First Volume of Praying Together: An Ecumenical Prayer Journal

Now available!

Announcing the first prayer journal in a new series called Praying Together. The daily prayers are adapted from the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church of American and the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Volume 1 uses Psalms and John as part of the daily devotional reading.

Each volume will also include prayers found from other traditions that may be inspiring as well as modern poets or writers.

Within each volume, there is space to write or draw as one may feel moved. One of the goals, however, is to keep the devotional easy to handle for those with arthritic hands. The BCP and LBW are often too heavy for those with hand injuries or arthritis. The slim format of the book also makes it a book that is easily packed for travel or slipped into the Bible for daily use.

This is the first publication for the new non-profit press, Napping Dog Press of Beech Mountain, NC. Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support those in need in the Valle Crucis area of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains. If you would like to use these journals as a way to pray and give back to your community, please contact robin @ jrobinwhitley.net for a quote.

These books will be available with each contributing author as well as at City Light Bookstore in Sylva, NC. Ordering with the Indie bookstore or one of the authors will assure you of a more reasonable price.

Biographies of Writers

Jane W. Blackburn is a librarian, would-be poet, rookie old-woman-with-cats, and a person grateful for the love and mercy of God. Born in Alabama, educated in Kentucky and North Carolina, she now calls the mountains of northwest North Carolina home.

Doris Boulton is a former teacher, Director of Religious Education (DRE), and writer. Publications include Religion Teacher Journal, Primary Treasure, Our Little Friend, Utne Reader, Humpty Dumpty, Highlights, Festivals,  numerous poetry journals. Now resides in Valle Crucis, N.C.

Tamara B. Franks is a lover of Creation, intrigued by humanity, and continually seeking the depth of our beings. A native Texan, she lives currently outside of Boone, NC where she passionately serves High Country UCC as its pastor.

Michele B. Jack is a freelance, writer, editor, and graphic artist. Originally from Pennsylvania, she lives and works in the UK. Her other job is as an IT consultant to primary schools, providing technical help and creating educational resources.

Alicia Randolph Rapking is an ordained Elder in the WV Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church serving as pastor of the congregation at First United Methodist in Parkersburg, WV.  She is a global citizen, contemplative, writer, poet, artist, traveler, scholar, and seeker of justice and peace.

Jordan Venditelli is an ex-evangelical, queer and non-binary, Philosophy & Religion student in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Their work centralizes their experiences of being born and raised in rural NC, coming out as queer and non-binary in that environment, grappling with their queer and disabled identity, and finding an affirming faith community. They love sour beers, their cat – Java, and long chats about metaphysics and intersectionality.

JRobin Whitley is a freelance writer, musician, and preacher. Robin received a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Whitley now lives in the High Country of North Carolina with their dog, Birdie.

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A Letter to Steven about Vocation

December 16, 2019

Dear Steven,

Walking into the quiet winter morning, the red-pink in the East draws my eye to the rising sun. The sky is blue-gray and purple clouds are painted across the Northern sky. The West is behind Beech Mountain, although my residence is considered on the “backside” of the mountain.

Birdie and I walk in the warmish weather. Fifty degrees feels a bit like a heatwave after the wind, ice, and snow of the weekend. As we walk up Northridge road, the woods and shady places are still covered with snow. Though we did not get more than an inch in accumulation, it was cold enough through the day and night to remain. This morning the trees and porches beginning to melt, or at least the snow on the snow on the trees and the porches. It’s not a Salvador Dali type of morning, but more like a Monet painting.

As I listen to the silence and Birdie tracks some creature’s footprint, I wonder how I could ever leave this heaven? There’s no current plan to leave but there are those who wish I would move to Boone or Stanly County so I won’t have to be alone while also battling health issues. Yet, each time I go to a new place and my health wavers, in returning home to rest, I recover. There is healing in this place.

Rounding the upward curve of the road, a brown head turns on the hill above us to see who makes a sound. The yearling is snacking on what green remains on the hill behind our treehouse. Birdie sees the deer look at us but has learned not to bark and scare them away. Even this quiet morning seems sacred to her. Then I see two more spring-born deer who glance our way, return to grazing, and then flick their white tails as they mosey up the hill to the others.

