Photos I’ve Received: Opening Retreat – Bethany Straus

During the opening retreat for Colorado ESC back in August, Rev. Rebecca led us all in an exercise of using photography as a form of prayer and connection to the Earth. This exercise came in two parts: focusing on a single object in different angles and manners in order to see an object in many different ways, then going out into nature to find what places or things that called to us; Rev. Reb instructed us to not capture photos, but to receive photos – to aim the lens toward whatever caught your eye and attention.

 

I only recently took the time to look through all of the photographs that I received during the retreat, so I wanted to share the photos from this exercise and explain what I was feeling while receiving and/or when viewing the photos.

 

For the first activity, I focused on a light fixture that hung over the dining table of the house in which we were staying for the retreat (at Cathedral Ridge, a conference center in Woodland Park, CO). In order to get as many unique views as possible, I stood or sat in just about every corner at a variety of heights and angles.

 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the first activity:

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In this photo, I was captured by the different variations of swirls that led my eyes throughout the frame; the large swirls of the light bulb, the fine swirled threading of the bulb, and the light swirls in glass shading of the fixture.

 

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In case you couldn’t tell: the swirls of this light fixture really caught my eye.

 

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I remember standing on my tippy-toes across the room for this photo and seeing the fixture at an angle from which I never looked at the fixture; instead of sitting below the light and looking up to see the entire bulb encased by the glass shade, I was barely seeing the bulb as it poked out from under the glass shade.

 

For the second part of the activity, I walked from the house to an open field, then headed toward one of the larger buildings on the property, as this area was slightly elevated.

 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the second activity:

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Immediately after stepping outside of the house, I was drawn to the patch of flowers besides the walkway between the house and the driveway. While most of the places or things that I received photos of are found in multiple photos from different angles or shutter settings, this is the only photo of this bed of wild flowers; this honestly surprised me while I was viewing the photos, as I tend to be rather heavy on my shutter finger.

 

Content warning: If you don’t like/are creeped out by bugs, you might want to skip the next two photos.

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Every time I photograph nature, I make an effort to capture images of the bugs and creatures crawling on plants, particularly on flowers. This time was no exception.

 

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This photo made me laugh while I was viewing the photos because the bug looks like he’s jumping for joy!

 

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This particular tree was catching my eye all week whenever I passed it because of the white bark that appeared to be covered in eyes. It struck me as such an eerily intriguing sight.

 

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Each eye on the tree is so unique and striking, especially when seen while driving past.

 

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When I saw this set of wild daisies (or whatever type of lookalike flower it is), I was immediately reminded of a friend from college, Sam, who loves daisies. I received quite a few photos of this type of flower, as they made me think of some very fond memories I have with Sam and other members of the my school’s Episcopal Campus Ministry.

 

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Looking at this photo makes me feel as though I’m a squirrel crawling through a tree. I remember that while receiving this photo, I spent quite a few minutes fiddling with the manual focus in order to get just the right focus and depth-of-field that I was hoping for and I’m quite pleased with the results.

 

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I couldn’t get over the irony of this sight: fresh stumps from former tree limbs framing a brand new birdhouse. Wood was removed from the tree, resulting in an attempted replacement.

 

Warning: one more bug pic

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I love the way that the flowers essentially form an arrow that points to these bugs.

 

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Something about the flowers lining the ditch along the side of the road called to me. The contrast of the brown dirt road against the green, white, and yellow of the flowers and plants was incredibly pleasing to the eye.

 

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Sitting on the side of the road, looking up through the tall grass, with some beautiful mountains off in the distance, I felt so content and at peace. I remember feeling like a bug looking up through blades of grass while I was in this spot.

 

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I remember being absolutely captivated by the clouds during the retreat: there were so many full, intense-looking clouds that sailed through the sky. Therefore, it only makes sense that I received some photos of the clouds while finishing up with this activity.

 

I absolutely love the products of this exercise and I am so grateful that Rev. Reb lead us in this activity. Looking through these photos made me so excited for the next photos that I will receive as a reminder that God is all around through His beautiful creations, whenever and wherever that reception may be.

Imperfect Prayer – Weston Morris

To this point, I never considered myself an intentionally prayerful person. I have been a practicing Episcopalian for nearly my whole life, and the idea of communicating with God using words outside of the liturgies outlined in the Book of Common Prayer felt scary. On some level, I knew that prayer does not need to involve me kneeling at my bedside telling God about my highs and lows, asking for forgiveness or anything else. I have started to try, yes, actually try, to pray. Here are some ways I’ve been doing that.

