Category Archives: Community

Worth Revisiting: Radical Hospitality

There has been much talk in recent years within ministry about the notion of radical hospitality. Not merely seeking to embrace those we know, it is an openness albeit a willingness to authentically meet and walk with one another in our weakness, suffering, and challenges of life. This is the experience of encounter, and as such cannot be superficial or thought of as just an act of charity. Each of us must be vulnerable, and ready to extend ourselves beyond our pew, well past our comfort zone, beyond even the doors of the church to welcome the stranger with love.

Yet, what does this look like in REAL life?

Some 23 years ago, my then fiancé and I were traveling the 1,400 miles to visit my family in Arkansas when the blizzard of 93’ hit. Praying that the weather would let up the further south we went, we pushed onward. However, that was not to be as the interstate in front of us was closing and we found ourselves in uncharted territory on a long stretch of road near Winchester, KY. With only 2 choices available, a 6 ft. tall snow bank to our right or a jackknifed semi to our left…we chose the snow bank. Sitting there in a car now engulfed in snow, I admit, I felt utterly despondent. For, as far as the eye could see was snow and farmland and we knew no one. We couldn’t stay there forever, as our tank of gas and thereby the heat would only last for so long. So, there my later hubby and I prayed together. And, no sooner had we done so did we see a shadowy figure approaching from a distance.

With a steaming cup of coffee in hand he gingerly made his way to check on both the driver in the semi as well as us. “How are you?, he asked”  “We are ok, but a long way from home”, we answered. “Where are ya’ll headed?” “Arkansas, to visit my family but traveling from Massachusetts”, I replied. “Well, why don’t ya’ll come on in the house, warm up, let them know you are ok, and join us for dinner.” As we walked across the field and the house came into view I breathed a sigh of relief, finally ceasing to calculate fuel reserves.

With two young children in tow this beautiful family welcomed these two strangers into their home and lives that day. Inwardly, I wondered if they had even considered whether or not we were harmless or the gift that they were offering. Their gift of generosity came so natural and was so heartfelt that we very readily felt as if we had known them for years. A very good thing too, since it would be a couple of days before the roads cleared and our car could be unearthed. Even this was another example of the breath of their commitment to radical hospitality. Knowing that we had very little extra income to spare, Mike, our gracious host, called his friend who volunteered to use his tractor with chains to help rescue the stranded Camero. Then placing heaters under the engine they were at last able to bring it back to life.

The morning we left, well rested and well fed, John and I knew that God had placed these incredible people in our lives to teach us the true meaning of hospitality and Christian love. Not only exchanging Christmas cards, with the advent of social media we have made it a point to stay connected. Their children now grown, are married and beginning  young families of their own. What a legacy of Christian discipleship Mike and Connie have modeled for their children, for my husband and I , and all those they encounter.

This is the challenge for each of us in our everyday-to go forth living out our faith with radical hospitality. To accept the invitation to meet the lost, abandoned, marginalized and wounded with generous love. Since some wounds we cannot see, and anyone of us can be in need of radical hospitality at any time, we must begin to see with the eyes of the heart. This takes practice and reminders of the moments when God has taken the initiative to rescue us, unleashing his otherwise unimaginable love and mercy.

Reflect:

When and how have I been a recipient of radical hospitality? In what ways might God be asking me to witness his radical hospitality today?

Peace,

Signature

Crossing the Divide: Part II

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Last week we turned to Daniel Groody’s Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees as a means of providing a fuller discussion on the current discussion of immigration in the United States. Beyond solely the financial and security considerations, we have been given as Catholics a tradition that protects and promotes the dignity of the human person. With this there is the inherent challenge to strive to see all of creation with the eyes of God…

Visio Dei

Finally, with visio Dei we are called to view the world around us with God’s eyes, envisage a path for conversion, and step forward in committed discipleship.[1] Imperative here is a complete transformation and a response, both individually and as a church, to those situations that perpetuate injustice and fuel inequality. In a theology of migration, in particular, we are being asked to walk in solidarity with the marginalized, “crossing borders that make possible new relationships” and leaving behind identities which have defined us, to be in communion together.[2] To do so requires that we ethically reevaluate those decisions that reinforce barriers, to place ourselves at risk, and see in the “vulnerable stranger a mirror of (our)selves, a reflection of Christ”.[3]

