Glimpses of Healing and Hope

When spring fails to deliver

by: Jane Bishop Halteman
April 11, 2016

Three nest fails (top left, center, bottom right) surrounded by early signs of spring

Spring is the season of resurrection, but some signs of spring in the world around us culminate in disastrous outcomes that fail to reveal what we expect of Easter. 

The last two years brought three failed birds’ nests to our yard.  In 2014 a pair of mourning doves built a nest in our front eaves, but the nest slid off its perch and we found it on the ground one morning. 

Soon after that failure, cardinals constructed a nest in a low shrub outside the sunroom window where we could observe undetected, but one morning we discovered the eggs missing from the nest.  Alerted to the fact that one of the eggs did not match the rest, I learned that cowbirds steal space for their eggs in other species’ nests. 

Our cardinal family had, indeed, been victimized by a cowbird.  We were advised to remove the cowbird egg from the nest.  One internet source I read indicated that “cowbirds may ‘punish’ egg-rejectors by destroying the eggs or entire nest.”  Did our intrusion lead to the eventual nest failure? 

With our grim 2014 history, I was elated last spring to discover that a robin had built a sloppy nest in a small niche created by our backyard guttering at the second-story level. By the time I noticed the nest, the mother bird was already sitting on it, and, though I had missed the building frenzy, I felt hopeful that this nest might survive long enough to produce young robins.

Only two days into nest-watching, however, I was disappointed yet again one morning to find this third nest on the ground with no sign of eggs anywhere.  Perhaps they were yet to be laid or maybe a raccoon got to them, a friend suggested.

Trying to understand our 100% failure rate, I began scouring the internet and was surprised to discover that robins “can produce up to three successful broods in one year. On average, two clutches are raised with less than half being successful. Only a quarter of those that do fledge survive to November. From that point on, about half of the birds alive in any year will make it to the next.”

Typically the season bounces back and forth between winter and summer with at least a few casualties as chilly temperatures and late snow showers snuff out magnolia blossoms or fruit tree buds perhaps forced out prematurely by too-warm-too-soon temps.  Last year I found our tender new greenery chomped to the ground or stomped to bits overnight by hungry intruders.  

Caught in the midst of these kinds of seasonal “failures” and losses or severe weather in our own lives, how do we respond when resurrection seems momentarily to slip out of sight?  What learnings might take place even in the midst of disappointment?

Even as failed nests, frozen blooms, and nibbled stems and leaves are unhappy experiences for some of us, I found it interesting to learn recently that the advent of a mourning dove in one’s life “signals a time to go within, a time to release emotional discord and the memories of past trauma.”  I was intrigued to receive the appearance of these mourning doves as signs of resurrection, because, as one author I read pointed out, though its melancholy call has earned this bird its name, “beyond its sorrowful song is a message of life, hope, renewal, and peace.”

Along with the disappointments of spring, we savor earlier sunrises and longer evenings, the reappearance of morning birdsong, the variety of growing things that come to life in our yards and flower beds, the successful nest-building, and the many creatures that reappear from their winter hiding places.

Parker Palmer’s Spring is Mud and Miracle speaks eloquently about the many resurrections born of spring.  What Palmer observes is so true:  “Spring begins tentatively, but it advances with a tenacity that never fails to touch me. The smallest and most tender shoots insist on having their way, pressing up through ground that looked, only a few weeks earlier, as if it would never grow anything again. The crocuses and snowdrops don’t bloom for long. But their mere appearance, however brief, is always a harbinger of hope—and from those small beginnings, hope grows at a geometric rate. The days get longer, the winds get warmer, and the world grows green again.”

Parker goes on to say, “From autumn’s profligate seeding to the great spring give-away, nature teaches a steady lesson. If we want to save our lives, we must spend them with abandon. When we’re obsessed with bottom lines and productivity, with efficiency of time and motion, with the rational relation of means and ends, with projecting reasonable goals and making a beeline toward them, it’s unlikely we will ever know the fullness of spring in our own lives.”

What will the fullness of living into Easter look like in each of our lives this resurrection season?  In the words of Jan Richardson, what are we being asked “to carry from the Easter garden to proclaim in the world, in the way that only we can proclaim it and live it out?”  Where will the Easter path take us?

Author Macrina Wiederkehr suggests we ponder questions like these as we await, and ultimately experience, the arrival of spring in nature and in our own lives:  “How are we, like the buds of the earth, opening to God and to others?  What secrets buried deep in the soil of our souls are being revealed to us?  How is the gospel of springtime unfolding for us?  What is the great blossoming in us?”

