- Showing Up and Sitting Down
By Amy Moehnke
On the afternoon of June 7, I found myself sitting on the ground. I was at Huston- Tillotson University among a sea of mask-covered faces listening to the lineup of speakers at that day’s Black Austin Rally and March for Black Lives. I had expected to be hot (it was June in Texas, after all), I had expected to walk a lot (it was a march, after all), and I had expected to confront some tough realities (we were there because people are being killed, after all). I had not expected to sit down.
But I did sit down because the black organizers of a rally that was designed to center black bodies and black voices asked me to. I was not the only one asked to sit down, of course. All of the white people present were asked to do this. And so we did. We sat down and we listened. We listened to black people telling some hard truth.
We listened to Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, the president and CEO of Huston Tillotson University, speak about how the historically black university had occupied a critical space in Austin (since 1875) while at the same time being woefully ignored and underfunded- she called it the step-child of Austin’s college and university family.
We listened to Brenda Ramos talk about the unnecessary and unjust killing of her only child Mike Ramos at the hands of Austin police officers in April.
We listened to Chas Moore, the founder and president of the Austin Justice Coalition telling us that if things are going to change we white people are going to have to be willing to give up some of our white privilege.
Now, that bit about giving up white privilege, that’s a hard one for us white folks. Even for those of us who recognize that we have white privilege, there’s a real sense of not knowing what surrendering some of it looks like in actual practice. The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers offers us this help: “Surrendering white privilege equals going into the spaces where you are not in control, going into the spaces that have been defined by that “Other”, by the oppressed, and laying your own skills, your gifts, your heart at the feet of the movement that they have defined.”
For this white woman, sitting down and listening at the rally that centered black bodies and black voices was one part of this. But then I was invited to enact it.
When the speakers had finished sharing, Chas Moore gave directions for how we’d begin to make our way off of the Huston-Tillotson campus and onto the streets for the march. “Black people”, he said, “you go first.” “White people, you stay where you are and let the black people go in front of you. Then you follow them, and you get on the sides of them. You get behind them and walk alongside them.” Our job, MY job was not to lead, but rather to follow. And our job, MY job, if I was willing to accept it, was to put my white body in place to protect the black bodies from harm of any kind.
By putting my white body in the place that was most helpful for the black bodies there, I was indicating my “with-ness”. I was practicing what The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas calls “solidarity”, a concept that communicates that we are all in the struggle for a more just future; that we are all in solidarity with God in mending the earth. Solidarity starts with action, with showing up, with having actual skin in the game.
Douglas says, “We show up in the places where Jesus would show up, where we see Jesus. Jesus always showed up where people were crying out for wholeness, for freedom. God showed up. God heard Israel’s plea and cry and showed up.”
Showing up can look like a lot of things. For me, on June 7 it looked like going to a rally/march and doing what was asked of me even when it was not the thing I thought I’d be doing. For me, these days it looks like using my platform to encourage others to enter the work of showing up and being with in the way that Spellers and Douglas describe and that our black brothers and sisters ask us to. What might showing up look like for you?
- Finding Wholeness in the Sabbath
By Joyce Palevitz
I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to observe the Sabbath. I’ve returned to some books that have guided me along the way in the past 10 years or so: Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The Sabbath” provides grounding in Sabbath-keeping from a Jewish perspective. Walter Brueggemann’s “Sabbath as Resistance” explores Sabbath-keeping as an alternative to our prevailing culture. And Marva Dawn’s “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting”, provides practical considerations, especially given that observing a day of rest in our culture is decidedly counter-cultural, and so it requires intention and practice.
Many have observed that – like it or not – the pandemic has brought us into a Sabbath-keeping time. I’m of the mind that observing a holy Sabbath is something I want to choose to do – to do it with intention, and with care and (most of all) with joy. I first learned about the joy of the Sabbath when I lived in Israel where everything pretty much stops from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. But no one sees this as an imposition; no one complains about not being able to check email, or to go into work for a few hours, or to go shopping. in fact, the Sabbath is anticipated with longing and with joy. Friday evening Shabbat services are filled with palpable joy. On Saturday, no one feels guilty for taking a nap, for reading quietly for a couple of hours, or for sitting at the dinner table and not worrying about doing the dishes. (As a side note, during my growing up years in Ft. Worth, Sundays were pretty much like this!)
