Category Archives: On the Road Again

Sounds of Silence

Looking out on the Zambezi River in Zambia
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
“Sounds of Silence” – Simon & Garfunkel 

I love August nights. The sounds of peepers when the temps are right – tree frogs, crickets and all the night creatures serenading me to sleep. I’ve been fortunate in that all the homes (excluding first apartment) have been set on a +/-acre of land that was at least partially wooded. Where we live now we’re surrounded by woods; it’s common to hear owls and coyotes calling in the darkness.

Quiet, comfortable silence that some might find too noisy. And as of last week, I’ve come to recognize the others noises that are not so pleasant.  My ears have been sensitized to the quiet, to the stillness, to the sound of the air and the breath of creation.

Last week my family and I arrived home from an amazing safari adventure in Zambia and Botswana. Our first few nights were along the Zambezi River near Victoria Falls and Livingstone, Zambia. It was not quiet the first night.

We arrived in Africa during a full moon, so we could still see our way along the pathways to our ‘tent’ and could catch the outlines of the multitude of elephants that strolled back and forth from the river in the early evening and early dawn. Sleep was often awakened to the sound of hrrmpphing . . . hippos rising out of the cool water of the river to feed on the grasses on the shore and inland, whether they were green or dry. The trumpeting of elephants communicating and defending their young sounded within reach, although were probably hundreds of meters away. The cry of a leopard in the distance.

Onto Botswana and the open air, the parched grasslands of the Kalahari Desert and the oasis of the Okavanga Delta.

The nights became darker. As the moon waned, the sky opened up. Coming back late evening from a game drive in the land rover gave our guide pause to stop the engine, turn off the headlights and be still. Looking up, the cosmos bloomed in a massive array of constellations and planets. The Southern Cross . . . follow the two pointers. The Milky Way. A shooting star. Another. And another.

Each morning awakened before the dawn cracked open to the sounds of vervet monkeys chattering in the trees and birds urging the sun to rise. A new day, a new adventure. A new experience of life that occurs everyday that was unbeknownst to me before.

In the heart of the Delta we are treated to mokoros. Guided by our boatsmen, they silently glide through the glass waters amidst reeds, grasses, palms and papyrus, with a steady hand and strong arm of the pole. True silence. During the day, even the hippos are hidden away in the tall reeds, crocs sunning themselves on the floating debris only to slide into the shallows as we approach. Watching a multitude of African fish eagles watching us, herons and cranes mirrored in their search for fish, a Pel’s Fishing Owl discovered in the trees. It is quiet.

The nights are again silent. The hippo grunts and elephants walking through mud and water are part of the sounds of calmness. The tree frogs create a rhythm of their own, different varieties, each with their own melody. A lion’s roar, followed by the bark of a hyena in the distance. It is quiet. Encased in a mosquito-netted bed, you can hear the earth breathe.

Flash forward. Gladly back to the comfort of my own bed, easily flowing hot water and awaiting for the August peepers to lull me back to sleep. It is not to be. The silence is no longer present. The hum of the refrigerator, the glow from the clock radio, the water softener going through its cycle in the wee hours of the morning. The cars . . . loudly whispering away on the Merritt Parkway on the other side of the woods. White noise.

Silence is a curious thing. You think you know what it is until you don’t have it anymore.

But I still have the peepers for another month, and the remembrance of the whispered sounds of silence.

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Photos taken by John Pearson, Sharon Pearson, Becca Hays and Chris Pearson (July 30 – August 10, 2012). 

Monks & Angels

I spent last week at Holy Cross Monastery, located in West Park, New York along the Hudson River. Part of the Order of the Holy Cross, the brothers are an Anglican Benedictine Community of Men whose primary work as a community is worship and prayer. The Monastery has a ministry to the community, offering hospitality and worship.