Wiederkehr notes that, as the vibrancy of life is about to pulse through nature at this time of year, it is also a good thing to “enjoy what is emerging from within, to savor the taste of hope, to trust in what the future promises.  It is the time to believe in growth and to give oneself to it wholeheartedly.”

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April 4, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

Loren brought good news during Easter Sunday worship when he shared an e-mail recently received from his brother and sister-in-law, who are on a two-month assignment in Nigeria with the Church of the Brethren.  They are offering presence in crisis and working with internally displaced persons in a city where Boko Haram has commandeered villages, targeted pastors, killed thousands, and caused many more to flee their homes, Loren explained.

“When Boko Haram took over various villages that are key to the church, many of the buildings were bombed or burned.  It was anticipated that buildings in Garkida, where my brother lived for five years, would have been burned as well.”  Upon visiting Garkida, Loren’s brother was surprised to learn that the Muslims of Garkida told Boko Haram that Christians and Muslims get along together in that place and that, if they burned the church, they would also be burning the mosque.  Surprisingly, many of the buildings were saved. 

“My prayer requests are two,” Loren said:  “First, that we celebrate the community and support which exists among the Christians and Muslims in Garkida and second, that we pray for our (so-called) enemies and for the poor conditions that lead people to become violent and destructive.”

A story of the existence of community and support among the Christians and Muslims in Garkida was a piece of resurrection news so appropriate for our congregation to hear at our Easter Sunday service.

That news came before last week’s Glimpses of Healing and Hope blog entry, which posted the following day on Monday morning.  A quick response to the piece, entitled Living into the Resurrection, arrived from a Michigan pastor who said,  “Our church has taken the theme Practicing Resurrection for this Easter season, so we will be walking along with you. I pondered yesterday what it would mean if we would become ‘radicalized cells’ of the Ever Rising Body of Christ—radicalized by love and forgiveness and passionate hope. I wonder...”

Can we imagine with that pastor what radicalized cells operating in our own church and community might look like if love, forgiveness, and passionate hope ran rampant among us?  Where in our denomination or congregation, our towns, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our families might we live into resurrection and new life by confronting, even in small ways, the signs of death and dying, hate and wrath, injustice and corruption often evident around us?

We are fortunate already to have “cells” of people among us who regularly offer support and encouragement to the marginalized and encourage all of us to do the same; those who urge us toward greener living by steering us toward installation of solar panels and other ways of caring for our earth; those who model thoughtful eating habits that take into consideration the environment, personal health, and animal welfare; those who demonstrate a variety of ways to live and share together in Christian community.

Many of us, raised in the more-with-less culture, practice our favorite schemes to simplify and extend.  If you haven’t already tried some of these, you might experiment with fresh ways to implement resurrection living by beginning a new effort to repurpose, compost, upcycle, grow your own, reduce waste (or even consider zero waste), buy local, regrow from scraps, choose not to use plastic or disposables, select plug-ins over batteries. 

Once I began looking/listening more carefully for examples of resurrection living, I found hopeful green shoots in lots of places.  During my weekly drive to Grand Rapids, I heard an NPR story on why Utah will continue to embrace refugees even though that stance is now unpopular in many states. 

Upon arrival at my destination, I discovered a story from The Mennonite about how a Colorado church made a commitment to share its little-used fellowship hall and classrooms with community groups who needed meeting space.  Soon a local arts group began holding monthly gatherings in the space, an organization offering services to senior citizens set up an office, and a large church with no permanent building began using study space and the kitchen for various outreach programs.

This link about recycling plastic in new ways appeared in my feed from another friend’s Facebook page.   A pastor in a neighboring state told me about an ambitious worship/education series currently under way in her congregation which has led to a vigorous new mid-week meeting of enthusiastic group leaders who are willing to travel many miles for the extra get-together.       

Signs of new life are, indeed, all around us.  Green sprouts of renewal, like the mini iris shoots my granddaughter spotted with great glee in a flowerbed last week, continue to spike their way through the warming earth, through our community, just waiting for someone to notice and share the good news.  Make it a habit to be aware this week of the sights and sounds of the earth as it rouses in our part of the world after weeks of winter.  What are the comparable rousings you notice at KRMC?  Share with us here at Glimpses of Healing and Hope the resurrection sightings that come your way. 