So, here’s where my pondering has led me.
And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)
As Walter Brueggemann puts it: “God declared a work stoppage!” There is so much wrapped up in this for me, but some key ideas are: one day a week, I need to just stop and let God bless the day. I need to cease trying to be productive or trying to accomplish something. I need to set aside the to-do list.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Also, I need to rest. I give myself permission to take a nap on Sunday afternoons. I give myself permission to go for a walk that is not an “exercise” walk. I sit on my back porch and listen to the birds. Marva Dawn writes: “The movement from ceasing to resting is the movement from idolatry to faith.” My aim is to make my Sabbath a day that nourishes and strengthens my faith.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
One of the biggest “aha’s” I’ve had recently is challenging myself to think about what I consume on Sundays – and I don’t mean in the way of food. Of course I yearn for the day, as we all do, when we can worship together again. But in the meantime, we still have a wonderful “spread” of spiritual food in liturgy that comes right into our homes. I’m sorry to admit that early on, I did not value it enough because it wasn’t like church as I wanted it to be. I’ve been so stubborn! It’s taken me some weeks to find my way into the virtual experience. But now, I’m absolutely resolved to take it seriously and fully participate in church.
In all this, I’m mindful that the task is to be intentional, but not rigid. As Jesus reminded his followers: “the Sabbath is made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” Not to be burdened by rules, but rather to imagine what my life looks like when I’m most fully alive. Surely it is good for us to spend one day week being fully alive. What can I do on the Sabbath that is an authentic expression of who I am, living fully and faithfully?
I am confident that on some Sunday in the future, we will find ourselves again in the sanctuary at St. David’s – to pray and sing, to laugh and cry, and (hopefully) hug each other. And when we stand and say to each other “The peace of Christ be with you” – well, I hope we truly, sincerely, and intentionally wish the “Shalom” of the Sabbath to one another In joy and in gratitude for this wonderful gift of the Sabbath.
In the meantime, I plan to continue to find ways to keep the Sabbath: to rest, to feast on music and scripture and sermon, to call a friend, to take a walk, and to let the Sabbath carry me deeply into the heart and purposes of God.
- Of Rocks, the Bible, and Other Sacred Things
By Ellen Jockusch
The highlight of my summer, from when I was age 9 to 17, was spending a week at Camp Capers, the camp of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. It’s hard to overstate how excited I was as it got closer to the date my parents would drive me to Capers—how I relished every stage of getting ready, how I couldn’t wait to meet my counselor and fellow campers and settle into my cabin. Pure anticipation, pure joy.
In the summer of 1961 when I was getting ready for my first session at Capers, I was upstairs in my childhood home, studying the what-to-bring list that had been mailed to me by the camp. In addition to the usual summer clothes, bathing suit, and sunscreen specified on the packing list was an item that stood out to me—a bible. With feverish excitement, I called out to my mother downstairs, “Mama, I need to bring a BIBLE!” Wondering whether I was supposed to bring an RSV, King James, or Phillips, she hollered back up the stairs, “What KIND of bible?”—at which I yelled back with triumphant certainty, “THE HOLY BIBLE!”
I tell this story because in this time of upheaval and uncertainty, I experience God’s presence through objects that are sacred to me. In addition to an assortment of bibles, my sacred objects include a Book of Common Prayer which belonged to my mother—the blank pages dotted with scribbles of psalms and prayers that were especially meaningful to her—and a 1940 Hymnal which rested on our piano in my childhood home. On the wall by my desk is a wooden cross, carved in relief, that was my craft project at Camp Capers when I was 12. I love looking at this cross because it reminds me of the unconditional love and the beauty of creation that I soaked up summer after summer at camp. And then there are rocks of various shapes, sizes, and colors that I gathered on the beach of the Bay of New Beginnings on the Isle of Iona, itself a sacred place. When I look at the rocks, I recollect that the present moment is infused with the mystery of the eternal: how long did these rocks tumble under the surface of the water, being polished smooth?; how many more are there, some day to be washed up on the beach? It will be in God’s time, not ours, of that I’m sure.
