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The Westchester 100: Hikes 51-60

July 28, 2014

In 2009, the New York – New Jersey Trail Conference published Walkable Westchestera marvelous guide to where to walk in this beautiful county where I live. The trail guides and commentary were compiled by Jane and Walt Daniels. Inspired by the book, the Westchester Trails Association created The Westchester 100, which involves hiking the more than 600 miles of trails in over 180 parks, preserves, reservations, arboretums and sanctuaries in Westchester County.

This is the record of my progress.

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(51a) Hike #98b: Halle Ravine Nature Preserve / Pine Terrance Preserve

Halle Ravine Nature Preserve/Pine Terrance Preserve. It is unmarked with only a small pull-off for maybe two cars in front of a dilapidated white fence. But what a find! A flat, gently rising upper path provides great views over the ravine through which a much more interesting path passes back and forth over the stream.

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(51b – 53) Hike #77, 78, 92b: North County Trailway (from Eastview to Yorktown Heights)

I spent an entire sabbath day hiking the North County Trailway, and blogged about it here. I followed the last two miles of the South and then moved on to the North County Trail. This is a Rails-to-Trails conversion project running 40 miles through Westchester following the path of the old New York Central Railroad, Putnam Division.

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Week three of blooming things has produced an array of color – yellow, red, pink, purple, greens, orange!, and grey-fuzzy. I saw deer, snakes, squirrels, more snakes, lots of birds, evidence of owls, and a great big bumble bee that smacked me in the face.

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I crossed streams and rivers,  wetlands, a reservoir and an amazing old train bridge. I passed parks and preserves I have already hiked, and several I plan to. I rested briefly beside a secluded lake. I greeted bikers and hikers and groups of men fishing. I finished my hike at the Trailside Cafe enjoying a very refreshing green apple, cucumber, celery juice. I had walked from Elmsford/Eastview to Yorktown Heights.

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(54) Hike #47: Beaver Dam Sanctuary (Katonah)

I was working on my sermon during this hike. Voice dictation to my phone allowed to me simply speak my thoughts while I walked seven miles of trail up, down and around this sanctuary. Located right across the road from the John Jay Homestead, fields, hills, ponds and the ever present Beaver Dam River make up this trail system.

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This walk was so productive that I had to the chance to go out hiking again in the afternoon with my sons and one of his friends. We went to Cranberry Lake in Valhalla, one of my son’s favorite places in Westchester. His friend claimed this was his first walk in the woods. Ever! Proud to introduce him to the outdoors.

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(55) Hike #53: Graham Hills Park (Pleasantville)

The friend is back! Since last week we have been back to Cranberry Lake Preserve a few times, and this kid loves running outdoors. Today we found Graham Hills Park. The boys met lots of dogs, carried nerf guns to ‘hunt’ wild animals (which mostly meant we were constantly hunting for missing nerd darts), and picked their way through the rusted hulk of an old car. We missed a few side trails an so ended up hiking something close to five or six miles. I brought exhausted boys home.

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(56) Hike #19: Sunny Ridge Preserve (Ossining)

And this brings us to week three of hiking with August’s friend. This pleasant little park offered the boys lots of freedom to run ahead, ford streams, and take in vistas of the Hudson River.

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(57) Hike #1: Arthur G. Burden Preserve (Mt. Kisco)

On Easter Sunday, when worship services and meals were over, my son August and I headed outdoors while his mom took a well deserved nap. The day was so beautiful, and Burden Preserve boasts six ecosystems: wetlands, pond, stream, meadow, upland forest, and rock outcropping. AND MUD. Try as he might, August could not resist taking off his shoes and plunging in. There is such pleasure in sinking toes into soft mud. He then hiked the last mile or so back to our car barefoot. We were much slower this way, but he talked about and experienced everything he stepped on.

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(58-59) Hike #43 and #68: Leatherstocking Trail and Sheldrake Preserve (Mamaroneck); and Nature Study Woods  (New Rochelle) and Twin Lakes Park (Eastchester) 

This was a sabbath day adventure. I had wanted to walk the Colonial Greenway ever since moving to Westchester. It is a 15 mile loop from Saxon Woods Park in Mamaroneck, through New Rochelle, Eastchester and then back to Saxon Woods in Scarsdale, paralleling I-95 on the southern side and including the Hutchison River Pathway on the north. It includes not only Saxon Woods Park, but Sheldrake Preserve,  Nature Study Woods, Twin Lakes Park, Ward Acres Woods, Pinebrook Park, James Johnson Nature Conservancy and Weinberg Nature Center. A map of the whole route can be found here.

