This year, we are borrowing a large canvas labyrinth for our special Advent events. After worship on Sunday, a great crew of folks moved our platform and chairs to make room, and then set it up. At night, we lit the sanctuary with candles and filled it with music for a time of prayer.
Posted in Prayers and Reflections
We were grateful for the opportunity to celebrate with Polly the 35th anniversary of her ordination (which also happened at WCUC!). Polly shared a testimony about her call to ministry and how she has carried it out. Then, she renewed her covenant with the church, local and universal:
Shirley: Polly, 35 years ago you stood here in West Concord Union Church and, with prayer and the laying on of hands, you were ordained as pastor and teacher in the United Church of Christ.
Ellie: Standing here once again, will you now renew your covenant with this congregation, and with the wider church, serving God in partnership with others, showing love and justice to all people, without exception, while advocating for a peaceful world and a safe and healthy planet.
Polly: With the help of God and in the presence of this congregation, I will. I celebrate our mutual ministry within these church walls and in all the places where we serve God and our sisters and brothers.
All: Polly, we celebrate our partnership with you as ministers of Christ’s church. We promise to support you and join with you in our mutual ministry, that together we may be a faithful church both here and beyond these walls.
Blessing: Holy God, wise beyond our wisdom, we give you thanks for the great gift of Polly: for her insight, her compassion, her openness to your inspiration; for her skill with words, and the generosity of her heart; for her service to you and your church, here in this congregation and beyond. We pray that today you might once again fill her with your Holy Spirit, Blessing her with peace and with holy power, that she may be encouraged and enlivened as she continues to act as a part of the body of Christ in the world, in all things hoping to bring your kingdom closer. We pray in the holy name of Jesus: Amen.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands.”
Beannacht / Blessing
by John O’Donohue
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
God speaks to each of us before we are,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the land they call life.
You will know it, when you arrive, by how real it is.
Give me your hand.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
I’m stepping out from wooded shadows and into the bright arrival of a fresh day. Beyond the forest, rugged trees give way to a clearing as I walk beside new possibilities. Along the path, I gather tattered pieces from seasons past to place with care upon the mantle. And to my surprise what I discover, resting nestled and preserved, are scattered dreams now recollected, their colors vibrantly reminding amid the slender pines. Entwined twigs and fallen needles, I find childhood dreams that have lost their way, I uncover wild dreams yet unbroken, and dreams that used to keep me up at night, restless and alive. Now is the time I pick them up, dust them off and let them breath into a wider opening. Let their pulse race free with promise. Let them blend with each morning’s faithful light.
From Susan Frybort’s Open Passages: Doors and Windows to the Soul
Walking Prayer happens every Tuesday at Walden Pond. Meet us at 9:30am on the beach for some centering time and conversation, followed by a meditative walk around the pond (or along the beach, for whatever distance is comfortable for you), and a closing circle to share insights, inspirations, and reflections. Newcomers are always welcome!
On October 8, scores of Dennis Lin’s family and friends gathered to celebrate his life. Dennis grew up locally and graduated from Concord Carlisle High School where he met many of his friends. After high school, Dennis achieved his goal of living independently and resided in West Concord for the past three years.
Dennis died on September 25 after a life-long battle with Prader Willi Syndrome. The love-filled memorial service was hosted by Sunday Fellowship, a ministry for people of all abilities at West Concord Union Church (WCUC), both of which Dennis was an enthusiastic participant. In addition to his many friends at WCUC and Sunday Fellowship, the service was attended by Dennis’s mother, Woahyih Lin, his father, George Chia-En Lin, his brother, Samuel and his aunt, Jenny. Many of Dennis’ former classmates and teachers at Concord-Carlisle High School, gathered with friends he made at local businesses, among Concord’s first responders and on the commuter rail to remember Dennis’ enthusiasm, his love of dancing and his inexhaustible friendliness.
Members of Sunday Fellowship led the congregation in a reading of Psalm 139 affirming that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God regardless of how our bodies move, communicate or think. Samuel read the story of the Good Samaritan, a scripture Dennis referenced in his testimony. George spoke gratefully of several notes he found among Dennis’ papers in which Dennis expressed deep love and faith. As the coordinator of Sunday Fellowship for the past three and a half years, I couldn’t help but think that Dennis would have LOVED the idea of his friends all meeting each other, especially at a Sunday Fellowship gathering. While I and so many others will always wish we could have had more time with Dennis, we are comforted to know that his time was so very full of love and joy. We love you Dennis!
