The Question of Reopening – A Sermon on Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10

I love this. Jesus is the gate. We need to keep relating to the gate, to the life within Jesus, “you in me, I in the Father” so that we may be one…” Being together in wanting abundant life, being in solidarity, is an important way to hold this “open gate” of the heart…

Interrupting the Silence

The Fourth Sunday in Easter – Psalm 23 and John 10:1-10

My first sermon in this Season of COVID-19 was on Psalm 23. That was six weeks ago. We began this season of life by reminding ourselves that the Lord is our shepherd and we shall not be in want. I’m sure you know how the rest of it goes – the still waters and green pastures, fearing no evil, the table in the wilderness, the overflowing cup, daily goodness and mercy.  

I commented back then how fortunate we were that Psalm 23 was one of our assigned readings and that it was exactly what we needed to hear. And I say that again today.

Psalm 23 and today’s gospel (John 10:1-10), with it’s images of shepherd, gatekeeper, gate, sheep, thieves and…

View original post 922 more words

Someone telling you your own story

The book “The Spirituality of Imperfection” by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, has been a favorite source of reflections for me for about 15 years.  One of the stories I love best is from Jewish lore.  I call this the story of The Baal Shem Tov and the Bishop.   The Baal Shem Tov before he died, asked a disciple to carry on his work, going far and wide to tell stories about the master.  In a far country, a wealthy nobleman was very happy to receive the disciple, and eagerly waited to hear the stories.  But his mind went blank.  Finally, after a few days, he started to leave, and then he remembered one story.  He was with the Master when they came to a Christian town, just before Easter.  The usual thing there was to kill a Jew, in the fervor around the crucifixion of Jesus.  So the disciple was very afraid.  But the Baal Shem Tov went to a big house, along the square, and threw open the upper window to look at the procession of people coming into the square.  The bishop in his robes was very imposing.  The Baal Shem Tov told his disciple to go down and tell the bishop that the Baal Shem Tov wanted to see him.  The disciple was trembling with fear, but went to the bishop, and was amazed that the bishop listened, and after his sermon, went with the disciple, to see the Master.  They went to an inner room, spoke for a long while.  Then the Baal Shem Tov came out, and said now they could go away.  The disciple was very sorry this was such a fragment of a story, but he did tell the nobleman about it.  The effect in the nobleman was immense.  He recognized the disciple, and he said, that the bishop in the story was he himself.  He was descended from a line of distinguished rabbis.  He had converted to Christianity in a time of persecution, out of fear, and had been praised, and raised to being a bishop.  He had had a dream, in which he recognized that his soul was in peril.  The Baal Shem Tov had told him that he should return to a simple life of holiness and prayer,  and give up his money and titles.   He should have hope, and  “When a man comes and tells you your own story, you will know that your sins are forgiven.”   When a man comes to tell you your own story, you know that your sins are forgiven.  And (what is always true), is that when you are forgiven, you are healed.

I love this story, because although I am a Christian, I understand that there are people who are and must be, true to their own faith, their own understanding of God.  I do not think we should try to convert or change people’s faith.  What I do think we should work to change, is our own behavior, and especially that part of us which is conscious, which has that “still small voice” of conscience.   Expanding our ability to love, to forgive, and to have patience and forbearance, is what we are being invited to DO.  God calls to each of us, and God forgives us, and we need to hear that voice of forgiveness.  We never hear the voice of God when we are self-satisfied, but only when we are trying to live with peace, with serenity and courage, and to do the will of God.  Putting aside our own egos, trying to help meet the needs of others around us, is what most heals.  When we reach out in love, in solidarity, and forgive each other, we are most like the God we want to be close to, and with whom we want to be in relationship.

Pandemic update, end of March

Not only do we still not have enough test kits so that we can really find out the denominator of the number of people who can make it through with just mild to moderate symptoms, vs. needing oxygen or ventilators, we still don’t have the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in every hospital.  For the past 10 days I have been reading stories from good doctors on the front lines who have been told by administrators that they cannot wear masks, because it will scare patients.  It may be they couldn’t get enough of this equipment, as the administration pitted states against each other and hospitals against each other, to try to get the needed masks , gloves, ventilators, and gowns and booties.  This is against the backdrop of the administration under Mr. Trump sending 17.8 tons of PPE to China to try to help in February, as the Wuhan epicenter escalated into full-blown terror.  This was a good instinct to help our neighbors in distress, but left us without the back up for a pandemic here, and no new materials were ordered or authorized, in spite of the dire predictions of likely spread to the US.

