Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The bishop and the cyclist

 I must say that Monday morning's news provided a very rude awakening.

The Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, one Heather Cook, was said to have been the driver of the car which killed a bicyclist in the Roland Park section of Baltimore, MD on Saturday afternoon.

The deceased man, Tom Palermo, a 41 year old married father of two young children, was an avid cyclist, apparently out for a mid afternoon 'recreational ride'.

Apparently, the bishop left the scene of the accident - some say for 20 minutes, others say 45 minutes - but did return to "take responsibility for her actions."

Some reports say her car was weaving in traffic before she hit the cyclist. Other reports say she was texting. Still other reports say that the only reason she returned to the accident was because several other cyclists followed her to her home.

In 2010, while working as a priest for the Bishop of Easton, MD, Bishop Cook was charged with a DUI, her Breathalyzer test was .27 (legal limit in Maryland is .08) and she had drug paraphernalia in the car. She received "probation before judgment," went to rehab and eventually returned to work.

She was vigorously and fully vetted by the Diocese of Maryland before she was elected. 

Thus far, there is absolutely no reported evidence of alcohol or drug use by the bishop in this fatality.

Let me say that again: Thus far, there is absolutely no reported evidence of alcohol or drug use by the bishop in this fatality. There may be evidence to the contrary, but so far, nothing has been reported. The investigation is on-going, including blood analysis and computer generated reconstruction of the accident.

I say that because as stunning as this news story is, I have been absolutely sickened by the comments left on social media sites. By Episcopalians. Who are Christian.  Laity and ordained.

The conjecture and supposition, presumption and assumption - not to mention abundant evidence of very active imaginations - have been second only to the mean-spirit in which they are written.

It also doesn't help that the picture of Bishop Cook that is making its way around the internet is the one at her consecration, where she is at the altar in front of many carafes of wine.

Le sigh. 

Years ago, a woman in recovery and I were discussing sexism in the church and she said, "Honey, I have no doubt that you've had a rough time as a woman in this church, but you haven't seen the ugly side of sexism and misogyny until you've seen how women who are alcoholic are treated - even in 12-Step Programs. Men who are drunks are seen as pathetic people who need shelter and some help. Women who are drunks are disgusting, are shown no mercy and sent to jail."

I've thought of that conversation often as I've read headlines which scream things like, "First Woman Bishop Kills Doting Father of Two." And, "Bishop with previous DUI kills Cyclist."

Misogyny coupled with anti-clericalism is a pretty ugly sight to behold, no matter how subtle.

It's been simply awful. All of it. All.Of.It.

So, let us be very clear here:

Leaving the scene of an accident is a felony. 


Whatever else she did or didn't do, she has admitted to leaving the scene of an accident. Doesn't matter that she returned. She left. She is already a felon awaiting conviction. 

Whether or not she will also be charged and convicted with vehicular homicide (pending the results of the investigation), she was directly involved with the death of a young man with young children. 

Nothing changes that. 

She will have to live with that fact for the rest of her life. If your imagination needs some exercise, try to imagine that for yourself.

The record reflects that, since her ordination in 1987, she has been a good priest with lots of skills and talents, creativity and imagination - good enough to be elected as Bishop Suffragan despite being thoroughly and vigorously vetted by the diocese.

I can't imagine the personal, spiritual and psychological hell she (and her family) must be going through, knowing that her actions resulted in the death of another human being (My God!), knowing she's probably going to go to jail (Sweet Jesus!), will probably be asked to resign as bishop and just may, in fact, lose her orders (Come, Holy Spirit!).

I also can't imagine the unbearable grief the deceased man's family must be feeling. I hope and pray they are getting the spiritual, emotional and psychological support they need at this time. 

My prayers are with the Palermo family - including a wife and two children - as well as prayers for compassion for Bishop Cook, which must be provided side by side with accountability and forgiveness. 

Now - right now, in these dark days - is time for the community to gather and rally and provide help and support for both of these families, for whom - in the twinkling of an eye and the gentle beat of the human heart - life was changed and transformed and will never again be the same. 

It's just so tragic, on so many levels, for so many people. 

No one comes out a winner in these situations.

So, why the mean-spirit and conjecture and 'trial by media'?

 I don't get it.

Not for Christians. 

Not for Episcopalians.

What a huge test of our baptismal promises - especially "striving for justice AND peace among ALL people" and "respecting the dignity of EVERY human being" - which includes the deceased and the bishop. 

Suddenly, those promises don't sound quite so rote or simple, do they?

And, the Anglican Via Media (Middle Way) seems a dangerous place to be, doesn't it? There you are, right out there in the middle of the road.  Neither left nor right, passenger or passing, nor in the cyclist lane. Nope. Right smack in the middle.

In the days and weeks ahead, as evidence is examined and the slow, creaking wheels of the justice system work their way to find The Truth and judgement is rendered, let us strive to keep in mind our baptismal vows. 

Because, the truth is, it is for times such as these that they were written.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Preaching from a prepared heart.

I'm not going to even try to reprint my Christmas Day sermon here, which I preached from the center aisle without a single note in front of me.  I talked about angels I have heard on . . . um, low  . . . who still sang "Gloria" in the very presence of The Incarnation.

Suffice it to say, it was a labor of love. It took hours to prepare. Hours and hours and hours.

I've been doing this now, off and on, for about a year. The folks at St. Paul's, Georgetown, DE have been my inspiration and I owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

Oh, I've tried it, from time to time, over the years. But, I've really been attempting serious application of this theory on Sunday and major holidays.

Here's some of the things I've learned:

First, this is not as easy as it looks. Seriously.

And, let me tell you from first hand experience, it's not for sissies. 

It's so waaaay beyond a simple memorization of the text it is mind-boggling.

You have to let go of any notion of "perfection", which is really an illusion anyway, even with a prepared text in front of you.

Once that's established, you have to be comfortable enough with imperfection to invite people in to find the humor in the absurdity of life. Because, I mean, what you are attempting to do is smack-dab in the midst of the Realm of The Absurd.

It begins with the fact that, as Episcopalians and Anglicans, we are people of Word and Sacrament.

Let me "rinse and repeat": That's Word (as in Scripture) AND Sacrament (as in Eucharist).

It's a balance.

The task of the preacher is to break open the Word so that the people of God may be nourished in the same way that the Sacrament of Eucharist feeds the people of God to go forth and do the work of The Word - the mission of the Church - the Good News of The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

At least, that's the way I was taught. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

I was also taught that one ought to strive to make The Breaking Open of The Word no longer than The Breaking Open of The Bread. So, 10-15 minutes tops. Which is - generally (ahem) - no problem, if one is reading from a manuscript and reading the Eucharistic Prayer from the BCP.

