Journeying 2: Brave New World

I woke up at 3:00 a.m. this morning in hopes of seeing the total lunar eclipse. I stepped out onto my back patio, still in my pajamas, feeling the warm spring wind blowing and swirling. Clouds were in rapid motion, and it was quickly evident that my hopes of viewing the celestial event were not going to materialize, any more than the most brief glimpse between the passing clouds. But, I couldn’t make myself go back inside, either. I knew it was happening, and I could feel it to my core even if I couldn’t see it with my eyes.

I stood outside in my backyard, grass beneath my feet and wind against my skin. As I stood there, I thought about the reflection on Vastness and Smallness that is a part of the Lenten faith formation series that I have curated for my faith (and virtual) community. I considered how often I feel personally blessed by serendipity and Divine Presence, yet how vast the Universe is, so much so that my own presence is merely a speck and a millisecond in the grand scheme of things. The vastness and the smallness…the omnipresence and the intimacy…both reflect our understanding of God.

I realized this moment was a microcosm of my own life. The winds of change are blowing through my life, and I catch quick glimpses that clarify my experience, this singular important experience of the present moment. I realized as I responded to this moment of awareness that my soul’s true desire was finally to say, “Yes!” rather than “Where?”

I stood there, immersed fully in this present moment.

This is a brave new world for me. I am intuitive, but I am also a thoughtful planner. I like see my options and then make a decision based on both information and intuition. Standing in my backyard whispering a divine yes into the wind to something that has not fully materialized is beyond my logical comprehension. But that is what I did under the eclipsing moon, hidden behind the rolling cloud cover. Just because I could not see it did not mean it wasn’t happening. Just because I can’t see the journey’s destination yet doesn’t mean it isn’t unfolding. It is, moment by moment.

A brave new world, journeying in this present moment.

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Journeying 1: The Past

During an early part of my social work career, I worked as the unit social worker in a skilled nursing facility for older adults with Alzheimer’s/Dementia. The challenge that I faced every day was how to bring dignity and worth to the forefront of our care, when so much of that dignity had been stripped away by this disease of cognitive decline. It was a fine line, balancing quality of life and security. Too far in either direction could lead to injury. Admittedly, I tended to favor quality of life. I rallied against restraints, over-medication, and childish busy aprons and dolls. I lobbied for free spaces for safe wandering, holistic assessment, and meaningful recreation. Over the years, I was blamed for occasional falls, complicated care planning, and crazy activities that pushed the bounds of comfort. This journey takes place on one of those crazy activities.

I had a group of women, all of Polish background, who sat together daily and chatted repetitively about what they were going to cook for dinner, when they would leave to go home, and how they were going to get there. The unit staff would get nervous when they started trying to jump on the elevator, and attempts at reality orientation and reminding them “this is your home” were met with angry refusal. I didn’t buy in to this method, and had been trained instead in validation therapy. In other words, I met their stories where they told them and tried to validate the feeling and meaning rather than correct their facts. This created some tension on the unit.

I had a bright idea one day: we would plan a trip to the Broadway Market (a local collection of grocers in the old Polish neighborhood of the city) and secure enough 1:1 volunteers to insure each resident had a safe escort. I secured permission from families (some of whom were escorts) and got my volunteers lined up. My colleagues thought I was crazy. I wasn’t, but I was blissfully naive. The day of the trip, all my ladies were dressed in their market clothes, but several of my volunteers didn’t show up. I didn’t want to turn anyone away, so I took two people and another colleague took two people; the rest remained 1:1.

We got in the bus and drove, getting dropped off at the front door where we would be picked up in an hour. It wasn’t until I was in the midst of the crowded market that pre-Easter week that I realized I was indeed pushing the envelope on the safety issue. The place was packed, my residents were over-stimulated and my volunteers were nervous. I huddled everyone together and said: “just let them lead, but do not let them out of your sight.” My 1:1 volunteers fell into line and started having fun.

