Do you need to get outside of yourself? Or turn more deeply into your interior world? One leads to the other. Pray? Fast? Serve? They all circle around when done intentionally, attentively. Whatever way you Live Lent this year, know that the world so deeply needs intentional, attentive persons. How will you be one? It all adds up.
But the rest of us need some practice. We forget who we are and Whose we are. Here’s Kim Jackson on the subject:
In the Adult Formation series, “Preparing for Holy Days,” the participants learned from our Abrahamic cousins some new ways to prepare for Holy Week during Lent. Some might borrow from the Jewish tradition and take the time to offer sincere apologies to those in our lives whom we have offended. Since Lent is a season of repentance, how much deeper might our experience of this season be if we actually picked up the phone and repented for that time when we hurt a friend or brother?
In the Islamic tradition, Muslims dedicate a time for prayer FIVE times a day. What if we decided to pray five times a day during Lent? Would you run out of things to pray about? Or, would our hearts break open in new ways?
Several class participants shared different practices and disciplines that they’ve taken on over the years. We offer these as tried and tested ways of being present during Lent:
Subscribe (and READ) the All Saints’ Daily Lenten Meditations
Fast from one meal each day and use that time to pray instead of eating.
Pray family devotions each night using Compline. (Kim)
Unsubscribe from Social Media and replace it with meeting a friend once a week for face-to-face conversation.
What fits YOU??
Here are some other possibilities from the staff and vestry:
From Leighton Stradtman (vestry and search liason): “I’ll prepare for Lent by having a colonoscopy. (OKAY, LEIGHTON! That’s the spirit!) And each day during each day of Lent, I’ll fast (there’s that word, “Fast” again) from complaining and write a short note of gratitude to someone who has shaped my life.
(Also do you sometimes let the best be the enemy of the good? That fences you out.) Our treasurer Charlie Ogburn has modified his Living Lent through the years for what really works for him. He writes
I say the Lord’s Prayer silently to myself once a day.
I don’t finish any food placed in front of me. I can eat anything, but only 1/2 to 3/4 of what is on the plate.
Alcohol restriction: I tried to eliminate it completely, but that was too hard and awkward (business dinner: “why aren’t you having a glass of wine?”). So I allow a couple of days a week, which can be “borrowed” backward and forward.
Charlie adds, for me, fasting is about a daily (or hourly) reminder of our connection to God, And I lose about 10 pounds, which means all of my clothes fit for another year. And I REALLY celebrate Easter.
Here’s one more approach to fasting from Louisa Merchant through a Muslim community where she was working.
Louisa says, “I’ve never had a Lenten practice, but I did have a Ramadan one because I worked at a Muslim school and everyone fasted, even the little kids, and so, I of course, did too. I remember Ramadans as some of the happiest times at the school. Sure, it was hard to go all day without food, but that wasn’t nearly as noticeable as the palpable presence of a communal and abiding calm, a peace among the brethren that was so tangible it will almost barometric, not freezing but cold and so clear. This is what I wish for us this Lenten Season. A chance to feel the communal centering, to be encouraged by the presence of others who are going within and to not only find the still, silent voice in ourselves, but to find it most of all in our togetherness.”
One of my favorite beloved communities is the Cathedral Book Store.
Here’s Vestry member, John Frazer Giving Up Negative Thinking: “I will try to be more positive in thoughts in hopes that those will develop into my reality, Fake it, tell you make it. (John says he’s not sure faking it is a Lenten practice. I told him It DEFINITELY IS. Act your way, fake your way into a more authentic way of being in the world.)
Here’s a heartening note from Clay Jackson, the chair of the Rector Search Committee!
Besides giving up only soft drinks, which is hard for an Atlanta boy to do, I cannot honestly admit to an annual Lenten practice. I would tell you that after conversations with many amazing clergy over the past few months, I have experienced a bit of a spiritual awakening. I will try and nurture that feeling during this season.
The first time I took communion in the Episcopal church I was as filled as if I had eaten “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.” (Those are the words of Isaiah describing the messianic feast at the end of time, and we often read the words at funerals.) No wonder I was filled for we are acting out the feast every time we have holy communion. And yes, sometimes when I am part of the communion of us Saints, I experience that fullness again, so that tears still well up in my eyes. I sense the space around us and among us and in us is filled with grace and abundance.
So what is this box? Sometimes when somebody can’t get to the feast, the feast goes to them. And believe it or not, in that box is enough for a feast for the bringer and the receiver.
