Labyrinth of the Week #2: Trinity Lutheran Church

I enjoy walking labyrinths. Labyrinths are maze-like structures that have been used as spiritual tools for centuries. There are many of them around, and I have started the habit of trying to visit them, perhaps once a week. For more information on labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society

This morning, I set out on my daily routine a little early to have time to stop at the labyrinth at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hecktown, PA. I’ve been to this church before…my son’s godmother grew up here. My kids have been here several times to have “Breakfast with Santa.” I didn’t know they had a labyrinth…it’s a hidden treasure. When I pulled in this morning, I couldn’t see it anywhere. Thankfully, its location was explained very well on its entry on the Labyrinth Society’s labyrinth finder.

It’s a rather small, simple labyrinth, with four circuits. One thing that’s unique about 3- and 4-circuit labyrinths is that when walking them, you are always walking in. The more traditional 7-circuit labyrinth plays games with your mind, because as you walk the path, you can feel like you’re getting closer and closer to the center, only to find that you are suddenly heading back to the outermost ring. With this labyrinth, however, there are no such “switchbacks.” It’s more straightforward, which gives a sense of constant progress.

The walls of this labyrinth are made of bricks embedded in the grass. At each “terminus” of a wall, there is a stone with a word on it. They read: “2012”, “FAITH”, “HOPE”, and “LOVE.”

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These are likely a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” And I would assume that 2012 reflects the year in which the labyrinth was constructed. At the center of the labyrinth is a 3/4 circle made of bricks surrounding a stone that reads “TRINITY.”

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This center stone, on one level, reflects the name of the congregation who constructed the labyrinth. It also represents the name of God in the Christian faith: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I walked this labyrinth this morning with my mind on some therapy work I’d done lately, in particular an insight I’d had regarding how I react to authority figures. I asked God for some further insight as I work on this issue. Because of the style of this labyrinth, the walk to the center was shorter than I was used to. I didn’t receive any great insights, but that’s when I first noticed the word in the center. TRINITY almost shouted out at me, as I stood in the empty quadrant of the radiant circle surrounding it. A thought occurred to me: “Do I react to God the same way I react to human authority figures?” And if so, what does that mean? It’s an unanswered question for me today…I have more work to do on it. I think it’s a question I will talk about with my spiritual director at our next meeting.

This simple labyrinth provided me with a simple question to enhance the work I’m doing right now. It feels like a symbol of the relationships I have with my therapist and my spiritual director. My therapist assists me in the work I’m doing right now to unearth some brainstuff, and figure out what it means for me going forward. My spiritual director asks me some simple, yet very powerful, questions that enhance that work, adding the God-dimension to it. I’m so grateful I have them both right now. And so grateful for this labyrinth.

Get up. Do not fear.

This morning, I had the opportunity to preach at St. Andrew’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Perkasie, where I was Director of Education/Pastoral Assistant from 2000-2005. St. Andrew’s is celebrating 150 years of ministry this year, and I am one of several former pastors and other staff members they are inviting to return this year. Here is the sermon I preached. Today was the festival called The Transfiguration of Our Lord. The gospel reading I preached on was Matthew 17:1-9.

Oh, and one more thing. While I was at St. Andrew’s, I developed this habit of preaching in verse sometimes. I couldn’t resist doing it again on this special day.

The last time I spoke from this pulpit
My hair was long, gorgeous and flowing
And sitting down here on my chin
A red beard, not a grey one, was growing
It’s been a few years, just about a dozen
Since I needed to use all that mousse
But as you can see, not all things have changed
I still preach like a bad Dr. Seuss

It’s great to be back, to hear Brian play
And that window is like a gift from above
But it’s you in the pews, though a lot of you are new
Who make me feel welcomed and loved
This church holds a place that’s so dear to my heart
Cause you trained me, you honed me, you know
And within all my bluster, my hair, and my youth
You helped my potential to grow

And it did. Now I’m the pastor of church up in Bangor
We call ourselves Prince of Peace
They’re a wonderful people, they remind me of you!
And today they’ve allowed me release
But the truth is, today’s not a vacation for me
I haven’t pastored at all for eight weeks
I’m right now in the midst of a medical leave
For it’s healing right now that I seek

And I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to discuss
The disease that brought me to my knees
It’s something many of us hide in the dark places inside
And I’d like to shine some light, if you please

