The Devotions are taken from the Snippets by Susan from past e-Spotlight newsletters.
Permission is granted to use them with appropriate credit given to Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder.
I read an article by Ryann Tanap where she describes visiting a powerful exhibit in Pittsburgh called, Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art. All forms of art provide a way for persons to share their life experiences. For this reason, art can be especially therapeutic for persons living with mental illness. In an exhibit like this, the art also offers an opportunity for others to gain an understanding and perspective of what mental illness may feel like from the perspective of the artist.
Many persons are facing 2017 with uncertainty, fear and anxiety after a long and difficult political campaign and the inauguration of a new president. The constant news coverage can fuel these feelings. Regardless of how you voted, the contentious election has motivated many persons to pay more attention and become more involved in making their voices known especially when it comes to affirming and protecting the inclusion of all God’s children. It is easy to feel helpless and do nothing. But as persons of faith, we can be open to opportunities in our daily lives to reaching out to the least of these.
We all saw the famous statue of “Christo” as we watched the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In Brazil, as in many Latin American countries, there is a great distinction between the wealthy and the poor. The Olympic venue amidst luxury beach hotels stands against a background of the many favelas on the hills above. The extreme poverty and lack of basic needs have led to crime and, for many, a loss of hope for a better future.
Many of us look forward to summer as a time of relaxation, replenishment, re-creation and an opportunity to break our routine with a vacation. But it often takes most of our vacation to unwind. With our society’s belief in the values of productivity and accomplishment, stopping and finding ways to “vacate” from our many tasks can be difficult. We are so busy “doing” that we seldom take the time to just “be” in the present moment.
The Torrey pine tree is the rarest pine in the United States and one of the rarest pines in the world. It is restricted to just two regions in the United States: an island off the California coast and parts of coastal San Diego County. My husband and I learned more about these rare trees on a recent visit to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The Torrey pine has found ways to adapt to its environment and to survive despite many adverse conditions. We all know that California is one of the states struggling with a severe drought. The very long needles of the Torrey pine have grooves that allow the tree to channel dew and fog droplets to the ground and the waiting roots. The Torrey pine typically will grow in a contorted manner because of its constant exposure to the winds and salt spray that come off the ocean. Many of these trees grow from rocky cliffs and outcroppings. The tree has the ability to put down a long taproot and elaborate system of roots to access moisture.
My husband and I visited Vancouver before an Alaskan cruise. We learned much about the culture of the First Nation peoples through their art. Serving food to large gatherings of people was central to many ceremonial gatherings for the Tlingit, Haida and other groups that live in the northwest. These feasts could last for days and guests could number in the hundreds. The ceremonies surrounding the Potlatch reinforced the social structure of the community through storytelling, dancing, totem pole raising, feasting, gift giving and teaching the young to preserve the identity of a particular clan or family. A Potlatch could take years to prepare and include people who traveled great distances...
On our visit to Bryce Canyon National Park this summer, we learned that the red spindly rock formations that make up the magnificent canyon views are called hoodoos. Paiute Indians inhabited this region for hundreds of years before the arrival of European Americans. A sacred oral tradition of the Paiutes states that the hoodoos are ancient “Legend People” turned into stone by Coyote. Looking down into the amphitheaters at Bryce Canyon, it is easy to imagine the Legend People standing with their straight posture in the form of hoodoos. The name Bryce Canyon in Paiute means "bowl shaped canyon filled with red rocks standing up like men."
My husband and I visited Bryce and Zion national parks this summer. With the heat of the summer before the monsoon rains, I was surprised at the places in Zion National Park where water was coming out of rock walls. I learned that centuries of pressure squeezed deposited mud into thin shale layers and compressed the sand into thick sandstone layers. Water passes easily through sandstone but not the shale. Rain and snow falling on the plateau above soak into the sandstone. When the water reaches the shale, it moves sideways to emerge from the cliff as a spring. The spring water offers nourishment that allows plant life to thrive on the sheer rock face.
My husband and I recently returned from an amazing cruise through the Panama Canal. Starting in Miami, we visited Columbia, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and ports in Mexico as we took the long way home to San Diego. Each country and culture offered us unique experiences and wonderful memories of great people.
I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans in December. I was intrigued by the beauty of a lush plant that was growing on many of the old oak and pecan trees. A mossy green blanket covered many trunks and branches. Our guide told us that the plant was called the Resurrection Fern. The lush leaves that I saw wither up and appear to die in hot and dry weather.
The New Year is time to reflect on our lives. The busy holidays are over but the reality is that most of us live very hectic, busy lives throughout the year. We often use the expression, "I'm juggling too many balls," or "I can't keep all the balls in the air."
Shortly before his death, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Youth and Age, in which he reflected over his past and what had given him strength in his earlier years. One of the most profound lines of his work is the statement, “Friendship is a sheltering tree...” How true this statement is for all of us today. When we face life’s challenges and disappointments, there is nothing like a sheltering tree - a true friend - to give us relief in the cool shade. Beneath the branches of such sheltering trees have rested many a discouraged soul.
