Sharing Your Faith Experience

Have you ever had such a great day that you did not want it to end? While you were having that wonderful experience, did you have the impulse to want to share it with someone who was not with you at the time? How often are we told stories with the person concluding, “You should have been there!”

The Church is telling one of those stories this week – Holy Week. It began with Palm Sunday and continues through Easter Sunday. The exciting thing about this story is that we can be a part of it by participating in the rites of the Church, leading us through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The original course of events happened about 2000 years ago, and we have the words of the Gospels to tell us what happened. If Jesus had been born into the 21st century, would the story have been told better if someone recorded these events with an iPhone, taking video and pictures and then immediately texting them to a family member or friend or, better yet, posting them to a Facebook page for the story to “go viral”? In a way, the pain and horror of the crucifixion are relived today in the recordings of images of innocent people dying from war and famine around the world, and killings and senseless crimes committed in our cities.

We are living in an age when we can create the reality around us by selecting what sounds and images we want to see. It is interesting that, when you use the Internet to shop or find news and information, the browser is “intelligent” enough to find similar websites with content that “one might also like.” In a way, the computerized iterations offer us more of the same, presuming we have preferences about almost everything. While that may be true, I believe that we need to be careful not to become complacent, but rather explore and learn about things that may be less familiar to or comfortable for us.

While communication vehicles are much different in the 21st century from the time of Jesus, I would conjecture that the human reactions to times of joy and sorrow are the same. And in those times, we want to share them with those whom we love. In a way, we are asking another person to experience what we are experiencing in that moment. When they are particularly joyful moments, we don’t want them to end.

This is the exceedingly joyful message of Easter demonstrated by Jesus, who tells us: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”(John 14:3) Imagine that Jesus is so excited to be “in [his] Father’s house [with] many rooms,” he wants to send us a text message or photograph or video to share his joy with us. In this case, the technology is replaced by the words of the Gospels and by the celebrations of the Church this week that help us to be present with Jesus – to eat with him at His Last Supper with his apostles, to pray with him in the garden at Gethsemane, to denounce the brutality of his arrest and torture, to mourn at the cross at Golgotha, to wait at the tomb of Jesus, and to celebrate His resurrection.

I pray that your days are filled with more joys than sorrows, and with each day, I hope that you have someone with whom you can share the experience. And through our faith, may we be excited to know that there will be a joyful time for each of us that will never end.

Happy Easter!

“Such stuff as dreams are made on….”

Patio_Archmere_2

One of my favorite past times is visiting resale shops. I especially enjoy looking at old furniture and furnishings, imagining how things might have been used and where I might have a new use for it. Over the last five years, one of my goals has been to reinvigorate the respectful use of the Patio. The challenge is to make the building a relevant and useful part of the daily school function, while preserving the historical significance and maintaining the personal character of the Patio as a family home. With some annual proceeds from the Green Concerts hosted in the Patio for the past three years, we have been able to reupholster existing furniture and acquire some new pieces from our own annual Garage Sale and from my visits to resale shops on weekends and vacations. With the addition of custom draperies crafted by Ms. Patty Atkinson last Fall, the Patio is developing a warm and inviting ambiance that allows guests to feel welcome and also encourages our office staff that now work in the building to be ever more aware and proud of the important legacy we have been entrusted to manage.

As I was discussing one of my most recent resale shop visits and “finds” with my family over the Easter holidays, we were reflecting on all of the STUFF we accumulate in our homes during our lifetimes. And like many families in lifestyle transitions, I have a generation of family members who are looking to “down-size.” That means, in most cases, that they are faced with the challenge of getting rid of STUFF that they have accumulated over the years. This process often involves making difficult decisions – decisions that often provoke questions such as, “Do I ever use this? How can I part with this sentimental piece?” and “Will my kids really want this STUFF?” In the end, after responding to these questions, we usually have a pile of STUFF we are ready to donate, pass along to relatives, place in a yard sale, or consign to a shop for resale. This process of shedding years of accumulated STUFF offers us the opportunity to consider that we are truly just stewards of what we have come to accumulate, taking care of it for awhile and passing it along for someone else to enjoy.

Stewardship. I knew the term, but the concept struck me differently during this latest family discussion about our STUFF right after the Holy Week and Easter celebrations. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus accentuated for me the temporal and delicate nature of our lives. I was reminded that all of the STUFF we accumulate in this life is left behind when we pass away.

In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero says to his daughter and her fiancé, the Prince of Naples, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” (Act IV, Scene I)   We have come to use the phrase, the “stuff of dreams” to describe events we believe are just too fantastic to come true, but yet they do. Shakespeare, in my opinion, was alluding to the temporary nature of our lives, and the illusion of permanence that STUFF creates.