I’m always moved in the liturgy of Holy Baptism when the priest, with a touch of consecrated oil, gently marks the forehead of the newly baptized with the sign of the cross and declares, as my priest did with me some 67 years ago, “Ellen, you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
When I feel afraid or disoriented by the Pandemic or by the current crisis of leadership and institutions in our country, I remind myself about who I am—a child of God—and that I belong to Christ, marked as his own for ever. I steady myself by meditating on scripture, by praying a psalm, or by contemplating my beautiful collection of rocks. I gaze on that carved wooden cross, and I ask Jesus to help me seek and serve his Body on earth, even in this uncertain and restricted time we now find ourselves.
What are your sacred objects? If you don’t think you have any, ask the Holy Spirit to help you create or find them. Keep them close, make them a part of your day, and above all pray for the healing of the world.
- Wise Action Springs from Prayer
These are days of collective outrage and mourning. Deathly injustices and waves of protests across the country have jolted us. We grieve with those who grieve the killing of George Floyd. We say the names of those who have died as a result of systematic racism and police brutality. We yearn for real change. Our minds and hearts are disturbed by the ongoing injustice and the current unrest. We sit with an uneasy feeling deep in our guts. We ask, ‘How long Dear Lord?’. Our social media feeds are filled with friends and family members stepping up, speaking out, and shaping change. The fierce urgency of now compels us to act. Thus, we ask, ‘What shall we do?’ In the lament we carry for our country, we desperately want to act. Let us not forget that wise action springs from prayer. We need the wisdom that contemplative practice brings to the world, and we appreciate the teaching of St. David’s own Gus Hernandez at this time.
The Abbey staff and editors
Anchoring to Love
By Gustavo Hernandez
Sitting in meditation requires a fundamental condition: sincerity. There is no point in bringing postures, stories or pretenses when having a quiet time with God. Whatever is going on in your heart, She already knows. God sees us just as we are, with all our complexities and contradictions. Sincerity is the starting point for this relationship.
Recent events are demanding from us a great deal of reflection. Living in the middle of a pandemic, and witnessing once again the brutality of racism, we are challenged to cope with truths about ourselves and the societies we live in.
First, we were forced to recognize that which is essential: caregivers, nurses, doctors, food providers, teachers, garbage collectors. We can’t function as a society without them, the fruit of their labor is essential. At the same time, the pandemic had exacerbated what had become well accepted economic inequalities. Long lines at food banks in American cities. People dropping dead while still going to work in poorer countries. The economic systems we built are deeply rooted in inequality, and we are being challenged to face it.
And now recently, once again we need to cope with the violence of systemic racism, the anger of people of color at societies’ long indifference, and the resounding feeling of helplessness with a system unwilling and unable to change.
It is my belief that it is the destiny of our individual and collective a journey to reach full communion with The Creator. To move along this journey, we must remove all the barriers which keep us from reflecting our true selves. This is the daily work of not letting the ego define us for much less than what we really are. Thomas Merton, in his 1949 book Seeds of Contemplation speaks about our true nature:
“To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.”
And so in the middle of all the chaos, anxiety, fear and anger, the contemplatives return to their practice to anchor themselves again and again to their true nature of Love.
If you don’t have a practice yet, this is a good time to start with a very simple one. Early in the morning, before you start your earthly to do list, take care of a heavenly one. Sit still in a quiet place for 3 minutes. Start each practice with an open heart, and to the best of your ability, with absolute sincerity. Return to your practice each day. Paraphrasing James Finley, make this your “daily rendezvous with God, where the only agenda is Love.”
The point is that the world needs you to anchor yourself in your spiritual practice, and with utmost sincerity recognize our flaws and shortcomings, but also our possibilities, and oneness as children built in the same divine image. Remember spiritual practice is necessary but is not a destination. From spiritual practice we are called to spiritual doing, and to do the work of healing in this world.