Glimpses of Healing and Hope

You have perhaps missed updates to Janie Halteman's "Glimpses of Healing and Hope" blog post these last 6 weeks. In late January, Janie had a stroke that affected the right side of her body.  For the time being this has limited her capacity to write.  We are pleased to report, however, that she is doing well in rehabilitation.  Each week she is making progress.  We hope that at some point in the future she may be able to contribute again to "Glimpses."  In the meantime, we are identifying some others at Kern Road Mennonite who will be able to write with the hope of keeping Janie's readers interested and inspired.  We hope you enjoy these.  We also invite you to offer a prayer for Janie as she works with new life challenges and realities.  Pastor Dave Sutter, Kern Road Mennonite  

  

by Tom Lehman

I’m one who needs regular contact with nature. When I’m outdoors, I can feel tensions seep away, and am renewed and refreshed. I feel I’m in the presence of something larger, something caring, something sacred.

Richard Rohr, whose daily meditations are an important resource for my spiritual journey, recently spent a week discussing Creation. Citing Paul in Romans 1:20 (For what can be known about God is plain . . . because God has made it plain. . . . Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, namely, God’s eternal power and deity, have been there for the mind to see in the things that God has made.), Rohr says that 

“The first act of divine revelation is creation itself. Thus, nature is the first Bible, written approximately 14 billion years before the Bible of words. God initially speaks through what is, as the Apostle Paul affirms above, before humans write words about God or from God.”

In February I spent a week kayaking in Florida with a couple of friends, a trip I’ve made three years in a row now. As much as I enjoy paddling on local rivers and creeks, Florida rivers are a special treat. Often spring-fed, with crystal clear water, the river ecosystem supports a large variety of wildlife and a wild profusion of birds: fish, alligators, manatees, pelicans, herons, cormorants, storks, ibises and many more.

On this last trip, I saw, while paddling, two creatures I hadn’t known existed before: a needle fish and a purple gallinule. Seeing them -- that impossibly long, thin fish and the clown colored bird -- made me think that the Creator must have a sense of humor and whimsy. How could Creation not be good? Out in nature I often have the feeling that I, along with every other creature, have been given a fantastic gift, beyond full understanding and appreciation.

For me, being in nature is an antidote for depression and worry. In spite of the latest craziness in Washington or elsewhere, the sun still shines, plants grow, and rivers flow.

According to public health researchers Stramatakis and Mitchell, being in nature can reduce anger, fear, and stress and increase pleasant feelings. It makes you feel better emotionally, and contributes to your physical wellbeing, by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.[1]

How do you connect with nature? There are many ways, from looking out the window at trees or gardens, stepping outside and taking a deep breath, a walk around the block, to a half-day hike in the woods or a week-long camping trip. Any of these, I believe, can serve to connect us to the larger reality of the universe. 


[1] https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/enhance-your-wellbeing/environment/nature-and-us/how-does-nature-impact-our-wellbeing

Needle fish photo credit: Flickr, SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC

Purple gallimule credit: Flickr, Barloventomagico

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January 15, 2018
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Martin Luther King photos found at site.gov addresses and thus in public domain

You can donate time, talent, or treasure to make a difference on Martin Luther King Day and all year long, according to a CNN article posted Sunday by Bethany Hines.

Deliver a meal, start a conversation, write a letter, the author proposes. Or build homes through Habitat for Humanity, educate others, work through a group like Doctors without Borders. Make a financial contribution or be kind where you are…“Give a compliment. Open the door for someone. Help mom cook dinner.”

Today, the third Monday in January, was proclaimed a national holiday in 1983 to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., though the day was not observed until 1986.  Not until the year 2000 did all states become actively involved in the celebration. 

Taking a serious look at service to make the world a better place for the poor and powerless is one of the best ways to honor the memory of King, a Baptist pastor, on this day and throughout the year, according to his late wife, Coretta Scott King. 

She says this on the meaning of the King holiday:  “On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance, and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.”

