Tag Archives: church

belong-God-faith

Where I belong

My mother grew up on a farm in northern Michigan. I still have one aunt and several cousins who live near the farm, and last weekend my mom and I went up north to visit my Aunt Mary.belong-God-faithDuring my childhood, we regularly traveled to the farm to help out. Even as a young child, I was assigned chores; gathering eggs was my favorite.

There is no work to do on the farm now—no animals to tend and the fields are rented out for farming.

During this trip, a cousin and his wife stopped by one evening, and one day we visited the cemetery where my dad and many relatives are buried. Mostly, though, my mom, my aunt and I spent the time catching up.

My aunt asked if I was happy that I had moved home. I said yes! No hesitation. I told her I have no regrets about moving back and that I love regular get-togethers with my siblings, being here for every family occasion and my random encounters with my cousins. The transition was difficult, I told her, but so worth it.belong-God-faithA few days after that trip, a friend and I were talking about belonging. He is in transition and pondering where he wants to live—a place where he has a sense of belonging is important to him.

I shared how grateful I am to be home and how living here has made me more aware that this is where I belong.

“Did you feel a sense of not belonging during the years you lived away?” he asked.

I did not. When I lived away from family, I felt a strong connection with friends who share my beliefs and values.

My sense of belonging to my family, though, is by birth, and since I cannot be un-born, I always feel connected to my family.

In the same way that my birth made me a part my family, being baptized into my church secured my belonging there.

Birth and baptism created irrevocable bonds, and I have never questioned those bonds. In the sense that I can’t be unborn or unbaptized, I have always had a “they can’t kick me out” attitude.

The deepest of all connections for me, though, is my God connection. Even before birth and baptism, I belonged to God, and belonging to God has sustained me through many difficulties.belong-God-faithAs I reflected on where I belong, I realized that those who share my beliefs and values get me in a way my family sometimes doesn’t; and that because of our shared culture and history, my family gets me in a way my friends sometimes don’t.

I am blessed to come from a God who sustains me, belong to a family that loves and accepts me and have friends who support and encourage me.

Driving up north and turning off the highway and onto the dirt road to my grandparents’ farm was a reminder of how fortunate I am to know where I belong.

 

 

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God-vulnerability-service

Vulnerability as a gift

Every winter, my church participates in a rotating shelter program for people who are homeless; this year, thirty men are staying with us for a week.

Our parish school closed years ago, but for this one week, classrooms are converted into bedrooms, the gym into a cafeteria, and a large meeting room into a gathering space with televisions, games and snacks. It is an excellent example of repurposing.

I love the outpouring of generosity this program elicits, as parishioners step up to serve as hosts, prepare meals, provide transportation and do laundry. The planning for this week is spearheaded by one couple who start months in advance to make sure they have enough volunteers lined up to meet the needs of our guests this week.God-vulnerability-serviceMost nighttime shelters are set up for sleeping, and the people who are staying usually have to leave for the day. The rotating shelter program operates under the same rules, but holidays are the exception.

On New Year’s Day, I was one of four volunteers who spent the afternoon with our guests.

The day before, I was aware that our guests were arriving that evening. Throughout the day, I held the guests, organizers and volunteers in prayer. I was conscious of how blessed I am to have a home with heat—and to earn enough money to be able to pay my heating bills. All day, I thanked God for my blessings.God-vulnerability-serviceTwice in my life, I have been without a home and had to rely on the generosity of others to have a place to stay. Both times, I was humiliated and felt incredibly vulnerable; and I did not like it.

So being able to offer hospitality to others through this program is especially meaningful to me.

The afternoon started with lunch in the gym/cafeteria. Each table was decorated with a small bouquet of fresh flowers, creating a feeling of spring inside—in sharp contrast to the sub-zero temperatures outside. I sat with two other volunteers, and after we had finished eating, one of the guests came to our table and offered to clear away our dishes.

“Thank you,” we each said as he carried away our trays.

“I like to help,” he commented.

Being vulnerable and needing to rely on the generosity of others can create the sense of being a taker, of having little or nothing to offer. It took me a long time to understand the gift of vulnerability—the gift of seeing myself as being an opportunity for others to be generous.

My time as host on New Year’s Day included refilling water pitchers, replenishing snacks and helping guests with their medications. Last summer, I learned to play Euchre (a card game that is popular in Michigan), and I spent part of the afternoon in a Euchre game.

I can think of no better way to start the New Year than to put myself at the service of others, and also to be an opportunity for someone else to serve.

 

God and art

In the early 1980’s, I frequently visited a friend in Washington, D.C. Most of those trips included time at the Smithsonian, and I grew to love the sculpture gardens at the Hirshhorn and one particular painting inside the museum—At the Window by Alfred Henry Maurer.

At the window, Alfred Maurer

At the Window

This piece of art drew me like a magnet. I found it mesmerizing and would sit in front of it for extended periods on each visit, writing in my journal the feelings this painting stirred. I came to think of it as my painting and renamed it Waiting at the window.

I spent hours discerning the message of this painting. Was the woman waiting for someone? Had something outside caught her attention? Was she watching someone walk away?

I didn’t know why it captured me as it did, but I never tired of seeing it, reflecting on it.

Then one day, I followed my usual path to my painting, only to find something else in its place. My painting was gone; my spirit sank. This piece of art had become an anchor for me, my starting place before I explored other parts of the museum. It was my touchstone—and then it was gone.

I went to the front desk to ask about the painting, and the staff person told me that it had probably been placed in storage. She was blasé. I was bereft. I fought back tears as I walked away.

Something in this painting had consoled me, and even after spending hours in its presence, I had not quite figured out its significance. Now it was gone.

When Sr. Wendy Beckett came on the scene in the 1990’s, talking about the connection between God and art, I remembered my time in front of At the Window. The details of the painting, the questions it evoked and the contemplation it inspired in me were all part of my spiritual journey.

The disappearance of the painting had interrupted a discernment process. I came to see that I was the woman waiting, peeking through the curtain. I was sitting in the dark, anticipating a message from God of the path I was to take.

Last night, during a new member reception and tour at the Detroit Institute of Arts, our docent pointed out a Henry Ossawa Tanner painting, Flight into Egypt, and I was transported to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and their Tanner painting, The Annunciation, a painting I have prayed with many times.

Flight into Egypt

Flight into Egypt

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation

God uses many means—Scripture, songs, nature, people, events, art—to invite me into relationship, into meditation and into deeper truths. As I reflected this morning on the role art plays in my spiritual life, I can recall a number of pieces that have helped me discern God’s will and have opened me up to a deeper relationship with God.

I am grateful for the artists who share their talents, grateful that God uses art to reach out to me and grateful for the museums and churches that make art so accessible.