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While the Colonial Greenway itself in not one of the Westchester 100, several of the parks are. I had hiked the center-connecting trail last month with a friend. Today I did the entire outer loop, taking my time to explore each of the parks as I passed through them. Lots of yellow flowers.

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(60) Hike #29: Hardscrabble Wilderness Area (Pleasantville)

Today was was cinco de mayo, so after school my son and I found a local place in Pleasantville where we could partake of tacos and taquitos.

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This was another father-son day. We broke all the rules. We left the trail, we took risks, and we got wet. For some reason traversing the park IN THE WATER seemed a good idea, so, after crossing to safety on this and other logs, August jumped off and jumped in and then proceeded to “climb the falls.” This was absolutely the best day! Check out the video…

The Place I Choose to Lay My Head

July 27, 2014

A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 27, 2014

                                                                    Psalm 105: 1-11, 45         Genesis 28: 10-19a

I remember the first time I realized that I was paying attention to a sermon. I don’t recall how young I was, but I remember hearing my pastor, the Rev. Gordon Reif, tell a story about a wealthy man driving a Rolls Royce through Europe. As the story goes, the car breaks down as the result of a very small, but irreplaceable part, going bad. I think the point of the story was something about how every part is important, no matter the size or function, and I was supposed to realize that the same was true for every member in the body of Christ, each with our place and purpose to serve the whole. It was a pretty forced analogy, the kind of story preachers ought to be embarrassed by, but which are often told anyway; but what I remember thinking was, “I’ve heard this story before. He’s told this story before.” Somewhere, years earlier, while doodling on my worship bulletin or counting light bulbs in the sanctuary chandeliers, I had heard Rev. Reif tell the same story and part of me remembered it. This was not the first time I realized that there was something important happening during worship which I might want to understand, but it was the first time I remember thinking that my attention was an important part of worship.

Rev. Reif actually did a number of things to help our congregation pay attention. When I was in confirmation class I had to write summaries of his sermons each week, something that confirmation students in this church do today. Outlining not only the pastor’s words but my own reactions to them helped me as a young person, discover depths to Christian worship beyond the superficially obvious, as well as helped me become aware of how worship was shaping me and the way I saw the world.

Rev. Reif also garnered attention by asking questions of the congregation and then waiting for an answer. Most of these were questions that he would ask year after year, waiting for someone in the congregation to “get it” and remember the answer from prior years. What is so special about the third Sunday of August? What is an Ebenezer and why do we raise it? My favorite question he posed every year during Holy Week asking, “Why is the night of the Last Supper called “Maundy Thursday?” And every year, only about six of us could remember the answer. Or maybe it was only that six of us were brave enough to raise our hands.

So here’s my question to you, to see if you’ve been paying attention: can you remember the last time you heard a sermon on this text? [PAUSE] That’s right, it was last week! And while you heard Pastor Sarah preach on this text last week, I was visiting a church on Long Island to perform a wedding. At the entrance to sanctuary where the bridal party came in was a hand painted framed picture with the words.

“Surely, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it. How awesome is this place!

This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. (Gen 28: 16)

Again the very words of Jacob from the story; which you have now heard two weeks in a row! When Jacob rises from his dream he looks around to see where he is. Last night this was ordinary desert, sand and rocks, nothing special. But Jacob sees more deeply now. This is the place where heaven touches earth and earth reaches toward heaven. This is the place where prayers ascend and angel-messengers descend, where the sordid record of Jacob’s life turns out to be the very subject under discussion in heaven. This ordinary place is the place where Jacob meets his God, and is changed.

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But what impresses me about Jacob is that he does not mount his donkey after breakfast and quickly continue his flight from Esau. He lingers and marks the place as a special place. He names the place: Beth-El, the house of God. He erects an altar so that he can return another time. He pledges himself to God and takes his first tentative steps into the life God has set out for him. It is not just any place, though I suppose it could have been. But not now, not after his dream. Now it is in and through this particular place that Jacob finds his whole world transfigured. There will always be a part of Jacob’s heart that still lies with his head on the rock, dreaming of his ladder. But it is the new way he can see the world from that rock that will allow him to piece together his life, to pursue the hard work of reconciliation with his brother Esau, to bury his father, and to father his sons.