The first change has to do with my rule of life. For years, photography has been a joy of mine and a practice I wanted to cultivate more, especially in nature. Part of my rule of life in Steamboat Springs was to make one photo per week that I was excited about. Not that anyone else was excited about or that I needed to share, but just one that I could see the divine in and remember the beauty surrounding me in that moment. Sadly, this practice hasn’t continued into my year in Denver, but I’m thinking of updating my rule of life to include it. I miss my camera.

Secondly, living in Steamboat challenged me to be in solitude. My mind is not always a kind, joyful, hopeful, or peaceful place. I learned that to move myself through the boggy marshes of my brain it helps to move my body. I started walking every day, or almost every day, to a park near the Steamboat condo. While I don’t remember every walk I took, I do know that it was never the same. Even going to the same place gave me new insights into the divine. The reality is that our natural world is changing all the time and if you become familiar with one place you can notice how it changes from day to day. I found God in my walks every day. I also found that I changed over time in those walks, I began to rely on them for conversation with God.

In Denver I have continued to walk, but I have to be more mindful about when and where. I am still working out how walking continues to form my prayer life here. A few days ago, I got to spend a day in the mountains for the first time since I moved to Denver. I found myself breathing easier and praying every moment I could. I prayed in gratitude for beauty and in hope for my friends and family. I simply prayed in conversation with God about what holiness is, how heaven looks and whether it matters at all. I returned to Denver feeling refreshed.

The third tool I’ve started using is something a coworker at the Office of the Bishop introduced me to. Anglican prayer beads, similar to the rosary, are a tactile tool for intentional prayer. I had never used prayer beads before, but at Diocesan Convention this weekend I bought my first set. Since convention ended, I have been carrying it with me everywhere. The largest bead, the cruciform, is not in the shape of a cross but rather a heavy bead with a labyrinth etching. I have taken to wrapping the beads around my left wrist and fiddling with them while walking, recreating the intention of walking a labyrinth while on the streets of Denver.

All of this is to say that there is no one way to pray, on one size fits all, no way of prayer that God will hear you more. There are many, many ways to connect to God. What I’m challenging myself to do this year is to not wait until something is perfect, but to show up while I’m still working all the kinks out. It’s the same with my prayer life. It’s an imperfect practice as it always will be. I don’t believe that God cares about how I come to the relationship, but just that I do.

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A Month of Growth – Bethany Straus

It’s been a little over a month since the Denver Episcopal Service Corps officially kicked-off the 2019-2020 service year and it has already been an incredible growing experience for me.

 

Not only have I moved across the country (putting me much farther away from my family than I’ve ever been before), but I’m now in a completely new phase of life; now that I not a student for the first time in my life, I’ve had to learn how to build my own structure – one that doesn’t revolve around classes and club meetings in the mornings and afternoon, with work in the evening and little free time in between. Now that I have more free time than I have previously been used to, I’ve found that I have been able to learn quite a bit about myself and what I need in order to feel well-rested and refreshed by Monday morning. For example, I’ve learned that spending too much time indoors (even with plenty of natural lighting) leaves me feeling anxious, while time outdoors helps to drastically soothe me and clear my mind.

 

Although I have long since known that I am an introvert, I have spent many years refusing to allow myself enough alone time for fear of missing anything that my roommates or friends may do and enjoy without me. Living in a house in which four out of five of us are introverts, I have been able to fully accept my needs as an introvert and have allowed myself to have experiences that are entirely my own by exploring both nearby hiking trails and the City of Denver by myself.

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As part of this year of service and growth, I am challenging myself to maintain a more grateful outlook on life, which has already helped me adjust to my new work schedule. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but my shift at my job site, Urban Peak, begins at 6:45 am; I was pretty worried all summer about how I would manage to wake up so early and stick to a schedule in which I start and finish my shift early than all of my housemates. Truthfully, the first two weeks of waking up so early were incredibly difficult for me and I struggled to be positive at such an early hour of the morning. However, I am getting better at reminding myself of the benefits of my work schedule: I don’t have to fight traffic on my way to or from work, I have lots of free time in the afternoon and early evening before the household eats, and I even get to see some beautiful morning skies on my way to work (like I did this past Tuesday).

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I still have a lot of growing and learning left to do, but I’m proud of myself for starting this year with much more gratitude and self-awareness than I would have had this time last year. Without such growth, this first month would have been much more difficult and far less enjoyable than it has been.

