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Preaching

 

Here’s a sermon that I preached for Mt. Pleasant.  We had to go to “Plan B” and use Facebook Live to do a remote service due to snow and ice.  

Poetry

This was the first of several blogs that have been published on the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church website blog.  For the others go to:  http://wnccumc2.tumblr.com/search/amy+vaughan

The Year of Poetry

On the morning of September 22, 2014, I awoke with a poem in my head, and stumbled blindly to my computer, and typed it out.  It began like this:

Sanctuary

Water’s edge – dreams lie just submerged.
Leafy sunlight filters through where small birds nest and squirrels leap
From limb to limb.
My thoughts like untamed weeds grow rampant here…

I didn’t write it.  It wrote itself.  I cast caution to the wind and posted it on Facebook, just to see if anyone would notice.  Twelve “likes” and one encouraging comment followed.   The next morning, another poem lodged in my head until I got out of bed to pour it onto the keyboard.  More “likes” and comments ensued.

This continued for a few weeks. That began The Year of Poems. Now, more than a year later, I have written a poem, and shared it, every single day, helping me ride out both good and bad times. The worst of times happened in November, when my mother died.  The poem I wrote about her death was healing for me, and based on the forty comments, 129 “likes” and five shares, it was meaningful for others as well.

On the Day of My Mother’s Funeral

Piece by piece,
I’ve watched you disappear.
These last ten years,
You no longer could drive your car,
Manage your own medication.
I remember how I cried, when you could no longer
Remember my birthday.

Pieces of you left,
Some so quietly I almost didn’t notice.
Sometimes, it was startling to realize
You could no longer sign your name,
Do a crossword puzzle,
Remember to go to the bathroom.

Many nights we’d get a call,
Late,
3 a.m.
And I would find you,
Frightened, struggling,
Needing a sip of juice or help
Getting up off the floor.

And gradually, oh so slowly,
You needed help with almost everything.

Now, now, that is over.
The grief I feel at losing you
Is tempered by knowing that at last,
At last,
You have picked up the pieces of yourself,
Strewn along the road,
And you are once again,
Whole.

While I cannot really understand this part
Of your journey,
I know that you do not travel alone.
There is One beyond
One beside,
One within.

Until.
Rest in wholeness and peace,

Written on October 13, 2014 “Sabbath Prayer” poured out of me after attending a worship service at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City.  Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis preached the sermon that inspired the poem.

…Pray as though your life depends on it
Because it does,
She said.
We are the living, enfleshed bodies of the enfleshed God,
And our God is a Way-maker.
The conviction in her voice and the fire in her eyes!
We all sat up and paid attention.

Oh Way-maker God, I pray,
Make me the way,
Make me the vessel,
Make me the bearer
Let living water flow from my eyes
To nourish the soil.
Grow the seeds planted here…

Sometimes a phrase, like music in my ear, it sticks, it speaks to me, and I let it roll around in my head for the day, and it appears as the center of a poem the next day, or the next week.  The phrase, “spiritual technology,” came up in conversation around a campfire in July, and laughingly I said – I’ll use it in a poem tomorrow.  And then I did.

This one grew from notes I took during a retreat, playing on the words “not enough,” and the concepts of scarcity and abundance:

Blocking the path to the spring,
A soldier stands guard.
Anxiety holds a gun
With bullets that read
“Not enough!”

Just when I think the well of words
Has finally run dry,
There will be no more flashes of light,
No more poems,
No more insight,
I give up,
Walk away from Anxiety,
Hands in the air,
Dodging the bullets of Scarcity,

My purposeless wandering leads me down
A different path,
And I stumble blindly,
And gratefully, into
The river of
Abundance.

Some poems come to me while preparing a sermon, reading a book or listening to podcast, or reading a passage from the Bible. One came from reading a passage from Ephesians 4:31-5:1

Kindness

What does it mean to be kind?
… I look at what my faith demands,
That I am kind when I am not
Feeling it,
That I am generous, when I feel stretched
To the max already,
That I am gracious,
Even when grace is the last thing I want
To give…..

In some of my poems I write from the seat of someone else, or I say the words I wish I had said, or could say, to the person beside me in the waiting room, on a bus, in an office, or across the table. Sometimes they are born out of my work with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and art.  I heard the phrase “the dignity of risk” in my vocational training:

The Dignity of Risk

Help me to grant you
The chance to make mistakes,
To learn from falling down,
To spread your wings and fly
A little…

“The Dignity of Risk” stirred up the first negative comment about any poem in my year-plus of poetry writing.  Another artist assured me, when this bothered me a great deal, that the dissonance signaled doing something right.

