Shavuot: Festival connecting harvest with the giving of the Torah

PLEASE ENJOY this sample chapter from Debra Darvick’s This Jewish Life, which tells about the season of Shavuot. Click the book cover image to learn more about her complete collection of stories.

All souls stood at Sinai, each accepting its share in the Torah.
Alshek. q Ragoler, Maalot HaTorah

This Jewish Life cover in 3D

CLICK this cover to learn more about Debra Darvick’s popular collection of real-life stories, THIS JEWISH LIFE: Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy.

While there is no Biblical link between the Shavuot holiday and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Talmud does draw a connection between the two. The rabbis calculated the dates of the agricultural festival of Shavuot and the time of the Revelation and deemed them to be one and the same. This link enabled the rabbis to bring new relevance to an agricultural holiday at a time when many Jews were living in urban areas.

Shavuot, literally “Festival of Weeks,” is so named because it occurs seven weeks and one day after the beginning of Passover. Shavout is also called Chag Habikurim, Festival of the First Fruits, and Chag HaKatzir, Harvest Festival. These names reflect the holiday’s origin as the time marking the end of the spring wheat harvest. The 50 days between the second day of Passover and Shavuot are called the counting of the omer, omer being a unit of measure. In Temple times, on the second day of Passover, the priests would offer up for sacrifice an omer of wheat, to mark the start of the seven-week wheat-growing season.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot

Many communities hold a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night study session that enables those present to prepare spiritually for the morning’s service, when the Ten Commandments are read. During the recitation of the Ten Commandments, the congregation stands, thus symbolically receiving them, as our ancestors did at Sinai.

Ruth’s Role

The Book of Ruth is included in the Shavuot morning service for several reasons. Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi, was such that she converted to Judaism. By consequence of that conversion and her subsequent marriage to Boaz (their court- ship is said to have taken place during Shavuot), Ruth became the ancestor of King David, who, according to the Talmud, was born and died on Shavuot.

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Categories: BibleHolidaysJewishNatural World

The Debra Darvick Interview: Why the stories in ‘This Jewish Life’ make it a part of your life, too

Debra Darvick author of This Jewish LifeTODAY, ReadTheSpirit is proud to welcome author and columnist Debra Darvick into our online magazine and our bookstore. You may have enjoyed her columns in national magazines, including Good Housekeeping.  Now, you can enjoy her wide-ranging stories every week. Plus, starting today, you can order her signature collection of real-life Jewish stories: This Jewish Life.

VISIT DEBRA’S NEW ONLINE HOME: Debra brings hundreds of stories with her in the relaunch of her Debra Darvick online home today. Please, get to know Debra and, when you  have time, explore her rich array of online stories.

READ DEBRA’S BOOK: As you will discover right here—in our author interview with Debra today—This Jewish Life is for everyone. But, let’s invite Debra to speak for herself. This is our weekly author interview with ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm.


This Jewish Life book cover by Debra Darvick

Order your copy now. Click the cover to visit its Bookstore page.

DAVID: Jewish families are a tiny minority in the world. Why are millions of people still so fascinated with Jewish faith and culture?

DEBRA: But let me answer your question in another way. The Jewish people have something to say that is valuable in our world today. Judaism’s ancient wisdom survives because it speaks to every generation of people, not just to Jews.

DAVID: Let me underline that point you’re making. The Gallup Poll occasionally asks Americans to name their favorite books of the Bible. Far and away, the Bible’s most popular book is always Psalms, followed by Genesis. Gallup finds that the majority of Americans say they read the Bible at least occasionally and their first choices after Psalms and Genesis are Matthew, John, Revelation, Proverbs, Job and Luke. That means 4 of the 8 most popular books of the Bible are from the original Jewish collection of scriptures. You do, indeed, have something to say.

DEBRA: That Gallup Poll doesn’t surprise me at all. Genesis is the fist book in the Bible; it has the most lively, visual stories: the Garden of Eden, the snake, the flood, animals two by two. Millions of little children grow up on these stories. And Psalms? They are comforting. Throughout human history, people have wanted to know—needed to know—that there is a force bigger than we are as mere humans. Where do people turn when horrible things happen to find words calling out in faith and hope? They turn to Psalms.

DAVID: Of course, we’re also talking about something much deeper than a popularity poll. Scholars widely credit Judaism as a foundation of Western tradition. That may sound like a startling conclusion if our readers haven’t thought about that before. But I can tell you that you’ll find such conclusions in world histories—and it’s a point made by Pope John Paul II, as well, as he wrote about the origins of Western faith and culture.