In this reading, there are several noticeable insights that Groody presents in seeking a meaningful dialogue between a theology of justice and the faith experience of a migrating people. Beginning with  imago dei, we see how far removed humanity has become in understanding the dignity of all creation and our shared journey towards God. It is a poignant reminder that in a society geared towards economic profit that there is an immeasurable worth in every human being. Rights, therefore, are not something to be given by a few, but rather to be recognized in all as endowed by God. Thus, the implications of imago dei present difficulty for those in positions of power, perceived as superior, who seek maintenance of the status quo. Theology then offers a renewed sense of empowerment for those defined as “social and political problems”, and challenges all to reconciliation in our understanding of human nature and relationships.[4]

Likewise for the migrant and refugee, imago dei directly confronts society’s image of God, calling for a reexamination of both their understanding of God as well as of themselves. Rather than “interiorizing the image of the oppressor as superior and exclusively Godlike”, they are beckoned to recognize the “God-given spirit that (creates) and sustains them in their collective life”. [5] It is to encounter their true identity, and embrace their true relationship with their Creator, who is not distant but ever a part of their journey. This renewed vision is essential in awakening the promise within, hope in the world beyond, and in the potential to determine one’s future.  It further illustrates how interconnected and indispensable all of the premises for migration theology truly are in seeking to grasp the salvific message of the Gospel.

While this is necessary for the study of Latino Catholicism, ministerially, this message is important for people of all ages and ethnicities. In conversations with our youth, it is easily discoverable that they often find themselves not only labeled economically, but socially defined by race, gender, sexuality, or perceived talents.  Yet, can we as a church fully answer the nature and diversity of mission unless we also acknowledge, discuss and celebrate our diversity that exists within this unity?  The advantage, it seems, rests in recognizing the different voices and face of the contemporary church and in its gifts that we are best able to respond to the challenges of Christian mission today. Then with our elderly, it is equally apparent that they too suffer from humanity’s inability to recognize the dignity and worth of those who are no longer seen as contributing members of society. They are frequently pushed to the fringes of the community, and without family or savings become some of the most vulnerable in our culture.

This is an example of the mission set before us, calling us as a church to go forth to those most in need. The distance reminds us that quite often we have rendered theology as static and immovable when, in fact, it is to be dynamic and alive as our God has been shown to be. Instead, the church is called to be “constantly realized anew and given new form in history by our personal decision of faith”.[6] These are two points that Groody exemplified in missio and Verbum dei. Following in the footsteps of Christ, we are called to go to the outcast, to leave our places of comfort and meet the mission that God has set before us. Thus, our faith is to be both inclusive and wider in scope than the restricting boundaries we have set amongst each other.

In order to see with the vision of God, thus, requires that we accept our new identity both individually as a disciple and collectively as the body of Christ. It demands a reorientation to the communion that we share in the Eucharist to the crucified and suffering Jesus, understanding our “complicity in the suffering of others”, and commitment to a life of action and hope.[7]  Copeland’s historical accounts of racism call us into accountability not just for our actions, but our inaction towards God’s ordering and desire for human fulfillment and purpose. That same call for reconciliation in the experience of mystery of Christ, calls us also to see, do and be Christ for one another. It is not a commitment to shallow understandings of unity, or half hearted gestures of commitment but a complete conversion of heart and mind to that of God. As a Eucharistic minister, I readily see the beauty that Groody speaks of in visio Dei, in the experience of communion. Together we approach the mystery of the Incarnation as a people blessed and broken, gathered and invited to “assume a new way of looking at the world, living out a different vision, and ultimately learning to love as God loves”.[8] The challenge that the church as a whole faces, however, is realizing the extensive, inclusive, and demanding acceptance this identity implies. A unity, as witnessed in the border masses, that breaks through all boundaries, including the visible doors of the church.

Peace,

Signature


[1] Ibid., p. 660
[2] Ibid., p.663
[3] Ibid., p. 667
[4] Ibid., p. 645.
[5]Elizondo, The Galilean Journey: the Mexican American Promise. Orbis Books. Maryknoll, NY. 2000, p. 97
[6] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen,  An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2002) p. 103.
[7] M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: body, race and being (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010) p. 128
[8] Groody, p. 662.

Reappraisal- Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees

With the most recent attention on immigration within our nation’s political sphere, there was ample discussion on the cost, danger, and long term effects of our current policy on immigration. While each of these are worthy considerations from a financial and security standpoint, there still remains a profound understanding that under guards our Catholic teaching  and our relationship with our Creator

…that of the human person.