This story, and the speech of Jacob, has always seemed to me to be a challenge to know where I am, to look more deeply at the place I choose to lay my head, and it seems to me now to be an invitation to situate myself somewhere, to make a commitment to some place and some people through which I can know God in a way I could not know God anywhere else, and which can transfigure my world. A place I can turn to and return to in order to nurture my faith, to challenge it and be reminded that I have been called.

After our family vacation out West last year, I re-read parts of Kathleen Norris’ memoir Dakota, which she describes as a spiritual geography. There is a copy in the Library here at the church. The word ‘geography’ comes from the Greek words for earth (geo) and writing (grapho), and Norris tells us that writing about Dakota has been her means of understanding what is holy in this earth. This book, like Norris’s previous memoir A Cloister Walk, is the fruit of her twenty-year experience of seeking God in one particular place, on the plains of Southwest Dakota, through two particular communities, a small Benedictine monastery and a rural Presbyterian church. The story begins when Norris inherited her family’s ranch in the early 70’s: she and her husband moved to South Dakota, they thought, just long enough to settle affairs, sell the property, and move back to New York City. But they never left.

In the book, Norris explores the gifts of community and place with the eye of a poet and heart of someone who has discovered where to lay her head in order to dream of angels. When I first read her books, I, at least, was tempted to pick up and move to South Dakota. But Norris continually reminds the reader that one of the most distracting temptations in the spiritual life is the desire to be somewhere else than where one is. Norris recalls a story about two fourth-century monks who mocked this temptation by saying “After this winter, we will leave here.” And then each summer they would say “After the summer, we will go away from here.” And they spent their whole lives like that. Instead of living in what she learned to call “next-year country,” Norris learns from the Dakota plains that the basic principle of desert survival is also the first lesson of spirituality – Know where you are and learn to love what you find there. With words that echo in the empty plains of the western states, Norris recalls the words of St. Hilary, a fourth century bishop, who said “Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God.”

Committing ourselves to live and work with a particular community of faith, with particular people is one of the deepest challenges in our spiritual lives. Living together is difficult. It takes a cohesive community built on love, not conformity, if we are to exist without expelling everyone who doesn’t seem to fit our image of who belongs. But it is a particular kind of love. Norris tells a story about “two versions of heaven she once heard summed up by a Benedictine nun: in one, heaven is full of people you love, and in the other, heaven is where you love everyone who is there.”

Today let us consider what it means to make a commitment to common life and ministry, as well as our shared mission in the world. I believe that church membership follows a commitment to place and people. It means casting our lot with particular folks, to say, as I did at a wedding last weekend, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. For those of you who have not settled in for the hard work of living together and working together, for anyone who is still looking for better preaching, richer programs, or friendlier parishioners, I invite you to take another look at where you are. Don’t live in what Kathleen Norris called “next-year country.” Know where you are, dare to undertake the hard work of living together and working together, and I know that in the process you will learn to love what you find here.

God has given us to one another to love and care for, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye, and even when we try one another’s patience. When Jacob awoke from his dream, he awoke into a world where he had still stolen his father’s blessing and his elder brother’s birthright. He was still in the desert and still under threat. The rock upon which he laid his head the night before, was the same rock upon which he awoke. But it was the new way he could see the world from that rock that would allow him to begin to piece together his life, to pursue the hard work of reconciliation with his brother Esau, to bury his father, and to father his sons. This church is the rock upon which we lay our heads down, burdened, pursued, uncertain – daring to trust ourselves to God and one another in the vast, darkness of the night. This is the point at which God invites us to a level of vulnerability and compassion for one another whose exercise is as potent as angles ascending and descending. From this rock, this church, this community, we, like Jacob are invited to see the world anew, to begin to piece our lives back together with desert all around, even when the “facts on the ground” have not changed from when we laid our head down. We are invited not to keep going, seeking “next year country” as Kathleen Norris put it, but to dare to stay and to see the world through the eyes of shared community, forbearance, loving-kindness, and partners in seeking justice.

Here we lay our Ebenezer. Here, like Jacob, we look not only to the heavens but also to the world around us and the world even beyond the limit of the horizon we can see. God has given this place and this people, to us as a gift. May we have eyes to see the angels ascending and descending all around.

A Colorful Sabbath Day

July 25, 2014

Before God and this community I am accountable each Thursday for keeping the 4th commandment.

