Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Wash Your Hands...And Someone Else's Feet

God knows, by now it has been drilled into us how important it is to wash our hands so we can protect ourselves and our neighbors from spreading disease. Hand washing is almost a religion unto itself, what with the regularity of practice and the accompanying singing. We haven't given our feet much thought, though. Except, in my case, to mourn the sad state of my pedicure.

Over the last couple years, one of my favorite services at SMC has been the Maundy Thursday meal and footwashing service. I have always loved footwashing since my time worshiping in the Evangelical Mennonite Church in Manitoba, where it's practiced somewhat more regularly than in other Mennonite denominations. It's a tactile time of worship that allows us to engage the story of Jesus and our commitment to service and to each other with our bodies. It is an intimate and caring act that we can do for each other in community. (One of my favorite reflections on Maundy Thursday here.)

At SMC it has been special because particularly in recent years we have been intentional in making it simple and accessible to families with kids, which also has meant that as a leader I've been able to participate with my own kids, and that it's been okay to be a little less formal and a little more loose.

I don't think that this informality has made it any less meaningful. Certainly not for me and definitely not for the smallest person in my life. Regularly - maybe once a month - since last Maundy Thursday that person has asked whether it's footwashing time. It never is, of course, until now. But now we won't be able to gather with our friends to serve each other in this way. It is a real sadness for me.

That is why I wanted to create a liturgy - still as simple and accessible as possible - for families like mine to practice at home. Options for a family of one to as many as are in your household, reading the story or reflecting on an image. Even washing hands if feet aren't your thing. I am comforted by the knowledge that even in our separate places we'll be sharing something of this day of loving service.

You can access the liturgy at the google doc if you want to give it a try.  We won't be with our church this year, but in the meantime here is a picture from last year that still delights me and makes me tear up a little.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Back to Our Senses

This morning on the podcast "Seattle Now" education reporter Ann Dornfeld talked to several parents who were trying to figure out the balance of getting their own jobs done and caring for and educating their kids. There was a great variety of experiences but needless to say everyone is feeling stretched and unfocussed. And some are finding some bright spots in time spent with family in new ways.

My bright spot in what has been a stressful time of sharing a relatively small home in which both of the adults are trying to still do our jobs full time, including connecting through online meetings which require attention and focus, has been walks. We're all going on a lot of walks. And walks can start feeling monotonous too, even in this beautiful city and especially for kids and teens who would rather be at a playground or hanging out with friends.

When I can go for a walk my myself I will often listen to music or podcasts or books. Obviously not possible when you're walking with others. So I've found a couple of the things have made walks a little more interesting when we're walking together. The first is scavenger hunts (this one is especially for the little one, who loves to check things off of a list) that I've found online or created - with pictures for non-readers. I thank my mother, the retired teacher, for turning us onto this suggestion. Orie has started making his own scavenger hunts to bring on walks, which is great because that's one less thing I have to prepare.

The second is a mindfulness practice that you may have seen if you follow me on Instagram (@amymarieepp). It's a practice that invites you to pay attention to the moment and your body. And it works great at any age. When I feel like I've been focusing to hard on something or I've been staring at a screen too long, or my mind is racing, or my body is tense, this is a great way to slow down and check in with myself. On a walk, it's a way to notice both our bodies and our surroundings.
Take a few deep breaths. Now notice with your senses. Identify the following:
  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can hear
  • 3 things you can feel
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste.
On the walk with my kids yesterday we were seeing things like flowering trees, clouds in the sky and neighborhood cats. Hearing the birds, the crunch of our feet and the wind. We felt the drops of chill of the air and bent down to feel the rain on the grass. We smelled the someone cooking and thought we could take how fresh the air was. It did almost turn into a competition of who can name things first, but overall it was a lovely practice and turned into an eye-spy like game of noticing and naming other things we saw and heard on our way.

Some of y'all may be experiencing this time as slower and more spacious, but many of us are doing double duty. Nurturing ourselves and the ones we care for is hard! I thank God for gift of moments that bring us back to our senses and allow us to experience the moment and each other. 

images: (top) a forsythia in a neighbor's yard; (above) scavenger hunt in action

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Shifting Ground and Grounding Rhythms

Do y'all know about the podcast 99% Invisible?  It  looks at elements in the designed world that we largely take for granted and tells stories about them.  This week's episode, "This is Chance" is about the 1964 Alaska earthquake and the voice one woman who kept her community grounded.  Genie Chance was the local 'newsgirl' and it was her presence on the airwaves of the one still-functioning, back-up-generator-powered radio station that held the community together and connected Alaska to the outside world.

I listened to this story about how the ground literally shifted and swayed and buckled under the feet of those I was already thinking about the way the ground is shifting in a different way for us.  The terrain looks different each day and possibly each hour - more recently the stay-home order - and probably it will look different tomorrow again.  No one knows how long this will last or when the landscape of the corona curve will finally flatten. And at the same time, one day slides into the next as

I'm not one of those parents who has implemented a color coded schedule or rigorous expectations of my kids.  I don't even understand parents who are talking about 'homeschooling' right now.  I can barely figure out what my own work is supposed to be in this new way of doing business.  I printed an activity sheet today for my five-year-old and I'm pretty sure the older one is doing some assignments on Schoology.  But there's a lot of screen time.