As if to prove that the above paragraph is no joke, this story was waiting on my Facebook feed after I thought I had wrapped up the post.  Read it, even if just to confirm that, “If you keep your eyes open, you can find people doing good things all over the globe.”


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March 28, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

Watching a Chopped champion accept his $10,000 award last week, I was excited to hear him say, on being asked how he would use his cash prize, “The first thing that comes to mind is this question:  Who can I offer assistance?  Whose lives can I help change?”

I know nothing about this man except that he is a successful enough chef to have been invited to compete on a Chopped episode during which he outcooked three other chefs on the Food Network show.  His exemplary desire to share his winnings with those who have less, however, speaks to me of resurrection living!

During this season of Eastertide, which thankfully stretches all the way to Pentecost beyond the single day we call Easter, I think back a number of years to the first time I became acquainted with author Megan McKenna on the Spirituality and Practice website. Her book Not Counting Women and Children, Neglected Stories from the Bible describes the practice of resurrection living like this:  “Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth, every time I confront injustice,” I am practicing resurrection living.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat have posted at their website an excellent page entitled Easter:  Resurrection as Spiritual Practice.   Check the site for the many ways they suggest to practice resurrection living; here is a sampling of their recommendations about living into resurrection.

·         Paying full attention to whatever you are doing helps you recognize the constant renewal of life all around you. 

·         Cultivating the art of making connections dismantles the walls of separation so that new life can spring up out of the rubble.

·         Walking the path of beauty allows you to notice radiance in people, places, and growing things—all signs of rebirth. 

·         Leaving the past to God's mercy and the future to God’s discretion permits you to live in the present moment, the only time when God brings forth new life, as you affirm your belief in resurrection.

·         Working for justice, peace, equality sets the stage for resurrection.  When you feed the hungry and stand up for the oppressed, you are a life-giver.

·         Staying open to all people and situations affirms your believe that all things can be made new.

·         Welcoming large and small changes signals your receptivity to transformation and resurrection.

And here’s another approach to thinking about resurrection living as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “You are just like a firework going off in every moment. The firework diffuses its beauty around itself. With your thoughts, words, and actions you can diffuse your beauty. That beauty and goodness go into your friends, your children, grandchildren, and into the world. It is not lost and you go into the future in that way.”

In the wake of the March 22 Brussels attack and other recent violence, either publicized or unpublicized, I was drawn to a Sojourners post by Eric Barreto, who says this about resurrection living, even in the wake of terror:  “As we grieve Jesus’ unjust death and celebrate his resurrection, as we grieve the unconscionable loss of life and the hope that God promises, may despair and praise together point us to those whom God calls our sisters and brothers, our kin.  In the space between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the acclaiming of Jesus as a king and his execution as a threat to the political order, may we discover a resurrection power that overwhelms our instincts to shelter ourselves, our fear of the stranger, our hopelessness in a broken world.”

How do you respond to Barreto’s thought that “resurrection is for today.  Imagine, then, if our reaction to these attacks would not be fear and self-interested protection. Imagine if we didn’t close our borders. Imagine if we didn’t view our Muslim neighbors with suspicion. Imagine if we didn’t give into our basest instincts to build bigger weapons. Imagine if we lived the resurrected life together.”

What experiences from your own faith journey come to mind as you ponder new things God is doing around you?  How have you made resurrection a spiritual practice in daily life?  How have you experienced new ways of seeing and being?  If the idea of living into the resurrection in these ways is new for you, what appeals to you as a practice you might implement this Eastertide?

Going forward, I’d love to hear your resurrection stories so that I might retell them in a future Glimpses of Healing and Hope blog post between now and Pentecost.






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March 21, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

I find US politics almost intolerable to watch these days as common courtesy and civility cave to name-calling and fear-mongering, no matter how hurtful or demeaning to the other.  Grasping at straws to do my miniscule part to stem the seemingly unchecked tide of hostility, I came across Jan Richardson’s 2011 Painted Prayerbook post entitled Holy Thursday: Take a Blessing

My interest in blessing is not new and has been whetted over the years by reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World and more recently by John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us.  Blessings written by Richardson and Maxine Shonk have become other inspirational guides on the blessings journey.

