Archive | March 2015

Observing Holy Week – Jail Style

City-County Bldg 2Last Thursday I participated in the women’s worship service at the county jail. I’ll be doing the same thing again this Thursday, Maundy Thursday. Women inmates have the opportunity to go to worship once every other week. The women from half the cell blocks are given the opportunity one week, the other half the next week. Last week four inmates chose to come to the worship service. With the chaplain and me, six of us sat in chairs arranged in a close circle with a small table in the center that served as the altar.

We observed all of Holy Week in about an hour. We started with one woman reading the story of Palm Sunday, of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then we jumped ahead to Maundy Thursday. The chaplain explained the two key events that happened that evening – Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples – the first Last Supper. That was a natural lead-in for us to share communion with each other.

potters crackersUsually in the past when we’ve shared communion, the chaplain has provided elements that are commonly available in jail – saltine crackers and a plastic cup of grape juice from the canteen. But this time, she brought something special – Cranberry Graham organic artisan crackers from Potter’s Crackers and organic grape juice. The chaplain had picked up the gourmet crackers and organic juice at the Willy Street Co-op.

The chaplain explained what communion represents in her faith tradition and asked each of us to explain what communion means to us. Then the chaplain held the basket of crackers and the cup of grape juice and offered “the Bread of Life and the Cup of Blessing” to the inmate sitting at her right. The woman picked up a cracker from the basket and dipped it in the grape juice. As she ate it, we all smiled as she crunched and ate the cracker. The crackers were really crunchy, but oh so tasty. Then the first inmate held the basket and cup, and offered the crackers and grape juice to the woman sitting at her right. We kept smiling while we waited for her to finish eating her crunchy cracker.  Then she offered the holy meal to the next person, and so on until all of us had been served.  I’m glad there were just six of us sitting in the circle so we could truly savor this moment of holy crunching and sharing.

When all had been served, we ended the meal by singing a hymn, just like the original disciples at the first Last Supper. The hymn we sang was “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” I wonder what hymn Jesus and the disciples sang.

Hands playing pianoSince we were trying to observe all of Holy Week in that one worship service, we read more Scripture and talked briefly about the crucifixion and resurrection. Then, as usual, we went around the circle with each of us talking about what was on our minds related to the readings or other thoughts. All four of the women were thinking about being released from jail. One woman was going to be released the next day, and she was really anxious to see her little boy again, and her boyfriend. The three others were going to be released within a couple weeks. All four women were concerned about being able to turn their life around so that they would never have to return to jail, and so that they could live a good, meaningful life. Then we prayed for each other out loud. We went around the circle again, praying for the person on our right, by name. After praying, we sang “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” We ended the service by reading a blessing as a benediction.

A prison cell doorWhile we were waiting for a deputy to come to escort the inmates back to their cell block, one of the women asked if I knew how to play the song “This Little Light of Mine.” I started to play the tune and she sang along. Then we all sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Both songs seemed quite meaningful for young women about to be released from jail, and about to go back to the rest of their lives.

I left jail that day thinking about lots of things –

  • What kind of bread did Jesus share with his disciples in the first Last Supper? Was it really crunchy and flavorful? Do church worship committees think seriously about the kind of bread they serve for communion – and what that could symbolize on multiple levels?
  • What hymn did the disciples sing before leaving the meal? I can’t believe that I never noticed before that it says in Mark 14:26 that they sang a hymn! That gives me a new perspective to keep in mind when I select music to play as background music during communion in the churches where I play organ.
  • How will God take care of each of these women as they return to their lives outside of jail? After all, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”
  • Why do I feel so thankful and invigorated by the prayer the inmate sitting on my left had prayed for me and my family? And, do all the inmates and the chaplain feel the same way when someone prays for them by name? I bet all people (or almost all) are inspired when they know that someone is specifically praying for them…

I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to get together with these women to read scripture, share communion, express thoughts and feelings, sing hymns, and pray together. I need to write up a note about this to drop in my Gratitude Jar.