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Over the next couple of weeks, I would like to take a look at Daniel Groody’s Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees as a means of providing a fuller discussion on this very tenuous current discussion.

In this piece by Groody, theology is examined not as a static discipline set apart from an understanding of migration, but as inherently entwined and alive in the migrant experience. For through the perspective of the migrant, we become witnesses to the prophetic voices of those who encounter the Gospel anew in their struggles and hopes for a changing world.  Here, we are invited to glimpse the fundamental nature of the human person, and its relationships with God, others, and the world as it is, as well as how it should be.[1] We are challenged to hear how God is speaking to the particular social location of the migrant, while calling us to accept responsibility and embrace our relationality with all humanity. Thus, as we are beckoned to reconcile with God, we are also called to reconcile with one another working towards the Kingdom values of the Gospel. Correspondingly, we lessen the divide between us and reach through the borders which mankind has created towards the unity that God intended.

Imago Dei (Image of God)

First, through a revisiting of imago Dei, we are called to transcend the social and political labels that humanity has imposed on one another, to recognize our intrinsic creation in the image of God.  Rather than the disproportionate relationality created by these labels and intended to “control, manipulate, and exploit”, migrant and native alike are called to affirm mutual equality and identity as children of God.[2] Further, imago Dei is a reminder that our existence is linked from the very beginning to God sharing also in the Trinitarian relationship. As such, it carries immense moral responsibility to ensure the dignity and protection of life for its most vulnerable, as part of the universal human community.[3] Groody aptly points out that Catholic social teaching and encyclicals like that of Gaudium et spes, and Laborem exercens, summon us to examine the social and economic structures themselves.[4] Here, we come to understand many of the root causes of migration and become aware that change is needed in creating opportunities for economic growth, education, and political status. [5]

Verbum Dei (God’s revelation to us)

Next with Verbum Dei, we receive the truth of God revealed through Jesus Christ entering into our world and “movement in love to humanity”, leading us back to God.[6] In Jesus we witness the self-sacrificing love reaching beyond societal borders to the outcast and sinner, all the way to the cross. For in the midst of pain and suffering, the light of Christ’s love is fully revealed calling us to see the “other” and follow him.[7]

Missio Dei (Mission of God)

As a church then, with missio Dei, we recognize that the mission of Christ calls us forth to spread the Good News of salvation and hope throughout the world. For those denied their inherent rights endowed by God, to justice and equality under the law, or a voice in determining the course of their lives, this is indeed Good News! Beautifully, Groody points to the idea of “creating space” in migration theology to allow the message to take root in hearts and lives of those who hear it.[8]

Next week, we’ll touch on Fr. Goody’s consideration of Visio Dei (the vision of God) and some final reflections on the path forward as a community of faith..

Peace,

Signature


[1] Daniel Groody, “Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees,” Theological Studies 70 (September 2009):642.
[2] Ibid., p. 643.
[3] Ibid., p. 645.
[4] Ibid., p.646.
[5] Ibid., p. 647.
[6] Ibid., p. 649
[7] Ibid., p.652
[8] Ibid., p. 659

Gratitude’s Expression

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This week I once again had the blessing of sitting round a table with religious leaders from within our community from all different walks of faith and backgrounds. The purpose of our meeting not for the proselytizing or the conversion of one another, but the sharing of grace, and desire to serve and work towards a better tomorrow.  Each one of us knows that there are many things, premises or subtleties, which we would most assuredly disagree on and yet that is not the reason we are there.

With a warm bowl of homemade soup, and sandwich in hand the fellowship began and the conversation unfolded. As one delightful woman, of Jewish decent, was relating a recent story she paused to add, “Though it is a small thing really.. I don’t know, it made me feel rich.”  This insightful aside prompted a searching repose of soul for the small things which we found immeasurable appreciation for. Time with our family, nourishing meals, the comfort of our bed, and warmth in the bitter cold.

Today as the forecast for blizzard conditions with snowfall up to 16″ reveals, the last one holds special importance in my thoughts and prayers. Safety and warmth in this kind of weather simply are a luxury that many of our homeless, low income and elderly cannot afford. Right now, I wonder if “Adam” has found a place to hunker down and ride out the storm, or if “Sue” whose home is now her car has found her place on the snow laden roads. Many of our elderly and poor too, due to the rising cost of utilities, cannot warm the house adequately and if the heat goes out do not have a backup.