I live with depression, and sometimes it gets bad
Medication and therapy help
But something went wrong this past summer and fall
And I could no longer do it myself

I couldn’t find joy; everything felt bleak
Hard to work, and I lost track of friends
And the more I tried to snap myself out
The more I floundered and twisted again
Depression is not just a feeling of sadness
It’s like being beaten by someone inside
And it took me so long to finally stop
Trying to be strong, trying to hide

I hope it’s okay to tell this to you
But I’ve learned slowly over the years
That being open and honest about what we face
Is better than living in fear

I am grateful my church has given me this gift
This chance to find new ways to cope
And this morning I’ll tell you just a bit
About the vision I’m finding of hope

I’ve spent my time reading, meditating, and praying
Several therapists, and a few support groups
I’ve walked a few labyrinths, and even tried yoga
I’ll be honest, that threw me for a loop

I’m learning to quiet the voices inside me
The voices that tell me I’m bad
The voices that tell me I should have known better
That help me feel worthless and sad

I’m quieting those voices, and do know what I hear?
I’m hearing a message come through
A message that I am God’s beloved child
That God is holding me, saying “I love you”
It’s a message of clarity, of seeing myself
The way that God sees me, I guess
It’s not always easy to trust this message
To trust that God always says “Yes”

But I’m learning, I’m growing, I’m looking, I’m here
And every so often I see
A sign that I know must be from God
A sign that God really loves me

It’s not every day. It’s not every minute.
It still feels like I’m running a race
But once in a while, when I don’t even expect it
I receive a sign of God’s grace
And I’m also learning right now that it’s okay to trust
That in all those times God seems to hide
Though I do not quite see it, and cannot quite feel it
God promises to walk right beside

Now you might be wondering why I’m talking so much
About my sickness and journey to health
A sermon’s supposed to talk about God
And I’m up here blabbering about myself
But I believe this connects to our gospel narration
On this Festival Sunday we call Transfiguration

On a beautiful morning four men climbed a peak
Jesus led his friends up the mountain
When suddenly prophets and thunder and clouds
Poured down upon them like a fountain
And there stood Jesus, glowing and bright
Speaking with Elijah and Moses
A voice came from heaven: “Behold, it’s my Son!”
They were scared from their hair to their toeses

But through their great fright, and through that great cloud
The disciples saw everything clearly
This vision of Jesus, in glory and power
The dawn of a new life, the king of the hour
The colors as deep as a new budding flower
The light shining strong as the mightiest tower
The disciples saw everything clearly
This vision of Jesus, in power and glory
Which was nothing shy of revelatory
It didn’t quite fit in a neat category
Yet fulfilled all the writings, completed God’s story
The disciples saw everything clearly
That Jesus was God quite sincerely
That God was made flesh, loving them dearly

But the vision then faded, it didn’t last long
And Jesus looked normal again
He touched them and said, “Get up. Do not fear.
And follow me into the glen.”

So where did he take them, and where did they go?
Well, you’ll hear about that journey in Lent
But I think that those details are not today’s point
The point is accompaniment
For Jesus went with them, through bad days and good
This Jesus from whom God’s light had shone
He wiped all their tears, and he held all their fears
And they were never, ever, alone

And I think that’s the joy we can take from this mountain
The good news that we can embrace
As we walk along through the valleys of our lives
We can remember we’ll never lose grace

We just might see Jesus, we might glimpse his glory
But that’s not a promise he made
Sometimes we’ll see him, and sometimes we won’t
For my part, I’ve learned that in spades
But wherever we go, and whatever we suffer
The king of all glory walks with us
That’s the promise he made, the promise we trust
It’s the greatest gift that he gives us
For when Jesus is with us, our fears can calm down
Our worries and struggles can lessen
And that is the hope that I’m clinging to now
The hope that there is hope from heaven

So that’s where I am, and here’s where you are
All of us trusting together
That whether we see him, he’s here every day
Jesus walks with us forever

