Dear Folks,

How are you?  How do your days unfold?  Are you an essential employee still traveling to work—tending to systems, filling prescriptions, moving packages, delivering food, reading x-rays?  Thank you.  Are you working or learning from home—zooming to meetings, sharing the wi-fi, submitting budgets or problem sets or contingency plans?  Thank you.  Are you waving to neighbors through the window, home-schooling your children, tending a sick relative, or organizing an emergency phone tree?  Thank you.  Are you taking care of yourself?  Thank you for that, too.

And how do you feel?  It makes sense if you are scared or lonely or angry or sad.  Everyone of us is dealing with some kind of loss right now—of health or freedom, of income or affection—and grief is an appropriate, even necessary response.  As with any death, if we bury our emotions now, our bodies know we are only postponing the inevitable.  If you want a good cry, watch the moving video of Italians standing on their village balconies and singing in response to the coronavirus. https://youtu.be/EBByYjjvNzs Why not organize your own concert on the street where you live?  Kazoos are fine, or pot lids or trumpets or xylophones.  And if you need to stand in the window and just yell every now and then, that may be exactly what the doctor ordered.  Our little family is making up songs and dancing most nights before dinner.  The dogs love it!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdcS0Nbo7Ng

Redeemer is bumping along pretty well.  70 volunteers are each calling/texting/emailing 15 parish families every week, and the connections being created or made stronger are heartening.  Most people report good health and spirits, adjusting to clipped wings and close quarters, adapting to new methods of reaching out.  Some folks are sick.  Some folks are anxious.  Some friends have had to postpone weddings or baptisms or funerals, and those difficult conversations have invited unexpected intimacies to lay alongside the despair.  Some of you tell me about rediscovering resilience you thought you’d lost. And we’ve not been able to connect with everyone in our database, perhaps because your contact information is incorrect or outdated.  If you haven’t heard from a Redeemer parishioner or clergy member in the last two weeks, send me an email or call my cell 443-970-1716.  I’d love to hear from you.

I am so pleased by how many people are watching our daily services, either live or later in the day.  Nearly 1000 people checked in last Sunday, and our daily services range from 250-400!  Thanks to Freda Marie, Cristina, Caroline, and Bert, we have invited a growing community to worship “at Redeemer.”  And you’ll read elsewhere in e-redeemer that community engagement continues in this new normal, as well.  Thank you!

Ahead of us is Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  Tune in this Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday at 10:00 a.m. for ways to bless the “palms” you already have in your house: the walk that Jesus made into Jerusalem 2000 years ago had people throwing coats and shirts on the ground and waving whatever branches they could find.  Take a look around you and see how you can re-enact that moment.  Tie to your mailbox or balcony or doorframe or light post something green (or a branch with buds or something with sleeves that can blow in the wind) this Sunday morning.  If your neighbors ask you about it, tell them about The Church of the Redeemer, and see how you might help each other through this time, and always.  On Maundy Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on our Facebook page we’ll have a virtual blessing over the bread and wine at your dinner table.  Join us to make palpable the commandment to love one another as God loves us.  Good Friday, we will send you “Stations of the Cross in the time of COVID-19.”  And what about Easter?!

When your trust is all but shattered, when your faith is all but killed, you can give up bitter and battered, or you can slowly start to build, a beautiful city.  Yes, we can, yes, we can! (Beautiful City)

Love,
David

 

Living into this 2nd week of the COVID-19 crisis reminds me of another time in my life.  It was the one and only time I ever got a “pink slip.” It came unexpectedly, out-of-the-blue and totally disrupted my life and the life of my family because I was the primary breadwinner.

I was the palliative care chaplain for Methodist Health System which included a Level 1 trauma center, a tertiary-care hospital, and a smaller community hospital in North Central Texas.  I loved my work providing support to the dying, their families, and friends.  I thought I had found my “niche” in life.  I was happy.

On this particular day, I was in CCU of one of the facilities as life-support was being discontinued on one of our patients.  I received a call on my pager to contact the pastoral care office.  When I did, I was asked to come down to the office when I could.  I thought, “no problem, later is soon enough.”

When I arrived, I was greeted by the Vice President of Pastoral Services and the Department Manager.  They asked me to sit down, handed me a letter to read, and waited for my response.  Of course, I was crushed.  I had no words.

