For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:12
I’ve often said that the most beautiful place I’ve ever been is the Delphic Oracle in Greece. Being stuck here at my own home for the last six or seven months, I was drawn to a Facebook group entitled, “the view from my window.” People from all over the world post a picture of the view from their window. Some of the pictures are traditionally what we think of as beautiful: mountains, oceans, forests and flowers. But there are also pictures that are of city skylines, murals on the side of buildings, storm clouds, smiling and laughing little kids playing soccer on the dirt of their homes in refugee camps.
One of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver from her book Evidence is entitled “Yellow.”
“There is the heaven we enter through institutional grace
And there are the yellow finches bathing and singing in the lowly puddle.”
There is beauty everywhere. There is evidence of God’s promises everywhere. It’s in the birch tree that my husband planted and in the sound of the woodpecker that seems to like my trees. I’ve gotten to know more of the dogs that are walked past my house each day. There is such joy in the sound of my grandson’s squeals of delight as he twirls round and round on the crazy swing in my yard. I’ve even had time to re-read some of my favorite books. There is profound beauty in holding the hand of a friend who is sick, or in rocking a crying baby. Really, the warmth of touch, the comfort of human connection.
I know some of you are rolling your eyes by now! I see God everywhere. Even forced change can open our eyes and deepen our senses. Even losses can deepen and strengthen our perception of God.
My prayer is that we each can take a deep breath and learn to see that God is always near.
Blessings, Pastor Brenda
“But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40: 31
My brain cannot even picture 175,000 people dead of the virus since March, in our country alone. Experts study what is called “psychic numbing.” Millions died in war and genocide in Darfur while the world looked the other way. Why? Why do we seem to ignore mass atrocities? What is the limit to human compassion? “The value of a person’s life declines precipitously with number. As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases.” (Paul Slovic, psychologist at University of Oregon who has studied psychic numbing for 10 years)
Scholars studied the public reaction to Alyan, the little drowned Syrian boy on the beach in Greece. In 2011 the Syrian death toll was hundreds of thousands, but one picture seemed to wake everyone up. People started to care. The compassion lasted about a month. I guess that’s why the pain of mass shootings in schools slowly slips away.
The word “compassion” literally means “suffer with.” Scripture is full of the “call to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those that weep.” (Romans 12: 15 ) Galatians 6:9 says, “Do not grow weary of doing good.”
I am tired of this pandemic. I am tired of the anxiety, the fear, the limits it has put onto my life. So this morning I was reflecting on compassion fatigue, on how hard it is to keep being this disciplined, on how hard it is to keep caring. I am amazed that we have become so used to having a thousand people die every day. We even find ourselves asking, “How many people dying a day is acceptable, is good news?” Does it take us personally losing someone to this disease to take it seriously? What will stop us from fighting over this? Are we so hardened to caring about others that we can pretend that 175,000 deaths are acceptable because we don’t know anyone personally? Are we unable to be as strong as those prisoners of war that never lost hope or patience? Are we unable to be as disciplined as those who have lived through the Great Depression? Remember how devastated the entire country became on 9/11 with the loss of 2,977 people?
We are in a time of great challenge. May our faith keep us hopeful and disciplined. May we not lose the edge of our compassion. May every life count.
Blessings, Pastor Brenda
Learning to live an unbalanced life…
“Am I supposed to have a thriving business/career, excellent relationships, great physical and mental health, happy healthy children, adventurous travel plans, volunteer at multiple charities, and be a responsible money manager and investor? Is this the life I must lead in order to be happy and successful?”
The last few months, things haven’t gone the way any of us planned. Most of us prefer to be in control. Expecting everything to go the way I want it to, expecting everyone else to cooperate, expecting to be treated fairly....leaves us anxious to get things back in order.
These expectations are unrealistic
Each one of us must learn to live with paradox, to make decisions even without knowing all the details, even without controlling all the parts. Right now all the parents and teachers that I know are struggling with making some really complicated decisions. They each will just need to do the best they can.
In actuality, there are no guarantees. Life will bring many surprises. You will be thrown off the horse at times (like Paul). You will be distracted and anxious (like Martha,) and perhaps just need to sit down and listen.
