Scales

sun

Image Description: Two hands are cupped together in the shape of a heart to frame the sun in the sky. Public domain image.

This week, all of my pieces have been based on the theme of light.

Keeping that theme going, my good friend, the Rev. Allison Becker, has been writing a lot of poetry lately that I find to be touching and powerful. I shared one of her pieces a couple weeks ago, and with her permission, I’m sharing this one as well. You can find more of her work at Light the Lamp.

Scales 

Find the one

Who will not be appalled

By your dragon scales

But who also knows you

Weren’t made to wear them

Who champions your

Shedding endeavour

Holding up the lamp to see

Who will rub ointment

On the wounds beneath

Who walks with you

And removes the barbs

 

Find the the one

Who reminds you:

You are underneath

Supple

Soft

Strong

Featherlight

Meant a dove

Not a dragon

 

Find the one

committed to

Their own

Restoration

Washed

In the pure

Distillation

Of truth

And who remains

There

Until healed

And free

 

Find the one

Settling not

for distortions

Or lies

About self

Or other

 

Find the one

Who runs

After the

Light

Until both are free

Storytime

candle-in-glass-holder

Image Description: A candle is burning in a glass holder.

Spontaneously, we turned off the lights and began passing around a single candle in a glass jar. We had time to kill as we waited for the last person in our group to arrive at the house, so we sat at the kitchen table and passed this candle around. We giggled as it illumined faces, and when the candle came to them, each person added a phase to a story we were building.

And it was so silly.

Goodness, as I recall this, there were so many goofy themes that became a part of this story, which we built for a long time. Our other member had to come late, so we just kept going.

By the time she arrived, we had all planned to stay in the dark, silent, just sitting there with this candle burning, so she would think, “Wait… what are you doing…?”

But of course when she arrived, we tried that and just started laughing.

These are the silly moments of belonging — mundane, yet spontaneous, yet memory-making. These are the moments of having an expansive sense of household. These young adults have  become a chosen family group, and I get to house that experience every time they come over. With gratitude, we’re building that bit by bit too.

Renee Roederer

Compline

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Image Description: Three lit candles are on top of a table. Two of the candles are blue, and the other is white. There is also a blue and white plate and small, flat, ceramic piece with a painting of a yellow and orange flower.

Twice a week, I join students and my friend and colleague Matthew in moving around the room and lighting as many candles as possible. This includes the corners of the room.

We turn off the lights at Canterbury House and then enjoy the small flames of light shining and flickering from a variety of directions.

“Grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end,” we say together as an act of prayer at the beginning. Then we begin to sing.

This is all very restful. This semi-weekly gathering on Sunday and Wednesday nights is called Compline. Alongside the light and the singing, we talk with one another in reflection. At the beginning, we all check in with one another and ask how the week is going. Once we’ve sung and read some sacred texts, we reflect and share from our lives. Often, this goes deep, and it really feels like a privilege.

These little flames of light help to summon this depth from us. Last night, I found myself wondering if this is a bit like gathering around a campfire. We can be real and vulnerable. We can laugh. We can mess up the songs when it’s getting dark outside and it’s harder to see the words. We can know we belong.

This is lovely.

Light summons all of this, and it’s a prelude to the semi-weekly meal that follows.

It’s good to campfire together.
“Grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”

Renee Roederer

Holding You in the Light

single candle

Image Description: A single, yellow candle burns in the darkness. Public domain image.

A single candle burned with light in the middle of my living room. We had placed it there as a reminder that our conversation with one another was sacred.

People from the Michigan Nones and Dones community sat on my couch and in the rocking chairs. We faced one another. It was the evening after the 2016 election, and people needed some space to process it, along with an entire year that revealed challenging rhetoric and marginalization.

Together, we wept.

It was a time of grief. The feelings were painful, and we needed the comfort of one another.

Quakers have a beautiful phrase to express prayer and connection. When people are going through a challenging time, they say, “Holding you in the light.”

There are times when that very light and holding cultivate the gift of release. Light can hold grief. Community can hold sorrow. We can hold one another in pain, release, growth, and possibility.

Renee Roederer

 

 

Interbeing and Interdependence

wheat-stalks-in-the-sunlight_800

Image Description: Sunlight shines on stalks of wheat. The sun is low in the sky.

In his lovely book, Being Peace, Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn says this,

“Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. ‘Interbeing’ is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix ‘inter–‘ with the verb ‘to be,’ we have a new verb, inter-be.

“If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.”

“Independence is a myth,” I said yesterday over the phone. I shared this to encourage someone who felt pressure to stand alone and keep their needs quiet and totally out of view.

Afraid that we will be — cultural shudder — a burden, we have been taught to believe that we are all solitary units and that there is high value in needing as little as possible. Some have been socialized to take up as little space as possible. Some have been socialized to wear a mask of invulnerability and show strength only, carrying an internalized message that it is acceptable to provide for others but completely unacceptable to receive care from others.

“Independence is a myth,” I said. “If we think about it, we all depend upon each other. Every single one of us has needs that are unique to who we are and how we move in the world. And every single one of us has gifts and strengths unique to who we are that allow us to care and provide for others.”