After the initial shock, nothing prepared me for later…when fear and anxiety really set in!  My mind was filled with questions like, “how’re we going to pay the mortgage? Or what will our future or Crystal’s future look like now?  I was already 45 years old, scared and with no resources beyond the income already coming into our household.

My Mom was here at that time and gave me some motherly advice.  She reminded me to go back to what I know. The only way to know how God was speaking to my life situation was to ask.  So, I did.  I prayed…and I listened.  I learned not to disregard the voice within me who sounded like me.  I discovered that God’s Presence really was within me giving me a sense of guidance, resilience and peace.  That Presence resides within you as well.

During that really dark place, I discovered through my relationship with God an unprecedented invitation to reimagine my life.  I discovered that the more thought and energy I gave to the what if’s, the more anxious and agitated I became.  I learned to live more fully into the “Serenity Prayer.”

Sisters and Brothers, we are now being given an opportunity to reimagine life in a new way; in a godly way that more closely aligns with the way of Jesus Christ as we learn through Scriptures and see expressed through his followers within and beyond the walls of the church.  It is the WAY which does not shut out but invites in; a WAY that seeks to heal the wounded and gives hope to the hopeless.  This WAY is already available to us and resides within us, but it’s expression through us is not without a cost.  This is the heart of the Gospel.

When COVID-19 is over (and yes, it will end) I see a whole new horizon opened up to us.  I see us being honest and truthful with ourselves and each other.  I see us honoring our relationships with other human beings and with the rest of creation instead of ignoring and disregarding their inherent dignity. I see the Beloved Community existing all over the world.  It can happen.  It’s up to us to reimagine it so.

With many hugs and kisses…6 feet away of course! 😊

Freda Marie+

Serenity Prayer – Full Version (composed in 1940s)

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.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971)

 

Dear Folks,

When something kept my brother and me from going outside, we pushed the furniture against the walls and wrestled.  There were no rules for our accustomed tangles—all we knew were the professional wrestling matches we’d seen on Saturday morning TV—so things got nutty fast.  We would dive from the sofa, bend each other’s arms and legs backward at menacing angles, and hold each other’s noses to the floor.  We loved every minute of it, laughing and carrying on until one of us had the breath knocked out of him.  (It was always me, since Paul outweighed me by 10-15 pounds and had the confident moves of a natural athlete.)  My scrambling was fast but inefficient—picture Tweety Bird squaring off against Batman—so I’d try to make him laugh, if I needed some leverage.  When the howling got too loud (again, usually mine), our mom would put us at either end of the house.  She knew that being separated from each other was the worst punishment my brother and I could endure.  I still feel that way, and you may, too.

Out of an abundance of caution, all of us have been asked to practice physical distancing from one another.  Parishioners are working from home, meetings are being held online, college students have left dorm rooms and returned to Baltimore.  Some of us are on lock-down, not allowed to welcome visitors except over the phone or by text.  Schools are closed, with teachers and students making the best of handouts and e-chats.  Teenagers are talking through windows and discovering again how great it is to hear a voice through the phone.  And Bishop Sutton announced today that public services of worship are cancelled at least through May 15.

To stay connected, we are offering prayers on Facebook, live streaming services every day of the week. Our learning curve is steep!  Monday morning, Freda Marie was perfect.  Tuesday at noon, Cristina was broadcast sideways.  Thursday at noon, yours truly switched on the video feed halfway through the prayers, sideways again, with my hand covering the microphone.  Who knows how Friday will go!  Note the service times below, and please tune in; if a service is meaningful to you, invite friends and neighbors who need a boost.  We will offer a homily every Sunday morning.

To stay connected, we have grouped the parish into manageable portions, and recruited several dozen volunteers to reach out to each person at least once a week.  You are likely to be called, texted, or emailed by someone who is new to you, so this time of physical distancing may very well create some new friendships.  Please take advantage of being together in this way with another parishioner and give feedback to the clergy about how it’s going.

To stay connected, we will be sending e-Redeemer to you twice a week.  The clergy will continue to offer a reflection on Thursdays, and the Monday edition will provide resources from the Center for Wellbeing and any other news we have to share.  We’ll be sending prayers and articles and practices that foster healing of body, mind, and spirit.

