I wrapped up the pomander balls and put them away for another year.

It has been 12 years since Ernestine Mitchell Bugbee died and I have worked very hard to process the enormous grief of losing her and making a new life that is inspirational and meaningful to me. I have moved to a place I love…scaled down my life to what is more reasonable and affordable and, most remarkably I have discovered love in my life again. By all measures I am happy and very involved in meaningful work. Yesterday I picked up a rideshare customer and driving her to her destination, she told me that her husband had died 16 years ago and we agreed that for people like us…the annual holidays were difficult. And that is the truth about losing the people we love. Grief does not end. It is always there…just under the surface and can reappear at any time…often inconvenient ones. Grief is something we must learn to live with and I think most of us do. I remember when it was only a few weeks since E had died and I was gripped by a fear that I would lose the intense memory of her in my life. I know now after so long that this simply could not happen. The part of me that was created from the years of the love we shared is still there….if anything more real and intense than it has ever been. And there are good reasons why it becomes more active during the holidays. As I unwrap the beautiful small trees she decorated with flowers and ribbons and tiny artificial birds…and place them around my small apartment each November…that very act of unwrapping brings me back 20 years to the days I watched her make them with the loving care and bright energy that characterized everything she ever did. And when (as I did today) I collect them, find the two boxes they are stored in and carefully wrap each of them in the old wrinkled tissue paper she wrapped them in after that last Christmas we shared together in Providence…she is with me again and it still makes me both happy and terribly sad for her loss. And I miss her again. And the grief returns. One of the many things E did to celebrate the season was to make Pomander balls (fresh oranges heavily studded with cloves so that when the orange dries over time, the cloves scent the air with a beautifully sweet spicy blend). She would sit there for hours studding the oranges with the cloves so that no sight of the orange peel could be seen. Then she would tie a little plaid ribbon into a bow around them and gather them all into a large glass bowl which sat in the living room of our home. Today I decided to put them away both to protect them and to allow the memory of their creation to rest a while before I brought them back out next November. So I wrapped them very carefully and packed them away with the trees. It has brought me some sadness as I still miss her as if she has just left me. A few weeks before she died I had a panic attack and broke into tears. Ernestine put her arms around me and asked me what was wrong:

What am I going to do when you are gone? You are the one person in this world that I have always turned to for love and advice and concern and direction. What am I going to do when you are not here for me to ask you what to do?” I said as we hugged.

Robin”, she said, “We have been together for so long and you have asked me about every question you could possibly have…so don’t worry about that. I will always be with you in your heart. All you have to do when I am no longer in front of you is to go ahead and ask me the question and you will hear me answer you as I always have.”

And I have found this to be true. I frequently ask the questions, and I hear her voice giving me the answers I need to hear. And right now, she is telling me to put this away…to stop thinking about all of this because it is making me sad and to get on to living the wonderful life I have now and doing the work that brings me so much inspiration and joy.

And that, my friends is exactly what I am about to do.

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Baring the door or Preparing the way?

Over the past two years of the Trump presidency I have frequently been asked “why doesn’t the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington DC not bar the doors to the President on the simple grounds that he, with his abusive and anti Christian behavior (that flies directly in the face of what we believe) should simply not be welcome. That we as Christians who believe in loving and forgiving all should not give aid and comfort to a man whose whole instinct appears to be to divide, to bully and to discriminate. It is a difficult question to answer but the question has a very simple response: we are called to love each other and to aid and protect the outcasts and most vulnerable among us. We are not called to turn anyone away…no matter how heinous their behavior and no matter how offensive their life. Our Presiding Bishop and a Primate of the Episcopal Chirch, Michael Curry has been very direct and up front about this. In his latest book the Bishop writes:

“Love is the way. Love is the only way. Those who follow in my way follow in the way of unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial love. And that kind of love can change the world.”
–Bishop Michael Curry 

