Glimpses of Healing and Hope

October 31, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

All Saints' Day candle-lighting ritual at Kern Road Sunday, October 30, 2016

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.

Seven years ago a fortuitous meeting became the catalyst for me to take a closer look at losses dating back to my teens and twenties.  A college mentor, upon learning that I was just beginning to excavate these ancient griefs, suggested the creation of a memorial by which to remember well. 

Three years later, as the direct result of that conversation with my professor, my high school dedicated a memorial garden to remember all who died while students or later in life as alumni.  During the dedication gathering, I spoke of the garden’s creation “as a place to remember family members and friends who have gone before us; as a place of quiet beauty where anyone may come for communion with the creator of all; as a place to participate in the process of life, from the greening of the shoot to the dying off of the flower; as a place to celebrate earth in all its majesty as God’s creation.”

My hopes for the garden were that it would remind those who visited that “God loves them and calls them perhaps to a new way of noticing God at work in their lives.  I see the creation of this garden as a positive way to share our grief stories and to tend to our own griefs, so that we might maintain right relationship with ourselves, with the person we were when our loss took place, and with the person we have become in the process of suffering grief and loss.”  

As I worked with others to prepare a worship service for that garden dedication, I came across the wisdom of folks like Elizabeth Lesser who writes about Good Grief in her book Broken Open.  She says:  “There is an art to grieving.  To grieve well the loss of anyone or anything—a parent, a love, a child, an era, a home, a job, (one’s health)—is a creative act.  It takes attention and patience and courage.  But many of us do not know how to grieve.  We were never taught, and we don’t see examples of full-bodied grieving around us.  Our culture favors the fast-food model of mourning—get over it quickly and get back to work; affix the bandage of ‘closure’ and move on.

“Grief is a tonic,” according to Lesser.  “It is a healing elixir, made of tears that lubricate the heart….When a friend or family member dies—or when the world loses one of its beloved citizens—we should not hold back our tears.  Our tears, and the calm hands of grief that follow are not signs of some tragic and evil reality….Grief is the proof of our love, a demonstration of how deeply we have allowed another to touch us.”

Sometimes the words of others can serve as a healing elixir as well.  John O’Donohue’s For Grief, a powerful recognition of the pain of loss, can be found at this link of daily mindfulness poetryThese words from Gates of Prayer, a Judaism Prayerbook, became another favorite reading of mine as I prepped for the garden dedication. Written for the arrival of the new millennium, the Spirituality and Practice website posts this piece as a reference to the power and the presence of the saints in our lives.

Back in 2005, I collected these words (surely a compilation of thoughts from a variety of resources I had been reading) to share as worship leader during the first All Saints’ Day worship observance in which I participated.  I have not forgotten the power of them:  We rejoice in the lives of those whom you have recently drawn into your eternal embrace, and we raise their families and friends into your strong arms of care and compassion in their continuing grief.

We thank you today for faithful people in every age who have looked to Jesus as teacher and role model.  May we be strengthened by their witness and supported by their unseen presence from the balcony of heaven, that we may run with perseverance the race that lies before us, and, by faith, follow in the footsteps of so great a cloud of witnesses.  

And now we join our voices with angels and archangels, with prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with all the faithful of every time and place, who forever sing to the glory of your name, saying:  Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Amen.

These many years later I remain transfixed by phrases like “balcony of heaven” and “cloud of witnesses” along with the idea of joining “our voices with angels and archangels” as I remember those I have loved and lost.  In what ways do you remember those you have loved and lost?  How do those memories nourish you?  So that those who knew him would not forget him, I created this YouTube video of still shots of my youngest brother, who died when he was 18.  This video depicts some of the scenes of the garden dedication at my high school four years ago. 