To stay connected, we are in contact with our community partners, many of whom are particularly vulnerable at this time.  Some of you have already asked about how you can help, and we will provide information as we receive it.  See below for a way forward at this moment, knowing that things are changing every day.

We will be back together sometime soon, though I can’t tell you now exactly when that will be.  What I do know is that when we gather as a community again, it’ll be Easter, even if it turns out to be on the 4th of July!  We’ll be born again, with new ways of seeing and understanding what being connected means, new ways to know who God is even when so many have lost so much, and new ways to act and serve and love.

My brother and I used to pass notes under the door when we couldn’t be together, or we’d talk through the transom or knock out some version of Morse Code.  We figured out ways to say “I’m here” and “I love you.”  How can we do that for each other, now?

Love,
David

Streaming Services:
Morning Prayer will be offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at 8:00 a.m.
Noon Day Prayer will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12 noon.
Evening Prayer will be offered Saturdays at 5:00 p.m.
Morning Prayer with Sermon will be offered Sundays at 10:00 a.m.

Click here to join a live stream of a Diocesan Contemplative Eucharist celebrated at the Cathedral of the Incarnation at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays.

What a week. What a past 24-48 hours.

As I lay in bed last night, I couldn’t help but check my phone “one last time” for an update of the “novel virus” that has infiltrated its way into our lives and consciousness, upending routines and plans, trips and gatherings, schools and universities, stock markets and store shelves; making us and our loved ones feel vulnerable in a way that, for some, is an unwelcome new feeling, and for others, is yet one more thing to bump up the dial on an already high anxiety-meter.

Of our American celebrities, that Tom Hanks is the first with access to a public platform about all of this is, I believe, a bit of grace. In case you missed it, here’s what he posted on Instagram yesterday:

“Hello, folks. Rita and I are down here in Australia. We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches …Slight fevers too. To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for Coronavirus, and were found to be positive … [We] will be tested, observed, and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires … Not much more to it than the one-day-at-a-time approach, no? We’ll keep the world posted and updated. Take care of yourselves! Hanx!”

For me, his post invoked the spirit of another man, whom he recently portrayed in the movie A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood. Imagine, for a few moments, what this man might be saying, were he still alive today … perhaps in conversation with a beloved character from his show, Daniel Tiger.

“I’m scared.”

Yes, I know. I am a little too. It’s okay to be scared.

“So many things feel out of my control! What can I do?” (fretfully, rubbing paws together)

Well, there are some things we know we can do … like wash our hands … take good care of ourselves and one another … get lots of rest … avoid large public gatherings…You know, our bodies are made to fight things like this, and most of us really are going to be okay. Things are just going to feel strange and different, for awhile. Especially not being able to hug and touch other people we see around, like we’re used to.

“I really don’t like that part!”

Me neither. It might help to remember it’s just for a season. It won’t be like this forever. It’s just hard now.

“And what about grandma and grandpa Tiger? And my friends who are already sick or maybe not so strong?”

Yes, they will need to be more careful, stay inside more, just to be safe. But the rest of us can help get them what they need. We just all need to stay connected in the ways we can. We will get through this, together.

“Thank goodness for our phones and emails! And all those other things I don’t know how to use but maybe I can learn and try!”

Yes indeed, thank goodness.

“Can I call you if I get more scared? Or if I need help? Or someone I know needs help?”

Of course, you can call me, Daniel Tiger. That’s what friends are for.

“I’m glad we are friends.”

Me too.

While that beloved minister has now travelled on to a Larger Audience, David, Freda Marie and I are here, and we welcome your calls, notes, emails. We all need one another, always, and especially in seasons and times like this. We are Christ’s hands and hearts — all of us — together, and God Is. Still. Always.

~Cristina

Helpful links:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/top-meditation-iphone-android-apps

https://www.bible-verses-to-inspire.com/encouraging-bible-verses.html

Latest information:

We will gather for worship at Faith@Five on Saturday, March 14, and then suspend all services until March 27.

Live broadcast of 11:00 a.m Sunday service at the National Cathedral.

Dear Folks,

I am writing to you as the coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread, to offer information, strength, and solace.