And yet, while there's no magnetic schedule posted on the fridge, we do have a routine and we do have some expectations of what gets done around the house or academically before the TV gets turned on.  And there is comfort in routine and rhythms.  One benefit of all being at home is that we're actually eating our evening meal together every day - which because of my spouse's usual late work hours didn't always happen before.  I try to take breaks during the afternoon to scooter in the driveway with Orie or go for a walk with Naomi. 

There is comfort in rhythms, including spiritual rhythms.  I cite Traci Smith and her book Faithful Families often because it's such a wealth of simple and doable family spiritual practices (and 50% off the kindle edition right now). One practice that I liked for right now is "five minute sabbath" (or even one minute sabbath).  Sabbath as a spiritual practice is marking a particular day, year or time to return ourselves and our resources to God.  We think of Sabbath as Sunday - or perhaps another day of the week.  Pastor Megan talk regularly about her Friday Sabbath practice.

Traci Smith suggests a set-aside time within a day or within an hour.  She also suggests making note cards and choosing practices at random.  But whatever - I'll just suggest a couple I like and also one of my own that I found on my friend the internet.  One suggestion for a one-minute sabbath is: go outside.  Notice what the weather is like.  Breathe deeply and take note of the feel of the air in your lungs.  Another is a breath prayer with the phrase, "I breath in God's love." "I breathe out worry and fear." Especially good right now!  Breathe!

Here are a couple of Smith's five-minute sabbath suggestions: write someone a note or gratitude or appreciation; find a poetry book or keep Psalms handy, read and reflect on a poem or Psalm.  The one I've like recently is to pay attention to my senses and notice: five things I can see, four things I can hear, three things I can feel, two things I can smell, one thing I can taste. The thing I can taste is usually coffee.

These are practices that kids could easily be pulled into - especially the embodied practices. Surely y'all can come up with creative one-five minute mindfulness practices that would be meaningful to you or your family. I would love to hear the ways that you are creating rhythms and inviting the Spirit into your own and your families life.  Or maybe it's just too hard to think about anything so systematic.  I'm curious about that too. 

This is an earthquake we weren't expecting.  God is with us now in the upheaval and will be waiting for us when we come out the other side.
image from the 99PI website, "The largest landslide in Anchorage occurred between Point Woronzof and Fish Creek"

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Apocalypse Vision

My seminary-educated spouse is always reminding anyone who mis-uses the word that "apocalypse" doesn't actually mean "end of the world." It means "vision" or "revelation." It's true! The book of Revelation begins, "The revelation [or vision] of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show his servants what must soon take place..."

I have had some very down moments in the past few days. Because it really does feel like the apocalypse - and I do mean that in the end-of-the-world sense, regardless of my own seminary education. It's not just the idea of bunkering at home for weeks or months - I can probably deal with that okay - but the weight of knowing how many livelihoods will be affected by the need to stay away from work, how many will succumb to illness, how many businesses will be shuttered, how many have no place where they can shelter in place.

Under the weight of all of the above I am truly seeking ways to find lightness and peace and clarity of vision - apocalypse! Our Lenten theme, "We want to see" feels so true to my lived experience at the moment. Fortunately the way I see people coming together in virtual space and reaching out across distance is beautiful and grace-filled. And I'm finding lots of online resources. In fact, if I let it, the tidal wave of resources itself might be a little weighty and overwhelming! I've tried to wade through the wave and collected some things for you.

In no particular order, here are a few resources to find spiritual grounding while isolated:

Illustrated Ministry - illustrated prayers for coloring. I'm all about color and creativity. As far as I'm concerned this could be a starting place for creating one's own illustrated prayers/scriptures. Illustrated Ministry is offering freebies each week if you go to their website and sign up. Just click on the banner right at the top of the main page.
(And for fun not-necessarily-spiritual doodling, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus author Mo Willems is doing "Lunch Time Doodles" everyday at 1:00 Eastern for you to visit his studio and doodle along with him. I plan on introducing my pigeon-lovin' 4-year-old to these tomorrow.)
Pray as You Go - an app and website with a daily prayer, reading and meditation - includes resources for kids. Let me know if you use it and like it, I've only dabbled.
Pandemic Hope - an 8 week daily reading and faith practice. It's meant for families but could be used individually. Practices include things like "write out the alphabet and add something to pray for that begins with each letter" and "Take turns telling your favorite joke and thank God for filling our mouths with laughter".
Breath Prayers - Sarah Bessey offers a structure for a centering prayer practice that begins with imagining a sanctuary space, spending time focused on breath with a phrase, and an ending blessing. Breath prayer is excellent for centering when feeling anxious because of how embodied it is. And it's simple enough for kids to be able to engage very easily. She includes multiple phrases to use in times of anxiety, for example, from Psalm 3 "[inhale] I do not fear, [exhale] for you are with me."
Lauryn Hill in Sister Act 2: Joyful Joyful 90's gospel style. I watched this movie so often in high school and it crossed my social media feed today. Be careful, if you are like me you will not be able to see the end because of how teary your eyes got. So. Much. Joy. I'm totally going to go back and watch the whole thing and share it with my child (it's streaming on Disney+)
The Brilliance: I first heard their music at youth convention three years ago as played by the worship musicians. The Gravity of Love started playing in my earphones accidentally as I was working on this and I will be listening to it on repeat all day. I love the whole album. May it be a blessing to you as well.
This is the gravity of love
Just as the moon follows the sun
You're all around me
You're holding everything
This is the hope of every land
Just as the universe expands
You're love is reaching
You're holding everything
Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Covid Creativity