DEBRA: The Jewish religion’s ethical and social principles are inseparable from the watershed concept of monotheism—one God—that Judaism gave to the Western world. Think about the power of these ideas: Billions of people now believe that there is one God who set the world in motion. For the Jewish people, this was a singular Divine Force who gave a people a set of laws—the 10 Commandments—to model in the world and to share with others. This was a historic break with the religious and cultural norms of the era in which the Jewish religion emerged.

DAVID: The influence is even larger than these associations, right? We see Judaism’s wisdom among great artists and writers—and even in our governance.

DEBRA: Yes, that’s right, there are people who like to say that America is a Christian nation. And we also can recognize Jewish wisdom in our tradition of law and deliberation. America is a nation of law. The writers of the Constitution were well grounded in the Hebrew Bible. Our Supreme Court’s process of deliberation and interpreting the Constitution echoes the rabbinic process of deliberating and interpreting what the laws in the Torah really meant.

‘This Jewish Life’: Marking Our Sacred Time

DAVID: We also have inherited the Jewish approach to marking our sacred time. Of course, since Jesus and all of his first followers were Jewish, it’s natural that the Christian calendar is associated with a number of Jewish milestones in the calendar. More importantly, I think, Jewish holidays and festivals highlight major themes that matter to millions of families around the world, whether they are Jewish or not.

I know that a festival like Hanukkah is actually a relatively minor observance in the Jewish calendar—but the Hanukkah theme of religious freedom is an issue shared by people all around the world.

DEBRA: That’s true with many of the seasons and holidays included in the book. On the Jewish calendar right now, we are in a period called the counting of the Omer. This is a seven-week period between Passover (and the Exodus from Egypt) and the holiday of Shavuot which celebrates the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. On the Christian calendar, Shavuot, which literally means weeks, is called Pentecost.

In the book, the Passover story is that of a Russian family who were immigrants to America. The theme of Passover is liberation—the Exodus story that is so important in African-American churches. You can imagine the painful situation of Russian Jews for so many decades under Communism. This family you will meet in the book could only walk past a locked synagogue on Jewish holidays. Passover is the story of liberation and here is a family who lived through one of the world’s most dramatic times of liberation. The foundational text reading for Shavuot is the Book of Ruth. In This Jewish Life, the Shavuot story is that of a convert to Judaism (like the Biblical Ruth).

DAVID: These are good examples about the way we mark sacred time and use those periods to remember our most important shared stories. Judaism also established even larger spiritual themes that have shaped world religion to this day—like monotheism, the faith in a single God as opposed to many gods. In your book, I think another big theme readers will discover is the universal yearning for home. A famous Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, says that all religious journeys really are about a yearning for home. That’s something we inherit from the Jewish people.

DEBRA: The Hanukkah story is a great example of that. It’s a soldier’s story that I’m sure any soldier or veteran who reads this book will understand.

DAVID: I love that story, too. It’s set in the First Gulf War, more than 20 years ago, and is told by a young American Jewish soldier who finds himself stationed in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, awaiting battle. Then, it’s Hanukkah, and he finds his way to a small gathering of U.S. soldiers about to mark the holiday.

Here’s part of what he says: “I had tucked a trio of letters addressed to ‘Any Jewish Soldier’ in my back pocket. There we were in the desert about to go to war, singing songs of praise to God who had saved my ancestors in battle. The feeling of unity was as pervasive as our apprehension, as real as the sand that found its way into everything from our socks to our toothbrushes. … That Hanukkah in the desert solidified for me the urge to reconnect with my Judaism.”

Now, Debra, I think so many readers who have family members connected with the military will read a chapter like that and feel a strong emotional connection to these men and women.

Debra Darvick: ‘We all long for home.’

DEBRA: I agree and I’ve been really pleased when non-Jews come up to me and tell me how much they have enjoyed this book. This book does serve to educate people about Jewish life, but these stories also inspire, soothe and make people rethink the really important values in their own lives.

That’s an important truth you’ll find in this book. We share so much. We all long for home. We all weep sometimes. We all have moments of great joy. We all know about kids who make decisions we’re not happy about. Families. Homes. Love. Tragedy. Forgiveness. If you’re not Jewish and you read this book, you will realize right away that these are universal experiences, universal truths.

I like to think of this book as similar to Abraham’s tent—open on all four sides. If you’re not familiar with some of the terms, there is an extensive glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words to help people quickly discover those words. There are short introductions to each section of the book to help people understand the major themes in these seasons.

