Interfaith/non faith Christmas dinner prayer

This is useful if you have a family gathering where not everybody is on the same faith-page. I used this at Christmas at my in-law’s house. The words aren’t original, but the assembly is. I put the references at the bottom. Please let me know if you use this prayer at your gathering and how it was received.

Oh, Thou, the sustainer of our Bodies, Hearts and Souls –

We pause this day, joining with others across the world

who, like us, yearn for peace and harmony and understanding.

We pause to celebrate the joy of people coming together;

serving one another with common goals and concerns.

We pause to ask Your blessing on this, our time together,

on gatherings like ours, across our land and across the world.

May we be thankful for the food we are about to receive.

May it be blessed to our use,

and may we be dedicated to the service of that great family of all souls.

When there is peace in the heart, there will be gentleness in the person.

When there is gentleness in the person, there will be fairness in the nation.

When there is fairness in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

May we be centers of peace and help speed the day where we all may be one.

Amen.

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I assembled this from prayers from the book “For Praying out Loud” by L. Annie Foerster,

specifically “We Pause to Give Thanks” by Laurel Hallman, at a UN peace gathering,

and “When There is Peace in the Heart” by Richard Gilbert, Center of Peace Invocation.

I used a Sufi prayer for the address to the Divine in the first line

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Getting it out.

Originally posted on FB on 12-23-12

When you swallow something that isn’t good for you, your body has a way of dealing with it. Say it is spoiled milk or meat. You may notice that it isn’t quite right when you eat it, and spit it out. Or, it may be mixed up with other things and you don’t figure out early enough that it is a bit off. Fortunately your body knows better and will end up getting that out of you pretty fast one way or another. Generally you will throw it up, and while the throwing up part never feels good, you invariably feel so much better once you have gotten it over with.

So why do we suppress our emotions? When we take in something bad, something difficult to process, why do we in our society do our darnedest to not cry or yell? These are ways of getting out the bad emotions. I’m not saying that it is a good idea to fake being happy all the time – that too can cause problems. In fact, that is part of the problem. We need to experience all emotions, but we also need to know how to deal with the ones that overwhelm us.

It is OK to cry. It isn’t a sign of weakness. It doesn’t lessen your status as a “man” or as an “adult”. It is OK to yell and scream sometimes. I’ve read several books on grief recently and they all say that loudly expressing your grief is really healthy and helps you start to heal faster. Holding it in is exactly like holding in that spoiled milk or meat – you’ll just feel sicker.

I didn’t fully process my parent’s death when they died 6 weeks apart when I was 25. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t feel that I had time to. I had to handle the estate and then take care of myself. I had to get a full-time job. I had to take care of an old, rambling house. I had to figure out how to sell off my father’s car that he just bought. I didn’t have much help from my family on these matters. My aunt gave some money to tide me through for a bit. My brother was less than helpful, and in fact made the situation worse. My priest performed the funeral service, but didn’t tell me anything about grief. The hospice workers also didn’t prepare me. I didn’t know how to handle the pain, and the only model I had was how my family had handled everything big in the past. Sadly, that model was to just endure it quietly. My friends also abandoned me, one even saying that she didn’t know how to help me now – so she just left. This was common. Nobody called, and nobody came by. So my grief was multiplied- my parents had died, and it seemed like my friendships had died as well. Two years later I ended up in the mental hospital because of my grief and inability to process it.

When you are grieving, everything seems far away and not connected. It is as if you are looking at your life from far within yourself, and hearing everything as if it is through a paper tube. There is a lot of distance, both physically and psychologically. You may feel like you are walking through quicksand or molasses. Everything goes very slowly. It is hard to take care of everyday tasks, and so it is almost impossible to take care of unusual tasks like tending to your soul’s needs.

Grief isn’t just over a physical death. You can grieve over any loss or change. Changing a job, whether voluntarily or involuntarily can bring on grief. Divorce, whether you wanted it or not can do the same. Any change – moving to a different town or a house, having a baby, getting a new health diagnosis, can cause big emotions. It is important to recognize this and process this.