Here’s how this sending out of the feast happens. Right before the closing Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant stands behind the altar and hands a small box to someone. The celebrant and the congregation say this back and forth:
Wendell Berry says “Friends, every day do something that won’t compute … “ That’s what our Eucharistic Visitors do. They carry a box to someone who is sick or homebound, and with the box and in their very being, the “EVs” carry us, the people who gathered for communion that day. And in the midst of us and the EVs and the receiver and the little box is the Real Presence of the Living God in Christ Jesus.
Here are a few EV reminiscences:
“As Marion and I approach twenty years at All Saints, I have been honored and blessed for most of that period to represent our congregation and church through service as a Eucharistic Visitor (EV) taking Communion to the homebound of our parish. I usually serve as EV every six weeks or so, visiting someone recommended by the clergy or the next individual “up” on our list of regulars. Occasionally we are asked to remain as regular EVs for an individual, particularly when that individual is in hospice and/or is easily confused.
I became very close to long term parishioners Bob and Coc Henson in 2007 when Coc’s health was failing, visiting every Wednesday afternoon. When Coc died in 2010, Bob and I decided to continue the visits and did so until Bob’s death last year at the age of 101. Coc and Bob were wonderful, Christ-filled people and I frequently and truthfully reassured Bob that I was getting more out ot the relationship than he was. I also told him that he, having graduated from college the year I was born, kept me feeling young!! PS – We EVs are Blessed to have Ann Higdon’s gentle and caring hand as our leader.”
Here’s a memory from Mary Jo Bryan, and Ann Higdon is in the middle of it!
Mary Jo writes, “I had visited Jim before and was surprised when I arrived at the nursing home to find that he was in hospice care after a sudden change in condition. He was awake, but not really responsive. A longtime friend (the Jewish social worker Nancy) was with him and encouraged me to offer communion. I used the form for special circumstances, and it was clear that he was aware of my presence and the prayers. He wasn’t able to receive the host, but received the wine on my fingertip. His friend, who is Jewish, told me that Amazing Grace was one of Jim’s favorites, so she and I sang it for him. She had learned it through her long friendship with Jim. Holy, holy, holy time!”
Below, Gretchen Chateau describes an experience that transcended denominations and also gave a way for people to connect deeply just when the threat of loss of connection between the living and the dead was emerging. Here’s Gretchen:
“A few years ago, my sister Judi’s best friend in the whole world was really close to the finish line in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Judi had flown from Spokane, Washington for what was to be her last visit with her friend Shawn. I drove to Flowery Branch to support Judi in that visit. I had been Eucharistic Visitor the previous week and still had the communion kit in my car. Here we were, an Episcopal EV, my sister a Roman Catholic and Shawn, a Lutheran plus another Lutheran friend. We were in Shawn’s hospital room, talking and I said, ‘You know, I have a communion kit in my car. What if we had a shared Eucharist?’
I was a little afraid of violating some rule or regulation. But, everyone agreed, so I got the kit from the car, we shared an abbreviated Rite II service and reserved communion. Judi went back to Spokane, I went back to Atlanta, and Shawn died a few days later. To think, I almost didn’t suggest having communion. There have been other amazing experiences, but that’s probably #1.”
Gary Russell and Jim Clay have had such deep and holy experiences as EVs. Here’s Gary:
“In November I had a lovely visit with Liz Jacobs’ parents, Mary and Joseph Gordon, who are somewhat homebound. Mary was an EV in Florida prior to their move to Atlanta and proudly showed me her communion kit. They were both so thankful and grateful for the visit and the communion service. I enjoyed telling people during the Advent season that I had just recently taken communion to Mary and Joseph!”
And Gary’s husband, Jim remembers, “Years ago Gary and I had taken communion to a federal official who had been the victim of a violent home invasion. It was Easter Sunday, so we also came bearing an Easter lily. They were so moved by the sharing of this Holy Meal that tears flowed from all three of us. To this day, the individual continues to remind us how grateful they were for the EV Ministry in their time of need.”
Ann Higdon leads the EV flock. Let her or one of the priests know if you sense a call to join them or if you know of someone who needs -not God in a box- but the Body of Christ to come near and share the feast.
Ann says, “Being a Eucharistic Visitor over the years has blessed me with opportunity to know many special people. Whether gathering around hospital beds or dining room tables or in living rooms or nursing homes, time spent visiting with people before sharing communion is also exceedingly special. One of my greatest joys is greeting people in church when their health allows them to attend worship services again. It is also a privilege to serve as Eucharistic Minister at the funerals of some of the people I have visited.
Forming connections with families of people I visit is also a blessing. I am taking communion monthly to the daughter of a parishioner I often visited with communion many years ago. The daughter has invited her friends to join us, forming our own “4th Friday Communion” community.”