Many times, these poems are birthed with tears, as raw emotions tumble out of me from a place so deep I am stunned by their presence. Sometimes they seem to have that same effect on others.  I remember someone telling me that she read one of my poems out loud to her husband after it appeared one morning in her Facebook feed.  She said they just stood in stunned silence with tears streaming down their faces for a long time afterward.

Sometime along the way, I examined both my motives for writing, and the continuation of it.   When would the muse leave, or dry up?  I wrote a few poems about this fear, that the gift I had been given would just disappear as quickly as it had appeared.  I wrote these words in July:  “…if my whisper in your ear helps you hear more deeply, then we will both have found our purpose…“

I have written sentimental poems about the summertimes of my childhood, about stringing beans with my granny and my mom, about my children and my friends.  This snippet grew to whole poem in “A Measure of Value” from late this past summer:

…I used to measure summer in
The weight of ripe tomatoes….

My poetry places me out there, my whole self, in a very vulnerable position.   Often people I do not know will pop up as “likes” or comments, and I do a little sleuthing to see which friend of a friend of a friend of a friend has shared my poem.  Retreats, worship experiences, on several occasions an unexpected death, and other major life events–all of these provide images and ideas that grow into poems.

I have tried to humbly accept that there must be something, indeed, here, this gift, and figure out what to do with it.   About a month into my poetry year, my habit of getting straight up out of bed and going to the computer to write, before speaking to anyone, caused a little conversation with my spouse.  And, of course, I wrote a poem:

How a Poem is Born

Don’t talk to me in the morning,
When I wake,
Let the grogginess of
Sleep and dreams
Marinate a little longer.

… in those moments between
Asleep and awake
I can chase the tail of the poem…

Poetry uniquely helps me distill down to the essence both very personal thoughts, and ideas that, as it turns out, often have broad appeal, resonating with a lot of people.

Two different artists have used my poetry alongside or as an integral part of their art.  One of them, Jen Walls, found my words from an Oct 6th poem to echo her own memories as a child, and she incorporated the actual poem into a mixed media piece. When Jen asked me if she could use my poems, I had no idea that the second poem would be incorporated into her work in such a unique and powerful way.  She wrote the words in white ink on a black board, as she says, ”Then the woman began to emerge with oil pastels and acrylics, with the words peeking through, like thoughts fighting to get out and be heard…  “

Words

What I want
She said
Is to write,
To let the raw power of
Words
Escape from the tips of my fingers
And bleed me dry
Like the dying corpse of a
Bluefish.

This is what I must do
To purify myself
To make myself whole,
To get it all out
The dirty crusts of words
And the lofty cloudy words
And all the words in between.
Words are the sandwich

And the filling,
The side dish
And the drink
They are the complete meal
For a hungry soul.

When I am done,
When all the words have been
Wrung out of me
And the last drop has
Evaporated into the summer breeze,
Then,
Then I will be able to move
Forward,
Go outside,
Do the laundry,
Run the errands,
Tackle the junk drawer.

But please, she said
Let me be
And let me write.
It is all I can do
It is all I should do.

Writing poetry helps me live into following Christ into the world. Writing reminds me to be patient, more caring, a better listener, a better friend, a better colleague, a better family member, and ultimately, a better minister.   My words propel me more fully into the heart of living out my ordination vows.  They provide a structure to connect the world around me to the community of faith and the God who placed the muse within my reach this year.

We all need a voice, a way to express our deepest joys and our most devastating losses.  My medium right now happens to be poetry.   At our UMAR Art Centers every day participants and teaching artists paint and grow and photograph and cook and make jewelry and pottery, and express themselves through song, dance, and drama.  Even those who claim to not be creative create.  As children of the great Creator, we creature-humans are born to create.  Find your voice, and you may find, as I did, that the Creator can speak to and through you. Creating connects us with each other, and that is sacred space.

Who knows what the next year will bring. Will I continue to write daily? Will my poetry find its way to some other outlet?  No matter what happens in the coming year, all I ask is for a few minutes each day to “Let me be and let me write.”