I had a busy journey, chasing after one of my two women who decided she wanted to find her old home. As we journeyed through the market, it wasn’t my own clinical skills that rescued the day for my distressed client. It was my other resident who caught her friend by the hand and said, “Barbara…you’re wearing me out. Let’s sit and have tea.” And suddenly, the journey shifted. I was no longer a social worker chasing wandering patients. We were three women who found a bakery, bought tea and cookies and sat sipping and people watching and laughing. Slowly and steadily on this journey, a miracle happened. Humanity surfaced. Another woman ordered six pounds of various sausages and cold cuts at a meat counter which her daughter paid for and took home, just for the joy of seeing her Mom spring into action again. Butter lambs were purchased, pierogi recipes exchanged, cookies bought and consumed to the last crumb. When it was time to board the bus again, they were happy and tired. I was the one who wished we could stay.

On that journey, I was able to see my clients as their own selves, fully immersed in their living at a time before a disease had stripped away their short term memories. They were shadows of the past in this world, living in that present moment through a past role that they once filled effortlessly. This was a conundrum of time: they stepped in to their yesterdays with grace, but I knew that by the next day…maybe even by dinner that evening…they would retain no memory of our trip. This was a journey in the present moment that could only be savored now. They were magnificent, and I deeply respected each of them in a newer and deeper way.

Then, I looked at their family members. One had tears of joy as she hugged me and whispered thank you. For her, this was a gift for the future, a new memory that would reside along with the challenges of this end of life process. I could not change the memory loss; I could only make the best of the present.

Sometimes, that is exactly enough.

A journey into the past, fully lived in the present, changing the narrative of the future. Not bad for a day’s work. I went home and fell into an exhausted heap, hearing only then all my fears about what could have gone wrong flooding through my mind. Those voices would have kept me from the adventure. But, naïveté saved me. We had all made our pilgrimage in a state of blissful ignorance and blind faith. I happen to believe that attitude serves us well much of the time.

This time every year, I find some sausage and pierogi and think of that journey as I cook it up for dinner. It’s hard to find butter lambs in Virginia, but I occasionally succeed on that, too. I thought I was just doing something kind and nice for my residents. But, I was the one who received a gift. It cemented into my spirit that dignity is the highest ideal, worth the risk even if only for a few moments.

Another small point of light for the journey….

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Happiness and Heartbreak

I was sitting at my kitchen table today, making a cross out of the palm branch that I had earlier carried as a parade flag around my church during the litany of the palms. I folded and tucked one end of the palm branch, watching it transform from waving wand lifting shouts of hosanna to the symbol of crucifixion. My act involved nothing other than folding, turning, and tucking the same object in different ways. The palm’s substance never changed, but its symbolism did. As I formed the shape of the cross, I felt happiness and heartbreak weaving together in every turn.

This is the way of this day: Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion. The day that the shouting of the crowd turned from Hosanna! to Crucify Him! Did the substance change? Did the crowds change? Did we change? Maybe the story isn’t as much about the changes we think we see as it is about the deeper recognition that happiness and heartbreak are often woven together in this journey.

As I listened to the Gospel narrative today, I could hear these themes intertwining at every turn, just like my palm cross. Happiness and heartbreak are in the words of Jesus, in the narrated gospels that historically tie together the ancient prophesies with the stories of early Christians, in the disciples and in the crowd. I could hear the voices in my own head wanting to leap past the disbelief and betrayal, to imagine myself staying awake to pray with Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane instead of falling asleep on the job. But, I would probably be heartbroken at my own ineptitude. My happiness at being a follower of the justice-bearer and healing teacher would at every turn be a heartbreak of trying to keep awake but finding myself bleary-eyed and tired; my commitment to act faithfully and not let others down would give me joy until I realized time and time again that I screwed it up somewhere. The rooster would crow, and I would be the one smacking my head and realizing that once again, I had fallen short. Even if I managed my way through the crowd, and I stuck by the One in whom I believed, I would find myself looking up at a bleeding, dying beloved who was crying out in that very real, poignant, human experience of feeling betrayed and forsaken.