Bottle these feelings up and it is the same as swallowing your own sickness. It will only make you feel worse. Get it out! Yell, cry, wail. Complain to a trusted friend who can handle it. Seek therapy. I’ve heard something I like that I’ll share with you. There is a Jewish saying that it is important to have friends, and if you don’t have friends, it is OK to buy them – and this is the source of why it is OK to have a therapist. A therapist or a counselor is a paid friend.

So, my suggestion to you is to first recognize you are sick with grief and pain from a loss, and then to get it out. Don’t bottle it in. Crying is excellent medicine. If you don’t start to feel like your regular self in about a month, or if your grief is just too much for you, please seek professional help. Seeking this help isn’t a sign of weakness – to NOT seek help is. Self-medicating also isn’t the answer – it just puts a Band-Aid over a severed artery.

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Mental health vs. mentally ill

Originally posted on FB 12-15-12

I am so sick of lowering the flag to half mast. There have been too many tragedies. There have been too many murders of innocent people. But I’m also sick of the news and the public equating the term “mental illness” with “psychopath.”

I have a mental health diagnosis. I am bipolar, what used to be known as manic-depression. You’d never know it by talking to me. I know that once I tell people that I have a mental health diagnosis, things change between us. They look at me differently. They treat me differently.

Yet since being diagnosed I’ve done so many things that “normal” people are seemingly unable to do. I’m stable. I’ve had a job for 12 years. I’ve lived on my own. I have been married for over 8 years. I’ve not been in jail. My credit rating is impressive. I give credit to God that I am doing as well as I am. I also take medicine every day and visit a therapist regularly. I exercise, eat well, and pray regularly as part of my therapy.

I don’t like using the term “mentally ill” to describe myself. Mentally ill? Those are folks who don’t work with their doctor to get balanced. Those are folks who take matters into their own hands. One could argue that anyone who steps over the line and kills others is mentally ill – diagnosis or not. People who abuse their children – verbally, physically, emotionally – are mentally ill. Anyone who lies, cheats, or steals is mentally ill. Anyone who has “not loved your neighbor as yourself” is mentally ill.

I think it is time to shine a light on those of us who have a mental health diagnosis yet aren’t mentally ill.

What follows is from the NAMI website – http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Helpline1&template=%2FContentManagement%2FContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=4858

Abraham Lincoln

The revered sixteenth President of the United States suffered from severe and incapacitating depressions that occasionally led to thoughts of suicide, as documented in numerous biographies by Carl Sandburg.

Virginia Woolf

The British novelist who wrote To the Lighthouse and Orlando experienced the mood swings of bipolar disorder characterized by feverish periods of writing and weeks immersed in gloom. Her story is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Lionel Aldridge

A defensive end for Vince Lombardi’s legendary Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s, Aldridge played in two Super Bowls. In the 1970’s, he suffered from schizophrenia and was homeless for two and a half years. Until his death in 1998, he gave inspirational talks on his battle against paranoid schizophrenia. His story is the story of numerous newspaper articles.

Eugene O’Neill

The famous playwright, author of Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Ah, Wilderness!, suffered from clinical depression, as documented in Eugene O’Neill by Olivia E. Coolidge.

Ludwig van Beethoven

The brilliant composer experienced bipolar disorder, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.

Gaetano Donizetti

The famous opera singer suffered from bipolar disorder, as documented in Donizetti and the World Opera in Italy, Paris and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century by Herbert Weinstock.

Robert Schumann

The “inspired poet of human suffering” experienced bipolar disorder, as discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Leo Tolstoy

Author of War and Peace, Tolstoy revealed the extent of his own mental illness in the memoir Confession. His experiences is also discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Inner World of Mental Illness: A Series of First Person Accounts of What It Was Like by Bert Kaplan.