The youth kicked off a new year in our beautiful Welcome Garden with some time to get to know one another, some sharing of summer experiences, and then some “slow down” time to reflect on our worries and hopes for the new year and on God’s promise to walk with us always. We used verses from Isaiah 43 to center our discussion and a few questions to help us see where life and faith might connect. In closing, the youth experienced prayer walking in the labyrinth where they were invited to sink their worries and float their hopes.
These words of Isaiah are a good reminder for young and old alike!
1 But now thus says the Lord,
the One who created you, O Jacob,
and formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; …
4 You are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you. …
5 Do not fear, for I am with you always. …
16 Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…
18 Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Our reflection questions might be good for all generations too!
- As you begin a new year, there’s usually a mix of fears and hopes, anxiety and excitement. No matter what we feel or face in life, God promises to be with us always. What does this mean to you?
- What are some of your worries or fears right now?
3. What are you most excited about? What are you hoping for?
We highly recommend taking these and other questions on your heart into the labyrinth sometime soon. You might be surprised by what God has to say to you!
It was as if summer just would not let go. Even though it was the day after Labor Day, by the sights and sounds at the pond, it could have been mid-July. What a gift to reunite with fellow travelers in faith, to share what’s been on our hearts over the summer, and to walk alone (but together) in silence around the pond looking and listening for God’s voice. The flowers, the trees, the beach goers, the water, the birds, and even a turtle…all signs of a lingering summer refreshment. In the words of Barbara Steele…”Nothing remarkable today, except so much glory.”
Drifting rafts of oak leaves.
only the slightest distortion–
like fine old glass,
with the back paddle ripple
of mallards along the edge.
At the trail’s end,
a study in stillness,
dark against the sudden glare
of sun on water.
I slow and hush and witness,
caught in that suspension of time.
Nothing remarkable today,
except so much glory.
Barbara Steele/Bethany Poets
Walking Prayer happens every Tuesday. Meet us at 9:30am on the beach for some centering time and conversation, followed by a meditative walk around the pond (or along the beach, for whatever distance is comfortable for you), and a closing circle to share insights, inspirations, and reflections.
Last week marked our final Walking Prayer gathering at Walden Pond … for now anyway. What a blessing it has been to observe the seasonal changes throughout the year – both in nature and in our lives. We have drawn closer to our own hearts, to God, and to one another, as we’ve carried one another’s burdens and shared in each other’s joys.
“They say that beauty comes from a spirit that has weathered many hardships in life and somehow continues with resilience. Grace can be found in a soul who ages softly, even amid the tempest. I think the loveliest by far is the one whose gentle heart bears a hundred scars from caring, yet still finds a way to pick up the lamp, one more time, to light the way for love.”
– from Open Passages by Susan Frybort
We most recently watched spring finally arrive at the pond, to be followed quickly by signs of summer. All along, this place has become a “graced oasis” for us – to borrow a term from Miriam Therese Winter who writes:
“Drink, drink deep, let it all sink in to the well of your remembering and the spell of your imagining, against the day after day after day, devoid of time to sit and pray, when your heart is up against the wall, your thirsting spirit will recall what a blessing so much time and space is, and return you to this graced oasis.”
… Seeking Light and Hope to Guide our Way
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen
We enjoyed a weekend together on Cape Cod that was blessed with sharing, praying, reflecting, singing, laughing, playing, enjoying nature (rain and shine!), creating, exercising, eating, and dwelling in the presence of God’s amazing grace!
Hope is all about the future
It is a turning away from the past,
the jagged memories, the fearful thoughts that circle in
a tightening spiral.
Hope is a choice, an opening to the
possibility of change.
It widens the view and restores the heart
Beating, like the wings of a flying bird,
on its way somewhere.
Just as I am and you are.
Inspired by a line in Carrie Newcomer’s song A Light in the Window…”I’m throwing seeds on a winter snow…”
I’m casting good bread upon the water I’m shoveling earth from off the ground I’m hanging my coat from the lowest hook I’m saving the best for first.
I’m throwing a long glance over my shoulder
I’m listening to what the little bird said
I’m hesitating before I’m lost
I’m walking a mile in my shoes.