However, if one is "preaching from a prepared heart", the almost irresistible seduction in hearing the sound of one's own voice and connecting visually with the eyes and faces of others is to . . . well, to put it kindly . . . wander.

It takes enormous discipline to preach without a manuscript, precisely because one can be tempted to cover one's insecurities by wandering off into a piece of church history or tradition or scripture or a pity story from one's own life experience or someone else's in which one feels positively confident and can "show off" a bit by imparting one's knowledge to the unsuspecting masses who have not had the time, money or inclination to afford a seminary education.

Or, the luxury of time to be actually paid to reflect on these things. 

It is a temptation which should be resisted with every ounce of once's being - whether or not one is preaching from a manuscript in the pulpit or from a prepared heart in the center aisle. 

It also helps to have a story to tell.

I mean, Jesus did it all the time.

Telling a story - especially one that has actually happened to you and has been, in some way, transformative - is, in my admittedly not-so-humble opinion and admittedly neophyte position, the heart of a sermon which is preached from a prepared heart.

There is something additionally transformative for the preacher in telling the story and watching the transformation - or, at least, reaction / response - on some of the faces of some of the members of the congregation.

In that moment, the presence of the Spirit is palpable. By that I mean that one can actually, really, honestly and seriously feel the presence of The Spirit - Ruach, Shekinah - in the room.

The feeling can range from feeling as prickly as electricity in the air or as comforting as an old, warm, tattered sweater.

In that particular moment - for me, anyway - I absolutely do not remember what I've said. It's scary and wonderful and mystical - to be in control of so many things about preaching and yet completely surrendered to and trusting in The Spirit.

And then, there's the whole point of the sermon.

Fail #1: Give good advice instead of Good News
The point - the ONE IMPORTANT THING - you are trying to say and have tried to illustrate with your sermon. It's important, at the end of your sermon, to state how you think your story has made your point.  And, to make it with passion and clarity and in a way that allows people to have something to take home and think about. - even if they disagree with you. 

This is the "one, two, three" of your one sermon point which you make without actually saying "one, two, three". And, saying it with conviction and passion - or, at least, some sense of urgency.

Because, you know, if you don't think what you've just said is important, I mean, why bother?

So, I just want to say that I'm no where near as "polished" as I want to be about this.

I am still practicing, practicing, practicing and I am beginning to feel some improvement. Sort of like the point a musician reaches when she has moved from scales and a halting rendition of "Heart and Soul" to her first recital when she hasn't actually "nailed it" but she hasn't embarrassed herself, either.

Or a sculptor or painter or musician who has had a public viewing of his work and, perhaps, received an inquiry about the purchase of his piece. Not a sale, actually, perhaps. The inquiry is enough.

I've been practicing the art and science of priesthood for almost 29 years.

What I've discovered is that I still have so much to learn.

I'm not blowing smoke here.

This is my truth.

I am so grateful for the folks who have tolerated me and been so patient with me for so long over all these many years.  I'm so blessed to have known so many generous Christians who are kind and compassionate. You have taught me so much. I hope I've been a good student.

I'm also thankful for those of you who have been my sharpest critics. You have also taught me things I never would have learned any other way.

Here's the thing: When done well, whether using a manuscript or preaching from a prepared heart, preachers always fly with The Holy Spirit.

As one Hospice patient said to me recently, "Honey, it's not how you come to church, it's how you leave it that matters."

If the preacher and presider isn't transformed, how can we expect anyone else to have that experience? And, if not, why bother coming to church in the first place?

Suffice it to say, - preached from a manuscript from the pulpit or preached without a note from the center aisle - a sermon is a labor of love.

At least, that's what it is for me.

Your actual mileage may vary. 

For me, it's all about "nourish(ing) Christ's people from the riches of God's grace, and strenghten(ing) them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come." Just as it says in the vows a priest makes at ordination (BCP 531)

That's not about "fast food". That's about substance.

No matter  from the pulpit or center aisle.

But always, always, always, from a prepared heart.

Because we are people of Word and Sacrament.

And, the Eucharist is the sacrifice of thanksgiving and the sermon is a labor of Love.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

If nuns ruled the world

Convent St. John Baptist, Mendham, NJ
An unplanned trip to New Jersey to attend the funeral of a dear friend and colleague who died suddenly and unexpectedly brought with it an equally unplanned and unexpected reconnection with everything I love about nuns.

In my frenetic attempts to move my schedule around so I could attend the funeral, I called a few friends to ask for lodging only to find that they were out of town or otherwise unavailable. At the very last minute, I placed a called to my friends who are Sisters of Convent St. John Baptist in Mendham, NJ, and was, of course, provided with unconditional welcome and genuine hospitality.

Note: For a history of CSJB in pictures and Anglican Chant, visit this page.

I've spent a fair amount of time as a child and an adult in convents and monasteries. Several of my aunts were Roman Catholic nuns. My longest running anamchara ("spiritual director /adviser") have been with nuns and monks. Convents and monasteries are my natural default place for retreats.

What I saw and experienced during that overnight stay at CSJB reminded me of what the world would be like if nuns ran the world.

First, there would be signs everywhere. In a convent, one doesn't ever have to wonder where to find what. Just look for a sign - most likely it will be impeccably lettered in Old English Script - and, lest there be any doubt or confusion, accompanied by an arrow drawn in bold, black ink.

If one of the conference rooms is in use, there will be a sign on the door that informs you of that status. However, do not look for a sign that says "Do Not Disturb" or "Room in Use". Rather, the sign will read, "Engaged." Well, it will in an Anglican convent, anyway.

The Cloister Walk - CSJB
Which brings me to the second thing you might expect if nuns ruled the world: Subtlety.

Yes, a room will be "engaged," but that will be the first of several encounters with moments when you'll find yourself scratching your head and asking yourself, "Wait. What?"

Like, the sign that greets you as you enter the building. It goes on for a few short paragraphs about welcoming you to this "quiet space" of "prayer" and "spirituality". About half way through reading it, you suddenly get its real message: "This is a convent, bozo. Quiet."

Actually, except in Rare circumstances - during a special occasion or feast day -  the normal "conversational" level requires you not only to use your "inside voice" but to use it at a level which is just a notch below conversation and about half a notch above a whisper.

Which, at one point, makes you wonder what the world would be like if everyone talked to each other in this way. Because, you know, it requires a conscious shift and an investment of a bit of energy. So, you find yourself actually THINKING before you speak.

Not a bad discipline, all in all.

There are also signs which tell you about "The Great Silence". These, too, are beautifully lettered with a picture of a monk sitting in contemplation. The Great Silence begins just after Compline - the final Office of the Day - and ends at around 10 AM.

This means that, every day, day in and day out, one eats one's breakfast in silence. Which is an experience one absolutely must have before one dies.