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October 24, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Every morning I receive a blessing by e-mail from the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids.  Each one is exquisite, but Sunday’s blessing for Day 284 of 2016 spoke to me in a special way:  “May our Creative God be with you, amazing you with the beauty of the Seasons, with the beauty of yourself. This is a day to pause and gaze about you and within you. Discover something new: Let your eyes 'notice', your taste buds 'savor', your hands 'embrace', your ears 'be attentive', your nose 'inhale' the wonders around you. Take time to thank your Body for speaking to you, for holding memories, for its healing powers, and for all parts working as one. In your own creative way, give Praise to the Creator of all good things.”  (Sign up here to receive a daily blessing from the GR Dominicans.) 

In the wake of a trip to Mackinac Island last week, where autumn had taken a firm grip and beauty reigned unabashedly though skies were grey, I had no trouble letting my eyes notice.  The above photo collage documents some of the sights my traveling companions and I saw.  Even in the slightly gloomy weather of the first day on the island, the bright buildings, glistening boardwalk, coffee shop, private homes, old stone church, and Grand Hotel glowed under dreary skies.  The next day, as we were preparing to depart, sunshine heightened color in the harbor, the Iroquois Hotel, and the trees we passed on the drive home.

And it wasn’t difficult to bring back memories of the smell of fudge and caramel corn, the sound of horses clip-clopping around the island, the taste of margarita pizza, the feel of cool air blowing off the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Before the Mackinac trip, I had stumbled across this Spirituality and Practice feature entitled Falling in Love with a Poem:  How to develop a vibrant relationship with a poem, letting it change you.  The subject matter, based on a book called Saved by a Poem:  The Transformative Power of Words by Kim Rosen, drew my attention immediately and, as the week went by, I was reminded on two occasions of special quotes (though not complete poems) that had been favorites of mine for at least 20 years.

I spotted this long-loved quote from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem God’s Grandeur on a friend’s social media page:  “The world is charged with the grandeur of God; it will fan out, like shining from shook foil…”  To be reminded of that quote while fall colors exploded around me (after having been nourished by it many times in the past) seemed a valuable synchronicity, especially as I thought of Rosen’s reference to poetry as “the language of the soul. From below the surface of your life, the truth of who you are calls to you through the poems you love. Even if you have been touched by only one poem, or just a single line heard at a crucial moment and remembered, those words are an invitation from within. To take them deeply into your life and speak them aloud brings every level of who you are—your thoughts, your words, your feelings, and even your physical energies—into alignment with what matters most to you. You are receiving and giving voice not only to the poem but also to your own soul.”

A second favorite quote, this one from Frederick Buechner’s Wishful Thinking:  A Theological ABC, came to mind in a phone conversation when a friend referenced it:  “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  I couldn’t help but remember back to the day when I first read that Buechner quote and realized my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger were calling me, over weeks, months, and even years, to become a spiritual director.

Recalling once again the Buechner quote drew me to this paragraph in the Rosen book:  “As you go deeper into your relationship with a poem, it may guide you to discover treasures that you did not know you had. Perhaps there are hidden talents or creative visions that will appear. Perhaps the poem will call forth a long-buried memory, magnetized by the words to the surface of your consciousness for healing or inspiration. Perhaps it will open you to a new way of seeing the world, or a feeling of grief you have avoided, or an experience of joy you didn't know was in you.”

The Dominican blessing highlights the very things we might learn from befriending a poem:  “This is a day to pause and gaze about you and within you.  Discover something new.” 

Has a poem ever led you to a sacred space?   If so, you already know the benefits of befriending a poem.  If not, perhaps you will choose “to take a poem you love into your heart and your body.” 

The Spirituality and Practice article recommends that “once you have your poem, one that seems to you to be shimmering with inspiration, write it out by hand if possible (to make it more personal) or create a printed copy. In quiet times or during your daily activities, bring out your poem and savor it one line or stanza at a time. Over the course of weeks, you will come to know it so well that parts of it arise in your heart on the spur of the moment like words of scripture, to guide and comfort you.”

May the Dominican blessing lead you this day and week, as well, to "let your eyes 'notice', your taste buds 'savor', your hands 'embrace', your ears 'be attentive', your nose 'inhale' the wonders around you."