What brought me to Holy Cross was the annual Retreat with Adults Who Work With Youth, led by Jenifer C. Gamber, author of My Faith, My Life and musician Fran McEndree. Being able to reconnect with others whose passion is youth ministry was my primary goal, the second being some time away for personal reflection and rest. I received both. (You can also check out participant and photographer George Reiner’s blog for another perspective of the retreat and life at the monastery).

Outside of our plenary gatherings and group meditations, I spent my time in my little room (one might call it a ‘cell’) reading, writing, and yes, sleeping. I realized the rhythm of the day in a monastic community fit me well, and I grew more and more comfortable sitting in the chapel in silence, being summoned five times a day by the tolling of bells.

The day begins with Matins at 7:00am, followed by a silent breakfast. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated at 9:00am and the day then commences with whatever one might choose to do. At noon, we gathered again in the church for Diurnum (Midday Office) followed by lunch. The first part of the meal is eaten in silence, as one of the brothers reads a chapter from a book. While there I learned a little about how the Puritans (and others) determined whether the Sabbath was to be on Saturday or Sunday – a random piece of information. The work day closes with Vespers at 5:00pm. Compline is sung at 8:30pm in anticipation of God’s care through the night, followed by silence until we join together again at Matins in the morning.

Entering the “great silence” for about 12 hours brought new meaning to the opening sentences of Matins, which we also say in Morning Prayer at the Invitatory:

  • Officiant: Lord, Open our lips.
  • People: And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

The services were all chanted, and we were invited to participate in singing (quietly), allowing the brothers to hear each other as they seek to sing with “one voice.” With candles and incense, one can really enter another dimension in time and space.

A treat was being at Holy Cross on the Feast Day of St. Michael & All Angels, September 21st. Brother Andrew’s sermon was particularly thought provoking:

Next year will be my fiftieth anniversary of ordination – fifty years of pastoring, praying and preaching.  And this is the first time I remember preaching about the angels!!!

That feels odd because Scripture is full of angels… from the Garden of Eden to the garden in Revelation.  Angels with Abraham, angels with Lot, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel.  Hosts of them at the Birth of Jesus.  They appear to kings, to the poor. They glorify God in heaven and tromp the earth.  They are fearful and beautiful.  Some are righteous and some are crooked. They bear good news and they mutiny and rebel.

How come I’ve never preached on them?  Well, we’ve become so rational and so intellectually elite that we scorn such quaint ideas.  Unless, of course, we’ve gone off the deep end and into that place where people see angels everywhere… guarding their cars, in the garden like gnomes and fairies, or hovering over babies.

We don’t become angels when we die; they don’t get their wings when a bell on a Christmas tree rings; Della Reese and John Travolta are not angels! Nor do we become angels when we die.  Cherubs were never babies.

We’ve given up the angels!  We have let them go to those we call superstitious or the naïve.  We have turned them into shadows of themselves and stolen their power.  The mystery and beauty have become suspect.

But Scripture shows us beings with power.  Maybe that’s why we don’t mention them. We don’t quite understand what they’re all about.  They’re messengers. They speak for God…and so we fear them.  Each instance of their appearing seems to be imbued with awe.  They don’t look different, but their power and presence means that they usually have to start their messages with “Do not be afraid.”  Fearful and wonderful!

I think most faiths have the equivalent of our angels – beings from the heart of the Divine power who testify and challenge and protect the created universe.

It’s sad that we ignore them and I miss them.  Especially now, I miss them.  Now when other powers are rampaging in rage and arrogance and blindness through the world.  

Michael, Archangel, we need you!  We need your righteous sword that will cast down injustice and war-mongering. Defy tyrants.  Stand in darkened rooms where children are raped and protect them. Raise your hand against wife beaters and bullies. Give power to the weak; strength to the afflicted.

Gabriel, Archangel, who stood before the Maiden and announced a Savior, speak again!  Speak of the One who comes to dark and empty places in the human soul. Call us back! Proclaim the freeing Word that gives hope to the hopeless and joy to the mourners. Announce the coming of the One who restores and makes new.

