November 18

Experiencing the Divine in Music

By jlbishop

At a Recent Marsh service and Bach Sunday, I heard a beautiful prayer thanking God for the gift of prayer and for music when words aren’t enough. I always knew music was an important part of praying and have even been told that singing is praying twice (whatever that means). I interpret that as meaning that in just one song so much emotion, passion, struggle, joy, praise etc. can be shared that it’s the equivalent to two prayers. Sounds about right. I always felt closest to God when I was singing because it lifted my soul up in a way that spoken words couldn’t. Whenever I hear beautiful music I get chills that spread from my cheeks to my toes and a warmness that seeps  from my heart. Sometimes, when I’m sitting at a musical performance, I like to imagine myself watching from God’s point of view and seeing so much talent and joy and hearing the perfection in the notes and just being so moved by the beauty of God’s creation. I can’t even begin to imagine what God must feel but I can make a good guess: Unconditional love that reaches widths, and depths and heights of which we could never wrap our minds around.

This past weekend my girlfriend and I went to NYC to see a famous pianist and composer  by the name of Ludovico Einaudi. This guy was amazing. I have never ever in my life heard such beautiful, passionate music that told stories without words. I’m not one to cry, but this show had me in tears by the overwhelming emotion each song carried. It’s been a while since I’ve felt the Holy Spirit moving, but that night, it danced. I was in awe of the workings of the Spirit and the manifest glory of God. I’ve been feeling distant lately and that concert was a breathtaking reminder of God’s presence. Music speaks when words can’t and as a gift to us from God, it’s a perfect gift to give back for the glory and honor of God.

November 16

The Love Between Us

By kmshultz

In one of his poems, entitled “The Subject Tonight is Love,” Hafiz writes, “The subject tonight is love, and for tomorrow night as well. As a matter of fact, I know of no better topic for us to discuss until we all die.” And I completely agree—there are so many things to discuss concerning love. First of all, what does ‘love’ even mean? Love seems to describe any positive emotion we feel towards another person. If you hear the phrase ‘I love her.’ It could be a parent talking about his/her daughter, a man talking about his wife or girlfriend, a teenager effusing over a celebrity, a woman talking about her wife or girlfriend, a girl laughing at the antics of her friend to another friend, or someone talking about their pet rabbit or hamster or dog or cat. One thing’s for certain, love is not a word that embodies clarity.

Love is mind boggling in its complexity; it is both a verb and a noun, it is platonic, frustrated, content, unrequited, mutual, deep, shallow, open, restricted, individual, communal, simple, complicated, harsh, gentle, and I could go on and on. What does it say about us that we have hundreds of thousands of adjectives in the English language, but only one word for a ridiculous spectrum of feelings and sentiments toward other people? Why don’t we have as many words for love as the Inuit have for snow?

My grandfather likes to say that ‘love’ is doing whatever is necessary and good for the other person whether they deserve it or not. And I find this definition incredibly helpful when remembering Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But there are still so many other uses of the word ‘love’ where people mean something completely different. And maybe that’s the whole point—maybe we’re not supposed to have a concrete, one-size-fits-all, universal definition of love. In fact, the most powerful statement of ‘love’ that I can think of does not define love, but rather uses love to define; God is love. And here is where the confusing array of definitions and uses for love begins to make a tiny bit of sense for me. I think that love is our attempt to define God’s presence among us, within us, and between us. Maybe we don’t have as many words for love as the Inuit have for snow because we don’t view these different types of love as distinct entities, but as aspects of the same thing—the Holy Spirit moving through us. And maybe whenever we say, “I love you,” we’re recognizing the presence of Christ in that person.

So, yes, Hafiz—the subject tonight and tomorrow and every night after will be love because I know of no better topic to discuss than God made manifest among us.

November 15

Affinity and Dissimilarity

By iquillen

Of all the rooms in my old school, the cafeteria was by far one of the most interesting and one that I remember vividly. Admittedly, the fact that it was always noisy at lunchtime reminded me of one reason why I rarely wanted to eat there. Despite the noise and bustle, though, it was always a fascinating place to listen and look around.

Whenever I glanced at my surroundings, one thing in particular stood out to me: the way groups of students tended to split up. Much of the time, students of one particular ethnicity would sit together. Or perhaps it would be a group of students of the same year. Somehow, people sat together based on some trait that they all had in common. During my junior year, my French teacher talked about a concept that explained this pattern. In an assembly, he spoke of “affinity groups,” clusters of people that tend to form based on something they all have in common. If you have ever been at a relatively large party with people you’ve never met before, you may have experienced this phenomena. If I’m among strangers, for example, more often than not I feel most comfortable talking to people who are of a similar age.

