Archive | July 2012

Let’s Celebrate!

“Naked Ladies” (also known as “Resurrection Lilies”) brighten the dry summer landscape at Whispering Winds. A beautiful reason to celebrate!

To forget to celebrate is to forget to imitate the God who created us and then relaxed and said, “that’s Good.”[Joan Chittister, OSB, “The Monastic Way,” July 2012]

The theme of Joan Chittister’s little devotional pamphlet, “The Monastic Way,” for the month of July has been “celebrating life.” When I first pulled the pamphlet out of the envelope I thought that’s a strange theme to use for daily devotions for a whole month, even if it is the month of 4th of July fireworks and the beginning of the Summer Olympics. But I’ve been delighted by how Chittister’s daily comments have prompted my thoughts throughout the month, helping me find lots of special moments to celebrate.

I’ve already talked about the wonderful organ concert at Sinsinawa that was an incredible musical celebration on the 4th of July. My mouth still slips into a grin whenever I think about “Organ for Eight.”

On July 10, Chittister’s comment was, “The tragedy of life is to allow it to go by without appreciating something in every single day, without celebrating its fundamental goodness to us.” Later, on July 25, she wrote, “Learning to celebrate life in its smallest moments is an acquired skill. Without it we can only limp through life.”

Edith Kenseth, Gospel Pianist – another reason to celebrate! Picture taken 26 years ago at my parents’ 50th anniversary celebration.

As I read about celebrating life in its smallest moments I thought back to the day before. On Tuesday evening, July 24, Mim and I took my 98-year-old Aunt Edith to the chapel service at Willerup Park Bible Camp on Lake Ripley, about 2 miles from Whispering Winds. This was the week of “Institute” – a week of family camp for Methodist families, primarily of Scandinavian heritage and mostly from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Racine, who had a long history and partial ownership in the Bible Camp. Aunt Edith had often played the piano in her elaborately improvised Gospel style for these chapel services over the past 80 years or so. A couple years ago the chapel had been given a new name – the “Edith Kenseth Chapel.” Edith was excited to go to the service Tuesday evening, although she was a little apprehensive that they might expect her to play the piano, and she wasn’t getting around as well as she used to since she broke her leg a few months ago. (Fortunately, they didn’t ask. They used a guitar to accompany the singing instead. )

Lots of Edith’s friends (and children and grandchildren of her friends) came over to talk with Edith, both before and after the service. During the service the worship leader prayed for Edith and thanked God for Edith’s stunning example of using her musical talents throughout her whole lifetime for God’s glory.

Edith Kenseth Chapel at Willerup Park Bible Camp in Cambridge, Wisconsin

As I thought about that evening, I realized that it was another little celebration, another special moment.  The following Saturday, Chittister’s comment was, “To be born is to be asked to celebrate, to grow in awareness of the presence of God in the smallest of moments, to know the goodness of God.” By celebrating Edith’s lifetime example of helping us all worship God through her music, we all became a little more aware of the goodness of God.

As the introduction to the July “Monastic Way” said, “Always, always, they [celebrations] deepen the very meaning of life for us as we go along.”

 

Pier in Lake Ripley at Willerup Park Bible Camp – a place to celebrate the beauty of nature and the joys of family camp.

Playing Games with Chip and Randy

My friend Chip, the Chipmunk

 

Chip, the chipmunk, and I have been playing a game lately. It’s a combination of “Hide & Seek” and “Cops & Robbers.”  I’m undoubtedly dating myself, but my brother and I used to play both games with our cousins when we were kids. We chased each other and hid all over the farm – in the house, the barn, the sheds, and outside.

Caught nibbling on a green cherry tomato behind St. Francis’ back.

The way Chip and I play the game is that he’s the robber and I’m the cop. He tries to steal a cherry tomato and I try to bring him to justice by snapping a photo as proof of his crime. As soon as he sees me approaching he finds a hiding place, either by darting into a hole in the corner of the raised bed if he’s close to that corner, or he scurries out of the bed and into the downspout.

I play a similar game with Randy Rabbit who likes to steal the leaves off the green bean plants.  Apparently, he thinks they’re quite tasty. Unfortunately, Randy is a better thief than I am cop. I don’t think I’ll get any green beans from the raised bed this year.  At least I’m getting some cherry tomatoes. My six cherry tomato plants are yielding enough tomatoes to share with Chip. My three rows of bean skeletons just have a few blossoms.

Chip peeking out of the downspout.

Playing these games with the chipmunks and rabbits that live at Whispering Winds has prompted me to think about who really is the “owner” of these vegetables. Who is most entitled to the beans and tomatoes? Should Chip and Randy really have first dibs on the produce? Or, should I?