Home in Perkasie

This morning, I attended worship at St. Andrew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Perkasie. In fact, I preached there today. This was a very special day for me, because St. Andrew’s holds a very dear place in my heart. Right out of seminary, but long before I became ordained a pastor (that’s a different story), I began to work at St. Andrew’s as their Director of Education/Pastoral Assistant. I was there for five years, overseeing the youth and Christian Education ministries, and also doing some occasional preaching and pastoral care. I went there very green and naive, overconfident and arrogant. I left there five years later with what I thought of as a mixed legacy…I had accomplished some things, but along the way, I had also made some significant errors in judgment and sloppy mistakes. When I left there twelve years ago, they told me then that they would miss me, and that I had done great work…but I have always wondered. I’ve always wondered if the ways I helped a few young people grow in faith and leadership were enough to make up for those I yelled at, and may have turned away from the church. I’ve always wondered if the people whose lives I touched were enough to make up for the people whom I angered and annoyed. I’ve always wondered if the ways I was able to help the senior pastor there made up for the ways I made his life harder. I’ve always wondered if I was just fooling myself that I made a difference.

But that’s the depression talking. That’s the dark voice inside talking. I know rationally that I did make some mistakes, and I did do some things right. And I know that when I left, I heard such wonderful things from so many people. I was given such beautiful gifts and well-wishes. I know rationally that nobody can ever do everything perfectly, but I also know that I tried to be faithful. I tried to be honest. I tried to use my gifts to enhance the ministries of St. Andrew’s. And I know that on balance, I did do so. But it is so hard to remember that. It is so hard to keep that in mind. It is so hard to not let it take over.

So they invited me there today because this is their 150th anniversary year. Throughout the year, they are inviting former pastors to return and preach. While I am not technically a former pastor, I suppose I am a former preacher there (I did preach about 8-10 times a year while I was there), and I’m now a pastor. So a few months ago, the pastor called to invite me, and when he asked when I’d like to come, I thought that perhaps doing it during my medical leave would be a good thing. My role would be to preach during the two worship services, and also say a few words at a special breakfast held between the services.

So I was driving there this morning very anxious. I was anxious about my sermon, anxious about my speech. I was anxious also about just going there. Would anyone there still be upset with me? And I was anxious about the content of my sermon…I planned to speak about my depression, about my medical leave. While this talk has been welcome at my current congregation, would it be unwelcome here? When I served at St. Andrew’s in my twenties, I wasn’t as open about my condition as I am now. (And frankly, I didn’t understand it as well then either.) Oh, all these things were floating around in my head. I didn’t know what to expect.

It was wonderful. Why didn’t I expect that? I was welcomed with open arms and big smiles. Lots of hugs and lots of memories. My sermon seemed to go over well, and several people told me that it touched them or that it helped them understand a loved one better. Ah, why do I get myself so worked up?

It was wonderful. I was so happy to see so many people from such an important part of my past. I poured so much of myself into that job, as I tend to do. And today I was reminded that it was not in vain. I really did make a difference in some people’s lives. And they made a difference in mine. It was so good to see people who cared for me, who believed in me, people whom I care for and whom I believe in. I was thinking this afternoon about how to put my feelings into words, and the word that kept popping up was “home.” I felt like I was home this morning. It just felt right to be there. They are my friends, my family. I don’t say this to in any way disparage my current congregation. On the contrary, I realize today that I am so very, very blessed. Because I have more than one home.

I have several places that have become homes to me, and I think that’s because I have let people into my life, and I have shared of myself with them. It’s risky to do that…it can hurt. And it has hurt. But it also creates something far more important, far more powerful than hurt. It creates home. I know I won’t be there very often. But today, just for today, St. Andrew’s was home. And I feel so very, very blessed.

And I know, I know very well, that my current congregation is every bit as much of a home, and I will return to it in just four weeks. I know that I will be welcomed back there with open arms, many hugs, and so much joy. I know that they will be so excited to have me back. I know that on that day, I will feel like I’m home again. And I will be.

Later this evening, I will publish the sermon I preached today at St. Andrew’s.

Another Pinewood Men Film

So here’s the latest film endeavor from Pinewood Men. I think it’s our best to date.

I present…Dog Prison.

Dog Prison from Pete Barry on Vimeo.

Labyrinth of the Week #1: Allamuchy Elementary School

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I enjoy walking labyrinths. If you’re not familiar with labyrinths, they are a sort of curved path to follow, usually in concentric circles. At first, they look kind of like a maze, but if you look closer, you see that there are no intersections, no decisions to make. It’s a single path that weaves from the outside in, and then usually back out again on the same path. They have been used for centuries as a spiritual tool. Christians have often used them as a way to connect with the Holy Spirit in a unique way. There is something about walking this path that brings things into focus. There is something about this path that gives discernment and insight. For more information about labyrinths, you can check out The Labyrinth Society.

