Monday, July 18, 2011

Presence in the Wild

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

I think many of you know that regular exercise is one of the pillars in my life –spirit, body, & mind. One of the disciplines I’ve taken up is to listen to podcasts while I’m on the elliptical or stationary bike. I like to fill this otherwise “mindless” time with something that will engage my mind.

Last week, I listened to a podcast from NPR’s On Being program. The podcast is called, “Presence in the Wild”. The URL for it is

The program was an interview with Kate Braestrup who is a writer and a chaplain to game wardens in the parks and forests of Maine. She accompanies these law enforcement officials in the wild on search-and-rescue missions. She's there, as she puts it, at the hinges of lives — moments where everything suddenly changes. In her own life and in her "ministry of presence," as she calls it, she sees how loss, disaster, decency, and beauty intertwine. And she says this has made her "religious but not spiritual".

While this has a focus on pastoral care ministry, there are some wonderful spiritual insights for everyone. Following are some of the ones that were important to me. They’re in Kate’s words.

“I don't look for God or God's work in magic or in tricks or in, you know, saying "this is what I want" and then I get it. I look for God's work always in how people love each other, in just the acts of love that I see around me.

“One thing the Buddhists say, or the Tibetan Buddhists, anyway, is that you prepare your whole life for your death.”

“Unitarian Universalism at its best is a way of looking at religious questions without requiring that the answer be found for everybody, without requiring that your answer be imposed on everybody else. There's a humble acceptance that I am not God. I am not the arbiter of these things, that the best I can be is a window through which the person that I'm with can get a glimpse of something, and I can only do that by being as completely loving to them as I can be, whoever they are and wherever they are. The place that it's the most directly useful is when I'm dealing with people who aren't religious at all.”

“But then I think at least in the long run what it lets me do is back off and allow God to just do what God does and not feel like I have to shape it or guide it or force it into a certain place that accords with anything, that I can really just let it be.”

“I look for God's work always in how people love each other, in just the acts of love that I see around me.” So this [rape and murder of a young woman] tested that. This event tested that for me, because, in general, I don't get involved with a lot of sexual predators and murderers. I'm much more likely to be dealing with accidents or people who've done something stupid or they got drunk and did something stupid, but they weren't actively malicious. So to look for where love was in this situation, the very obvious place to look would be in the hearts and the hands of the guys who did their best to find her and to make things right for her and for her family. And with all the limitation in that, with all the, you know, with all of the…”

You know, you point something out that's very simple, but really striking and unsettling in good ways and bad, that even when the miracle, and, you know, you say we can call things miracles, but it's not — the picture's more complicated than that. But even when it is of a life restored, that is always a temporary restoration. And you say that most of the time, perhaps, "a miracle can only be the resurrection of love beside the unchanged fact of death."

These were wonderful insights for me; I’ll listen to this podcast again next week to see what will speak to me then.

I encourage you to use some of your “mindless time” to listen to this podcast and see what resonates with you. When you do, please share your insights with the rest of us.

Shalom and many blessings, George

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