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While my son August was in ecology camp today at Cranberry Lake Preserve (Valhalla), and my wife Noelle was working at home, I hiked my way through five parks and preserves in Vista and Lewisboro. I began at the Leon Levy Preserve, a well cared for local park with challenging terrain and beautiful ruins of stone buildings. I then worked my way south down 121 to the Old Church Lane Preserve, Onatru Farm [pronounced "On A True" Farm], and the trails behind St. Paul’s (Episcopal) Chapel. The latter is laid out as a meditative walk, complete with icons, niches and prayer benches. After replacing a faulty brake light at a local repair shop I wound up my afternoon at the Lewisboro Town Park, which opens into Ward Pound Ridge Preserve.

Today was a day of color. Bright green mosses and bold white lichens abounded, as did orange, red, white and indigo flowers and fluorescent fungi. Frogs, geckos, butterflies and musical birds were my constant companions.

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I spent the late afternoon at the White Plains Public Library planning the camping trip I am taking with August in two weeks. Noelle made a fabulous pasta for dinner with local, organic vegetables which we shared with a good friend who supplied genuine Kentucky moonshine from a distillery handed down through is wife’s family.

I should note (with deep, mellow, soulful joy) that the Grateful Dead have been my constant companion today, except when hiking. I have been working my way through fall 1970 and spring 1990. Jerry’s birthday is next week, as is my long anticipated vacation and wedding anniversary, and celebrations are planned for both.

All in all, this has been a satisfying, relaxing, restorative day. It took me six miles to work out my mental preoccupation with the church I serve and all that needs to be done there. By mile seven I was simply walking … and only then did I begin to “see in color.” I think this is a parable of sabbath rest. As in the photo above, I began to be able to look through the old in order to perceive the new which even now is growing.

Shalom/Salaam/Peace/La Paz.

An Ecological Ethic of Care

July 23, 2014

A sermon preached by the Rev. Sarah Henkel at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 20, 2014

Psalm 139: 1-12, 23-24          Genesis 28: 10-19a

Last week Pastor Jeff encouraged us to try the practice of keeping a manna jar, to write down signs of God’s blessings and presence in our lives on little slips of paper and place them in a container.  In the morning of the next day we were to take out the papers, read and remember those signs, and then let them go so that the jar would be empty and ready to be refilled.

As I thought of things to place in the manna jar this week, I noted how specific or particular were the blessings I encountered.  They were all tied to a specific place, a particular person, an unrepeatable moment in time.  In the manna jar, I placed the joy of seeing a dolphin leap and dance out the water on the beach in Florida where I was earlier this week.  I placed in the jar a conversation I had up in the enormous, sturdy branches of a Banyan tree with a friend I’ve known for 18 years.  I placed in the jar the feeling of warm air and relief as I left the surgeon’s office with good news for my upcoming jaw surgery.

Yes, we know that God is everywhere and in everything but we humans encounter God in particular places and moments in our lives, moments of connection with one another, with the created world, with the presence of the living God.  They are ordinary and sacred moments that deepen our care for one another and the earth.

Jacob encounters God in a dream, a vision in the night.  He is on the run, disconnected from family and community.  He stole his brother Esau’s blessing from their father, Isaac and now he’s an outcast.  When Jacob lay down to sleep that night,  he was very much alone.  But the dream changes and reconnects him.

He sees a ladder connecting heaven and earth and angels moving up and down the ladder. Walter Brueggeman notes, “Those angels in that vision are connectors.  And this man in exile is disconnected, and what he discovers in his vulnerability is that he is connected.”[i] God, standing beside Jacob, reminds him that he is part of generations of blessing, a blessing so large that it encompasses all nations, all the earth.  Jacob awakens with a deeper knowing of his connection to God and to the human community and to the earth itself, the dust of the earth.

Jacob stumbled into that site as night was falling.  He did not recognize that God was in that place until the gracious gift of that dream but now he recognizes God’s presence saturates that ground, the night air, the early dawn, the rock pillow that becomes the foundation for an altar.  Jacob now approaches this place with care.  Jacob declares the site, Bethel, the house of God because that is where Jacob noticed the nearness of God.

The drama of Jacob’s dream – the incredible image of a ladder connecting the heavens and the earth, the awesome fear-inspiring presence of celestial beings – may distract us from the very ordinariness of this encounter with God, the mundane circumstances that host sacred revelation.  God uses the ordinary stuff of creation – Jacob’s lonely night under the stars, the bread and wine we share, our laughter and tears – to reveal the sacred and to call us to deeper love and care for all that God has created.

