction to the contemplative stream as Kern Road's current worship series dives into discussion of the six streams of spirituality about which Richard Foster writes in his book Streams of Living Water.

All six of the historic faith streams source back to the life of Jesus; in last week’s introduction to the series, we discovered that new understandings of these streams will help us appreciate Christians who are different from ourselves.  As we learn more about streams other than those with which we are familiar, we hope to grow more balanced and complete in our individual faith journeys. The contemplative stream (the prayer-filled life) focuses on nourishing one’s relationship with God and the inner life through prayer and contemplation.

I am not surprised that natural beauty plays a significant role in the collage; the beauty of creation offers not only respite from chaos, but a replenishing space as well for the interior work to which many contemplatives are drawn as they seek to nourish their relationship with the Divine.

The evocative places in these photos from my life (from left to right and top to bottom) recall moments with local grandkids on a carousel in St. Joe, MI; with Michigan grandkids at Clapton Pond in London; on the Saint Mary’s campus with high school friends; admiring the front porch sanctuary of long-time friends in Lansdale, PA; with a KRMC friend taking in the beauty of her mom’s barn in Everett, PA; viewing with golf foursome women the glorious waterfront in Douglas, MI; enjoying my own backyard in South Bend; inhaling warmth through the window with small group friends at Grandpa’s Woods in Goshen, and appreciating the glory of a sunset overlooking my high school’s memorial garden in Lansdale, PA.   

I discovered in the process of receiving spiritual direction in the middle 90s that I was very attracted to contemplative, listening modes of prayer, and through regular use of those prayer forms, I found myself experiencing perhaps for the first time a sense of God’s unconditional love, so that what had always been pure head knowledge for me gradually became transformed into heart language.

Soon after that realization, a spiritual director friend of mine offered me an image of the contemplative life that I have not forgotten.  Don’t get nervous about whether or not you will be transformed when you spend time with God, she said.  God is like the sun.  If you are outdoors in the daylight, the sun does what the sun does; in much the same way, personal transformation takes place when we spend time with God.  Make the time and space to spend time with the Divine and you WILL be changed, she added! The transformation does not depend on you, but rather on making time in your life to devote to silence, to being with God.”

Well over 10 years ago, I read an inspiring book about finding God in the silence.  W. Paul Jones’ Teaching the Dead Bird to Sing, which I devoured in my down time on a trip to Europe with Jim’s business/econ students, illustrated in a powerful way “both the terror and the exhilarating freedom that come with profound solitude.”

The silence that so threatened the author at first gradually became “a garment of healing” for Jones as he embarked on an adventure of self-discovery, recognizing in time that his capacity for thinking far outshone his capacity for feeling. The plunge into silence ultimately illuminated for him what he called the “elaborate, even skillful, intellectual defenses” he had established to keep feelings at bay. 

The experience of reading about self-discovery and finding God in the silence, even as I was immersed in a whirlwind trip through five countries in three weeks, impressed upon me a serious fascination with the impact of silence on one’s faith journey.

Author/retreat leader James Finley describes silent meditation as a way for contemplatives to experience God’s presence in their lives.  As you expand your meditation practice, in concert with your faith,” Finley says, “you will find that these divine moments come more often, until you are finally awakened to your own deepest self, one with Christ.”

The contemplative journey introduced me to authors like Flora Slossen Wuellner, whose writing taught me that healed wounds can become sources of new life and the channel of healing for others:  that fear when healed becomes compassion, that destructive anger becomes a passion for justice and righteousness, that perfectionism becomes joyous power to build and create.

I was fascinated by Wuellner’s declaration that “the warmth we feel through our whole selves, body and feelings, when we have dared to love, dared to give, dared to meet life with generous openness is the smile of God!” I remember the comfort it was to me to read that, as I had always assumed that warmth might be some sort of smug self-satisfaction!

Not all people of faith will find themselves drawn to the contemplative way. For what it’s worth, here’s a link to Carl McColman’s Is There a Contemplative Personality Type? McColman suggests that contemplation—wordless prayer in which we gaze on Jesus and the mysteries of his life with faith and love—is for everyone, regardless of your personality type. But how we enter contemplative prayer may vary based on our interests and preferences,” according to McColman. Does some part of you relate to the contemplative way of being or yearn to find connection to the Divine in the silence?  

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