Affinity groups reflect a basic human need to belong. We seek out people who have shared interests when trying to establish friendships, and we feel most comfortable around people we can relate to. Forming such ties is one way to make sense of the complex social interactions we have to deal with regularly. Unfortunately, this behavior causes divisions between people to sprout easily. Since we look to distinguish those who are akin to us, we also rely on an innate ability to categorize others. Our efforts to do this fall short at times, for one because some people don’t fit into the imaginary boxes or labels that we’ve made for them.

Gender identity, the way a person defines their own gender, is one area where this problem surfaces frequently. Some people don’t fit into the traditional view of gender as either male or female. Instead of using conventional gender pronouns (she, he, him, her, etc.), they may use gender-neutral pronouns such as ze, aim, and zer. Needless to say, trying to grapple this topic can become incredibly confusing as more labels are made to include people who don’t fit into currently existing ones. But I digress.

This tendency to separate others out creates implicit barriers between people and what they believe in. Taken to an extreme, “us” vs. “them” mentalities can form and prejudices can persist for a long time. It is so much easier to interact with those like us than to try engaging with individuals who have little in common. This presents a significant obstacle to interfaith ministry, and it is an important issue to learn how to deal with. Addressing it involves moving beyond a state of personal comfort and easiness. This entails throwing oneself into unfamiliar, perhaps uncomfortable experiences–moving outside the barriers between faith communities. It also requires willingness to ask others questions about their faith and to have one’s own faith questioned–breaking through the guards we have already built around our own beliefs. Finally, there must be a sense of introspection and understanding of one’s own faith and its shortcomings–removing the veil that separates us from our own beliefs. In order to understand difference, you have to break apart similarity and then see how it was tied together to begin with.

November 9

“I will give you rest”

By kmshultz

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11: 28-30

Whenever I hear these words, I have an almost physical reaction to it; I can feel the weight falling off my shoulders as my chest opens up, I breath more deeply, I feel calm and at peace. This verse is possibly one of my favorite verses because it promises so much. I love it because it frees me from obligations and worries and tells me that I don’t have to carry anything on my own. I love that it upends my notion of what a burden is—it removes the crushing burden full of all the things the world has thrown at me and replaces it with a lightness, a freedom, a lifting up of my body and soul. It turns my burdens into joys.

In this verse, all that is asked of me, of all of us is to come: “come to me, all you who feel overwhelmed by expectations and responsibilities, come to me all you who are lost and don’t know what to do or where to go next, come to me all you who are drowning in homesickness, come to me all you who can’t find a minute to yourselves, come to me all you who are paralyzed by debt, come to me all you who see the world through shades of guilt and regret. Come to me and I will give you rest—I will give you a space free of worry and doubt and fear; a space that you can fall into, a space that will not only give you rest for your body, but rest for your soul.”

I love this verse because the freedom it offers has nothing to do with what I do—it’s all God. I can’t get rid of my burdens by being the best or working hard or anything else of my own merit; I get rid of my burdens because God frees me from the weight.

And I am fascinated by how this verse retains the language of the world to describe something of God: it still describes God as putting a yoke upon me, of laying a burden on my shoulders. But the yoke does not bite into my shoulders, the burden does not bow my head and press me down into the earth. It is a yoke of refreshment, a burden of rest. It is so much more than anything I deserve, but God offers it to me freely, gently, humbly.

This verse rises up and reminds me that I don’t have to carry this weight on my own. In fact, I can’t carry this weight on my own. This verse reminds me to lay down my worries, my fears, my vulnerabilities, to stop clinging to the things dragging me down. This verse reminds me to fall into Sabbath, into rest, into the easy yoke and the light burdens of our God, who is gentle and humble of heart. This verse gives me rest.

November 9

It’s Easy to be Lazy

By jlbishop

This past friday my roommate’s friend from home was visiting. My roommate, her friend and I all went to high school together, so it was a nice treat to see old friends and have a little reunion. We all agreed that we should go to the Top of the Hub and sip fancy drinks and see the city at a whole new angle. The view was phenomenal, the jazz band was fantastic and the drinks were incredibly overpriced. One cocktail, the “Luxury Side Car”, was $99 (I’ll stick to my Franzia thank you very much). But overall we enjoyed our Top of the Hub experience.

