September 30, 2008
Last Night, as I was listening to the sound of frogs from a cool website, my wife stepped outside to feed the dog. “There is a frog!” she said.
“Its on the computer” I explained.
“No, it is here,” she replied, “in the garden room.” And so there was: small and brown, very quiet, not too happy about being picked up, but it sat very still in my hand, looking at me with round black eyes.
How this relates to ministry is that every year at our All Church Retreat, beside Lake James in Northern Indiana and out in the open beneath a towering cottonwood, I conduct a worship service centered on one of the First People. In my words I honor Native American traditions. However, I also make it clear that I am not telling people about Native beliefs but am using my versions of Native stories (as well as words and images from around the world,) to tell about Unitarian Universalist beliefs. This year I spoke of Frog, Water Woman, Old-Pond-Splasher, and her many relations including brother Toad. Her message was that we are all rich, powerful, and beautiful, as long as we understand these adjectives rightly.
One thing I love about these services is that people come up trough the next few weeks to share with me stories of their encounters with frogs, or coyotes or bison, whatever the totem of the year is. This year I stood with a friend outside of the church, one night after choir practice, listening to the many frogs in our church woods singing above us in the trees. The other day I heard of a decorative pond that had become filled with tadpoles, and another person recounted childhood memories of catching frogs down by the White River.
I also love how I begin to notice the animal more often. In Indiana I had never seen any vultures until I spoke of them. Then one afternoon as I drove past a deer carcass only a few miles from my house, a red-headed turkey vulture rose up unexpectedly, flying before me then turning and spiraling up into the sky.
This year was the first time in eight years that a frog had hopped into our back room when the door was ajar. Raccoons, robins, sparrows, mice and insects a plenty have visited over the years. But last night, as I listened on my computer to the many songs and strange sounds that can be heard in Indiana wetlands, a beautiful frog hopped up to my home as if to say, “Thanks” and “I love you.”
I whispered “It was good to see you” and safely set her back out in the rain soaked night.
September 16, 2008
Yesterday morning I visited the local coffee shop on the way to my office. I sat for a while to enjoy a lite oatmeal breakfast and my usual dark roast. I thought I might chat with acquaintances, but I was alone this morning. One of the women who works there during the day is someone I first met when I did her mother’s funeral several years ago. She waved to me from across the room.
I never met her mother, I was told that her mom had liked the UUs and that if she had ever joined a church it would have been a UU one. In the memorial I was able to affirm the spirituality she had found in the teaching of Sai Baba, which was a comfor to her daughter, a New York City girl transplanted to the Midwest. Then, a year later, I conducted the young woman’s wedding which marked the beginning of a very happy marriage. Both after the funeral and after the wedding my friend said she would come to hear me preach, but I don’t remember ever attending a worship service, and I know she has never made a pledge or contribution to the church. Yet still she claims me as “my minister.”
Yesterday, as I got up to leave, she came up to tell me that she was still working on her massage therapy license and that she had won a scholarship. I gave her congratulations and she reminded me that her mom had been a massage therapist. She was excited and hopeful about her path. Then she asked me to keep her in my thoughts and words, (that is ‘in my prayers,’) “Because,” she explained, “You are my lucky charm” and then gave me a big hug.
It was a sweet thing to say, and made me smile, but upon reflection it seemed a little ironic. Of all the things I knew that ministers were and did, I had never before been told that we sometimes served as lucky charms; that we are kept near like rabbits feet, tokens of the good things in life, of hope and positive possibilities. It is a nice role, but as the saying goes, “Why do we think rabbits feet are lucky, when they weren’t lucky for the rabbit?”