No, seriously. Put it on your bucket list. One can have some pretty amazing thoughts surrounded by the "silence" of toasters popping and milk being poured, cereal being crunched and plates and utensils being selected and/or dropped on the table or floor.

There are also no "unnecessary conversations" which take place during The Great Silence.

Unless, of course, you pull someone into a conference room, slap a sign on the door that says, "Engaged" and then speak at The Decibel of Nun.

I particularly loved the sign on the bed in my "cell". Stop. Wait a minute. Let me say this first:

Everywhere else, one might have a "room" for the night. In a convent, one has a "cell". Which is numbered. And, contains all things necessary for a life of simplicity and contemplation and prayer: A single bed. A bedside table. A lamp. A set of towels. A single bureau - the bottom drawer of which contains an extra set of bed linens and towels. A chair. A side table. A small glass for water. A BCP and a Bible.

Who could ask for anything more?

Bathroom and showers? Down the hall to your left. Communal, of course.

So, the sign on the bed was a prayer. Well, that's what it seemed, anyway. It actually called on the reader to ask God to bless the hands that had prepared the bed for me and to bless my hands as I made the bed for the next person, just as God had prepared a manger for His Son . . .. ".

And, then, I burst out in a bona fide muffled nun's giggle as the thought slowly crept into my brain that I was being asked to strip the bed linens in the morning and remake the bed with the bed linens in the bottom drawer of the bureau and replace the towels. All in the form of a prayer.

Isn't that just the BEST?!?!

Where to put the "dirty bed linen"? Not to worry. There's a sign for that. In the communal bathroom. Down the hall and to the left. It's on the wall. With an arrow. At the end of the bathroom, near the window. Clearly marked: Dirty laundry.

Winter at CSJB
That's the only place one will find the airing of 'dirty laundry' at the convent.

In a convent, there are things for sale, of course. Religious tchotchke. Mostly work of the nun's hands and hearts, minds and missions.

There's a book of reflections on religious pilgrimage written by one of the nuns and a collection of recipes from the convent kitchen. There's also the "Nun Better" shop with all sorts and manner of craft items like refrigerator magnets and T-shirts and prayer cards, etc.

The thing of it is, everything operates on the honor system. There's a little wooden box where one can place one's cash or checks for the item purchased. I suppose one could also just help oneself and not leave any money. As my Grandmother would say, "That's on your soul."

Time in a convent is different than any place else. It follows the rhythm of prayer and is measured by the sound of a bell which calls the community to prayer.

The monastic Daily Office - specifically, Lauds, Terce, Sext, Vesters and Compline - is offered along with Daily Eucharist.  I confess that I love the sound of monastic women's voices in prayer: high, thin, humble, intentional and yet strong and clear.  The feathery light sound of the voices of nuns singing a capella or in proper Anglican Chant always brings an inexplicable measure of solace into my heart and soul, mind and body. 

There is something about the way that Anglican nuns and monks pass The Peace that just makes me want to giggle and break their rules.  You'd have to have experienced it to understand - I know I'm not going to explain it so you can get the correct visual, but here goes:

The arms are extended and somewhat locked at the elbows. The palms of the hands are turned slightly outward to receive your hands into them.  You smile and say, "The Peace of God" or, if that is said unto you, you respond with a smile and say, "And also with you."

The message is clear: No unnecessary or unseemly body contact here. This is the Peace of God we're passing here. Not a heathen love fest, for goodness sake! And, no unnecessary conversation because, well, there are no 'particular friendships' either.

It's The Celebration of Eucharistic, not Intermission. Time to give thanks to God. Be in the moment. Fully present. Not about what happened last week or will happen next week.

That said, I could barely contain my joy in seeing some of the sisters again in what has to have been four or five years. I did fairly well until I saw one of the nuns whose presence always makes me smile. So, what was to be done except to break rank, run past the barricade of proper prayer stalls, and run over to her open arms and smiling face for a warm, long hug? I was vaguely aware of some soft giggles around me, and I knew it was all alright.

I soon realized, however, that the proper time of The Passing of the Peace had come to an end and I started a 'quick-walk-almost-run' back to my seat when I heard the Sister who was officiating say the Offertory Sentence - in a tone and volume well above The Decibel of Nun:  "WALK.... WALK... WALK . . . in love as Christ loved us . . . .".

As I froze dead in my tracts I simultaneously heard the soft giggle of the nuns in response.

Jenny - The CSJB Dog
Nun humor.  It's subtle and thoroughly authentic, sounding for all the world as if coming from a place that has struggled with the absurdities of life and come out on the other side with a full intact and operational sense of humor that passes all human understanding. 

So much about Convent life doesn't ever seem to change, and yet, of course, it does. Some of the sisters have left the order while others have passed on to greater glory.

So, too, have some of the pets, like Petie, the beloved Convent Boarder Collie. Pony is still there, however, and Jenny, the Blessed Wonder Mutt has taken up residence with the sisters, and is winning hearts if not souls for Christ in her own delightful way.  Yes, she, like Petie, is also black and white. Just like the habits of the nuns.

I notice that none of the nuns wears her veil these days. When I first started going to CSJB in the early 90s, not one of them dared not wear her veil. No, not one.

That was mostly due to then Mother Superior, Margaret Helena, who was fairly strict, no nonsense, old school kinda nun. I remember once, presiding and preaching at the chapel one day, mid week. Mother, who was ancient of days, very ill and confined to wheelchair at the time, said she really enjoyed my sermon and asked if I would please return. I thanked her and said I would be coming back on the Feast of St. David.

"The first of March, is it, then?" she asked.

"Yes," said I all young and full of myself, adding, "Well done."

"Yes," said Mother Margaret Helena, who looked up at me from her crumpled self in the wheelchair, her veil slipped down to her eyebrows. She fixed her steely gray ancient eyes on a spot in the middle of my eyes which went straight to my soul and said, "and, never test me like that again."

I never did.  I knew what was good for me.

I also remember one of the younger nuns advocating for the optional use of the veil. She screwed up her courage one day after supper and asked, "Mother, what would you think if the sisters came to chapel and were not wearing their veil?"

Mother thought for a long moment and said, "I would think something had changed."

Thus commenced The Gradual Dispensation of the Wearing of the Veil. 

Nuns. If they ruled the world there would be more order. Our days would be marked by the call to and  rhythm of prayer.  Voices would be lower, conversations more pleasant, and everything would have a place and there would be a place for everything, and a sign would help you find it.

If nuns ruled the world, an appreciation for subtlety would be the characteristic, defining feature of life.  That and subtle, authentic humor which would find appreciative expression in the art of the giggle. The Decibel of Nun would mark the sounds of life.

