A moment of silence and the lowering of the flag and chiming of the engine bell framed the ceremony at the Chilmark Fire House. After silence, Pastor Charlotte and Chief Norton read prayers.
DS Rev. Foster’s Monthly Devotional for August
Save the date: September 10. Silent Auction at 2. Concert at 3.
Lia Kahler & Friends
Rising Tide Expands Equestrian Programs
On a recent afternoon, five people tended to Noble, a 27-year-old, large gray Percheron cross horse, in the barn at Rising Tide Therapeutic Equestrian Center in West Tisbury. While 10 hands weren’t necessary to prepare Noble for an upcoming riding lesson, his pull drew everyone in the barn.
Volunteer Ashley Loehn brushed his coat.
“You get the benefit of the connection while you’re doing it,” she said. “You can’t take your hands off of them once you’ve started, you know, and that’s their magic.”
Rising Tide’s mission is rooted in the idea that everyone can benefit from this ineffable connection between humans and horses. In keeping with this belief, the center recently expanded their programming.
Founded in 2007 by Vicky Thurber as a therapeutic barn, Rising Tide’s operations previously catered primarily to riders with disabilities. Now they have a wide variety of offerings for riders of all experience levels and abilities.
Hot to Trot is a recent addition for riders aged 55 and over. A Hatha yoga program will incorporate horses in both mounted and un-mounted poses. Trail rides and private and semi-private lessons are available to all.
“It’s not just for people who need special solutions in their lives . . . it’s for everyone, and our horses are able to give to everyone, which is what makes them remarkable,” said program director Linda Wanamaker.
Ms. Wanamaker is certified as a therapeutic riding instructor. She said horses have the ability to mirror the energy of those around them. To approach and interact with horses, riders have to settle themselves first. “So it helps you to center yourself, to calm yourself,” she said.
Lucy Menton said Rising Tide is a unique light in her son John’s life. John is 34 and has schizophrenia.
“He shuffled around to different group homes and day programs and never really fit in,” Ms. Menton said. She found Rising Tide in 2015 and John got involved shortly after. He volunteers twice a week.
“For 34 years he’s had nothing. But this program, just him going a couple days a week and volunteering with these gentle horses . . . has totally changed his life,” Ms. Menton said.
Frances Pizzella feels similarly. Ms. Pizzella started volunteering at Rising Tide in January 2016 because she rode horses as a child and wanted to reintroduce them to her life.
“I go out there, I’m scooping poop, it’s happy, I’m happy to do it,” she said.
In August, she began taking riding lessons with Ms. Wanamaker.
“I started to feel what the riders were feeling, just like a sense of accomplishment, and really just becoming close to the animals,” she said.
She added that riding and volunteering at Rising Tide helped with her winter blues. “In riding them, they’re protecting and helping you out. I just started feeling such a sense of trust with the animals, and I just wanted to be over there more and more, helping with the animals.” It’s hard to explain, she added, but the animals have a calming, non-judgmental presence that she finds incredibly relaxing.
Staff and volunteers at Rising Tide have countless stories about the healing powers of the five equines in their stables: a nonverbal autistic child spoke her first words on horseback, riding helped a grieving woman through her loss.
For those with physical disabilities, Ms. Wanamaker says the movement of horses is most similar to walking. She pairs riders with horses based on their unique physical needs. Camp Jabberwocky sends groups to the barn each summer. Rising Tide also works with groups from Windemere and the Center for Living.
To keep up with the center’s expanding programming, they have begun a series of fundraising events this summer. On Saturday, July 15 a Rock Your Boots event held at the Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs from 6 to 9 p.m. There will be live music, dancing, auctions, food and drink. Tickets are $70.
“We can’t offer what we want to offer without outside funding,” said board president Susan Fieldsmith, looking out at the arena.
Noble was in the ring with 10-year-old Emily Gilley on his back. Emily was just starting to get the hang of trotting — a big accomplishment for her. All eyes followed the pair as they kicked up dusty circles together.
For more information, visit risingtidetec.org.
“The View From Mt. Nebo”
Deuteronomy 33:48 – 50; 34:1-10
June 25, 2017
Chilmark Community Church
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
Quite a few years ago now, on one of our trips to Israel, we landed first in Jordan, on the eastern side of the Jordan River. One of the stops early in our trip was a visit to Mt. Nebo. It was late in the afternoon and we were facing into the setting sun at the northern end of the Dead Sea – looking out over the view that Moses must have seen as he reached the end of his journeys with the Israelites. We looked out over rugged hills and valleys toward the land that Israel was about to enter. The sunlight was reflecting off the water in the distance. The air was chilly and quiet. It was a profound moment that stays in my memory – – standing in the spot where tradition says Moses looked over into the land that had been promised – coming to terms with knowing that he would not accompany his people as they crossed over.