Gratitude Jar w note 4

 

 

 

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

4 geese on pond

Mindfulness – the Earliest Gift of Spring

Floey beside pond 03-16-15I just got back from a walk with my dog Floey. It’s a beautiful spring day in southern Wisconsin. I felt the gentle breeze on my face, and smiled. The birds were singing again. A few weeds next to the sidewalk were beginning to show the first hint of green. Yes. Spring is really coming.

I watched Floey chase a leaf as it drifted across the sidewalk. There were no more mounds of snow to jump on and bury her face in – so she had to make up new games. She timidly approached a sewer grate and sniffed it. Then she heard the rushing water and jumped back. She gave the grate a wide berth as we continued walking down the street.

Floey beside sewer grateFloey caught sight of a pair of mourning doves about thirty feet ahead of us on the walk. She ran up to them and they flew away. Definitely new things to see, hear, smell, feel, and chase on this walk.

“Floey, you have the gift of mindfulness,” I said to her as we continued our walk.

“What’s that, Mom?”

“Mindfulness? Oh that means being fully aware of what’s happening in the moment, and appreciating it. Whenever we go for a walk, you find joy in everything that’s happening around you – what you see, what you hear, what you smell…

Floey playing in snow adjDuring the wintertime, you galloped over snowdrifts and then pushed your nose as deep into the snow as you could go, then jumped up and ran around in circles, smiling from ear to ear. I couldn’t help but smile with you. Now that it’s spring, you’re discovering new sights and sounds and smells. I get happy just watching you. You delight in noticing everything.”

“Of course, Mom. Why wouldn’t I notice what’s going on around me? Don’t you?”

“Oh, sometimes troubling thoughts pop into my mind, and they distract me from noticing all the beauty around me. But, you know, I think spring is the best cure for the disease of distraction.”

“I think you’re right, Mom. If I understand what you mean by mindfulness, I think you were being very mindful Sunday evening. Remember, we were both out on the deck. It was my first time out there. I watched you take a big black cover off the gas grill. Then you fired up the grill. While we waited for it to get hot, I saw you lean on the deck railing and look out at the pond.”

“You were really watching me, Floey. Did you notice that almost all the ice is gone from the pond? And did you hear the birds singing? It was a beautiful time to be outside.”

hamburgers on grill“Yup. And then it got even better. You grilled hamburgers. They smelled so good I could hardly stand it.”

“I know, Floey. There is no better early springtime smell than the first hamburgers on the grill. And then we eat them! A perfect treat for taste buds.”

“Well, I didn’t get to eat anything, but I did get to lick the platter, and that sure was good. I’m not complaining, I’ll always be glad to do the pre-wash on the meat platter, but I wouldn’t mind if you fixed me a hamburger next time, too.”

“Would you promise to savor every bite, and not just swallow it whole?”

“You said I’m good at mindfulness, Mom. Of course, I would thoroughly enjoy the hamburger – although I might have to eat it fast so that I’d be ready to exuberantly enjoy my next moment of life. Maybe I’d have to run out on the deck to listen to a new bird song. Spring is filled with wonderful experiences!”

“Floey, although you still have the energy of a puppy, you can teach me about being mindful any day. You already seem to understand what Thich Nhat Hanh said:

When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.

Mim called me. She just saw her first robin of the season. I guess she’s being mindful of the signs of spring, too.

Why Was I Created?

Over the last few years I’ve had the practice of starting the day with reading from two or three devotional books by my favorite inspirational writers. This year I’m reading:

  • The Monastic Way by Joan Chittister (a pamphlet that comes monthly, with the readings of each month based on a common theme),
  • Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri Nouwen, and
  • Through the Year with Jimmy Carter: 366 Daily Meditations from the 39th President.

I’ve mentioned some of the readings by Chittister and Nouwen in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Jimmy Carter book – until today.