The first mention of blessing that captured my attention took place many years ago when I heard Mennonite evangelist Myron Augsburger share the story of offering a blessing for a homeless man who walked ahead of him on a crowded sidewalk.  The man appeared to be disconsolate, without much sense of self-esteem, Augsburger said.  As he breathed a prayer of blessing on the man's behalf, Augsburger noticed that the stranger straightened his posture, glanced at his reflection in a store window, and rearranged his cap with a sudden air of confidence. 

My initiation to blessing as an alternative to ugliness came last Thanksgiving when Maren Tirabassi offered this introduction and “blessing across boundaries” during what she described as a difficult time that threatened to become divisive:  “You have blessed yourselves by your presence tonight to give thanks across boundaries in a time when the willingness to do that is desperately needed and we are so frequently divided by background and tradition, by religion and race, ethnicity and economic differences, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, ability, education, and when our fears, even the reasonable ones, all too easily mutate into hatred.  So for this Thanksgiving season, may you be blessed in your waking and in your sleeping.  May you be blessed in your travels and in your homing.
 May you be blessed when you give and when you receive,
 when you sit at tables of welcome
 and when you walk together in peace.”

I was attracted to what seemed like a promising fix for the threat of fear mutating to hatred.  Richardson’s new book, Circle of Grace:  A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, offers the “invincible circle of grace” as an additional antidote to fear morphing into hate:  “Within the struggle, joy, pain, and delight that attend our life, there is an invisible circle of grace that enfolds and encompasses us in every moment. Blessings help us to perceive this circle of grace, to find our place of belonging within it, and to receive the strength the circle holds for us.”

O’Donohue, who sees blessing as a way of life, as a lens through which the whole world might be transformed, continues to build the case for practicing blessing.  His book suggests that “when a blessing is being invoked, time deepens until it becomes a source from which refreshment and encouragement are released….Whenever one person takes another into the care of their heart, they have the power to bless….To bless someone is to offer a beautiful gift.”

And when I begin to fear the consequences of the diminishment of civility in our country, I want to remember this from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s Spirituality and Practice website:  In his book’s “magnificent closing essay titled To Retrieve the Lost Art of Blessing, O’Donohue posits that this gift is grounded in the belief that human kindness holds sway in the world and that beauty abounds. Blessing moves in and through us by means of wonder, and each day is received as an invitation.”

In their overview of O’Donohue’s description of blessing, the Brussats explain that “a blessing is a protective circle of light and a key to awakening and creating forgiveness. It is also ‘a sheltering wall’ and a constant stream of mindfulness of others and their needs….Best of all, blessing is the secret sustenance of our lives and the powerful and positive intention that can transform situations and people.”

O’Donohue maintains that “a blessing breaks down the barriers between people….It changes the environment around us and opens new possibilities of connection, healing, and transformation.”  What are the ways we might seek to pass on blessing during this pre-election period, particularly now as we complete the season of Lent with the pilgrimage through Holy Week and beyond to the resurrection joy of Easter?

Perhaps learning to receive a blessing will assist us in offering one, but, as Richardson observes in her Holy Thursday post, “Sometimes it can be daunting to receive a blessing…a blessing requires something of us. It does not leave us unchanged. A blessing offers us a glimpse of the wholeness that God desires for us and for the world, and it beckons us to move in the direction of this wholeness. It calls us to let go of what hinders us, to cease clinging to the habits and ways of being that may have become comfortable but that keep us less than whole.”

Receiving a blessing, according to Richardson, “places us for a time in the position of doing no work—of simply allowing it to come. For those who are accustomed to constantly doing and giving and serving, being asked to stop and receive can cause great discomfort. To receive a blessing, we have to give up some of our control. We cannot direct how the blessing will come, and we cannot define where the blessing will take us. We have to let it do its own work in us, beyond our ability to chart its course.”

Richardson concludes that “a blessing is not finished until we let it do its work within us and then pass it along.  Yet we cannot do this until we first allow ourselves to simply receive the blessing as it is offered:  as gift, as promise, as sign of a world made whole.”

During this Holy Week, may we not only “take a blessing,” but also become a blessing to one another.  How might we extend the blessings we receive “as gift, as promise, as sign of a world made whole,” even to our country’s current political scenario?



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March 14, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

As I was contemplating getting to work on this week’s blog post and pondering what lead sentence might catch appropriate attention, an old Sunday School song from my long-ago childhood came to mind.  I haven’t thought about this musical ditty in decades, but something about the dark political climate in our country these days juxtaposed against the willing workers in our congregation who reach out to help conjured up the memory.