 

Here’s to more months of growth and progress.

Blessings

I’ve been thinking a lot about blessings recently. On our retreat at Cathedral Ridge a few weeks ago we discussed blessings; everything from what a blessing is to who can give blessings. Although many people (in the Episcopal Church and otherwise) argue that lay people cannot give blessings, I argue that it is hard to not give and receive a multitude of blessings everyday when you live a life in Love.

During our formation time on Friday, we had another discussion with Mary on blessings. Specifically, she pressed us to discuss a time in the past week where we blessed creation. Quickly, many of us recognized that it was much easier to remember times where others blessed us, and that it was much harder to recognize those moments in which we blessed others.
Working the job that I am, I have discovered that it is very easy for me to focus on everything that my partner agency does not do, and therefore the limitations of the blessings that I can give others at work. Although it is always important to be critical of the work that I am doing, especially while connecting with communities I am not directly a part of, it will also be crucial for me to recognize the blessings that I do give. I am finding it fulfilling to connect with community members at work with equity, seeing everyone as having different life experiences and needing different types of support.
Although it is easy to count the blessings in my life, I am challenging myself to also recognize the blessings I do for creation. With this said, I’ll leave you with one of the poem’s Mary shared with us and that really resonated with me.
A Blessing
By James Arlington Wright
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching on the young tufts of spring in the
darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
***
Blessings,
Corinne

A New Year, New Experiences, and New Procrastinations

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Hello from the new crew of Columba House! I’m Kezia Lozano, a recent University of Virginia graduate that was slightly dismayed to hear that my contract for this year included my regular contribution to a blog; after four years of undergrad and far too many essays, I was ready to be done.

I was supposed to write this post a few days ago, but clearly got sidetracked.  Despite my college flashbacks to one of my campus jobs editing a WordPress for the Dean of Students, the opportunity to collectively chronicle this year with my housemates is exciting, especially as I have always wanted to journal, but never had enough self discipline to.

This year promises to be a time of exponential growth for all five of us, and though the procrastination has already started with this one blog post, I am incredibly humbled and grateful for all the experiences that have and haven’t yet happened, AND for the responsibility of reflection on those experiences on this blog.

Just a quick update about the goings on so far: orientation week was a whirlwind of kind faces and welcoming hugs, retreat was emotionally taxing but extremely helpful in bringing us closer together as a house, and the first week of work proved to be a mixed bag of exhaustion and excitement to a house of four introverts and one extrovert (that’s me)!

We have been met with nothing but warmth and love this week from all facets of the community and it has filled me with overwhelming excitement about the possibilities of this coming year.  As we all go to our placement sites and deal with the difficult realities of inequality, it is incredible to know that we can find strength in the people around us, whether they be in our church, neighborhood, jobs, and home, and for that I extend my gratitude.

In order to spare the blog from an even larger wall of text written by a woman who has always idolized Tolkien’s verbosity yet is incapable of matching his eloquence, I shall end my procrastinated post for the night.  Good bye for now, and be on the lookout for my future work, studded by excessive commas, and hopefully not always, but inevitable missed deadlines.

Thanks so much Colorado, and I am so happy to be here! ❤ Kezia

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Mercy: Megan Helbling

Two weekends ago, we went to Basalt, Colorado, a little town outside of Aspen. We attended the X games, and spent time in community praying and playing games. I helped plan one of the prayers, and for this blog post, I thought I’d just share a bit about that.

I came across the Litany of Forgiveness, which is based off of Jesus’ teachings called The Beatitudes, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. I’ve always found the beatitudes to be incredibly gracious in the way they recognize people who so often in our society are trampled upon, overlooked, or scoffed at. I was especially compelled by the plea for God to have mercy on us when we fall short of who the beatitudes ask us to be: because in asking for mercy, we are also looking forward to a time that eventually we will, however imperfectly, become more and more of the type of person that the beatitudes describe.

Here’s the Litany (tweaked a bit by me). Hope you enjoy!

Lord Jesus Christ, you said:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Yet we are preoccupied with money and worldly goods
and put our trust in what we possess
rather than in your care for us.

Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you said:
Blessed are the gentle,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Yet we are so concerned about our own rights and self-interest
and so little concerned about serving others.

Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you said:
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Yet we are impatient under our burdens
and unconcerned about the burdens of others.

Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us
.

