Kindness like Confetti

If we had been able to gather for worship today, the sermon text that was planned was from 1 Corinthians 13 which is the famous love chapter.  This well-known biblical passage describes what love looks like.  It has been suggested that the Apostle Paul was describing Jesus, his character and actions:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Love is kind. Do you think that the world could use more kindness? I was in Walmart on Friday night before the snow storm along with all of Central VA. It was a mad house. I needed something from the top shelf on the laundry detergent aisle but I could not reach it. I tried standing on the bottom shelf, straining to get my hand on the plastic bottle but to no avail.  Then suddenly I heard a voice from behind asking, “Can I help you?”  Then the young woman reached up with ease and handed me the item I needed. Her act of kindness gave me a good feeling on a day when the crowds and endless waiting in line could have set my nerves on edge. Kindness inspires kindness.

Last Sunday, January 1, 2017, Parade Magazine cover title read: Throw Kindness Around Like Confetti. In the featured article the writer recommended that we make 2017 the Year of Kindness. The article had several suggestions of ways you and I can practice kindness.
One way they suggested is to speak to your neighbor by name.
Another way is to write a thank you note to someone once a week. Over the holidays, I received a thank you note from the Chair of Deacons thanking me for the work I do as pastor. Her note meant so much to me. Letter writing is rapidly becoming a lost art. Writing a note of thanks is a great gift because it is personal and it is something that can we read over and over again. If you go the website Kindness.org there are many creative ideas for practicing kindness.

On New Year’s Eve, after the ball is dropped, confetti rains down on Times Square. The confetti isn’t just any ordinary confetti. During the month of December there is a place near Times Square called the Wishing Wall where you can go and write on the paper used as confetti. You are asked to write your wishes for the New Year. So as the confetti falls, it is as if hopes and dreams for a New Year descend on the people in the square.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if you and I rained kindness down on the places we live, work and spend time?  Of all the people in the world, shouldn’t Christians be people known for their kindness?

Love is kind. Jesus Christ has shown each of us infinite kindness by loving us in spite of our sinfulness and too often rude behavior. We are truly blessed because we have known the deepest kindness possible. So , therefore, let us take the kindness we have been shown and use it to shower our world with kindness. In this way, perhaps the world will see a glimpse of the one who is kindness and love incarnate, Jesus.

I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Prayer for today:
Gracious and loving Lord, we thank you this day for the grace you have showered upon us. Your love, which you have so generously lavished on us, makes our lives rich and meaningful.
On this day when we have been unable to gather for worship because of the weather, grant that we may worship you in spirit and truth within our hearts.
We ask that all might have shelter on this bitterly cold day. Make us mindful of the needs of others and show us the ways you are calling us to meet their needs.
Grant that those who are sick might find comfort and healing. Be with those who are struggling with daily issues that sometimes weigh us down. Lift them with your Divine Presence. Be with those who grieve. Comfort them.
We ask that you protect and watch over all those who are working this day, especially our first responders.
We ask this in the name of the one who loves us so, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

A Gift after Worship

I did not know it until I attend morning worship. Today Mother Teresa of Calcutta was made a saint by Pope Frances. Several people were wearing Mother Teresa t-shirts in church.
Father Michael gave the homily (sermon) during Mass. The lectionary text included Luke 14 where Jesus tells his disciples they must hate their family and take up their cross and follow him. The other text was from Philemon where Paul asks for mercy for a runaway slave, Onesimus.
Fr. Michael did an excellent job of weaving these scripture texts together to talk about the discipleship. He mentioned the cost of discipleship to Mother Teresa. She experienced great periods of darkness while caring for the dying in India. This only came to be known after her death when her spiritual journals were discovered.
Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be the Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church. So I guess it makes sense that at the back of the church a strange woman approached me and handed me a gift. It was necklace with a picturce of Jesus. Rays of light were all around him. As I was headed out the church door, I asked a retreatant if they had received the same gift and what did it mean. No, she was not given a necklace but she was able to tell me what the necklace meant. This is the Year of Mercy and this is a picture of Jesus giving mercy to others. See the rays extending from his heart, she asked. There is a special prayer that goes with this necklace. You say it each night. You asked God to be merciful to all those who will die this day. Wow, what a powerful prayer. After all we never know when we will die or when someone we love will die.
Later the same woman came up to me at lunch and gave me a booklet explaining the prayers for the dying that Catholics are to asked to pray as part of the Year of Mercy. Of course, she had no idea I was a Baptist Pastor.
I am glad Mother Teresa was honored by her church on this day. I cannot think of a finer example of one who extended mercy to others especially the dying.
I want to be a person like her who loved Christ so much and gave so freely to others. Don’t all Christians wish we were more like her? After all wasn’t she was like Jesus. Isn’t being like Jesus the goal of our faith journey? We can start by practicing mercy. Our world is in great need of forgiveness, grace, understanding and genuine care for those who are hurting. Let’s make our church year, a year of mercy.
I Count It All Joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Looking for a Sign…

While driving across I 64 to New Harmony on Thursday, I saw three billboards that grabbed my attention. The first was: Looking for a Sign.. This is It.
It was of course an advertisement for the billboard itself. But for me it had a deeper meaning. Sometimes the signs from God are right in front of our eyes if only we take time to see them.
Gethsemani is a place where I hear God speak in so many ways. I hear God’s voice in the silence, in the chanting of the Psalms, in the presence and voices of the monks; in the beauty of the grounds and in spiritual reading I bring with me. This year God has been speaking through the wonderful notes I found in the desk drawer in room 310. So many of these love letters quote scripture.
The second billboard I saw simple said: God Knows. God does know. I see it so clearly.
The third sign said: One in every 5 children will go to bed hungry. Yesterday I met Fr. Jim for dinner in the talking dining room. Before we began to eat, Fr. Jim took my hands and blessed our food. In his prayer he asked God to care for those who have little to eat or no food to eat and all the refugees.
His prayer humbled me. How often have I prayed for those who do not have enough?
It is time for all Christians to join with all those who are working to alleviate this problem. Children should not go to bed hungry. There is enough for all.                         Let us follow Fr. Jim’s example and pray for those in need each time we say grace. Let us also ask God to show us how we can eliminate hungry in our lifetime.
I Count It All Joy,
Pastor Vallerie