Then looking at my meal on my desk and remembering Thich Nhat Hanh, I added, “I have a bowl of pasta in front of me. If I slow down and think just about this one meal which is sustaining me today, how many people have been involved in bringing this bowl of pasta to me? People grew the wheat. People grew the zucchini, bell peppers, and onions, and likely in different places. How much sunshine, water, and soil participated in growing all of these? How many farmers participated in bringing this to me, and in how many locations? How many workers harvested these foods? Who canned the tomato sauce? Who drove the elements of this food to distribution centers? Who displayed these vegetables in the grocery store?  How did my own coworkers provide funding for me to purchase these items?”

Even a bowl of pasta reveals that independence is a myth.

Interdependence is a reality. It is also our greatest possibility to grow and distribute care so no one is standing solitary, isolated, and without what they deserve to need.

Renee Roederer

The Youngest Member

housedust

Image Description: A beam of light shines in from a window, and there are particles of dust in the light. There is also a wooden door with a metal handle. Public Domain image.

In my early elementary school years, I was the youngest member of a small Southern Baptist Church.

After the Vacation Bible School summer when I “accepted Jesus into my heart,” I was baptized at the ripe old age of 6. This is a very young age for a growing Southern Baptist to be baptized. On the day of that baptism, I remember getting scolded for climbing a tree on the church property before the worship service began. They didn’t want me to get my white dress dirty. But I suppose this is what happens when you make a kindergartner your youngest member.

And I really was the youngest… member. As I mentioned above, this was a small Southern Baptist Church, and since they had a commission to grow (from Jesus even!) they always seemed to have a complex about how small they were.

When we had business meetings, the whole congregation would gather to vote, and sometimes, I, the youngest member who didn’t give a flip about paying the bills or the next new idea to grow the church, would have to stop playing in the foyer and come sit in the meeting because they needed one more member to make a quorum. Harrumph.

But when I think about my very early days in that very small church, I also remember a sense of rest and belonging. In a seminary class nearly twenty years later, a professor asked us to write down all the sense memory details we could recall from one of our earliest memories of worship. Mine was from this church. I remember lying down on a pew, not sitting, but lying down and cuddling. My head was resting on of the pillows they kept for children, and that pillow was on my Mom’s lap. And I remember hearing the words of the Epistle to the Romans while curiously watching dust particles move around in a beam of light that was coming through one of the windows.

Later in life, my theology would depart from these roots. The other members of the quorum probably didn’t know they were raising a young girl to be a preacher, and very likely, they wouldn’t have approved of that in the end.

But in that beginning, I was the youngest member. I belonged, and I rested.

Renee Roederer

The God Between Us

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Image Description: People are placing long, white candles into shallow pools of water. There are holes to hold the candles.

Today’s piece is a repost from April 2017. I love this story.

These days, I pray to the God between us.

Not to a distant God far away off in the sky somewhere. Not to a mechanistic God, constantly making things happen with the push of a “save” or “smite” button, reminiscent of some old Far Side cartoon.

I pray to the God between us.

Beyond us, yes, but only in the sense of being greater than any one of us. That, and calling us to transformative realities beyond what we typically allow ourselves to imagine. Never far away.

Between us.
With us.
Among us.

A couple days ago, I found myself reflecting upon one of the most powerful experiences I ever had in a worship service. It was 10 years ago at Mo Ranch, a camp and conference center in Hunt, TX. I was there with a couple hundred college students at a conference aptly called College Connection.

That night, we were together around 9 PM. The beginnings of a warm summer were just beyond the door of the building, and the space was filled with hundreds of candles. Students sat on the floor in close proximity. Together, we sang a lot of beautiful choruses, music with rich meaning.

Midway through that time together, we began to sing a powerful song called “Prayers of the People.” Already, we could hear the tinkling of rain on the metal roof.

The song is by Ben Johnston-Krase. He was there with us, leading us on the piano as we sang it together. We sang these words, not necessarily about ourselves, but about humanity at large. . .

We are hungry, whoa, we are hungry,
We are hungry, whoa, we are hungry,
We are man, woman, we are children, whoa, we are hungry. . .

And that’s when it happened. We moved onto the main part of the chorus:

So let the rains go, let the healing river flow. Let justice roll like waters. Let the days begin when new life enters in, and let your kingdom come.

Right then, a deluge of water poured from the sky onto that tinny sounding roof. And not only that. It began to flood the space where we were sitting!

Thankfully, this was not from the roof above us, but it did come through the door onto the floor. Some of us got up quickly to move and cover electric cables, but other that, we just let it happen. As we continue to sing those words, we let that water flow right to the tables that held our candles.

The imagery and the synchronicity was not lost on us. We wanted justice to roll like waters, and in that moment, we even believed it possible.

So what happened that night? Did a far away God, off somewhere in the sky, push a “rain” button and mechanistically make that happen? Certainly, if there’s a God, we might say that God made the glories of rain. But if there’s a mechanistic process to everything that happens, I have to start worrying that there’s a cancer button, and a tomahawk missile button, and a school shooting button. I don’t believe that everything that happens is destined to happen.

But I pray to the God between us. Because when that glorious rain happened, I think God was between us, waking us up to the sacred moment as we recognized beauty and sensed a real calling to justice.

I think God is always between us, constantly inspiring us to act in transformative ways, sometimes beyond what we can easily imagine if we will notice what is around us and who is around us.

And without question, the God between us turns us toward one another, so we can marvel at the shared humanity around us.

So we can participate in transformation.

– Renee Roederer