Catherine Ndereba, Marathon runner, was being interviewed before the Boston Marathon. The weather had been terrible, cold and rainy. The interviewer asked her how she was going to deal with the weather. I will never forget her answer. She said, “I will prepare as always and not worry about the things that I can’t control.”
Trust the promises of God to be always near. Trust the journey through life, living with the uncertainties. There will be times in your life when you won’t be able to do everything that you would like to do. There will be times you will be overwhelmed by responsibilities. And, there will be times you make mistaken decisions. The future will always be unknown. You don’t control it.
Life is learning to live off balance and learning to trust in God.
Blessings, Pastor Brenda
Here is a prayer from “Prayers for the Christian Year” by William Barclay that I have found helpful in difficult times like these. A good spiritual practice is to pray this prayer at the start of each day this month.
O God, you are our refuge.
When we are exhausted by life’s problems;
When we are bewildered by life’s problems;
When we are wounded by life’s sorrows;
We come for refuge to you.
O God, you are our strength.
When our tasks are beyond our powers;
When our temptations are too strong for us;
When duty calls for more than we have to give to it;
We come for strength to you.
O God, it is from you that all goodness comes.
It is from you that our ideals come;
It is from you that there comes to us the spur of
high desire and the restraint of conscience.
It is from you that there has come the strength
to resist any temptation, and to do any good thing.
And now as we pray to you,
Help us to believe in your love,
so that we may be certain
that you will hear our prayer;
Help us to believe in your power;
so that we may be certain
that you are able to do for us
above all that we ask or think;
Help us to believe in your wisdom;
so that we may be certain
that you will answer,
not as our ignorance asks,
but as your perfect wisdom knows best.
All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Blessings, Pastor Brenda
Luke 4: 12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to a test.’”
On Memorial Day weekend, I heard a man being interviewed at the beach. When he was asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask, he said, “I believe Jesus will protect me.”
I immediately remembered this joke:
A storm descends on a small town, and the downpour soon turns into a flood. As the waters rise, the local pastor kneels in prayer on the church porch, surrounded by water. By and by one of the townsfolk comes up on the street in a canoe. “Better get in, Pastor. The waters are rising fast.” “No, says the Pastor. “I have faith in the Lord. He will save me.”
Still the waters rise. Now the pastor is up on the balcony, wringing his hands in supplication, when another neighbor zips up in a motorboat. “Come on, Pastor. We need to get you out of here. The levee’s gonna break any minute.” Once again the pastor is unmoved. “I shall remain. The Lord will see me through.”
After a while the levee breaks, and the flood rushes over the church building until only the steeple remains above the water. The pastor is up there, clinging, when a helicopter descends out of the clouds, and a state trooper calls down to him through a megaphone. “Grab the ladder, Pastor. This is your last chance.” Once again, the pastor insists that the Lord will deliver him. And predictably, he drowns.
When he gets to heaven he gets an interview with God, and he asks “Lord, I had unwavering faith in you. Why did you let me drown?” God shakes his head, “What did you want from me? I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”
In Luke chapter 4, it was suggested to Jesus that he throw himself off the temple’s roof so that people could see the angels rescue him. This is Jesus’ second temptation. Doing something to force God’s hand or to show off wasn’t acceptable. We are not to be irresponsible. He responds: “Don’t put the Lord your God to a test.”
I am so saddened by the people who when asked to wear a mask, spit on, throw coffee on, or yell with a string of curses at the store clerks, and even our first responders. By people threatening others by holding their rifles and flags all because they are tired of being asked to be responsible. And then proudly and angrily announcing that God will take care of them.
(Then why do they need to carry a gun?)
You know, God has given us minds and free will which comes with responsibility. God has given us exceptional scientists and doctors and nurses whom we are expecting will come up with a vaccine. God is helping us through our neighbors, through food banks, through leaders that take our safety seriously, through people who changed their products to make ventilators and to make masks. God has sent us epidemiologists to let us know what we can do to help.
God will stand with us through this crisis if we accept the help he has provided.