DAVID: The stories are so well told! And, the pacing is perfect. Even busy readers can enjoy meeting these people in the pages of your book—a little bit each day.

DEBRA: The stories are short; most are about five pages long. You can read them out loud and even kids as young as 8 or 9 might enjoy sitting around and listening. There are stories about young people, too. The Rosh Hashanah story is about a college student who spends the new year’s holiday on a boat during a semester at sea.

DAVID: That’s another story about the yearning for home—combined with a story of dramatic self-discovery. This girl actually is suffering from a deep home sickness as the big holiday approaches, knowing how her family back home would be celebrating. She’s off the coast of Asia at that point. But, instead, she and some other students—Jewish and non-Jewish—wind up sharing the holiday. It becomes a new starting point in her life.

I could name a dozen stories that I would call my favorites in your book. How about you? Do you have a favorite story in the book?

DEBRA: That’s like asking which of your children is your favorite. But, yes, among these stories some do stand out. There is one story about a man who was in Paris at the liberation as World War II was ending. He describes what it was like to be part of the first Jewish service when the ark was opened again. I get shivers just retelling that story. He describes what it was like to bring out the Torah—so much outpouring of feeling that people ran up to kiss the Torah. They were so overjoyed. He recalls the moment when a young girl ran up to him, pulled the yellow star from her coat and placed it in his hands. So dramatic! But that’s just one story in the book. Many are appropriate to the seasons of the year; many are appropriate to different settings in which people may read the book.

‘This Jewish Life’: Experiencing gratitude

DAVID: What did you learn while writing This Jewish Life?

DEBRA: One of the most important things I learned is gratitude. This definitely was not a one-woman endeavor. As I spoke to all of the people who appear in the book, I had to think about my identity as a writer. Over time, I realized that this wasn’t about me seeing my name on the cover of a book but about the gift God gave me to listen and help people express their deepest selves.

As I worked on a person’s story, we would talk and I would write up a draft. Then, I would call each one on the telephone and read the story to see if I had told it right. Sometimes, I would get to the end and there would be silence on the phone. The first couple of times that happened, I would freak out, thinking that the silence meant I had blown it. But, no, they were silent because they were crying. They were feeling such emotion because their story finally was brought to light—their story was made cohesive so that others could now share in it. It was deeply moving to know I was helping people to make their inner-most experiences real in these stories.

Want to read some stories by Debra?

Check out Debra Darvick’s new online home at ReadTheSpirit. Or, visit the Bookstore page for This Jewish Life.

(This interview originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, values and cultural diversity.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsJewish

ReadTheSpirit Shaker Village Gathering: A new collaborative future (check out these dozen voices and fresh ideas)

Shaker Village Gathering center meeting house

FIFTY authors, activists and online pioneers met for four days in historic Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, building new collaborative relationships to meet our rapidly changing spiritual and cultural challenges. Today, we share a dozen voices from what we are calling The Shaker Village Gathering, a meeting of minds and hearts that already is producing a host of collaborative projects that will unfold over the coming year.

MSU School of Journalism book 100 Questions Answers about Indian AmericansTHE SHAKER VILLAGE GATHERING:

What kind of new collaborative projects are coming?
Just read these dozen voices below! And,
stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit for more news in coming months! To spark your imagination, here are just two of the many projects discussed at The Shaker Village Gathering:

The Michigan State University School of Journalism anti-bullying project, which already is earning rave reviews and honors nationwide, is expanding to launch a new series of guidebooks for cultural competence. That widely collaborative series is just starting with 100 Questions and Answers about Indian Americans, which also is available in a Kindle edition.

SEASON OF GRATITUDE IFLC LOGO horizontalAnother project unveiled at The Shaker Village Gathering was Season of Gratitude, a program developed by the InterFaith Leadership Council (IFLC) of Metropolitan Detroit for use across Michigan—and as a model the IFLC now is offering to any community nationwide. Click here or on the Season of Gratitude logo, at right, to find the IFLC guidelines for participation in this national effort to promote healthy, diverse communities in November. That’s the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of America’s first nationwide Thanksgiving. If your group decides to participate, email and we will include you in our own Season of Gratitude coverage in coming months. This is a rare, wide-open invitation to get your community excited about hospitality, thankfulness and diversity—and to shine a national spotlight on your community at the same time.


GRATITUDE was at the core of the Shaker Village Gathering, writes environmental activist and Quaker author Eileen Flanagan, whose full message is below. Church consultant Martin Davis used his message, included below, to describe the most powerful force transforming communities today: “a revolutionary sense of relationships.”