I’m laughing with the doves of mourning I’m taking that leap of standing still
I’m planting feet firmly in the clouds
I’m forgetting who I thought I was.
Shelli Jankowski-Smith May 6, 2017
Some people say I have an unusually peaceful aura about me. I don’t know if that’s always true but I think I’ve always had a gift of courage. I believe I’ve had it so that I could deal with the challenges I’ve had to face in life.
Like my mother said earlier, I have Prader Willi Syndrome. Prader Willi is a genetic condition with a few different symptoms. But the main thing about Prader Willi is that you’re born without the signal that tells you when you’re full. So people with Prader Willi always feel hungry.
You might think Prader Willi is the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my life. But it’s not. Getting diagnosed with Prader Willi made my mom and me really happy! I wouldn’t say knowing made my life any simpler. But it explained a lot—like why I have small hands and feet and why I was always really good at puzzles. For the first time, there was a reason why aspects of my life seemed different. And it was a huge relief to know I wasn’t the only person who had gone through some of my issues. But Prader Willi has not been my biggest challenge in life. Growing up without my dad, moving a lot when I was a kid, and having a hard time in school were a lot tougher. That’s when I needed my courage.
I’ve always been drawn to people and places where the Love is big and easy to feel. The dance studio where I dance several times a week is like that. It’s a place where everyone is glad to see each other and where we’re free to be ourselves. It’s like there’s a Love in that place that’s bigger than all of us. But we are all a part of it if in our own ways. All I have to do is walk in the building and I feel it. West Concord Union Church and Sunday Fellowship are like that for me too. So are certain people. And so is Nature. They’re the places I know where I can always go to recharge my batteries and fill up on Love.
My best friend Madeleine was one of those people too. She drove a taxi service I used a lot and I would be with her most Sundays. Being with Madeleine always made me feel such love. But along the way, I found out she had ALS. It was very hard for me to admit she was going to die. But when I saw her getting the signs of ALS so rapidly, I had to face it. And that was a much bigger challenge than finding out I had Prader Willi.
My mom and my friends often say I’ve taught them a lot about how to “live in the now”. I guess that’s true because I don’t hold on to my problems. I know how to look for the people and the places where the Love is big and easy to feel. Thanks be to God.
Little did I know, the day Jane was born, that this tiny little girl would forever change me and challenge who I was day after day. She still challenges me even now. But on the day she was born, she demolished my girlish fantasies of who I would be as a mother and deliver dreams to our lives we didn’t know we had.
When she was born, Jane had no reflexes at all, including sucking. When the doctors sent us home, saying she was fine, she still could not suck. They told me I must get 3 ounces of formula into her every 4 hours whether she wanted it or not. If she fell asleep I was to wake her up by flicking the bottom of her feet. For many weeks it would take me at least 10 hours day to do this and sometimes 20– flicking the bottom of her feet – working her mouth- to get this formula she did not seem to want, into her. I would cry. I would weep. “I cannot do this,” I wailed. Or I would pray, “Help me help me! I promise I’ll be good.”
Sometime during those weeping weeks and childish praying—-something within me said, “Stop it. Get the job done!” And I did. I did it silently, quietly. I learned to listen to Jane. I watched her carefully and kept a diary – how long did she sleep, how long it took to feed her, what did she pay attention when awake. I let the doctors tell me she was fine. I stopped arguing with them and they stopped telling my husband–Jane’s father—I was neurotic. We were an Air Force family. My husband was a pilot and gone most of the time. He and I acted like everything was ok—though I knew my child was different from others. I kept working, reading and watching. Was Jane meeting the normal developmental benchmarks? No, she wasn’t. So I studied other children and asked myself, “How is she the same and how is she different?” I was developing the Benedictine practice of work as prayer.
Jane did develop, a little slower than other babies, but she was growing faster than I was. I was wound too tightly to grow feely. I was still concerned with being nice and polite, always having a smile on my face, not getting too emotional and never challenging anything or anyone. When Jane was three, we had another baby girl. Shortly thereafter, Alan was assigned to a Special Ops unit in SE Asia. He left when Jane was barely 4 and Ann not yet a year old. And then he was killed in action, in Laos, when Nixon said we were not in Laos. Alan was killed on his first flight in-country.