Gathering for us is essential—it is who we are, it is what we do—but at this moment doing what we normally do puts some people at risk.  For example, Bishop Sutton has advised all churches to not offer wine at communion, giving a thoughtful rationale for why receiving the Eucharist in one kind is in fact receiving the full sacrament.  Following that directive, I distributed only bread at our Wednesday morning Eucharist yesterday, but found it impossible not to touch almost every person’s hands in that exchange.  The intention was good, but the reality challenged the CDC directive for social distancing.

Because the Book of Common Prayer includes a beautiful set of services that do not include Communion, we will offer Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer until we feel sharing the Eucharist is advisable.

Large group gatherings are also problematic at this time.  I have conferred with individuals at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the School of Public Health, Hopkins Homewood campus, and GBMC and their directive is that our Sunday 10:00 service should not meet.  They advise reducing opportunities for large numbers of people to be together, to mitigate the spread of the virus and to limit demand on health care providers.  Governor Hogan has issued a state of emergency and expects significant disruptions and the potential for long-term closures.  At the governor’s direction we will stop celebrating the 10:00 service starting this weekend.

Our plan for the foreseeable future is to offer worship in smaller gatherings in this way, knowing things are changing by the day:

  • 8:00 Sunday, Morning Prayer with music, in the church
  • Noon Monday, Noonday Prayer, in the chapel
  • 7:30 Tuesday, Morning Prayer, in the chapel
  • 7:30 Wednesday, Morning Prayer, in the chapel
  • Noon Thursday, Noonday Prayer in the chapel
  • 7:30 Friday, Morning Prayer
  • 5:00 p.m. Saturday, Faith @ Five, Evening Prayer with music, in the church

Our hope is that by increasing the number of opportunities for worship, while decreasing their size, we offer a faithful and safe response to the health crisis.

Our choirs will continue to sing, but rehearsals will be held in the parish hall with significant distance between each person and his/her neighbor.  In the church, the choirs will also spread out, to provide social distancing.

We will not have Melrose Café, coffee hour, Lenten suppers, or receptions until we are advised the risk has passed.

Sunday School will not meet in person, but instead will be delivered on-line, with teachers following up with families as needed.

We are advised not to touch each other when we gather, which you all know is especially challenging for me and many others.  Rather, we are asked to make significant eye contact, while standing at a safe distance to talk.  This is a moment to connect on the phone, or while on a walk together, or through texts.

Because of their size, Bible Studies, RYG, 12-Step and other small groups, if they desire, will continue to meet. Women of Wisdom and the Men’s group have decided not to meet.

People who are over 60, or those who have a compromised immune system for any reason, are advised to thoughtfully consider not coming to church gatherings.  Anyone who has a fever, cough, or is experiencing shortness of breath should contact their health care provider.

We will continue to make pastoral calls, so please be in touch by phone or email.  In addition to clergy support, I am organizing a large team of parishioners to be in touch with every member of our community on a regular basis: to foster human contact and community, to know how you are doing, and to register concerns.  Please look for more details in the coming days.

As a community of faith, our primary work is to be the body of Christ, to be God’s heart and hands and hope in the world.  We especially need each other now.  Please reach out to folks you are close to and stretch to connect with someone who may be alone or vulnerable right now.

We’ll get through this, and we will be stronger and better for the difficult journey.

Love,
David

The Waitress grew up in a postcard: North Baltimore colonial, three kids and a dog, picture perfect, and lonely.  She watched her parents pour their first drink before sundown every afternoon, her mother in pearls and a fresh dress, her dad exchanging his briefcase for “something cold” as he crossed the threshold.  Even as a little girl she knew the names on the bottles, how the seasons affected what was poured, when to pass the hors d’oeuvres to guests, and when to swallow her feelings.  There was something dark under the family’s brittle surface that trained her to smile no matter what, and she internalized that her experiences were less important than her parents’ tangle of anger and regret.

Because the summer’s lack of structure was especially disconcerting to her mother, the girl was sent away with her teenaged siblings to work at a seaside resort.  She learned there how to cook and clean and make the most of a crowded bunkhouse, but more importantly she discovered how to draw people out and help them relax as she poured iced tea and served them pieces of pie.  “Comparing our beautifully set but always sad table at home to the sunny dining room at the beach was a revelation to me,” the Waitress said.  “People want to talk, and they want to tell you what they really care about.  They want to be understood, and some of them want to make a difference and help.”