A CONNECTIVE COLUMNIST: Themes of gratitude, relationships, hospitality and welcoming of diversity were waves that flowed through these four days at Shaker Village. A newspaper columnist for a rural region in the Midwest, Henry Passenger, already has published a column telling his audience that he felt greatly encouraged by the diversity of men and women he encountered in this nationwide gathering. Henry’s immediate public response to his home audience is an encouraging sign that programs like Season of Gratitude may find welcoming communities even in rural areas of the U.S. Henry isn’t merely a writer blasting his message to the world. He is a key connective figure between this national network of writers and activists—and grassroots readers. Henry’s connective work is just one example of a historic shift in the way we all, as humans, are sharing information and shaping the world today.

‘A CIRCULAR MODEL’: Another Shaker Village participant was Mary Ann Brussat, cofounder with her husband Frederic, of the influential online magazine Spirituality & Practice. Mary Ann’s full message is below, but here’s a taste of what she has to say: We are “shifting from a top-down model of experts/journalists giving out information to the ‘general public’ to a circular model where content emerges from collaborative efforts, not just among writers but also among writers and readers. For this to happen, however, there has to be more sharing of expertise and interests. People who are out in the field working with various audiences on a day-to-day basis need ways to get the word out about what they are doing. Portal websites like ReadTheSpirit and Spirituality & Practice can connect them to a larger audience through links and articles about their work.”

GET INVOLVED: There’s so much more that readers and writers—people just like you and your friends—can do! Start by reading these dozen voices …

Voices of Shaker Village Gathering

‘Collaboraion … is Key’

Dan is one of the world’s leading peacemakers. He circles the globe, training groups in conflict transformation, nonviolence and peace-building. ReadTheSpirit has published three of his books. Dan writes:

COLLABORATION was a key goal of our gathering—and that was certainly what stood out in my experience. I had met less than a quarter of the people gathered there. So many new people with connections, skills, insights, and rich stories to exchange!

At the gathering we had dynamic discussion circles, but for me the richest discussions spun off those at the breaks, meals and follow-up circles. I was able to help some folks think through and process their projects and even their personal journeys related to those projects. I was also given some direct assistance on some of the work I am doing, but even more to be stretched to think of new ways that my own work could be magnified by developing ReadTheSpirit initiatives. Some of the collaboration will be through ReadTheSpirit’s community network, and some will be beyond ReadTheSpirit in direct connections I am making with others. I deeply appreciate the kind of catalyzing work we were able to undertake in the Shaker Village Gathering.

‘A Circular Model’

Shaker Village table set in Center Family dwelling Pleasant Hill Kentucky. (The photos with today's story are by David Crumm, released for public sharing as long as they carry a credit to David Crumm of

Shaker Village table set in Center Family dwelling at Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. (The photos with today’s story are by David Crumm, released for public sharing as long as they carry a credit to David Crumm of

Mary Ann is an author, journalist and cofounder with her husband Frederic of the online magazine Spirituality & Practice.

AN EXPLOSION: In his Influential Marketing Blog” in 2009, Rohit Bhargava predicted that “in just a few years we will reach a point where all the information on the Internet will double every 72 hours.” This explosion of information creates an enormous challenge for those of us whose primary way of connecting with people is through online content. How do we reach our audience when there is just so much content available?

The expansion of the Internet also makes it extremely difficult for the consumer of information to wade through it all. How do we know what’s authentic, reliable, and worth our time? How do we decide which YouTube videos to watch, which blogs to read, and which websites to visit regularly?

A FLOW OR A TRAFFIC JAM? Consider these realities that further complicate the flow of information online: People today are crazy busy; our needs to be informed and inspired are competing with our needs to be effective at work, present to our friends and families, and useful in our communities. Elders, a huge percentage of the population, are often isolated geographically from family and friends and not yet savvy on using social media to stay connected.

In addition, a great deal of what you see on the Internet is not sourced. You might see a beautiful quote on a webpage or a viral meme on Facebook, but it is often attributed only to a name (and not always the right one). Anyone can hang up a shingle on the Internet offering all kinds of religious or spiritual “advice” but it can be difficult to tell what tradition or philosophy they are drawing from. This Internet free-for-all might be fine if everybody accepted that what is posted online is personal opinion. But many people are turning to the web excepting to discover authoritative, time-honored information. And not all religious and spiritual information is of that quality.