It’s not that the feast always has to be liturgical. A couple of days ago, I just whispered at the lunch table in the library how much I wished I had cake. And since Noelle York Simmons often wished the same thing, somebody called her and said we were thinking about her and cake.
And the next day what shows up but A HUGE CARAMEL CAKE FROM NOELLE!! FEAST, FEAST, FEAST.
We were not created for scarcity. We are created for abundance. In this time with many loud voices saying there is not enough, remember your faith, your feast, your God of Abundance who invited all to be fed.
Here is Mary Oliver with just about the best communion poem I know. I offer it in thanksgiving for our EVs and with prayers for those whom they serve.
Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes? If you say the right words, the wine expands. If you say them with love and the felt ferocity of that love and the felt necessity of that love, the fish explode into the many. Imagine him, speaking, and don’t worry about what is reality, or what is plain, or what is mysterious. If you were there, it was all those things. If you can imagine it, it was all those things. Eat, drink, be happy. Accept the miracle. Accept, too, each spoken word spoken with love.
Come risen Lord and deign to be our guest. Nay let us be thy guest; the feast is thine.
I went visiting over at Midtown Assistance Center last week and Executive Director Dorothy Chandler, Olympic Gold Medal Winner of the Compassion Marathon (23 years at MAC!), mentioned a volunteer who brings in REALLY GOOD snack bags. He named the snack bags for his Aunt B! I don’t know the back story on that but may Aunt B be our muse. She passed along compassion somehow! And as George Eliot wrote, “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for one another?”
Nadia says “I volunteer with another member, Lisby Ritchie, when I can. I worked in wealth management in the past so it seemed almost like penance to give my time to poverty alleviation. It really is an incredible place and I truly enjoy the time I spend there, I have met so many people from so many walks of life that were able to use a little boost to get them back on their feet. I have been blessed in so many ways and and feel compelled to do something to give back and help make someone’s world a better place, this is my something:-)”
Nadia adds, “someone asked me just this week if I can give an example of what agape love looks like and I thought of Dorothy Chandler and the way she interacts and engages with some of the scruffiest looking clients you could imagine. She does so in a way that they feel dignified enough to keep returning even if their visit is limited just to a snack pack and a conversation with her at the door:”
Dorothy says that when she gets up and is getting ready, “I think about the people who come to MAC and tears come to my eyes. Not tears of sadness but tears of joy because we are doing something that matters. MAC helps.”
How do people become compassionate? Is compassion in your DNA?
Here’s another Compassion in the DNA story from Wendy Silliman.
Wendy writes, “one of my favorite MAC stories is that Dorothy Chandler is the one who came up with the initial idea for Threads! Back in 2003, an Ad Hoc Missions Committee led by Bob Miller was exploring new missions. Our first step was to investigate existing needs around the area. I called Dorothy to get her take on current community needs. She said that although MAC had a men’s clothing closet, no one had the space to house children’s clothing. As I then called other ministries, they agreed that a children’s clothing closet would be very helpful for the area. At the same time, the results of a parish forum and survey showed that All Saints wanted to do a new mission focusing on children and at or close to our block. Thus need met desire and of course, we had to put the All Saints twist on it and make it an upscale clothing boutique where we could clothe children in need with dignity.”
I think you can also catch compassion like a good cold. I know I have caught compassion down through the years from All the Saints.
I believe that compassion is in our DNA as children of God. And yes, compassion can be taught and caught. And as Jesus laid it on us in the beatitudes, compassion is often the hard and holy lesson of one’s own personal loss.
Here is blessed Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness, aka Compassion.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
One day complete justice and total mercy will kiss us into eternity. In the meantime, let us be a little strong and also be a little kind. That’s a good day’s work any day, every day.
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. T’is the secret of life everlasting.
Above is a fabulous picture of Lynne Bryant (crowned) and her beloved sister, Melanie in about 1963. Lynne says, “This is for a Baptist girls club which helps young ladies to grow in the Kingdom of God. Melanie received her “Maiden” award that year and I received the ‘Queen’ award. See her shining eyes and mine closed!”
I’ve known Henry and Lynne Bryant through all the years I have been at All Saints’—not well but I knew that they quietly did good at the church and in this world and raised their kids to be strong and good people. Lynne told me this summer that her sister had become very sick very fast. Here is the story from Lynne with some gifts of courage and grace for you, I promise.
“My sister, Melanie, was diagnosed with glioblastoma—an aggressive,invasive form of brain cancer in July. In September we began daily trips to Georgia Radiation in Augusta, GA, so that she could receive 30 radiation treatments.