I believe one of the most powerful ways to break down the stigma associated with mental illness is story. Stories have great power…transforming power. Part of this transforming power comes from the intimacy of storytelling that allows us to connect with others at a deep level. Stories can be vehicles for change and healing because they involve the listener or the reader in ways known only to him or her. We never know how the sharing of our stories may touch the lives of others.
My husband and I went on a cruise earlier this year. We both love being out on the ocean and the feeling of freedom that comes with leaving behind all the tasks and stresses of daily life. One night we had large swells and winds as a storm passed nearby. While we were a bit off balance at times, I was grateful for the ship’s stabilizers. We could not see the ship stabilizers as they were beneath the waterline. But we trusted that these fins on rotors had the capacity to change their angle to counteract and minimize the rolling of the ship caused by the winds.
My husband and I spent some time on Maui, Hawaii, this spring. The courthouse square has an amazing banyan tree covering two thirds of an acre that was imported from India and planted in 1873 to mark the 50th anniversary of Christian missionary work in Lahaina.
The other day I was "beating myself up" for something stupid I had done. I recalled a Peanuts cartoon I had seen some years ago. Lucy, as usual, is being her "school marmish" best. She says to Charlie: "Sooner or later there is one thing you’re going to have to learn. You reap what you sow, you get out of life exactly what you put into it, no more and no less."
By now many of you have seen the excellent movie, Lincoln. While the movie only covers the last few months of Lincoln’s life, Daniel Day-Lewis’ thoughtful portrait of Abraham Lincoln gives a glimpse of how his political strengths were rooted in his most personal struggles.
The last time we visited Colonial Williamsburg I made sure to stop at the reconstructed Public Hospital. One of the signs on the wall read,"Williamsburg's Public Hospital opened in 1773 as the first institution in America devoted solely to the treatment of the mentally ill." What you see is a reconstruction of one of the rooms or "cells" as they were called. Looking at the sparse conditions complete with manacles to chain the patient to the wall might conjure up thoughts like, "barbaric." Before jumping to those kinds of judgments you should know that this scenario apparently was part of a revolutionary idea in the treatment of mental illness. Another sign on the wall said that, "Underlying their efforts (meaning the staff) was the relatively new belief that medical intervention in a hospital environment could cure insanity." In other words, what we're seeing is not some form of cruel punishment, but rather, the evolving efforts of concerned folks to bring healing to those afflicted by severe mental illness.
I wandered the rutted back streets of a small town in Mexico to escape the visual overload of the rainbow colored storefronts and the intrusive assault of street vendors. As I carefully walked the back roads to avoid the ruts and puddles, I was attracted to a small store with a door of peeling pink paint and the distinctive smell of fine leather. The cobbler, Mario, was hunched over his workbench as he mended and put together shoes for his neighbors. A lively conversation in Spanish drew me to the back of the shop where a low partition revealed a white haired man creating silver jewelry. Mario and Carlos stopped their conversation only long enough to acknowledge my presence.
It was one of those unexpected creative moments when I felt like I had to get my ideas down before they were gone. My thoughts poured out through my fingers to the keyboard in front of me. And then it happened! My computer crashed. A major crash! I was overcome with feelings of panic, helplessness, lack of control and the inability to do anything about my situation. I felt the loss of the technology that we have come to depend on to connect us to our world and, more importantly, to other people.
I came to get away from the noise of my hectic work life - the ringing of the telephone, the sounds of the computer, the buzz of office business, even the words of those who come to me to talk. And so I carefully planned my “get-away” to a sacred place where I knew I would be renewed by connecting with nature in solitude.
I recently heard a sermon by Bishop T.D. Jakes; senior pastor of The Potter’s House and ranked among the 25 Most Influential African Americans. Bishop Jakes shared an interpretation of the familiar story of how Jesus fed five thousand after a young boy offers five loaves of bread and two fishes.
I had foot surgery in January. I was “grounded” for six weeks. I had to be extra careful about infection until the pins were removed. Needless to say, it was a challenge for this active person to temporarily view the world as a person with a physical handicap. Most of my time was spent in my office at home (the couch) with my foot elevated. As a caregiver by nature, the most difficult thing for me was asking for help.
Last fall I had the privilege of viewing an art print exhibition of The Saint John’s Bible. It is a most beautiful hand-written hand-illuminated that the Smithsonian Magazine described as, “One of the most extraordinary undertakings of our time.” It truly is a feast for the eyes, the mind and the heart.
My husband and I had a wonderful time away in Hawaii last year. While the weather was mostly cooperative during our visit, we learned much about how the Hawaiian Islands continue to evolve and change because of many natural events. On the Big Island we saw how the Kona coast is still struggling to rebuild when a tsunami hit after the Japanese earthquake. We visited the Volcano National Park and saw the steam coming out of one of the major craters and wondered if it would “blow” while we were standing on the observations deck. We walked on lava fields and were fascinated to see how molten lava from many different eruptions had cooled in ways that create artful landscapes. In the midst of the “rope” patterns of lava, I was moved by the small green plants beginning to take root.