This is why it is important for the standards and practices of religious journalism—authority, balance, accuracy, fairness—be continued by those creating content for the Internet. That’s why such practices as citing sources, checking for context when quoting, and gathering information from those truly knowledgeable in a field need to be passed on to new generations of writers, bloggers, and social media users. The seasoned religion writers and the journalism teachers and students in our conversations at Shaker Village gave me hope that the professionalism of generations of newspaper and magazine religion writers could transfer successfully to the web.

Even if everything on the Internet were sourced and credited, however, there would still be a lot of it! That’s why at our website,, we consider ourselves to be “recommenders” of resources and “curators” of content. Our editors draw on their expertise not to create new content as much as to organize and prioritize the content we have.

NEW IDEAS FOR CONTENT CURATION: At Shaker Village, we learned how key word search and Search Engine Optimization could help us increase traffic to our web offerings. But I realized that key word search in particular would be helpful in making curation decisions. We should be curating content on topics that people are searching for. We can use digital tools to find out how best to respond to the needs of our world. We can use these tools to listen to readers. We no longer have to rely upon an editor’s hunches about what’s trending or what’s important.

The paradigm is shifting from a top-down model of experts/journalists giving out information to the “general public” to a circular model where content emerges from collaborative efforts, not just among writers but also among writers and readers. For this to happen, however, there has to be more sharing of expertise and interests. People who are out in the field working with various audiences on a day-to-day basis need ways to get the word out about what they are doing. Portal websites like ReadTheSpirit and SpiritualityAndPractice can connect them to a larger audience through links and articles about their work.

At the same time, the websites get some additional boots on the ground to help them understand what’s happening. At Shaker Village, I was excited to learn about research projects, outreach programs, and grassroots organizations that are making a difference. The next step is to find a way to keep up with what everybody is doing! Our Shaker Village Gathering was just a small sampling of those working in religion and spirituality outside the traditional channels of the institutional churches and religious organizations. How do we keep up? Because if we can’t keep up, the wider public won’t be able to either.

THE NEED FOR PRACTICAL CONTENT: Finally, a recurring theme in our Shaker Village conversations was the need for practical content, or what in religious and spiritual circles are called “spiritual practices.” In the mass of information on the Internet, what often rises to the surface are those succinct articles that offer concrete advice on “what to say to a sick friend” or “what to do at a Protestant funeral.” Galleries and lists of “Bests” are also popular.

This does not mean, I think, that those creating and curating religious and spiritual content need to get into the old battle waged at countless newspapers and magazine between the “news” section and the “lifestyle” section. It does mean that all content, whether news or practices, must relate to where people are living and what they are doing. Because, to be realistic about it, they just don’t have time for anything else.

Author, Journalism Educator Joe Grimm:
Turning the Lens 180 Degrees

Joe is known to journalists nationwide as the Ask the Recruiter columnist. At the MSU School of Journalism, he helped to produce The New Bullying. In 2013, his team is producing a series of cultural-competency guidebooks.

MAGIC: If you bring the right people together in the right setting, magic happens. You can count on it, even though you don’t know what form the magic will take. You just have to make a leap of faith.

The Shaker Village Gathering was shoehorned between teaching and finals for my students at Michigan State University School of Journalism. It was a time for grading and grappling with deadlines. Earlier in the week, one class had launched, 100 Questions and Answers About Indian Americans. A joint venture of the Michigan State University School of Journalism and ReadTheSpirit, this is the first in a series of guides to cultural competence. Two weeks later, I was to put on a conference of my own. But I just knew … I had to be in the circle at Shaker Village.

In my everyday world, I can be a blockhead. I can close my mind and shut off contrary ideas. This retreat shattered that. My personal block was this: People at the university who heard of the cultural competence series suggested it might merit funding. I was immediately torn between attraction and knee-jerk resistance. One of the university’s top priorities for bridging cultures is with incoming international students, especially from China. But I thought the series could not be used that way. Too narrow. Too specific. Not according to my grand plan. This new ReadTheSpirit Books series of guides should increase Americans’ competence with other cultures, religions, races and ethnicities. A guide for Chinese students, orienting them to American culture, was not in keeping with that goal, I thought.

I asked the circle at Shaker Village what I should do. In less than one sentence—in a phrase, really—Stuart Matlins untangled things. Matlins is founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of Jewish Lights Publishing and SkyLight Paths Publishing. He made the light come on! He said that what was needed here was a “complementary guide.”

A 180-DEGREE TURN: Of course! Turn the lens around. Make a 180-degree turn. Use the cultural competence prescription to explain Americans to others! This would serve a need and be true to the mission. By the end of the day, Stuart’s two words had inspired six pages of my new proposal for exactly that kind of project. Thank you, Stuart. And thanks to the entire circle for creating the magic I needed.