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October 17, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

And the blog rolls on, from bud to bloom

Last week’s Glimpses of Healing and Hope blog post, Passing it on, appeared as #52 in a full year’s cycle of stories and photos I shared after an invitation during the spring of 2015 from congregational leaders to craft “weekly stories of healing and hope, of grace, joy, and peace, of how we might continue to practice being a faithful community, opening ourselves to God to turn our hearts and words into actions that will make a difference in our world.” 

Today’s post reviews that year of entries, considering what themes emerged and what influences prevailed as subjects came to the foreground, some on one occasion, others more than once.  Hyperlinks to many of these posts can be found below or at Kern Road’s blog archive or at this Pinterest board, where each also is identified by an accompanying photo.

Little did we know 12 months ago that the US would be embroiled a year later in what feels like an all-out war on the political scene (see this NPR story for election stress report).  Though news events are not the stuff of which these posts are made, I discovered on looking back that the fall-out of national or international anxiety often resides somewhere behind an entry…as an example see this Resurrection season story which opened with a reference to a sharing by Loren one Sunday during worship.

Like Loren’s story, nearly a quarter of the blog posts created in the last year sourced directly from the Kern Road community.  We discovered the backstory to Danile and Nancy’s musical collaboration; what the congregation’s Longest Night service is all about; how Lindy, Deanna, Nancy, and I made our word for the year picks.  We learned about Leonard and Eunice’s interest in bringing family to the US, Elaine and Cathy’s involvement in the Near Northwest Neighborhood, how the western area group welcomed a new family to their community.  Other blog posts detailed brief bios of some of the KRMC women featured in The Gifts of Women, spoke of our annual lawn service, shared about our service of lament following a tragic week, and further elaborated on area group and small group activity in the congregation.  

A number of posts brought faith practices to the fore in an effort to counteract the dissonance of what’s going on in our everyday lives, whether that dissonance comes from the news or our jobs or our lives on the home front.  In addition to focusing on enthusiasm, beauty, and silence as worthwhile spiritual disciplines, blog posts also highlighted photography, joy and delight in our town, self-nurture, breathing at high altitude, resurrection living, blessing one another, care of the earth, and finding sanctuary as useful tools on the faith journey.

Because I am a contemplative and that way of being is how I most often view the world, offerings typically revealed that perspective.  In addition to the very first Glimpses of Healing and Hope post about the nurturing Saint Joe River which meanders through South Bend, the blog touched on harnessing old memories, spoke of finding the Divine in the storms of life, and revealed ways in which the seasons inform our faith journeys, here in spring, here in fall.

Loosely organized around the church year, blog posts featured subjects including All Saints’ Day, Advent and Christmas, Holy Week, Easter and Eastertide, and Pentecost.  Days of the secular calendar, like the start of the new year, Martin Luther King Day, and Earth Day, stirred other posts into being.  And some posts were driven by connections to the larger church, including this MEDA story, another about the area relief sale and MCC, and this one on a Lutheran apology to local Anabaptists.  

Occasionally blog posts took root in worship services, this one as the result of a sermon at the retirement community where my parents live, and this one grounded in a KRMC service during which we sang a song that mentioned small paper lanterns.

Sometimes, as sources of inspiration, I turned to books I was reading (like Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark) or great art (to reflect on Ash Wednesday by looking at Bruegel’s Carnival and Lent or amplify Lenten learnings with a reference to Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son).

Clearly this year's travels, frequent visits with my aging parents, and turning 70 this past summer also have influenced what’s on my mind as I share glimpses of healing and hope.  Entries garnering the greatest number of hits this year included Best Gifts Ever at just over 1,200 and Danile and Nancy’s story, referenced above, at nearly 1,170.  I have no idea who those readers are, for the most part, but I am grateful.