Happiness and heartbreak.

Maybe the real lesson in Palm Sunday isn’t about change after all. Tonight, I am considering that it might be about changelessness. We are not loved less for falling asleep on the job, or for betraying, or mocking, or fleeing, or denying. The message today is a resounding, unchanging love that is present in and surrounds each and every person. That love encompasses all our heartache and all our happiness. Jesus…at the center of this story…knows us. The heartache and happiness he exhibits tells me something about my own humanness, about the own character of my conundrums of feelings and my vacillating beliefs. Instead of condemnation, there is a great love, and a deep understanding.

This is the changeless substance of divine love, even when bent and folded into its many human forms of expression.


Holy Week is happiness and heartbreak for me.  Some of my most enduring human losses and challenges have been during Holy Week.  So have some of my most transformative moments of faith and growth.  I carry happiness and heartbreak in my soul, and they both are life-affirming to me because they remind me of my own truest, core self.  This Palm Sunday, I consider the fact that this core self reflects the place where we are most known, and loved, and cherished by God.  The shadows and the sunlight, the heartbreak and the happiness.  All these we carry on the journey…a journey on which we are never alone.


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Cultivating Sacred Space during Holy Week

Lectionary Reading for Palm Sunday

The week begins:  the palm branches are waving and the cries of “Hosanna!” can be heard resounding.  We can get caught up in the crowds, the celebration, the hope of glorious salvation.  But the triumphant entry is only the first step of this journey that we begin together through Holy Week.  The week is holy not because of the glory, laud, and honor with which it begins.  The week is holy because of the overwhelming, divine love of God for all God’s people: even when that love is met with ridicule, mockery, betrayal, execution, and death.   This week, we journey together through this most sacred space.

At our Palm Sunday service, my choir will sing an anthem written by Frank Ferko.  The lyrics are from the Vespers of Palm Sunday in the Byzantine Rite:

Passing from one celebration to another,

from palms and branches let us now make haste, O faithful,

to the solemn and saving celebration of Christ’s Passion.

Let us see Him undergo voluntary suffering for our sake,

and let us sing to Him, with thankful hearts

Let us sing to Him with thankfulness a fitting hymn.

Fountains of tender mercy and haven of salvation,

O Lord, glory to you.

I have sung this anthem for several years, and I have always been haunted by its beauty.  But, this year, I found myself paying particular attention to these words as we rehearsed this piece.  For me, they are the embodiment of our Journeying this most holy of weeks, each day offering us the opportunity to intentionally move with open eyes and open hearts toward a deeper understanding and meaning of Holy Week for our own lives, and for the world.

Our heart’s longing is to experience and understand this great, divine love that is unconditional and ever-present.  This most sacred, divine love envelops us and accompanies us on a week where all our human nature wants to cry out, “but wait, isn’t there another way??”

But this Holy Week, there is only one way.  One path.  One journey.  One great, mighty and ever-present love that beckons us forward.  This truth is what accompanies Jesus into Jerusalem.

Click on the image or link below to be redirected to the interactive image of daily practices for this Holy Week.  This week, there is one daily practice specific to each day of Holy Week.


As we walk the steps of the Holy Week, may we see with new eyes and hear with new ears this story of love as it unfolds.


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Stillness 6: Light and Depth

“For by the light of understanding within your light I have tasted and seen your depth, eternal Trinity, and the beauty of your creation.” ~St. Catherine of Siena


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Stillness 5: Paths of Knowing

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” ~ Psalm 25: 4-5


(Photo credit to my friend Melissa)

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Stillness 4: Letting Go of the Day

Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field; When the wind goes over it, it is gone, and its place shall know it no more.  ~Psalm 103:15-16


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Stillness 3: Journey

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer


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Stillness 2: Desiring God

“Going everywhere, my God, with you, everywhere things will happen as I desire for you.”  ~St. John of the Cross


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Stillness 1: Fixed on True Joy

Almighty God, grant us grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.

~Book of Common Prayer


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