Environmental Activist, Author Eileen Flanagan:
‘The Whole World is a Bridge’

Trees outside a Shaker Village Pleasant Hill building by David CrummEileen’s award-winning book, The Wisdom to Know the Difference, has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama. Read our interview with Eileen here. A major focus of her work is eco-justice, which you can read about at her website.

GRATITUDE: My overwhelming feeling coming out of the ReadTheSpirit gathering in Kentucky is gratitude. I feel grateful to have connected face to face with people whom I had only previously met online or over the phone. I feel grateful to have met brand new friends, some whom I’m confident I’ll collaborate with in the future and others whom I hope to see more than just on Facebook, where we are already finding each other. I feel grateful to have received encouragement for a current writing project just when it was needed and to be able to encourage others in their work.

I also feel grateful for the 100 species of birds at Shaker Village, which were so much nicer to wake up to than the sound of Philadelphia buses. I had been feeling the need to reconnect with nature, so this weekend was well timed in many ways.

The only regret I have from the gathering is that I didn’t get to speak to everyone personally or hear everyone’s voice in the large group. Our meetings seemed a microcosm of the problem Mary Ann Brussat raised about the Internet having so much content that there is not enough time to read all of it. That dilemma got me thinking about how we create space for all voices, not just in a gathering like ours, but also in the publishing world that we are all trying to navigate and transform.

I also carry away specific memories:
that Dan Buttry and I share dear mutual friends and a connection to Africa. Reflecting on discussions of gender with Megan McFeely, associate producer of Global Spirit on PBS. She blogs for the Huffington Post about her own spiritual journey following the inner Path of Sufism. Saving a quote from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “The whole world is a bridge. The important thing is to not be afraid.” Pondering the question, “How do you have a relationship with someone if you don’t know what causes them pain?” Acting on David Crumm’s thesis: “There is no transformative movement that has evolved without a pattern of travel and visitation.”

I’ve already mentioned that last insight to people in my activist community and have been thinking about how to apply it there as well as with the people from our circle. If there is one overriding takeaway for me, I guess it is that relationships are both easier and more difficult to maintain in the age of the Internet but that knowing each other has never been more important.

Journalist, Peace Activist Mary Liepold:
Gathering Around Tree of Life

ReadTheSpirit The Shaker Village Gathering 2013Mary is Editor in Chief for Peace X Peace, an international organization that strengthens and connects women’s voices in 120 countries.

“Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum.
“You came along and everything started to hum.”

Frank Sinatra sang it, and Tony Bennett too. It popped into my head during my quiet time this morning because my husband Al and I just spent several humming, buzzing days at Shaker Village in Kentucky, with other friends of David Crumm’s burgeoning ReadTheSpirit enterprises. The Shaker Village logo is a stylized tree of life—although its outsized apples also suggest the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis. The Shaker anthem Simple Gifts, with its bowing, bending, and turning, would suggest something more like a willow, or the gorgeous weeping cherries we saw here in DC earlier this spring. Of the making of meaning there is no end, but the plums are mine. You know who you are!

At most, this national gathering was a minute subsection of the vast tree of life. Still, it was more than I could find time to explore. I came home eager to reach out to the people David gathered who I didn’t manage to connect with, and Googling like mad to learn more about the ones I met. Because I went with my husband Al, we connected happily with a few of the other couples, including Ben and Judith Pratt and Paul and Jan Chaffee. Because Al is Jewish, we connected briefly with the other Jews there—publisher Stuart Matlins, Dr. Joe Lewis and Bobbie Lewis, and Rabbi Bob Alper―and enjoyed tapping into the Roots of the tree of life with the Sabbath prayers and blessings Joe led. And because Al loves movies, even more than I do, we shared several meals with film “curator” Ed McNulty, and I just extended my Netflix queue by at least 20 titles! (Thanks, Ed!)

CURATOR: The term curator, in the sense of someone who reaches into the great buzz and hum of the culture to lift up the best, is one of the plums I brought home from the gathering. My prize take-away from the “smart room” at large, as distinct from the people in it, was being reminded once again that it’s all about compassionate community. Yes, God, by whatever name, is at the center, but if the human relationships don’t work the divine ones probably won’t either. And because so many people have been hurt by or in their congregations, and all the rest of us have been hurt by life one way or another, healing is job one for most congregations and associations. Stuart described an extensive survey of church leaders and seminary professors who identified Bill W. and Dr. Bob, founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, as the most important spiritual leaders of the 20th century. Yes, of course! We bond across boundaries because of our afflictions.

