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Mindful of Justice – Lent 2020

To be mindful means to remember to let go of compulsive reactivity and realize a nonreactive way of life.

~Stephen Batchelor, “The Art of Solitude

Today is Mardi Gras and I still haven’t decided what my Lenten practice will be. I live alone with my dog so there is plenty of solitude for me. What does it mean to be intentional and mindful when the Lenten season is upon us?

I’ve been working on getting my diet healthier so there’s nothing to give up there. Yet, as I think more about this quote, perhaps the journey in the days to come is to focus on what it means to trust G-d working within my own life.

The practice of meditation is one that requires us to be alone with ourselves. In committing to sit in solitude, regularly and without distractions, we are exploring a new way of being alone—a new way of being intimate with ourselves.

Lenten Intentions Page

Since last summer, discernment of where G-d is leading has put me on an unusual path. Of course, I’ve never been 58 and nearing 60. No, I won’t skip the 59th year, just saying that part of the journey is one of embracing the beauty of aging.

The best thing I’m learning from the aging path is that there is much beauty in going slower. Sometimes it drives me crazy that I am a tortoise now, but there’s always some glittering gem that shows itself when patience breathes into my soul.

Yet, as the season of Lent begins, questions arise for which I have no answer. In my weariness, can I find a way to make a difference? Can making a difference be as simple as being brave enough to ask the questions and put the questions into the stratosphere for other believers to ponder?

Then, that easily it becomes clear what my Lenten task is. This year for Lent, my focus will be on changing and transforming my own heart into a heart of justice. Justice for the oppressed begins with me. We are all in this mess together. Let’s pray and act in ways that turn the tide towards justice, hope, and love.

‘If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.’

~ Marvin J. Ashton

Questions I will pray and ponder over as part of my Lenten journey:

  1. Why hasn’t the Episcopal church taken a stand to be a safe haven for immigrants? What is my part in the action or inaction?

I wrote both bishops and no response at all. Yes, 5 bishops of the Episcopal church are making a difference, but what about the rest of us? Bishop Curry does address what can I do here. The bishops are from the border region, but there are others being deported across our country and some of them unfairly.

  1. We have migrants in NC, what does our bishop say?

Last summer, when I still had a car, I was driving home from church and two carloads of brown people (who were small in stature like many Mexican families) were pulled off to the side of the road. The stunned naked child on the hood of the car made it clear they had to pull over for the child. Yet, all I could think of was what if they were running and trying to find a safe place to simply BE?

They pulled over in one of the switchbacks between the church and Spirit Ride Therapeutic Riding Center. It wasn’t a safe place for anything. What do our people, in this community, know about Protecting Immigrant Families? I do understand that I am still learning the communities here. However, there was a huge migrant camp in Cullowhee before the deportations started. One of our church members got deported with her husband. She could have stayed behind I’m sure because her parents were white. However, she was pregnant and also had a toddler. The marriage was new and obviously, it must have been illegal too. I did not pry. Now I find, In Christ There Is No Border and somehow it eases my sense of justice that the institution is making progress in justice issues. What can we do to become a sanctuary congregation? I am willing to begin the talk if that’s what’s needed.

  1. Resolved, That The Episcopal Church recommend that its institutions and congregations become places of welcome, refuge, healing, and other forms of material and pastoral support for those targeted for deportation due to immigration status or some perceived status of difference and that we work alongside our friends, families, and neighbors to ensure the dignity and human rights of all people; and be it further…

I type in a google search for a count of how many Episcopal churches offer sanctuary and at this writing, I’m only finding one and it’s in North Carolina!

 

  1. I do see that there are LGBT issues that are being addressed a bit. Yet, this government administration seeks to take away what rights we do have. What can I do as a person of faith that will give hope to those who have no hope in rural areas?

Though the Advocate Magazine often talks about issues that are not political here, it also seeks to keep us aware of how the current administrations wishes to take way adoption rights, marriage rights, and also keep us abreast of the hatred spewed by xenophobic attacks. What am I going to do to spread hope?

 

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Joy in the Morning – A Valentine to Myself

“It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.”
~Mary Oliver

I rise early on this rainy morning, excited about the book I’m editing, excited about the essay I’m writing. There is joy in the morning. This often happens for me as a morning person. Classical piano music plays as a light rain falls on this Thursday morning. A day before Valentine’s day, I think of a new gentle friend I’ve met and how nice it would be to share a cup of coffee with her in the beautiful morning of classical piano music. Along with thinking of sharing a cup of coffee with a beautiful woman, my mind also considers a question asked by a different beautiful new friend. Here is the scenario she presents:

You meet someone and there is instant attraction. There’s no denying the connection, vibe and energy between you. You go out a few times and things are great. There’s also no denying where this is heading.