I think of summer as a time of rest, renewal and reflection. There are no major religious holy days. Summer reminds me how we can become so frenzied in our lives that we neglect self care so essential for good mental health.
A student asked anthropologist Margaret Mead for the earliest sign of civilization in a given culture. He expected the answer to be a clay pot or perhaps a fish hook or grinding stone. Her answer was, “A healed femur.”
My husband and I recently returned from a long anticipated trip to Ireland and Amsterdam. Ireland was all and more than I expected it to be with wonderful people and beautiful countryside…and we missed the rain!
The stores are full of colorful and functional items for “back to school.” I was a Kindergarten teacher before going to seminary. I remember how difficult it was for parents to leave their children at the door on that first day of school. Often both the child and the parent were crying. I had to shut the door and keep things moving quickly to distract the children and involve them in fun activities.
Visualize a three-legged stool. We are all created with the opportunity to develop three sides of ourselves: our body, our mind and our spirit.
I’ve always loved the story of Noah’s ark. I even have a little wooden ark in my office. Noah’s ark is, after all, the story of God’s grace and the promise of God’s covenant with us. Each of us enters the ark in faith that God will see us through the storms, winds and floods of our lives.
A simple seed holds incredible power. All that is necessary for new life is contained in a seed. A small article, tucked away in the pages of a newspaper, caught my eye. It told of some seeds shed by an East Indian lotus plant that were found in a food storage area in an ancient lake deposit in southern Manchuria. The seeds successfully germinated some 450 years after they had been placed in storage.
A friend shared the story of how she was sitting on the ocean cliffs one day and sharing a bag of popcorn with her friend. As the two sat talking, my friend picked up some nearby twigs and began to put the plump pieces of popcorn on the ends of the twigs. Soon there was a forest of little popcorn trees on the ground in front of them.
I read the story of a well-known senator who was riding a new excursion boat up the Potomac River. It was a warm day, and the senator had removed his shoes and socks and settled back in a deck chair to wiggle his toes. His socks hung on the railing in front of him.
Fall is my favorite season of the year. Living in California, we miss the more dramatic seasonal changes experienced in other parts of the country.
I've always been intrigued with the story of Abraham and Sarah, who were called to pack their bags, leave their home and country, and venture into a land unknown. We are often called to move, to make radical changes, either physically, like Abraham and Sarah, or in our personal lives. We are challenged to go in new directions, but it is our choice whether to act on those calls.
There is a famous image in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which I had heard about but which I "experienced" while visiting my daughter in that city some years ago. The large statue of Christ the Redeemer, better known as "Christo," looms 710 meters above the city. In Brazil, as in many Latin American countries, there is a great distinction between the wealthy and the poor. Yet Christ stands, with hands outstretched to embrace all people.
It was a dark night , whose stillness was suddenly broken with the sound of air-raid sirens. People dropped what they were doing and hurried to the safety of bomb shelters. Here they stayed, huddled together in fear, for eleven long hours of concentrated aerial bombardment. Here they stayed, wondering what would be left of the city they called home.
I was looking for a bowl. I wasn't exactly sure what kind of bowl I was looking for, but I trusted that when the right bowl crossed my path, I would recognize it. The whole bowl thing got started after reading an article that used the image of a Zen Buddhist monk's begging bowl.
A friend of mine makes stunning and unique pieces of pottery.
Larry finds, in the process of centering the clay and working with his hands, that he himself becomes centered. The concentration it takes to throw a pot requires attentiveness to the task, allowing him, for a time, to let go of worry and stress.
When my daughter was studying for a year in England, I made a winter-time visit to see her. We were on a student budget and avoided most of the tourist attractions. Our preferred modes of transportation included the Underground, the train or the infamous Badger Bus Line. My one request was to see Stonehenge, that mysterious and ancient configuration of stone. It was not an easy trip in the dead of winter with washed-out train tracks and unpredictable bus schedules. But we managed to make it to Stonehenge, arriving quite late in the day.
For three years I have attended a conference at a beautiful setting by a lake in North Carolina. One of the highlights, for me, was living in a little cabin by the lake built at the turn of the century, with a real screened-in porch and a wonderful high-back rocking chair. I've spent hours rocking, watching the mist rise from the lake in the early morning as the water was touched by the first rays of the morning sun. At night I would rock and watch the birds and the darkness gradually dim my view of the trees and lakeshore, until there was only the light of the moon and stars.
Several years ago my husband, Stan, and I were on one of those frantic tours in Israel where you have to be at the bus or the dining room at an exact time. After cleaning up in our room from a day of touring, we went to the hallway to take an elevator to the dining room.
I have been to the Mission San Luis Rey in Southern California many times as both a retreat participant and retreat leader. This mission was founded by the Spanish Franciscans in 1798 and housed the largest Native American Indian population in the chain of missions...well over two thousand. Life at the mission flourished until 1833 when it was taken over by the Mexican government and sold to private land owners.