SEEKING OUT OTHERS: If I’d gone to the meeting alone I might have found the other Catholics (or was I the only one?) and spent at least a few minutes with the very attractive Muslims, Eide Alawan and Kabir Helminski. I’m a peace person, so I’d have sought out the rather luminous Dan Buttry. I’d have spent more time with the other women, including Eileen Flanagan (who’s married to a Catholic and whose new book I can’t wait to read), Megan McFeely, and Megan Crumm, Heather Jose (a specialist in healing), and Mary Ann Brussat, who put the term curator out on the floor and who, with her husband Frederic, has devoted decades to cultural/spiritual curation. We might even have mounted a bit of an uprising. One of the thorns on this local branch of the great tree, as David acknowledged, is that the group didn’t fully represent the diversity RTS aims for. As a feminist too tamed by couplehood to be adequately uppity when the occasion demands, I was grateful for Megan McFeely’s occasional instigation. (Thank you, dear heart. Stay beautiful, vulnerable, and brave.)

It wasn’t perfect. We’re not perfect. I’m grateful to David and the RTS family. And I agree with Frank, Tony, and composers Coleman and Leigh: “It’s a real good bet the best is yet to come.”

Translator, Publisher Joe Lewis:
‘Could We Handle the Success?’

Joe’s writing has ranged from computer manuals to poetry to translation; his professional roles include establishing an independent publishing house, the Singlish Publication Society.

ONLINE VOICES: Joe is one of a number of voices from the Shaker Village Gathering already posting outward reflections via social media, blogs or newspapers. He posted his reflections at the blog within his publishing house website. Like many participants, his thoughts traveled in yet another direction—thinking about the Shakers themselves. They were hugely successful, he writes in his column, then they vanished. He asks: “Could we handle the success?”

Journalist, Food Writer Bobbie Lewis:
‘Connections to Faith, Family, Culture’

Bobbie a writer, editor and consultant. Her website is; her current recipe blog is:

The minute we drove into Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill I felt a sense of serenity and order. That’s exactly what the Shakers were trying to achieve through their communal social structure, architecture, furniture design and all other aspects of their society. ReadTheSpirit could hardly have chosen a more appropriate place for a retreat examining the current status and future of interfaith efforts to improve life in our home cities, the United States and the world.

I felt a bit like a gate crasher in the group, which included people who have done—and are doing—remarkable things. I’ve been interested in interfaith work for many years, possibly as a by-product of being the only Jewish girl in my class throughout elementary school. Since retiring last summer from full-time work, I have been able to spend more time on volunteer efforts, including serving on the board of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metropolitan Detroit). But these meager efforts pale by comparison to what most of the conference participants have done: writing, publishing, teaching, founding and leading organizations that are doing important things. I was humbled (in true Shaker tradition) to be among them and to learn from them.

PLAN AHEAD FOR THE 2014 NAIN CONFERENCE: I recently joined the planning committee for the 2014 North American Interfaith Network conference, which will be in Detroit in 2014. Several other committee members were at the Shaker Village gathering, and it was helpful to me to get to know them better. Some of those from other states are also active in NAIN, so I look forward to reconnecting with them at this year’s conference in Toronto and next year’s in Detroit. (Plan ahead for the 2013 and 2014 conferences by visiting the NAIN site.)

COMING SOON—FEED THE SPIRIT: The most exciting part of the weekend for me was being asked to work with ReadTheSpirit on developing a new web portal, Feed The Spirit, that will focus on food and its connection to faith, family and culture. So many of the recipes we enjoy come with wonderful stories attached: about the person who gave us the recipe, or the holiday it’s connected to, or a trip we took when we first enjoyed it. I’m hoping the people I met on the weekend will join me in this exploration.

Author, Cancer Thriver Heather Jose:
Compassion for those with invisible challenges

Heather Jose is known for her work in changing the way cancer patients think about their journey. She is one of the writer-activists who sparked the trend toward describing these men and women as “cancer thrivers.” She runs Go Beyond Treatment seminars.

ONLINE VOICES: Many conversations at the Shaker Village Gathering centered on Compassion, Kindness, Civility and Welcoming. As she mulled these themes, Heather Jose returned home and posted her newest weekly column on remembering the millions of men and women whose health challenges are largely unknown, invisible or unpredictable.

Living in a Time of Transformational Chaos

Margaret is an educator, writer and retired United Methodist pastor. Her writing and teaching focuses on the spiritual stories of women both in the Bible and in contemporary life.