And this is the reason we make the central facet of our worship…the eating of the bread and the sharing of the wine freely available to all who hunger or thirst. There are no credentials to be checked and certified as you walk through the door: only the reality that you were created out of love (God’s love for his creation) and our love for God and for each other. The simple truth of the commandment to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” is that it does not command us to like and respect each other’s opinions…it calls us to do something much more difficult…to love each other despite those opinions however objectionable they might be. So we open our doors widely to the world. Trusting in that act of inclusion that the love we show…even to those who may be “hard to love” has the power to change the world into a more “Christ-like place”. And in that holy act of welcome and inclusion we embrace the true heart of our faith: that Christ understands that we are all prone to mistakes and sins and stumbles on our way. That none are “perfect”. That we need to open our arms and our hearts to all: people who agree with us and those who do not. And in doing so…we bring God’s presence into our daily life in a real and fundamental way. And that can and frequently does change the world. The Reverend Mark Bozutti-Jones in a magnificent Christmas sermon this week at Trinity Church Wall Street challenged us all not to just “think” about our commitment towards love and inclusivity but to get up and “MOVE!” To physically commit an act of Grace: to let a stranger know you love then, to help the hopeless and down trodden in fundamental physical ways… to actually MOVE towards truly being the people of Love that our faith tells us we are. And we cannot do that and at the same time reject anyone whose personal behavior and heinous political beliefs are at odds with ours. And that the physical effort to accept, forgive, invite, love and welcome all can indeed change our world.

Amen

Take a Deep Breath

On this Christmas Eve I am reminded how important scents are to our lives. This morning, as I have done for many years, I unscrewed the top of a very small bottle of something called “The Smell of Christmas”made by a company named “Aromatique Inc”. And there it was: instant Christmas. I don’t say this lightly or flippantly. At least 13 years ago (a year before my late wife Ernestine died of terminal cancer) she had purchased a bottle of this essential oil that we used to scent the Pomander Balls that she made by studding oranges with cloves. That wonderful smell permeated the house we lived in on Blackstone Blvd. in Providence RI and it instantly tied all of the decorations and festivities together to create a wonderfully warm holiday environment that I am afraid I somewhat took it for granted. You know…Christmas comes back every year. Year after year. And as much as we love the traditions…it can get a little like that old Bill Murray moved “Groundhog Day”. It can get trite and old and I think it is our responsibility to prevent that. But that is easier said than done, Some years I am just not ready for it all…particularly since E and so many other family members and close friends have died. I actually have two unique scents that can send me back in time to happiness and joy: the Christmas scent that I use every year (or when I really want to remember the joy E and I shared together) and a squat little bottle labeled “Oriental Blend Pot-Pourri Oil” from a long ago vanished shop in Jermyn Street in London called James Bodenham & Company. That bottle has to be at least 25 years old. The label is hard to read and the bottle is just about empty…that is except for that wonderful scent that flows out of it when I bring it to my nose. One sniff brings back memories of wonderful trips to London and the day we wandered into the shop, bought the little bottle of scent and four wooden fruits that we used the oil on to scent our homes in the west Village in NYC, Seward, New York, Hackettstown, New Jersey and finally on Blackstone Blvd. in Providence. All of those houses have vanished as did my sweet Ernestine. The furniture that filled them has been disbursed and I live alone (of course with my beagles “Plaid” and “Stripe”) now in a very small and simple apartment near Charleston SC. I have an active, happy and busy life but at this time of year (and if I am going to be really honest at many other times) I remember and cherish the joys, pains, laughter and tears and the love I have given and had returned for my 70 plus years. And all of that come flooding back to me with a simple sniff of one of these little jars and I am overcome by the blessings I have received. (And yes, her pomander balls are still here and I can see her now as she was on that day that she made them). Merry Christmas…take a deep breath!