Vaslov Nijinsky

The dancer’s battle with schizophrenia is documented in his autobiography, The Diary of Vaslov Nijinksy.

John Keats

The renowned poet’s mental illness is documented in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Broken Brain: The biological Revolution in Psychiatry by Nancy Andreasen, M.D.

Tennessee Williams

The playwright gave a personal account of his struggle with clinical depression in his own Memoirs. His experience is also documented in Five O’Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982; The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams by Donald Spoto, and Tennessee: Cry of the Heart by Dotson.

Vincent Van Gogh

The celebrated artist’s bipolar disorder is discussed in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb and Dear Theo, The Autobiography of Van Gogh.

Isaac Newton

The scientist’s mental illness is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.

Ernest Hemingway

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s suicidal depression is examined in the True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian.

Sylvia Plath

The poet and novelist ended her lifelong struggle with clinical depresion by taking own life, as reported in A Closer Look at Ariel: A Memory of Sylvia Plath by nancy Hunter-Steiner.

Michelangelo

The mental illness of one of the world’s greatest artistic geniuses is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Winston Churchill

“Had he been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished,” wrote Anthony Storr about Churchill’s bipolar disorder in Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.

Vivien Leigh

The Gone with the Wind star suffered from mental illness, as documented in Vivien Leigh: A Biography by Ann Edwards.

Jimmy Piersall

The baseball player for the Boston Red Sox who suffered from bipolar disorder detailed his experience in The Truth Hurts.

Patty Duke

The Academy Award-winning actress told of her bipolar disorder in her autobiography and made-for-TV move Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness, co-authored by Gloria Hochman.

Charles Dickens

One of the greatest authors in the English language suffered from clinical depression, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb, and Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph by Edgar Johnson.

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The best Thanksgiving ever

Originally posted on FB 11-22-12

A few years after my parents died, I was faced with a pretty bleak Thanksgiving. My boyfriend at the
time had decided to go to South Carolina to visit family, and I couldn’t go because I had to work that weekend. I was bummed about that too because I didn’t normally work on the weekend at Sweetly Southern, which was a store at the Choo Choo that sold American-made crafts. Everybody else had asked off for that weekend, so I was stuck with it. And it was the weekend after Thanksgiving, so it would be insanely busy. And it was my birthday. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Then I thought, I bet there is somebody else who is facing a pretty lonely Thanksgiving. I thought about a friend of mine in the medieval reenactment group (SCA) I belonged to back then. Rowan! Yeah! He’ll surely be alone for Thanksgiving. His family is as dysfunctional as you get. So I asked him the next time I saw him at a SCA meeting. “Hey – Rowan, what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” He told me that he was fine and gave me a winning smile. Something didn’t sound right. I asked his roommate. As I suspected, Rowan had told me that everything was fine when it really wasn’t. He didn’t want me to worry about him. He had nowhere to go and was also going to be alone. Time to change tactics. I went back up to him. “Hey – Rowan – my parents are dead. My boyfriend is going to be out of town. I’m going to be alone for Thanksgiving. —-What are you doing for Thanksgiving?….” I said pointedly. He got it. He gave me a huge smile. “I’d love to spend Thanksgiving with you!” he exclaimed. Then two other people overheard. “ Thanksgiving at Betsy’s house? Yeah – that sounds like a great idea. We can ditch the parents!” Then others caught the excitement.

One couple had ordered a turkey already and then their plans had changed – so they had a turkey and nobody to eat it with. This was a perfect solution. Another couple always dreaded going to their respective parents’ houses – too much driving, too much drama all in one day. Other people had nowhere to go. Other people were grateful of an excuse to get away from their families. The Orphan Thanksgiving was born. I ended up having a dozen people in my house, none of whom I was related to. I provided a place and spiral-cut ham. They provided everything else, including washing-up. There was laughter and love, and the best kind of family gathering ever – the family that you create out of choice.

They say misery loves company, and this case, it got mixed up in a sort of alchemy where misery got transformed into love.