The first day there Melanie was able to hobble in using a walker. To our surprise the door popped open and a man welcomed us to the center. He seemed to be there every day. We thought that perhaps he worked there. About three weeks into the treatments, he came over as we sat in the clinic and introduced himself as “Allen.” We never found out whether he was Mr. Allen or Allen something else.
It seems that Allen had been an instructor for the US Army and had taught boxing to all the recruits. He said to Melanie, ‘Missus, I always tell the men to keep the gloves on and keep fighting ‘cause if you take the gloves off and stop fighting, it means the fight is over. So Missus, keep your gloves on!’
Allen was there the day she finished radiation and posed for pictures at the ringing of the bell ceremony traditional for radiation patients.
It turned out that he had fought cancer the year before and volunteered at the center as many days as he possibly could. Allen was unaware that he was actually one of God’s angels sent to give people hope.
Another one of the regulars—Jim- introduced himself while Melanie was in the treatment room. He told me the story of how his cancer had come back twice and this was his last chance with a second round of radiation. I told him that I was so sorry. “Oh, no!” he said. ‘God’s got my back. If he doesn’t heal me here, he will heal me up there (pointing to Heaven)!’ He walked down the hall repeating ‘God’s got my back!’ Jim was another angel for me.”
(Did you know that ‘angelos’ means messenger? An angel in our tradition is a messenger from God telling us God is with us and those we love and that God answers prayers. Sometimes the answer is just what we want, when we want. And sometimes the answer is not what we want but something deep inside us shifts, so that the situation does not change in the way we want it to, but we change. We change. And we trust. And that makes all the difference.)
“Melanie died in December, 2016. God’s got her back.”
Lynne says “God’s got her back.”
Even in the aftermath of great loss, Lynne said to me and writes to you that God has got her sister’s back. Sometimes it causes me to tremble—the troubles people go through, the kindness among strangers, the pain of loss, the power of hope, the trust that God has our backs. This matters so. Thank you Lynne and thank you saints.
This blog post will be totally boring if you are not on Facebook or other social media, but around this block, a lot of us are Facebookers. And I think some of us are struggling to define how to use it without getting used up. I for one hate conflict. Hate it. However:
What do I like on Facebook? I like posts of good writers I don’t know about. I like reading about Mississippi. I like it when I see somebody’s trip to a place I will never go or their new baby or grand-baby. I like keeping up with faraway friends and parishioners. I like hilarious cat videos. I like cartoons! The Facebookers I follow come from their own life experience and also run their Facebook page according to their own core values. I like complex and tender posts, for our lives are complex and tender. With permission from the authors, here are some starting with a simple and tender example which happened just two days ago:
On Wednesday, Dottie Miller wrote that she and Jamie lost their beloved Bitsy and that their pain was very deep. Friends called and wrote and facebooked and comforted. They didn’t have to tell people one by one
Also Facebook can help with gathering all points of view, with agreeable disagreement. Sam Buice is the priest in charge up at Grace-Calvary, Barbara Brown Taylor’s old stomping grounds and he is one of my favorite priests and an effective Facebook gospeler, Here he is pictured with some of his favorites – BBT, baptism, and his Harley!
Last month, I noticed Sam asking this question to his Facebook friends and he has a bunch: “Why currently are you upset? If you choose to respond to this post, I ask that you respond by talking about yourself. Say more about what is upsetting to you. Refrain from making assumptions or statements about the “others.” If you are posting to my page, I will feel free to delete comments that I deem accusing or hateful or not on point.”
Sam started by describing in civil terms the national issue (sudden refugee ban) he is upset about and others described what they PERSONALLY were upset about from all different angles. He curated his post so that it did not become vicious or goofy, but it was quite diverse and enlightening. Never assume you know why others act, vote, speak the way they do. And don’t assume that social media always separates us; sometimes we understand one another through social media, maybe for the first time.
My own Facebook page is not an opinion forum, nor, please note, is it the parish page. It is as I say below one of the public rooms of my heart.
What I want to read and share is authentic life and thought and story, not riled up stuff. Jerry Byrd gave me permission to share this very moving post about his twin brother who died three years ago. Yes, Jerry is advocating for a particular issue, and he is doing it from the depths of his life.
Here is Jerry’s post from last week:
“This is what death with dignity looks like. It came courtesy of the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare is another name given it. The picture is my twin brother Jim in Hospice Atlanta. I took it on Jan. 30th, our birthday. That’s why there are flowers. My sister who lives in another city had sent them. I wanted her to see how pretty they were. Just 24 hours after I took this photo Jim would be dead. Today is the 3rd anniversary of his death.