Many friends have been trying to find masks, or make them from cloth, but the cloth is not good for stopping viral particles, compared to the surgical masks (56% effective) or the n95 masks, (95% effective).  In New York which is now in the exponential growth and death rates are skyrocketing, there are big trucks parked outside the hospitals to take out the dead bodies, and doctors and nurses barely able to control the constantly escalating demands for ventilatory assistance.  There are plane-loads of docs and nurses going to help NY, and I feel so grateful for these brave people, and worried for them, also.

San Francisco has been able to stay in Shelter-at-Home mode, and to avoid the escalation so far.  The data show that it is working, and we have only had 380 deaths, not the almost 2,000 of NY, NJ and CT.  Our whole Bay area has been asked to stay in for another month, and the peak is supposed to be April 15.

I spent the past several days trying to help docs with finding support to say they can wear PPE, and we got it 2 days ago from AAFP.  I wrote Governor Newsom yesterday asking for him to please issue an edict that all medical personnel must wear PPE, and preferably the n95 masks.  Today the NY Times published an article about the doctors fighting the administrators of hospitals to get appropriate equipment and be allowed to wear it, instead of being fired.  This is good, the media is now going to help us be heard, and force the hospitals to get the masks and have everyone wear them.  It also is now apparent that many people in the public arena are willing to wear masks to try to limit contagion, which is also great.

I feel guilty in being safe here in isolation at home, when so many are dying.  The deaths of 51 doctors in Italy, along with 10,000 people, is heartrending.  I saw a photo of coffins lined up, and it made me able to finally write a poem, called “50 Coffins in Italy”.   I sent it today to Rattle, hoping they will accept it, as something dealing with what we are seeing in the news.  I am trying to comply with the plan to “flatten the curve.”   I am still registered in the Medical Reserve Corps in our town, if they need retired docs to come in.  I don’t want to go to another place, I need to be able to be at home, at least.  I have been walking down the driveway and back up again, to get exercise every day.  I want to go to walk on the beach, but am saving it for when I really need it.

I ate an artichoke for dinner, cooked in the pressure cooker.  I have been trying to learn to eat better, stay healthier in my patterns, boost my immune system. I have some lemons and some ginger, and I have been making tea.  I have made chicken soup with a lot of garlic.  Little by little, I am trying to get a sort of rhythm at home, along with getting to be part of the zoom meetings for the Lectio Divina, and for Al-Anon.  This is helping me to stay connected.  Also I am checking with Sebastian almost every day, and I got to speak on the phone tonight with Andy, who is in MN.  He still thinks the president has helped do the right thing for the pandemic, so it shows how the media has twisted the minds of the people.  We are going to see if this finally makes people understand his absolute failure of leadership;  Trump’s failure to care for the common good, and “to form a more perfect union”.   I am grateful for the work of so many independent journalists, and this week, especially for Heather Cox Richardson.  I am going to sleep so much better, now that I know our docs and nurses have the n95 masks.

Health care and the Pandemic covid-19

It is so hard to be in the sidelines, now.  Watching what is happening, since the administration refuses to take the scientists seriously, and has gutted both the NIH and the CDC of the people who would normally be best at responding to the new virus which is both very infectious, and due to cause a lot of deaths from pneumonia, is painful.

We don’t have the testing capability, as there are not enough testing tools set up, and the factory which makes the test has to be ramped up to produce millions of kits for the test.

Doctors are worried, because if sick people come to the office, which is not set up for quarantine and for helping protect others from exposure, the staff and other patients may be exposed.  It seems that South Korea did the right thing by setting up 73 independent testing sites, with full protective gear, and allowing people to get tested without putting others at risk.

The self-quarantine or “distancing” being recommended is the only tool we have to blunt the disease onslaught, which has an exponential growth curve.  In one town there were 3 cases 1 week, 300 the next, and a thousand the following week.  This will rapidly overcome our hospitals’ ability to respond and take care of patients.   The need for oxygen will be easier to meet than the need for a respirator.  These machines are big and expensive and most hospitals don’t have many just sitting around not being used already.  The hospitals are mostly working at full capacity or above 95%, which means there are no extra beds or extra respirators, or the staff to take care of the patients.  In Wuhan, they built 2 hospitals in 2 weeks, but they did not have staff sufficient to man the hospitals.  In Washington state, the head of Public Health asked for 230,000 respirators.  Apparently finally yesterday they got about half of them.  I am amazed they got them!  We heard from doctors in Italy that they are trying to apply the ethic of “prioritization” which is to try to give the best treatment to the ones who are most likely to make it, which means they are not treating anyone over 60 or with an underlying condition with full resources.  They are on the edge of collapse of their medical system, and a beloved family doctor in Lombardy already died of the disease, as he came out of retirement to help with the disaster.