I mention this not to invoke a feeling of guilt but to illustrate gratitude’s corresponding response. For, gratitude and action go hand in hand. John 9 tells us of the man born blind who healed by Jesus went forth and witnessed to others of the healing he had received. Then when he encounters Jesus again he professes an even deeper belief. But do we? How to we respond to God’s generous gift of love and mercy in our lives? Does our initial thankfulness fizzle or does it lead us to a greater understanding of God’s will for our lives?

What then is it that makes me feel rich?

Well more than the gift itself- it is the overwhelming presence of gratitude. For with this comes a yearning desire to go deeper in our relationship with Christ – to share what we now recognize as priceless with others. In experiencing God’s generosity, what once appeared small now becomes a precious treasure. And rather than keeping this to ourselves, we wish for others to  partake as well and know in our hearts that there is a way.

Reflect:

Take time today to ask yourself, “What is it that makes me feel rich?”. Are there others that may not readily have access to this gift or for which this is a luxury? How can I better respond to God’s generosity in my life, and encounter Christ more fully in others?

Peace,

Signature

 

Fully Alive: A Parish on the Move

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As far as parish life goes, it has been a very busy weekend for my parish collaborative family. Yet, when I think of it this is not that unusual for these two parishes as there always seems to be something going on. Whether it be school events, bible study, bereavement groups, healing Masses, Adoration, speakers, musical artists, youth events (you get the image) our parishes are always hopping with energy and abounding in community. So, for those weeks where I long for more energy and wish I had the saint’s gift of bi-location..it is only so that I could be present at everything!

 : Friday night, we had a youth fundraiser featuring the musical stylings of our parochial vicar and his former fellow seminarians (The Celtic Clerics) who donated their talents for the evening. With dinner, live auction, and dancing- a fun time at Resurrection Pariah was had by all! The Life Teen youth now have a needed boost to fund their upcoming mission trip to Haiti.  :

 : Saturday and Sunday began the kickoff for our annual community food pantry drive. Paper bags were personally handed out with a list of essential items attached.Next week all items donated will be collected and loaded onto a delivery truck to the waiting arms of more volunteers who will unload and stock the shelves. It is an amazing undertaking and the work done in these 2 weeks helps feed so many who otherwise might be unable to adequately provide food for themselves or their family.

Also this Sunday, we held a Remembrance Mass and reception for all of our parish families who have lost a loved one this past year. From the music and roll call of names, to the roses given out then arranged by the families gathering in fellowship, it was truly a coming together of our faith community.

Finally, my pastor and I sat down for the second meeting of  : Eucharistic minister training for those who have said yes to the invitation to bring Christ to others. The following week they will join the larger community of Eucharistic ministers as part of a spiritual retreat. Always growing,and always deepening our faith lives.

Every parish is different and each has it’s strengths. Yet, if your believe your parish is stagnant..

Odds are others feel the same way. Yet, what can you do? You are just a parishioner sitting in the pew. Or maybe you have mentioned your concern and things have yet to change.

1. First let me say that our parish priests are overworked, often understaffed, and are lucky to sit down and enjoy 15 minutes to eat in peace. They need not only helpful ideas but people willing to implement those ideas and motivate others to volunteer their time as well. If your pastor has given an event the go-ahead, and you are such a motivator take time to make a plan and consider parishioners that might be interested in being a part of it.

2. Invite: So, if there are others like you sitting in the pew or just a few people doing everything in the parish, maybe then the problem is a lack of invitation. Many people assume, albeit incorrectly, that they are not needed. Time and talents is a REAL thing folks. God has given each of us many ways to serve and at different times calls forth each of those gifts.

3. Do not underestimate the personal invitation. If you have invited and still there is a lack luster response..reconsider how you are inviting. Group emails via your parish’s  Constant Contact work for some, but nothing beats a well timed conversation. Even if you receive a no this time, thank them for their consideration. People want to know that you value their commitments too. Not to mention, next time it will be even easier to ask.

4. If the cost of an event is a consideration, perhaps there are those who cannot volunteer time but can volunteer food, expenses or supplies. What would we do without those parishioners that give so generously to sponsor or provide the means for hospitality to occur? It isn’t that there is a shortage of ways to spend money these days, or organizations vying for these funds. What is it that your event, devotion, or activity adds to parish life or community? The answer to this question and an awareness of  the mission of your parish will help guide you to who to ask.