Believe it or not, I think the Bible addresses this issue quite directly. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  That sounds like God intends for the wildlife to be entitled to whatever they eat. But then he says, “Are you not of more value than they?” So maybe I should have first dibs on the vegetables, and Chip and Randy should be content with the leftovers. God has given me a bigger brain. I should be able to outsmart Chip and Randy.  I guess I’ll keep trying, but I’ll remember to share. I’m sure God loves Chip and Randy, too, and wouldn’t want them to go hungry.

Fortunately, neither of them eats zinnias. Jesus also talked about flowers in the same conversation recorded in Matthew 6. He said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” [Matthew 6:28]

I think the main point of this whole passage is summarized in verse 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” But I think Jesus is also telling us that God cares about the plants and animals of the world, too.

My summary of this whole passage:  Don’t worry. Trust God. And share.

“Consider the Zinnias…”

Getting Together with God and Some Friends in Jail

Singing behind bars.

Last Thursday I had a glimpse into some of the unfairness and viciousness experienced by the women spending time in the county jail. As usual, I went through security to get into the jail and walked down the long hallway to the chapel to play the piano for the women’s worship service. Chaplain Julia was already there, arranging the chairs into a small circle. I turned on the digital piano and confirmed with Julia the songs we would sing – “There Is a Balm in Gilead” and “Arise, Your Light Is Come.”

A few minutes later a guard escorted five inmates into the chapel and locked the door behind them. As soon as we were all seated in the circle, one of the inmates, Georgiana, said, “I know we will have a chance to share what’s on our hearts later, but can I talk now? I really need to talk about what’s weighing so heavily on me.” There were tears in her eyes.

Chaplain Julia said, “Sure. You can talk now.”

Georgiana told us about what was happening in her cell block. “Our cell block is the most dysfunctional cell block in the jail. We’re completely full. There are eight of us. The women in there are so loud and abusive. One woman, in particular, is always yelling at me, telling me to do this, do that – get her some cold water, get this – whatever she wants. And I just get up and do it. Then she yells at me about something else. Anyone who doesn’t do what she says gets beaten up. And she’s so loud, and always yelling about something. I can’t even read my Bible. I can’t concentrate with her always yelling at someone – usually me.”

The other inmates sitting in the circle listened sympathetically. Maria confirmed how bad that cell block is. She said, “I’m in the next cell block and can hear the yelling through the wall. It’s really bad in there.”

Georgiana said, “I know I’m just venting. But it’s so good to be here among Christians and feel their support. I’m just praying it will get better in there. One of the deputies said that the worst woman is going to be moved out. I just pray that will happen, and soon.”

After about 15 minutes of this unscheduled time of sharing and support, Chaplain Julia began the planned service with a short reading about stories in the Bible where God helps women arise out of their circumstances. After the reading we sang our opening hymn together, “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” The women sang heartily.

Then God spoke to us. Just like that. The Scripture readings included Psalm 123. We all were astounded as we heard one of the inmates read these words:

Our Lord and our God,
I turn my eyes to you,
on your throne in heaven.

Servants look to their master,
but we will look to you,
until you have mercy on us.

Please have mercy, Lord!
We have been insulted
more than we can stand,

and we can’t take more abuse
from those proud,
conceited people.

[Psalm 123, Contemporary English Version]

It was like God had been listening to our conversation and knew just what we needed to hear.  A few thousand years ago the writer of this Psalm was crying out to God with almost exactly the same words Georgiana had used today. God has been listening to us crying out for help for a long time.

We continued with the rest of the Bible readings and our testimony time. We went around the circle and each shared what the Scripture readings meant to us personally in the context of what’s going on in our own lives. When it was Georgiana’s turn, she asked us to pray for Lisa, another inmate, whose sister was on life support. Lisa was trying to get a pass from jail to go see her sister and say good-by before they discontinued life support for her. Lisa’s sister had had an aneurism and had suffered considerable brain damage.

After the testimony time and some quiet time for writing down prayer requests we went around the circle again, praying for the person on our right. I prayed for Georgiana. Then we sang our closing hymn. Chaplain Julia ended the service with a blessing, and I went back to the piano to play some uplifting hymns as a postlude of sorts while we waited for a guard to come to escort the women back to their cells.

Since our worship time together had gone a little longer than usual, we happened to hit the change-of-shift time for the guards. That meant we had about a 15-minute wait for a guard to come to take the women back to their cells.

While we waited, I just kept playing more hymns on the piano. When I started to play “How Great Thou Art” I heard a soft, beautiful soprano voice singing behind me. It was Georgiana. For the next ten minutes she sang along as I played. She requested a few praise songs. The ones I knew, I played and she sang. The ones I didn’t know, I listened as she sang a capella. For a few of the well-known hymns – like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace” – several of the women sang along. By the time the guard finally came, we had quite a “choir of angels” singing praise to God.

Whenever two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them. [Matthew 18:20]

Last Thursday, that’s what happened in the county jail. I was richly blessed to be a part of the gathering.