Our friend wanted to experience more of Boston’s night life and go bar hopping to dance and hopefully get some affordable drinks. I became really crabby and irritated because it was already midnight and I was tired and wanted to eat popcorn and watch Netflix. But my girlfriend told me that the bars were right across the street and it was my friends only night here and to enjoy our limited time together. I begrudgingly agreed to go but stayed in a bad mood. Soon, though, my bad mood melted away as I got lost in the fun music and company of  friends. We ended up having a great night filled with dancing and laughter and joy and merriment. It was a night full of memories and great stories to tell.

I realized from that night that sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in laziness. It’s one thing to not be a a night/extroverted person who needs to go home; but it’s another thing when a friend is visiting for her first and last time, wants to see you and Boston, the night is still young for you, and you just don’t feel like being on your feet or walking more. For me, wanting to go home and eat popcorn and watch Netflix with my girlfriend was just laziness. Instead, I snapped out of it and put in the effort and ended up having an incredible night! I read a relationship advice post once that talked about important things to remember in a relationship- it was collection of little blurbs of advice from people in long, healthy relationships. One was from a girl who said something along the lines of “Those nights when you’re invited to go out/have a party to go to and just want to stay in and watch Netflix, choose to go out. Usually the nights when you just don’t feel like going out/being with friends and do anyway turn out to be some of your best times and memories. Netflix will always be there but memories have to be pursued and created.”

For me, that advice rings true for a lot of things. It’s so easy to be lazy and choose to do nothing, but put in just a little bit of effort and amazing things happen. Put in a little more effort and even more amazing things happen, give 100% and nothing is impossible! Where there is a will, there is certainly a way. If you’re lazy like me, let’s challenge ourselves together: Change our attitude from “not willing” to “willing” and let’s watch and see how things change for the better!

November 9

Lessons in Leadership

By jdingus

This week I opened the Sanctuary order of service to see what my responsibilities would be for the week. Michaela and I were scheduled to help lead the “Walking with You Ritual.” This is the time in our service where people share important joys, sorrows and needs for prayer. Between each sharing we sing the song “Walking with You” and at the end someone prays over the ritual incorporating the things that people have shared. This prayer has to be given extemporaneously and it is one of the few elements of the Sanctuary service I haven’t done before. In fact I’ve rarely if ever been called on to pray without having time to write a prayer. The way the order of service was written, it was unclear if I was supposed to sing the song or lead the ritual. So before the service I spoke with Michaela. She asked me if I preferred to sing or to lead the ritual and pray. I told her I’d never done it before, but that I was willing to try to pray and lead the ritual.

At first I was excited about this new opportunity, but then the time for the ritual came. I was so nervous. My heart was racing out of my chest and I could feel my palms starting to sweat. I looked across the circle at Michaela. She quietly mouthed to me, asking if I was still ok to lead the prayer. For a moment the nerves I had been harboring washed away. Here it is, this is my out. She’s in seminary; she’s done it a million times. I should just back out and maybe try it the next time. She looked at me reassuringly. I took a deep breath, smiled at her and told her that I could do it.

It probably wasn’t the most perfect prayer ever given. And I know that this new skill that will only get better with practice. But I took a risk and it worked out really well.

Now I could pretty easily write a blog post about learning to take chances and the importance of doing things outside of my comfort zone. Those are definitely important things to talk about. However, I think I learned more from my interaction with Michaela than from the act of trying something new. She ministered to me, recognizing my ability and encouraging me to try something bold and outside of my comfort zone. She decided that it was more important to empower me in a leadership role, than to take the spotlight for herself. She gave me the space to be brave, but made sure I was going to be ok.

This moment was a striking reminder to me about the ways leadership development should work in congregations. It’s made me want to find ways in my life and in my work at Marsh to cultivate the same sort of leadership. Today instead of reading the story for children’s ministry I let one of the children read it. She did a really great job reading for us, and I know she’ll get even better with more opportunities. My ministry with the kids at Marsh is not about me creating a program and getting a lot of praise and attention for it. It’s about creating a space where the children can grow in their faith, leadership and understanding. I’m grateful for Michaela for reminding me how simple and yet impactful cultivating leadership can be.

November 8

Sewing Spirit Back Together

By iquillen

I’ve been thinking about healing, and what that really means. During our Marsh Associate meeting with Jen and Soren on Monday evening, we heard two pieces of verse about this subject. The first was from Jeremiah, chapter 8, verse 22:

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?”

