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

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


Giving Birth-Thursday Aptil 7, 2016

New Harmony has 13 sculptures placed through-out the town. Each one has religious significance. The PIETA (pictured below) is located in the Roofless Church. It was sculpted by Stephen de Staebler. The sculpture is an image of the crucified Christ giving birth to each of us from his heart.
Sixteen years ago today my mother, Sallie King, died. Her life and death have impacted my life in profound ways. She left me, and each of her children, a legacy of love.
Each of us is born from a human mother. But every person is also born from the heart of God. That is why it so important that we that we love one another and strive to be kind to each other. This is the way I try to live but I admit that I often fail to love and act with kindness.
I was blessed to have Sallie King as a mother. She left me a set of values which have served me well. Our home was always open to to others. We shared what we had even when we had very little. She taught us not to judge others by what they had or their outward appearance. She pointed us to Christ by taking us to church and by setting an example of Christ’s love in her actions and behavior.
Each of us leave a legacy behind. We all birth a part of ourselves into the world. We all contribute something to one another be it for good or for evil. Just as Christ has birth each of us out his great love for us, shouldn’t we be birthing his love into the world?
I am thankful for my mother and gifts she “birthed” within me. I am also thankful for those who “birth” love into our world.image

I Count It All Joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Loving God, Loving Each Other-Tuesday, April 4-Wednesday, April 5, 2016

Last Sunday our Minister of Music, Sylvia Coates, choose the anthem “Loving God, Loving Each Other” by Bill Gaither for Morning Worship. The tune and words have been swimming in my mind ever since.
New Harmony, IN, was founded on the principles of loving God, loving each other and loving the planet, earth, which we all share.
Tuesday I enjoyed walking the two labyrinths in this town with a population of only 800. (Makes New Kent seem like a city.) I window shopped in an antique shop. I watched a robin gather grass and bark for her nest and I delighted in two squirrels chasing one another.
Wednesday, I took the official tour of the town and learned it’s history and saw many interesting buildings and artifacts. In the afternoon, there was a severe thunderstorm with damaging winds. Several trees came down but no one was hurt and no building were damaged.
New Harmony was founded by the Harmonists in 1814. They were Lutheran Germans who separted from the Lutheran church because they believed as Baptists do, in the autonomy of the believer. They came to America and purchased 30,000 acres of land beside the Wabash River so they could live and worship freely. Each family was given a 1/4 of an area of land, their own log cabin and a cow. They worked hard but paused three times every day for prayer.
Outside my room is a brick pillar with the Ten Commandments engraved in stone blocks all round. (Pictured above)  A reminded that loving God requires us to be obeident to God’s Word.
I like the idea that every oerson was given a equal share of land, the same house and a cow. Of course they all worked. Everyone held everything in common just like the early church did and most monastic communities do today.
I watched Frontline on Tuesday evening. They interviewed Matthew Desmond, a Harvard Profeesor in sociology who has written the book, “Evicted.” It is about the eviction crisis in our American cities. In his book, he tells the stories of eight families that were evicted in Milwaukie, WI. I think we need to pay more attention to the struggle of the working poor. They work hard but are still unable to make ends meet.
Throughout New Harmony there are lovely gardens and gorgous trees and so much to enjoy. There are also poems about the care and protection of nature. The town is beautifully kept and there is a balance between human beings and nature.
While I am relaxing in New Harmony, the words of the song are being made real. Let us strive to love God, love each other and care for all of God’s creation.

I count it all joy,
Pastor Vallerie

Gentle Blessing-Monday, April 4, 2016

I have a friend who always signs her emails “Gentle Blessings.” I really like that!
Today I had the gift of several gentle blessings. The first was David, our Chair of Deacons, who got up at 4:30 a.m. to take me to the airport. I am grateful for the ways others care for me
My second blessing was the flight from Richmond to Atlanta. If you fly Delta you are going to wind-up in Atlanta. The flight crew went out their way to make a crowded plane as comfortable as possible. The landing was as gentle as a feather. If I had not been looking out the window, I would have never realized we were on the ground. The entire crew including the pilot and co-pilot stood at the door and greeted each passenger as we got off. Taking pride in your work and doing it well is such a blessing
When I arrived in New Harmony, I experienced the beauty of God’s creation. My room is located by Swan Lake. I saw two swans swimming majestically across the lake. The swans were pure white, with long royal necks and so graceful. Our world is filled with beauty.
I am blessed. This is my Post-Sabbatical week of rest and renewal. What a journey and adventure this has been. I am continually praising God for his grace and goodness.
Gentle Blessings,
Pastor Vallerie