In moments like this, I think of vocation and what does that mean for me at this place

Fawn in 2018

in my life. Not at the place on the mountain, for it is clear that this is the place to think, reflect, heal, and learn how to be present. But what does vocation mean for me at 58 as I finally learn to manage my disability with rest and quiet?

In the past few months, I have talked with my priests and also an Episcopal nun in a convent in New York. During more religious moments, I wonder if I should seek out the diaconate or return to the vocation of a pastor. When still in times of quiet contemplation, the urge to be part of a praying community like The Community of the Holy Spirit embraces me as an option. Then I remember a sentence spoken in my mind’s ear during one of my silent retreats.

You are an artist.

That simple sentence came to me as an answer to a prayer prayed for three days on vocation while I was still a pastor but seeking further discernment for vocation. At the time, I was certain that the answer would be something like a preacher, teacher, or musician. Though that sentence can certainly embrace all three of those options, it was one of those puzzles that the Holy Spirit gives us to ponder and consider.

It is only now, twenty-two years later, that I begin to see a way to live this path of vocation that is different than anticipated. Though I’ve mentioned that sentence and the need to understand its meaning for my life in these past years, it’s also been like I’ve tried to turn away from it. Why? Music, writing, painting has always brought me great peace. Yet, the reward of preaching, teaching, and being a musician was so much more rewarding. There. I’ve said it and now I see. At least, in this moment I can see the fear.

What fear you may ask? Fear of failure of course. Many artists work in oblivion during a lifetime. Some of their works fade into obscurity and others, like Emily Dickenson, become remembered for the art created in her life and created in silent obscurity. Early on it was clear to me that I did not want to be famous like those actors and musicians seeking the world’s accolades. Yet, somewhere in the past years I also realized that I didn’t want to be forgotten. What does it mean to trust G-d enough to be willing to be forgotten?

Having no human children means my pets, music, writing, and paintings are my children. There are memories I share with those around me and we all know that counts. Love always counts. Even in my divorce of recent years, it’s clear that LOVE ALWAYS COUNTS. Love finally showed that to me as I worked on healing and forgiveness. Though I lost my home and wife, the love we shared during those years changed me for the better and I will always have that beauty in my life even if I no longer have those people or that place.

In conclusion, this letter is not so much of one where I wonder where G-d is leading me because that continues to be clear. I only need to have enough faith to be obedient to G-d’s calling to be an artist no matter what else may call or distract me. My question is how can we see the Holy in each vocation? One of my favorite quotes from the theologian Frederick Buechner addresses the matter of vocation:

 

IT COMES FROM the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man [or woman] is called to by God.  

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.  

By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work

(a) that you need most to do and

(b) that the world most needs to have done.

 

If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a),

but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. 

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. 

– Originally published in Wishful Thinking

That last line says it all, doesn’t it? The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. What I must ask myself is does the world hunger for writings on love and peace? Does the world hunger for music that lifts the Spirit and calls forth integrity? Does the world hunger for art that expresses one’s deepest heart and truest self? For me, the answer is yes. That should be enough. I pray to focus on that truth, and that I may have the grace and faith to see that love will be enough.

Anticipated release of 1/6/2020

 

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Ginger Snaps and Coffee

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

There have been several times I’ve started to write for the website. Then the muses bombard me with ideas, poems, songs. This isn’t a complaint though. All artists want their muse or muses talking. Mine can be quite stubborn when I don’t listen because I am ornery. Today it seems they will allow me ginger snaps and coffee if I keep writing. I’m good with that.

“A miracle is not defined by an event. A miracle is defined by gratitude.” ~Kate Baestrup

Ginger snaps are good at any time of the year for me. However, fall is my favorite time for ginger snaps. As I bite into a cookie, I remember all the times my sister and I came home from school, grabbed the ginger snaps mom had bought and a glass of milk. We snacked while watching our favorite after school television shows. When Andy Griffin came on, we knew we had to hurry and make sure our chores were done before mama got home.

Our world is flavorful, isn’t it? There are flavors we don’t like for various reasons. Perhaps it’s merely a dislike of the taste or the taste is associated with a bad memory of sickness or hurt. We avoid those (if possible) of course. Then there are those tastes like ginger snaps or molasses cookies that remind us of those we love. Times gone by that were good and safe.