But the day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, she continues. “All across America on the holiday, his followers perform service in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help. It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutor those who can’t read, mentor at-risk youngsters, console the broken-hearted, and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.”

Two years ago, for the 2016 Glimpses of Healing and Hope MLK blog post, I gathered some King quotes and asked how Martin Luther King Day inspires us to make a difference. Where do we see the glimpses of healing and hope for which Martin Luther King yearned?  We are all familiar with some of his quotes (see below), but how are we getting involved with helping to bring his dream to some small fruition?

  • “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
  • “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”        
  • Said in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery's busses: “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age.  It is this love which will bring about miracles.”      

Given changes in national leadership a year ago and that leadership’s continued missteps on many fronts as illustrated again this past week in a bipartisan meeting on immigration reform, it is difficult to see the forward progress we’ve made on a national level in the last 12 months. For now, perhaps we need to turn for encouragement to our local communities and neighborhoods and congregations. Where are you encountering King's “hearts full of grace and souls generated by love?”

Kern Road guest speaker Cyneatha, former pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, IL, and currently program director of Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes, told us during her Sunday sermon that “the best way to reach out to others is to know ourselves and what we have to offer….Know who you are and identify your capacities to help.”

Where do you see yourself plugging into King’s dream for racial justice and harmony? How can you put what life has taught you (“all that is your life is forming you,” Cyneatha said) into practice that will build justice and harmony where you live, where you work, where you are active in your community?

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January 8, 2018
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The year in review: resisting, welcoming, refueling

Congregational area groups met Sunday during formation hour after worship to renew acquaintances with others who live nearby in the church family. Pastor Janice’s sermon on what fuels hope in the new year served as a launch pad for our sharing New Year’s intentions, hopes, dreams, plans, as we wondered together where 2018 might take us as individuals and a congregation, in our city, our state, our country, and our world.

A few of us agreed that we name objectives at the start of the new year (not unlike resolutions), but most claimed not to participate in resolution-setting; several offered that they become aware at the start of a new year of finding a guiding word or re-upping exercise targets and revamping eating habits. Some, who have lived in their houses a long time, mentioned sorting and clearing as priorities, while others, who have just purchased homes in the neighborhood, said they are organizing contents they brought with them. 

As one who documents and reports, I tend to look back on activities of the last year (or in this blog post the congregation’s past year) to see how what lies behind may project ahead to the coming year. The nine photos at the top of this entry highlight Glimpses of Healing and Hope posts from the last year, some from my own life, but most with a connection to life at Kern Road. The photos depict not only the year's challenges, but some of my favorite pictures from 2017 exemplifying how nature renews and offers hope in the midst of chaos.  

I was surprised to find as I created our Christmas video greeting back in December how much of our family's activism in the last year took root in Kern Road reminders and announcements: participation in the Women’s March on Washington with my sister-in-law and a number of Kern Road women (see that story as told here and here), planting a We’re Glad You’re Our Neighbor sign in our front yard (see story here), participating in South Bend’s “No Ban No Wall Rally” (photo in KRMC women’s story mentioned above), taking the local grandkids to the Islamic Society of Michiana’s mosque open house (see story here), attending the moderated town hall on the Affordable Care Act (see mention here), joining the local Solidarity with Charlottesville event, and more recently finding opportunities to get involved in resisting the ICE detention center being considered by Elkhart County Planning Commissioners. Thanks to KRMCers Mark and Danile for keeping us updated on how to stay involved with these ongoing challenges and opportunities.

Photos of the Metro escalator at L’Enfant Plaza, Washington, DC, and the words familiarized by our Statue of Liberty brought back these memories: “We will not soon forget the women, men, and children who gathered from all across the country, who spent time and money to assemble peacefully on behalf of justice and equity for all. They marched for many reasons as illustrated by the array of signs they carried:  to stop white silence, to manage global warming, to unite against hate, to promise we will never go back, to announce love always wins, to declare themselves proud to be Muslims, to assert that our grandkids need a stable climate, to affirm that Black lives matter, to proclaim that our daughters are still watching, to acknowledge that we’re glad you’re our neighbor, to suggest we make diversity great again, to remind us that when others go low we go high.