Through the Year with Jimmy CarterI picked up this book at The Frugal Muse used bookstore last December, and I thought it might provide an interesting addition to my morning meditations. The blurb on the back of the book said, “Unique among the multitude of daily devotional books, Through the Year with Jimmy Carter combines the grace and wisdom of a deeply spiritual Bible study with personal stories and prayers for each day of the year, all drawn from the Sunday school lessons former president Jimmy Carter taught – and the life lessons God taught him.”

Last week, one of the readings was especially interesting. The title of the reading was “Called by God.” It started with this Bible verse: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” [Jeremiah 1:5] Then Carter cited a nationwide poll that had been published by USA TODAY. The question asked in the poll was, “If you could come face-to-face with God what would you ask?” The most popular responses fascinated me:

6%          How long will I live?
7%          Is there intelligent life elsewhere?
16%        Why do bad things happen?
19%        Is there life after death?
34%        Why was I created? What should I do with my life?

Carter commented, “Just as God had told Jeremiah, ‘I knew you in the womb, and even then I had a purpose for you,’ so God knew us in the womb and has a unique purpose for us.”

I told Mim about this poll, and she mentioned the popularity of the book The Purpose-Driven Life a few years ago. She wasn’t surprised that the most popular question people would ask God is what their purpose in life is. People want to know if there is a purpose for their life.

I remember thinking about that question a lot when I was in high school and college – what was I supposed to become? Or, what was God’s purpose for my life? Or, does God really have a plan for my life – or can I figure out for myself what I want to do with my life?

Marian TDS Caricature

Caricature of me created by a roving artist at a corporate Christmas party during my TDS years.

My ideas on that question have changed over the years. One of the most significant conversations I had with myself about the purpose of my life happened when I was working as a manager of financial systems at Telephone and Data Systems (TDS), a large privately-held telecommunications corporation. I wasn’t particularly happy in that job, mainly because I was routinely working 60 or more hours per week for the sole purpose of making more money for the Carlsons – the very wealthy family who owned the corporation. I didn’t see that any social good was being accomplished by all my efforts. I was convinced I was wasting my life by doing that job. When I reached that conclusion, I started to seriously look for another job. After having two interviews with the State about a position that sounded like a good fit for my skills and interests, I was pretty sure I would be offered the job, so I quit TDS. I didn’t want to waste any more of my life doing meaningless work for the Carlsons.

Oops… I didn’t get offered that state job. I guess I failed to convince the State that I was as good a fit as I thought I was… Which leads me to what Joan Chittister was prompting me to think about last week. The theme for the month of March is failure. The quote she is focusing upon is by St. Teresa of Avila, “To reach something good, it is useful to have gone astray.”

Chittister’s comment on Monday of last week was, “Failure is what teaches us that we belong somewhere else. Only by embracing this new possibility can we become the fullness of ourselves.”

When I failed to get the state job, I decided to spend a few months working full-time with Mim to turn our farmhouse into a bed and breakfast, and to do a little small business consulting on the side. That was 17 years ago. Our business, Korth-Jacobson LLC, has evolved over the years as Mim and I have recognized needs and opportunities to live the lives we think God wants us to live – and that we want to live. My unwillingness to stay in a job that seemed like a waste of time, coupled with my failure to get another job, gave us the opportunity to explore being self-employed – to explore doing the things in life we felt called to do.

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast

Welcoming guests to our bed and breakfast in the late 1990s

Thanks to Jimmy Carter and Joan Chittister, that’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past week – the purpose of my life and the importance of the failures in my life – so far. And there’s still more to go… I’m sure I’ll experience more failures before I die, and I expect I’ll gain more insights into what God wants me to do with the life I have left on earth. (I hope there’s some time left for retirement!)

Canine Wisdom

F sitting 022815Floey came running over to me. Her tail was wagging as fast as it can wag, but she dutifully sat down and looked up at me. “Hey, Mom. Has it come yet?” she asked.