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On “Apostolic Succession” and ordained leaders

Originally posted on FB 11-21-12

The Episcopal church and the Catholic church have something called “apostolic succession”. This means that we can trace our roots back to the apostles. This means that when somebody gets confirmed or received into these churches, they have hands laid on them by somebody who had hands laid on them, by somebody who had hands laid on them, all the way back to Jesus. This is pretty overwhelming to think about. It really connects you with the “then” – it becomes the “now”.

I was telling a co-worker about this and he said they were apostolic at his church too. I felt like explaining that his little church that his grandfather started, this little church that has self-appointed ministers and no oversight, is not part of this story. But I didn’t, and I’m glad.

It is. All churches are. All Christians are.

The touch doesn’t matter – it is the message. And the only way you are going to hear the message of who Jesus is and what he did for you and what he continues to do for you is going to be from another Christian. Either it is by them talking to you personally, or from reading in a book. This stuff doesn’t spring up out of the ground. Yes, we are told that even if there is nobody to preach the Gospel, even the rocks will proclaim it, but I think there is no need for that. There are plenty of people around who can and will tell their story of who Jesus is and what he has done for them without having rocks start talking.

Each person heard the story from someone who heard the story from someone who heard the story who was there with Jesus (except for Paul, but he is a special case). So the whole idea of how special it is that these churches have apostolic succession is bunk. We all have apostolic succession.

This also ties into the idea of ordained ministers. Not every organized religion has leaders who are set apart and specially trained. The Sikhs are the first example that comes to my mind. Then there are also Quakers and the Baha’i. Some have leaders who are respected as leaders because they have through their lives shown especial piety and reverence, so they are trusted and looked to. However, the moment they start veering from the path, their fellow members of the congregation will call them on it.

Now – the only way they can call them on it is if they themselves know the path. The only way they can know the path is if they too practice piety and study. I’ve heard in the Eastern Orthodox church that each member is expected to read the Bible for themselves and to study and pray just as much as their Pope does. Their Pope also considers himself to be an equal with them – he is not infallible, he is not above question. In fact, the idea that he can be questioned and challenged is part of what keeps him forever accountable. That accountability is what keeps him humble and honest and not grabbing for power. That power isn’t ours to grab. That power is received by us to then be distributed by us. We are not called to hoard power.

I think the moment you give away your own power, your own religious learning and study, and you expect a religious leader to do it all for you, you have become lost. Yes, it is good to have people you trust, people who have studied. It is good for each member of the community to be accountable to each other member. But it is also good for each member of the community to build each other up with their own skills and knowledge. Each person has unique skills and experience. Each person’s viewpoint is helpful. Remember the Sufi story of the blind men and the elephant? It is only through them talking together and sharing their perception of what they were dealing with that they were able to understand the whole.

I’m going to be bold here and say that I think that is also true of world religions. I think God has called to His creation time and time again. I think God has constantly tried to get us to hear and know that He loves us and wants us to work with Him to make this a better world. I think we short-change ourselves when we only hear one voice and one perspective. Look at the Gospels. Those are four different viewpoints of the same story. They could have been woven together and created into one story, but they weren’t. Sure, you can buy something called a Parallel Gospel and that will put them all together for you. But that is extra. If you buy a Bible with a New Testament, you are going to get four different yet the same stories all telling you who Jesus was. Some stress different parts. Some have the same parables repeated. Some have parts that only are in that one Gospel. Where’s the truth? I say the truth is in all of them, all together. I tell you that it is up to us to winnow through and separate the wheat from the chaff, but we have to go out into the field.

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On prayer bracelets

Originally posted on FB 11-14-12

Beads have been used for millennia as tools for prayer. In fact, our word “bead” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “biddan” meaning “to pray”. If a woman was using her rosary, she was said to be saying her beads, not her prayers. The two words were interchangeable. And, in a lighthearted vein, we can say that beads are truly “hole-y”.