Lord Jesus Christ, you said:
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall have their fill.
Yet we do not yearn for a world that looks like your Kingdom,

And are too lazy or too tired to work for justice.

Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you said:
Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive
mercy. Yet we are so quick to condemn, so slow to forgive.

Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you said:
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Yet we regard others with suspicion,

Suspecting the worst intentions and

guarding ourselves from fellow Children of God.

Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you said:
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called the children of God.
Yet we are so often ruthless with each other,
and our homes and our world are full of discord and resentments.

Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us.

Lord, Jesus Christ. you said:
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for holiness’ sake,
for the Kingdom of God is theirs.
Yet resistance to the powers of this world is too scary and too painful,
so we remain ignorant to injustice and Complacent with privilege.Have mercy on us,
O Lord, have mercy on us.

 

 

Gifts from God from the OT

Recently, I’ve been reading through the Old Testament because other than the Sunday-school basics, I’ve never had much knowledge of much of it. Here I am, someone who tries to live according to the Word of the Lord, never having read a good chunk of it. I figured maybe that should change.

It’s been a long, slow process, and I’m probably not going to finish any time soon, but I’m glad I’m doing it. I’m currently in Isaiah and to be honest, I haven’t had a great understanding of a lot of what I’ve read up to now. I’ve always been intimidated by the OT because I knew I wouldn’t understand a lot of it, but I decided I wanted to read it for knowledge of the content, if nothing else.  Much of it has been pretty over my head, but much of it has also been very illuminating, and God has spoken to me through this confusing, difficult part of the Word that has formerly been all too easy for me to ignore.

This journey began a few years ago when my campus ministry did a semester-long sermon series on Exodus. This opened my eyes to the importance of sacrifice in Old Testament law. It gave me greater understanding and appreciation for the sacrifice of Christ, and why his death and resurrection was the way the Lord chose to save humanity. Similarly, since then, my attempted studying of the OT has increased my appreciation for God’s immeasurable holiness and endless mercy.

Reading of the Israelites forsaking God, coming back, forsaking him, and coming back over and over and over again is exhausting. Chronicles and Kings tell of little else but who was king and if that king worshiped the Lord or led Israel in sin. How this must have broken God’s heart! And yet, because of His incredible, irrevocable love, He always forgave when they cried out to Him with true repentance in their hearts. Not quite so different from my own life. What my OT attempt has taught me so far is a deeper appreciation of the Lord’s mercy. All I can do is marvel in awe and humbly give thanks for what He has done and continues to do for me. It’s a hard thing to explain in words, but the Lord is continuing to draw me nearer to Him through this experience. I’m grateful for that. Though I lack an understanding of many things, God is true to his promise to “draw near to those that draw near to Him.” How blessed are we to serve a God who speaks directly to us and hears when we cry out?

Though I often get bogged down by the hard-to-get-through parts of the OT, I’m looking forward to continuing my “study,” and letting God speak to me regardless of my scholarly iniquities. I encourage anyone intimidated by the Word to trust that God is close to those who seek him, and remember that we are not supposed to know and understand everything. Indeed, He never fails to reveal Himself to those who seek Him.

Rachel Pozzo

The Common Good–Megan Helbling

My favorite thing about Colorado is the warning signs of steep grades on the highways coming in and out of the mountains.

TRUCKERS! ARE YOUR BRAKES COOL AND READY? NEXT 5 MILES STEEP GRADES.

HANG ON TRUCKERS! YOU’RE NOT THERE YET. 7% GRADE NEXT 3 MILES.

CHAIN LAWS IN EFFECT! PULL OVER NEXT 2 MILES TO AVOID BIG FINES. BE SAFE!

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of life gave us these warnings?

HUMANS! TOUGH DAYS IN INTERNATIONAL NEWS AHEAD. STAY IN BED WITH YOUR COVERS PULLED TIGHT.

WOMEN! CATCALLER AROUND THE NEXT CORNER. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

7% COST OF LIFE INCREASE IN 2019! START SAVING NOW.

I recently read an article about the common good, the thesis of which was essentially: no one gives a damn about the common good anymore. Yesterday, I stopped to read a note written on a napkin squished against the sidewalk. It read, “THIS WAS A TERRIBLE PARKING JOB. THINK ABOUT OTHERS MORE THE NEXT TIME YOU PARK”. In a world of anonymous individualism, it’s easy to feel like no one cares about anyone they don’t know the name of.

Here’s a poem by Louise Gluck:

You want to know how I spend my time?