First Light/First Words 20 December 2018 Despite my share of pain and grief (which are a part of each of our lives and surprisingly ,for some, part of the gifts of Grace we are given by God)…I have had and continue to have a wonderful life. My long and happy years with Ernestine were a real partnership and despite the fact that we made a decision not to have children…we loved and supported each other and created a world of close friends who brought us warmth, security and purpose. During those years I rarely felt loneliness because I always knew E was there for me and that we would help each other through anything. And that we did through 37 years together and through the terrible sadness, and grief of losing her to cancer 12 years ago. Since that time I have questioned the decision not to have children which I largely went along with after E was not keen on it and I felt (through the absence of good parental roll models ) no knowledge of how to be a good and loving parent. And now, absent the unconditional love and support of the one person I always knew would be there for me…and physically separated from my small family, I often have feelings of intense loneliness and sadness. I am an extrovert who craves relationships and human interaction. I am also an intensely faithful person whose Christian faith and commitment to “love my neighbor as I love myself” forms and guides my life. So I gravitate to those whose pain, difficulties and loss touch me and cause me to reach out…to come along side of them and to try to do what I can to ease the burdens they carry and to pass along God’s love,inspiration and hope for reconciliation. I have done this as a hospital and hospice chaplain and now…without that work, I’ve found I can continue to do it as an integral and very inspirational part of every day. And now that I am older and on my own for much of the time…and I question weather the joy of having children and grandchildren in my life might have softened the blow of being alone in this world…I am reminded that with so many unloved, broken and lonely people surrounding me…that I have endless opportunities to create community among those who need it just as much as I do. And that to love is the reason why we were created and given life. And that brings me peace and great joy. So open your heart, let down your defenses and love each other with extravagance and with intention and Merry Christmas and much love from me and “Plaid” and “Stripe”

A Cosmic Question: Lick the spoon, Let the dog lick the spoon or wash it?

You woke up this morning and got busy straight away making your breakfast while the dog jumped at your feet wanting his.  You put the coffee on, toasted an English Muffin and after buttering it, spread some Maman Cherry preserves from the jar. And there you are with the first decision of the day: Do you lick the spoon, let the dog lick the spoon or put it in the dishwasher?  This is not a meaningless question.  And the answer to it could provide you with your first joyful bit of the day, or just help you keep the kitchen clean. I would argue that the first best choice is to take that spoon…put it right into your mouth and savor the sweetness of the cherry preserves.  Why would you want to just plop it in the dishwasher to wash it all alway when you could seize a bit of sweetness from a world where sweetness is definitely in short supply lately?  I think the second choice (let the dog lick it off) is equally valuable.  If you don’t want to lick the spoon…I guarantee “Fido” (or in my case “Stripe” seen eyeing the spoon) will never miss the opportunity to have a lick at just about anything.  And that can be a wonderful lesson: our pets never miss the chance to experience almost anything at least once (mine has stopped at ingesting lettuce). We should be as anxious to try something new, and to take a chance. Our ancient pets continue to be curious about just about everything right up into advanced old age. How many of us could claim the same enthusiasm for life? The last choice (just wash it) seems to be to be the least beneficial. Sure it will help you keep your kitchen spiffy…but where is the joy in tasting the sweetness or giving the sweet dog you love that unexpected pleasure?Of course none of this will change the world or make it a better place…but it could change your world and send you off a little sweeter and happier than you were before “Stripe” made your decision for you and stole the jelly spoon right out of your hand.

Have a day full of sweetness and joy and let me know what you think!

Robin (and “Plaid & “Stripe”)

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Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: Advent 1

Come thou long expected Jesus

Born to set thy people free

From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in thee

Amen

This has always been a country where conflicting opinions flourished.

We have never had unanimity of opinion but, in most cases, we have always found the means to get along.  We have had very contentious Presidential elections that have been very closely fought. And yet when the election was over, we were able to come together and even if our candidate did not win, be assured that the winner would act in the best interest of us all and try to bring us together.

Without getting into the partisan politics of all of this…that does not seem to happen any more.   It seems that we have reached a low point where we are losing the ability to tolerate any opinion unless it agrees with what we believe…and we are constantly in a choose your sides battle on everything.  Mutual respect, consideration and understanding have been replaced by frustration, anger, brutality and the inability to consider any opinion other than ours.    And I think it is crucial at this point in our life together (and we must find the means to live together) to think about how we have come to be in this predicament and what we in the church can do about it.