Raphael, Archangel, spread healing in famine ridden Africa and in Asia; and in our military hospitals, in half-way houses, and under the bridges where homeless people shelter. Fight for an end to endemic illnesses; bring nourishment to the people starving needlessly. Teach us to spend our resources on life not on death.

Uriel, Archangel, you stand in God’s Presence where there is only Light.  Shine Light in our darkness.  This world is subsumed by the darkness of greed in business, in government.  Light must shine on the needs of the poor; on prisoners and addicts.

Angels in all your hosts, strengthen our voices to glorify the Redeemer, to speak to and for the lonely and voiceless.  Guard our children, cradle the sorrowful.  Shine, for God’s sake shine!

Now maybe that’s too outlandish for belief.  Maybe I’m verging too far on superstition.

But I don’t care. If you don’t believe in the angels, then for Christ’s sake become one.  Become a healer, and a proclaimer; become a warrior against hunger and hopelessness and evil.  Be a Light Bearer in the darkness around us.

Do that for Love’s sake and, believe me, you will find yourself on the side of the Angels…you will be Messengers of God, bearers of good tidings, protectors and lovers of God and God’s people. And the angels will rejoice!

That’s probably good enough!

Amen.

In God we live and move and have our being . . .

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Acts 17:24-28

It’s been two years since I spent 8 days disconnected to the world.  It was a time I was also most connected to the earth. No phone, no e-mail. No electricity or plumbing. Water. Rock. Sand. Open sky. I was an insignificant fleck in the midst of something too large to fathom.

Along with my husband and our two 20-something children, we were on an adventure of a lifetime. We were rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  Along with nine other adults and two guides, we embarked at Lee’s Ferry just over the border from southern Utah onto one of the Colorado’s tributaries. It looked like an ordinary river with some interesting cliffs springing out of the ground. After stopping under a shaded outcropping of rock for introductions and safety instructions, the water began to have a life of its own. From then on it was water, shale, limestone, sandstone, and more water. Colors and shadows changed with every turn. Silence, except for the water lapping onto the sides of the pontoons. Or the screams of all of us as we hung on for dear life going through a rapid, to come out at the bottom laughing and shivering from the frigid waters that drenched our skin.

August 9, 1869 – “The river turns sharply to the east and seems enclosed by a wall set with a million brilliant gems. On coming nearer we find fountains bursting from the rock high overhead, and the spray in the sunshine forms the gems, which bedeck the wall. The rocks are covered with mosses and ferns and many beautiful flowering plants.” Major John Wesley Powell from his exploratory expedition journal into “. . . the Great Unknown.”

Layer after layer we went back in time as we floated farther into the Canyon. The dark contorted rocks of the Inner Gorge are the ancient, highly metamorphosed remains of even older sedimentary and igneous rocks. How ancient? Detailed studies of radioactive elements reveal that the Canyon’s oldest rock, the Vishnu Schist, was metamorphosed some 1.7 billion years ago. I couldn’t help but think, “In the beginning, God created . . .”

The rhythm of the water and the lights of the heavens marked our days and nights. We were up at sunrise and usually in our sleeping bags soon after the light left the canyon. Meals were prepared wherever we found a flat place to “park” and set up camp. Lying on my back, with my glasses on, I fell asleep under the Milky Way with more stars than I had ever seen before; I was in a living planetarium.

Each morning we awoke to the sound of birds, sitting up in our bedrolls to discover the tiny tracks of the ringtail cats that had circled us while we slept on the sand. The early sunshine glowed red off the canyon walls; shades of orange on what had been pink the evening before. What would this day bring? What part of creation would we experience for the first time?

