by Rev. Joan Kessler
Preparing for this reflection today, I encountered a Chinese Proverb that hasn’t left me alone, and that is May you live in interesting times. It is unclear whether this statement is meant as a blessing or a curse. Robert Kennedy is given some credit for the infamy of this in a speech he gave back in 1966. He meant that the 1960s were “interesting” because it was a fearful time… people were very worried and concerned over what the future would hold.
We only need to watch our newscasts and read the newspaper to know we are indeed living in interesting times. The events of this summer and past week in particular have us questioning and wondering about the future. Sunday last was a most ominous day for me. It was too hot and too windy. I was driving along the south end of town in the Lakestone district, which made the fire burning near Westside Road clearly visible. I went home, I packed a go bag. And then I went for a walk in the woods across the road from my condo. The heat was intense. I prayed as I walked for the trees to just hang on…relief will come… I prayed for rain to gently fall, to replenish and nourish the parched earth beneath my feet. I thought of the fire fighters, the emergency personnel, the evacuees, the animals being gathered together. I wanted to be in this space, to be close to the land and to the trees. That day, I took nothing about my surroundings for granted. Because sometimes in such moments, I am filled awe and gratitude and helplessness all at once… and all I could do was pray.
Fire is destructive and accounts for millions of dollars in lost property, not to mention destroys things that are irreplaceable. But Fire is an element of transformation to a forest and has means of adaptation and resiliency built into its very DNA. Bark thickens in order to protect the precious wood beneath… some pine species develop seed cones covered with a thick resin and only with the heat of a fire can the cone be opened and release its seeds… in some plant species, dormant buds lie protected beneath the ground and the ground-clearing effects of fire see these buds sprout quickly in nutrient rich soil. Nature’s transformative way is a gift of plant ecology… a gift of the Creator.
Watching the news is an anxious activity for many with events such as fires, virus mutations, federal elections, earthquake, and terrorist regime overthrows… these events may have us questioning our connections and places of belonging. Virginia Woolf once called such things that shock us as “moments of being”. Such moments awaken us to the sense that we are all part of a larger pattern; moments of shock awaken us to the truth we rarely otherwise see in times of ordinariness and calm and remind us we are not separate and autonomous creatures in control of things as we would like to be. What we once knew as ordinary may be reconfigured and a new normal is taking shape. Where do we find comfort and peace of mind when things feel like they are unraveling?
Pslam 84 sings a song of praise and thanksgiving for the dwelling place of God, and for me, reminds that I am just a small part of a bigger inter-dependent system, that as a steward, my footsteps leave a mark behind. Yet I am part of God’s dwelling place that stretches beyond my lived experience and imagination too. Psalm 84 is considered a Psalm of Zion, a pilgrim’s outpouring of praise and awe upon arriving at the Temple in Jerusalem. One might imagine that after such a long and difficult journey, there would be tears of joy and relief of having made such a trip. The pilgrim shares their overwhelming gratitude to be in the place of what they knew to house God’s presence, and this is matched only by the breathtaking beauty of the image of birds, swallows and sparrows, nesting in the temple without a care in the world, trusting their lives and that of their offspring to God who gives life in abundance. Roddy Hamilton, another favorite liturgist of mine, shares a prayer reflection that gives us another way of hearing and taking the words of Psalm 84 in a personal reflective way, called Holy Places:
There are only a few places free enough to be called holy places.
Many have the name,
few have the quality.
The most important place is one we carry around with us.
It is our souls:
That deep down place of discovery and adventure
into a realm beyond this world.
To touch it, we can stand on mountains, read poetry, smell a flower
but that lasts only moments.
To relate and be who we truly are deep down,
we need to worship:
To touch the mystery of life and future
and love and truth
and hope and promise
and light and searching.
All these are the personality of God.
The doorway to the holy place is here,
among these people where moments of wonder last eternally.
While we didn’t read from the story of Jesus this morning, I can’t help but think of his approach to “interesting times”. Jesus described himself as the Bread of Life… fully alive and embodying the living Spirit of God. Bread of Life is the stuff of everyday living… sustaining through sickness, evacuation orders, displacement, worry and anxiety for our children and grandchildren’s futures. Our faith, our friendships, our practices become the Bread that fills us when the world seems turned upside down. Jesus was not concerned about bricks and mortar… he didn’t guarantee a roof over anyone’s head…instead he filled their pockets with Bread… the strength, the encouragement to go on from whatever circumstances befall and told them he would be with them, in body and in spirit.
How we cope with stress and anxiety in times like we have experienced these past few weeks needs to be talked about. If you or someone you know and care about is struggling, please know there is help and support and get in touch with me. Listening and being fully present is the most important gift we give one another.
The importance of having a Spiritual practice was brought home to me this week. One need not possess special skills or qualifications to adopt a practice that brings joy and peace, helps to ground us and steady us. We all breathe, in every moment, but how often do we notice this automatic and life-sustaining process? During the quiet meditation this morning, I invite you to breathe from your hearts, knowing that others across our zoom space are doing the same. Just close your eyes, place your hand over your heart, notice where your breath meets your heartbeat… listen to the music with not just your ears but your heart also… set other concerns aside and surround yourself with gratitude in these moments and just breathe in the knowledge you are safe, you are loved, you are held in Love.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Holy One… for a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. May our interesting times we find ourselves in become touchstones of transformation and adaptation that we are forever part of a holy dwelling and indwelling… may these things be so.