Dishing up a serving of beauty posted in mid-September reflects on John O’Donohue’s comments: “All through your life, the most precious experiences seem to vanish. Transience turns everything to air. You look behind and see no sign even of a yesterday that was so intense. Yet in truth, nothing ever disappears, nothing is lost. Everything that happens to us in the world passes into us. It all becomes part of the inner temple of the soul and it can never be lost. This is the art of the soul: to harvest your deeper life from all the seasons of your experience…” Reminders from authors like O’Donohue keep us hopeful and alive to what's yet to come if/when the present threatens to swamp us. In the words of Pastor Janice as she prayed her congregation into the new year on Sunday: “Make us wise to your ways.” Same goes for taking note of the flowers of the field and the birds of the air... 

Death is disorienting…transitioning from this life to the next’ (featuring the bright fall colors outside my friend’s cozy living room window where I spent the nights while my dad was dying) offers a bird’s-eye view of what it was like for my mom and me to wait with my dad for his passage from this life to the next, a scenario not unlike that of a number of KRMCers who suffered loss this last year…loss of family and friends, health, relationships, jobs, dreams. One of Parker Palmer’s most recent Facebook posts speaks of the disorientation of loss: “Finding meaning in hard experience is one of the most vital challenges we face….Who hasn’t known heartbreak? There’s the child who suffers from bullying, the young adult who suffers from unrequited love, the man or woman in midlife who sees a marriage or a career fail, the elder who endures the deaths of loved ones, the citizen who sees democracy’s values under assault.” See the poem he quotes here by Gregory Orr about beauty coming from loss. 

If you are familiar with the Netflix production of The Crown, you will recognize the sense of loss portrayed in the moment when Winston Churchill announces his retirement to Queen Elizabeth and walks away from his last audience with her. Yes, doors will open, doors will close in 2018. We can only imagine the surprises the new year will bring (including the hope of 50 degrees mentioned as likely this Thursday in Sunday's nightly news after our recent cold and snow)! May we be wise to the ways of the Divine as we enter the unknowns of 2018. 

And if you need a dose of hope right now, check out Oprah’s acceptance speech of the Cecil B. de Mille award at last night's Golden Globes.  I didn’t watch, but a couple of Facebook friends suggested that I should have...

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December 18, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

The lectionary readings for Advent 3, Year B, where we find ourselves now on the liturgical calendar, include verses from Isaiah 61 which speak of bestowing crowns of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

In her sermon yesterday, Pastor Janice called us to notice the joy lacing readings for the third Sunday of Advent. As she closed her sermon, she extended an invitation to come forward for anointing with the oil of joy, even in the midst of sorrow.

In recent years Kern Road has offered the opportunity during our longest night service to take time together to recognize our sadness and yearning to know the Divine's presence in the midst of pain, whether suffered recently or long ago. All are invited to join us in the sanctuary at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 21, on the longest night of the year to declare that we experience darkness in many ways, even (or perhaps especially) during our culture’s long holiday celebration encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  At this time of the year, when daylight diminishes to barely nine and one half hours, it can be difficult to imagine our lives six months from now when daylight will prevail once again for 15 to 16 hours.

Called a Blue Christmas service in some circles, the longest night observance offers space away from the constant December refrain which screams incessantly that this is the season to be jolly. For some, this Christmas may be the first year without a loved one or a job or perhaps the first year with new knowledge of a serious health issue. For many, the season becomes a particularly difficult time of balancing painful losses as others are celebrating their joy with family and friends.

As we move through the darkness of the winter solstice and begin the return to longer days and shorter nights, we pause during the longest night service to remember the dark times in our own lives and the lives of others. We will witness the lighting of our Advent wreath candles, with the first candle representing our own grief, the second our courage, the third our memories, and the fourth our love. Participants also will be offered the opportunity to light candles and plant them in sand to recognize burdens, griefs, sorrows, or whatever makes Christmas a “blue” time for themselves, others, and our world. 

