Wednesday night talks
Sometimes I lay in my room
By Charlotte Leavengood (12 years old)
Sometimes, I lay in my room, thinking about when I die. It happens to everyone. We cannot stop it and we cannot avoid it. God has given us life to lead through sorrow, and happiness. Then we must and join him in the after life. I sometimes wonder, well what the after life is like. Are you sad to leave your loved ones; are you full of joy and happiness? I have questioned this time after time.
What is in the after life? How would you answer? We can never be sure. We can have hope and trust that there will be a good place, that God will reward the good, and punish the bad. My faith in God has led me through tough and scary times. He doesn’t always make everything better, but he tries his best. But, we cannot live our lives in fear, God would not want that. There are many dangerous and scary things in this world. We could go on for days with endless possibilities and events that could harm us, but God will protect us, as much as he can.
So we must walk on and enjoy both lives that we shall have. We will always have questions, and not answers. We must put our faith in God. I have put all my hope, faith, sorrow, fear, and love into God, and he has given back. We must enjoy every moment of this life, sit with our families at dinner, talk and listen to family and friends, and just enjoy life and live in this moment now. Whenever I become scared of dying or of my loved ones dying or of my second life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I say God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
FAITH AND BELIEF
By Mary Hochadel
Dag Hammarskjöld once said, “The greatest journey of any man, is the journey inward”.
In the book, Living Faith, Jacques Ellul, the author explains the difference between Faith and Belief. I had always thought of it being one and the same.
He says,” Belief provides answers to our questions, while Faith never does. As an example, We all believe in the Church’s teachings, It is something we share as a group. It is plural in that sense.
Faith, on the other hand takes the opposite stance. It individualizes. It is always an exclusively personal matter. Faith is the personal relationship with God who reveals himself as a person. He singularizes people, sets them apart, and confers on each an identity comparable to no other. The person who listens to his word is the only one to hear it., because the tie that binds that individual to God is unique. Unlike any other.
A Unique relationship with a unique, absolutely incomparable God. God singularizes the person to whom he says, “I call you by your name when you didn’t know me”. (Isa.45: 4) Faith will not stand for half truths and half certainties It obliges me to face the fact that I am nothing and in so doing, I receive the gift of everything.”
This item stirred my own thinking about my Faith and my Belief. My Faith, I realized, comes from a much deeper place than my Belief. My Faith goes past my conscience level, into my sub-conscience and Deep into the Supra Conscience. Into the deepest quietest spot of the Soul. Where I sit in deep silence feeling Gods presence. My experience has been in the quietest hour, in the stillness and solitude that I experience the living presence of God. Or, in times of great sorrow, he comes and gives that peace that passeth all understanding. I can’t explain it or where it comes from, I just Praise God for the Blessing of it. In times of great danger, He comes and allays my fears. Someone once said, During War, there are no atheist in fox holes. Praise God.
I am grateful for Christian parents who took me to church from infancy and taught me the basic Truths. From these Truths I have learned and developed a deep and abiding Faith. A personal relationship with God. There have been many times in my life when things looked very dark, but I was never alone. Thanks be to God. He was always there to show me the way to strengthen my spirit to help me continue on. From tiny seeds or acorns, the mighty oak grows. Years ago, I read a story by Pearl Buck. It was titled “Words for the Heart”.
The story told of a young Chinese girl whose mother was a Christian and as a daily study she had to memorize the words to the twenty third psalm and the Lords Prayer. When she complained saying, “Mother, why do I have to learn these words?” her mother would always say, “They are Words for the Heart. You store them in your heart for some day you will find need for them”. After the little girl grew up she became a nurse in a very crowded hospital. One day during the war the Japanese were dropping bombs and the hospital was struck. Doctors and nurses were working hard trying to evacuate the patients from the hospital as the flames spread. She had carried many elderly patients to safety and as she was running through the hall she heard this voice saying, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” It was her own voice repeating the twenty third psalms. It was then that she knew what her mother had meant when she said, remember and save these in words your heart for some day you will need them.