She devoted her life to hearing people tell their stories, and in the small world that is Baltimore, she learned to connect one person’s deep longing with another’s deep need.  She cultivated relationships “with people who had everything and people who had nothing,” and made the most of it when an opportunity came knocking.  “I learned to be bold.  If I knew one of the people I served had money and that there was a school that needed it, I asked them to do something about it.”  The Waitress was especially proud at the end of her life to know that hundreds of children had better classrooms and art studios and playing fields because of her efforts.

Fully told, the Waitress’s story was punctuated by pain.  Perhaps unable to receive kindness herself, she wanted others to feel it and know it.  Her longing to repair lost relationships was both the fire in her belly to create places of nurture and possibility, and a familiar sadness that never fully healed. She tried to make the most of a difficult childhood, and at home, out of the sunlight, with her own husband and children, she would be the first to admit that she didn’t always measure up.

But she was a survivor.  The Waitress knew the hungering darkness, like the Teacher from Nazareth who she admired so much.  And like him, she offered what she had to kindle the light.

Love,
David

A colleague of mine was called to be the rector of a well-known and large Episcopal church on Galveston Island.  Like Redeemer, there were generations upon generations who had been baptized, confirmed, married, and buried there.  We were all so proud and happy for her and we knew that Spirit’s ministry through her would be powerful in and with that community.

Everything began well enough.  But after 4 months in, something happened.  My friend began to get notes on her car windshield and unpostmarked  letters threatening her life!  Threatening graffiti was left on inconspicuous areas of the church property.  Of course, the police were called in and a full investigation ensued.  After much anguish and fear, the perpetrator was captured, and the rest of the story became unpleasant history.

A year and a half later all was well, but my friend was truly shaken by these events so soon after her arrival on the Island.  We talked about it.

Katie+ said half-jokingly, “Freda Marie, I don’t know why we Christians are always so shocked at the uncomfortable things that happen in our lives.  At least we know we’re on the right track.”

It felt dangerous at first, but then as faith would have it when the end was in sight, my friend could chalk  up the whole thing to being “uncomfortable” and  got on with the ministry to which she had been called.

Interesting, huh?  Hard to hear?  Surely.  But true?  Certainly.

A wise woman once said, “spiritual living is harmonious and easy, but not comfortable.  Comfortable is not the goal!”

Our collective world places too much value on comfort as if it were a human right instead of a privilege and then only at certain points in any individual life.  We can’t expect to breeze through life without some areas of discomfort and some wounded places.  Pretending that they are not there is not useful to the cause of being human and being HUMAN is why Holy Mystery chose to become a part of creation as one of us.

Jesus lives not only as our teacher but as our guide and as life would have it, there were points in his life that were definitely uncomfortable.  For example, those 40 uncomfortable days in the wilderness and the temptations that he endured gives us a glimpse of the grace that will sustain us too, until Eastertide.   Our fasts may be uncomfortable, (for someone who likes to gossip it’s uncomfortable to fast from talking about an-other in order to feast on silence or even gratitude for the life of that other), but they are necessary.

This Lenten season will take us deeper into GOD if we so allow and to be in the PRESENCE of Holy Mystery means without a doubt—change.  Transformation is the goal.  Transformation into a people more loving, more patient, kinder, gentler, more compassionate and less judgmental—you get the picture.

These new ways are GOD in us, living LIFE through us and with us for LOVE’s sake.  Heaven knows, the world in which we live needs to experience that kind of transformation NOW.  Baltimore needs to experience transformation NOW.  Our country needs to experience transformation NOW.  Our world needs to experience transformation NOW.  Living in the PRESENCE guarantees transformation.

Brothers and Sisters in Jesus, this Lent when your abstinence is feeling most uncomfortable or even when you “fall off the track”, it is okay.  Pray, “help me Jesus!” get back on train and keep going.  Our LORD will help us because he’s been there and done that.  Have a Blessed Lent.

