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April 26, 2020

Meditation by Mary Beth Riner

April 26, 2020 Meditation

Northminster Presbyterian Church

Mary Beth Riner

Watch April 26 Meditation
Good morning, I’m Mary Beth Riner, an elder of our congregation. When Anne Ricchiuto asked me to share some words today, I agreed. Once we got off the phone, I realized I needed to get to work! I decided to share a few thoughts and questions and the work of some of my favorite poets. I would encourage you to share some of your thoughts in the chat room, but my experience over the past few weeks is that encouragement is not really needed.

So it appears we will soon have the opportunity to restart our communal life together. It will be gradual based on our capacity to limit new COVID infections. As we consider this new phase of our response to this global pandemic we have the opportunity to create something new. As suggested by Peter in the Acts scripture today - Is there something we might repent of, let go of, turn away from, or possibly begin doing, in order that we might have new life in the Spirit? What are your hopes for your life, for your family life, for life with our Northminster community? Just to pull from a few lines of hymns I grew up singing - Is there room for a just closer walk with Jesus? More time spent walking in the garden and noticing when morning guilds the skies? Paying attention to how sweet is the sound of amazing grace?


As we imagine our preferred future, we can draw on our past and present. What life experiences do you have on which to draw as you consider going forward? As I was growing up, my parents created a life centered around the church. I have laughing said that if the church building were open, someone from my family was there. So a gathering place is an important part of my religious experience.

As a child, my grandmother would invite my siblings and me for individual overnight stays with her. I treasured those times. I have memories of squeezing into the chair beside her to listen as she read me bible stories. If the timing were right, we would listen to a Billy Graham crusade talk on the radio. Family relationships taught me about God’s love for me, and that God calls us to live lives of love and respect for others.


And what about the present? What current strengths, experiences, and relationships will you use as we go forward? Two weeks ago my neighborhood had a Friday night Doggie Parade. It lifted our spirits to come out to our sidewalks to greet and smile at neighbors and their best friends. This is when I met Marilyn Baumgarten’s dog.  I’ve also had long talks on the phone with my sister who cares for adults in a group home.

There has been a lot of worry and grief in recent weeks. Jobs have been lost, food need to be secured, lessons taught, safety practices employed, infections prevented, and deaths grieved. And, maybe this has also been a time for you of finding joy in small things - in quietness, in relaxed family meals, in playing dominos, in walking in the spring weather. One of Mary Oliver’s poems holds the emotions of joy and grief together as if two sides of a coin.

Here is the poem WE SHAKE WITH JOY

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.


Another of Oliver’s poems address aspects of worry. Maybe, like me, you share some of them, or others.


This poem is titled I WORRIED (Mary Oliver)

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not, how shall I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang.


As members of a Christian faith community, we know we can put our trust in God, in the Christ Spirit who indwells us. We can trust the God who even now is creating new life. And, we need to be nourished by God’s bounty that we might co-labor in this new creation. Here is an excerpt from Oliver’s poem SIX RECOGNITIONS OF THE LORD.



Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with

the fragrance of the fields and the

freshness of the oceans which you have

made, and help me to hear and to hold

in all dearness those exacting and wonderful

words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying:

Follow me.


Another poet I appreciate is Maya Angelo. In her poem TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL she addresses the bravery needed to love.

We are weaned from our timidity,

In the flush of love’s light

we dare be brave.

And suddenly we see

that love costs all we are

and will ever be.

Yet it is only love

which sets us free.


What freedoms do we want for our life going forward? It is our choice. We can build a future of timidity based on fear, anxiety, and competition for scarce resources. Or, we can build a future of welcome based on bravery, trust, peace, and mutual respect. This next poem is about choice. It was written by Hafiz, a sufi poet of the 14th century. The title is TO BUILD A SWING





You carry

All the ingredients

To turn your life into a nightmare,

Don’t mix them!


You have all the genius

To build a swing in your backyard

For God.


That sounds

Like a lot more fun.

Let’s start laughing, drawing blue prints

Gathering our talented friends.

I will help you

With my divine lyre (lai ur) and drum.


I will sing a thousand words

You can take into your hands,

Like golden saws,

Silver hammers,


Polished teakwood,

Strong silk rope.


You carry all the ingredients

To turn your existence into joy,


Mix them, mix Them!


What materials will you gather to build your swing?  I will close with the first few stanzas of Psalm 100 as written by Nan Merrill in her book Psalms for Praying.


Sing a joyful noise to the Beloved

          All people of the earth!

Serve Love with a glad heart!

          Join hands in the great

Dance of life!  Alleluia!  Amen!