I can’t ever remember not having Faith. It was taught to me by my parents from the day that I was born. I can remember as a small child being afraid to go to bed in the dark, so I would say the Childs Prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep”. I felt secure in knowing that Jesus was there with me.
After I grew up I continued to rely on God to lead me through the darkness of trials and tribulations. Life throws us a curve ball sometimes. He knows that I have had my share and could not have survived without his loving hand leading me.
We are fortunate if we have had parents who taught us. Words for the heart. The basic truths. We learn to cast aside the ego, the big I, the control factor. Let go and Let God. To practice this, when I prayed I would often see myself as a single grain of sand upon the oceans beach. Where the ocean lashes and tosses me about. But, God knows me there and shows me the way, for without him I am helpless. He is my strength and my refuge.
Once when I was having some heart problems, the doctors decided that they needed to do a heart catherization. The night before the procedure I had what some people call an out of body experience. I had fallen asleep and suddenly I was suspended above my bed looking down at my body lying on the bed, when two beings, (Angels) greeted me. I turned to face them, they were wearing something like long black or gray garments with hats. There was one on either side of me. We started to walk across a long sweeping valley that sloped upward at the far side of it. Along the crest was a high wall. As we walked we communicated a knowledge. They explained to me that everyone there would be just like me. I drew back a second time because I didn’t want to leave my children. They assured me that I would be able to always see and know that they were well. As we came nearer to the wall I could see a door just slightly ajar. Through this opening I could see a beautiful golden light and felt a joy great joy. I knew it was a wonderful place but the pull back to my family was strong. Suddenly I was back on my bed, wide awake.
During the procedure the next day, I suffered a cardiac arrest . They had to use the big paddles with the electric shock to get my heart started again. From these I had huge burns on my body. Because of the message of the two Angels, I felt no fear of dying. Now I have no fear for I believe that there will be someone who will greet me to take me across the valley. It was so peaceful and loving. The spirit travels so easily without the old clay shell that contains it here on earth.
There have been many times when the Lord has protected me. While I was working as a sales agent for the Crisp Company, I received a call on a piece of property and the caller said he wanted to see the property right away. He was at the house and he wanted to see it inside. I tried every way to get him to come to the office for the initial interview, but he said I am at the property now and have limited time and he would like to see the inside of the house while he was there. So, I relented and said that I would be there in twenty minutes. As soon as I hung up the phone something gripped me and said don’t go. I had already made the appointment. I had to go, I reasoned. With a greater urgency, the inner voice said DON’T GO. I hesitated then I said to the secretary, I am going to show this house, check on me in a thirty minutes.
The inner voice shouted at me again, DO NOT GO. I decided at this point to listen to the voice inside me. I said, I will not go. So, I walked to the back office and the listing agent was there. I told him I had this call on his listing but I was not going to go show it and if he wanted to show it he could go meet the guy at the house. The end of the story was that the agent went to meet the potential buyer and he saw a man standing across the street watching, but, he never came to the property.
The following week an item in a St. Pete Times story told of a man just released from prison the day before I got the call to show the property, he was charged with accosting a man in the rest room at Maas’ Bros. and trying to extort money from him. The mans name was the same as the man that wanted to meet me at the vacant house. He had given me his real name. Some people would call this, Intuition, ESP. A gut feeling, A still small voice. I call it the voice of God. “God spoke to me and said”.
So, it is up to us to acknowledge that God lives within us. We need to listen when he speaks. And follow him. We have to learn to take that step out of the boat.
I have many stories where God made his presence known to me. One of those stories concerned my Father and a great illness he suffered. All the Doctors and Specialist at UK Medical Center assured us he could not live, maybe ten minutes and maybe 24 hours. This was in the 1950’s. All of his children were devastated. We were not ready to let him go.