Join us to proclaim that, even in our despair, the Divine promises to walk with us as we experience insecurity, grief, and isolation. We will seek solace together in this hope, with prayer, scripture reading, music, and quiet time as we look toward the dawn on the other side of the longest night. You will be invited to listen, to pray, to sing, to sit with whatever pain or anguish or loss you bring with you. May you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone, in knowing that the Divine comes to those who mourn, those who grieve, those who struggle. This service points us toward the hope that on the other side of even the darkest night, dawn will come.

Whether your heartache involves the physical loss of a loved one or the anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation, the aches of poverty, violence, injustice, or, in the last few years, fear for the marginalized in our country and the endless cycle of seemingly depressing news, you are invited to acknowledge with others that Christmas can be a bittersweet time for those experiencing grief and loss.  

Having lost my father six weeks ago, I take solace in these words from spirituality writer Jan Richardson: “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.”

May our longest night service equip us with small tokens of comfort we might carry to others as we arm ourselves to bear the griefs and losses which come our way.  Hear these words of reassurance from Richardson, who suggests we “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.”

Richardson proclaims that “it matters that we hold the light for one another. It matters that we bear witness to the Light that holds us all, that we testify to this Light that shines its infinite love and mercy on us across oceans, across borders, across time. Who holds the light for you? In this season, who might need you to hold the light for them in acts of love and grace?”

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December 11, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

 Watching, waiting, listening…our KRMC manger scene awaiting the baby against the starry night backdrop created at our hanging of the greens service

We prepared our hearts and minds for the wilderness journey of Advent yesterday as Nancy and three young boys led our waiting in the silence during the lighting of Kern Road’s second Advent candle.  More often than not found scooting around the building after formation hour in a game of hide and seek, these three (including my own grandson) sat in complete silence while we quieted ourselves in order to prepare for this season of watching, waiting, listening.

Preacher Andre described stilling ourselves as a way to bring peace and comfort into our fear, a way to slow down to make space in our lives during the season of Advent. “Watch, wait, prepare, listen are key Advent words,” he said, comparing the posture of quiet attentiveness to “letting your eyes focus in a too-dim room” in order to accommodate the change that is coming. If you haven’t trained your imagination, you might miss the change.”  

The news for which we are watching and waiting, Andre said, will be “news that makes a difference for everyone, world-changing news. Something big is about to happen.” Prepare to change your whole way of thinking because God’s new order is breaking in,” he advised.

Noting that the wilderness experience appeared in the Isaiah 40 (the grass withers and the flower fades) and Mark 1 (John the Baptist prepares the way) scriptures read prior to his message, Andre suggested that “if you want to be open to something new, you’ll likely need to travel through wilderness. It might be an inner wilderness, or an outer wilderness, disorientation where nothing makes sense anymore.”

Perhaps it will be the wilderness of illness or aging, a parent dies, a partner gets involved in an affair…all unbidden, but time to pay attention, no more business as usual, he said. And we have been involved too long in the wilderness of suicides, #metoo, harm to the earth and its creatures, police brutality, he added.

“We need to spend serious time unlearning and relearning; odds are we will find the new vision in the wilderness” rather than in structures of stained glass and padded pews. And he warned that we should not be “too quick to know what the new thing is. When we finally stop to open ourselves to the disruption of the wilderness, perhaps we will hear the words of John the Baptist saying, ‘The one who comes will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” 

Pastor Janice’s congregational prayer observed that “we see wilderness everywhere…in looming nuclear war, in newly stoked stresses in the Middle East, in personal violations of women and men, in the California fires.”

We wait on the world front and in our congregation with those who find themselves in distress and wilderness, even as we rejoice with those whose waiting has turned to gladness, including Josh and Becky who received word of a tentative travel date to meet their daughter in Thailand and Mabel and Dario who have finally been awarded a restaurant permit after a long period of waiting.

