Holy MOLY!

Love Remains the Greatest Gift

Years ago my spouse served on a church staff with Jay Hurd. It was Jay’s first staff position and second career. In his heart Jay was a poet and one year he penned these words:

Not richly wrapped; no foil or paper bright, in an unobtrusive corner, almost out of sight; lay a tiny package under the orphanage Christmas tree; when finally it was found, was the only one left for me. My heart fell with sadness; it was not fair at all. The others grabbed the large gifts, while mine was so very small.

Retreating to a corner, tears welling in my eyes, I didn’t want the others to see me as I began to cry. The paper was so crumpled, the ribbon seemed so old, but through the tear stained wrapping shone the glint of gold. Beautiful golden locket shaped into a dove, the note inside said, “For you child the gift today is love. For several years I’ve come to watch to find a child like you. One that didn’t push and shove the way the others do; Now you need to know me, the mystery to unfold, I wear a golden locket just like the one you hold.”

My eyes flew to the visitors who often brought us goods, a chain of gold around her neck, so elegantly she stood. Years it’s been since she took me home, but the lesson I recall; love remains the greatest gift, but it’s often packaged small.

One Christmas Jay blessed us with the invitation to share his poem with those we met along our journey. Over the years we have done that many times. This year, as my Hornet Family, ones I am grateful to tarry with along this journey, I share with you his poem as a reminder, regardless of how you celebrate this holiday season and whatever ways/traditions you bring to life during these days, of these words:

Love remains the greatest gift, but it’s often packaged small.

Joyous holidays, Hornet Nation!


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Into the Darkest Hour

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

by Madeleine L’Engle

Normally I love the season of Advent, a time of prayerful preparation leading up to Christmas. Unlike the more secular emphasis on consumerism and spectacle this time of year, Advent invites us into a period of reflection, a time for contemplation and personal introspection. We light simple candles on a wreath, read daily devotions and meditations, and practice acts of charity and kindness. What’s there not to love about such a season.

However, this particular Advent I find myself struggling mightily to keep the spirit of the season.  I am saddened reading the news each day as tragedy and catastrophe fill the headlines.

I listen to students who carry deep and heavy burdens and for whom going home for the holidays is dreaded rather than embraced. I recognize within my own heart a tendency to be petty and critical, judgmental and cynical rather than open and loving, caring and forgiving.

And yet, and yet . . . something within me refuses to let the darkness of this time overshadow the light that still flickers within. Like the two candles currently lit on the Advent wreath on our kitchen table, there are still signs of hope around me. To borrow the image from Madeleine L’Engle’s poem, I see that many people are creating a stable within their hearts in order to welcome the Prince of Peace once again into their lives and into our world.

For me, some recent signs of hope include the decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to stop construction of an oil pipeline on the sacred ground of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation after months of peaceful protests. Veterans groups joined the movement and asked forgiveness of the indigenous people for crimes committed against them throughout history. http://www.denverpost.com/2016/12/05/photos-standing-rock-native-americans-veterans/

Closer to home I find hope as I witness students serving those in need during one of the most busy and stressful times of the semester. I am inspired by Resident Assistants waking up before dawn to serve breakfast at the Salvation Army. I am encouraged by Bonner Leaders who presented a Christmas show with Puppets Alamode to allow individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities the opportunity to be creative through music and the arts.

I challenge all of us to not only look for flickers of hope around us during this time of year, but to be those flames of hope and encouragement for those around us. In thought, word and deed may we recognize that the stable waiting for the Prince of Peace to arrive can be found within each human heart.

Peace, Anne

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Three Hollow Core Doors as Sacred Space

The Prayer Wall has returned to Drysdale! What started out as a few “pins” on Pinterest about some cool ideas I’d like to try, was put into reality a few years ago by a liturgical artist. Then in the summer Drysdale coordinator Summer Spicer started to notice it was looking a bit tired. After a semester in the shadows she and her dreams have blessed the Prayer Wall with new life. It is truly a piece of art and an interactive space for prayer and spirituality on campus.

A few years ago one of our Pastoral Associates, Kay Higgins, shared her artistic gift with the Spiritual Life Center and painted a tree logo for us.  Summer Spicer used that tree as inspiration. The symbols of many world religions are on the tree (and also on the art quilt in the Chapel), making a public statement about Lynchburg College as a Disciples School for all faiths. (The symbol for the Disciples church is a red chalice with a St. Andrew’s cross.)

The Prayer Wall has space to share prayer concerns with chalk or to write a prayer on a ribbon and offer it on the tree. It has space to share upcoming Spiritual Life events and materials for meditative coloring. I hope to put some small project out as well as some meditation prompts along the way. On this campus we come from so many faiths and non-faiths, but I think this Prayer Wall gives us a way to find common ground. It allows us to share our heartfelt pains and our highest joys in our campus living room. About once a week or so, one of the Spiritual Life staff goes over to erase the chalkboard side and straighten up the space. Know that we remove those prayers as prayerfully as they are written. Many times the prayers are lifted up in Sunday mass and at our staff meeting.