I see and hear myself as a six- or seven-year-old singing lustily in the basement of our church building with the rest of the congregation’s children:  “Brighten the corner where you are!  Brighten the corner where you are!  Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar; brighten the corner where you are!”

Despite the archaic language, I think my young Sunday school classmates and I got the message, which was lived out in our congregation by members of our cheer-up group who routinely took small gifts and plants and edible goodies to those who needed emotional or physical support both in our congregation and in the congregation’s neighborhood, sometimes extending beyond our own membership.

Whether it be packing up Christmas bundles for refugee families in post-World War II Europe or singing carols with the MYF for neighborhood shut-ins at Christmas, I’ve never forgotten those gracious, merciful acts of kindness my childhood congregation showed to those in need.

Last week I had the privilege of meeting the Ahuatl family of eight.  With extensive indoor and outdoor work, they have brought back to life the house at 1326 N. Kaley, hoping to move in this past Friday. KRMC Immigration Ministry representative Marisa (who serves on the committee with Mabel, Janine, and Jenny) met me at the Ahuatl home to translate.

Marisa became acquainted with several of the children on the job at El Campito, one of South Bend’s oldest non-profit child development centers, founded in 1970 to help migrant families adjust to their new lives in South Bend.  Mabel learned to know several of the children through her work at Kennedy Primary Academy in South Bend.

Since the two Immigration Ministry members were both aware that the family hoped to buy their first house after being in a two-bedroom rental home for eight years, the committee came up with ways they could support the family’s efforts.  About a year ago, the Immigration Ministry committee gave a scholarship to one of the children to continue pre-school.  Last October Kern Road, under leadership of the Immigration Ministry group, provided labor and supplies for a painting workday at the house.  Around Christmas, the committee funded tub and shower installation during renovations.   

The family purchased the home through a realty company for $6,000 without knowing that the city of South Bend already had slated the structure for demolition.  After paying $500 to rescind the demolition order, the family eventually secured a grant to help defray costs of installing new windows, plumbing, gas, siding, and water. 

Mom Piedad had been working at home until recently, but when her youngest child went to daycare in September, she took a part-time job to help with expenses of restoring their home while continuing to pay for their rental house.  Both Piedad and her husband Librado are employed by a University Park Mall restaurant; Librado also works a second seasonal job maintaining the grounds at the South Bend Country Club.

In February of 2003, Librado came from the state of Puebla, Mexico, to South Bend, where members of his family had settled prior to his arrival.  He was in town eight years before he went back to Mexico to bring Piedad to South Bend.    

Oldest child Ana is 12 and a middle school student at Dickinson.  Her three brothers Agustin, 10, Edgar, 8, and Kevin, 7, are students at Kennedy.  Five-year-old Bryan is enrolled in preschool at El Campito, along with Alison, 3, recipient of a current KRMC scholarship.

Neighbors have appeared to greet the family with a doll for the three-year-old and bikes for some of the other children.  Family friends live a couple of blocks away, and the Immigration Ministry committee is considering ways Kern Road might help welcome the family, perhaps with a house blessing after they are settled in or with assistance to install a fence around the back yard this spring or summer.

Once warm weather arrives, those of us who live in or near the Near Northwest Neighborhood might consider walking or biking by to say hello.   

Even if you don't live near the Ahuatl family, reflect on how you might "brighten the corner where you are" as we continue during this Lenten season to listen to and learn from the living stories Jesus told his disciples.  And many thanks to this family for brightening their corner of South Bend!


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March 7, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

My family can tell you that I don’t like being in total darkness or feeling trapped.  I recall waking up in the middle of the night clawing at the zipper in a tiny pup tent many years ago during a short-lived camping era before we had children.  I remember all too well how hard I had to work to fall asleep in the impenetrable darkness, compounded by the close quarters of a European hotel room once upon a time.  More often than not, I have cracked many a curtain or blind or shade to make sure I can “see” in the dark when in an unfamiliar place.

I was fascinated then, with a Facebook friend’s Lenten post to this link, which became the inspiration for this week’s blog post.

In her spiritual memoir Called to Question, Joan Chittister says, “Darkness, I have discovered, is the way we come to see. It creates the depressions that, once faced, teach us to trust. It gives us the sensitivity it takes to understand the depth of the pain in others. It seeds in us the humility it takes to learn to live gently with the rest of the universe. It opens us to new possibilities within ourselves.”