“Definitely God has plans for us,” Mabel said of their wait for the permit to come through, “and, like my dad (a Mennonite pastor) used to tell me, “God has God’s times, which always are different from ours.”

While waiting, we “go through many emotions: first hope/excitement, energetic to get things done quickly; then anxious, as we keep waiting and questioning ‘why’ and starting to feel depressed; then passive, a feeling of NOT being in control of the situation” just as we struggle not to lose hope, she acknowledged, adding that “I think God is teaching us to leave our burdens 100% in God’s hands.”

Elaine and I went to Lessons and Carols at Church of Our Lady of Loretto on the Saint Mary’s campus Sunday night where the sights and sounds and fragrances of Advent swirled around us…the building’s stunning interior and gentle candlelight, the soft gurgling of the baptistry nearby and beautiful choirs and congregational music with bell choir and organ, the smell of soft, melting wax followed by extinguished flames during the candle-lighting…all of which drew us into the watching, waiting, listening of the season.  

I resonated with these words from the dismissal:  “Our spirits quiver between trust and terror” as we continue on this Advent journey, each facing our own wilderness.  Can you identify your times of wilderness?  How has the Divine met you in your personal wilderness experience?  

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December 4, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Rescue rant...rip open the heavens

The pastor I heard preach the Advent 1 service at my mother’s retirement community Sunday called Isaiah 64:1-9 a “rant for rescue.”  Whether the passage begins with “O that you would rip open the heavens and descend” in The Message or “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down” in the New Revised Standard Version, the implication of desperation is clear.

“The author of this portion of Isaiah most likely wrote these words during the time following the Israelites’ return from their exile in Babylon. Having made their way home, they were wrestling with questions of what their life, their community, their relationship with God would look like now. Isaiah 64 gives voice to their longing for a God who seems absent, even as they grapple with guilt over their own brokenness,” according to Jan Richardson’s post at The Advent Door back in 2008.

As Pastor Ray at the retirement community explained to his listeners, the people in this text are yearning for release from their exile: the opportunity to return home to a life as they had once known it, yearning to go back to the vineyards, to the relationships left behind.

A fog of despair settles over them when they realize Jerusalem has been destroyed and their own neighbors no longer want them to come home.  Isaiah speaks into this darkness, repeating the cry of the people, reminding them of their wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, reminding them that the Divine can heal the hopelessness of their lives.

“If we are honest, we will identify with the exiles,” Pastor Ray asserted.  In our darkness we cry out, too, yearning for a sense of God’s presence.  Advent, this season of hope, begins by inviting us to own our darkness, he observed. 

Richardson suggests from personal experience that “at the heart of my resistant longing for God is the knowledge that to call upon the living God, to ask the Creator to tear open and rip into my universe, means giving myself to the prospect, the surety, that God will draw me out to places from which I can never return....I cannot control the direction this will go.”

A somewhat scary proposition, then, “this business of asking God to come close, to tear through the separateness in order to reach us: that’s not how it really works, of course. The tearing doesn’t go in that direction, as if God needed to punch a hole in some far-off heaven in order to come down to us. The incarnation, which we anticipate and celebrate in this season, reminds us that God is ever present, immanent, closer than our breathing.”

Richardson aptly calls our attention to  English mystic Julian of Norwich, who said, “Betwixt us and God, there is no between.” And further, Richardson offers, “If God pervades all creation, pervades us, then the barrier that needs to be torn away isn’t outside us; it’s within. In our own interior universe, in the cosmos we carry inside us, God lives, moves, breathes. What do we need to tear away, to tear through, to tear down, in order to receive this? What do we balk at tearing because we think it is too precious to us or because we fear to lose control over the direction it will go?”

The retirement community service closed with communion yesterday, as the pastor served bread and wine as symbols that the darkness will not always reign.  “We gather to celebrate that the darkness will not put out the light.”

What does your personal darkness look like this Advent season?  In response to your rant for rescue, imagine the Divine penetrating your darkness and welcoming home the parts of yourself that live in exile.  Make it an Advent practice this year to claim the light that overcomes your personal darkness.

