“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Maria Rilke
This was the opening quote of last year’s convention address, where we launched the theme of “Living the Questions.” Little did I know that at this point in my life, there would be so many questions whirring around in my head!
“What is in your hand?” is a question that is a sort of refrain in scripture. Notably, it occurs when God asks this to Moses as he stands at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on the Jewish people. He has only his staff, which God turns into a snake to demonstrate that what is “in hand” is more than enough for God to work a miracle. The staff becomes a source of power for the parting of the Red Sea and the beginning of freedom from slavery for the future nation of Israel. Likewise, as we heard a couple of weeks ago in our gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus fed thousands with a few meager supplies. In slightly different words, Jesus asks his disciples to notice what they have: “what is in your hand?” They display a few fishes and loaves, Jesus blesses them. It is enough for all gathered – including leftovers.
In the weeks following Michael’s death, I often woke in the night asking many panicked questions about my future – both matters pertaining to the next day and the years to come. In those moments, I began to ask myself the question, “what is in your hand, Mary?” As I called to mind the resources and gifts in my life (and you are all on the list!), my panic would shift to gratitude. Once there, my prayers of thanksgiving could include prayers for others in need and thinking of ways I might be of service to them.
Such balance reminds me that we always have a choice about whether we will live in the presence of God’s grace -- or outside of it -- and what difference it makes in our ability to live the Christian life in a sustained way. Most of us must make that choice many times a day. Grace is only a thought away. Praise God!
Here is another question: “How are we thinking today?”
Last week’s New York Times Opinion section featured an article about the value of day-dreaming and taking vacations (“Hit the Reset Button on Your Brain”, Daniel Levitin, August 9). Our brains have a two-part attentional system with two dominant modes: the task positive network and the task negative network. The task positive network is for work that requires our full attention for a sustained period of time. The task negative network is active when we are daydreaming. The two networks operate like a seesaw in the brain (when one is working, the other is not) and their interaction maximizes creativity and insight.
Today’s age of multi-tasking and our overachiever culture not only increases mental stress, but decreases the quality of our output. The article notes this rather startling data: “According to a 2011 study, on a typical day we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986 . . . for every hour of YouTube video you watch, there are 5,999 hours of new video just posted!” Who can keep up?
Recent weeks have offered too much startling, catastrophic and sad news: continued conflict in the Middle East, the Ebola virus and senseless shootings touching our raw American nerve of racism, to name a few. Then there are the several (not just my own) personal tragedies and losses that have impacted those whom we know and love in our diocese and beyond. On a lighter note, we are pushed over the edge of keeping up with the various Facebook posts on who had what for dinner!
As Christians we do not shy from the world. We believe in a God who is in the midst of the impossible – even 174 newspapers’ worth of overwhelming problems that seemingly have no solution. By our own power, we cannot fix a fraction of what is broken in the world, but we can pray and we can act out of God’s grace. I would suggest that the practice of discerning how we might be the presence of Christ in any of the world’s catastrophic realities -- or even our personal ones -- is helped by taking stock of what we have to work with. Ask yourself: “What is in my hands right now?”
This is a sustained thinking task that reminds us of the abundance of gifts in our lives, the thought of which will fill our hearts with gratitude. This can lead to daydreaming about what we might do with those resources and what solutions might be possible.
I am no scientist, but I think such a process engages our brain’s natural design of the two-part attentional system. Doing so will change how and what we think. And that will make a difference in our ability to receive the creative solutions of the Holy Spirit.
Faith is such a gift!
With gratitude, +Mary
Congratulations to The Rev. Barbara Miller, who was ordained to the Sacred Order of Priests on August 15 in Atascadero. She's seen in the accompanying pictures with Bishop Mary, who performed the ordination service. (photos courtesy of Beth Miller)
32nd Annual ECW Retreat:
Episcopal Church Women Take Time With God to Listen, Learn and Be
The women of the Diocese of El Camino Real put aside busy lives to refresh, reflect and renew at the 32nd annual retreat sponsored by the Episcopal Church Women, held August 7-8 at the St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista.