I came up with the idea for prayer bracelets when I had a couple of friends who were struggling with different issues. One had a father who was terminally ill, and one was trying to defeat drug addiction. I wanted a way to let them know that I was praying for them that had some tangibility to it. I believe that God made each of us with unique talents and gifts for a reason, so I decided to use my love of working with beads for this purpose. The response from my friends to these bracelets has inspired me to spread this way of praying.

Prayer bracelets can be for different intentions.

You can make one for someone else to let them know you are praying for them. All too often when we tell someone that we are praying for them, they forget a few hours later. With a beaded bracelet, they will have a constant reminder of your concern and love for them. It isn’t “preachy” or obvious – it is a subtle reminder. In this case, you will make a bracelet for your friend and think and pray about her or him while you make it. Wear it for about a week and pray for her or him every time you see the bracelet. Then give it away, telling your friend about how you made it and wore it praying for your friend the entire time.

You can make one to remind you to pray for others – with every bead representing a person on your prayer list. This came about because I had so many people on my prayer list that I needed some way of keeping up with it. I pulled out my bead boxes and selected a bead for each person on my list. This way, when I see it, I remember to pray for each person. I think it is also a good idea to have some “blank” beads, or ones that are not for any particular person. It is good to remember to pray for those who have nobody to pray for them. This reminds us that we are all part of one Body in Christ.

You can also make one for yourself to remind you of a goal that you would like to reach – stopping smoking, getting in better health, spending more time reading the Bible, etc. This is similar to offering a specific intention at Eucharist. Sometimes we need reminders to ourselves that we have made a commitment to improve ourselves.

No matter what you choose to do with your bracelet, it is my hope that you see this as yet another way to pray and connect with God. There are as many ways to pray as there are people on this Earth. We are all called to use our talents and gifts in honor and service to our Lord.

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Pray like Jonah

I really like Jonah. He seems so real to me. There are so many people in the Old Testament who when God calls to them they say right away “Here I am” and get right to what God is asking them to do. This is so not like me, and I suspect a lot of people. Many people might think “Oh no! I’m hearing a voice in my head! I must be crazy!” Or if they do realize it is the voice of God, they think “Really? Now? I’m really getting comfortable here, God. Can’t this wait until after the game/my children have grown up/ I’ve retired?” We are forever putting off what we are called to do. Yet we forget that is why we are here – we are part of God’s plan. We are part of creation, and we are co-creators with God. He works through and with us to bring about His will.

Jonah is like us. He hears the voice of God, telling him to go to Ninevah and tell them they are screwing up and to repent. Did he go to Ninevah? Oh gosh no. He heads off in completely the opposite direction. A lot of other cool things happen – a storm, lots are cast and it is discovered Jonah is the reason for the storm, Jonah fesses up, the shipmates are impressed by how powerful the God of the Jews is. Jonah asks to be thrown overboard. He has no idea that God has arranged for a huge whale to swallow him up. He just knows that he has messed up and it is time to pay for his error. Perhaps he hopes he can finally get out of having to go to Ninevah.

But God rescues him. He is in the belly of the whale for three days. I can’t even imagine liking being in a whale’s gut for three minutes, much less three days. It had to be dark. It had to be smelly. No sound other than the gurgle of the whale’s organs and the sea outside. Fish bits floating around. Warmth? I doubt it.

Yet here is the amazing thing. Jonah didn’t raise his fist against God in that time. He praised God. Praised Him! How many of us have the fortitude to say “Thanks! You are an awesome God!” while in the middle of our own personal whales? We all get swallowed up by whales – divorce, disease, disaster. All those huge life events that can either make us turn away from God (How dare you do this to me…) or turn towards God (Hey, can you do me a favor…) No. Jonah sang God’s praises.

In the middle of tragedy, there are still things to be thankful for. Look for those things. Give thanks for them. And, like Jonah, may you be delivered safely upon the shore after you give thanks.

(Originally posted on FB on 11-13-12)

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