Many thanks to writers who continue to inspire my own musings, including Parker Palmer, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat at Spirituality and Practice, Jan Richardson, John O’Donohue, Krista Tippett, Mary Oliver, David Whyte, and many others, as well as social media friends who keep beaming my way hopeful thoughts, encouraging reminders and admonitions, and positive insights to light the way on the faith journey. 

The one thing I would love to see increase as this blog moves forward into its second year is interaction with readers.  I hope you will subscribe at the website or check the KRMC Facebook page or mine to stay connected.  And please feel free to submit your personal glimpses of healing and hope for sharing in future entries.

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October 10, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

My Aunt Ruthie gave me a tuber last spring which produced the beautiful pink dahlia above.  Knowing that dahlias require special handling, like being dug up each fall and replanted after all danger of frost is past in the spring, I had never tried my hand at raising them.

My aunt hoped that at least one of the two varieties she brought me (of the four kinds she plants) had come from my grandmother’s property many years earlier, so I was eager to grow these dahlias.  We stored them over the winter and put them in the ground after the last frost.  The leaves came quickly on one tuber, but the other, which had seemed by planting time lighter in weight and somewhat withered, never produced green shoots.   

Still, I was excited to see whether the pink or red variety had survived and what the flower would look like.  I waited for buds all summer and into fall and, finally, several weeks ago, I noticed that tiny buds had begun to plump up.  Earlier this week, one of the tight buds unfurled enough to catch a glimpse of pink, but the day-to-day unfolding has been painfully slow.

My aunt is not on Facebook, but her daughters are, and they kindly have shown her the first bloom’s daily progress as posted on my Facebook page.  Saturday the news came from my aunt by e-mail that the surviving dahlia likely is not one originally raised by my grandmother in southeastern Pennsylvania, so we will try again to find a way to get some of Grammy's tubers to Indiana.  Sunday I learned, based on my aunt's scrutiny of the above photo, that the dahlia is from a neighbor's daughter and bears the name Otto's Thrill.  Back at our home in the Chicago suburbs, we had many plants which had been transplanted from my grandmother's huge collection of flowers.  None of them, unfortunately, came with us to South Bend and I have missed them in our gardens here.

Why do I take joy in the possibility of growing flowers that belonged to my grandmother and have been passed on to me by her daughter, my mother's youngest sister?  This aunt, always special to me, still lived at home with her parents when I was born.  As I grew up, I remember her showing me her wallet, full of photos of high school friends.  Some years later, I recall writing letters to her with white ink on red stationery after she married and moved out of town.  I proudly held her firstborn when my family paid her and my uncle a visit.  And I vividly recall the horror of her losing her youngest child the day her oldest child was married, a tragedy too huge to imagine, but one that I resonated with deeply as I also had experienced loss by that point in my life.

Beyond appreciating Aunt Ruthie as the giver of these flowers, as I appreciate all my family, I love surrounding myself with connections that become daily reminders of the generations that preceded mine, particularly because I moved away from the part of the country where I was born and, since college, have not had the routine opportunity to spend time with my family of origin.

But I feel in touch with family every time I sit on the reupholstered couch dating back to my parents' early marriage days, as I light the candles on the gate-leg table from my great-grandparents, as I eat from my mom and dad's wedding china, made in occupied Japan.  The memories of Grammy's Christmas dinners flood back when I use the server from her dining room, which now resides in mine.  I think of my mother's family when I spend time in our guest room, occupied by an oak bedroom suite from my grandparents' farmhouse, or when I admire the secretary in our living room bought by my parents at a great uncle's sale.

A rocking chair from Jim's family, now located in our sunroom, and the small caned chairs scattered around the house bring back memories of his parents and the generations that went before them.  I am pleased to live with reminders from both sides of our families; so many are no longer with us, but we remember them well for having passed down their faith to our generation.  As we approach All Saints' Day at the start of next month, I look forward to recalling, between now and then, the many ways in which that great cloud of family witnesses continues to surround us from the balcony of heaven!