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November 27, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Gratitude board…thankful for family and friends and food and warm houses and the glories of nature and so much more!

A proliferation of gratitude stories is lighting up the internet this Thanksgiving season with news that gratitude is beneficial to your health.

The University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine has discovered that more grateful people enjoy better health than less grateful folks—specifically less inflammation and healthier heart rhythms, according to Sacred Science writer Nick Polizzi who quotes the study’s author, Paul J. Mills:  The grateful people revealed “a better well-being, a less depressed mood, less fatigue, and they slept better. We found that those patients who kept gratitude journals for eight weeks showed reductions in circulating levels of several important inflammatory biomarkers, as well as an increase in heart rate variability while they wrote. Improved heart rate variability is considered a measure of reduced cardiac risk.”

Author Polizzi suggests that it is “almost impossible to be upset and grateful at the same time,” adding that “being thankful flips a switch inside of you that clears out any negative feelings you were experiencing a few moments before.”

Polizzi offers “three easy ways to bring more gratitude into your life” including offering thanks for each new day, breathing a daily gratitude prayer one meal a day, and keeping track for the next 10 days of one thing for which you are grateful.

And he has compiled a list of potential gratitude “inspiration” ideas as you ponder those things for which you are grateful…consider what you like about yourself, what you are learning from challenges, your favorite people, the good things about your job or your location, what you are looking forward to, the state of today’s sky. Certainly there is no end to the things for which one might muster up gratitude, even at the close of a year which may have seemed more trying for many Americans than usual.

A USA Today article advises that feeling gratitude, keeping track of why you are grateful, seeking out things for which to be grateful even in difficult times, and expressing gratitude to one another are sure-fire ways to develop “appreciation for what is valuable and meaningful in life.”

The article cites Shilagh Mirgain, a health psychologist with University of Wisconsin Health, as saying, “Research suggests that individuals who feel grateful experience lower blood pressure, improved immune functions, recover more quickly from illness, and can more effectively cope with stress.”

And “a sense of gratitude can reduce the lifetime risk for depression, anxiety, and even substance abuse disorders,” according to the article, which reports that “gratitude has one of the strongest links to mental health, more so than even optimism.”

This Los Angeles Times story details “10 reasons why it’s beneficial to cultivate an attitude of gratitude” that extends beyond Thanksgiving: gratitude empowers you, helps fight addiction, combats the Facebook blues, boosts self-control, helps you sleep better, fosters a sense of community, aids in fending off depression, facilitates your becoming a better spouse, makes you an improved boss/manager, increases life satisfaction for kids.

Joan Chittister in The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer says that “Gratitude is not only the posture of praise but it is also the basic element of real belief in God. When we bow our heads in gratitude, we acknowledge that the works of God are good. We recognize that we cannot, of ourselves, save ourselves. We proclaim that our existence and all its goods come not from our own devices but are part of the works of God. Gratitude is the alleluia to existence, the praise that thunders through the universe as tribute to the ongoing presence of God with us even now.”

Chittister speaks of “coming to prayer with an alleluia heart.”  Her gratitude prayer goes like this:
“Thank you for the new day.
Thank you for this work.
Thank you for this family.
Thank you for our daily bread.
Thank you for this storm and the moisture it brings to a parched earth.
Thank you for the corrections that bring me to growth.
Thank you for the bank of crown vetch that brings color to the hillside.
Thank you for pets that bind us to nature.
Thank you for the necessities that keep me aware of your bounty in my life.”

How are you expressing gratitude to the Divine and those around you? 

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November 20, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

Soaring with music to the dizzying heights of St. Monica’s vaulted ceilings

A good friend from Kern Road offered to take me to Vesper Chorale’s performance of Brahms’ Requiem, perceiving that it might play a role in my navigating the grief journey of losing a parent.