Although most of the Grand Canyon is dry and arid, it teems with life. Day hikes into side canyons gave us opportunities to discover tree frogs, sand verbena and evening primrose. Every crevice, every rock and every stream opened up God’s creation to us in new and unexpected ways. Tiny desert flowers and cacti of all varieties grew out of the rock. Small streams trickling down the side of cliffs would host moss and fern. Mule deer and Desert Bighorn Sheep were common sights, once hunted by the native peoples of the Canyon, the Hualapai. Today their descendants, the Havasupai Indians, try to live by the traditional concept of harmony with all life. They want to preserve the natural beauty of their homeland, believing themselves to be inseparable from the land. Could I live here forever?

A week later, the canyon walls began to lower, and we began our entrance into Lake Mead. On the last day of our voyage, civilization began to creep back . . . helicopter tours circling above us, catching a glimpse the ‘viewing bridge’ placed over a side portion of the canyon for tourists. The Canyon was behind us, but the dust remained in us – in our shoes, our clothes, under our skin. The dust of the earth of which we were created.

In Acts, Paul speaks to the Athenians about God as creator of all, and of the irrelevance of temples that cannot contain the divine reality. We had been in a temple made by God. All of creation is God’s temple. Paul harkens back to Genesis, and the creation of the world. Such is the Grand Canyon. Impossible to be made by human hands, but filled with life where many would say it could not exist. Ever changing, slowly through the millennia.

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We are just a small part of God’s immense, indescribable creation. The “Great Unknown” might be around the next corner or river bend, where we can see God working in us and around us and through us. Water. Rock. Sand. Sky. Such is the stuff of life. Such is the stuff of the Creator.

Where’s Waldo?

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing anything. Today has been a ‘day off’ (Ha – still did laundry, had a couple of phone meetings, and succumbed to check my work e-mail). And I knew posting here has been long overdue. So, here’s a check-in.

Part of my Monday ritual is checking in on the various projects I oversee as I plan the week ahead. This week’s list:

  • Travel to Chicago for the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes annual conference. I’ll be participating in the “Smart Network” for Christian formation that will feature Sam Portaro speaking on young adulthood. I’ll also be representing Church Publishing Inc. at our booth, hosting our sponsored luncheon about the Emergent Church with Stephanie Spellers, and facilitating a breakfast table conversation on Confirmation.
  • Begin to organize and upload my monthly newsletter, “Living IN-Formation,” due out on March 1st.
  • Prepare presentations for my trips to the Diocese of Arizona’s Children’s Ministry Summit (next weekend) and the Bishop’s Conference on Christian Formation in the Diocese of Southeast Florida (the following weekend). And that includes 4 workshop presentations, 1 keynote address, 1 sermon, and sending stuff for display. At least I will be in warmer locations!
  • Making sure all the articles for Building Faith are teed up for the next two weeks. If you’re wondering why I’m not blogging so much here on Rows of Sharon lately it’s because I write about four articles a week for that one now!
  • Making sure my weekly (at least) reflection on the coming Sunday’s lectionary readings is posted on The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education’s website.

Mix all that in with caring for my parents and helping plan our daughter’s October wedding, it’s a little overwhelming to think of witty items to post. If something strikes me in my travels, I’ll post them here. But most likely you’ll find them on Building Faith.

I’ll be doing lots of people watching in airports in the coming weeks, but I try not to stand out in a crowd. One of the books my kids gave me for Christmas for my airport amusements is a pocket “Where’s Waldo” book. I’m not usually dressed in red stripes, with a walking cane or a backpack – but I usually have a lime green suitcase in town filed with electronics (laptop, LCD projector, Kindle, i-pod touch).

So if you’re wondering where I’ve been (at least at this web location), hopefully I’ve given you some other avenues in which to follow me.

And of course, there’s always Facebook and Twitter!

A Road Warrior’s Critique

Miles to go before I sleep . . . but first some thoughts!