5. Remember, you are offering a gift too. It is not uncommon to feel so grateful for the service that your volunteers would provide to forget that in serving they too are given a gift. As anyone that has served in ministry can attest to- the gift of serving is that God will never be outdone in terms of gift giving. Though not always quantifiable, the grace experienced far outweighs the time and energy spent. It may also leave you with a longing to serve even more!

So don’t be content with the excuse that your parish is dead..but be a catalyst towards a parish community that is on the move and fully alive!

Peace,

Signature

Worth Revisiting: The Grace We Need

If she could stand, she would undoubtedly comprise all of 5 feet. Slowly, age and physical limitations have taken her ability to walk, then stand and the wheelchair that she once could move can no longer be done on her own. Yet on the inside “Grace” towers, a living witness to a profound spirituality, her inspiring reverence and appreciation for the Eucharist is faithfully compelling.  In her suffering, she has shared not only of her struggle but of the gift and essentialness of communion and community.

It was about 6 years ago in the beginning of our Eucharistic Ministry to the nursing homes, that my husband and I first met Grace. My husband, having left Harvard when our economy took a major downturn was initially unsure of this assignment but more than ready to feel of use again. While he was certain that he could impart a bit of company and joy to those he visited in fulfilling this ministry, he was not prepared for what he would receive in return. His week spent researching the classifieds and applying for new jobs, would prove relentless with the exception of Sunday. Always faithful, but at times lukewarm in intensity, Sunday was the day he reserved for God. Little did he know that God had so much more in store for him, by this simple step forward in faith.

While wanting to go with him in these first few visits, I prayerfully held back, feeling God was preparing John for something special. So, with pyx in hand and a head full of concerns I watched as John hurriedly left the house, unquestionably working on the following day’s to-do list. However, no matter how he left the house, one could not help but notice that he never returned the same. In its place, peace and joy had consumed his countenance and he practically overflowed with a renewed strength. For, during this otherwise incredibly stressful time, God had opened a window.

After a bit of time, of observing all of this, the day came when with hopeful expectation he suddenly  asked,  “Would you like to go with me today? There is someone I would like you to meet.”   This was the moment I had patiently waited for.  “Of course, lead the way!”.  Though he carried a handwritten list of names and rooms, with notes beside each, it would be completely unnecessary. He knew each one, and wasted no time in introducing me as we entered with a rap at the door.

As we neared the last room he paused, grabbed my hand and a huge smile overtook his face. This was the one he so eagerly had wanted to share, the one that had inspired the transformation that I witnessed.

“Hi Grace!”, it’s John from St. Peter’s, “I brought my lovely wife Elizabeth with me today..”
“It is really SO good to see you, thank you for coming and making time for me..I cannot tell you what this means”, she exclaimed.
Then chatting for a few min about our families, health and week, John asked Grace, would you like to receive communion?”
“Oh, Yes! I REALLY need that!” , with hands clasped and eyes closing immediately in prayer.
“We all do Grace, we all do..” he answered without hesitation.

Have you ever considered Eucharistic ministry? Be prepared, the life transformed by Christ today, might be your own!

Worth Revisiting: They Called Him… Buster

Some years ago I met one of the few living witnesses, other than family, to the life and memory of my Grandpa Ferrell.  Standing at an impressive 6’6” he easily towered over everything and yet the warmth of his smile and joyous presence elevated all surrounding. Donning a nicely pressed dress shirt under a pair of overalls, his attire was to be truly befitting of his personality.  Brought up in a seemingly bygone age where there was both respect and appreciation for women, I had become his honored guest. And still, rather than displaced gestures of formality I was most graciously welcomed into his small room within the nursing care facility in which he lived.

I had not expected to be there that day, truly a tag along on vacation, I had no idea what God had lay in store.  Since my Aunt’s passing, my Uncle Bob had found comfort in the ministry of visitation to the sick, home bound and elderly. Having reached his own rock bottom of loneliness and grief without the love of his life he had sought better meaning and purpose for this idle time. These visits had become the bright spots in his week and one could not help but notice the great care he would take to be presentable and on time.

Having served in this ministry with my husband, I too knew the immeasurable joy that comes from the very small gift of time spent. So, when he announced that he was departing our Sunday family meal to go out on ministry, I could not remain either. The Holy Spirit was tugging on me, telling me that there was somewhere else I was meant to be.  “Wait up, can I join you?”, I called out. “Yes… you want to come? Well, we need to hurry; I hate to keep them waiting”.