You want to be upfront and honest, so you decide to sit down and have one of ‘those conversations’ with her. You say, ‘this is my stuff’…  What is it you’re saying to her?

~Audrey Negron

At first, I didn’t know how to answer it AT ALL. During the day, I found myself pondering the question and how I would honestly respond. This morning as I washed dishes, the question turned over in my mind again and again. I thought of the pain when my ex-wife asked me to leave

because I was disabled, and she couldn’t deal with it. How does one come back from that? Being called “disabled” and having my physical ability limited was not my choice. How does one outline that to a new person especially when we know that aging and its natural course doesn’t necessarily mean everything will be better with time?

 

Then, my mind hears the piano music again and I remember the letter sent to me complaining about how much time and energy I spent on music; that I performed outside of the house and taught lessons, directed choirs. I’ve been a musician all of my life. At a young age, I

Me playing guitar.

knew that the life of a professional performer was not the life for me although somewhere in my training, I became a performer. The life of the professional performer required too many sacrifices of self: how one dressed, presented sexuality, no time at all for loved ones. The life of a professional performer was one that would take too much from my soul. As a result, I chose the life of a professional choir director and teacher.

When my ex sent that letter, I could NOT believe it. I asked her why she even got into a relationship with me if she did not want me to share my music? Later she apologized, but those types of things cannot be unsaid. That was an attack on my soul. I say an attack on my soul because I cannot imagine a life without music. So, what would I say to a new person if there was mutual interest? What would I say about that? That my first love was music? And, would that be true?

I ask if that is the truth because I don’t know which came first, my love of G-d or my love of music. In truth, they are somehow tied together for me. As I typed that last sentence, one of my favorite pieces of piano music plays, Debussy’s “Suite bergamasque, L. 75-3 Clair de lune. The pianist is Lang Lang.

My first thought is of my sister. This was a piece she was assigned when we took piano. Then, as the piano piece proceeds, I feel the flowing of our Carolina streams and see sunlight dappling the water. It causes worship to rise in my heart. Not worship of my sister or the pianist or the composer, but whatever entity brings that music into being, I want to know THAT ONE! That being who causes poetry, music, and sisters to be formed, I want to know and give thanks to that ONE.

Morning at Church of the Holy Cross, Valle Crucis, NC.

Therefore, my next confession is that I am religious. I tried on the “spiritual but not religious” cloak and it was well, weird. I felt like I was wearing someone else’s shoes and not my own hiking books. The truth is that I’m both spiritual AND religious. Each day is a day of searching for what it means to live an artistic and sacred life. Many cannot deal with that and I understand. At this point in life, I know I also cannot compromise that part of me any more than I can compromise being a musician or lesbian. There are some things you just know are TRUE about your life.

Those truths may or may not work for another. This is the beauty of life, self-discovery. You be free to be you and I can be free to be me. Alexis Ffrench plays “Bluebird” as I type about the freedom to be.

I’m not one to be caged. When you meet me, the first thing that usually starts is short jokes. LOL, I’m okay with that. Sometimes though, people think that because my physical being is small that they can put me in a box, but my soul will not be contained. Don’t expect me to be anything other than who I am.

In truth, I’m a poet, peacemaker, healer, but when someone puts me in a box, I will fight, and I can fight because I come from a family of warriors. I’ve also discovered and must admit that I may suffer fools a bit in public, but not for long. At 58, I admit being tired of the nonsense. My goal is to be a peaceful warrior, but my choice would be not to fight at all. If I had my way, each day would be spent with art, music, poetry, children, and friends. Yet, politics happen, hunger is daily, and dishes must be washed. The mundane can be beautiful too when those in charge are not power-hungry.

Though this essay is about responding to my new friend’s question, it is also a Valentine of some sort. I’m unsure what type of Valentine because the day itself has never been a good one for me. Yet, I want to love a special someone again I suppose. No, I know I do, because I love to love and care for another. Time and again the lesson that I keep learning is that first, I must learn to send a Valentine to myself. That is the hardest thing of all. We all must learn to love and accept our own flaws before we can truly love another. As I ponder Audrey’s question, I know the task is essential. Especially now, when all I know for sure is that I can offer is love, a song, kindness, and joy in the morning.

from “A Wave” by John Ashbery

When the Sun Went Down
To have been loved once by someone—surely
There is a permanent good in that,
Even if we don’t know all the circumstances
Or it happened too long ago to make any difference.
Like almost too much sunlight or an abundance of sweet-
sticky,
caramelized things—who can tell you it’s wrong?
which of the others on your team could darken the passive
Melody that runs on, that has been running since the world
began?
Yet, to be strapped to one‘s mindset, which seems
As enormous as a plain. to have to be told
That its horizons are comically confining,
And all the sorrow wells from there, like the slanting
Plume of a waterspout: doesn’t it supplant knowledge
at the different forms of love, reducing them
To a white indifferent prism, a roofless love standing open
To the elements? And some see in this a paradigm of how it
rises
slowly to the indifferent heavens, all that pale glamour?