If nuns ruled the world no one would be bored or exclaim, "But, there' s nothing for me to do!" Everyone would be expected to contribute to the life of the community - baking, cleaning, sewing, leading retreats, teaching, evangelizing, making music, visiting the sick, working in a parish or community agency, making arts and crafts for sale, etc, etc, etc. 

If nuns ruled the world, one would actually have to think before one speaks. You know. Engage the brain before opening the mouth. How great would THAT be?

If nuns ruled the world the contemplative life would not be a luxury for the elite which provides introspection as a place to camouflage neurosis or self-absorption or narcissism. Not for long, anyway. Every nun is expected to have an apostolate - a way to offer her life in mission.

One does not join a convent to escape from the world but to be prepared to more fully engage the world.

I was once privileged to preside over a week- long retreat during Holy Week for the sisters of CSJB. At the end of it I thought to make a T-Shirt that read: "Convent life at CSJB. Do not try this at home."

It ain't for sissies, that's for sure. 

Change does not come easily for nuns but when it does come it is fully embraced and becomes part of the seamless fabric of life.

If nuns ruled the world, the world would be a better place.

Not perfect, God knows.

Because then, we wouldn't need nuns.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Christmas joy: God knows

God knows, I needed a little Christmas joy today.

Besides trying to stay ahead of the coastal flooding and the high winds today, I also witnessed the official beginning of the Holiday Crazies.

The husband of one patient pulled out a gun while the CNA was there. The wife of another patient thought that if she could just get her dying husband to the hospital for another dialysis treatment, he'd "snap out of it" and "be okay". She didn't want me to come for a visit because "that will send a message to God that I've given up and I haven't". I didn't go to see him. He didn't go to dialysis. He died 45 minutes later. So much for the efficacy of "magic thinking".

Another patient and her daughter had a huge argument and her daughter threatened to throw her out of the house. Because, you know, it's just a few weeks away from Christmas and she's dying. Then, there was the patient who is actively dying and her caregiver called to ask if I would come over because her nieces and nephews were at the house, fighting over her jewelry, so they would have some "awesome presents to give away". 

And, finally, at the end of the day, another of my patients died, at the age of 58, leaving her 10 adult children - from three different husbands - and their various children and significant others in an old Victorian house with no central heat and falling down walls to continue their long tradition of fighting with each other over the crumbs that their mother had left them.

Please don't talk to me about "Holly Jolly Christmas" or having a "Merry Little Christmas".  I'm convinced it's part of what gives us the "Holiday Crazies".

I have come to know that when I concentrate, instead, on the spiritual discipline of JOY, then my "Christmas Spirit" is just fine, thank you very much, no matter what else is going on in my life.

So, allow me to pass along some of my thoughts on the subject, which you are free to consider and adapt for your own personal use. Admittedly, it's my own "magical thinking,' but it works for me. I hope it might work for you.

Joy, I think, is different from happiness, or being merry. Happiness and merriment are human emotion. Joy, I think, is a state of spiritual being.

Joy requires the spiritual discipline of contemplation. It demands that I change my perspective - stop looking at my life and the world in the same way. It also asks that I consider the gifts God has given me. Well, okay, yes, it is about "counting your blessings, naming them one by one." But, it's deeper than that. Much deeper.

Finding joy at Christmas means that you know - not just in your head but in every fiber in your body - that God knows.

God knows what it is like to be human because God was once human.

God knows what it's like to have loved and lost.

God knows what it's like to have been betrayed.

God knows what it's like to grieve a loss.

God knows what it's like to suffer.

God knows what it's like to be alone and scared.

God knows what it's like to hunger and thirst.

God knows.

Because God was in Jesus and Jesus was in God.

God is with us always.

When we focus on the spiritual gifts we receive because of the Incarnation, we may feel lonely but are never alone.

We may, in fact, be sad, but, oddly enough, we will know joy.

We may be acutely aware of our losses, our emptiness, but we'll be "filled with good things". 

We may not understand why things happened, but we will be able to "hold them all in our heart".

We may feel weak and vulnerable but we will also know that the strong arm of God is always there to defend and protect us.  

We may fear rejection or betrayal, but we will also find unconditional acceptance and love.

We may feel approaching despair, but we will also know that hope is never far from us. It is as close as our next breath, if we are intentional. 

It takes discipline, spiritual discipline, to hold these feelings and emotions in tension with the gifts we receive in the Incarnation.

God knows, it's not easy. It takes work. Intention. Focus. Discipline.

But, when Christmas morning comes and you sing, "Joy to the World," you will sing it from a place of truth in you.

Because, as the rest of the words go, "... the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King."

Joy can be found in that place where heaven and earth meet and sing and rejoice.

The magic of Christmas will be that you may, in fact, feel sad in your heart, but you will feel joy in your soul.

Because the real miracle of Christmas is the Incarnation. Emmanuel. God with us. For us. In us.

At least, that's what works for me.

And, God knows, I needed some Christmas joy today.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Lessons in Hospice Ministry: Part II

So, we have another new Hospice patient on service. Admitted over the week end. I've been trying to get an appointment with him and his wife to admit him to pastoral care service.

I talked with his wife on Monday. She was feeling pretty overwhelmed which is fairly normal when people are first admitted. There's so much adjustment: the reality of the diagnosis, all the staff from all the various disciplines calling and setting up appointments, the delivery of equipment - oxygen tanks and compressors and plastic tubing, walker, bedside commode/urinal, shower chair, hospital bed - and rearranging furniture to make it all fit.

Did I mention the part about the reality of the diagnosis? 

She asked me to come on Tuesday, after her husband returned from dialysis, but asked me if I would pray with her on the phone. Which, of course, I did. I'm actually getting pretty good at it, for someone with an acute addiction to the beauty of the language in the BCP.

On Tuesday morning at 8:15, she called me again to say that her husband comes home from dialysis "really wiped out" and could we reschedule for Wednesday? Sure, no problem, said I. She asked again for prayers.

So, I prayed my little heart out. Right there on the phone, in front of God and Matt Lauer on mute and without a BCP in sight. That was even before my second cup of coffee.

Today, right after IDT (Interdisciplinary Team Meeting which happens every two weeks), I called to confirm our appointment at 2 PM.

This is that conversation:

Me: Hi, it's Chaplain Elizabeth, just confirming our appointment for 2 o'clock.

Wife: Well, um . ..  I don't know . . .

Me: Is everything okay?

Wife: Well, you know .... it's like this: I don't rightly know if your coming will make a difference.

Me: How do you mean?

Wife: Well, the last time he was in the hospital, about 3 weeks ago, you know, before this last time? Well, the hospital chaplain came by - she was a very nice lady - and, well, he got saved. You know?

Me: He was baptized?

Wife: Well.... yeah, I guess. I dunno, actually. He got SAVED, you know?

Me: I see. Sooooo . . . I'm not sure . . . .