Part of me felt like a kid again riding someplace fun with my Uncle Bob, a man who always made me laugh and had cared for me like a father.  However, this was uniquely different. For, I wasn’t a child but an adult and I was choosing to spend this time together in service for others not for myself. Something inside too was reminding me of the sacredness of this moment, and the fact that I might ever be given this shared opportunity again. How true this was.

Within minutes of arriving, nurses and guests alike had made their way to saying hello to us, who all were very familiar with his visits. Clearly there was an extra spring in both our steps as we walked those halls, and stepped inside the home of each resident.  Here, in the exchange of banter, stories and prayers, we were no longer considered as visitors but brothers and sisters in Christ.  When one remarked how good it was to see someone of my age want to come, I felt sadness for this missed blessing that others have not known.

Buster Keaton

So it is that we made our way to “Buster” Kennedy’s room. To this day I am still not sure why he was called Buster. Perhaps I have thought it was in reference to Buster Keaton, a vaudeville film actor and comedian from the early 20’s known for not shying away from dangerous stunts or the quick punch line. Whatever the reason, that was the only name on the door, and I was intrigued immediately.

As we stood there for a few seconds, with my Uncle Bob making introductions, I realized just how little I was in Buster’s shadow. And still, that soon all disappeared as he leaned in looking me in the eyes, adding what a pleasure it was to meet Carl Ferrell’s granddaughter. He knew me, I thought. Yes, I know I had never met him before, but in knowing my grandpa, in some sense he knew me. My grandpa, whose love of learning and knack for poetry and languages I inherited, had passed away when I was quite small. Oh, how I yearned to know more of my grandpa, who others saw him to be.

The Ferrells’  1950’s (My mom far left)

Buster Kennedy, a combat engineer in the Army during World War II, had served in the Philippines as a young man. When he returned to the states, Buster found work as a driver for the cotton gin my grandpa managed in his summers apart from teaching. As he described my grandpa, Buster spoke of the kindness and compassion shown by my grandpa, and the honor and respect he had earned by all those who worked for him. “He was so smart, but always took the time to explain things, the reasons why.”  As we talked, my heart soared and inwardly I hoped that I could be that friend to others that my grandpa was.  That’s when Buster stopped, and said what I had longed to hear, “Do you know how proud of you he must be?”  Filled with emotion, and holding back the tears, I managed a feeble “Thank you so much, I have always prayed he would be”.

Thank you Father, for those you place in our path that remind us who we are and whose we are. May we always seek to honor you with lives of love and compassion. Thank you God, for “Buster”.

Worth Revisiting: This is Community

This week, as my friends and colleagues can attest, I have been battling a rather persistent cold which has chosen to seize my vocal cords and keep me up at night. Lack of a solid night’s sleep and my stubborn refusal to call it a day or throw in the towel has not been helpful either. Yet, in waking this morning I had to smile. For in my stubborn courage, or selfless foolishness as some might see it, I realized that I had become the epitome of my own mother.  

My mom, I know, had to have been sick at times, but as the sole provider I cannot ever really remember her taking off work. As a farm girl, she was conditioned to rise before dawn and work until sunset, giving her all to each and every day. Though later an adult, her modis operendi had not changed and if I slept past six, I could look forward to a discussion of  how I had chosen to sleep the better part of the day away. There was, in her mind, much to do, to be done, and discover in the day that could not be done whilst lying in bed.

One time, however, when I was about eleven I can clearly recall my mom getting very sick and my own confusion as to how to proceed next. Since it was just the two of us and our family lived at least an hour away, I knew that my mom was now suddenly depending on me. This particular stomach virus that had beset our community had resulted in the hospitalization of the elderly and the young alike. The first two days, I had cared for my mom and myself cooking and cleaning up, while making sure my mom had enough liquids and cool washcloths.

By the third day, though, I was tired and looking into the fridge and cabinets, I knew I was going to have to ask for help soon. Not to mention, I was getting concerned that my mom might need to see a doctor, as she didn’t seem to be looking or feeling any better. Given that it was summer, and I was not seeing my friends at school, essentially no one else knew of the predicament. My mom, a true introvert by nature, had several close friends but was not one whose sudden disappearance from society would readily be questioned. I knew that the time had come when I would have to break the silence, and my mother’s privacy.

In a well placed phone call to my friend Cathy, who belonged to my church, I found solace.