This summer I’ve been slowly working through the essays of Kathleen Dean Moore, a Philosophy Professor and nature writer from the Pacific Northwest.  She writes with vivid detail about the creation she observes and what is revealed in it.  She tells the story of a nighttime spent with her daughter, listening on a small island off the west coast.  I heard echoes of Jacob’s dream in her words describing the revelation of that night:

“But if you sit still in the dark, breathing quietly, the world will come to life around you. Astonishment will rise in you like the slow tide, sliding in under the soles of your feet.  And then you will understand: you are kin in a family of living things, aware in a world of awareness, alive in a world of lives, breathing as the shrimp breathe, as the kelp breathes, as the water breathes, as the alders breathe, the slow in and out.  Except for argon and some nitrogen, every gas that enters your lungs was created by some living creature – oxygen by plankton, carbon dioxide by the hemlocks. Every breath you take weaves you into the fabric of life.”[ii]

I’ve heard many people say in the last couple of days, “This was a hard week, a heavy week.”  It feels as if the fabric of life is unraveling.  In light of all that is happening in the world – acts of war, mass movement of refugees, local tragedies of violence, and the pain that is simply a part of life – the office of the Presbyterian Church offered a prayer for use in worship, which we will use during the Prayers of the people.  The prayer begins with these words: God of light we praise you for the wonder and glory of this world and the many blessings we have received. Still, at times the darkness is like a night and it feels you have hidden your face from your people. [iii]

This prayer speaks of a different nighttime than the one that Moore describes or the night of Jacob’s dream of brilliant celestial light.  In the long night of pain and tragedy in our world –the land and people – we are called to reveal God’s nearness to one another, to rebuild what Kathleen Dean Moore calls an “ecological ethic of care.”  Listen to how she describes this way of caring,

“I think [Philosophy’s] ethic of care has it right: The care we feel for people is the ground of our moral responsibilities toward them.  And I think Aldo Leopold [the American ecologist] has it right: Our moral responsibility to care for the land grows from our love for the land and from the intricate, life-giving relationships between people and their places. Then doesn’t it follow? – that our moral calling must be to reknit and cherish healthy webs of connection not only to people, or not only to land, but also to families, human communities, landscapes, and biotic communities – all our relations.

What we need next is a new ethic – call it an ‘ecological ethic of care’, call it a ‘moral ecology’.  It’s an ethic built on caring for people and caring for places, and on the intricate and beautiful ways that love for places and love for people nurture each other and sustain us all.”[iv]

Alone in the desert, Jacob encountered God in a place and through a people.  He cared for the place and returned to it in later years.  He cared for the people – in his own broken human way.  This is our work: to care for people and places that we encounter because they are holy; to let the love that we feel for the people and places we know and cherish move us to love people and places that we do not know; to be aware of God’s presence in unexpected messengers; and, to be, ourselves, the ordinary stuff of creation through which God draws near in the long night.

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PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of light we praise you for the wonder and glory of this world and the many blessings we have received. Still, at times the darkness is like a night and it feels you have hidden your face from your people. The most vulnerable and innocent among us seem to be hemmed in by violence and conflict. This week we realized that no place is safe—not home, not a 2,000-mile trek through rainforests and deserts, not 30,000 feet up. Yet, we profess that you know all things, count the hair on our heads, and know our rising and our sitting. How can this be?

God we are saddened by the news reports of people taken too soon from this world and we shake our head with disbelief when we see the bodies of children carrying the ravages of war. It seems as though the only ones in the crosshairs of violence are those with no power, little to gain, and much to lose. They pay with the thing you hold most precious, the very breath you breathed into our lungs.

May your Spirit of peace and wisdom descend on the Middle East. May the words and actions of Abram haunt the leaders of Palestine and Israel. May they rescue one another, become great nations, and bless all peoples on earth. Protect the innocent and send prophets among them and their leaders to find a just resolution. Grant this through Christ our Lord

Wars rage on the ground, the sea, and in the air in the Ukraine, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and many other places. Families mourn the loss of loved ones and are robbed of hope for a future for their children. Help us see the painful reality that conflict zones cannot be contained. Comfort the grieving and burden the rest of us with this senseless loss of life. Open the way for aid agencies and those offering relief, give them courage and resources to ease the immediate suffering they encounter. Grant this through Christ our Lord