The EXPECTED and the SURPRISES

Last week I wrote about the “Great Expectations” I had for the week. Just as I expected, all 7 of them were met. It was a great week. But there was something more. There was a big surprise.

“Organ for Eight” CD cover

As I was scanning through Facebook on Tuesday, I came across an announcement for a concert called “Organ For Eight! (4 hands + 4 feet).” Being an organist myself, I tried to imagine what it would be like to share 2 or 3 keyboards, a pedal board, and stops all around the console with another person – and not either kick or elbow my fellow musician.  The Facebook announcement quoted the organists as saying, “The complexity of intertwining hands and feet and shifting organ registrations is akin to the game of Twister on a bench and three keyboards.”

That’s something I wanted to see – and hear. The concert was going to include a “Patriotic Medley,” “76 Trombones,” “Champagne Rag,” and “Bach for the 4th of July” – not the usual organ repertoire.

The concert was scheduled for Wednesday evening (July 4th) at the chapel of Sinsinawa Mound, the motherhouse for the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, in southwestern Wisconsin, about a 2-hour drive from Cambridge. Thanks to our very gracious and flexible friends, Mim and I managed to quickly rearrange our commitments for the next day and we went to the concert with one of our friends joining us.

Fifteen minutes into the concert I realized that my facial muscles were getting a vigorous workout from holding my mouth in a huge continuous smile. I couldn’t help myself. The music was too delightful to not smile. The only relief for my smile muscles came when we sang the songs for each of the armed forces, accompanied by the booming “Organ for Eight!”

What a wonderful surprise for the week!

Early this morning, as Mim and I were walking Abbey, we were talking about our plans and “great expectations” for this week. We were walking down Highland, just past Whispering Winds, and Mim stopped and said, “I just love these beautiful blue wildflowers. The color is so brilliant. And there are so many of them this year.” I took out my phone so I could take a picture to share their beauty with you.

I guess being on the lookout for God’s beauty all around us is one way to be sure we have plenty of “wonderful surprises” this week along with our “great expectations.”

God’s surprises!

Great Expectations for this week – 7 of them!

For several weeks now, a friend of mine has been posting a list of three things she’s thankful for each day. Usually the lists are just that – three words or short phrases in a simple list format – just a quick statement of things she’s particularly thankful for that day. That practice got me thinking in lists. Today I made a list of some “Great Expectations” I have for this week. There are seven items on my list. I’m not nearly as concise as my friend, but here’s my list of “Great Expectations for this Week.”

  1. An inspiring and productive Writers Week at Whispering Winds. This week has been designated on our retreat calendar as “Retreat for Writers.” Several writers will be coming to Whispering Winds for a day or two to write, to be away from their distractions at home and to focus their energy entirely on writing. I expect each writer to have a wonderfully inspiring and productive time here.
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  2. Safe travel for weekend guests. This coming weekend a couple guests are coming to Cambridge for the wedding of a friend. One is coming from the east coast. The other is coming from Europe. I trust each guest will have safe travels, joyful celebrations with their friends, and a relaxing and refreshing time at Whispering Winds.
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  3. A good time of reflection at the women’s worship service at the county jail.  Reading Scripture, giving testimonies, singing hymns, and praying together with the chaplain and several inmates is a truly special time of sharing deep thoughts and feelings with each other and with God. I always look forward to playing the piano for these services and being invited to participate with the group in their sharing activities.
  4. Playing the pipe organ at Messiah

    Finding just the right organ music for next Sunday’s church service. As a church organist, I usually try to find a prelude and postlude, and sometimes other special music, that reinforces the main theme of the Scripture for that day. As I study the lectionary readings for Sunday, and flip through the pages of organ arrangements, I trust that just the right music will jump out at me. Almost always, that’s what happens. Sometimes the process takes an hour. Sometimes most of a day. My expectation is that the prelude will help people get in the right mindset for the message of the day, and that the postlude will help people remember what God is saying to them through the Scriptures, the sermon, and the hymns.
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  5. My brand new great-great-nephew and his mom will go home from the hospital early this week. Ethan is the 2-day-old son of Christina and Josh. Christina is the daughter of my nephew Terry and his wife, Eng (originally from Cambodia). Terry is the oldest son of my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Clark. Family connections are wonderful – especially the longer they get. Just think of all the people who are rejoicing over the birth of Ethan – literally all around the world – because of how we all are connected.
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    Marian’s grandfather plowing with horses.

  6. A smooth implementation of all the changes I just made on our website. Lots of new pictures. More information about the thread of hospitality that can be traced from the beginnings in 1908 when my grandparents bought the farm, through all the uses of the farm in the 104 years since then. Ending with some conjecture about how the farmhouse will be used next… Here’s a direct link to the new Past & Future section, http://whisperingwindsretreathaven.com/pastfuture.html.
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  7. That this blog post will prompt readers to ponder and be thankful for their own expectations for this week.