Declarations of the Heart


“Declarations of the Heart”
John 3:16

Where would you and I be if Christ did not have an extravagant, giving heart? Giving begins with Jesus. John 3:16 is often referred to as the heart of the Gospel. This beloved verse proclaims that God loved us so much that he gave himself for us. God’s essential nature is giving. You and I can never, ever out give God.
Every year our church conducts a stewardship campaign because every Christian needs to examine their giving to Jesus Christ through His church. Most of us have a budget. A budget is a tool that helps us plan the use of our income. If your budget does not include systematic giving to Christ’s church, I want to challenge you to prayerfully consider giving to Christ through Emmaus as part of your budget. If we wait until we see what is leftover in our bank accounts at the end of the week or month, we will never give. Money has a way of disappearing. But if we plan and budget our giving, we manage our resources in a better way.
The standard of giving is the tithe. Tithe literally means tenth. The Bible teaches us to tithe as a way of acknowledging God as the giver and provider of all we have. When we tithe, we set aside one tenth of our income first as a way of declaring with our heart that God is first in our lives.
The hymn of the month for January has been: As Saints of Old Their First Fruits Brought. Throughout the Old Testament, the People of God were reminded to bring the first fruits of their crops to the place of worship. Giving is an act of worship. We give back to God out of gratitude to God. We give back to God out of love for God.
If you honestly believe tithing is out of reach for you, start where you can and work your way towards tithing. Consider giving a percentage of your income each time you are paid. As your financial condition improves, increase your percentage.
When the Stock Market is as jumpy as it has been lately, it is easy for us to become anxious and fearful about money. When we read that stores are closing and people are losing their jobs, we naturally wonder, will I be next? The older we get, we naturally worry if we will have enough money to live on in our golden years.
We need to put things into perspective. I was very grateful that I was able to join our youth group last Thursday as they participated in Caritas at Sandston Baptist Church. I thank Rev. Tiffany for her leadership. As we went around serving homeless men dinner, one man shared with me he was so grateful for the snow. Because of the impending weather forecast, Sandston Baptist was allowing the men to stay at the church all weekend. He was grateful because it meant he did not have to be on the street during the day. This is a wonderful ministry and I hope we will become involved in a greater way next year. By the way, next year the church will be housing families. The words of this man haunted me all weekend as I sat in my warm home watching the snow fall. I had a refrigerator full of food. I lacked for nothing. I can’t imagine living on the street.
We may think we cannot afford to give, but when we consider what we have compared to others, we realize just how rich we are. Compared with the most of world, you and I are rich indeed!
You and I have been corrupted by a culture that tells us we must consume to feel good about ourselves. The more we have, the more we want. We are always on the look-out for the new and improved version. I have an iPhone 5. By the time I upgrade, Apple will probably be out with a iPhone 10! What are they up to now, an iPhone 7?
Let’s be honest. Can you name one person you admire and respect because they have kept everything they have for themselves? Our heroes are those who give generously and sacrificially. Jesus pointed to the widow in the temple who gave her last coin. She gave quietly without fanfare. She gave out of her poverty. (Mark12:42-44)
We give to acknowledge that all we have belongs to God. We are mere stewards of God’s resources. We give out of gratitude because of all that God has given us. We give because giving sets us free from our culture’s obsession with consumption.
Next Sunday, January 31 is our Celebration Sunday. This is the Sunday we set aside for you and I to declare the intention of our hearts. What will you commit to give Jesus Christ through His church in the coming year? Next Sunday we will invite you to complete an Estimate of Giving Card. If you are tithing, is God calling you to give over and above a tithe? If you are giving systemically, is God calling you to move to tithing? If you are not giving in a regular way, is God calling you to begin to give systematically? Only you can discern what God is calling you to do. Please make this a matter of prayer.
For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.