French Translation by Michael T. Bee
… de “A Wave” de John Ashbery c’est une chronique de haibun. de nombreuses émotions complexes à la fois
comme l’adolescence ou tomber amoureux

Quand le soleil s’est couché
Avoir été aimé une fois par une femme – sûrement
Il y a un bien permanent là-dedans,
Même si nous ne connaissons pas toutes les circonstances
Ou c’est arrivé il y a trop longtemps pour faire la différence.
Comme presque trop de soleil ou une abondance de sucreries
gluant,
des choses caramélisées – qui peut vous dire que c’est faux?
lequel des autres membres de votre équipe pourrait assombrir le passif
Une mélodie qui continue, qui court depuis le monde
a commencé?
Pourtant, pour être attaché à son état d’esprit, ce qui semble
Aussi énorme qu’une plaine. devoir être dit
Que ses horizons se bornent comiquement,
Et tout le chagrin jaillit de là, comme l’inclinaison
Panache d’une trombe: ne supplante-t-elle pas la connaissance
aux différentes formes d’amour, en les réduisant
À un prisme blanc et indifférent, un amour inexorable debout
Aux éléments? Et certains voient en cela un paradigme de la façon dont il
monte
lentement vers les cieux indifférents, tout ce pâle glamour?

 

Beautiful Piano Music for your soul (playing this morning)

At Last (Solo Piano Version) Alexis Ffrench

Underwater Dream Eluvium

Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056: Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056: Largo Hae Won Chang & Johann Sebastian Bach

Chopin: Nocturne No.2 In E Flat, Op.9 No.2 Daniel Barenboim & Frédéric Chopin

Olivia Belli – Max Richter: Departure (Lullaby from “The Leftovers”)

 

 

 

 

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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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New Books and Lots of Inspiration

Poetry North Carolina Poet

Cover by Michele Jack

It’s a cold day on Beech Mountain, yet, also warmer than the past days. We had a wonderful snow on Tuesday and the ski resorts are blowing snow to get ready for ski season. The dog and I love snow even though we don’t ski. Who knows why Birdie loves the snow? Some dogs do and some dogs don’t. She has finally decided a coat is nice in such weather though.

The year has flown by quickly. All in all, it’s been a very good year in that it’s been a creative one. The summer was filled with singing, teaching, and preaching. Throughout, whenever there was a moment, I was writing. Meeting some new poets in the area has been inspiring. If you’ve not read Lisa Creech Bledsoe’s poetry yet, I encourage you to check her poetry out. You can get a sense of her poetry on her website Appalachian Ground. She also posts wonderful things about nature and foraging.

The music from Holy Cross Episcopal has been phenomenal this year. Elaine Kallestad has an amazing ministry there and she utilizes local talent from Appalachian State University (ASU)  which takes it a step further. The musicians at ASU feed into many of our local congregations. High Country United Church of Christ has music that is also good for the soul if you prefer the less formal service and music. The other great thing about both of these churches is that in addition to great preachers, they are also both congregations that are welcoming to all people. As a lesbian in this rural setting, I especially love this part.

 

 

Being surrounded by all this talent and all the beauty of the High Country is bound to be an inspiration to any artist. This mix of people and location have also inspired a collection of prayers I’ve wanted to do for many years and couldn’t decide where to begin. It is my hope to be able to offer this book in December of this year, but at the latest, we will have it out by January 6, 2020.

Due out soon.

The book’s title will be, Praying Together, and it is set up as a prayer book but also a journal. Moving from the Lutheran tradition to the Episcopal tradition has been a blessing in many ways. There are things that I love about each group of believers too. There are things that are similar and a few things that are different. It is the hope of me and the contributors to the book that the prayers will touch your heart and also be easy to access.

Its format will be smaller than the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of the Episcopal Church or the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) of the Lutheran church. As we age, many of us who value these prayer books begin to have challenges handling both the weight and the thickness of both books. Therefore, the size of the book will be thin and lightweight so that all who value prayer may be able to handle it with ease. This will also be a great book for travel because it also fits easily in a bag or folded inside of another larger book.

There is more inspiration abounding in these mountains than there are words or songs. Yet, those of us who create are willing to keep trying. Please support local artists, musicians, and small businesses as we enter into the gift-giving season.

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