Walk with children fleeing homes terrorized by gang violence, crushing poverty, and drug wars. We know they carry a singular hope, to have abundant life that you have promised us. The journey is fraught with danger and uncertainty. Hold them in your arms and nurture the hope planted in them by their families and your Spirit and do not allow it to be crushed by hatred and racism. Grant this through Christ our Lord

Break our hearts Holy God by the reality that faces so many of your people. Let the scales fall from our eyes so that we may see how our own choices and passive acceptance of U.S. policy contribute to unrest and injustice. Grant this through Christ our Lord

God grant us the grace and courage to work for all these things that we pray. Help turn sadness into righteous anger and action. May we know your ways, and beat our weapons of destruction into instruments of reconciliation and creation. It is an honor to be agents of your peace so that this world will know and confess your name.

In the name of the one who taught us to pray:

[i] Moyers, Bill. Genesis: A Living Conversation (New York: Doubleday, 1996), p. 292.

[ii] Moore, Kathleen Dean. The Pine Island Paradox (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2004), p. 54.

[iii] http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/7/18/pcusa-leaders-offer-prayer-use-sunday/

[iv] Moore, Kathleen Dean. The Pine Island Paradox (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2004), p. 64-65.

 

 

Sabbath Day

July 18, 2014

This is my weekly post describing how I spent my sabbath.

Last week a member of the congregation I serve told me that she has known a lot of pastors but not one of them faithfully kept a sabbath. In her experience, I was the first. What a sad commentary on the example clergy are setting. Sabbath is a commandment. It is the connection between the first three commandments pertaining to our relationship with God and the final six pertaining to our relationships with one another. It is difficult to observe because it flies counter to almost all of the engines of our contemporary society. For any who wish to explore this further, I cannot recommend highly enough Walter Brueggemann’s recent Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014).

I began this day by walking August to science camp, as I have everyday for the last two weeks. Actually, I walk or bike and he rides his scooter. This week he is exploring our universe in a camp called “Astronaut Training.” The camp is run by Discovery Science and meets in our church hall.

I then took two hours to finish Volume 13: Berlin 1932-1933, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works. It has been two months since I picked this book up, and I was immediately engrossed again. I have now finished six of the sixteen volumes in my journey through old favorites and new material. This selection covered Bonhoeffer’s pastoral and university work in Berlin during the year of Hitler’s rapid rise, including correspondence, writings/speeches and sermons. The volume ends with a sermon preached on election day in the church, the day in which the German Christians won 66% of the vote and ceased to be a Christ’s church. The last items of correspondence have to do with the position Dietrich had been offered in London, and his acceptance. It also contained his powerful essay “Thy Kingdom Come” and his justly famous speech “Christ our Peace.”

I then headed out for a hike. I began at Brownell Preserve in Lewisboro. As has become habit, I dictating thoughts as I walked. This morning I said:

“I feel about as far away from civilization here as I have anywhere in Westchester. The paths are well marked but not well trodden. In fact, throughout most of the preserve there is no trail at all, only blazes. If one were to lose sight of these one would be hopelessly lost. I have to be attentive the whole time. I cannot simply let my feet follow a trail because there is none. Streams and rivulets crisscross the property and as there are no bridges these have to be forded on roots and rocks. I lost my footing several times and stepped in the mud, but this was quickly wiped from my shoes in the tall grasses. I have never been more concerned about ticks and poison ivy on a hike. For all of my wading through knee-deep or waist-deep grass, I have only seen one snake, though I have surely stepped over many.

In the end I did lose the blazes in a large section of overgrowth. I gave up and cut across private property back to RT 138 and hiked back to my car. I had limited success at the nearby Marx Tract Preserve, which is also hopelessly overgrown.

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I then headed over to Mountain Lakes Preserve in North Salem. There are ten miles of well marked trails here, and numerous camp sites. With our County Pass they are relatively inexpensive. Perhaps we will return as a family for a few nights before school begins.

I took the long orange loop, carefully avoiding the several summer camps that are meeting out here. About half of this route was unpaved road, which allowed me to follow my feet and keep my eyes and ears open to the lack of sound around me. I met an orange slug, a green beetle, and lots of mosquitos. I also clearly chose the wrong way around. I went counter-clockwise, which meant I was walking uphill most of the way. A short green trail led further up to Mt. Bailey, the highest point in Westchester County, according the to the map. Unfortunately, there is no vista, as the mountain is fully covered with trees.