At my husband’s funeral, with full military honors, a 21-gun salute, honor guard and planes flying in formation overhead, I fearfully wondered to myself, “What am I going to do?” And once again something inside me said, “You are going to give your daughters the life you and Alan promised you would give them. Get to work.” And I did. In the 4 years since Jane had been born, I had quietly and carefully developed my intuition. I began to let myself feel. I learned that I was a small, suppressed and broken person who simply was not up to the job life had given me. But I took it on anyway. I went back to college. I got a BA, an MA and PhD. I went to therapy and took apart the emotional box I was in.
I was finally growing, first into the mother Jane needed, the kind who didn’t tolerate doctors or teachers who focused on what she couldn’t do. I looked for warriors. I interviewed doctors, teachers, speech therapists, physical therapists, orthodontists, nannies, neighbors. Even my own friends were scrutinized. I researched towns, communities, neighborhoods where Jane would not only be safe but also supported and included. I, like all parents, wanted people who were committed to who my daughter could become. I could see this was also going to cost a lot of money so I better get a good job. And I did. The University of New Hampshire offered me a faculty position and that’s how we got to the east coast.
The broken woman I had been, was becoming more open, less encumbered by the restraints and limits I had learned in the past. I was opened past many of the attitudes of the day. Did you know that Reagan signed a law in 1980 that made it illegal to neglect a compromised baby? But until the 1980’s it was legal to let a baby die!
Jane kept growing differently than others. She didn’t speak until she was almost 6 years old. Two weeks later, we discovered she had taught herself to read. She was also becoming very interested in food. She was a collector of it. It was an adventure cleaning her room: “What snack would be in the sock drawer? How old was the pizza in the underwear drawer? Where did she get the jelly beans in her boots?” She made it through the many hazards of grade school and high school and into her adult life still a mystery to all of us around her
Jane was 38 years old when she was finally diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Prader-Willi is a non-inherited genetic error which displays hundreds of physical and neurological characteristics. But the single most challenging and disruptive symptom to daily life is the ever-present desire for more food. Jane’s body, every neurological mechanism, every cell, tells her every moment of her life that she must have more food – much like a starving person. Their early deaths are often the result of this never-ending demand for food from a body that will gain weight on 800 to 900 calories a day (which is comparable to the 800 calories diet of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps during WWII).
There is no cure for Prader-Willi, only a protocol, for managing the lethal choices the person is compelled to make. The protocol is 100% supervision and 100% control of available food. Just to let you know, we do not maintain this protocol of complete supervision and control. By the time, Jane was diagnosed she was a very independent person and she was not about to let that be taken from her. Somehow, somewhere, she has learned to stop eating when her body is saying more but is always in a dangerous conflict with her body’s desires. Jane is one of the few people with PWS that has survived into her 50’s. (I should note that this community has an abundance of Prader-Willi People. You have two, Jane and Dennis. This is a great number for such a rare syndrome). Now we can find doctors who have at least heard of Prader-Willi but very few have met such a person.
As for me, I’m still growing and battling my way toward a life that is both broken and open. At times, I still fight with that superficial girl who is concerned with superficial things. Jane and I were once in a battle over something, I don’t remember what, when Jane said to me, “You are interested in looking good and I am the child that doesn’t look good.” She was right! It was true in that moment. I was angry that she didn’t look good and it might tarnish me. Since then I promise myself repeatedly and regularly to let go of such mundane, shallow concerns. And I still don’t like being the food sheriff.
I have also learned that our story is not unlike the story of this church-maybe a few more challenges or pitfalls. Maybe our story is on steroids – you know what I’m talking about. But I know it wasn’t always easy for this church to include people of all abilities. And yet, you found a way and it has broken you open in some wonderful ways. I thank you for this, for your openness, for your insistence on inviting everyone to this church. I am grateful Jane is here in your company.
In my experience, Broken and Open are like sisters who squabble in a shared room, brothers who compete at everything or parents, who feel the responsibility the and sorrow of bringing their children into this flawed world. Jane’s birth did not break me. Jane’s birth and life revealed that I was already broken. What I know now is that love can overcome any amount of brokenness. Maybe you too you have loved someone whose spirit insisted that you open yourself to something you didn’t think you could. Jane’s spirit insisted, still insists that I open myself to the mystery of her and of her life. Someplace in this journey Jane and I have been on, I have found a deep and abiding gratitude for our whole demanding glorious life. Today, the prayer I repeat over and over quietly is still simple – it is “Thank you.”