“What’s that, Floey?”

“My check for $50. Remember Ellen at ARVSS (Animal Rescue & Veterinary Support Services) where I came from said I would get a $50 graduation present if I successfully completed a beginner dog training class. And I did it! I graduated way back on February 9. I know you emailed a copy of my diploma to Ellen because I reminded you to do it. Has the check come yet? I can hardly wait to go shopping!”

“Well, Floey. It came, but I lost it. I’m so sorry.”

Her tail stopped wagging. “You lost it? You lost my check? You’re kidding, Mom. Where is it?” Her tail started thumping again.

“No, Floey. I really lost it. I emailed your diploma to ARVSS on Monday, and the check came in the mail on Tuesday. I wanted to cash it for you on Friday so we could go shopping during the weekend, but I couldn’t find it. I looked all over. I just can’t find it. It’s got to be here somewhere! I just can’t figure out where.”

F diploma“Did you look in the rack on top of your desk where you always put checks to be cashed?” Floey asked.

“That’s the first place I looked,” I replied. “I was sure it would be there. It wasn’t.”

“Well, did you look on the shelf at the top of the stairs where you put things to take downstairs?” she asked.

“Yes, I looked there next. I’ve spent a couple hours looking for it.”

F and Marian faces“So that’s why you cleaned off your desk and the work table in your office. I wondered why you were cleaning so thoroughly. You’re usually too busy to clean.”

“Yes. That’s why I’ve been cleaning up so much. I guess that’s a good side effect of losing the check – my office is the cleanest it’s been in months. But I’m so frustrated I can hardly stand it. I don’t know if I should pound the table or cry. I really feel bad, Floey.”

F looking up at me“Oh, don’t feel bad, Mom. I know you didn’t lose it on purpose. I don’t really need to have a $50 shopping spree. It would be fun, but it’s not something I need. What I need is a loving forever family – and thanks to you and Mim, I now have one.” Floey put her chin on my lap. She looked up at my face and said, “Mom, you need to remember what you read all last month in The Monastic Way. I’ve been peering over your shoulder every morning, and I know the daily readings by Joan Chittister were all about patience. Remember, the cover had a quote from St. Francis de Sales, “Be patient with everyone, but especially yourself.”

Face on lapFloey licked the tear that was rolling down my cheek. “Thanks, Floey. I remember the first reading of the month. ‘Patience is the quality it takes to fail and then to recover better, brighter, wiser than ever before.’ I certainly failed by losing your graduation present. I guess now I need to be patient to learn from my mistake – to be more careful about keeping track of important papers, like checks.”

Floey smiled. “My favorite reading was on Friday the 13th. ‘Patience is life without hysterics, without anger, without blame. It is the gift that keeps the world inching toward rightness.’ I think many dogs are born knowing this truth. The first ten months of my life weren’t easy, but I don’t blame anyone, and I’m not angry. With patience, I have now moved into the next phase of my life, and it is good.”

“You really are a good, patient dog, Floey. Thank you for helping me get over my frustration of the moment, and reminding me about how good last month’s Monastic Way was. Another reading that spoke to me was on February 22 – ‘We learn patience by repeating to ourselves over and over again, There is something in this moment that I am meant to learn. And then to stop and learn it.’”

F sitting w crossed legs -0022815Floey interrupted me. “I remember that reading. It ended with a quote from Barbara Johnson, ‘Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.’ I thought that was a good description. Even though I’ve never driven a car, I guess the feeling is like staying in a SIT-STAY position when a squirrel runs within ten feet of you! That’s patience!”

“Thanks, Floey. You are both patient and understanding. I think you have a lot to teach me.”

ADDENDUM
I drafted this blog post on Saturday. On Monday morning Mim found the check. It was inside its envelope in the paper recycling box under the kitchen sink. Mim had looked in that box before but missed it. We have no idea how the envelop floated into that box. That will remain a mystery. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying a clean desk top and office work table.