Some people think that you have to pray in a certain way or with a certain formula. Some think you have to bow your head or kneel. Some think you should raise hands outstretched.  Some meditate and others sing or walk. Please use the Prayer Wall in whatever way makes sense to you and your tradition. Snidow Chapel is also open for prayer at most times, and after hours you can access the sanctuary space with an ID through the side ramp door. If you want something less individual and more community focused, give us a call, there is a lot going on almost every week.

Blessings, Stephanie

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Take Time to Breathe

In Jewish Mysticism, one of the seventy-two names of God is Kaf Hey Tov. It is said that if you meditate on these three Hebrew letters, you can diffuse negative energy and stress. In the post-election chaos, I have found myself meditating on these letters each morning.

The country seems divided, and people are scared. Many are angry. Many are rioting and screaming. Others are peacefully protesting, are grieving. Most of us are processing the division, the anger.

No matter your political affiliation/preference, it is important to take care of your mental health. If you need to take a break from social media, do so. If you need to go for a walk, walk. If you need a prayer group, find one or create one. If you need to write, paint, dance, sing, do it. Often the best art is created during times of stress.

It is also important to take care of each other. The wonderful poet Joy Harjo visited LC last week, and she reminded us that we are all one people. No matter what divisions are placed upon us, we are still one race—the human race. Harjo said that when our lives end, we will walk towards the door of the afterlife, carrying only our merits. In the end, all that matters is the good that we have done while here on earth. We must take care of one another.

If we truly believe that God created us all, then we must believe in brotherhood and sisterhood, and with this connection comes the duty to love one another and to pick each other up when we are down. We must stand up for one another when adversity strikes. We must demand that all of God’s children are treated with love and respect.

In closing, take some time to breathe. Focus on what good you can do. Be good to yourself, and be good to others. Regardless of political policies, this must be the law of our land.

With love, peace, and hope for a kingdom of kindness,

Jeremy P. Bryant

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The Morning After

I’m wondering if years from now we may all look back and recall, “I know exactly where I was when I found out that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.” It feels like a watershed moment in history, regardless of one’s political affiliation.

To friends and family members celebrating victory today, I hope we can continue to love and support each other even as we respectfully agree to disagree on policies and ideologies. We have weathered this storm before. Hopefully, we will do so again moving forward, come what may.

To those who are grieving for themselves and/or for their loved ones, I would invite us all to lean into each other at this time. We may need to name and honor the stages of loss that we are experiencing right now, including denial, anger, and even some depression. We need to feel whatever we are feeling without rushing too quickly into an attempt at acceptance and resignation.

Personally, after the Facebook frenzy of the last several months, I found myself needing to slow down this morning and to limit my interaction on social media. I needed to press the “pause” button on my spirit in order to breathe. I desperately wanted to take a “time out” or ask for a “do over” or just stay in bed for the day in order to process mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But the words of a poem came drifting into my consciousness:

I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

from The Invitation by Oriah

I found myself deeply grateful to remember that we are in the midst of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. I remembered the students who have been sleeping outside all week and those who made breakfast at the Salvation Army on Monday morning.  I felt admiration for those who participated in the Poverty Simulation Monday night and gave thanks that the media covered their efforts. (Link) I look forward to the many volunteers who will show up to provide a meal to neighbors in need at Park View Mission tonight and to all who will view the movie “Out of Mind” Thursday night in order to learn more about efforts to address homelessness in our own community.

My hope and my prayer is that all of us, Republican, Democratic, Independent, or other, channel our best energies right now into positive actions on behalf of those in need. Surely we can agree on that much, remembering the words of Catholic activist Dorothy Day:

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Peace, Anne

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Saints Surround Us

Tonight at 8:30 p.m. in Snidow Chapel, LC will hold its annual Service of Remembrance. This year the Spiritual Life Administrative Assistant, Christie Rapp, sent out around 100 personalized invitations to members of our campus community whom we knew had lost a close friend or family member within the last calendar year. The invitation is to attend the service and/or to request that a candle be lit in memory of someone.

Every year I am amazed at how many members of our community experience a significant death. Some lose grandparents, while others lose parents or siblings. Some of the deaths are a result of old age or long term illness, some are tragic and sudden. The service is always a reminder to me of how many around the Dell carry heavy hearts. There is so little space in the business of life to stop and mourn or to stop and find time for reflection. The service provides a brief pause to light a candle, listen to readings, and hear a melody.