 

Spirituality

What follows is a description of a 12 session series coming in the near future.  I am in the process of finding both a place for the first nine sessions and a retreat location for the final three sessions.  When these logistics have been determined, I will have an interest meeting to allow potential participants to see and hear more about the series and ask questions.  If you are interested in learning more, please email me at:   avaughan@wnccumc.net with the subject line, “Geography of Grace interest”
Are you seeking purpose for your life?  Interested in learning how to be a better listener, both to yourself, and to others?  Hoping to find a way to build relationships that you can trust to help you find or renew your passion for work or your volunteer capacity?  Looking for ways to deepen your leadership skills and learn how to focus your commitment to serve?
I am a trained to facilitate a series of sessions based on the work of the Center for Courage & Renewal (http://www.couragerenewal.org).  Using the geography of land and sky as metaphor, this twelve session series leads participants into an exploration of the geography of the soul.  Using principles from  Circles of Trust®,  participants  explore different aspects of both inner and outer geography, and  the concept of grace from different perspectives in each session.
Many of us spend our busy lives too distracted to connect very often with the natural world, and also with the inner nature of our souls.  We may feel lost and ungrounded, cut off from our sense of home and belonging on earth, and out of touch with our souls. We may be starving to reach and nourish the roots of what motivates and moves us.  The Geography of Grace  helps each of us to re-connect and move us from barrenness to fertile ground.
This group welcomes people from all spiritual traditions and walks of life, and in fact, is enriched by diversity that allows for exploring grace from various religious and philosophical perspectives.
Not sure?  For more about the principles and practices of the Circle of Trust approach in theory and in practice, you can read A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2004).
“There is an eternal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”   — Josephine Hart
————-

Intellectual Disability Ministry

 

Here are some general tips to use when volunteering with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, followed by a poem I wrote that describes how I believe we should allow people with I/DD to have the dignity of being allowed to make mistakes (and learn from them) just like the rest of us!

First the tips:

 

General tips for working with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities:

  • Relax, be friendly, but not patronizing. Treat adults as adults.

  • Remember you are interacting with a person, not with a disability or condition!

  • Talk directly to the person, even when they are accompanied by a family member or staff.

  • Keep an open mind and don’t make assumptions about limitations and abilities.

  • Always ask before helping, and wait until the offer to help is accepted. Sometimes it just takes a little longer and your help might not be needed.

  • Use person first language: “Bob has Down Syndrome” not “Bob is Down Syndrome”

  • Refrain from using phrases like: suffers from, victim of, crippled, etc.

  • A person who has speech that is not easily understood has probably experienced frustration and humiliation. Try to understand what s/he means and be sensitive. Ask for help if you are having trouble understanding (from the person or from another volunteer, staff, or family member).

  • Some people do not have verbal communication. They many use facial expression, gestures, or speech generating devices. Ask for help if you need to learn to “read” the language being used better.

  • It is always good to introduce yourself and talk to individuals in a respectful and adult tone. This conveys respect and dignity.

  • All behavior is communication. Keep in mind that a person’s inappropriate or ineffective behaviors may be an attempt to communicate a real need to you.

  • Use common sense.

  • Ask for help when you need it.

  • Help encourage good hygiene (hand washing especially) by practicing it yourself.

  • Provide enough support for each individual to be successful but not so much that they feel like they haven’t done anything on their own!

  • Have fun and be enthusiastic!

Here’s the poem:

The Dignity of Risk

Help me to grant you
The chance to make mistakes,
To learn from falling down,
To spread your wings and fly 
A little,
Even if I want to hurry and make
A soft place for you to land,
Or pick you up and dust you off
Occasionally if we both miss the mark.

Let me remind myself 
That there is no dignity in
Always having someone do
For you what you can do for yourself,
That there is no kindness in
Not challenging you to be your best,
No true mentoring without the
Opportunity to try and fail
Try and fail
Try and fail
And then perhaps to try
And find a patch of sky 
That neither of us thought you
Could reach.

It is hard, sometimes,
To ride in the passenger seat 
With my hand over my eyes,
Afraid to see each near miss 
Each curve taken a little too fast,
Each time I think we are a little too close.
But I know that your ability to navigate
Country roads
And fast moving highways
Makes you stronger and more able,
And it is really more about me
Relinquishing control
Than your lack of skill.

Give us both courage
To face uncertainty with optimism
Challenging tasks with enthusiasm,
And inevitable mistakes as chances
To learn how to do better next time.

The dignity of risk may be the 
Best gift I can give you,
And the highest point of my 
Measure as a teacher, friend, caregiver,
Or parent.

My inability to let go 
Should not be the tether that holds 
You back.
The risk I pledge to take 
Means letting go and letting
You
Live out loud
With the dignity of risk.

Amy Vaughan July 21, 2015