Do not think that I post this for sympathy. Do not think I’d ever make the decision to post something this intimate lightly. Do not think I post this out of mourning. I do on a continual basis mourn my twin though. Why do I post this then? Because Jim would want that. I know this because no one knows a twin like his twin. Jim would want me to use this image to make the statement that society without health coverage for all is no society at all.
He died after fighting the spread of cancer for close to 3 years. At his diagnosis he didn’t have health insurance. It goes without saying that this pre-existing condition would have blocked him from having any health insurance. Try to imagine the trips to the emergency room without it when I’d have to take him there in the middle of the night due to the pain and infection and fever that his illness brought him. Try to imagine his rounds of chemotherapy without it. Try to imagine his many visits to the oncologist without it. Try to imagine hope without it. Try to imagine someone you love and consider irreplaceable finding themselves in a health crisis and unable to get health insurance. It could happen to anyone anytime.
Why do I post this then? I want you who might have similar stories to post those stories. I want you to give a face to the idea of healthcare as a fundamental human right. Our elected officials are debating whether some get health care and whether some do not. I post this to ask that you contact your elected officials and let them know that healthcare can’t be a luxury for just a few, not in a civil society.“
Thank you Jerry.
Now Here are some important and timely words, versions of which I have seen from a number of people lately: “I posted a picture earlier today which I am not sure was a true representation of reality. I have removed it from my page and apologize to anybody who saw it.”
YES!! YAY!! People of all political persuasians are spotting FAKE NEWS (shows up from everywhere, sometimes called “click bait”) and taking it down. People are curating their pages to reflect their lives! You don’t have to leave stuff on there you don’t want!
Finally Brian Barefield’s post from New Years Eve is literally lifegiving since he had very recently almost died of a massive heart attack. He moves me to my toes and gives us our marching orders. Here’s Brian:
Bear with me here as this is stream of consciousness and it’s long for me, but it’s New Year’s Eve… the conclusion to a very traumatic year for many, myself included.
This past week, I was able to take part in something that was new to me. While I work with trauma in aviation as a peer counselor, being on the opposite side of the proverbial table was a new experience. A dear friend who is a trauma specialist guided me through a unique trauma therapy session to help with mentally and emotionally processing all I went through during my heart attack. What I discovered was that the most traumatic experience of the entire ordeal was the sense of loneliness I experienced. By loneliness I mean deep existential loneliness full of dread. Not only was I facing the possible end of my career, I was, for all intents and purposes, staring death in the face. When I looked back on those 14 or so hours before they finally figured out what was going on my faith didn’t seem to inform that bleakness. All I felt was a terrible, hopeless solitude. Where was meaning in the experience?
What I have realized is that meaning was found in those who rushed to my side the moment they found out there was a problem. Meaning was found in those who cared, those who sacrificed their time and convenience to stop and just be there with me. People like Bob Tick, Ed O’Halloran, Pat Brown Bruce Garner, my father who dropped everything and drove 3 hours to be by my side that night, and my mother, who did the same early the next morning.
That terrible night when I would be awoken multiple times from my drug induced haze (administered by the hospital) by my heart turning somersaults in my chest in that dark ICU room, I would literally reach out looking for someone, anyone, for support, and there was always a hand of someone who cared that grabbed mine.
In the emptiness of that solitude of experience, even there I was never really alone. My personal faith didn’t prove just a mirage. You see, my faith stresses the importance of community, of togetherness. It says we care for each other, that the American ideal of individualism is largely hokum. We share, we communicate, we give ourselves to each other; we offer ourselves fully. Meaning, God, whatever you want to call it was there that night for me in those who cared for me and sat that awful watch by my side. As alone as I felt, the miracle of connection, of community, got me through (with the help of many doctors and nurses).
With all of that said, and being that it is the conclusion of an incredibly divisive year in the aggregate, I guess I’m saying I found meaning in that senseless experience in my community of friends and family. We are all we really have in this crazy world with all its ups and downs. My hope is that you remember those around you who care for you, who believe in you, who love you. Grab hold of them and dear God don’t let them go. No matter what the coming year holds, the one thing certain is that we have each other, and the bond that living and loving for each other creates between us is stronger than the darkest night; it’s the only real strength we have. Love those who love you; love and laugh and cry with them. Believe in them and hope with them. Hold them close and know that everything, no matter how dark, will get better, and the good things will only get brighter, stronger, more resilient.
Happy New Year friends!”
Thank you Brian, and thank you all around this block for being there for each other. Whether you Facebook or not (and if you do and it is eating up too much of your time, you might consider doing a Facebook fast for lent – I might!) Just know how beloved you are in the “vast reaches and endless memory” of eternity.