Our faith is built on love.  It’s quite simple really.  We were created by God because he loved and continues to love us and God expects us to love each other.  So the question becomes, if we close ourselves off to anyone who does not agree with us…if we surround ourselves only with people who are like us and reject anyone who is “different” how is it possible for us to find the means to do what God has directed us to do…to love each other?

The season of Advent begins today.  And as you know it  begins the liturgical year for us in the Christian church. Our country is facing many conflicting events that are causing us great distress and anxiety.  We are confronted by the horrendous spectacle of refugees from the poorest most crime ridden parts of Central America, basically mothers and their children really… who are desperate to find a safe and welcoming place to raise their families.  Then we have the seemingly endless issues of discrimination against people of color and the injustices visited over and over again on them simply because their skin is not white . And here we are beginning Advent…a season of preparation for the arrival of a poor and lowly refugee family who in a building built for farm animals will give birth to the child who will bring light to this still very dark world.  It is sometimes almost impossible to understand how we can love and adore one poor brown baby who will bring the light of God to our world and at the same time reject all of his millions of brother and sisters throughout the world.

Advent is derived from the Latin word Adventus which in ancient times referred to the ceremony surrounding an emperor’s arrival in a city. It has also come to mean the arrival of a new idea or event.  Our collect for the day talks about “casting out the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light” as Christ is born among us and it also anticipates his coming again in “glorious majesty on the last day”.  The reading from Jeremiah talks about fulfilling promises and the beginning of something new ”a righteous branch to spring up for David”.  The Psalm and the new Testament reading from First Thessalonians speak of thanking God for the gifts we are given and the strengthening of our faith. And our Gospel lesson, takes us to a vision of the second coming when we will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” and advises us to “watch for the signs  that will show that the Kingdom of God is near”.

That is an awful lot to pour into just one Sunday’s lessons

I come into contact daily with many people who are heart sick over the state of our society and what it means to confront all of this every day.  I think many of us are frustrated, saddened and angry and are just giving up and no longer trying to make sense of it all.   I am not one of those people…but I can tell you that I have stopped watching cable news on Television entirely and that I do not believe that the 24 hour news cycle is at all helpful in encouraging understanding between us.

And here is the reason I decided to speak with you about this today on the first Sunday in Advent:

I am afraid that many of us are confronting a crisis of faith. The issues of the day are important but faith, hope and love are much more important.  I think we need to remember the lessons that our faith teaches:

-That we are all one.

-That there is no such thing as the “other”

-That Jesus said he would be with us whenever two or three are gathered together.  -He never said when two are three are gathered together, the two would make the third an outcast… the “other”
-That we are ALL created in God’s image

-That there is only love: God’s love for us. Our love for God and our Love for each other.

When things were the darkest…Dr. King would talk about Hope and the need to keep it alive as in the words of the poet Emily Dickinson:

 

-“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all.

-And sweetest in the gale is heard

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

-I’ve heard it in the chilliest land

And on the strangest sea;

Yet never in extremity

It asked a crumb of me.

I saw that poem for the first time in a hospital corridor during a desperate time when I was not only questioning my faith but I was beginning to lose hope. And those simple words caused me to stop…to question what was happening to me and to finally realize that where nothing material in my world had any permanence, my faith in GOD did and that the hope that God would protect me, keep me safe and help me to live another day because of the gift of his grace was the only thing I could really depend on and the only thing that would save me.

And it did.

Our faith is inextricably linked to hope.  It cannot exist without hope. We cannot exist without hope.  A loss of hope is the result of the loss of faith.  And our faith is the one thing that we have that we can  use to change the world.