House Calls

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Yesterday I received word that Dr. Farrar Howard, Sr. had died. Dr. Howard was a beloved member of our community. He was also a man of great faith. When he first began his practice in Charles City and New Kent, he was the only physician for both counties. Dr. Howard made house calls. I have heard him share some of his stories about the funny things that happened to him during those house calls. He had a great sense of humor. He will be sorely missed.
We live in a time when doctors no longer make house calls. It has been said that minsters are the last processionals left to visit the home. But even minsters do not visit like they used too. I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna who is longing for the good old days but I do want to ask you a question. When was the last time you invited someone other than a family member to your house for dinner?
Yesterday, September 1, I made two restaurant calls     I drove to New Harmony, IN, and met Mary for lunch. It was delightful to see her and spend some time in good conversation. Mary retired from SIU at the end of May of this year. She is more relaxed and enjoying her new pace.
I left Mary and head back across Indiana to visit four psychiatric nurses. These are women who have made many a house call over their professional lives. They all worked for VA Nursing Association at one time which is how I came to know them. They were all part of Dorothy’s (my spiritual mother) nurses group.
Today one of them is completely retired, two are working part time and one is still working full time. The three that are working are all employed at Bridge Haven, a place that helps those who are in need of mental health care. I admire them and always enjoy our time together. Today I give thank all those who help us when we are in need physical and emotional care. May God bless all those who make house calls.
I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

A Gentle Rain

On Wednesday, August 31 the rain fell upon the Abbey in the afternoon. It was a gentle soft rain shower that lasted for about 30 minutes. The birds seemed strangly unbothered. The drops of water on the leaves glistened in the sun. It was just enough rain to nourish the living things that depend on water. I sat in my room, looking out the window and taking it all in. As I did, I remembered something that happened to me on my flight to Atlanta. It was a large plane and I was seated in the alsle seat with two other passengers seated beside me. The young man in the middle seat was on his way home to San Diego. I asked him if he had been effected by the wildfires. After he gave me a quick lesson in CA geography he told me that he had not but that he knew people who had. Then he said something very striking; “You know it has not rained since March.” Imgaine no rain in over six months. I told him we were praying for people in CA and that I would would pray for rain. Will you join me in that prayer?
I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Making our Hearts a Hermitage

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While on retreat, one of the monks offers a talk on spiritual matters for those who choose to attend. This week Fr. Carlos gave the talk. I like Fr. Carlos. Originally from the Philippines, he has been a monk at Gethsemani for 30 years. He is a wise and authentic man of God. Fr. Carlos said that we should all make our hearts a hermitage for God.
Hermitages are well know at Gethsemani. The most famous one is the one Thomas Merton stayed in. There are over a dozen hermitages on the Abbey property. Theses are secluded places where monks can go to be totally alone with God. They are places where one is utterly alone except with God.
There are many verses in scripture about opening our hearts to God. The idea of a heart as a place of quiet and rest where one can hear God’s voice above all others was intriguing to me.
We are all so busy, so distracted, our lives seem so complicated that it may be impossible for us to open our hearts so that God can do something with us. That is one of the reasons I come to the montastery every year. Here is where I hear God’s voice so clearly.
The Psalmist calls us to be still and know that I am God. I want my heart to a hermtiage for Christ.

Pictured above is the Abbey Church. I took the picture yesterday afternoon. If you look very closely, you will see a monk sitting all by himself praying. This is how we make our hearts a place for God.
I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Love Letters

When I arrived at the Abbey Of Gethsemani, I was greeted by Jennifer. She was at the front desk assigning retreatants rooms in the Guest House. So  I asked  her if I might have room 309, but Jennifer told me it had already been taken. I confess I was disappointed. I spent both of my Sabbaticals in room 309 and it has come to be a sacred space for me. I was assigned room 310. It was the room my niece, Rebecca, stayed in when she joined me on retreat in May of last year. It is a lovely room that overlooks the garden.
I have another confession to make. I hate change. I like familiarity. I don’t like new and surprise. But God had a different plan for this retreat. God is always doing a something new among us if only we have the heart to see it.
I should also share that a little over a month ago I listened to a Ted Talk on line. It was by Hannah Brencher and the title of the talk was “Love Letters to Strangers.” I hope you will look it up and listen. It is a fastening story. The gist is this: Hannah was feeling depressed and so she decided to start writng letters to strangers and leaving them in all sorts of random places in New York City. She thought writing letters would make her feel better. It did. But what also happened was a wonderful surprise. Others followed her example and they also began writing letters and leaving them in all sorts of places throughout the city.
So guess what I found in my desk draw in room 310? Dozens and dozens of love notes addressed to the occupant of room 310. I think I count 42 in all so I have decided to read 6 or 7 a day. They are simply wonderful. Some include art work. One was even written on a piece of musical manuscript. (My favorite so far.)   I am so glad I am in room 310.  Thank you Lord for the gift of love from strangers who have taken the time to share their love with a fellow spiritual traveler.

I Count It All Joy,

Pastor Vallerie