Holy Places and Holy Stories

Holy Places and Holy Stories

“Bethlehem and Nazareth and Jerusalem remind us that is to possible to touch, and hold and see God, even in this life, in the guise of helpless infants, worried parents, broken bodies and empty tombs.”Br. James Koester, Society of St. John the Evangelist ssje.org, Brother Give Us a Word, September 12, 2018

 Entrance to Children’s Chapel, National Cathedral Washington DC

Entrance to Children’s Chapel, National Cathedral Washington DC

Many of you have visited the Holy Land and been to these thin places. You also recount that it has made the stories of what happened at each place more vivid. For those who have not traveled to these particular sites, the stories are still powerful and often can come alive in our own imagination, often through art. There are also places that represent these holy shrines that can also bring them alive. I am thinking of the National Cathedral and the Bethlehem Chapel, the Children’s Chapel, the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea, and the Chapel of the Resurrection.

Each location can also represent a part of our own lives.

Our Bethlehem is not only the place of our birth, but the place where we start to begin to feel alive, reborn, become the person God created us to be. Our Bethlehem often is a retreat place where our life is changed.

Our Nazareth is not only the place where we were raised but also the places where we are still cared for by the people and places who still nourish and restore us. For many, their Nazareth is their church or spiritual community.

Jerusalem is the holiest of places. It is the place God most often lives. It is where we suffer and parts of us have to die. It is where out of this suffering we find resurrection. I see Jerusalem most often in a grief recovery group called Walking the Mourner’s Path. That is where I see great suffering transformed into a new life, honoring the person that was loved who died and becoming wounded healers to others who have suffered.

In many ways each city is a new life, a new birth, a resurrection. Renewal can be messier at some places and easier and gentler at others.

Today may we contemplate where these holy cities reside in our lives. Where are the places or the groups of people we go to to be reborn, to be nourished, and to be resurrected out of suffering?

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com

Us Against or For Them

Us against Them or Could it be Us for Them

Guest Writer: Chris Schaefer

“What if we would commit to…opening ourselves to the value we know the others possess as beloved children of God? Maybe our efforts would begin the change that the world desperately needs. Maybe we can become the pebble tossed into the pond that creates ripple after ripple, transforming a destructive Us against Them culture into an Us for Them culture, consistent with the self-denying challenge of our Lord Jesus” The Rev. Ken Kesselus, Bastrop, Texas part of his sermon on Mark 8:27-38 as seen on the episcopaldigitalnetwork.com Sermons that work

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34


She turned to me tears in her eyes and said “They just don’t understand what goes on in my head. They don’t see me!” She is a schizophrenic (by her own admission), homeless young woman that has come into a charity’s thrift shop looking for food. She has been there often before, and the manager of the store has just spoken harshly to her.

The crowd is standing, frozen in place, starring at this forlorn, unstable, dirty woman. Is it “Us against Them” or is this my opportunity to be an “Us for Them”? Can we step out of the “Us” crowd to extend our hands to the “Them”? Yes! Something guides me, and we walk hand in hand out of the store. Through her tears and confusion, she talks of being abandoned by everyone and of her total defeat.

It is her eyes that draw me in, blood shot from lack of sleep and hollow from being lost in a world that steps around her. Nowhere to sleep, nothing to eat, and no medication. With nowhere to turn, her desperation is palatable. Others also step out of the crowd, she is given some food, money and a ride to a shelter and most importantly she felt the extended hands of love and caring.

It is her eyes that have stayed with me. Where is she? Is she safe? Did she stay in the place that could help her? There are the cynics that will say “you can’t fix her, she will be right back on the street, you know she just used that money for drugs!” Maybe, maybe not! But I will pray for her and I will hope that maybe just maybe this was the time that she knew someone loved her and did see her! I must think this way because there will be another homeless person in a thrift store, another forlorn elder in a memory center, another injured soul in a hospital.

I wonder about how Christ has used others and this particular lady to remind us of the least of our brothers and sisters. Christ reminded us through her that writing a check to our local charity is not enough. He wants us to love, to step out of the crowd, to stretch out our hands. To see the forlorn homeless woman, this beloved child of God! To listen, to touch, and love her. By following Jesus in His footsteps, we must step out of the crowd, denying ourselves in our fears, and to make our world more about Us for Them. We can start the ripple effect one person at a time.

Chris Schaefer

Art of Pilgrimage

The Art of Pilgrimage

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

art of pilgrmage copy.JPG

Phillip Cousineau’s The Art of Pilgrimage, The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, has been a book that I have gone back to time and again, preparing for a trip and hoping to make the journey a pilgrimage.

Cousineau’s family traveled a great deal in his childhood. He relates how his father thought travel was good for the mind while his mother felt it was good for the soul. Cousineau reminds us that a traveler visits a place. A pilgrim allows a place to become a part of or visits within him. As travelers we often plan trips and then, upon getting to their destination, have a sense of unfulfilled expectation. This disappointment results from the way we engage with the place, not the site itself.

The Celts would tell us to imagine the moment of our departure as like crossing a threshold of a door.

Cousineau also asks us to imagine our first memorable journey. What images rise up in our soul? They may be a childhood visit to the family gravesite, a visit to relatives who live on a farm, or a trip with our favorite aunt to a religious site. Do these feelings have any connection with our lives today? The author asks us if there are some place that are sacred to us, our family where we long to visit? He suggests that as we undercover what we long for, we will discover who we are.

Cousineau reminds us that we will reconnect to our soul, the part of God within us by learning to be aware and listen to our surroundings. On the pilgrimage we are to look and listen intently to everything around us. Listening to music in solitude is his recommendation of how to get back into the habit of listening to our surroundings. We also usually do not look, but we overlook. Keeping a journal may help us to look more closely as we describe what we are seeing.

There is an old Nigerian saying that “the day on which one starts out is not the time to start one’s preparation.”

We are to begin the Sacred Journey with our journal. We are encouraged to keep sacred a silent alone part of our day where we write in our journal. Our journal can help us relive our pilgrimage, but we can also relive the journey by bringing back pictures, stones, or shells as did Anne Lindberg in Gifts from the Sea.

We are also to plan ahead how we will reenergize ourselves each day. We are to be open to serendipity, coincidences, that may take us off our planned path.

I remember a time I spent at the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral. I was walking through the Cathedral near the entrance, and a large group of elementary students, perhaps ten years old, hurried in. They were distracting my silent mediation. But then I most vividly remember one young boy tilting back his head and looking up at the high vaulted ceilings and immediately shouting out, “Wow!!” To this day, I can still see and hear that young prophet.

Joanna joannaseibert.com