What reminders of your family of faith surround you?  Do physical reminders, like flowers and the belongings of earlier generations, help keep family connections alive for you?  How do you stay connected to those who have gone before?  What have they passed on to you for which you are grateful?  What do you hope to pass on to the next generation?

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October 3, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Complete sensory experience:  small group treats five senses to restoration

Reading a Slate article this week about election anxiety (bearing the subhead “Therapists and their patients are struggling to cope amid the national nervous breakdown that is the 2016 election”) made me realize that now, more than ever, we all need ways to relax and walk away from the chaos, even if just for a short time. 

How we choose to find rainbows in the midst of the storm probably depends on our personal inclinations and interests.  Here’s what came to my attention this week.  From Parker Palmer:  “Every morning—after reading the news from the human world and becoming a bit disheartened—I visit Nature 365 at http://nature365.tv.

“There, I find a brief video that takes me to the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota—or to the prairie of southwestern Minnesota—unspoiled natural places that I love.

“I watch the video, expertly filmed by one of the world’s most celebrated nature photographers. Then I say to myself, ‘This, too, is happening in our world today...’

“I come away reminded that there is beauty as well as ugliness in our world, light as well as dark, and I start the day better able to see life steadily and see it whole...”

Lisa Scandrette, a contributing writer to the blog Godspace’s September Creative Prayer Theme, offers this in her September 28 post:  “When I begin to feel anxious about the events of life, I take out my knitting. The yarn, warm and soft, glides through my hands, rhythmically making one loop after another. I may not be able to solve my daughter’s health puzzle or take away a friend’s tragedy, but I can make loop after loop after loop. As I do, my shoulders relax, my breathing slows, my mind slows down. My love and prayers flow from my heart, down my arms, out my knitting needles and into the fabric. Sometimes I need this process over and over and over.”

Back in July, Ten Thousand Villages’ blog site Mosaic offered a post entitled 3 Simple Ways to Reach Relaxation.  According to the article, “You can create a retreat for yourself in nearly any environment by using any combination of these three techniques for relaxation:  complete sensory experience, mindfulness, embracing even the smallest pleasures.”

Suggesting that setting up a location where all five senses—sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—can be awakened is an easy place to begin, the post recommends creating a complete sensory experience by surrounding oneself with art, subtle sound like wind chimes, an enjoyable drink, the pleasant touch of something nearby, and fragrant growing things.

“Take your senses a step farther and promote each one of them with a mindful activity,” the article advises, and finally “put a positive spin on everyday experiences” like setting a table by starting “with a nice tablecloth, even for simple meals…even for takeout.”

Our small group potluck picnic Sunday night, the first event since we took a summer break some months ago, felt like a respite from the storm, a reconnecting with people we care about, people who care about us.  (See collage above for sight samples…you can imagine the remainder based on these!)  In the beautiful surroundings created by hostess Marceil, nature-loving host Don shared about the personal restoration the outdoors brings him, then invited us to share how we experience creation as a place of respite.  We named the night sky filled with stars, the daytime sky with cloud formations, water, flowers, trees, birds, and animals as restorative parts of our everyday lives.

This blog post at Voice and Vessel, A Writing Studio, is entitled Four Autumn Rituals to Fire Up Your Creative Spirit.  Intended to help writers center themselves as they enter a new season, I couldn’t help but think these pointers also might benefit the rest of us as we seek ways to relax by “recentering creative intentions, trying a new soundtrack, using changing colors to tune attention, falling for some new poetry.”

This video of a children’s choir singing Shenandoah warmed my heart this week, after I found a link to it in The Mennonite.  Check it out if you are weary, distracted, anxious.  What other prayer practices or spiritual disciplines refresh you when you need a change of pace or scenery?  How do you meet the Divine in the midst of the chaos life brings?

I can quickly lose myself in a painting like this one, Peter Paul Rubens’ The Landscape Rainbow, as discussed by Spirituality and Practice here, or walking a labyrinth or sitting with an icon.  May you find a place of rest and relaxation with the Divine as you journey in the coming week. 