Wife: Well, OBVIOUSLY!  It didn't work

Me: I'm sorry. I don't think I understand . . .

Wife: Well, she supposedly SAVED him, right? And it wasn't 10 days and he was back in the hospital and now, he's worse! Now, he's on hospice. So, he wasn't saved. Not. At. All.

Me: I . ..  umm . . . I . . .

Wife: And, you know, she was a HOSPITAL chaplain and she couldn't save him. You're a HOSPICE chaplain! I mean, how are YOU supposed to save him?

Me: I ..  . umm . . . well, you see . . . um . . . I .... I mean 'we' .... we don't actually do the saving. See? No one does the saving. That's Jesus. Jesus is the Savior. Not the chaplain. Not me. I'm just the vehicle. Jesus is, well, the driver. See? But . . . even then . . . that's not really what it means . . .'to be saved'. It's . . . . .

Wife: Well, now . . . Really? . . . . .What in the hell good is THAT?

           Looooong pause. Obviously waiting for an answer.

Me: I . . . ummm . . . well . . . I think we're talking about two different things, here.

Wife: No . . . no . . . no, we're not. We are talking about him being saved. I stood right there at my husband's hospital bed and she said, "You will not die forever." FOREVER! She said. And, she said it like she meant it. And, I believed her. So did my husband.

And, if that nice HOSPITAL chaplain couldn't save him, what in the hell good are YOU - a HOSPICE chaplain - gonna be able to do? Nothin', that's what! He's gonna DIE. I know that now.

They were talking at the dialysis center about not doing the treatments anymore. Because, you know, he's on HOSPICE. So, there's not a single thing in the world you can do to save him.

Me: The doctor and nurses at the dialysis center said they were going to stop dialysis?

Wife: Nooooo! (As if I were a Very Stupid Person). The lady in the waiting room said that.

Me: And, so.... she was.... a doctor or a nurse or a technician?

Wife: Nooooo! (Now convinced not only of my impotence but my incompetence). She was a lady in the waiting room, I said. Been coming there for years. She told me that, once you're on hospice, they stop doing dialysis.

Me: Well, actually, I think, until you hear that from your doctor . . ..

Wife: Look, I know. I got it. He's gonna DIE! So, there's no sense you coming 'round to save him because it won't work. You or Jesus or whoever it is who promises to save you and then, when you really need them, it's all 'well, that's not really what it means".

(I had a flash of a line from the movie, Princess Bride. You know. When Vizzini keeps saying, "Inconceivable! And Inigo Montoya says, "I don't think you mean what you think you mean." It gave me a momentary silent chuckle, which my soul desperately needed at that particular point in time.)

Wife: It's a joke! Except, it ain't funny! You guys are a joke! It ain't funny!

You know what I'd do, if I were you?

Me: No, what?

Wife: I'd quit!

Me: Quit?

Wife: Yes. I'd quit working for that Jesus, 'The Savior', cuz he makes promises he can't keep.

Me: Yes . . . well . . . I . . .

Wife: And, you should never make promises you don't know you can keep.

Me: Yes. . ..  well . . . . I

Wife: So, have a nice day. Or a blessed day. Or whatever it is you 'nice' people say to each other. Because, you know, I knew there was a reason I don't like nice people. Can't trust them. No, sir. They say nice things to you and make you promises and then you find out it's all a Big. Fat. Lie.

My husband is gonna DIE. . . . You can't save him.. . . . Jesus can't save him.  . . . .

(Barely audible whisper) . ..  I can't save him. 


So, then, a few things:
+ Watch your language. Really. Some people take you at your word. Literally.
+ Never make a promise you don't know you can keep.

+ Everyone's gotta have a hook on which to hang their anger. (P.S. Clergy make great 'hooks'. )
+ Security is an illusion.
+ The Beatles were wrong. If 'love is all you need', we'd all live forever. Here.
+ When you are standing (or, talking on the phone) with someone who is peering into The Abyss, having a sense of The Absurd is important. Having a sense of humor is absolutely essential. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut is critical.
+ You're not as smart as you might think you are. You're not as dumb as others might think you are.
+ Hospice is not for sissies.  
Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering: I haven't written my letter of resignation to Jesus.

Not today, anyway. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Contemporary Mystics

 Shortly before I began to discern my sexual orientation, I had a dream.

I don't know what the dream was. I don't remember a thing about it. I just woke up remembering that I had had an amazing dream.

As I pushed myself through the thick fog between the Land of Sleep and the Land of Awake,  the first words that came to me were these: "Every man I've ever truly loved has been married, gay or dead."

When I reported that dream to my therapist, she was pensive for a few, long uncomfortably silent moments and said, "Well, at least these men are safe, right?"

I'm not so sure. 

There are two such men who are, for me, contemporary mystics: Howard Thurman and Jack Spong.  I love them both. Indeed, I have been taking them to my bed every night.

Howard Thurman (November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981) was an influential African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was Dean of Chapel at Howard University and Boston University for more than two decades, wrote 21 books, and in 1944 helped found a multicultural church. Thurman was married twice. He had two children.

I first fell in love with him when I read that he had made this statement:
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
In explaining Jim Crow laws to his daughters, he said:
"The measure of a man's estimate of your strength is the kind of weapons he feels that he must use in order to hold you fast in a prescribed place."
And, of course, his poem about Christmas happily finds its way onto at least one Christmas card that comes into my mailbox each year:
"When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart."

The Search For Common Ground; An Inquiry into The Basis of Man's Experience of Community.
John ("Jack") Shelby Spong (born June 16, 1931), is now 83 years young, is alive and well and living in New Jersey and is, perhaps, one of the leading liberal Christian leaders alive today. He has been married twice. Together with his beloved wife, Christine, they have five grown children.

I can tell you the exact moment I fell in love with Jack Spong. It was at a clergy day in 1989 in the Diocese of Maryland where I was working on the front lines in the early days of the AIDS pandemic.

I can not tell you what it was like to hear a bishop in the church say these words:
"We've got to deal with the fact that the church has been violently prejudiced against gay people. We've murdered them; we've burned them at the stake; we've run them out of town for something over which they have no control. And, that's immoral."
Remember: This was 1989. America was in absolute turmoil over the AIDS crisis. Not only was this bishop not equating AIDS with being gay, he was affirming that particular sexual orientation. Not only that, he was calling the church "violently prejudiced" as well as "immoral" for what it had done to LGBT people. All in the name of God and Jesus, of course.

If I hadn't been there myself to hear the words come out of his mouth and someone had reported it to me, I would have gasped right out loud and called them a liar right to their face.

Jack has said a number of equally amazing things, most of which have to do with scriptures, which he still reads and studies voraciously. And, for his troubles, he has been called the Anti-Christ.