Tastes bring back memories. Molasses cookies were the only soft cookies I liked growing up. They reminded me of the taste of ginger snaps and were another after school snack. However, anything molasses made me think of Grandma and Grandpa Whitley. Molasses were a staple at their house and there was nothing better than pouring that earth brown syrup over fresh hot biscuits.

The molasses were actually considered “grandpa’s” but he always shared with us. Grandpa liked the type of molasses found in the mountains. They were not the jars of blackstrap molasses that one can find in the store. He liked the molasses best that were sweeter and with no bitterness. The viscosity of his molasses was such that it poured like honey and when it was poured, a line of gold shone at the lip of the jar. Just to talk of pouring molasses reminds me of all the times we four of my family sat at grandma and grandpa’s table eating fresh vegetables from their garden or my dad’s. Then, dessert was molasses over biscuits.

The only time we didn’t have molasses and biscuits for dessert was at this time of the year when grandma made persimmon pudding. Though, growing up, we pronounced it as “persimmern pudding”. Seems that we Southerners add syllables unconsciously when we speak. It was only after I had gone to college with many Northerners that I began to hear how our brogue was different from “the yankees”. Returning to work at the fish camp where I had worked in high school one weekend, I laughed to discover that the number four could have two syllables as in “fo-er”.

As the taste of ginger lingers in my mouth, I dream of grandma’s persimmon pudding. Most who have never tasted persimmon pudding turn their noses up because its color is brown like ginger snaps. Grandma’s was a simple pudding made of persimmons, sugar, butter, and eggs. Mama can make one like grandma’s and so can my sister. I’ve made them years ago when I lived closer to farmers who had persimmons.

Image by jacqueline macou from Pixabay

A persimmon is a fruit of the South. Maybe they have them elsewhere, but even some of my friends west of the Carolinas had not heard of or tasted persimmon pudding. One of the first things you do for a friend is to let them know not to taste the uncooked/unsweetened persimmon. Without the sugar, they are a bitter fruit that turns the mouth inside out. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Teeter, taught us this as we took a nature walk one day and she spotted a persimmon tree. I’ve always been thankful that she warned us so that no one would be able to play that cruel joke on us.

Waking up in the dark this morning, the sun rose in my heart filling it with love for all of creation. Some days are simply like that. Then, during meditation, memories of being loved returned flavoring my soul with the sweetness of memory, more love, and the realization that love transforms everything bitter into something sweeter.

We all know that life can be bitter. Yet, there is a sweetness to be found as the sun rises and birds begin to sing. The pink of the sky kisses the mountains and light begins to glow in the darkness. The day will pass with the good and the bad. Then, as night falls, there is rest and starlight and a safe warm bed. Not everyone has a safe warm bed or food to eat. Some awaken blind and deaf to the world around them. Yet, even then, there can be sweetness in life when it is allowed.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

The thing is, is that love is not aggressive. Love works for the well-being of another and if that other says no, or, leave me alone – love listens, hears, and respects the other. In my life, I wanted to give love to the world my heart full of idealism and hope. Then, as is prone in this world, hurts occurred, and dreams were torn apart. The remedy I was told was to love myself. That made no sense. Yet, time and again the message given to me by priest, counselor, doctor, friend was that real love for others could not occur without first loving one’s self.

The love they suggested was not that of narcissism but being as willing to work for my own well-being as I was to work for another’s well-being. This was hard to learn because it also meant being willing to express my thoughts and feelings even if and even when they were different from those I loved. There were fights and disagreements. The lesson is not one to be learned overnight and one born of loving friends and community. Through that lesson, after several decades of struggle, my own eyes were opened to see that I was not alone; that others loved me even with my faults and insecurities.

Being blessed with friends willing to challenge me in the best and worst of times also taught me that working for the well-being of another or of one’s self means taking the

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

time to look at mistakes and misconceptions. Now it becomes clearer why it’s so hard for us humans to accept love. Why? Because accepting love changes us, and we humans are too afraid of change expecting it to be bitter and painful.

There is pain in the acceptance of love given to me and love I have accepted in and for myself. There’s no special cruise that love boats us to a better place. We have to unlearn bad habits or let go of unhealthy practices, people, friends, and sometimes family. Sometimes it’s merely looking at those people, friends, family members in a different way and seeing that they are afraid too.