Peter Paul Rubens' The Landscape Rainbow

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Samosas, My Coins Count, and comforter bash

September 26, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Worship leader Barbara opened the service Sunday with the observation that it had been a full week…we mourned the unexpected death of a long-time member, we celebrated the birth of a baby girl into the lives of a couple among us, and we marveled at our own capacity as KRMCers to prepare, sell, and even help purchase approximately 1,800 samosas at the Michiana Mennonite Relief Sale. 

Since the first event in 1968, proceeds of the Michiana sale, held at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds, have supported the projects and programs of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a worldwide relief and service ministry of Anabaptist churches. MCC shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice.  Made possible with the help of hundreds of volunteers who contribute time and resources, the Michiana sale is one of 46 relief sale events in the U.S. and Canada that together raise more than $5,000,000 annually, according to the event’s website.

Like many other Indiana/Michigan congregations, Kern Road participated in the My Coins Count initiative, which enables children and adults to donate coins during September worship services and education hours for the global water projects of Mennonite Central Committee.  Coins collected are delivered for counting to the relief sale, where totals are announced.  Kern Road contributed $839.89 via My Coins Count. 

Kettle corn and pretzels, quilts, and Usborne books

We took the grandkids to scout out the relief sale Friday night.  Some of their favorite stops over the years have been the kettle corn table, Ben’s soft pretzels, KRMC’s samosa booth in the big food tent, and the pie and decorated cookie sales in the arena where the quilts are sold on Saturday morning.  We also did a cursory inspection of the quilts, made some purchases at the Usborne book shop, watched folks tying comforter knots, and found bargain-priced yarn for our granddaughter’s ever-growing interest in knitting, which she has pledged to put to good use for future MCC relief sales!

I continue to become aware of new ways individuals and congregations can help raise funds or participate in creating material resources for donation to people in need around the world through MCC.  We learned on our trip to the Michiana event about the second annual MCC Great Lakes Comforter Bash scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 21-22, at Pleasant View Mennonite Church, 58529 County Road 23, Goshen.  

According to handouts promoting the event, “all ages and skill levels are welcome (women, men, youth groups, friends, and family).  A handmade comforter provides not only warmth but also a tangible message to people that their needs are not forgotten.”  Donations of comforter tops and backs (twin size preferred), batting, and knotting thread and supplies are welcome.  Find more information here.

I’ve had the good fortune recently of helping to work on publicity for a Bryan Moyer Suderman concert in southeastern Pennsylvania which will raise funds to supply relief kits for refugees via MCC.  I’m hoping this all-ages concert fundraiser comes to our part of the world some day soon as another project we might become involved in to help others come to know “that their needs are not forgotten.” 

About to celebrate the centennial of its ministry in 2020, MCC’s vision and mission page at its website reaffirms “its Christ-led commitment to compassionately serve and learn from vulnerable people around the world. We continue to answer God’s call, focusing our work in five strategic areas of service,” including “caring for the lives and futures of uprooted and other vulnerable people; providing water, food, and shelter first in times of hunger, disaster, and conflict, then education and ways to earn income; working with churches and communities to prevent violence and promote peace and justice; investing in opportunities for young people to serve in Canada, the U.S., and around the world; serving with humility and in partnership to meet local needs with local solutions.”

When needs created by all that’s going on in our world today stretch far beyond the assistance we might provide as individuals, MCC offers options by which we can collectively create a dent in that overwhelming chasm.  I am thankful that MCC opportunities combine our separate efforts into useful ways of offering care to a world in need.

Science supports the positive emotional impact of giving and volunteering, according to licensed psychotherapist Terri Cole, who writes in this article that “in grad school, I read studies on the positive emotional impact of volunteerism for the giver. Self-esteem increased and symptoms of depression decreased from becoming an important part of the solution for a person in need. Feel-good hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine may be released when a person sees a direct positive result from their good deeds. The act of being of service and exchanging positive energy with another human is a psychological and emotional win-win.”