For saying things like this:
I think that the best way to view the Gospels is to view them as a magnificent portrait being painted by Jewish artists to try and capture the essence of a God of experience that they believed they had with Jesus of Nazareth.

And, this:
I believe that is what the God experience does for us. It calls us beyond the limits into the fullness of life - into a capacity to love people we are not taught to love - and into an ability to be who we are.
And, this:
Christianity is not about the divine becoming human so much as it is about the human becoming divine. That is a paradigm shift of the first order. 
And, for all this and so many other reason, he has been called "The Anglican Nightmare" - a moniker he wears proudly.  Because he's earned it. 

These two men have kept company with me of late, as I lay in my bed in some of those long midnight hours when morning seems but a dream vaguely remembered. 
I have found myself reading over some of their books, especially the passages I long ago underlined in pencil or pen or highlighted in rude neon yellow.  
Perhaps it was the hour and my exhaustion, but I think I've detected a scent of profound similarity in their words. It's just a puff of a whiff of a hint which carries the same suggestion of deep calling out to deep, of study called into further, closer examination, of of thought and emotion called into action.

Which is odd, actually. One man could not be more different from the other in terms that go beyond the superficial obvious of their racial differences.

Both men have been described as being prophetic. However, Thurman's method is much more akin to the work of the prophet Nathan than to the public performative prophecy of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Both Nathan and Thurman offer an alternative; a prophetic word that is aimed at inspiring and convicting individuals who will then go on to live lives of influence for justice.

Spong has been said to be more like Elijah and Daniel, who know how the story ends and call on the whole of society for a more just society. His early work of preaching and teaching was far more confrontational, with deep roots in the social gospel. 

And yet, that which they share is so profound as to obviate their dissimilarities.

It is their love of God as they know God in Christ Jesus which prompts them to move beyond cultural and racial and religiously imposed boundaries of thought and definition and propriety that, paradoxically binds them together. Well, at least in my mind and in my heart.

I have called these men "Contemporary Mystics" by which I mean to describe a person who "seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect".

Can it be that mysticism  moves a person to a place beyond mere spirituality and into a place where we might actually find and then love mercy and, in doing so, find and then do justice?

Does the prophetic call of Micah to "love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God" have the order reversed?  In order to be faithful to that prophet's call which Jesus embraced, must we first walk humbly (I prefer the translation 'attentively') with God before we can, in fact, arrive at a place where we are able to be both compassionate and just?

I think I've always known this.

I know it more deeply now.

As I begin to understand that I am, in so many ways, in the spiritual infancy of my soul's development, I am coming to believe that religious institutions, at their best, help people develop, nourish and sustain their spirituality - the process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals.

Are we to stop there? Being shaped and formed only in accordance with religious ideals? Is there a deeper, more profound call in the formation and reformation and transformation of our souls and minds and bodies so that we might be reconciled with our selves, our neighbor and our God?

No wonder there is very little place in the institutional church for mysticism.

Mysticism is a dangerous path to follow, leading those courageous pilgrims to places which lead not down a lovely primrose path for a closer walk with sweet baby Jesus meek and mild; rather the journey of mysticism often leads to a cage where one is locked into a fierce struggle with a wild, unknown creature, only to emerge with a new sense of self and a heart ablaze with a need to teach others what we have experienced and learned.

And, perhaps with a limp, but at least a new way of walking and carrying oneself in the world.

No wonder religious leaders throughout the centuries have despised the prophets who call people into the personal transformation of mysticism.

Mostly, we just like to talk about prophets and quote them and tell their stories - not (God forbid!) actually live into the prophetic call. Or, admit that they make us uncomfortable.

However, when we discover mystics in our midst - contemporary mystics - we often mock and ridicule them,  or wrinkle our noses and describe them as bitter and angry and call them "Anglican Nightmares" like Spong or attempted to diminish the importance of the work of Thurman because he was not on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement.

Which is why I love these two men. Neither one gay. Both married. Twice. One dead. One alive.

Neither one could be described as "safe". 

Both affirm for me the new path on which my soul has been traveling of late, more deeply into that "mystical sweet communion" that our faith sings about and points to but rarely dares to venture and explore and more fully discover.

It's a strange and dangerous and new but vaguely familiar terrain.

Thurman describes it for me in a short reflection he called "22. Indebted to a Vast Host" in his book "Meditations of the Heart".

He describes a chance observation of a "very ordinary-looking man" who was walking near the close of the day on a nearby sidewalk. Not three feet from the curb, a group of birds was pecking away at a small opening in the side of the paper bag. They were quarreling as they pecked as they tried to figure out the best way to get into the crumbs that were held inside.

The man walked over to the bag which set the birds flying off into a respectful distance to watch what he would do.  Turning it first with his foot, he then picked up the bag and dumped its entire contents onto the pavement. Then, without so much as a sigh or a shrug, he continued his journey.

No sooner did he leave than the birds returned, overjoyed to discover that a miracle had taken place. "Instead of a bag full of hidden crumbs, only a glimpse of which they had seen, there was before them now a full abundance for satisfying their need."

And the man? He just kept walking, oblivious to what he had done. He did not stop to look back over his shoulder. Neither did he stop a safe distance away to observe the fruits of his effort. He had no idea that his seemingly random gesture had been an enormous kindness to those birds, nor did it seem to matter. He took no opportunity to congratulate himself on his generosity or sensitivity to the plight of these little ones.

No, he just kept walking.

Thurman writes:
Any careful scrutiny of one's own life will reveal the fact that we have been in the predicament of the birds again and again. The thing one needed was somewhat in evidence but out of reach. With all of one's resources, one worked away at the opening, trying first one attack and then another; then some stranger, some unknown writer, some passing comment from another, did the needful thing.

We all of us are indebted to a vast host of anonymous persons without whom some necessity would not have been available, some good which came to us, we would have missed.

It is not too farfetched to say that living is itself an act of interdependence. 

However strong we may think we are, we are constantly leaning on others. However self-sufficient we are, our strength is always being supplied by others unknown to us whose paths led them down our street or by our house at the moment we need the light they could give.

We are all of us the birds and we are all of us the man. It is the way of life; it is one of the means by which God activates Himself (sic) in the texture of human life and human experience. 
In his last book, "The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic," Jack writes:
"I resonate significantly with the retired bishop who once said to me, 'The older I get the more deeply I believe, but the less beliefs I have."
I do believe more and more in the mutual interdependence at the heart of the human enterprise as well as our utter dependency on The Divine which calls us beyond our limits and into the fullness of life, making us, paradoxically, more liberated to love and care and serve and to become more and more who we are and were created to be from the beginning.

Which is why I choose, less and less, to put my faith or belief in the human-made structures that attempt to hold faith and belief in place. 

It's a dangerous thing to be in love with contemporary mystics.