There are lots of reasons buried in the scriptures for why Moses didn’t ever get to the Promised Land. The predominant one is that he had displeased God by striking a rock to get water for the thirsty tribes in the wilderness when God had instructed him merely to speak to the rock. Other stories speak of Moses’ advanced age – he was 120 years old – that he was tired after 40 years sojourning with the people and didn’t have the energy required to guide them through their conquest of Canaan. Still other stories suggest that it took the entire 40 years for the first generation of slaves to die off so that the next generation would no longer think and feel like slaves, but would take responsibility for themselves as free agents under God. For this they needed the leadership of someone younger who had transcended the slave mentality.
The story is a poignant one. It comes at the end of Deuteronomy which is attributed to Moses as his farewell address to Israel. Deuteronomy rehearses the entire saga of the 40 years of wandering. No wonder it sounds familiar and repetitious in so many places. It was calculated to remind the people of where they had been – where they were going – – and who it was that would always lead them – regardless of who the person was at the head of the line.
I think it is a great story for guiding us as we contemplate a change of leadership, both for us and for all of you. We get into murky waters if we take every word and story of the Bible literally. But if we can let the wisdom in the stories inform us we may be on more solid ground. And the wisdom here is that the people of God are always in the process of becoming – – because we follow a God who is always in the process of becoming. We are not a static people and God is not a static God. This always takes some getting used to because for many of us, we grew up thinking that either God was immutable and unchanging – and therefore somewhat dependable and predictable, on the one hand, or we were taught that God was malleable and that our prayers could change God in some way – – sort of like with my childhood prayers that God would make the sun shine on the day of my class trip. But it turns out that God is none of that.
Rather God is a God of relationship and becoming – and we are invited along for the ride.
So – -here we are, on our own Mt Nebo of sorts. As your pastors we can stand on the peak and kind of look over Jordan with you to envision something of the future as
you move forward under new leadership. But envisioning and predicting with accuracy are two very different things. So we all are living with a measure of uncertainty. We will descend the mountain on our side to see what future awaits us there while you will move on into the future that awaits on your side of the mountain.
Because, as science tells us, we cannot predict the future any more than about a few fractions of a second ahead of us, we are now drawn, or maybe pushed or pulled, to a moment of absolute trust and faith in this God who prefers relationship with us – who prefers the process of becoming something new with us rather than some static and predictable outcome.
This is challenging. And it is apt to be uncomfortable. With our ancestors, about to come under the leadership of Joshua, Moses’ successor, we may be asking “What will we do without the person we have trusted to guide us?” “How can we be sure this is the right leader?” “What will be expected of us?” “Moses loved us and stayed with us through thick and thin – what if Joshua loses patience? What if Joshua doesn’t love us?”
I think we can intuit from the text that these are the murmurings of the people as they realized that Moses would be stepping down. In Deuteronomy 31, the people are fearful of what they will encounter in the way of enemies as they cross over the Jordan. Moses reassures them with these words: the Lord himself will cross over before you. The Lord will give [your enemies] over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command I have given you…Be strong and bold, have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God
who goes with you; God will not fail you or forsake you.
Moses doesn’t only reassure the people, he also reassures Joshua: Then Moses summoned Joshua before the people and said to them in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land…It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail nor forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.
If we fast forward several generations to the days immediately following the resurrection of Jesus, we hear the same affirmation of the God Who Goes Before.
Near the end of Matthew’s Gospel we hear a messenger telling the women at the tomb: Jesus has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. This is my message for you.” (Matthew 28:7)
They begin running to deliver the message and they encounter Jesus in his Risen Nature who tells them: Do not be afraid. Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. Matthew 28:10).
Galilee is where it all began – the business of preaching God’s love, feeding the hungry, tending to the needs of the poor, healing the sick, learning the skills of forgiveness and reconciliation, seeking justice for the poor and downtrodden.
In a sense, the crucifixion is a Mt. Nebo for Jesus and his followers. It is in crucifixion and resurrection that the relationship between Jesus and the disciples changes. Jesus is gone from their physical presence – no longer to be depended upon for doing the feeding, the healing, the forgiving, the teaching that he had always done with them.
A new relationship is now there to be explored – learning how to trust that what has been begun on one side of the cross will continue in another form on the other side of the cross.