How might you pitch in to support far-flung efforts through organizations like MCC?  Alternatively, plenty of opportunities exist on the home front as well to make a difference in the lives of others.  Consider finding a way to contribute in these ways this week.

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September 19, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

Where do you find space for renewal, "for spiritual survival?"

Carrie Newcomer sang her new song Sanctuary Sunday night at the first of Goshen College’s performing arts series for 2016-17.  Earlier last week Parker Palmer showcased the new release in his On Being post, Seeking Sanctuary in Our Own Sacred Spaces, so I already had had a taste of it prior to hearing Carrie perform at GC.  Check out Newcomer’s song here. 

Reflecting on her conversation with Palmer about how Sanctuary came into being, Newcomer asked, “What do we do when we are feeling personally or politically heartbroken…these are times to rest and remember what we love to do deeply and truly.”  And she reminded her audience that, “even in a particularly difficult political season, the things that always have saved us, courage, hospitality, generosity, good teachers, good parents, are still available within us and between us.”  

Palmer, who often collaborates with Newcomer in one way or another, reports that once upon a time the word sanctuary meant only one thing to him:  the place his family worshipped every Sunday when he was a child.  Participation in going to church, he recalls, was not optional.  Today, after 77 years of life in a world that’s both astonishingly beautiful and horrifically cruel, ‘sanctuary’ is as vital as breathing to me. Sometimes I find it in churches, monasteries, and other sites designated as sacred. But more often I find it in places sacred to my soul: in the natural world, in the company of a trustworthy friend, in solitary or shared silence, in the ambience of a good poem or good music.”

Because we live in a culture of violence which regularly “assaults our souls with noise, frenzy, consumerism, tribalism, homophobia, racism,” Palmer writes that “sanctuary is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm: it’s about spiritual survival. Today, seeking sanctuary is no more optional for me than church attendance was as a child.”

Terry Hershey concludes that sanctuary is creating a space for grace in your life.  “As long as my grandmother lived—and in spite of her pain—there was always a place for me on the swing. If I were asked to explain grace, I would paint the picture of my grandmother’s swing. There, I never had to deliberate or explain or worry, regardless of the weight I carried. The porch swing—my grandmother’s presence—bestowed grace without conditions,” Hershey recalls. 

“Everyone has a sanctuary, if only in the mind. Even if we can’t say what it is, we know of its power. It is a place where we feel grounded, unhurried, and renewed….A sanctuary is a place that restores us, replenishes us, nourishes us. In this renewal, we are reminded, once again, of what really is important,” according to Hershey. 

Rachel Naomi Remen discusses sanctuary from another perspective involving listening in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom:  “Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and by others. That which is hidden.”

Friends and pastors and significant others and spiritual directors/companions can help create space for the kind of sanctuary of which Remen speaks.  We all have different notions of what provides personal sanctuary.  Proper food and exercise, spiritual disciplines, and a myriad ways to stay connected to the Divine open the door to sanctuary.  Walking proved to offer sanctuary for this author.

Where do you find sanctuary?  Spending time alone in nature has become one of my favorite sanctuaries.  Here’s a YouTube video I created (for use when I can’t actually get out in nature) as another personal sanctuary using some of my most-cherished nurturing photos of the seasons.  Spirituality and Practice offers this e-course on sanctuary on demand.

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September 12, 2016
By:  Jane Bishop Halteman

I enjoy reading Terry Hershey’s Sabbath Moment blog when it surfaces on my Facebook feed.  Like Glimpses of Healing and Hope, Hershey's posts offer stories “to inspire and feed the soul.”  His September 4 post describes two young children who enthusiastically craft a sand castle, only to have it washed away by rising tides.

After some tears, the youngsters surprise a bystander by grabbing each other’s hands and running across the sand to build another castle.  “We all have high tides, and waves that take out sand castles in our lives (be they dreams or plans or expectations or even hope).  Observing the children, the bystander realizes that those who endure in life do so with a hand to hold.  The children found solace, renewal, and confidence in the sanctuary of connection—a place where they knew they were safe. And embraced.”