That find led to my recollection that Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark has been sitting on my shelf unread since soon after its release two years ago just before Holy week, prime time for the publication of a book about darkness.  I read it through quickly and found comments by others, some of which are recorded here, helpful as I digested Taylor’s words about walking in the dark.

Also author of the best-selling An Altar in the World, Taylor “challenges our negative associations with darkness and our attraction to light...She draws on her own experiences—from exploring caves and experimenting with blindness, to her questioning of her own religious training and faith—to explore what might be gained by embracing darkness. What she finds are the possibilities of emotional healing, a deeper appreciation of silence, living in the now, and peace of mind where there once was fear,” according to Spirituality and Health magazine’s assessment of the book.

A Booklist reviewer says this:  “Darkness, Taylor writes, is ‘shorthand for anything that scares me.’ That could include something as profound as the absence of God to the fear of dementia to the loss of family and friends.  She recounts how she became impatient with church teachings that accentuated the light while denying the existence of darkness, and comments on the difference between faith and belief, certainty and trust.  She encourages us to turn out the lights and embrace the spiritual darkness, for it is in the dark, she maintains, that one can truly see.”

In an interview with Taylor, which appeared in his On Faith & Culture e-column for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt asks her about her understanding of the use of the word darkness in scripture.  Acknowledging that most biblical references to darkness are negative (referencing ignorance, sin, evil, death), Taylor says she believes that many positive things happen in darkness as described in Bible stories.  

In Genesis, darkness exists before God even got to work. Everything was made by God from darkness. In Exodus, God promises to come to Moses on Mount Sinai in a dense or dark cloud. Here, darkness is divine and where God dwells. Abraham meets God in the darkness, Jacob wrestles an angel in the middle of the night, and angels announce Christ’s birth to the shepherds at night. There’s so much that happens in the dark that is essential to the Christian story,” according to Taylor.  “Linguistically, it (use of the word darkness) is the pits.  Narratively, it is a different story.”

Defining darkness in this interview as “everything I do not know, cannot control, and am often afraid of,” Taylor goes on to say, “But that’s just the beginner’s definition. If I am a believer in God, then darkness is also where God dwells. God may be frightening and uncontrollable and largely unknown to me, yet I decide to trust God anyway.”

Taylor concludes in her conversation with Merritt that “the great hope in the Christian message is not that you will be rescued from the dark, but that, if you are able to trust God all the way into the dark, you may be surprised.”  Attempting to rehabilitate our fear of the dark, according to her book jacket, Taylor “reflects on how our lives do not work only when everything is fully lit.  We can’t always see the light.  It waxes and wanes or can go out altogether.  What we need is a spirituality that works in the nighttime.

Though she says she does not intend to underplay the importance of light in scripture, Taylor critiques some current-day churches for practicing a “full solar spirituality” with no mention of finding “healing and liberation” in the darkness as well. 

Her own experience of walking in darkness has taught her this:  “When, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died.  The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair.  Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion.  I need darkness as much as I need light.”

Perhaps this Lent is a good time to turn from deadly scripts we have been taught about darkness.  How might we begin to learn to walk in the dark without fear?  What tiny steps might we take to travel where the light is dim?  What props might help build up our courage to take those steps?  (See lighted pathway in the dark in the photo above, snapped at Vic and Nancy’s Longest Night observance in 2014.)  How might we encourage others to risk learning to walk in darkness?

May we continue to unearth our living stories and new narratives this Lenten season, especially amidst our timid stumbles into the darkness.



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February 29, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son (c. 1668), oil, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg  

Consider sitting with Dutch painter Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son sometime during this Lenten season.  Amazon’s description of Henri Nouwen’s book of the same name portrays it this way:  “A chance encounter with a reproduction of Rembrandt's masterpiece catapulted Henri Nouwen on a long spiritual adventure. Here he shares the deeply personal and resonant meditation that led him to discover the place within where God has chosen to dwell.”

I have loved this oil painting, which hangs at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and the Nouwen book about the painting for a long time.  Painted sometime during the final two years of Rembrandt’s life before his death in 1669, this work challenges us to remember that the father never gave up on his wayward son.  In keeping with KRMC's current Lenten worship theme, Deadly Scripts & Living Story, this story qualifies as life-giving.    

