Archives for November 2010

Remembering Ken…

Today we buried my youngest brother. His ashes have been sitting in a plastic container, in a red velvet bag, on a small shelf in our bedroom since the beginning of October, one year ago. He was almost two years sober when he died, and he was living in a recovery residence in Pomona. His health was terrible – open heart surgery the year before had left him with chronic heart disease, little energy and insufficient stamina to hold a job. Still, his death was sudden and shocking.

Ken was a tag-along baby – nearly 11 years younger than I and 9 years younger than my closest sibling, Tom. He struggled his whole life long and yet he was one of the sweetest people I have ever known. He could get angry, tired and frustrated, but he did not ever say or do anything that was in any way cruel. Not many of us can say that.

When he was 50 years old, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – an autism spectrum neurological set of behaviors and symptoms which was not even identified when he was young enough to have benefitted from intervention and treatment. We think now that he drank (secretly, for most of his adult life) as a form of self-medication – to dull the pain associated with never quite ‘fitting in’ socially and to quiet the noise in his head. One of the sad, sweet ironies of his death was that he had found the kind of community and companionship for which he longed in the daily AA meetings he attended. How blessed we all are that he and they found each other!

In the early morning of October 2, 2009, I got a phone call from the manager of his residence telling me that Ken had died in his sleep, just after midnight. His body was not discovered until his housemates got up and began their day. My widowed mother lives in a retirement community in LaVerne, about 10 minutes from that residence and I did not want her to be alone when she learned this terrible news. So I got on the phone and gathered some friends around her before I called and told her that her baby was suddenly gone and that I’d be there as quickly as I could get packed. About three hours later, I was there to help hold her tears, and my own.

It was a strange, sad, wonderful week of preparing Ken’s memorial service. My brother Tom came from northern CA and he and mom and I did what had to be done. La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church was superb, the service went well, the reception was a warm and loving occasion for remembering.

But mom could not face any final decision about Ken’s ashes – the shock was immense and she simply did not know what was best. We talked about it off and on over this year, considering burial in a cemetery – either in LaVerne or Santa Barbara – or dispersal at sea. Nothing quite felt right. Then Tom did some research and discovered that it is legal in the state of CA to bury ashes on private property. So my amazing and thoughtful husband found a sapling oak tree in our side yard and we all made plans to gather for Thanksgiving and then to put him in the ground on what would have been his 55th birthday.

There were just 5 of us there. My 89 year old mom, my husband Dick and I, my brother Tom and his wife Sandy. I put together a small service – the exact one I had used for Dad, 5 years ago February. We read scripture verses of hope and promise, we remembered our son and brother, we read the beautiful ancient prayers from the Book of Common Prayer and we sang the doxology. It was good. It was right. It was enough.

Peace to his memory – I am grateful for his life and grateful for his release from it.

A Prayer for the End of the Year…

Christ the King Sunday, 2010

written for worship at Montecito Covenant Church

by Diana R.G. Trautwein

You may not be aware of this, but today marks the last Sunday of the year – the church year, that is. Today is the last Sunday in the longest season of our liturgical calendar, a season which is called Ordinary Time. Next Sunday, the New Year begins as we step into the first Sunday in Advent. As each year comes to its close, the church has chosen to remember that the baby whose advent we await is, in fact, our King. So I begin our prayer time today with the collect – or short prayer – for this Sunday in the church year:

“Almighty and merciful God,
 you break the power of evil and make all things new
 in your Son, Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.

May all in heaven and earth 
acclaim your glory and never cease to praise you.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
 who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
 one God, for ever and ever.”

We offer heartfelt thanks today, Lord God, that you are indeed almighty and merciful.

We humbly recognize that we desperately need you to be both of those things – mighty to save and merciful to forgive.

Thank you that even in the midst of the most ordinary of our days, you are still and always God, that your son Jesus reigns in heaven with you and the Holy Spirit, and that we – for some miraculous, hard-to-fathom reason – are invited into the fellowship which you enjoy together.

Thank you that we have been born into a life of privilege and of blessing; that we live in a place of beauty and abundance; that by virtue of our birth in this great land, we are granted the grace and the freedom to gather in worship together any time we choose.

Thank you that even our darkest days can be lightened by your presence with us; that the most tangled of our problems do not overwhelm you; that the worst we can do to ourselves or to others is never beyond your willingness to forgive and to redeem.

Thank you that you are God, King of the Universe and King of our lives.

