REFLECTIONS FROM THE PEW - JANUARY
The editor asked parishioners to contribute their spiritual reflections.
Happy New Year, St. Margaret community! 2019 has been a year of twists and turns. First, I found you, a small and welcoming community of faithful disciples. From the moment I stepped into the church, I felt welcomed and loved. I have since found every interaction with you meaningful and profound as I listen to the stories of your journeys in fellowship.
In late September 2019, I boarded a flight for a semester abroad. As many of you know, I returned to the U.S. only two weeks afterward. A breast biopsy performed the morning of my departure showed the presence of cancerous cells. This unexpected news caught me off guard and significantly disrupted my work schedule.
Returning to the U.S., however, has been less of a burden because of you. As I sought treatment, many women shared their stories of surviving breast cancer and offered useful advice. On Nov. 20, I underwent a double mastectomy without reconstruction at a nearby hospital with a parishioner at my side making sure I was not alone. She also helped my friends around the world stay abreast of what was going on.
As a community, you have lifted me up in prayers, shared hot meals, sent get-well cards and offered smiles and words of support. I even got a surprise visit from another parishioner the morning after surgery. I credit my spectacular recovery from surgery to your loving kindness. As I move forward with treatment, I have no doubt that everything will be fine by God’s grace. I thank you for your generosity and for accompanying me in my spiritual journey with all its twists and turns.
As 2020 begins, I have no particular wish, no resolution, and no specific goal. At least I am not preoccupied with “New Year’s rituals” this year. There is nothing wrong with setting up expectations and goals at the beginning of a year, but I have learned to just sit in the moment, in the “now” and let it be. I am reminded of something that a 14th-century Anglican mystic once offered as a reflection on the meaning of ascension: “Beyond the superior symbolic value of rising upward, however, the direction of the movement is actually quite incidental to the spiritual reality. For in the realm of the spirit heaven is as near up as it is down, behind as before, to left or to right. The access to heaven is through desire. He who longs to be there really is there in spirit. The path to heaven is measured by desire and not by miles.” This is good news to my heart and ears and I am encouraged to pay less attention to the direction of movements in my life and more to the inner desire that makes heavenly experience perennially present regardless of where I am.
The spirit, I think, is in every desire that energizes us to run the marathons of our lives, or to sit still when we can’t. This year, I am choosing to attune myself to the most intimate presence of the spirit always arousing in us that which “surpasses all understanding … [and] whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report” (Philippians 4:7-8).
I believe that the first ascension has already been seen in the birth of Christ we just celebrated at Christmas, a birth into an unpredictable world and body, capricious politics, and the major threats of our times.
Happy New Desires for this New Year to you all!
~ A grateful parishioner
A WINTER WALK - (March 2019)
Sunny and warm, or frigid and frosty, I love my daily walk. Even if it’s only in my own backyard, I delight in the outdoor symphony of life. Bob and I set a winter feast for birds at our suet feeder. Guests dressed in feathered finery include upside-down nuthatches, male and female cardinals and three kinds of woodpeckers. The delicious array of suet and seed inspires incoming flights of avian fellowship.
In the garden, Lenten roses and forsythia twigs have already budded. Did you know that putting forsythia branches in warm water encourages them to force their yellow blooms ahead of season? Pussy willow branches drape themselves over the fence, vying for attention. Dainty white snowdrops dance in the cold, bowing out just before the spring equinox. They have bloomed each January next to the Buddha statue for more than 30 years. I notice about 100 buds on what will be our bright-pink camellia bush. If the squirrels are diverted to other feasts, it just may bloom at Easter this year.
I’m thankful for my winter walks. They sow seeds in the fertile soil of my heart and offer hope for a new season. What on your daily journey prepares you to bloom and give thanks for new life?
I look forward to the quiet season of Lent after the happy activity of Christmas and Epiphany. These 40 days give me time to inwardly focus and strengthen my faith. For my personal practice, rather than giving something up, I try to do a kind thing every day and bring the love of God to others. The greatest compliment I can give or receive is “Jesus shines in you.”
Lent is a time to connect with my faith as well as a time to connect with others. I find that offering the chalice at Holy Eucharist creates a quiet space to recognize the holiness of each person at the Communion rail. That’s why I look directly at each person as I offer “the cup of salvation.” That sacred connection during the giving and receiving of Holy Eucharist is quite special for me.
I know that the time that begins with Ash Wednesday will count down to Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, when the elements of bread and wine will be removed, the altar will be stripped and scrubbed, and the quietness will fade to complete silence and darkness as we file out or stay for The Watch. After three days, the most joyous day of the Christian year comes again - Easter morning. Hallelujah, He is Risen!
~ Jane A.