All Saints Day, Día de Muertos, and many other traditions around the globe this time of year, celebrate the saints or “cloud of witnesses” that surround us. (See Hebrews 12:1.) We remember relatives, friends and the many people that nurtured and supported us. We remember all those who have helped us get to where we are. No one is born into a vacuum and no one is completely self-made . . . we all had a village. That is a message of hope for me – that there are people around who support me, and there are people whom I will have the opportunity to support, reassure and encourage.

An activity, which appeared in a church curriculum I studied this week, requests that everyone in the room don a nametag with “Saint” above their name. The idea is to recognize the saints in the room as well as those who have gone before. Life moves at such a pace that I am keenly aware of the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds me and encourages me on a daily basis—there are times I wouldn’t make it without you. I also take great pride in being a part of a community that does care for one another. When we are at our best as a community at Lynchburg College, we live out our mission as saints for one another.

I leave you with this Episcopal Prayer:

For all the saints – those who have gone on and those right here in our lives, we thank you, God. Help us to celebrate those who show us the way and help us to choose to be the saints you call us to be. Amen.

Blessings, Stephanie

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Fall is my favorite time of the year. There is something about the hues of the season that are cheerful and bring back memories of hayrides, apple cider and running through the leaves. The colors of the changing leaves and cool crisp mornings instill in me a sense of comfort and happiness. When I was a little girl, I remember my grandfather and I debating the seasons and deciding which season was our favorite. I said my favorite was the fall, and he said he felt the fall was a time of things dying, so he preferred the spring. I guess there is some truth in that logic, but I never think about the leaves changing and falling as a dying process; to me it’s more of a time of transition. The tree is still very much alive.

This helps me to reflect on times of transition in my life. I just returned from a funeral in North Carolina of a beloved aunt. Although losing her brought such sadness to my husband and me, we were also able to be with her wonderful family who embody in so many ways her positive and infectious outlook on life. We shed tears, heard stories of childhood, and laughed a lot together. I am comforted by a belief that she is now with her husband, who died a little over a year ago. She will be missed and I’m sure there are more tears to shed but I am truly comforted by the time we had together.

Transitions in my life are sometimes exhilarating as I contemplate the newness of the experience. The possibilities of a different path can really open in me a sense of adventure and creativity. Every year the colors and possibilities of fall surprise and delight me.

Transition can also be painful and unearthing. Change, especially if not planned or timely, can shake me from my roots and remove those blankets of security I have gathered around myself. An example of an unplanned transition was when I experienced a job loss that was very painful. I must say that the job that followed was much more life-giving and rewarding, but at the time it brought up insecurities I didn’t know existed. I am fully aware that the spring did come for me as I experienced the death of something important to me. Certainly the understanding of the tree being still very much alive in me helped me to move through this time of loss. Keeping my tree alive through times of transition comes from having a strong faith in God, friends and family who support me, and the experiences of others who have been there.

The many years of transitions in my life have made me the person I am. Celebrations have kept my tree alive and exhilarated with possibility. Yet unearthing difficult transitions have probably taught me more about what is important in life and stretched me the furthest.

I pray that you will be gentle with yourself as you go through times of transition and that your colors will burn brightly and be a source of comfort in your life.

Peace and Blessings, Kay Higgins

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Last summer I saw an ad for a new curriculum on White Privilege. I made a mental note that I would like to get a small group together to read it with me. When I finally found the materials, I was impressed and, so I quickly posted on Facebook and sent a campus email to gauge interest. Response was good, and currently there are three groups of faculty and staff working through this study. Thank you to Anne Gibbons, Kaky Bowden and Katrina Brooks for assisting with the facilitation. Many have asked if we will offer this again – we hope to launch a second set of offerings next semester.

So why a study on White Privilege? Most of us are aware of and can identify overt racism. We know a racial slur when we hear it—we may even be willing to confront someone telling a racist joke. We have seen separate drinking fountains in old photographs. Where things get more difficult and uncomfortable is when we start to talk about systemic racism. One in three black men will be incarcerated before age 30. The Department of Justice found that the police and municipal courts in Ferguson, Mo. had consistently violated the constitutional rights of the city’s black residents. Another example is the story of the black female doctor who was  asked for credentials to prove she really had medical training, while the white male doctor was not questioned at all. Any study of poverty, criminal justice, medical services, etc., quickly reveals race disparity, and several of our faculty study race as part of their research.

White Privilege is the status that “white” people enjoy simply by living in a country where whiteness is seen as the norm. Part of the curriculum’s introduction reads, “One of the pernicious and enduring characteristics of privilege is that even whites who long ago became aware of the endemic racism in America, and who challenged themselves to grow beyond their racist pasts, are yet still recipients of privileges that give them enormous economic advantages. Even more insidious is that some of the most committed white allies for racial equity remain largely unaware of the countless ways that privilege manifests itself daily in their lives. This curriculum is a concerted effort to enable allies to see with new eyes how privilege works.”