Help us to acknowledge your reign in the daily doings of our lives; to seek your guidance and direction in the making of our decisions, both large and small; to yield to your truth, to trust in your faithfulness, to live in your light.

Forgive the many and various ways in which we sin against you and against one another. Give us eyes to see our own foibles and failings and to offer those places of struggle up to you. For it is in our brokenness that you can bring wholeness, it is through our battle scars that your light can shine, it is by your grace that we can begin to see ourselves as new creatures, those who are slowly but steadily taking steps toward transformation and redemption.

As we celebrate a national holiday built around the idea of giving thanks, help us, O Lord, to truly cultivate grateful hearts. Because it is gratitude which can soften the rough edges, open our hearts to the beauty around us and help us to see one another as reflections of your glorious son, Jesus Christ, whose kingship we celebrate today and always. Amen.

All Saints’ Day, 2010

Did you know there are ELEVEN published verses to the hymn, “For All the Saints?” I didn’t either, until I looked it up on Google last night. Eleven verses. These words, all eleven verses of them, were written by an English bishop specifically for this day in the church calendar – All Saints’ Sunday. And Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the magnificent melody we began our worship with today – a melody considered by many to be the greatest hymn tune written in the 20th century. He gave this strong unison line the title, “Sine Nomine” – which means “without name,” because it was crystal clear to everyone in the English speaking church that this tune was written for this set of lyrics. In our six-verse collection, we are missing the verses extolling the martyrs, the evangelists, and the apostles. We’re also missing a verse encouraging soldiers fighting the fight of faith. And then there’s this one which we don’t sing:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest.
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!
which immediately precedes the far more familiar:
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day.
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia, alleluia!
“Alleluia, alleluia,” indeed! Such a picture! Let us go to prayer this morning with the picture of that heavenly evening and daytime in our imaginations:
O King of Glory,
How truly magnificent you are.
To think that we –
21st century members of your body –
are numbered with those who will one day rise triumphant, clothed in bright array to sing your praises with the saints of all times and places – well – it just boggles the mind.
We praise you and we thank you for Jesus, who makes the promise of our own resurrection real, and who came from you and the Holy Spirit to show us how to live, and breathe and have our being centered in the Triune God.
O good and gracious God, will you hear now our silent prayers, confessing our complete unworthiness to participate in such glory! Oh my, what glory!
We are so thankful that salvation,
transformation and ultimately
resurrection itself are not dependent upon our worthiness – but only upon your grace. Thank you for hearing our confession and for forgiving our sin.
We are also thankful that you invite our prayers on behalf of others and ourselves, that you have designed us for real and deep and honest communion with you. We gather in this room today to worship you together – to once again seek your face and to live your gospel. Hear our prayers for the world now, LORD – our prayers for this world, right here where we live – and for that world out there – that world that you love and that we worry about, and that so needs
a whiff of hope,
a glance at peace,
a shirttail of grace to hang onto in the winds of adversity.
So we lift aloud names and situations that are heavy on our hearts today, O Lord,
confident that you will hear and answer,
and with each prayer mentioned, we all will say – “Hear our prayer, O Lord.”
So now we’re ready to receive you in bread and cup. These plain and ordinary things we bring to the table today – including ourselves, Lord! – will you bless them, and us – miraculously marking bread, juice, people as sacred and set apart and holy.
And then may we, your people, strengthened and encouraged by our shared meal,
may we carry your holiness with us to the world in which we live and work and play.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Be Still and Know…

Today was a quiet day. An intentionally quiet day. We opened the sanctuary doors at 9:00 a.m., set out some quasi-healthy snacks under the pergola, and provided some simple written resources so that a few too-busy people might take a step to the side this morning.

A step to the side of the road we call life – that increasingly busy highway of family/job/travel/ technology/you name it – that sometimes moves faster than we wish it would. So much motion leaves little space or time for us to b-r-e-a-t-h-e, to slow down, to be reflective, to listen.
Oh, how I need to listen! I’m so full of responsibilities, appointments, people I care deeply about (some of whom are in crisis of one kind or another), and my own peculiarly bedeviling health issues, that I sometimes think I’ve forgotten how to do that – to listen…quietly, alone and still. So today was a lovely, soothing, moving opportunity to un-kink a bit. To scribble down some thoughts, a few prayers, some confession, all of it offered up to God as a gift of child-like adoration.
Two of our grandchildren recently gave us art of their own creation and I was struck by two things: how pleased and proud they were to give them and how moved and pleased we were to get them. Do you suppose God sees our simple, child-like offerings like that? Oh, I hope so. I pray so.