I try my best each year, but something always seems to throw me off my good intentions. Now, instead of obsessing about it, I just do my best to move forward. With the limitations I have, one of the things I’m most proud of is to be able to do some version of fasting. I don’t say that to brag - I simply try to do what I can. And I like to believe that the effort and intentions are more important than the physical act of doing it. So, while I can’t say that I always succeed, I try. And really that’s the best any of us can do I prefer to think.
2017 - FEBRUARY
It all started with a simple request to bring a fruit salad to the annual family Christmas Eve gathering at my brother-in-law’s house. Realizing that I was low on strawberries, I ran out to the local Best Yet Market. And that’s when I met Rubina, the cashier with the petite build, sweet face and dark hair with skin and eyes to match.
I’m a fairly chatty person by nature, so it’s not unusual for me to strike up a conversation with supermarket cashiers (and pretty much anyone else!). The fact that it was Christmas Eve gave me an instant topic. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: What time is the store open ’til today?
Rubina: 6 o’clock.
Me: Oh my, I hope you’re not cooking tonight!
Rubina: Yes, I am … for 30 people.
Me: Wow, that’s amazing!
Rubina: Well, my whole family lives on the same block in four separate houses, so everyone pitches in.
Now here’s where things start to go all wrong, for I, being clueless, was completely sure that Rubina was Hispanic. In my defense, all of the signs were there: her physical features, the fact that Northport has a growing population of Hispanic immigrants and the fact that this supermarket has many Spanish-speaking employees … but back to the conversation.
Me: Oh wow, what country are you from?
I realize that this question is high on the list of politically incorrect things to ask, but since my daughter Emily has a friend with Guatemalan roots and her sister Grace hopes to travel to Nicaragua with her high school club, I thought this would further our conversation. My question, however, obviously made her uncomfortable, because she averted her eyes and got a look on her face that can only be described as worry tinged with fear.
Rubina: I’m from Pakistan.
Well, I had an immediate, visceral reaction. I felt ashamed that I made an ignorant assumption and more importantly, I experienced such a huge rush of sympathy for Rubina that it felt like I was kicked in the stomach.
She was clearly afraid to tell me that she was from Pakistan for fear of my reaction. I imagined that she must have seen her share of discrimination and suspicion to have such a look on her face. I wanted to tell her to never be ashamed of where she comes from. I wanted to tell her to “own it” and tell people proudly that, “I’M FROM PAKISTAN.” I kept these thoughts to myself, however and continued in this way:
Me: I’m not too familiar with the cooking from Pakistan. What are you making for dinner?
This is when Rubina’s face completely lit up! She realized that I was NOT going to judge her or end the conversation abruptly because of her ethnicity. She was so excited to tell me about the delicious chicken dish she would be preparing, and we had a great talk about turmeric, coriander and rose water.
Rubina: I’ll make some of my chicken and bring it in for you to try. You’ll love it!
Wow! Her generosity was so stunning to me that I didn’t know what to say. By then, there were other people on line behind me, so I had to simply wish her a Merry Christmas and be on my way.
It’s been almost a month since this happened, and while Father Fred gave a beautiful Christmas Eve sermon and we had a terrific time at the family gathering, it is this exchange with Rubina that has stayed with me.
Ignorant is not a word that I would normally use to describe myself, but I can’t deny that in this case, I was the textbook definition.
What I learned is that a little compassion goes a long way. By talking about cooking, we found common ground. We shared our basic humanity and the joy of being with family and feeding the ones we love.
I’m tempted to bring Rubina a dish from my own ethnic background, but I still haven’t decided if I should go with Chicken Cacciatore or Chicken Kiev. Hmm …
~ Karen H.
As news spread that our sister parishioner, Helen B., had passed, members of St. Margaret’s congregation quickly began planning the traditional luncheon reception for our member families following the burial in our cemetery. On the day of Helen’s funeral, the weather was cold and snowy, with more than half a foot predicted to begin falling that morning. I watched out the church office window early that day as parishioners arrived to drop off food or stayed to begin the process of getting everything in order for the luncheon. The snow kept falling …
The family watched and wept as Helen was committed in the cemetery, then made their way through the swirling and deepening snow to enter the oasis of warmth and support that awaited them in our undercroft. Although they entered with heavy hearts, I witnessed a transformation as the mourners were engulfed by love, comforting words and the wonderful banquet from our parishioners.
At that moment, I felt so proud to be a part of St. Margaret’s family. Our parish may be small, but we know no bounds when it comes to taking care of each other. Just the small gift of lunch and honoring the family’s need showed how we continue to have a loving impact on the world around us. Praise be to God!
~ Debbie McG., Outreach Co-chair