As many of you know, 30% of my position with Church Publishing involves travel. This week I am wrapping up the final conference I will be attending for 2010. (Hallelujah!) As I reflect back on a big year that brings me close to platinum status with Delta and with three years under my belt with CPI, I’m ready to share some perspectives about what makes a good Christian education conference. I’ve attended plenty of “acronym conferences” this year – NAECED, REC, APCE & CEF as well as some regional (Kanuga & WCEC), diocesan (too numerous to mention), and organizational ones (CEEP). I’ve given workshops at most of them, had a display of some sort at all of them, and even keynoted at a few. Having also had my fair share of being on a Design Team for many major events, I understand what it takes to put on a conference.

  • Hospitality – From registration to conclusion, how are participants greeted and included? Is water (with cups) readily available in a variety of areas . . . plenary space, workshops, exhibit hall? Are there opportunities and places for newcomers to gather in the evening to build new relationships? Do the planners hang out with each other or spend time with the participants? Lastly, is there light food available for those who may have traveled from a distance and are adjusting to a new time zone?
  • Plenary – What’s the purpose of having a keynoter or large group gathered? Does your speaker fit with your theme? I want to be fed. I want a speaker or keynoter who can tell a story and inspire me and make me think. This is part of every conference that I feel is for me, personally. Keep them short – no more than 1 hour (1.5 if there is small group conversation). And hopefully the person is not on the circuit selling his or her book.
  • Workshops – To me, this is the portion of any conference in which I want to take away practical, usable new ideas that I can take home and implement. I want to be respected by the presenter and be engaged, with an opportunity to ask questions and be in conversation with other participants. I don’t like sitting in rows to hear a lecture with or without a power point presentation. Again, I don’t want a sales pitch of a new product. And I like handouts – if you want to be green, (which is fine with me) e-mail them to me at the conclusion of the event.
  • Worship – This needs to feed me, too. And it’s got to include scripture, music, prayer and a reflection. Yes, I’m an Anglican – so all those parts need to be there or else it feels like a hymn sing, lecture, or “come to Jesus” event. And it doesn’t need to be long. Candles and contemplative centering are nice too, not necessary, but again, I’m a cradle Episcopalian.
  • Exhibit areas – Be open during free times – not during worship, plenary or workshops. And make them centrally located. Make sure booths have someone at them so I can ask questions. But I don’t want them to chase me down the aisle handing me something I will throw away when I get back to my room. And no music please – exhibitors don’t want to hear the same song played over and over for hours at a time (i.e. – the saxophonist at General Convention in 2006 & 2009).
  • Transportation – For those who need to take mass transportation (plane or train), share shuttle or taxi options in the registration or confirmation information. It’s part of hospitality. If you want me to come, make it easy for me to figure out how to get there.
  • Lodging – Check out the hotel or conference center ahead of time. Notify participants if they need to bring a hairdryer or soap (yes, I stayed in a retreat center that did not have any). And while all of our budgets have been downsized, you get what you pay for with a cheap rate. Check out Yelp! or Trip Advisor to learn what you’re in for.
  • The Schedule – Is there a schedule that is clear and consistent? Offer free time; it’s needed to digest all the presentations as well as care for one’s self. Having it after lunch gives an opportunity for a walk, checking out exhibits, or simply recharging one’s batteries after sitting most of the morning. And don’t keep changing it. And if you do, don’t forget to let the exhibitors know also.

I’m tempted to rate each event I’ve been to this year. But each of you know who you are and can figure out how you measure up.

A note to Design Teams about your exhibitors:

  • Get in touch with them far in advance.
  • Be clear about where stuff gets shipped to and when it needs to be there. And provide a means for stuff to get shipped back – at least a UPS pick-up.
  • Allow them to share meals with the participants.
  • Be open during free times – not during worship, plenary or workshops.
  • Tell us how many participants are expected – and be realistic.
  • Keep the hours short.
  • Lock the room when it is closed – or have a security guard that doesn’t let anyone in except during open hours.
  • Ask for feedback.
  • Be hospitable to them too.

Which conferences do you attend? What makes them “great” in your assessment? Where do you see need for improvement?