Time out with God was the theme of this year’s retreat, led by The Rev. Wilma Jakobsen from St. Jude’s, Cupertino. She opened the session Be Here Now by noting that God welcomes us in love. Wilma invited us to take time to listen, to learn, to be – in song, in silence, in creativity – open to the Spirit.
During walking meditation, we were invited to explore what is needed to be present at the moment, to be open to God’s love and grace at the retreat, to be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and for us. Further, we explored what we had come from and what we needed to put aside.
As we began to embrace silence, Wilma led us in Finding God in the Quiet. As we studied the story of Elijah and God’s call to him in 1 Kings, we were invited to reflect on where in our lives we encounter the desert; that is, where do we find the need for God most strongly? We considered how God nourishes us and what support God gives us on our journey of faith.
As we moved into Living in the Present Moment, we reflected on a passage from Isaiah 43, encouraging the Israelites “not to remember the former things, or consider things of old” as they passed through the sea, for God was doing a new thing, making a new way in the wilderness. We then took time alone in silence, reflection, prayer, creative work. We explored what new things we hoped for and what God is doing in us or through us.
In the session Coming to God As We Are, we studied a passage from Mark 10: “Let the little children come to me,” Jesus implored, “For it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” In our time of reflection, it was meaningful to consider that in God’s sight we do not have to pretend that we are more than we are, that we can be like children before God. Two profound questions were posed: What does it mean to us that we unconditionally loved by God? What does it mean to us that every person in the world is unconditionally loved by God?
During the retreat we wandered the grounds, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation among the ancient oaks. We encountered black-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and a variety of songbirds. From the edge of the retreat center we could look out over the valley, with farmland below stretching to Highway 101 in the distance.
Throughout the retreat, the women of the diocese joined together in Taize chant, encircling each other in peace and serenity, knowing God’s presence among us. We left the retreat with hearts full of God’s blessings, having found his voice among the ancient oaks and each other. We came away refreshed and renewed, having felt God’s presence in the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts. How grateful we were having spent time out with God.
ECW President, Diocese of El Camino Real
*Editor’s note - To read an extended report from the retreat, click here.
St. George's Dedicates Dragon Slayer Lounge
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves helped St. George's Episcopal Church in Salinas cut the official ribbon for the youth group's new Dragon Slayer Lounge on August 17. Converted from an unused storage room, the "Dragon Slayers" youth group (named in honor of St. George) worked for months to create a space that they could call home and enjoy.
Episcopal Church Women Raise Awareness for GEMS
The Episcopal Church Women Unified Gift is a specific outreach response to the needs of the world. Every three years the national board of ECW, at the recommendation of its Social Justice Team, selects an organization to highlight and promote for donations, while raising awareness and furthering education in the outreach project.
The Unified Gift recipient for the 2015 ECW Triennial to be held in Salt Lake City from June 25 to July 3 is Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS). The mission of GEMS is to empower girls and young women who have suffered from exploitation and domestic trafficking to exit the commercial sex industry and develop to their full potential. Areas of focus include:
Prevention and Outreach
Transitional Independent Living
Imani House for Housing and Childcare
For more information about GEMS’ mission and history, visit the GEMS website by clicking here. Please prayerfully consider making a personal donation to this worthy cause and feel free to make a copy for your church announcements, bulletins, newsletters and Sunday leaflets so your church members will consider making a donation. Your church can also make a donation as a whole.
For donations through our diocesan ECW, please make your check payable to Episcopal Church Women, with a memo: "GEMS - ECW 2015 United Gift." Send your donations to: Wanda Bryan, ECW Treasurer, 378 El Portal Way, San Jose, CA 95123.
Thank you for supporting this program and making a difference for these girls and young women.
Diane Lovelace ECW President, Diocese of El Camino Real