Hershey suggests that “as long as I see only the misfortune and inconvenience, the flattened sand castle defines me.  I buy this label, this new version of reality.”  On the flip side of the same coin, he proclaims this good news:  “These children were not undone by scarcity (or depletion or sadness). They went about their day as if sufficiency was their reality.”

How might we participate in allowing sufficiency to become our reality even when depletion and sadness seem to threaten our very existence?  How can we become part of the support network for others when their sand castles are destroyed at high tide? 

I attended a meeting in eastern PA last week where I observed women, in particular, taking responsibility to become part of a support network for other women.  Women Empowering Women with MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Association) provides an opportunity for women to learn about issues facing women in developing countries, according to a MEDA press release from March 2016 when the new group’s chapters in Souderton and Lancaster, PA, were launched.

“Women in developing countries often face social and economic adversities beyond our comprehension, and yet have an amazing drive to rise above these barriers when given the opportunity to do so. After a recent all-women’s trip to a MEDA project in Ethiopia, I noticed a phenomenal connection between the Ethiopian women and those on our trip. We shared a strong bond and there was mutual respect and understanding. The women on the trip have a vision to share these meaningful connections with others,” says Ruth Leaman, regional director of resource development at MEDA and coordinator of the two new chapters.  Women Empowering Women with MEDA offers members opportunity to engage with projects in countries around the world, including Ghana, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Nicaragua, and Kenya.

Last week’s meeting featured client stories from farmers in Ukraine, “where years of neglect under the former Soviet regime left the agricultural sector struggling.”  Working with small farmers to improve their incomes, MEDA’s Ukraine Horticulture Development Project helped “farmers learn modern technologies, increase productivity, and deliver premium quality greenhouse crops, berries, and table grapes to markets in which they have a competitive advantage.”  The project established lead-farmer networks, developed to bridge the gap between small farmers and agribusinesses. To build small farmer competiveness, lead farmers also mentored small farmers toward improved methods of production.

Their beautiful handwork reminds us of our sisters in the Ukraine

The event I attended closed with a prayer, during which the leader suggested we rise from our seats to form a circle.  We were encouraged to join hands and then to lock arms at the wrist and finally at the elbow.  Each instruction brought us closer together and strengthened the physical bond, offering one another connection and embrace in the same way MEDA’s projects in the Ukraine support women farmers, and another graphic reminder of sand castles and high tides.  We also were reminded that MEDA's return to the Ukraine to help women farmers as agents of hope represents “a heart-warming circling back to a land that holds warm memories” in spite of persecution of those among us with names like Dyck, Janzen, and Yost.

Parker Palmer’s photo of a latticework of supportive hands in this blog post at On Being’s website is a powerful visual of connection and embrace.  The post discusses the spiritual odd couple of laughter and silence.  “On the surface, the two may seem to have little in common, but their kinship is soul-deep. Both make us vulnerable by penetrating our illusions and taking us closer to reality, grounding, renewing, and redeeming us as they do.”  Read this article for more on how to “bear witness, so no one need suffer alone,” another good example of offering connection and embrace as the sand castles of our lives become unmoored by rising tides.

Hershey’s Sabbath Moment blog concluded with this mention of Mother Teresa’s recent canonization, honoring her for her dedication to the poorest of the poor.  Pope Francis “recognized holiness in a woman who felt so abandoned by God that she was unable to pray and was convinced, despite her ever-present smile, that she was experiencing the tortures of hell.

“And yet, she went about her days as if sufficiency was her reality, even in the midst of flattened sand castles. Mother Teresa not only shared the material poverty of the poor but the spiritual poverty of those who feel unloved, unwanted, uncared for.
  Today St. Teresa of Calcutta reminds us that the people who do make it (the people who endure and carry on), are those with a hand to hold.”

Whose hand are you holding?  Who is holding yours?

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