Last week I listened on YouTube to a 2012 lecture by Sister Sue Mosteller, trustee and literary executrix of the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, as she spoke of the painting, her friendship with Nouwen, and the book.  Below is a brief synopsis of her sharing, influenced as well by my reading of fine art conservator Helen De Borchgrave’s A Journey into Christian Art.

Rembrandt painted this piece from a place deep inside himself, where he had experienced God’s mercy firsthand.  Highlighting the reconciliation rather than the younger son’s humiliation among the pigs, Rembrandt created this masterful interpretation of the parable after losing his children, two wives, and all of his money, NOT while he was still young and successful.   As Vincent Van Gogh would later say about this work, “You can only paint a painting like this when you have died so many deaths.”

Nouwen found in the familiar Bible story of the father and his two sons major themes from his own life and work.  When he first spotted a small poster depicting the painting of the father embracing his younger son, Nouwen, also an elder son, resonated deeply with what he saw and recognized in himself characteristics of both sons as portrayed in the parable.  A friend said, “You talk about yourself being the older and younger sons, but you are called to be the father,” the father who plans a party and rejoices mightily on his wayward son’s return, the father who welcomes his son back without question or criticism.

After spending time with the original painting, Nouwen concluded that we all are the beloved daughters and sons of God.  Because this thought touched the space where his anguish resided, he was able to share this message with others for the rest of his life:  “If I can trust that I am unconditionally loved, then I will be able to love others and welcome them home.”

Mosteller, who says she learned from Nouwen how to “step into the painting and begin to walk around and identify with the characters,” suggests thinking of yourself as the younger son, the older son, the father as you spend time with the painting. 

The younger son, a normal adolescent who longed for freedom and money and insulted his father by asking for his inheritance before his father’s death, wandered off and squandered his inheritance.  He didn’t really know his father, sought pleasure ahead of relationship, and found himself farther and farther away until he eventually lost his money, his friends, his job.  When he came to his senses, he decided to go home as a servant, contemplating what he might say to his father on his return. How are you like the younger son?  Have you experienced the love of someone who offers nothing but welcome on your return?

The elder son, the tall figure standing off to the right of the painting, stayed at home, appearing to be dutiful, though inside he was shut down, judgmental, angry at his father, perhaps also wishing that his father were dead.  In his own way, the elder son also strayed farther and farther from the truth of being a beloved son.  Though he did not physically leave home, he became emotionally absent.

Nouwen identified deeply with the plight of the older brother, who made an angry speech when his father invited him to the younger son’s homecoming.  “You kill the fatted calf for this son who has chewed up his inheritance?”  For the elder son, Nouwen observed, it is so much easier to continue asking “Do you love me?” rather than saying “Yes” to being the beloved.  Can you relate to the elder son’s thinking?

The parable, as illustrated in the Rembrandt painting, invites us to view ourselves as beloved children.  Like the younger son, we will leave and return from time to time but the Giver of Life sees each of us as beloved, held safely by everlasting love, even in our mistakes.  The Father yearns for us to accept the love and claim our inheritance, the Rembrandt painting reveals.

According to Mosteller, Nouwen testified that Rembrandt’s painting “led me from the kneeling, disheveled young son to the standing, bent-over old father, from the place of being blessed, to the place of blessing.  As I look at my own aging hands, I know that they have been given to me to stretch out towards all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders of all who come, and to offer the blessing that emerges from the immensity of God’s love.”

How do you identify with the father’s generous treatment of his younger son? Consider the times and places you have been the recipient of abundant, unconditional love.  Have you also offered abundant, unconditional love?

How is God calling you to faithfulness and reconciliation this Lenten season?  Remind yourself that God waits as long as it takes for us to receive Divine love and find ourselves in the process. 


Postscript:  A January 7, 2014, post on the Eastern Mennonite University website says this about an exhibit of Rembrandt etchings and Dutch 17th century rare books hosted by James Madison University in partnership with EMU:  “Although Rembrandt did not officially belong to the Mennonite Church, he had close family connections and many patrons among Mennonites, who made up 20 percent of the population in Amsterdam during his lifetime. Rembrandt’s unusual interpretations of some Biblical themes were influenced by the Mennonite and Dutch Calvinist religions.”

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by: Jane Bishop Halteman
February 22, 2016

Every time I spend a week to 10 days with my parents in their retirement community, I am struck by the gradual (and sometimes greater than gradual) diminishment I notice in many of the people who live there. 

I have known some of the residents a very long time, others just the dozen or so years that my parents have resided in the community’s independent living facilities, and still others less than the year since mom and dad relocated to a personal care apartment.