The work to secure and preserve this STUFF – most of which ends up in resale shops – I thought initially seemed futile. Then, I considered the memories, the work, and the experiences associated with the STUFF and it became clearer to me that it is more important how we use the STUFF with which we have been blessed, rather than the objective and potentially fleeting “value” of the STUFF. For example, my mother loved to have her back scratched- a family trait that I inherited. I have two of her back scratchers – a wooden one and an orange plastic one that reads, “Virginia is for lovers,” on it, along with the original sticker price of $1.50. I value these back scratchers more than other more valuable (and perhaps necessary) STUFF I own, because they remind me of my mother.

In thinking about the life of Jesus, very little remained of his personal effects after he died. Other than soldiers gambling for his tunic, and the burial shroud left behind in the tomb, we are not told of any other personal items he owned. The Last Supper occurred in someone’s upper room, and even his grave was borrowed. His body was assumed into heaven. He left behind only his teachings and his experiences with his disciples. He fortified them by sending the Holy Spirit to be with them, assuring them that he would be with them always until the end of the world.

I believe that, in a similar way, the relatives and friends who have left us behind are with us in Spirit, not because we have held onto a cherished possession that reminds us of them, but because of the relationships and experiences we had with them when they were with us in this life. That thought makes it easier for me to part with STUFF, even my orange plastic back scratcher some day.

My wish for the members of the Archmere community during this Easter season and in these last few weeks of the school year is to focus on making the most of positive experiences and relationships. In the end, after a lifetime and career of successfully compiling all of the STUFF that we need and think we need to live and be happy, we will cherish most the time we spent in developing meaningful relationships with others that will become lasting memories, long after all of the STUFF is gone.

 

 

The Challenge of Embracing That Which We Cannot Change

Have the life you want by being present to the life you have.

Mark Nepo, spiritual writer/poet


lily_of_the_valley

Convallaria majalis.

Lily of the Valley, a delicate flower that blooms in the spring (late April and early May) is a sweetly-scented and highly poisonous plant native throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The flower was a favorite of my wife’s Aunt Rose, who, at the age of 101, passed away in the early morning hours of the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Aunt Rose came to live with us after her 99th birthday, when we suggested that she should no longer live alone in her city row-home (we now call them townhouses). Never married, independent, and an accomplished nurse-anesthetist, she had definite opinions and ideas, including her own funeral arrangements. She wrote that she wanted no flowers except for Lily of the Valley, but only if it was in season. We happen to have two beds of the flower in our backyard, but it had not blossomed by the time of her funeral on Easter Monday.

Instead, I found fresh Lily of the Valley that could be ordered online, but each stem cost about ten dollars. Aunt Rose, a practical and frugal woman, would not have approved that expense! So we thought that silk Lily of the Valley mixed with Canadian white freesia, which is very fragrant, would make an appropriate bouquet for the funeral. And that is what we did. Yesterday, when I arrived home from church, I saw the first blooms of Lily of the Vally in our backyard – one week too late.

our_ladys_tears

Known as “Our Lady’s tears,” the droplets of Lily of the Valley blossoms symbolize the tears of the Virgin Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition, the flower is often used in traditional bridal bouquets. I am not sure why Lily of the Valley was Aunt Rose’s favorite flower. Was it the sweet fragrance, the delicate blossoms, or perhaps the symbolism? The simplicity of the flower may have been the overall appeal. In any event, the flower was one week too late!

How many times in our lives have our personal calendars been upset by circumstances beyond our control? And often, we try to go to the extreme to make what we want – what we had originally planned, happen. In her own practical and simple way, Aunt Rose told us what she wanted, and absolutely what she did not want, cautioning us countless times not to deviate from her simple arrangements. Yet, in the emotion of the moment, we wanted to “honor” her wishes by importing a flower out of season at an elaborate expense. Thankfully, we paused and reflected on what she would have wanted, realizing that it was ok.

Sometimes I wonder if, in this culture of constant improvement, of exceeding previous goals, of going “above and beyond,” and breaking records, we have not compromised our sense of acceptance of those things that we cannot change. It often becomes difficult for us to not get what we want.

At this time of the year, our seniors have already received their college acceptances, rejections and wait-lists. Our juniors are working hard to maintain their GPA’s, elevate their ACT/SAT scores, and build their essays for the college admissions process ahead. Our freshman and sophomores have their own challenges too. And at some point, while we “push the envelope” of our capabilities, we have to acknowledge that we have done all that we can do, and accept that which we cannot change.

It is not defeat; it is accepting the course of events and working with them. And I believe that these moments of disappointment or frustration when our plans do not materialize as we had anticipated, are opportunities for teaching and reflection – a time to let go and embrace the challenge.

All of our students at Archmere are wonderful creations of God, each with unique talents and gifts. As the 2013-14 academic year draws to a close in a few weeks, and students assess their individual experiences, I hope that they celebrate successes. Most importantly, I hope they can acknowledge their failures and recognize what could and could not be helped.

As much as I wanted fresh Lily of the Valley for Aunt Rose’s funeral, it just was not practical. And she would have agreed. Instead, we will enjoy the fragrance of the cut blossoms in our home this week, and we will surely bring a bouquet to her resting place in remembrance.