I was sitting alone with him that night. Keeping my finger on his pulse which you could only detect once in a while. The beats were weak and far between. I prayed. “Lord, I am not ready to give him up, but he has suffered greatly and now I give him to you knowing that you know what is best. It is my prayer that by your Grace a miracle may be granted, but Father, not my will but Thine be done”.
At that moment a soft breeze pushed the sheer curtains back from the window and flowed across his bed then settled in stillness. His breathing became even and steady. I felt the very presence of God come into the room.
With that I felt that Peace that passeth all understanding. All of the children departed the next morning to go to their homes to prepare for a return for his funeral. My brothers and sisters were in a great state of sorrow. I felt totally at peace. There’s much more to the story but the end result is that he lived another 20 years.
I believe in miracles.
One final story.
After being in real estate sales for ten years, I opened my own company. After about 8 or 9 years in business with my brokerage firm I had 35 or 40 associates working for me. A trusted employee stole 50 thousand dollars from my business accounts. When I got the call from my bank that this account was overdrawn I said, “oh no, it cant be.” This put the company in great jeopardy. This is a long drawn out story that caused me great stress. I was so angry with the employee, as you can imagine how you would feel. I was able to replace the funds without anyone being hurt except me. So, I reasoned, “It was only money. Thanks be to God I was able to cover it.”
The thing that happened afterward strengthened my faith.
I was not able to pray the Lords prayer for some time, because each time when I came to the line that says, forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me, Barbara’s face looked back at me.
I knew in my heart that I had to forgive her and let the Lord deal with her, if I was to receive forgiveness for any sins known or unknown to me. So, I began to pray for all of her family. I prayed for her mother and father, they were good people and grieved by her actions. I prayed daily that the Lord would speak to her that her heart might be turned to God. Never expecting or asking for a return of the money, I prayed for her soul. Five years passed and Chuck was very ill by this time when I received a call from an attorney in Ohio. She was attempting to set up a business there and needed a license to do so and of course my charges against her showed up on her record, so she wanted to clear those charges by making restution.
The negotiations’ with the lawyers in court gave me about fifty cents on the dollar, but the judge said I was lucky to get anything back. In most white collar crimes you don’t get anything back.
I am always grateful and thankful to God for any and all blessings. I Praised God and Thanked him for his loving kindness. Acknowledging that all things come of Thee. God works in mysterious ways.
The point of this story is that I was having nurses around the clock with Chuck and the amount of money that was returned to me was exactly what it cost me for his nursing care.
And my ability to pray the Lords prayer was restored.
I Believe that Faith and Prayer are the strongest forces in the universe. When the scripture says that Faith can move mountains, I Believe it!
Wednesday night talk by Liz Stiles:
Holy Father, I thank you for each person here and the part of each of them that is part of me. In your name I pray. Amen.
Chris and I attend Centering Prayer on Tuesday evenings. The church is dimly lit when we come in. Chairs are placed in a circle around the perimenter of the Jerusalem cross on the floor. A single candle is lit on a stand in the center. I am always pleased when I happen to get to sit in the chair at the base of the circle facing the altar. When I lift my eyes, I can look right into they face of the resurrected Christ and then upward to the glorious Ascension window above. It is an incredibly powerful reminder of what it means to be a Christian.
After a brief period of sharing, there is a short meditation and then we spend twenty minutes of silence with God. The goal is to take our relationship with God from that original childlike monologue where we do all the talking, beyond the dialogue that it evolves into, to a time of simply being with God and listening to God as we are present with Him. It can be quite a challenge . . . especially for me with my busy brain!
A few weeks ago I had the most amazing experience during Centering Prayer. It was well into the 20 minutes and my mind had been all over the place. All of a sudden, in rapid succession, I experienced 4 distinct images from my childhood . . .
I was 3 years old, sitting next to my grandfather in St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. I had been born in Savannah during the closing days of World War II My parents’ marriage had dissolved before my first birthday and my mother and I had returned to live with her parents. My father had come to see me for the last time on my first birthday, knowing that my mother would eventually remarry and he did not want me shuttled between two homes. My grandfather made God a reality in my life.