“Cathy, I’m a bit worried about my mom..

Elizabeth, are you taking care of her by yourself?”, suddenly came her aunt’s voice on the other line.

Yes, ma’am. I’m just not sure what more I can do..

Don’t worry.. have you had dinner yet?

No, I was going to see what I could make”, I replied knowing that it would be a Spartan meal at best.

We were just about to sit down ourselves..I will be by in a few minutes with dinner.”

And, just like that I breathed a sigh of relief,  and knew that God had it all covered.

The very next morning, my pastor would bring my mom to the doctor for tests and anti nausea medications. Over the days to follow, the women from the church had prepared each meal that we would need, even bringing fresh well water to eliminate the chance that our water might be a contributing factor. It would be a week before my mom was up on her feet fully, and another two weeks before she could eat normally. As I look back on this moment I cannot help but wonder what I would have done for this length of time without my community, my brothers and sisters in Christ?

This is what it means to truly be a community, to be the body of Christ. We were not ever meant to be alone in our faith, but in care of others. The reading this Sunday spoke of giving generously, like Christ himself, who gave up his very life so that we could have life eternal.  We are asked to give of our excess, to be content with enough, and to share with those in need. There is, of course, a flip side to this. We have to be able to take help too when we are in need. Maybe you are the one that everyone goes to for assistance, the first on the scene. Allowing others to be of help is an invitation for them to give generously of themselves. It is also an exercise of humility on our part, a suppression of pride, and an opportunity in this moment to experience grace and mercy. How can we give what we do not fully recognize a need for in our own lives?

This week’s challenge..How have I experienced mercy in my own life? Where can I give more fully of myself to my community? Where can I show mercy as a member of the body of Christ?

Peace,

Signature

What Truly Matters

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Can you recall a landmark moment in your life? A  time when it became suddenly visible what truly mattered, and where God was in it all? The following is one of my very own- all but a blink of God’s eyes yet a graced moment when I will forever felt held.

It was a late Spring morning in the South, ominous skies grey and overcast coupled with warm and humid conditions were the makings for the perfect storm. Locals knew the weather system well, and it wasn’t long before the tornado warnings ensued. I had never worried about these storms, not because there was nothing to worry about or because of my youth, but quite simply my mother worried enough for the both of us. Yet, that day would be different.

As students were sitting at the long adjoining tables in the school cafeteria, the alarms resounded through the halls, school, and town. Beckoned to get down beneath the little protection that we had, warnings were issued to tuck in and resist looking out the windows. That is when I saw it, just outside the huge glass window that encompassed the side wall.. An unbelievable enormous swirling combination of wind, dirt, branches, and other objects it had accumulated in its wake hovering just above the ground. There it was right before my eyes, not more than 8 feet from me, and I could not help but be both in amazement and fear.Unable to close my eyes I prayed for protection, “Lord please protect us and keep us safe from harm. Lift this tornado and carry it up and far away”.

After what seemed like an eternity, the greenish grey funnel lifted taking with it its new found treasures but leaving the middle school cafeteria building untouched. Though we breathed a quick sigh of relief, we were not out of the woods yet as there were a total of 9 funnel clouds that had formed and remained over this small town that day. Quickly, the school staff  ushered us all into the main building and into the hallway by the lockers. Deemed the safest place, we all huddled there and waited till we could leave to join our families. Beside me was a boy that I knew well, for we shared a strong Christian faith- a fact that did not go unnoticed to me that day.

Marvin, was a bright, joyful thirteen year old boy who just lit up a room whenever he entered. This was because he always carried the love of Christ with him. As we sat there, there was a brief pause and then I asked, “Marvin, I am concerned about my mother, and our families and friends..can we pray together?” “Yes..me too. Let’s pray.” And there we were- two kids praying in the hallway of a public school, oblivious that others would take notice. I still remember our prayer so clearly.

“Father, please protect us all in your loving care. Watch over our families and loved ones, and let these tornadoes pass us by. Though we would miss the things we have become attached to, it is the safety of the people we pray for today. Please take away our fear and concern and leave us with your peace. In this we pray-Amen.”

As I parted from him that day to be picked up by a neighbor of mine, I knew that God had been present in our midst. Arriving at my apartment building, I saw the devastation. No longer was there a roof but open sky in its place. Part of the roof had been hurled into the apartment of another neighbor and the rest wrapped around a lamp post. Yet where was my mother? Finally my eyes spied her,  standing solemnly inside the doorway of our apartment. To everyone’s amazement none had been injured.

