Monthly Archives: December 2015

We are a glorious choir!

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is listening to choral music broadcast on our local NPR station—sacred music, mostly. I also love singing that music myself, joining my voice with others. This fall I sang in two choirs. One was the Fairbanks Peace Choir, a small but dedicated mix of a few seasoned singers and many who had never sung in a choir before. The director managed to pull us together, making us sound better than any of us would alone. The other choir is the Symphony Chorus. A few weeks ago we sang a holiday concert with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra. I stood behind the trombone section and watched the conductor as he brought in the various parts. It felt like I was inside the music as I sang my alto part, aware of the voices around me and the instruments in front of me.

A few days ago I heard a recording of that concert on the radio, and it sounded so different from the outside. It sounded good, with all the voices blending into a unified sound.

In worship yesterday it came to me that Quaker worship is something like a choir, in that we are communicating in ways that go beyond language. In worship as in singing I am aware of those around me. When the meeting is gathered, or covered, our hearts and minds are brought into a mysterious union. Also, preparation and practice are important both in choral music and worship. Here’s where the analogy breaks down: In music we rehearse each part so that in performance we draw on that practice to make the music come alive for the audience. In worship we prepare for whatever message might arise. Rather than performing a practiced piece, vocal ministry comes fresh from the prepared heart.

I was not led to speak this message out of the silence yesterday, but when I closed meeting, I said, “We are a glorious choir!”   I wonder if anyone knew what I meant.

 

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Minding the Light

Last week I lit candles each night for Chanukah. I was not raised with this tradition, but adopted it since moving to Alaska where light at this time of year is so special. Lighting the candles has become, if not a mitzvah, at least a personal spiritual practice.

On Saturday I shared with a small group from our meeting an illustration I received from FWCC (Friends World Committee on Consultation) in a packet preparing us for the plenary gathering in Peru. There were three parts to the illustration: the first was a figure in the darkness holding an unlit candle and apparently searching for the light; in the second one the figure is lighting his/her candle from a lit candle; and in the third the figure is carrying his/her candle off (into the world?).

The new thought that came to me was the role of the shamash in lighting the Chanukah candles and the role of the lit candle in the illustration. The shamash is the “attendant,” lighting the other candles and making sure they stay lit. Isn’t this something like the role of elders in our Quaker meetings? Not an elevated position, but one of tending, watching, paying attention to the movement of Spirit.

 

Doggone Right

My thoughts today are on end-of-life issues for our ancient dog. She’s a 17 year old husky, and they’re not supposed to live this long. We thought she was a goner about a year and a half ago when a friend who was watching her sent us a message that Lizzie had had a seizure. By the time we got home she seemed normal, and when I took her out for a walk the next day, she was her usual perky self.

Since then we have been expecting her demise. Each morning I hold my breath as I look to see if she is still breathing. Recently she has become more arthritic and incontinent, and as I clean up after her I swear we need to do something. Then I take her out for a walk in the snow, and something within her revives. She’s a husky, after all. Snow is her milieu.

Last night at a party I had a conversation with a man who has lots of experience with aging dog issues. When I asked him how to make the decision if and when to have a dog put down, he said that whatever we decide is going to be OK with the dog. The dog isn’t going to ask for one more day, one more week, or one more month. He teared up as he told me about Ole, a faithful companion who had grown old and unable to lift his rear end. He said he knew that Ole wasn’t going to judge him for his decision. He said his way of dealing with having to put Ole down was to write a letter to himself.   Today he sent that letter to me. In it he wrote about the joy and unconditional love he had experienced from Ole. He concludes by writing:

“If he could, he’d say “Please do for yourself what I won’t be able to show you anymore–love YOU and know you’re perfect, and not just a little bit.  And start right now, with this decision. I totally trust you. ”

As I read that letter, I teared up, too. This is not easy. Lizzie is a husky, not given to the kind of demonstrative love other dogs might show. She has always been a bit aloof, but recently she has become more affectionate, nuzzling me to pet her. Lynn says, “Is she saying, ‘I love you. I love you. And I don’t have long to live, so pet me,’ or is she asking to go out?”   We never know. Are we her faithful companions?

OK, I’m going to end this on a lighter note. What do you get when get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic and a dyslexic? Someone who lies awake at night wondering about the existence of dog.

 

Homeless Jesus

I missed writing on Monday this week, but last night as I was trying to settle into sleep, the idea came to me that Jesus was a homeless migrant from the Middle East. Would he be turned away? Then this morning I turned on the radio to hear about a sculpture of a homeless Jesus, installed on a park bench near a church in Indianapolis. I went to the website for Here and Now and found a picture. Here’s the link:

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/12/03/homeless-jesus-statue

The pastor of a Methodist church that had purchased the sculpture said that people respond to it in different ways. Some just walk past; some walk around it, looking carefully; some complain that the money should have been spent feeding the poor.

He said the purpose was to raise awareness. At first, it appears to be a bundle of something on the bench. Then you see that there is someone inside. Then you see the feet sticking out with marks from the crucifixion. It’s that moment of recognition that is intended to make people think.

It is so radically different from images of Jesus on the cross, or Jesus with the children, or Jesus with the sheep. For me it raises the question, “What if we treated everyone as Jesus? “ Pope Francis has been challenging Christians to refocus attention on the poor. In Matthew 25:35-40, Jesus told his followers that when they feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for those who are naked, sick, or in prison, they are doing it to Jesus.

Quakers throughout our history have been involved in these caring activities, whether or not they consider themselves Christian. But there is more. What if we truly walked our talk and sought to answer that of God in everyone? What would we do differently?