The risk is that you just might place yourself on a path that leads to becoming one yourself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A lesson in Hospice ministry.

I was notified this morning that a new patient had been admitted yesterday to our Hospice Care.

I called the Primary Care Giver (PCG), in this case, his wife, to see how they were doing and to set up a time for me to visit and explain the Chaplaincy part of Hospice care.

This was how that phone call went:

Me: Hi! My name is Elizabeth and I'm one of the Chaplains with Hospice.

PGC: A chaplain? Are you a pastor?

Me: Yes, ma'am. I am.

PCG: Oh, blessed be! You know, I know they told me something about that at the hospital yesterday but I just plum forgot! Oh, this is wonderful! Praise God!

Me: I'm calling to see how everything is going and to set up a time when I can come visit.

PCG: Wait? What! You'll come to the house? Oh, Lord! This is amazing! So incredible! Such a blessing! When can you come by?

Me: Well, whenever it is convenient for you and your husband. I can be there as early as, well, within the hour, actually. Or, if you prefer, I can come at a time that's most convenient.

PCG: In an hour? Here? Oh, that would be such a blessing! Oh, I can't believe this! A pastor! Coming to our home. To minister to us! I thought only pastors in churches did that and then, only when they can fit you in. You know?

Me: Yes, ma'am. Well, I can be there within the hour. Would that work for you?

PCG: Oh, it would! That would be wonderful.

Wait a minute! I'd really like it if he had a bowel movement before you arrived . . . . Hold on! ....

(The sound of footsteps on the hardwood floor).

Honey, do you feel like you have to have a bowel movement?


No? Did you say No? Just shake your head, darlin'. Okay, no bowel movement yet. Good!

Okay, then, I'm going to have the pastor come by.


(The sound of footsteps on the hardwood floor)

Okay, Pastor. You can come by. He's not going to have a bowel movement just yet. Besides, praying is more important than pooping. That's what I always say.

Me: (Sending up praises to God that she can't see my face and prayers of thanksgiving for the mute button on the phone.) Well, yes. There it is, then. Okay. So, I'll be seeing you in about an hour, then?

PCG: Oh, thank the Lord. We are surely standing in the need of prayer, pastor. Praise God you are going to be here soon.

So, it was just another day of ministry in the Fields of the Lord in Lower, Slower Delaware.

Because, you know, when you are looking into the abyss, all filters are off.

Which is great.

And, if they never really worked well, it can be hilarious.

Anyway, sometimes - not all the time, but sometimes and for some people - praying is better than pooping.

That's what I always say.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Fall Hospice Interfaith Mini Retreat

The Hospice Tree of Life
 Note: It's been a particularly difficult Fall for our Hospice Team. Some of the Psych-Social-Spiritual-Bereavement staff got together and planned an hour-long Interfaith retreat, an opportunity for staff to connect and reflect in a meaningful way on the patients we have, the patients we've lost and the work we do. Then, we shared a pot luck buffet. We also compiled a small booklet of this service which also included some information about recognizing burnout and some important elements of self-care.

I share this service with you in the hopes that, if you are a Hospice professional, you might find some comfort and hope. If your work is not in Hospice but you have suffered the loss of a loved one, I hope this helps you to find some solace and peace. If you are so inclined, please feel free to use with your staff, with proper attribution, please.

Welcome: Creating ‘sanctuary’ – a safe space.

I ask you to join me in creating a safe space - a 'sanctuary' - into which we can bring our sadness and our joy, our tears and our laughter, our memories and present realities. I ask that you bring your whole self into this space and allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling without judging yourself. I ask that you allow your coworkers to bring their whole selves into this space to feel whatever they are feeling without judging them, knowing they will not judge you. In this way, together, we will create for each other a sanctuary, a safe space to be and meditate and pray.

There is no right or wrong way to pray, but I will share with you one prayer that I use every day, before I enter a patient's home. If prayer is a response to God - The Holy One, The Divine, The Cosmic Intelligence, The Higher Power, Jesus, Buddha, Allah, Adonai, Yahewh, or however you name the Divine in your life - then the most ancient recorded prayer is the one made by Adam as written in Hebrew Scripture in the first chapter of Genesis in the book known as Torah.

After Adam had eaten of the forbidden fruit, he was walking through The Garden and God called to him, "Adam, where are you?" And, Adam responded, "Here I am."

"Here I am." A most ancient prayer which calls us to be fully present to God and centered in the knowledge of ourselves. Before I enter a patient's home, I touch my forehead and then my heart, take a deep breath and say, "Here," and then I exhale and say, "I am". 

So, try that with me now. Take a few deep, relaxing breaths and say, "Here I am." 

Find your center and bring your whole self into this sanctuary as we listen to this music.

Meditative Music      “They are falling all around me”  by  Sweet Honey in the Rock
They are falling all around me They are falling all around me They are falling all around me The strongest leaves on my tree  Every paper brings the news that Every paper brings the news that Every paper brings the news that The teachers of my life are moving on  Oh, death comes and rests so heavy Death comes and rests so heavy Death comes and rests so heavy Your face I will never see, never see you anymore  But I’m not really gon’na leave you I’m not really gon’na leave you You’re not really gon’na leave me  It is your path I walk It is your song I sing It is your load I take on It is your air I breathe It’s the record you set that makes me go on It’s your strength that helps me stand  You’re not really gon’na leave me  (oh…)  I have tried to sing my song right (I will try to sing my song right) I have tried to sing my song right (I will try to sing this song right) I have tried to sing my song right Be sure to let me hear from you. 

An Excerpt from “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf” by Leo Buscalgia

Spring had passed. So had Summer. Freddie, the leaf, had grown large. His mid section was wide and strong, and his five extensions were firm and pointed. He had first appeared in Spring as a small sprout on a rather large branch near the top of a tall tree.

Freddie was surrounded by hundreds of other leaves just like himself, or so it seemed. Soon he discovered that no two leaves were alike, even though they were on the same tree. Alfred was the leaf next to him. Ben was the leaf on his right side, and Clare was the lovely leaf overhead. They had all grown up together. They had learned to dance in the Spring breezes, bask lazily in the Summer sun and wash off in the cooling rains.

But it was Daniel who was Freddie's best friend. He was the largest leaf on the limb and seemed to have been there before anyone else. It appeared to Freddie that Daniel was also the wisest among them. It was Daniel who told them that they were part of a tree. It was Daniel who explained that they were growing in a public park. It was Daniel who told them that the tree had strong roots which were hidden in the ground below. He explained about the birds who came to sit on their branch and sing morning songs. He explained about the sun, the moon, the stars, and the seasons.