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Maountain Lakes Park was the 100th park I have hiked in Westchester, and marked the 66th hike in the Westchester 100.

Evening found me breaking my ten day fast by with an beer and wings at the Lazy Boy Saloon. This was a surprise birthday celebration for a friend. We sat outside and enjoyed a lovely evening. Noelle made a Yoda-shaped cake.

Happy sabbath.

 

 

Please Respond to the Crisis of Unaccompanied Children

July 15, 2014

On Sunday, July 13, the Rev. Sarah Henkel presented the following Minute for Mission to the White Plains Presbyterian Church. Please read it carefully and you consider how to respond to this crisis. 

Many of you have heard us lift up in prayer or heard stories in the news about the growing number of unaccompanied children from Central America who are coming to the United States seeking safety.  It’s estimated that between 60,000 and 90,000 children, ranging in age from 1-18 will arrive in the U.S. this year, the majority traveling from three countries: Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.  The majority of children are fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries; others are seeking out family members who already live in the United States.  A United Nations report approximates that over half of the children qualify for protection under international law, refugee or asylee status.

This is a complex issue.  To fully understand what is happening we are asked to educate ourselves about the root causes of the migration of children seeking refuge, which have a long history in economic and foreign policy involvement of the United States in Central America.  We are asked to wade into the complex politics around the formation of immigration law.  We will do this together as a faith community.

This is a complex situation and it is one that demands a clear and compassionate response from us as people of faith.  Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, of the Presbyterian Church (USA) issued a statement this week reminding us that, “In the Presbyterian tradition, the congregation as a whole covenants with a family to nurture their children in the faith. We look after one another’s children. We corporately tend to their safety and growth. The children arriving at our borders are no less in need of nurturance and no less bearing the likeness of God.”

What can we do?  We’re inviting you to three actions today:

1)      Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is working with congregations and Presbyteries on the U.S.-Mexico border as they minister to children seeking safety and sanctuary.  PDA is asking for our financial assistance as they organize these efforts. If you would like to donate, you can write a check to White Plains Presbyterian Church with “PDA” in the memo line or donate online here.

2)      The Office of Public Witness of the Presbyterian Church is asking us to take action by contacting our senators and representatives to ask for additional funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement as they respond to an increasing demand for the work that they do to protect the basic needs of children arriving here.  After worship I will be at a table outside where you can sign a letter to your representative which we will mail on Monday. [Copies of the letter and local addresses may be downloaded here]

3)      I will also have a “reaching out” sheet for you to sign.  It is a thank you note – a love note – that we will mail to several congregations on the border who have opened their sanctuaries and fellowship halls to be shelter for children who have made a very long journey.  Some of these congregations have received hate mail because of the compassion they have shown to children.  We will send them love mail.

We worship a savior – Jesus – who as a small child that crossed a border, fleeing persecution.  He traveled with his parents and we cannot doubt that Jesus now travels with all children who travel alone.

The Manna Jar

July 13, 2014

A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 13, 2014

Psalm 65         Exodus 16

Upon leaving Egypt and the oppressive rule of Pharaoh, Moses and the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, and they grew hungry. So hungry that they began to crave the foods of Egypt. Better to eat the meager rations of a slave than starve in pursuit of freedom. Seeing their desperate need, God provided food for free, a soft, white substance upon which the people would feed for 40 years. They called the food manna, which means “What is it?” They would gather “What-is-it?” for breakfast and “what-is-it?” for lunch. God supplied their daily needs in abundance, but not for accumulation. Only as much as was needed for the day could be collected, and any extra turned to worms by morning. As a reminder of all that God had done for them, God told them to collect an Omer of manna, which is about two quarts, and to keep it in a jar before the covenant. Later this manna jar was carried in the Ark of the Covenant, right beside the Ten Commandments.

Mannah-inside-the-arc

It’s a tiny story, popular in Sunday school, but with a huge impact throughout scripture. This free provision of daily food for each according to their needs and never more, became the basis of biblical economy and ecology. The Hebrew people’s first experience of the Sabbath was as a day of rest from food collection, a day on which freed slaves were specifically freed from their work as a sign of their freedom. Remembering the sign of the manna, later generations added Jubilee practices to curb the accumulation of property and possessions within Israel, so everyone had what they needed and no one had more.

In the New Testament, Jesus picks up these images of God’s abundance in his wilderness feeding of the multitudes, and in the passages of John’s gospel where Jesus refers to manna as “Bread from Heaven” and to himself as the “living bread which came down from heaven”. Jesus added that if anyone ate this bread, they would live forever.