With Much Love,
Freda Marie+

Dear Folks,

I didn’t think I would like Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.  On the surface, Irving’s story felt very different from mine.  She grew up in an upper middle class suburb in the Northeast; I was raised in a poor neighborhood in Little Rock that was largely African-American.  She writes about “stepping out of a dream” and realizing that the black people she knew lived in a more challenging world than she would ever face.  My street was visceral evidence of those two worlds’ paradoxical nearness and ignorance of each other.  Though the children played in an easy-going pack and went to school together, the adults of different races didn’t interact socially.

The white people on my block were shameful to me.  They parked old cars in the yard and worked under the hoods until they got tired or distracted; two old Buicks rested on concrete blocks for years.  Guns were stacked in corners or left on the dining table, while toddlers ran around in disposable diapers.  No one had air conditioning, so my siblings and I often went to sleep to the sounds of yelling next door.  Everyone knew when things fell apart in our house, too.

The people I respected were black.  Tim Jordan and I created “long division races” with our math homework between rounds of tetherball on the playground.  His mom said if there was food in it, we could always eat from the pot on the stove.  Many evenings, Earl Westbrook, my brother, and I shot baskets until it was too dark to see the hoop nailed to a tree in his back yard.  A broken pipe regularly flushed water across the dirt, so the ball bounced pretty well on it.  Earl’s grandmother told me I was a “back door friend” and I knew that was good.  Yvette lived across the alley and became my first girlfriend.

But when my siblings and I were bussed across town to the “white schools,” the intimacy we’d woven on Welch Street began to fray.  My brother and I were so focused on rising from a bad situation, we didn’t question the academic tracking that segregated our classes.  The school bus grew so chaotic that we walked all those miles home, which robbed us of time with old friends.  Our neighborhood grew increasingly dangerous as “urban renewal” freeways cut us off from parks, schools, grocery stores, and the fire station.  If a house caught fire across the street, it burned down.  If a gang appropriated your front porch, you stopped using that door and came in the back.

It was years before I had language for it, but we were all in various ways being warped by systems of prejudice and racism.  I came to understand early on that with the right pair of Levi’s and a good haircut, I could pass for middle class across town, but it took me a while to see that Tim and Earl and Yvette couldn’t so easily escape.  I worked hard, but so did they.  Why didn’t we all equally rise?  Racism, I learned, was bigger than individual relationships, and its wounding couldn’t be healed only by good intentions.  The system of lies that says White is good and Black is bad has to be disassembled, and that takes truth-telling and action and courage.

Irving writes, “Waking Up White is the book I wish someone had handed me years ago.  My hope is that by sharing my sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, I offer a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance.  As I unpack my own long-held beliefs about colorblindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color, I reveal how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated my ill-conceived ideas about race.”  Waking Up White is not a perfect book, but it is an important tool that I believe we can use at Redeemer, especially as we are equipped here for the work of healing and reconciliation.

I invite you to read the book with me during the season of Lent.  You can finish it in one sitting, or you can go at it more slowly, inviting each chapter to settle into you.  There are thoughtful questions that Irving provides at the end of each section, and I recommend that you get a notebook and write down your answers to them, too.  We’ll gather two times over the next few weeks to talk about the book and what the experience of reading it has been like for us: Sunday March 15, chapters 1-28, and Sunday, April 5, chapters 29-46.

The good news is that everyone can do something to loosen racism’s hold on America.  What can we do together?

Love,
David

Finding comfort with needles in basements might make you think of an episode in The Wire. But here’s a real story that puts a different twist on “needles in basements” here in Baltimore …

A quiet circle gathered around the light of a candle, in the basement of a building on Chase Street in east Baltimore. Some folks were retired; some, residents of north Baltimore. Others were full-time seekers, navigating their way out of the darkness of homelessness and addiction. All were women.

Weeks before, they had gathered together around candlelight and shared what caused them to feel worried, anxious and stressed. Concern about loved ones was a common refrain; anxiety about the unknown, another.

But on this particular Thursday afternoon, they came not so much to share their worries, but to find comfort and a sense of peace.

A local acupuncturist had been invited, so each woman in the circle could experience the benefits of her ancient healing practice; acupuncture uses extremely fine needles (about the thickness of 2 human hairs) inserted at specific points in the body to release and unblock our bodies’ vital energy or “chi”.