The chorale, which rehearses at Kern Road Mennonite Church, is conducted by KRMCer Wishart, and for this past weekend’s concert included Kern Road singers Mary, Brenda, Vic, and Nevin, among other personal friends and acquaintances from the surrounding area.  I had no trouble imagining losing myself in this performance, to be staged in the beautiful St. Monica Catholic Church, Mishawaka. For this opening concert of the chorale’s 25th anniversary season, KRMCer Murray played tympani, and many others who identify with the congregation were among appreciative listeners.

Having sung the requiem twice more than 20 years ago, I was already acquainted with the music’s soaring, surging power and both the English and German words, but I became particularly attracted to the possibility of basking in the piece as part of the journey of loss after reading Rhonda Miska’s post, Grieving with Brahms’ Requiem, at the U.S. Catholic website in preparation for the concert. 

“After a death we often struggle to integrate the reality that our loved one is gone and yet somehow mysteriously not totally gone. I had been with my grandmother when the veil was thin, during her final hours when it felt as though my role was to be a midwife for her departure from this world. After being at that precipice, in that intensely powerful space between life and death, being back in the world of making hotel reservations for the funeral, organizing photographs for the wake, and tracking down the email addresses of second cousins was disorienting,” Miska wrote.

Following her grandmother’s death, she said, “I craved a lodestar to orient myself amid the waves of grief, a channel for my prayers I couldn’t begin to put into words. I wondered how to do this—for my grandmother, for my family, for God, for myself. Beyond the many practical logistics that come with a death in the family, how was I to chart the way?....I found an answer to my questions and to my wordless prayers in 19th-century composer Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem)—a great work of art that became a trusted roadmap as I traversed the grief at the passing of our family matriarch.”

According to conductor Wishart’s program notes, “No one is quite certain why Brahms undertook to compose a requiem in his own language to a libretto that he assembled himself from Luther’s translation of scripture.  His sorrow over the death of his mother in 1865 as well as his continuing grief over Schumann’s untimely death nine years earlier certainly impacted this decision.”

And, the conductor continued, “Uncertainty also surrounds his motivation for the theme and choice of lyrics.  Why quote so much scripture when his belief system no longer supported it?  We know from his comments that he hoped to write a requiem for the living—to imbue the music with comfort for the sorrowing.” Unlike a typical mass for the dead in Catholic liturgy, this requiem offers consolation to the mourners, in the words of author James R. Oestreich in a New York Times article posted in May 2017: “Rather than dwelling on the judgment of the deceased, (Brahms) seemed intent on consoling those left behind.” Oestreich adds that the piece “has become something of an anthem for our time, with grand social and political reverberations” about which you can read more at this link

I enjoyed learning more about the requiem at this Harrisburg Symphony Blog post, which includes details about each movement (and a no-longer-available recording of a performance of the requiem at the Vienna Musikverein). In his introduction to the work prior to its performance, conductor Wishart suggested that one way to experience the music might be “to close your eyes and let the music wash over you. The more often you hear it, the more meaningful the music becomes,” he added, noting that youtube.com features many renditions.   

“What good art can do for us is offer a container for universal human experiences—like grief—which are at once common and deeply personal. While the many tiny particularities of our departed loved ones—the precise way he laughed, the specific way she brewed her coffee or folded the laundry—are what we most remember and miss, the grief journey is common and fundamental to our existence. Artists like Brahms extend an enduring hand across space and time to accompany us and offer the consolation that while our particular loss is unique, the human experience of grief is shared,” Miska concluded in her article on grieving with the requiem.

In Singing, A Mennonite Voice, authors Marlene Kropf and Kenneth Nafziger propose the theory that “music gives us (Mennonites) a faith with flesh and blood and breath and ushers us into realms of glory and grace.” They are speaking of congregational singing when they say, “We will know that the Lord is still our Shepherd because our songs will set the truth quivering in our bodies, minds, and souls.  Singing will bring us into the presence of the Shepherd who leads into green pastures and beside still waters to the eternal feast of God’s presence.” For a similar reason, I suggest listening to Brahms bursting in air (quote from the conductor’s introductory comments) offers solace to the grieving soul.

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