But the manna jar is never mentioned again.

For several years I was a part of a close knit Bible study that often asked the question: why don’t we have a manna jar in our sanctuary? After all, God did say to Moses, “Let an Omer of manna be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

It’s an interesting idea. A manna jar would be a visible reminder of God’s grace. But I think the question behind the idea of a “real” manna jar is “What are the concrete reminders of God’s grace toward us, God’s provision of our need, God’s abundant mercies?”

I’m always leery about speaking with newspapers because you never know what the paper will print: they have a way of hearing what they want to hear and not necessarily what you say. A number of years ago, when Noelle and I were living on Long Island, we were pleasantly surprised with an article by Newsday that focused on clergy couples and the difficulty of balancing family life with professional life and the needs of multiple congregations. The Newsday reporter focused on three clergy couples, a Methodist couple from Flatbush, two reformed Rabbis from Brooklyn, and Noelle and myself. And despite the fact that the paper reversed our ages, lost six years of Noelle’s ordained ministry, got my graduation wrong, all in all it wasn’t bad.

We were pleased though that the paper did faithfully represent what Noelle and I both think is most important in balancing vocation and family, and that is that nurturing our relationship is part of our vocation. The article recounted how we fell in love across a crowded room when our eyes met and we felt the world stopped around us. As all of you already know yourselves, without nurturing your relationships with those you love, there is no other balance that really matters. That no amount of juggling professions, job, school, church can earn you the love of your spouse or the affection of your child, or the deep care of a true friend.

If it isn’t clear, let me say: Noelle’s love for me is manna – for she shows to me a love, a grace, acceptance, understanding which exceeds my imagination, that I can do nothing to earn and that I so much need. She is a sign of God’s grace to me.

What is your manna? What jar does it come in?

If it’s manna, it can’t be something that you can accumulate. It can’t be something you can hold or possess. It must be something you receive daily, or at least when you need it, something that shows your dependence – for manna is the ultimate sign of our dependence on God.

In one sense manna is a kind of a painful reminder because when we look at the manna jar we not only remember the grace we have received but we remember our dependence and our helplessness in times of crisis or despair when the only way through is for someone from the outside to open a door or reach out a hand and pull us out. The manna jar is a symbol that denies self-sufficiency.

For while it reminds us of God’s care and abundance and faithfulness; it also reminds us of our continual dependence. And for those of us who like to secure ourselves or our family’s well-being on our own efforts or good market conditions or by living in the right place, the manna jar is the ultimate reminder that the only sovereign who is both benevolent and dependable is God. It reminds us that we’re not the sovereign. And so when we think about what we put in our manna jar, we have to touch that part of ourselves that is vulnerable, that is honest enough to realize that at some fundamental level we cannot provide for ourselves. And this is especially difficult for men who have traditionally thought of themselves as providers.

Perhaps we don’t feel dependent on God the way the Israelites did. Perhaps it’s only when we go through a personal or social wilderness that we understand how precious and essential God’s grace is.

And I think the name manna is right, because we ask “what is this?” What-is-this thing that makes me aware of my deepest needs but also of the incredible love and sustenance God provides? What is this? And that’s why manna is a sign of grace, because it is completely unmerited. It’s a pure gift.

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This week I encourage you try a spiritual practice to increase our mindfulness of the ways God is sustaining us every day. Find a jar – a real jar – and place it somewhere visible in your home – a place where you will see it a number of times a day. This is going to be your manna jar. And at the end of each day, I invite you to write on a piece of paper how you experienced God’s love sustaining you through the day. And be concrete. If it was a conversation with a friend, say who the friend was and something they said that was sustaining. If it was a glimpse of beauty in a surprising place, describe it. If it was that money came from some unexpected source and you were able to make your rent, write it down. These notes don’t need to be long – a sentence or two is fine. And it need not be something big – it could be something that to the outside world might seem an insignificant thing, but to you is important. Put the note into the jar and secure the lid. Then leave the note in there over night. In the morning, take it out of the jar and read it and lay it aside. Now your manna jar is empty. But we know, God is faithful, this day and every day.

And throughout the week and next Sunday, let’s share what we’re noticing and experiencing about God’s sustenance with each other. I look forward to hearing about your adventures of manna collection.

For as the Psalmist declares:

We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation;

you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

 

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