I walk the front lawn, pretending

to be weeding. You ought to know

I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling

clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact

I’m looking for courage, for some evidence

my life will change, though

it takes forever, checking

each clump for the symbolic

leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already

the leaves turning, always the sick trees

going first, the dying turning

brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform

their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?

As empty now as at the first note.

Or was the point always

to continue without a sign?

Maybe the problem with working for the ‘common good’ (whatever the heck that means) is that it takes the innocent, vulnerable, foolish, naive belief that what is common is good, what is communal is good, and that even though she’s mostly failing, the idiot who parked next to you is actually trying to be good. With that kind of soft attitude in this hard world, you’ll be as vulnerable to being plucked off as a dandelion in damp soil.

But weeding is what makes the flowers grow.

New Year, New Hair by Emily Eldridge

I’ve never done much with my hair. I don’t even take a lot of time styling it most days, even though one of the reasons I always say I like having long hair is that you can do fun things with it. I’ve never dyed it, although I did want purple hair as a teenager. It’s never been shorter than my shoulders and I’ve never had any haircuts that needed more maintaining than the occasional trim of the ends – at least not since I had bangs in first grade.

At the start of the program year, some conversation that I don’t even remember made me mention that I liked the look of a side shave haircut (specifically on Natalie Dormer in the last Hunger Games movie), and then the thought stuck in my head, what if I actually got one? I approached the idea in typical “me” fashion, which means that I spent three months thinking about whether I really liked it enough to try, saving pictures on Pinterest, googling how to style and trim and grow out a side shave, and asking people around me what they thought, including making sure my workplace wouldn’t consider it unprofessional. And finally, at the very end of 2018, I did it.

It was a scary prospect, especially because I have social anxiety and don’t like situations like going to a hairstylist and asking for an unusual haircut. I was afraid I would get it done and immediately not like how it looked, but I decided that even if that happened, I wanted to have done it; I wanted to try something new. Hair grows back, after all.

I’m happy to report that I am now “edgy” (according to the woman who cut my hair) for the first time ever and I love it!

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Special thanks to my roommates for encouraging me, my boyfriend for going with me to get it done, and my parents for not freaking out when I surprised them with my new look!

Hope–Megan Helbling

The other night, we sat around the dinner table, which we had cleared of cups and dishes but still had crumbs and smears of gravy, and lit the first advent candle. Hope. The first week of advent we are meant to hold and expect hope.

I don’t feel very hopeful about the state of our world. Our president suppresses the media like the scary fascists I learned about in 10th grade World History, there were more dead pine trees than alive when I drove into the mountains to go skiing last weekend, and I stepped over a sleeping body when I got off my bus today to go to work. I think hope might be a thing that rich people teach their kids while on vacation in Turks and Caicos, like believing in Santa Claus or that things happen for a reason.

But then I feel my heart soften towards someone I wasn’t expecting to forgive, and there’s an unexpected peacefulness in my heart that makes the world feel a little quieter. Or I scroll through my instagram feed and see that one of my preacher friends has crossed into Mexico in order to perform marriages, so that couples have a higher chance of staying together once they begin procedures with ICE. This morning, my bus driver waited for nearly ten minutes for a woman to peel off her gloves, one finger at a time, and, trembling, place her quarters into the meter. The whole bus was still, and the snow outside fell slowly, in clumps, and I watched the woman’s mouth move in a deliberate conversation with the bus driver, whose eyes looked back onto the rest of his passengers, silently asking our permission to continue to offer the dignity of independence to our newest fellow passenger. And we consented.

Wendell Berry writes, “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias. / Say that your main crop is the forest / that you did not plant, / that you will not live to harvest. / Say that the leaves are harvested / when they have rotted into the mold.” Yesterday, I went on a snowy hike near Mt Evans, and stood on top of a lake that was silent, deep, and stagnant, frozen with the stubbornness of cold –frozen, that is, except for the two feet at the very bottom, where fish and bacteria and the loch ness monster huddle, still, waiting for spring. There, they will cling to half-life, sharing bubbles of oxygen and fin slapping each other awake when one starts to lose sight of the inevitable arrival of warmth and hope. They don’t despair at the sun’s lack of strength, too weak to cut through the ice. The fish just press into the gift of the earth, warming the bottom foot of their lake home from the depths of its core. It’s the rotting mold that warms them, the gift of gifts that aren’t wrapped with bows.

May the gift of earthy hope be abundant this advent season.