I was 5 years old, standing with my Sunday School class on the grounds of Christ Church Alexandria. That historic colonial church with its box-like pews that had doors made quite an impression on me. My mother had remarried and my new family had begun its life together in Virginia.
It was my 8th birthday, Christmas Eve, and I was in the balcony at the midnight service at Immanuel-on-the-Hill, the chapel at Virginia Seminary. From the time I was a small child, I knew I was blessed to be able to worship God on my birthday every single year while celebrating the birth of Christ. I was sprawled out in the pew, but I was listening intently to the voices of the all-male choir as they wafted up to the balcony. The seminary students were a very present part of my life and I was completely fascinated by the fact that they could study about God and the church and that could be their job. Seminarians would visit my parents in our home and I would sit quietly, trying to be invisible, as I listened to the adult conversation as they shared their experiences. I was enthralled.
I was now 10 and standing near the font at Emmanuel in Alexandria, fondly referred to as Emmanuel-in-the-Hole. It was the baptism of my twin brothers who were a few months old. They had been born 9 weeks early and were in and out of the hospital as they struggled with asthma. There were so many people there . . . 2 babies, godparents, parents, grandparents, friends, my four year old brother. And I was standing there completely alone amidst all those people. I remember being overwhelmed for the first time in my life with that intense emotion that accompanies a deeply spiritual experience as the water of baptism was poured over their tiny heads. God was right there with me, surrounding me . . . my relationship had moved from that childlike monologue, beyond the dialogue, to that quiet presence that we seek in Centering Prayer. I struggled to keep tears of emotion from pouring down my cheeks!
The gentle sound that signals the end to our twenty minutes of Centering Prayer brought me back to the present. As I sat there quietly processing those four events in my life, I couldn’t help but think about where I was sitting . . . at the feet of Christ, in front of the altar of St. Thomas’, the church that has been at the very core of my being since I was 12 years old, filled with people and events that have shaped me into the person I am.
I was sitting in the very place where Chris and I had become husband and wife, where 3 generations of our family had been baptized, where we had buried parents, shared so much joy and such deep sorrow.
I later thought about the Bible verse that I had heard for the very first time spoken from that pulpit. We were having a spiritual retreat and guest lay speakers were sharing their stories with us. One of them mentioned a little book titled Prison to Praise based on the scripture from 1st Thessalonians Be joyful always, pray without ceasing, be thankful in all circumstances. Three simple things . . . Be joyful always. That’s a challenge! Pray without ceasing. Another challenge, but that ever present awareness of God certainly is prayer without ceasing. Be thankful in all circumstances. Now that was hard! Not just the good things, the things that we really are thankful for . . . but all circumstances, every thing that comes into our lives. When I was growing up in the Episcopal Church, Morning Prayer was the primary Sunday service with Holy Communion only on the first Sunday of the month. The words of that marvelous prayer of General Thanksgiving from Morning Prayer were seared into my being . . . we thanked God for “our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life” in magnificent words that are still written on my heart. But we did not thank Him for those things that were negatives. Doing so became transforming and freeing for me. I have thanked God through gritted teeth and tears for things that were beyond me. I have thanked him for daily joys and irritations. It is amazing what happens when I have done that. Matthew sums it up for me: Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. When we take hold of something that is weighing on us and strangle it, God can’t get His hands on it. But when we release it to God in thanksgiving, even through nothing more than sheer obedience, He is able to take hold of it and bless it. The challenge is remembering to thank God . . . and then let go!
I also couldn’t help but think about the faith that I had been blessed with my entire life. I had never understood where it had come from, that faith that was always present and never waivered no matter how difficult the circumstances were. When our children were in elementary school I became my grandfather’s caregiver following the death of my grandmother. What a blessing it was to have so many hours to visit with him . . . like many wives, my grandmother had done most of the talking when we were all together, so the visits with Grandpa alone bore much fruit. One day, out of nowhere, he spoke of the unspoken, “When your parents were divorced, I was devastated that you were going to grow up without a father . . . so I gave you to God.” And at that moment my entire life came into focus . . . my faith that had sustained me through everything was the gift of my grandfather. I gave you to God. We always seek to give those we love the perfect gift . . . and he did! And my life was forever changed.