Many friends in many places say that the big stores are out of toilet paper, and zinc lozenges, alcohol and hand sanitizers.  Most of my friends over 60 are prudently canceling all the events they were intending to do for the next 2 months.  I feel sorry for all the loss to the air travel industry, the restaurants, and local small businesses,  who depend on people shopping.  I looked up the travel insurance, and they don’t accept a pandemic or epidemic as a reason for cancelling a trip and getting a refund.

I am also upset when doctors much more brilliant than I, who are on the front lines, say that they cannot get the tests they need.  The best thing that happened as the data began accruing this week, is that Katie Porter, a great Congresswoman, was able to question and make the head of the CDC agree to allow the testing for free.  Since the testing usually involves testing for influenza A and B, as well as a complete blood count (CBC) and metabolic panel (to be sure liver and kidneys are ok, and that the blood sugar and electrolytes are ok) adds up to over $1000 dollars.  Most people can not afford that test.  And we need people to be able to access the testing.  Most labs are apparently still ramping up the access to large numbers of tests coming in.

If someone is over 70, their risk is 8%, and if over 80 the risk is 16-20%.  If they are hospitalized, the risk is 20-30%.    We all need to stay home.  We all need to hunker down, but also talk to each other, trying to speak on the phone to elderly people who are feeling lonely and isolated.  IF you have teens who are healthy, ask them to offer to babysit for doctors or nurses with small children, who need to be at the hospital.  This is a hard time for the whole world.  All humans are at risk.

A trip to Guatemala

I was not thinking that I needed to reconnect with my Latina roots, but the minute I felt myself to be in a place where people are naturally both respectful and kind, it was like unsquishing the marshmallow of myself, back into who I really am! I was so glad to hear Spanish spoken, and be able to carry on conversations, and also hear the natural politeness, and feel the unhurried pace of the people around us. By being in the Peace Corps in Paraguay after college, and then in Mexico for Medical School, I have a big chunk of my own life experience and myself as a young person in the milieu of latin culture. Remembering words delighted me, remembering whole sentences, and how to say something more gracefully delighted me even more. I was truly nourished in the soul by this trip!

Waking up to breakfast in a place where women are making hand-made fresh tortillas is like being in heaven. Throw in bougainvillea in full bloom, a beautiful volcano with a halo of a lenticular cloud just below the peak, and old heavy wooden carved doors and ceilings, tile roofs, and 20 inch-thick stone walls, put me in my happiest frame of mind. I loved the city of Antigua, but also the area around Lake Atitlan, the small villages with women weaving on backstrap looms, in a time-honored tradition. I love the bright colors, the happy feeling of the textiles they are weaving!

When we got to Chichicastenango, I wanted only to try on some old huipiles (the serape-type blouses, made of hand-woven and sometimes over-embroidered with more bright colors). I was not intending to buy anything the first day we were there. But when I saw these gorgeous cloths, I could not help buying several; both two old ones, and two new ones. I also bought a beautiful shawl, of navy embroidery on royal blue woven cloth. By the end of the market day, I owed everyone on our small tour money, as I had not brought enough cash for all this gorgeous stuff! I was a tiny bit concerned that the rest of the week I would rue the purchases, and wish I had waited, but as the exposure to more weaving and huipiles in various markets went on, I was very happy with what I got the first day.

I continued to see wonderful bargains, with new and interesting designs, in each market we went to. In Antigua, just up from the arch over the main street, there is a wonderful indoor market which gave lots of access to viewing and considering the different designs of cloths and huipiles, and good prices, although fixed. The last day, we went to the market in Guatemala City, and I found a wonderful cloth purse-bag, with hummingbirds embroidered on it. I had not seen this design before.

We went to the wonderful museum Ixel, in Guatemala City, and saw more about the weaving, and the videos for education were wonderful. We watched a procession from one of the Holy Week processions, in a small town, with all the musicians, and all the people wearing “traje”– the traditional clothing. We learned about pre-Columbian culture of the different Maya people. We saw one of the latest ruin sites of the Ki ché people. The ones we were most exposed to were the Ki ché people, who are in the region around Lake Atitlan.