Love changes us. When we can trust in love and that real love leads us to health and well-being, we can allow the sugar of life to mix with the bitter chemistry of pain, loss, and fear and cook up something as delicious as a life well-lived. Of course, the persimmon is a passive fruit being what it is. As humans with will and choice, we can always say no to love. My only question is why?

 

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A Healing Summer

Fred’s General Store 2019 ©JRobin Whitley

As I enjoy the cool summer morning, I smile at the healing that occurred for me this summer. I am also reminded that it is late summer. Though the heat may be upon us again, the worst is over. We are now in late summer. Fall is sending us love leaves to remind us of the colors we love in fall.

This was my second summer living full-time on Beech Mountain. One of the things that surprises me is that summer is my busy time. This summer I’ve been blessed to sing at various churches and preach at two different churches. The Rev. Tamara Franks has given me wonderful opportunities to be a part of High-Country United Church of Christ (UCC). Mary Silver gave me the chance to preach for Resort Area Ministry (R.A.M) in Linville. Being a part of R.A.M’s ministries reminds me of the joy I had as a college student being a singer for the ministry teams.

Resort Area Ministry’s ROVER Team. Melanie Stone and Robin Whitley 1981.

 

Resort Area Ministry has moved from the music teams to be teams of people from churches willing to pick up a hammer or paintbrush and make a difference to the elderly, poor, or disabled who live year-round in the areas surrounding the resorts. I will tell you more about them in a later blog.

 

This is more of a summarizing of the wonders of my summer. In the past, summer was my least favorite season. I liked school and though I may have been ready for a summer break, summer was too long and too hot. The summers here on Beech Mountain have been blissful and for the first time in my life, I’m going to be sad to see summer go. It’s mostly because I and the dogster won’t be able to sit on the porch and enjoy the outdoors. Whenever it’s not raining and I’m not at a gig, teaching, or preaching, I and Birdie are on the porch. This dog loves a sunbeam. She also likes to steal my chair. Oh well.

My dog, Birdie.

This summer was extra special to me because there have been miracles galore happening in my life. Some of it is simply because grief is losing its grip on me. Also, I’m more familiar with the area so that it feels more like home. On the way home from church the other day, my heart was so full also then, somehow I knew that I belong here. My home church is Holy Cross Episcopal in Valle Crucis. We have two wonderful priests, a fantastic choir director, and beautiful people who are welcoming and caring. These people have been an integral part of the healing of the grief I’ve dealt with the past two years from the loss of my marriage and my home in Sylva, NC.

 

The Rev. Tamara Franks has been part of the healing of my minister’s heart. From day one, she has treated me as a colleague in ministry. The work I’ve talked about with her and then been able to participate in with her has further healed the wound from when I lost my ministry because I came out to my bishop. My priests at Holy Cross have listened and aided in that healing as well. By Mary’s invitation to participate in the ministry of R.A.M., that healing has reached even further back into my life. Through these wonderful human angels of G-d, there is a thread of healing coursing through my life; my heart, mind, and soul. Words don’t do it justice, but I’m trying.

 

The tee shirt my team gave me.

R.A.M. also has summer projects. I applied for one because of how my asthma disables me. This winter I was so sick I became convinced it had to be the carpet putting me in danger. It was old, musty carpet and most likely had mold. As a disabled person, I applied for one of the projects asking for the carpet to be removed OR for my walls to be painted. Some folks from Media Presbyterian Church from Philadelphia area come down to do this kind of work every summer. I am still in awe of these angels with hammers. The thing is, because of the work they did, I feel like I have a set of new lungs. My lungs haven’t felt this good in more years than I can count.

 

Because of this gift, I was also able to sing at a private party on Beech Mountain in AUGUST! August has always been the worst month for me as an asthmatic. Instead, I got to use my music to sing and be happy. This was part of the healing process mentioned above, but it also introduced me to more neighbors. It healed me because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to sing ever again like that – for two hours. My asthma had gotten so bad, it was all that I could do to sing at church on Sunday. G-d is so good. I feel blessed. This has been the best summer of my life. Hope yours was filled with blessings too!

Used with Permission.

“The winds of grace blow all the time. All we need to do is set our sails.”  ~Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

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Coming Soon! 2 new book releases.

Due out 10/19/2019 is the second edition of my poetry book.

New Cover for 2019 release.

Due out 11/5/2019 is my first prayer collection.

Due out soon.
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