I have been walking them for years, and I thought that perhaps I would try to find a labyrinth once a week, at least for the remainder of my medical leave. I’m not sure I will continue at the same pace once I’m back to work, but hopefully I will be able to still go regularly.

When I walk a labyrinth, I like to enter it with a particular question or topic in mind. I walk hopeful that I will receive some insight into that question. The question I walked with today was, “What do I do with my past?” This was on my mind because so much of what I’ve been doing the past few weeks involves my past…revisiting old thoughts and feelings and wounds, reconnecting with old friends, delving into thousands of old emails. I wanted to explore what it is I can do with my past, what I should do with what I’m learning (or re-learning) right now.

Today’s labyrinth is located on the grounds of Allamuchy Elementary School in Allamuchy Township, New Jersey. It was created in memory of a young girl named Claudia.

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One thing that struck me immediately about this labyrinth is that the walls were not clearly marked. The “walls” of the labyrinth are like the borders of the maze, so to speak. You always walk within the walls, and they help you know where you’re going. Outdoor labyrinths like this often have walls made of stones or bricks…they’re often just markers on the ground, not any sort of actual barrier. This labyrinth was planted…the walls are boxwood plants. These small shrubs do a good job of marking the circles in the labyrinth, but because they were “dots” rather than solid “lines,” I found it very unclear where the path actually turned.

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Here’s how a 7-circuit classical labyrinth looks. You walk in the white path. The black is the walls.
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Here’s that same labyrinth pattern with only “dots” for walls, instead of “lines.” (Or a really quick and shabby imitation of that, anyway.) You can still see the pattern, but it’s harder to see the details like where to turn.

I don’t know if they designed it to be different like this, or if it’s just turned into this in the years since it was planted. But either way, I found myself asking questions as I looked out over the labyrinth. Am I supposed to turn here between these two bushes, or continue straight? That kind of thing. I asked those kind of questions as I looked out at the labyrinth. So I used my experience of walking labyrinths as an asset. I figured, “I’ve walked these enough times, I’ll know where to turn.” Well, it turns out I didn’t. I got “lost” in the labyrinth. My past experience was not enough to set me straight on the path.

Now, here’s the thing…I was still walking it. I was walking it the way I always do, slowly and meditatively. And I was walking in the concentric circles like you do. I just wasn’t always heading where I thought I was. And I basically made it to the center not at the preordained time, but when I decided I’d walked enough, and just put myself there. My past experience partially prepared me for this journey, but it wasn’t enough. It was a different sort of journey. Whether by design or by accident, this labyrinth took me on a different journey. My past was a tool, an asset, but I could not expect the future to repeat the past. It was different, and I had to keep my eyes and my options open.

So this indeed gave me insights into my question: What do I do with my past? I honor it. I recognize it as a helpful and educational tool. Without it, I’m blind. But I also keep it in perspective. It is not the future. The future will bear some resemblance to the past, but some things will be different, and I can’t predict beforehand what those differences will be. But with a sense of humor and a sense of curiosity, my past and I can go exploring the future together…and make an even richer past for next time.

Or something like that.

Forgiving Myself

I want to write this out, because I want to practice saying it. I need the practice, because I’m not very good at it.

I want to write this publicly, not in my journal but publicly on this blog, because I want to say it out loud. I want people to hear me say it, because I think the accountability will help.

I forgive myself.

I forgive myself for not focusing enough on my morning devotions today, for allowing it to be perfunctory, and not really allowing myself the time and attention to connect with God.

I forgive myself.

I forgive myself for spending part of the morning dealing with tech support for my my computer, only to discover that apparently the problem is with my internet service provider. I forgive myself for getting so very cranky about that, and for wasting the rest of the morning playing video games because I was just so cranky and out of sorts. I forgive myself for taking longer than I wish to turn to mindfulness to calm down.

I forgive myself.

I forgive myself for cutting my meditation short this afternoon, because it just didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. I could have powered through it, and perhaps grown more through that, but I didn’t. Perhaps it was the wrong choice, but if it was, I forgive myself for that.

I forgive myself.

I forgive myself for not reading today. And for not getting my exercise today. For not eating well today. For not answering my mood tracker app when it asked me, “How are you feeling right now?”