Freddie loved being a leaf. He loved his branch, his light leafy friends, his place high in the sky, the wind that jostled him about, the sun rays that warmed him, the moon that covered him with soft, white shadows. Summer had been especially nice. The long hot days felt good and the warm nights were peaceful and dreamy. There were many people in the park that Summer. They often came and sat under Freddie's tree. Daniel told him that giving shade was part of his purpose.

"What's a purpose?" Freddie had asked.

"A reason for being," Daniel had answered. "To make things more pleasant for others is a reason for being. To make shade for old people who come to escape the heat of their homes is a reason for being. To provide a cool place for children to come and play. To fan with our leaves the picnickers who come to eat on checkered tablecloths. These are all the reasons for being."

Freddie especially liked the old people. They sat so quietly on the cool grass and hardly ever moved. They talked in whispers of times past. The children were fun, too, even though they sometimes tore holes in the bark of the tree or carved their names into it. Still, it was fun to watch them move so fast and to laugh so much.
Guided meditation: A reason for being.

Begin with the Centering Prayer we just learned. "Here I am". 

Now, take some deep breaths and become conscious of any tension in your body. Inhale and exhale as you release that tension into the universe and let the cosmos bring you relaxation. 

Now, from the place of your center, go to a place in your memory that is a safe space for you. It could be a bedroom, a place in your yard, a place on the beach or in the forest, in a school room, at the home of a relative. Take the time to notice what's in that safe space, the colors and textures, how it looks and smells and makes you feel. 

Now, invite the faces of some of your patients into that space. Consider some of the things they taught you in your care for them that has helped you to be a better Hospice professional to other patients. Make note of those lessons. Thank them for what they have taught you. 

Now, come out of that safe place and back into your center. Stay there for a moment. When you are ready, come back into this sanctuary and consider what you will share about what you have learned. 

When you are ready, on each leaf, write a word or a sentence or a symbol that stands for a lesson you have learned from one of your patients which has shaped and formed your understanding, in this moment, of your reason for being a Hospice professional.

An Excerpt from “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf”

But Freddie's Summer soon passed. It vanished on an October night. He had never felt it so cold. All the leaves shivered with the cold. They were coated with a thin layer of white which quickly melted and left them dew drenched and sparkling in the morning sun. Again, it was Daniel who explained that they had experienced their first frost, the sign that it was Fall and that Winter would come soon. 

Almost at once, the whole tree, in fact, the whole park was transformed into a blaze of color. There was hardly a green leaf left. Alfred had turned a deep yellow. Ben had become a bright orange. Clare had become a blazing red, Daniel a deep purple and Freddie was red and gold and blue. How beautiful they all looked. Freddie and his friends had made their tree a rainbow.

"Why did we turn different colors," Freddie asked, "when we are on the same tree?"

"Each of us is different. We have had different experiences. We have faced the sun differently. We have cast shade differently. Why should we not have different colors?" Daniel said matter-of-factly. Daniel told Freddie that this wonderful season was called Fall.

One day a very strange thing happened. The same breezes that, in the past, had made them dance began to push and pull at their stems, almost as if they were angry. This caused some of the leaves to be torn from their branches and swept up in the wind, tossed about and dropped softly to the ground. All the leaves became frightened.

"What's happening?" they asked each other in whispers.

"It's what happens in Fall," Daniel told them. "It's the time for leaves to change their home. Some people call it to die."

"Will we all die?" Freddie asked.

"Yes," Daniel answered. "Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die."

"I won't die!" said Freddie with determination. "Will you, Daniel?"

"Yes," answered Daniel, "when it's my time."

"When is that?" asked Freddie.

"No one knows for sure," Daniel responded.

A Reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8) – Read together      
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
 An Excerpt from “Freddy the Falling Leaf”
Freddie noticed that the other leaves continued to fall. He thought, "It must be their time." He saw that some of the leaves lashed back at the wind before they fell, others simply let go and dropped quietly. Soon the tree was almost bare.

"I'm afraid to die," Freddie told Daniel. "I don't know what's down there."

"We all fear what we don't know, Freddie. It's natural," Daniel reassured him. "Yet, you were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?"

"Does the tree die, too?" Freddie asked.

"Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life."

"Where will we go when we die?"

"No one knows for sure. That's the great mystery!"

"Will we return in the Spring?"

"We may not, but Life will."

"Then what has been the reason for all of this?" Freddie continued to question. "Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?"

Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, "It's been about the sun and the moon. It's been about happy times together. It's been about the shade and the old people and the children. It's been about colors in Fall. It's been about seasons. Isn't that enough?"

The In-gathering of Leaves

Please feel free to share what you feel you can or wish to about the lessons you have learned from the patients you have served which helps to shape and form you as a Hospice Professional.

Place your leaf on the Hospice Tree of Life. 

An Excerpt from “Freddy the Falling Leaf”
That afternoon, in the golden light of dusk, Daniel let go. He fell effortlessly. He seemed to smile peacefully as he fell. "Goodbye for now, Freddie," he said.

Then, Freddie was all alone, the only leaf on his branch. The first snow fell the following morning. It was soft, white, and gentle; but it was bitter cold. There was hardly any sun that day, and the day was very short. Freddie found himself losing his color, becoming brittle. It was constantly cold and the snow weighed heavily upon him.

At dawn the wind came that took Freddie from his branch. It didn't hurt at all. He felt himself float quietly, gently and softly downward. As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. How strong and firm it was! He was sure that it would live for a long time and he knew that he had been part of its life and made him proud.

Freddie landed on a clump of snow. It somehow felt soft and even warm. In this new position he was more comfortable than he had ever been. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. He did not know that Spring would follow Winter and that the snow would melt into water. He did not know that what appeared to be his useless dried self would join with the water and serve to make the tree stronger. Most of all, he did not know that there, asleep in the tree and the ground, were already plans for new leaves in the Spring
 Musical Meditation  "Wanting Memories"  by Sweet Honey in the Rock

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

You said you'd rock me in the cradle of your arms.
You said you'd hold me ‘til the storms of life were gone.
You said you'd comfort me in times like these and now I need you.
Now I need you...
And you are -

So, I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Since you've gone and left me, there's been so little beauty,
but I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.
Now the world outside is such a cold and bitter place.
Here inside I have few things that will console.
And when I try to hear your voice above the storms of life,
then i remember all the things that I was told.

Well, I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Yes, I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I think on the things that made me feel so wonderful when I was young.
I think on the things that made me laugh , made me dance, made me sing.
I think on the things that made me grow into a being full of pride.
I think on these things, for they are true.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I thought that you were gone, but now I know you're with me.
You are the voice that whispers all I need to hear.
I know a "Please", a "Thank you", and a smile will take me far.
I know that I am you and you are me, and we are one.
I know that who I am is numbered in each grain of sand.
I know that I am blessed,
again, and again, and again, and again,
and, again.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.