We are told over and over again not to lose hope and we need hope the same way we need air. That only those who have gone on to eternal life have no need of hope because God has given them their reward and they need nothing more. We can be battered and broken  by the continued barrage of insults, exagerations, lies, disrespect and horrendous behavior that is held up for us daily.  Our inability to confront all of this can result in understandable, sadness, anger, frustration, pain  and yes, fear.  Fear of what we do not know.  Fear of the future…Fear of what we think might happen And fear is a powerfully unmotivating force that accomplishes nothing more than to separate us and make it impossible to love each other.

And I think fear and hopelessness results almost entirely from a crisis of faith that is wearing us down and encouraging us to give up… And that is an understandable but altogether un-faithful response. Because Hope has always been the motivating factor in our changing the world.  In the dark and fearsome holds of Slave ships, in the brutality and inhumanity of concentration camp barracks at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, wherever people have been brutalized and unjustly held against their will…people have held on to the hope that they might one day be free.  If they had not…what would have been the purpose of continuing to fight against injustice…and what would we have lost.

So here is Advent and as the season begins, I think we need to do something radically new:  We need to concentrate on rebuilding the normal and Godly inspired values  in our own lives…not the lives of those we do not agree with….but our OWN lives.  In spite of the ugly values constantly on display in the public square…we need to be scrupulously  honest, we need to stand up for decency and goodness and kindness and generosity and understanding and forgiveness. And we need to love each other.  In fact…loving each other may be the strongest weapon for good that we have to turn the tide of hopelessness negativity, sadness, frustration and fear that are impacting so many of us.  With all of our help it will get better…and there are better days ahead if we will just open our hearts to God…and let our better angels lead us on.

So as Advent begins…let us

consciously slow down…

really LIVE each of the 24 days of Advent,

make ourselves ready for the birth of the child who will save the world,

continually prepare ourselves for his second coming,

find the means to love each other extravagantly, abolish the stranger, “the other” from our midst through God’s love.

This Advent season is all about Anticipation and Beginning and Hope and Faith and Love.

-The anticipation of the birth of the Christ Child

-The beginning of all that will bring about.

-The gifts of Hope and Faith that God gives us

-And the Love of Christ which makes it all such a wondrous gift of Grace.

So let us begin, let us pray for peace among nations and let us Keep Hope Alive.

Amen.

 

 

 

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Discernmnent for Life

“When morning come to Morgantown, the merchants roll their awnings down”  Joni Mitchell’s bell-like voice and odd guitar tunings wake my day as the early morning light comes through the blinks on my bedroom window and I am magically transported back to our small apartment in the West Village in 1975.  Ernestine is still sleeping in the living room as I sit at my drawing board doing what I cannot remember now more than 40 years later.  When we are that young, everything has a sense of urgency and immediacy…we’ve got to do it NOW, while the thought and the urge are seizing us.  There is no sense of history to measure our days against…only what we want and what we need right now!  And this morning I remember that life and all of the people who were in it and who I miss very much.  There are people who struggle through their lives without ever knowing that they are loved and because of that have never learned to love another and that is a dreadful and terrible thing. Then there are those who, like me, have been loved throughout their lives but not maybe as we wished we had.  That is the kind of person I think I once was.  Stumbling through my life, assuming that what I was given I was entitled to and that it was never enough. Always wanting more and not really every appreciating what I already had.   And then I began to lose that life as she began to lose her life to cancer (I don’t dignify the word with a capital C) and in that awful sense of loss, loneliness and despair I discovered a new life that constantly surprise me with the gifts I am given,  I have very few material belongings and I am not terribly financially secure…but I have what I need and if I can stop myself from comparing what I have to what others have…I am happy. Very happy. Not for who I might be, but for who I have become and the love I am able to give others and that surrounds me as another day of promise shines through my window and illuminates my being.  I have no regrets about where I have been but I am bathed in the sacred light of where I am.  Where God wants me to be. It has taken my 70 years to understand this passage and flow of life: that by listening and responding to God’s call , I am being who I was destined to one day become.  That to love and to be loved is our greatest gift and the reason we were created. And I am grateful.

 

Amen