Psalms 23: 1-2
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
Yesterday I went walking along the river. I saw only three other people and one dog as I was walking. I stopped to sit and watch a small waterfall. I looked up and saw the turkey vultures playing in the wind. It was a cold and rainy April day..the kind of day when my mind does a lot of philosophizing. (I was a philosophy major). I noticed the power of the water, the peaceful gliding of the turkey vultures, the brisk wind that made me wake up. And I thought of one of my favorite poems. The author Wendell Berry is a farmer and a poet who lives in Kentucky.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Sometimes God makes us slow down and smell the roses!
Those of us who live where the beauty of nature surrounds us can find much restoration in walking, in taking deep cleansing breaths, in allowing the whole of creation to restore our souls.
A few days ago on my morning walk, the fog was so thick that I could barely see more than a few feet in front of me. Yet, even in the fog, I felt the presence of the support that nature gives, even when I can’t see clearly. May you breathe in the healing and hopefulness of those day-blind stars waiting for the light.
Philippians 4: 11
“Not that I am referring to being in need, for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Yesterday was the 12th day in my two week quarantine. My groceries lasted pretty long, but I needed a few staples, so I ordered groceries delivered from one of those services that would shop for me and leave it on my doorstep. I didn’t get the eggs that I ordered. Now that wouldn’t be terrible except for the fact that my doctor wants me to eat two eggs for every breakfast (something to do with my diabetes). I frantically texted the shopper to get me eggs, any kind, but he was unable to find any. Thinking today about writing a message for our newsletter, I am still annoyed that I didn’t get any eggs.
My thoughts went to the situation in Cuba. When I was in Cuba in November, we learned from one of the families that hosted us that they were given a special voucher for two eggs per person from the government, so they could feed us breakfast. Our guide told us that she couldn’t find the medicine that her brother needed. When we passed “shops,” the aisles were pretty bare. You could not find much. We were told that it would be nice if we would leave any creams, over the counter medicines, and even our dirty clothes for our host families. This was an experience of not being able to get what I needed. The difference between me and the Cuban families was that I knew I was going to be able to get things when I got home. So I only experienced 12 days of stress.
Staying at home in these four walls is stressful too. I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was young. She lived for two years in 450 square feet with 7 other people. She was given a diary for her 13th birthday (two weeks before they went into hiding.) They did eventually get discovered and she and her little sister died of typhus fever in the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. But her diary survived. It is an amazing record of her determination to stay hopeful, positive, and to make the most of every day.
When I get stressed because I have to stay home and away from others, and when I can’t get the food that I need, I am aware of how privileged I really am and how I take things for granted. I am aware that what we are experiencing is not unusual in our world. People have survived these kinds of challenges. I used to think that I knew what that Philippians passage meant. I didn’t. Even now I know that this will end. We can get through this inconvenience. We can step up to protect our health, our families’ health, our neighborhood’s health.
“I can do all things through God who strengthens me.”
I am not sure who wrote this prayer but it touched me this morning as I meditated on what God might be teaching me this day.
~~ Pastor Brenda
“Prayer in a Pandemic” (From Mayfield First United Methodist Church)
May we who are merely unconvinced remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home, remember those who must
choose between preserving their health or making the rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close,
remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money, remember those who have no
margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home, remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, may we choose love.
During this time when we cannot wrap our arms around each other
Find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
March 13, 2020
Letter to all Members and Friends of Point Pleasant Community Baptist Church:
Out of an abundance of caution and a commitment to help our community, I am cancelling all worship and activities of Point Pleasant Community Baptist Church for the next two weeks. At that time, we will reassess. There is no harm in being cautious. This is a way that we can participate in fighting this virus and not overwhelm our medical professionals and emergency services. Your health is very important to all of us. While some of you would risk your own health, I am not willing to risk everyone else’s health.
I live in Montgomery County. We were locked down yesterday by the Governor. He doesn’t even want us to leave the county. Out of the 22 cases in Pennsylvania, Montgomery County has 13 of them and the news keeps coming in. Now a police officer, a local doctor, and an EMT have all tested positive, at least one of whom is in intensive care.
This was not an easy decision to make. I suggest that you use this time in individual Bible Study, prayer, and meditation. I learned how to use my time well when I was a shut-in taking care of my husband. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t convenient. But it’s a gift to slow down and think.
You are responsible for your own health, so take this seriously and stay safe.
I will be working from home, so feel free to text, call, or e-mail me during these two weeks.
Love and Prayers,