Virtually everything I owned was damaged or destroyed by the winds, rain and debris. Yet, as I stood there hand in hand alongside my mother, in a pool of dirty water surrounded by the stuff in life, I realized that everything else was meaningless. I had my mother and nothing else-not the toys, the pictures, the clothes or the furniture truly mattered. Here was a recognition that God had not only answered my prayer, but of the small list of essential things in life.

With an internal prayer of gratitude I then watched as men from my community approached with tarps, tools, and provisions to cover the apartment and remove the debris. Here God was once again caring for us, this time in the shape of benevolent strangers who had stepped forward to volunteer their time and gifts for others. And while I would never see these men again, they will be forever etched in my heart.

It would be some time before I could move back into my house, but I had gained a better sense of where home truly was. It was for the moment beside my mother but always in the presence of my God. It needed no accouterments, but could be found in prayer. This was the meaning of joy in simplicity, grace through destruction and peace in crisis.  It remains for me a spiritual guidepost when I get preoccupied with the accumulation of comfort and the material things in life.

Peace,

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Radical Hospitality

There has been much talk in recent years within ministry about the notion of radical hospitality. Not merely seeking to embrace those we know, it is an openness albeit a willingness to authentically meet and walk with one another in our weakness, suffering, and challenges of life. This is the experience of encounter, and as such cannot be superficial or thought of as just an act of charity. Each of us must be vulnerable, and ready to extend ourselves beyond our pew, well past our comfort zone, beyond even the doors of the church to welcome the stranger with love.

Yet, what does this look like in REAL life?

Some 23 years ago, my then fiancé and I were traveling the 1,400 miles to visit my family in Arkansas when the blizzard of 93’ hit. Praying that the weather would let up the further south we went, we pushed onward. However, that was not to be as the interstate in front of us was closing and we found ourselves in uncharted territory on a long stretch of road near Winchester, KY. With only 2 choices available, a 6 ft. tall snow bank to our right or a jackknifed semi to our left…we chose the snow bank. Sitting there in a car now engulfed in snow, I admit, I felt utterly despondent. For, as far as the eye could see was snow and farmland and we knew no one. We couldn’t stay there forever, as our tank of gas and thereby the heat would only last for so long. So, there my later hubby and I prayed together. And, no sooner had we done so did we see a shadowy figure approaching from a distance.

With a steaming cup of coffee in hand he gingerly made his way to check on both the driver in the semi as well as us. “How are you?, he asked”  “We are ok, but a long way from home”, we answered. “Where are ya’ll headed?” “Arkansas, to visit my family but traveling from Massachusetts”, I replied. “Well, why don’t ya’ll come on in the house, warm up, let them know you are ok, and join us for dinner.” As we walked across the field and the house came into view I breathed a sigh of relief, finally ceasing to calculate fuel reserves.

With two young children in tow this beautiful family welcomed these two strangers into their home and lives that day. Inwardly, I wondered if they had even considered whether or not we were harmless or the gift that they were offering. Their gift of generosity came so natural and was so heartfelt that we very readily felt as if we had known them for years. A very good thing too, since it would be a couple of days before the roads cleared and our car could be unearthed. Even this was another example of the breath of their commitment to radical hospitality. Knowing that we had very little extra income to spare, Mike, our gracious host, called his friend who volunteered to use his tractor with chains to help rescue the stranded Camero. Then placing heaters under the engine they were at last able to bring it back to life.

The morning we left, well rested and well fed, John and I knew that God had placed these incredible people in our lives to teach us the true meaning of hospitality and Christian love. Not only exchanging Christmas cards, with the advent of social media we have made it a point to stay connected. Their children now grown, are married and beginning  young families of their own. What a legacy of Christian discipleship Mike and Connie have modeled for their children, for my husband and I , and all those they encounter.

This is the challenge for each of us in our everyday-to go forth living out our faith with radical hospitality. To accept the invitation to meet the lost, abandoned, marginalized and wounded with generous love. Since some wounds we cannot see, and anyone of us can be in need of radical hospitality at any time, we must begin to see with the eyes of the heart. This takes practice and reminders of the moments when God has taken the initiative to rescue us, unleashing his otherwise unimaginable love and mercy.

Reflect:

When and how have I been a recipient of radical hospitality? In what ways might God be asking me to witness his radical hospitality today?

Peace,

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