So – here we are – all of us facing an ending together – wondering what will happen on the other side of tomorrow. We are also together hearing the assurances -whether we think in terms of crossing Jordan into a strange land under new leadership or in terms of life on the other side of the cross – we can affirm with faith that we belong to a God who goes ahead of us – a dynamic God who seems to become evermore trustworthy the more we are able to offer our trust. In the process, we become the people God chooses every day to be the people who will make the crossing and buy into the adventure.
So – as we come to a time of ending a way of being together, may we know without a doubt that even as we say farewell today to this particular way of being together that we have enjoyed, God is bringing something new into being.
God has never been satisfied with a static and comfortable people. God seems to enjoy life with us – always unfolding -always changing – always in process. Indeed even Jesus made his most significant encounters and teachings while he was on the move – – on the road . So we are invited once again to move on, to sojourn, to live always in a state of being temporary. One of the first books I read in seminary was a book titled “The Journey is Home” by Nelle Morton. The title says it all . We live and move and have our being in a God on the move. God is the Journey. And the Journey is, indeed our home. May God bless us all on the way. AMEN
Witness, Presence, Unconditional Love
Chilmark Community Church
June 18, 2017
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
Perhaps about 15 years ago, after the birth of our grandson, our second grandchild, I had the experience of feeling absolutely overwhelmed by the love I felt for the two beautiful young souls who were being entrusted to their parents and to us for as long as we would have time to be in their lives. I hardly knew what to do with the feelings I had; what to do with the awareness of what an incredible privilege and responsibility came with being a conscious grandparent. So – I prayed for some guiding wisdom for how to go about the awesome task of loving these two precious beings and for how to be a strong and positive influence in their lives. In the deep silence of prayer, I heard “You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.”
15 years later, I am still challenged with what these words mean, but I took this wisdom as my marching orders for grand-parenting. It turns out that they were marching orders for my life as well as they have continued to echo in my spirit over the years that I have been a grandmother. You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love.
On reflection, I think these orders are why I dearly love this story of Moses and his first encounter with God. Moses is so like us in so many ways – he works hard at his daily tasks of caring for his father-in-law’s flocks; he is curious about the world around him; he is in awe and trembling of the power of the Holy One; he is really uncertain about what God is asking him to do – – and yet, he says “Here I am!”
The story up to this point has Moses first persecuted by Pharoah under the decree that all the Hebrew baby boys are to be killed as soon as they are born. He is saved at birth by two subversive midwives, rescued from the waters of the Nile by the Pharoah’s daughter (who is a bit of a subversive in her own father’s court), raised in Pharoah’s palace. He is witness to an overseer abusing a Hebrew slave. He kills and buries the overseer. He is seen and accused of murder – runs for his life – and ends up in Midian, tending the flocks of Jethro and marrying Jethro’s daughter.
It is in his quiet time in the hills with the flocks that Moses encounters the God of his ancestors. We don’t know anything about Moses’ relationship with this god up to this point. Moses was raised as an Egyptian after all, without any connection to the god of the Hebrews.
But in this brief part of the story, we learn a lot about this god and how this god will be with those who listen and follow.
So, for a few moments, we might let our imaginations take over, and imagine Moses in the rugged mountains of Midian, keeping an eye on his father-in-law’s flocks – – maybe a herd of goats and a flock of sheep. The location is Mt. Horeb.
And there is a little bit of dramatic foreshadowing in the name of the mountain. Mt. Horeb means Mountain of God. It is sometimes used interchangeably with Mt. Sinai – the place of divine revelation. Moses experiences a revelation from God on Mt. Horeb and will be there with the people at the big one on Mt. Sinai.
I rather suspect that on the Mountain of God, just about anything can happen – and indeed it does. A messenger, an angel of God, appears in the midst of a bush that is in blazes – but does not burn up. In his curiosity, Moses takes a closer look to see why the bush has not burned up. As he does so, he hears the voice of God calling to him by name – “Moses! Moses!”
Moses answers with words that appear many times across both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Moses answers the voice of God , saying “Hineini” – – here I am!
And a pattern for life is set in motion. God calls Moses by name – Moses responds: “here I am” – – and God goes to work.
Moses has a lot of reservations, however. He is not completely sold on the idea of working with God. He is modest to a fault. He confesses that he stutters and can’t really be a public speaker and tries to convince God that someone else would do a better job. But the story isn’t just about Moses. It is more about God at this point – about God revealing the Divine Self to Moses.