We loved the weavings at the town of San Juan de la Laguna, on the other side of the lake from Panajachel. This town has a women’s weaving cooperative. They take turns doing the whole task of picking the cotton, taking out the seeds, then beating the cotton to make the fibers line up more linearly, and then spinning them on a spindle. Once they have a good amount of yarn, they dye batches, in colors from different plants. Some cotton is naturally white, and a different kind is naturally a beige-brown color. In some of the weavers’ towns, new thread is now being imported and used, both silk and mercerized, and polyester, from different places, in order to give the brilliant colors play. In San Juan, they are trying to stick to the traditional cloth process. The backstrap looms are held in front, and strapped around the back, and many women are seated with their knees bent and their lower legs folded under them. I can not maintain that position, and cannot imagine doing it for hours, to be able to weave! My thighs would be screaming in pain! In these towns, the women weave their own bridal wear, and they also need to weave a fabulous piece for the mother-in-law, which takes about a year. They can’t get married until all this weaving is done!

The roads through the mountains are a feat of engineering, very similar to the Hwy 17 road we have here, to Santa Cruz, in Ca. There are trucks full of rebar and bricks, busily moving to new construction places. The small farms all the way up the mountainsides are terraced, and look very healthy. The vegetables in the markets look very healthy and tempting! We got a fabulous meal in Guatemala City, at the “Cocina de Señora Pu”— a Mayan woman who cooks with the old dishes and very fresh ingredients, wonderful and interesting spices, and she has an advanced degree in both cooking, nutrition and Mayan anthropology around cooking. The food was so good that we came back for another meal the next day! She is tiny, lovely, and humble; and lets you watch how she makes miracles of meals from a 4 burner stove and an old pressure cooker. Most of her food was steamed or roasted-cooked on a thick iron “plancha”.

We got to watch how cocoa is harvested and readied for market, and learned to drink cocoa tea made with water instead of milk. We learned also about coffee, which is another product of Guatemala. And we went to see how they carve the Guatemalan jade, which is different than the Chinese jade, and there is a lavender variety which is quite lovely.

We had a van in which we travelled, driven by a very attentive and kindly man. We had a wonderful tour guide who grew up in Guatemala, then came to America, and is now trying to introduce people to her beautiful homeland. And we had great talks by a tour guide who explained a lot of things about the culture and the language, and answered endless questions we had about plants and customs of the people.

I cannot recommend highly enough that you take a trip to see this amazing country. There are Swiss-German influences in the mountains, where pine and cypress are also around tropical plants and orchids. Some immigrants from 100 years ago have left their mark on the area in the way wood is carved, and how cheese is made. They also have some wonderful beer!

I got a book about the Maya and weavings, from a woman who lived there, named Carmen Petersen. She did some great paintings of the women wearing their traditional clothes. Her work was the baseline for the Museum of Ixchel. I fear that the traditional weaving will not go on forever, as more women get other opportunities, but for now, it is great to see them sharing in the cooperatives of weavers, to help make ends meet for their families.

I liked the bed in the hotel we stayed in in Guatemala City, the Barcelø. Soft pillows and help for arthritic hip. Also, there is a pool.

All in all– a great learning experience, beautiful, healthy and fun!

Entering Advent In Hope – Fr. Daniel Berrigan

this is so perfect, it does not need me to add anything.

Interrupting the Silence

By Thomas Good – Thomas Good / Next Left Notes, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

“It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is…

View original post 202 more words

Gazing into the Face of a New Beginning – A Christmas Sermon on Luke 2:1-20

YES! This is what I meant to say… but Michael said it so much better. God’s desire for us and for the world!

Interrupting the Silence

Baby-oneminuteoldShe gave birth, wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger. It’s all rather matter of fact as St. Luke tells it (Luke 2:1-20; Christmas Eve). It sounds like it could be any birth. It was probably like a lot of births throughout the world today. A newborn, a blanket of sorts, and a makeshift crib. “Good news of great joy,” the angel called this birth. So what does this child bring us? He can’t walk or talk. He can’t feed or care for himself. He can’t really do much at all. Despite all this, however, the angel declares this child to be our Savior, our Messiah, our Lord. So what does he offer us? Why would God choose to come among us and enter our world as a newborn baby? What do we see in this child? What draws us to this night?

Let’s…

View original post 920 more words