Today was a lousy day. I just wasn’t on today. It wasn’t a total loss…I got the grocery shopping done, got my hair cut, got a new internet service provider lined up for installation in two weeks. I had some good time with the kids. And today, that’s enough. I don’t need to beat myself up for this. I don’t need to be “better” than this. I am who I am, and today was what it was. And that’s alright.

I forgive myself.

Worthy of Love

Lately, I have perceived that I do not love myself. While reading, I have recoiled whenever the author talks about self-esteem or self-worth. I do not like the idea of being worthy of love. Something deep inside me reacts negatively to that. Which reminds me of something from a long, long time ago, when I was sixteen. I was dating someone who was an artist, and she painted a picture for me, a picture of an eagle soaring in the sky, with a quote on it:

“People need to see themselves as basic miracles and worthy of love. – Virginia Satir”

That painting was on my wall long after we broke up. It was so meaningful to me. In fact, I used that painting in the very first sermon I preached, while still a teenager. (It was no homiletic masterpiece, but it shows how precious the artwork was to me.) I’m honestly not sure where it is now…in our attic, perhaps? But as meaningful as I say it was, I think its message never truly sunk in. Or maybe it’s a message that I need to hear over and over, over and over, again. Because I do not see myself as a basic miracle. I do not see myself as worthy of love.

I have been reading books about meditation and a book by the Dalai Lama. One common thread I’ve perceived over and over these past few weeks is this: Love is something that we receive, and which we then give away, like breath. You cannot exhale without first inhaling. You cannot inhale without first exhaling. Love is the same. Or call it compassion. Or God’s grace. I believe that I am a conduit of God’s grace. I believe that God has, on occasion, used my hands, my voice, my money, my time, my mind…and done great things with them. But what I cannot believe is that I am “worthy” of any of it. I started picturing it this way:

God’s grace comes into me, and then goes out again. But it does not reach my heart while flowing through me. There is a kind of “shunt” that diverts it around my heart. I am grateful that I can be used by God in this way, but I do not experience the love. I have probably built this shunt myself, because I do not want what I do not deserve.

This morning during meditation, while focusing primarily on my breath, I received another image relating to it.

Breath flows into my lungs, rich with life-giving oxygen. In the lungs, this air is transformed. The oxygen enters the bloodstream through the pulmonary vessels, and is replaced by carbon dioxide, which is a poison, and needs to be exhaled. The process continues…good in, bad out. Good in, bad out. The breath in and the breath out are not the same. Health in, poison out. God’s grace comes into me, but inside me it is transformed into poison…my heart alters it, makes it dark and wrong, and what comes out through my mouth is not what came in. And so, the only way to ensure that God’s love re-enters the world without my poison is to somehow short-circuit the pulmonary exchange, so that what goes out is what comes in. So my lungs inflate and deflate, but they do not perform their life-giving miracle. They are no more than balloons, filling and emptying, filling and emptying.

What I missed in this metaphor is that it’s biologically impossible. A bellows cannot work itself. Lungs cannot do their work without the miraculous transfer. If the oxygen does not enter my bloodstream, the lungs will stop working in minutes. The metaphor falls apart, dies, quite literally. I know it’s not true. I know that I am God’s beloved child, not God’s bellows. Scripture tells me that…my baptism tells me that…friends and family tell me that…my congregation tells me that. Yet I don’t want to believe it. I invent mythical Rube Goldberg devices to replace my internal organs. I believe things I know aren’t true. All because I refuse to see what’s on this painting:

“People need to see themselves as basic miracles and worthy of love.”

I found it, by the way. That’s how there’s a picture of it above, obviously. On the back, it says, “To Myke: Happy Valentine’s Day! Love, Dana 1992” Twenty-five years tomorrow I’ve had this painting. Twenty-five years, and I still don’t believe it. Twenty-five years ago, a young woman I’d been dating for less than a month already saw that it was a message I needed to hear, and it’s a message I still need.

And yet…it’s where I’ve been drawn to put my energy today. It’s where I’ve been drawn to put my journaling and meditative and prayer work right now. And I can see that it’s something I’ve been fighting against for a long time, even though I know it’s true. It’s not the first thing I’ve fought for a long time only to eventually give in. I wonder what it will look like if I really do keep working on it.