And here is how God does it: God says to Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people…I have heard their cry . . . I know their suffering . . . I have come down to deliver them from slavery . . . .I will bring them to a good land . . . .
In this small part of the grand saga that will follow, we learn that it is in the nature of God to witness what is going on in creation – – and it is in the nature of God to be an active presence in the midst of creation. A third clue to the nature of God in these few verses is not quite as obvious – and that is in the line where God says “I am the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
We learn from this that God is a God of unconditional love who cares for humankind from generation to generation – – whether we human beings measure up to our divine calling or not. We find this theme of steady, unconditional love in Paul’s reflections in Romans 8:38 – where he writes: ‘I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God.”
The sacred texts tell us something of the nature of God – as Witness to our lives and to what we both enjoy and endure, as Presence in our lives and in the world, and as the source of Unconditional Love.
Way back in the 1st chapter of Genesis, we have the beautiful story of the creation of humankind – and the divine intention behind the beginnings of humanity: Genesis 1:26 and 27: “Then God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image and according to our likeness…..so God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God, God created them, male and female God created them.”
And here’s where the rubber hits the road for us here, now, today. If we trust the intention of our sacred texts, we can affirm together that we, each one of us, and all of us together, are created in the Divine Image and Likeness of God. That’s the beginning of the story. As the story unfolds, more and more of the nature of God is revealed – – and we therefore get to know more and more about what it means to be created in the Divine Image. We know that God is creative. We know that God seeks human companionship. We know that God shapes the lives of people who respond to God.
In this vignette from the grand story of Moses and the Exodus, we learn about some of the more subtle attributes of God – namely that God is a Witness, a Presence, and is Unconditional Love. We kind of expect all that of God – no surprises there – – however – – being created in the image of God, these attributes belong to us as well.
These attributes lead us to a high calling in our life together as a community of the faithful, and in our life in the world beyond the walls of this sanctuary. The good news is that we are already familiar with these attributes. Indeed we practice them every day when we witness, we notice, we observe, we see. We witness one another’s lives in the joys and the sorrows, the challenges and celebrations, the fears and concerns, the illnesses and the healing that we go through together as a body. We witness the effect that life has on each other – and we learn empathy and compassion. This witnessing is what makes a church family hold together at the center. It is also what makes us more effective as we take our caring into the world.
When we are present to one another, we become Presence – Some times we are called upon to take action – to make a phone call in one another’s behalf, to check in when we haven’t seen each other for several weeks, to attend to one another when one of us is suffering. Sometimes we are called upon to be present to one another in profound grief when there are simply no words to be said. As Paul writes, “we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” We each have the capacity to be a presence in each other’s lives – whether through actual physical hands on help or through prayer, or through words of encouragement or comfort or celebration. Being a Presence means saying “Hineini” – – here I am – – my spirit and my energy are available to you – – I am part of your life. Being a Presence means being a little bit of God available to the life of another person.
And then there is the call to be Unconditional Love. We know from the long saga of God’s journey with Israel that God does not give up when the going gets tough. The scriptures are full of reasons why God could have just thrown up the proverbial divine hands and walked away in frustration and disgust – – but that never happened – – because the love of the Holy One for all of creation does not depend upon how faithful we are, or how good or cooperative or thoughtful or sensitive or caring or patient with each other we happen to be. Unconditional Love is just that – it unaffected by the conditions of our lives. Being created in the Divine Image, we have the capacity to love one another in the same way, through thick and thin – – even when we aren’t sure we like each other very much – even when we disagree about how things ought to be done, even when we hurt one another’s feelings. Being Unconditional Love means being in our holy center where we do not get shaken by the dramas and ups and downs of our daily interactions – it means being Love even when we don’t feel particularly loving.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that life together in a church community is a kind of practice room where we get to hear the wisdom for living that comes from our sacred texts -and we get to practice it with each other. When we are able to witness one another’s lives and to be truly present with each other, when we are able to hone our skills at being Unconditional Love – when we practice enough together to become skilled at these attributes, we are trained and strengthened for our role in the world beyond.
Jesus came among us to show us what the master of these attributes might look like. He Witnessed every part of human life as he lived it among us. He was and is a Presence with a capital “P” in the lives of those who elect to follow him. And he became the visible form of Unconditional Love on the cross as he offered forgiveness even to those who were in the process of extinguishing his life.
“You are to be a Witness, a Presence, and Unconditional Love” – these are profound marching orders for our life together in community as we head into the future. May we be faithful in our practice together so that we may be a Witness, a Presence and Unconditional Love in a world that sorely needs us in its midst. AMEN