On this trip my mother and I visited a friend who moved to the community’s dementia unit after her husband’s recent death.  We chatted amicably with her until a woman who called herself a “lost child” wandered into the room.  One of the hazards of living in that space, according to my mom’s friend, is uninvited guests who arrive with no idea of where they belong.  I helped the lost one find an aide who settled her into the game room.  Her eyes pleading for assistance, the lost woman repeated, “I don’t know you,” over and over again as I took her hand and led her down the hall.

The many walkers and canes and wheelchairs on the premises remind me that mobility declines in old age, as do hearing and eyesight; accompanying these diminishments, of course, is less independence.  By the time I leave the retirement community for the return trip home, I have become more aware of my own minor physical limitations, but I also notice that, in spite of their diminishments, these residents continue to carry on as best they can, though many with assistance of one variety or another. 

Some still play games together and attend concerts and worship services on campus, perhaps do their own laundry and ironing or walk the halls for exercise.  My mother insists on stripping and remaking their bed weekly with my father’s help rather than allowing staff to do it for them.  She has agreed to let others launder their sheets and towels, but she will not give up washing their clothing as long as she is able.

I have not lived, for an extended period of time, near my mother since she gradually has become nearly blind with macular degeneration in the last number of years.  The way she carries herself with a certain self-assurance and confidence continues to belie the difficulty she has seeing; those who do not know her condition likely will not notice in a casual exchange.

But I am aware that my mother can no longer differentiate between the identical pairs of pants she wears, without a safety pin hinged to the “Sunday” pair.  I know that she has given up writing in her daily diary because her magnifying headgear no longer enlarges her penmanship sufficiently.  I observe that she now needs daddy’s assistance to pour their daily dose of apple cider vinegar. 

Mom and dad live with other kinds of diminishments, too.  They have given up their car and pared down their belongings to fit a very small space.  They have turned over management of finances to my brother and tax preparation to Jim.  They eat every meal in the personal care dining hall, and staff persons bring their meds as often as needed.

To accommodate mom and dad, I take responsibility to speak clearly and loudly as necessary, to clasp and unclasp mom’s jewelry, to be an extension of their eyes and ears, to speak on their behalf with staff, to walk at their pace, to run errands and replenish supplies.  My frequent trips to their retirement community give me opportunity to listen well when I am approached by residents in the halls.  More than once I have heard sad stories from those who have no one else to tell.  I am impressed by the three husbands I watch feed their invalid wives several times a day, wives who can no longer interact in any way except to take in nourishment silently, spoonful by spoonful.

Back in October, I sat in on a retirement community worship service focused on blind Bartimaeus, who called out to Jesus from his place by the side of the road.  “Are we as older persons also by the side of the road, persons whose limitations define who we are?  We are more than old,” the pastor assured his listeners.  “We are the sons and daughters of God, and we have a place in God’s family.  Even though our backs are bent, we lean forward to see Jesus.  May we hear his question anew…what would you have me to do for you?”

By now I have stayed often enough and long enough in the community to know that, even with diminishment, some of the residents continue to cross-country ski, cane chairs, teach Bible studies, lead worship, push other residents’ wheelchairs (which my parents did until about a year ago), sing in choirs and display their art in local shows, cashier in the gift shop, visit with and shop for those who can no longer get out and about easily. 

While physical diminishment or loss may not yet be the companion of most of us at KRMC, all of us likely have confronted some sort of decline or depletion which asks us to adjust to changes we do not welcome.  How might we travel the Lenten journey in a meaningful way with these impoverishments?  How can we take better notice of those around us engaged in the stuff of decline and diminishment, whatever variety it may be?  What green shoots of redemption do we notice in the midst of diminishments?

Ann Weems’ poem “Lent” from her book of poetry Kneeling in Jerusalem invites us to journey throughout Lent, hand in hand with all our diminishments while reaching for Jesus’ robe...

Lent is a time to take the time

            to let the power of our faith story take hold of us.

A time to let the events

            get up and walk around in us,

a time to intensify

            our living unto Christ,

a time to hover over

            the thoughts of our hearts,

a time to place our feet in the streets of Jerusalem

            or to walk along the sea and listen to his word,

a time to touch his robe

            and feel the healing surge through us,

a time to ponder and a time to wonder…


Lent is a time to allow a fresh new taste of God!


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