I just got the email (and text and voicemail and a text from Naomi): Seattle Public Schools will be closed for two weeks. Our kids are going to be so stir-crazy, needing to move their bodies and engage their minds. Parents too! Especially if you're the one stuck at home or already working from home. At least in my house, we'll be right on top of each other.

Since we're already not meeting for worship or Sunday school it may help to have a few practices that you can teach your child or engage in yourself for the sake of your sanity and spiritual health.

Praying in Color - on Sunday in the 'Children's Time' during Zoom Church I did a demonstration of 'Praying in Color'. If you have trouble sitting still, if you like the idea of prayer but coming up with words is a struggle, if you like to doodle, this might be for you. In the photo above I've started with a lent template and used a word list from Faithful Families as my prompt. Below, Marlene Kropf shared a colored prayer that she did while sitting for a chemo treatment this week. If you're not yet a reader/writer it's okay to use colors and pictures to express your ideas and prayers.

Walking Prayer - Thank God (literally) we can still go outside! As you walk to the park or the playground or grocery store, verbalize blessings and thanks using the the people and place you pass as prompts: Thank you God for the blooming trees. Be our elderly neighbor. Protect the person being attended to by that ambulance!

Butterfly Meditation - This is particularly great for times of feeling anxious or worried or as a bedtime practice. It helps get in touch with the body and slow down both body and mind.

Butterfly Jar - I did the thing! I suggested it a few Midweek Messages ago - I ordered butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars) online. Although I thought they might even be dead when they arrived, the teeny tiny caterpillars are indeed now big, fat caterpillars and everyday we look to see if they've begun to spin cocoons. Surely we will be giving thanks for new life a few weeks from now.

Plant a Garden - or if you don't have a garden, plant some seeds or tend some plants. Give God thanks for the soil and the sun and the water. Then watch John Denver sing 'Inch By Inch' with some Muppets.

Family Devotions - Before you dismiss this one out of hand (like I basically do) listen, I grew up with family devotions every. single. night. It's just not realistic for my family schedule or configuration. But maybe once a week with the right resource? And maybe in place of church? The linked folder has a one-page resource for each week of the next few months based on the lectionary texts. Use it (or even just part of it) if it's helpful to you. Or use it as a springboard for your own ideas that fit your context.

Keep meeting people - lean on church community for support and spiritual companionship. As long as we keep following best practices and public health guidelines, small group of folks are still okay to gather if taking the proper precautions.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Take Care and Do Not Fear

I went into Bartell's this morning to see if they had any hand sanitizer. I was hoping to give one to Naomi to keep in her backpack. No surprise, they were all out. They were also all out of most soap, rubbing alcohol and Lysol. I could have panicked. But a) I think we actually have some with our travel supplies. And b) I trust the information out of the CDC. From them I understand that though we in Washington have been more affected than most states, the virus is still not widespread and that there are concrete and common sense steps I can still take to be precautious - with or without hand sanitizer.

I don't tend to be alarmist about things in general, and so it doesn't always occur to me that others may have anxieties about any given situation. But our children (never mind some of you!) may be feeling fearful or worried given the prevalence of Corona virus in the media and the urging we're all hearing to take those precautions in the link above. (Regarding media consumption, I found this twitter thread about mental wellbeing and constant news consumption to be interesting and helpful).

If you're kids are experiencing anxiety or even if they are wondering what the big deal is about Corona Virus and you want some tips on how to talk with them about it, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a how-to. Children will exhibit their anxiety in a variety of ways depending on age and personality. Responding to children's anxiety is similar to responses in many other stressful situations. Be a good listener, allowing more time and attention and assurance than you otherwise might. Allow questions and provide honest answers but limit access to media. Encourage positive activities and tell stories about helping responses to the outbreak. You and your kids may be encouraged to know that children seem to less affected by the virus.

One positive story-telling opportunity from Menno Media is the book Don't Be Afraid: Stories of Christians in Times of Trouble. It's a book of stories by Rebecca Seilig and Cindy Snyder, telling of people responding with care in times of crisis and illness. It was written during the SARS outbreak but the story about a nurse and her family in Toronto seems like a scenario that could be happening here and now. You can download the whole book free at the link above or go directly to the story "Love Behind a Mask" about nurse Amanda and her experience with SARS.

Of course, please care for your own mental and physical health! You are welcome to check out theses tips from the World Health Organization and (SAMHSA).

Be well, community. Take care of yourselves and each other. You are beloved.

Children Don't Listen But...