As we strive to talk more openly about race on the Lynchburg College campus and to be more honest with each other about inequalities in our own community, here are a few resources that may interest you. Harvard has a website where you can “test” your implicit bias by reacting to pictures and prompts, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html. Take a look at some of these charts. The data is a bit old, but it is a powerful grouping of statistics, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/02/civil-rights-act-anniversary-racism-charts_n_5521104.html. You may also want to browse the curriculum, http://privilege.uccpages.org/.

Prejudice and racism, whether overt or systemic, are issues of faith and spirituality. I invite you to pray for the true equality of all people. In this season of elections where racial issues are raw in our country, I invite you to pray for our nation and for all of its people. I invite you to pray for our campus, for those who do not feel welcome, and for those who experience hate. I invite you to pray that each of us, no matter our demographics, uses his or her influence, privilege and power on behalf of ALL our neighbors. AMEN.

Blessings, Stephanie

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Season of Atonement

This week we observe holidays both sacred and secular. On Monday many people celebrated Columbus Day, heralding Christopher Columbus as an Italian hero who “discovered” America. Beginning Tuesday at sundown our Jewish sisters and brothers observed the holy day of Yom Kippur when Jews ask for forgiveness and pardon for sins committed in the previous year and resolve to do better in the year ahead.

It occurs to me that those of us who have honored Christopher Columbus in the past might do well to have our own season of atonement and to ask forgiveness for the atrocities that were committed by Columbus and his followers.

I am especially interested in the history of Columbus’ travels since he landed on the island of Hispaniola, which now includes Haiti, a country that I have come to love, having visited it many times including this past summer. Haiti is, of course, even more on my mind and in my heart since the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew.

If one is to read the journal from Christopher Columbus upon arriving on the island, you would discover the following entry about the Indigenous people that welcomed them: “They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

Over time Columbus and other European explorers did indeed subjugate, torture, murder and maim almost an entire population of the native Arawak population. Columbus was among the leading colonizers who plundered the land, forcing the Arawaks and later African slaves to mine metal, ore, and other riches and resources for the benefit of the Europeans. According to some accounts, less than 500 of the original 250,000 indigenous people were still alive by the year 1550.

With such a historical background, is it any wonder that there is a movement to replace the celebration of Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day as a way of recognizing the history and contributions of native people instead of the one person who exploited, enslaved, and eradicated an entire population.

May we join the Jewish community in this season of atonement. May we commit ourselves to a greater awareness of the sins of generations past. May we resolve to have a deeper understanding of the wounds that have been inflicted on a people and on a country. And finally, may we pray for and work towards the recognition and support of all indigenous peoples so that the sins of Columbus may never be repeated again.

Peace, Anne

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Lives Are Changed . . . When Someone Chooses to Care

Recently, I watched a video on Facebook entitled The Conditioned. It’s 4½ minutes in length but is a powerful story that touched my soul and brought me to tears. Take a few minutes to watch it. The video briefly tells the story of Raimundo Arruda Sobrinho, a homeless man who lived in anonymity for 35 years on a street median in the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. In a city of almost 12 million people, Raimundo sat in his same spot every day, his “island,” as people walked by, never giving him a second thought. To the world around him, he was just another dirty old homeless man living on the streets.

Raimundo was a man who found great joy and pleasure in writing; in particular, poetry. He would write every day, hoping that maybe, just maybe, his words might be remembered by someone or even published in a book. However, deep down he knew it was more than likely a pipe dream. But then one day, in the spring of 2011, he was befriended by a young lady named Shalla Monteiro.  Shalla made a point to stop by every day to visit with Raimundo, and on the first day he gave her one of his poems. She read the poem and was so moved by its message that she created a Facebook page for Raimundo so that his poems and stories could be shared with others.

Sometime later, Shalla received a message from one of Raimundo’s brothers. Because of Shalla’s choice to care and show some kindness and compassion for this homeless man, Raimundo’s brother was finally able to locate him. After 57 years of looking, the emptiness and void that Raimundo’s brothers had experienced in their lives finally came to an end. Long story short, Raimundo moved in with this brother who had messaged Shalla after seeing the Facebook page. Now, Raimundo is not a guest in his brother’s home, but a very integral part of the family. And, Raimundo’s poems have been published!

Each of us, as members of the Lynchburg College family, is given opportunities to make choices every day. Whether our choices are for a positive impact or for a negative one, lives will indeed be changed. However, for such a time as this, let us choose to show love in a world being torn apart by hatred and division. Let us choose to show compassion and be a sign of hope in a world longing for peace. And, may we take the time in a world of busyness to show someone else that we genuinely care. Again, lives are changed, for the better…when someone chooses to care.

Randy Bower

Minister on Call

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