We sang the second passage from an African-American spiritual, There Is a Balm in Gilead, which responded to this passage. The chorus and first verse went as follows:

There is a balm in Gilead / To make the wounded whole; / There is a balm in Gilead / To heal the sin-sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged / And think my work’s in vain, / But then the Holy Spirit / Revives my soul again.

I also learned that in Eastern Christian traditions, the notion of sin is closely associated to sickness. The act of salvation, therefore, encompasses not relieving someone of the debt or weight that their spirit feels, but in curing and restoring them. The association between salvation and healing can also be found in the medicinal salve, which derives from the latin verb salvo, to save. This idea appears in the two passages, both in the balm for the wounded and the spiritual revival the Holy Spirit confers to us.

But what about the other kind of spiritual wounds that aren’t related to sin? We will all encounter moments of physical and emotional injury in our lives occasionally. When these wounds are particularly severe, we can also develop scars that linger with us long after. However, I rarely hear the expression of spiritual scars used. Now, on the one hand, it is a good thing that I don’t hear of scarred souls too often. But I do believe they exist, especially when a person feels alienated or betrayed by their own faith.

When I say this, I think of people who have felt rejection from their own faith community. This is particularly relevant for members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom may face exclusion or hatred from their religious communities after coming out. Another example is a person who loses a close friend, family member, or their home and possessions unexpectedly. The list goes on and on.

How do people find spiritual healing from these kinds of experiences? How does a person sew their spirit back together? The answer to this question seems different to the one that the spiritual provides to Jeremiah’s question.  One’s faith alone that God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit will do this doesn’t seem to be adequate answer to me. For some people, it might be enough. For others, though, traumatic, spirit-rending events can cause their faith in a higher power to waver or shatter.

One way to achieve spiritual healing may be to embrace the idea that time and life are still moving forward. This isn’t to say that life goes on, and that in the grand scheme of things what just happened was insignificant. Far from it. For someone with a wounded spirit, it means that life hasn’t ended, that they will not remain frozen in a perpetual state of despair.  If they can find some support, love, hope, and laughter in others and in themselves, their soul can begin to stitch back together and restore itself. I believe that there is a salve to sew one’s spirit whole again. But there may also be scars where it heals.

November 4

There’s Freedom in Scheduling

By jlbishop

I have been told so many times that “there’s freedom in scheduling.” What does that even mean? For the longest time I didn’t know, and it used to frustrate me so much each time someone told me that (that someone mainly being my mentor at the time, but still). I like to consider myself a free spirit, going where the winds of my moods and emotions take me. If I didn’t feel like doing homework, I didn’t. If I felt like dropping everything I was doing to go get coffee with a friend, I would. If my heart just wasn’t into something, I quit. If I didn’t feel like studying, I didn’t. Are you getting the gist? I was explaining this to a roommate once who looked at me horrified and asked how I survived college this far. I explained that the trick, though, is that I will always eventually be in the mood to study. So I push off studying until I feel like it, then I do it with undivided attention and focus and actually do well on the test each time. Telling me that there is freedom in scheduling when my spontaneous, capricious ways have brought me joy, excitement and good grades, was just, well, preposterous.

Did I mention that this capricious, free-spirited way of life worked flawlessly when I had no other commitments outside of class? Yup. Well, lets throw in two jobs and a serious relationship this semester. I tried so hard to stick to my unstructured way of life. But not so slowly and surely, things started becoming chaotic. I was forgetting assignments, nearly failing tests, unintentionally ignoring friends, for the first time ever was chronically stressed and had more sobbing breakdowns than I even thought possible. What was happening to me?! I just had too many commitments and responsibilities to be able to study whenever I felt like it, or drop everything to see friends. But I chose to do those than to do my homework, study in time, or complete my internship responsibilities. And naturally, things fell apart.

Echoing in my head were the words that my mentor always said to me: “there’s freedom in scheduling.” My director for this internship, Soren, told me the same thing and together we worked on it. He helped me time-manage and prioritize, and schedule in homework and study time and also social time. When midterms came around and I had 5 midterms in one week, I knew I had to buckle down. I scheduled and planned my time, and that week, although busy, was relatively stress free. There were no last-minute, late-night cram sessions, no tears, and no feelings of hopelessness. I did my work, and I stayed focus. And I’m proud to announce that I did well on all of my midterms! Yay!