Several weeks ago over Wednesday dinner Toni Calabrese mentioned a study we had done here featuring the book by Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? Fr. Chris was sitting with us and he seized the moment to suggest that perhaps I could talk on a Wednesday evening . . . about grace!
So that is what I have sought to do . . . God’s grace, His unconditional love and presence, have been with me from the moment I came into being. He has been with me in every breath that I have taken, guiding me and drawing me closer to Him.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. I can feel his mighty power and his grace . . . every place I go, every step I take, every person He brings into my life, is filled with His grace.
Talk by Bettina Schuller
Let us pray:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all things: Graft in our hearts the love of your name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
I love this collect that we prayed on Sunday and what it asks for: that God would graft in our hearts the love of his name, that he would increase in us true religion and that he would nourish us with all goodness. I would like to introduce the three women of my childhood who did just these things for me:
My mother grafted in my heart the love of Jesus; my grandmother nourished me with all goodness, and my Pastor increased in me true religion.
Many of you know I grew up in Germany. And to understand my spiritual journey, I have to set the stage first:
I was born in 1957; 12 years after the war ended and the Nazis were officially defeated. But that didn’t mean it was over. People still lived in fear and were stunned and shocked by what had happened. It was an atmosphere of unbelievable confusion and darkness. It was never talked about until really the 70’s and I never learned about that time in school. Germany’s history would be taught until the early 1930’s in 8th grade before the summer break and started in 9th grade with 1945 . 12 years had disappeared during the summer.
Many people just didn’t know what to believe any more. Most people were grateful that it was over, but many didn’t believe that everything was true that they had heard after the war about the Hitler regime, my father being one of them. I think it was a survival technique to not deal with that time and believe the horrors that had happened.
Just to illustrate with a little example how it still affected every day in my life when I grew up:
When it was getting dark, we had to draw the curtains before we were allowed to switch the lights on or we were severely punished. I never understood this violent reaction of my father, when we forgot. Just a few years ago, talking with him about this, I learned that my grandmother, who was totally opposed to the Hitler regime, had refused to hang up a picture of Hitler in the living room, which every supporter of Hitler did. If anybody would have seen that she would have been arrested and worse.
My grandmother always told her children to do what was expected of them during the Nazi time so they would not be endangered, but also to not believe in the Third Reich, because it would not last and that it was evil. My father on the other hand, born in 1927 was totally brainwashed by the Hitler youth, Jungvolk and all the wonderful things he was able to do as an Arian boy. My mother, who grew up in the eastern part of Germany which is now Poland had seen the train transports with the Jewish people, had seen the thin arms and hands reaching out of the cattle cars, begging for food and she had risked her life, giving what she could give. I remember discussions where she would share this, but nobody wanted to hear it.
We also had a wide range of religious beliefs in our family. My grandmother didn’t believe in God, because if there was a God, He would not have let the Nazi Reich happen and let two of her four children die. She despised the church because they had sided with the Nazis. My father also despised the Church because of his socialization with the Nazis, but he did believe in a God.
My mother on the other hand loved church and had a strong faith, which she never lost. She went to church every single day as a child and young girl and had wanted to become a nun. But she did not attend church anymore when I grew up, because her husband, my dad, didn’t want her to. And here I was in the middle of all that confusion, not knowing what to believe.
Let me introduce my prayer time with my mother to you and her gift to me, grafting the love of His name in me:
As long as I can remember, my mother prayed with me every night. I can still see myself lying in my crib and looking up at her, learning a prayer -line by line. She first taught me: Lieber Gott, mach mich fromm, dass ich in den Himmel komm, which means: (Dear God, make me faithful, so I will get into heaven) and we prayed this for months. Then when I knew this part by heart, she added: Ich bin klein, mein Herz ist rein, soll niemand drin wohnen als Jesus allein. (I am small, my heart is pure, nobody but Jesus shall live in it.)