For many in the circle, this was a new experience. Some were afraid and found courage and support among the others who were willing to try. One in the circle declined, and was supported in her decision.

The healer took time with each woman in the circle to listen to her needs, before placing the needles. Reflecting back on the experience, one woman remembers “feeling the calming presence in the room as we all settled into silence for about 30 minutes … and then the animated conversation [afterwards] as everyone discussed how it made them feel: energized, stress-free, peaceful.”

Another woman writes: “For me the overwhelming sense of oneness with the women and the holy spirit washed over us as we sat together.  To hear one of the women say that she had not felt so relaxed in five years brought tears to our eyes.  Soul met soul, heart met heart in a holy space that day.”

Next Thursday they will gather in that same basement again, this time with sewing needles, to stuff and finish off pre-stitched pillows they will give to preemies in the NICU of a local hospital.

Healing and peace, comfort and hope, a circle of women, with needles in a basement.

Cristina

Want to learn more about our ministry and partnership with the new Women’s Center at Helping Up Mission? Email Nancy Bowen  or Karen McGee.

Dear Folks,

The Architect was born almost a century ago at the confluence of three rivers in Washington State, where nature carved a perfect spot for trout.  “Not so good for humans, though,” he told me, because the land is hard and isolated.  Four distinct trails led Native Americans to and from the fresh water and food there, but over the centuries only a handful of people ever put down roots.  His family left quickly, as well, following his physician father to Spokane, where a hospital had been built for homeless patients, the aged, and orphan children.  The building was a Beaux Arts castle, with tall ceilings and big windows that invited light and air into lives that had known little of either.  “I saw the gift that order can bring to chaos,” he told me.

The Architect came east to study art and planning, convinced that thoughtful design could improve people’s lives.  Years later he wrote a letter of thanks to his alma mater.  “We have been given more than we have paid, regardless of who took care of the bills: ourselves, our parents, some scholarship fund.”  We owe our school a debt of thanks, he said.  We owe thanks to the people and places that raised us.  “As Americans, too, we have been given more than we paid… As humans, same picture.  We have been given a magnificent world, for which we paid nothing,” a gift “we hold in trust for future generations.”

He and his young wife moved to Baltimore in 1952, excited by the energy of the city and the opportunity to shape spaces of healing and hope.  Over the next half century he designed psychiatry units, radiation clinics, cardiology suites, children’s surgery centers, and entire buildings for three Baltimore hospitals.  In every one he wondered, “Will the space I draw help people feel better?”  Even small decisions were rooted in this vision: “what facilities are needed on a particular floor and where are they best placed, are the closets sized for a child or an adult, is the wall color what I would pick for my home, and how do I get heating and cooling to the nurses’ station?”  We are trustees of the times in which we live and of the places where that living takes place, he said.  “How can we make the most of it?”

From our first meeting, the Architect called me Boss.  “Good morning, Boss,” he’d say as he walked into church, or “That was a humdinger, Boss,” after a service that particularly moved him.  When we met for lunch, he’d say to the waitress, “The Boss and I would like to sit near the window,” and when his wife of 60 years was failing, he would whisper in her ear, “The Boss has come to pray with us.”

One day I asked him about the title he had given me.  He said, “The best architects figure out that they are servants—to their clients, certainly, but more than that, to the spirit of an organization and to the work their physical structures are meant to enable and support.  We are paid to solve problems,” he told me, “and I hope I have done that by listening and looking for the order and beauty that come out of a messy situation naturally, rather than imposing my own design on it.  The Spirit will reveal the most elegant solution, I believe, if we pay close attention.”  He grew quiet, and then looked up from his soup.  “All I’m building now is a way to heaven, Boss, so I am bringing my design questions to you.”

Sometimes he wrote out what he was thinking.  “This is a worrisome time in which we live, but it is also an exciting time.  If you think back into history, I am sure that the Renaissance was a warlike and worrisome time to the people living then, and look what they produced!  I don’t presume to understand humanity, but one thing seems clear: adversity invites us to rise.”

The Architect rose himself, on a summer day two years ago.  A week before that, he said he was looking forward to his new address.  “Tough as it is for so many folks in Baltimore, I know Jesus spends a lot of time here.  I’m hoping he feels like an old friend.”

Love,
David