I finally understand what “freedom in scheduling” means, and while I miss my spontaneous, free spirited days, it’s just not applicable anymore as I have more and more responsibilities and commitments. I’m actually excited to schedule my time! Who would’ve guessed!?

November 2

Looking Forward, Looking Back

By jdingus

With the passing of Halloween and the beginning of winter (I realize that winter is still a few weeks away, but as soon as it starts snowing it is winter to me) I’m taking some time to seriously reflect on this semester and really think about where I’m going from here. This is, after all, the season of class registration a time, which always makes me evaluate where I am and where I want to be.

This semester has proven to be a lot different than last year. The fear and the nervousness that surrounded me has long since past away, replaced by comfort and familiarity. I have friends here, I know how to navigate the city, I’m getting better at managing my class work and I know who to ask when I need help. But things are different. A lot of the people I was really close with have either moved on to new adventures in their lives or have drifted away. So I’ve been deepening relationships with a slightly different group of people. Also the rigor and quantity of my work has increased substantially. Amidst the changes, I feel like I’m finding myself in exactly the right place.

In order to maintain that feeling, to keep myself on track, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future. I came to BU with a year’s worth of AP credits and so I’m trying to decide if it makes sense to graduate a year early. It’s a decision I don’t want to make lightly, because it is going to have a huge impact on the rest of my time at BU.

This question has been weighing pretty heavily on me the past week or so. I have been running around, talking to advisors, asking friends for input, and of course talking to my mom. As my mind starts focusing on checking boxes and creating a game plan for the next few years, I’m trying to make myself remember to breathe. As important as these decisions are, college shouldn’t be a series of checked boxes. In this time of reflection, as the nights get long and snow starts falling, I want try and be thankful for the gift of each day. Particularly if I choose to graduate early, I don’t have an infinite amount of college. These years are flying by, and there is so much more to see, and experience, and learn. I’m praying for the clarity to make plans and make good life-affirming decisions, but I’m also praying for the presence and the courage to step back and experience as much as I can. I’m realizing though that this is a universal struggle, and so I extend these prayers out to everyone who is trying to plan for the future while living in the present.

November 2

We Remember

By kmshultz

I always find the transition from October to November a bit jarring. One day, I’m surrounded by gruesome or scandalous costumes, more sugar than anyone should ever have, and a trivialization of gore, violence, and death. And the next two days, I’m respectfully remembering all those who have passed away and commending them to God. At times, this switch can feel extremely contradictory and confusing.

Halloween and All Saints day and All Souls day may be united by their connection to death but Halloween trivializes death, making it seem distant and outlandish while All Saints day and All Souls days brings death very close to home, tying me to all those who have come before and especially evoking memories of those I personally knew who have died. Halloween may be the most overt display of death as streets abound with zombies, vampires, and other gory characters, but the two days following are what make death feel real to me.

In the choir anthem this morning, we sang a beautiful piece by Tarik O’Regan entitled “We Remember Them”. The music itself is beautiful, full of rich choral chords that follow a simple, haunting soprano solo. But the words were what really hit me this morning: “In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter we remember them. In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them. In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them. In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them. When we’re weary and in need of strength, we remember them. When we’re lost and sick at heart, we remember them. So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”

These words remind me of how much our lives are shaped by those who have died—we see them in all seasons, in the sun and the flowers and the leaves. But remembering those who have died does not drag us down into depression, it lifts us up and gives us strength, it shows us the way when we’re lost, it comforts us. These words remind me that the point of All Saints Day or All Souls Day is not to commiserate over and mourn those we have lost, but to rejoice in the fact that we shared life with these people and to remember everything that they taught us and everything that they meant to us. The most powerful words in this piece for me are the last ones: “So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them”. These words give me such comfort—it helps me move away from our society’s idea of death as this great gaping hole that sucks us all in, destroying everything we’ve done and separating us from the people we love. The people I love who have died are not gone—they are still with me because, in remembering them, I bring them to life. Each of us carries our loved ones around in our hearts and they help shape who we are.

That’s why I need these two days after Halloween—they remind me that death does not have to mean blood and gore and creeping shadows in the night. They remind me that death unites us all, that we are surrounded by those who have gone before us, that they give us strength and direction. They remind me that death is only a stepping-stone to life and that, while I still miss my grandfather, I also carry him around with me all the time. These two days remind me that the fact that someone has died does not mean their life stopped. Because as long as we live, they live too—they are a part of us and we remember them always.