When I knew this prayer by heart, she taught me the Lord’s Prayer in the same fashion and we prayed both prayers every night. I don’t remember when we stopped praying together, I think it was a gradual process. I still prayed every night until I went to college and then I was too cool for God.
My grandmother nourished me with all goodness. This nourishment was often painful at the time, but without it, I would not have what I cherish most in my spiritual life today: silence with God and silent prayer alone and with people.
I spent a lot of time with my father’s mother as a child because my mother and father worked and she took care of me during the day. In the summer we often sat in the courtyard of our house and she would tell stories about her youth, about the beauty of the simplicity of life back then, her time as a train conductor during WWI and other stories. In the winter we would sit in front of her little wooden stove, no lights in the room except the glow of the fire and again she would tell me stories and give me treats to eat, like baked apple and roasted apple peel. Every time though the story time would end with her memory of the death of her beloved children. Her youngest son Henry died in 1954 at the age of 27 and her beloved and only daughter died in 1958 one year after I was born. Again and again she would share her pain and then she would fall into silence and grief. I sat there with her, holding her grief, not knowing where to turn with the pain; her pain over the loss of her children and my pain that she would never love me as much as she had loved them and that I could never reach her in her grief.
It got less painful when I remembered my mother telling me to turn to Jesus when I needed help. I turned to Jesus for help and invited him into our pain. And Jesus came. Then Jesus, my grandmother and I sat in silence for hours at a time and I knew I was not alone in holding all that pain. I was still a child though and getting bored and antsy, but didn’t dare to get up and leave my grandmother, so I started playing a game: I tried not to think. I still remember vividly the moment when I succeeded and thought, I did it and then realized I had just thought again.
So to not have to think about my dead uncle and aunt, I would practice Centering Prayer which took me beyond my thoughts. It gave me deep peace and a connection with God, I hadn’t felt before. Through this time I became very comfortable with silence and sitting in silent prayer with people. It is still one of my favorite spiritual disciplines and worship forms.
I spent almost a week totally by myself not seeing or hearing any other human being this summer and it was heaven to me; just me, God, Joy our dog, the loons, the lapping of the lake and the wind in the trees. What a gift- given to me by my grandmother and her pain.
The third woman I want to introduce to you is my Pastor: Frau Pastorin Hahn. She was a Lutheran minister and I was baptized and confirmed by her. She increased true religion in me.
Frau Pastorin Hahn was the kindest, most loving, unjudgmental person I have ever met. Being with her was being in the presence of God. Listening to her kind and loving words about God and Jesus was heavenly. I met her when I started going to church. I was about 9 or 10 years old and went to church, because my best friend did. Nobody in her or my family went to church, in fact my brothers made fun of me for going. But I loved hearing all the stories about Jesus and the wonderful things he had done. It was the same Jesus who had helped me through my painful times and who I knew from personal experience and now I got to learn about him and his life. It was heaven to me.
When I was confirmed my pastor asked me to be the Sunday school teacher for the little kids and I was honored and happy to do it. I couldn’t believe my blessing that now I was able to share these stories and teach about Jesus.
I loved doing it as much as I loved the preparation with Frau Pastorin Hahn every Friday night. We read the gospel and shared our thoughts and feeling. I still remember my best friend Anja, telling her that she did not believe that Jesus did all the healings and raised people from the dead. My heart almost stopped. But Frau Pastorin Hahn looked at her with her kind eyes and told her that it was wonderful that she had shared that. I knew then that the institution of the church could not be all bad, if a woman like her could be a pastor.
To this day I am grateful to these three women who laid the foundation of my spiritual and religious life: Two by sharing their faith and love of God with me and one by sharing her pain and doubt with me.
I thank God for all three of these women and I thank God for all of you. Thank you for listening.