Gleanings from Pleasant Hill: 1. Energy, optimism, hope. 2. More comfort, less anxiety about living and working in this time of transformational chaos. 3. Experiencing Shaker Village, KY (like Green Lake, WI) as a “thin place” on our Creator’s beautiful earth.

And, 4. The gathering, in my mind’s eye, was a pebble in a pond, the rings expanding from central Kentucky to southeast Michigan (including East Lansing), Akron, Vermont, New York City, the greater D.C. area, North Carolina, Atlanta, and west to California—any place we call home (and I don’t know the home bases all of us). How far the rings will expand in the future I do not know, but opportunities and possibilities abound. The gathering was a time of reaching beyond where we’ve been to a wider place of inclusion and understanding.

Enlarging the Circle of Connections

Henry is a long-time copy editor, working for many years in daily newspapers.

ONLINE VOICES: Henry’s efforts since Shaker Village are summarized at the top of this story. His audience is rural Tuscola County in Michigan’s Thumb. You can read his column on the Shaker Village Gathering at the Tuscola Today website.

‘Tis the Gift to Think of Others’

Benjamin is a columnists at ReadTheSpirit and at the website for the Day1 radio network. He travels widely to speak, convene workshops and to learn from other caregivers. He has been part of the ReadTheSpirit team since our founding in 2007.

QUESTION: What happens when a virtual community finally meets face to face?

Answer: Simple Gifts, sharing openly, honestly ’til “true simplicity is gained.” Our ReadTheSpirit community—editors, publishers, writers, advocates, colleagues from other online interfaith spiritual and cultural organizations, educators, technical wizards—finally came out of virtual obscurity and lived face to face for several days in Shaker Village, KY. We celebrated the “gift to be simple” to “find ourselves in the place just right…the valley of love and delight.” We sang the ol’ Shaker song written by Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848, but more importantly, we lived it. We gathered as Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Sufis, Christians—the religious and spiritual—forging the bricks to build community for the future. We experienced, as Brackett’s song reveals,

‘Tis a gift to have friends and a true friend to be,
‘Tis the gift to think of others not to only think of “me”,
And when we hear what others really think and really feel,
Then we’ll all live together with a love that is real.

Journalist, Consultant Martin Davis:
A Revolution in Relationships

Doorway Center Family Meeting Room Shaker Village Kentucky by David CrummMarty is a journalist and consultant known nationally to religious leaders grappling with congregational development and new media.

The notion of “building community” has long been at the center of the world’s religions—both major and minor. It does not surprise, therefore, that from new communities within established bodies that revolutionary changes emerge. One of what will become many such communities was on display in Kentucky this past weekend as David Crumm and John Hile brought together individuals working on dynamic new communities in the American world of faith.

More than people looking for new ways to do “church” or “interfaith”—though both were well represented—people in this group are changing the fundamental relationship structure upon which faith rests. Sometimes with, and sometimes without, the traditional overarching structures that are today’s faith communities and leaders.

As one who fits in the category of a “None” (people who self-identify on surveys as “spiritual but not religious” or who check “none of the above” when asked which faith tradition they belong to), the revolution I observed was how far the members of this group have grown beyond the question of how will religion survive? How will faith survive?

‘A NEW STAGE OF AWARENESS’: Whether they are motivated by frustration with these questions, disenchantment with traditional faith traditions, or have reached a new stage of awareness of community in their existing work, these individuals have let go of “growth models” and “theological concerns” in favor of joining with those committed to framing faith around the concept of shared values.

What does this look like?

  • A Jewish publisher who has connected the notion of religious “hospitality”—being welcoming and understanding of those outside your community—to larger global issues around civil society. For example, how does one act at a funeral when the deceased’s tradition is not your own?
  • Collectors of “resources” for spiritual people who want new ways of living that connect with selected elements of faith traditions and connect with others via new technologies.
  • People who are joining concern for the tens of millions of Americans who find themselves in the role of caregiver and, because of these responsibilities, disconnected from their established communities of support.
  • People pushing women’s issues to the next stage of incarnation.
  • Artists using humor and music to connect peoples separated by theology and politics in their lives.
  • And ReadTheSpirit staff who are leveraging technology to produce the information and materials these (above) people are generating in innovative and customized ways that not only meet needs, but generate revenue for those who produce the work and allow them to continue their work.

RELATIONSHIPS: Underlying all of this work is a revolutionary sense of relationships each person demonstrates. Relationships based not only upon the ideas of friendship, the suffering servant, or civility, but most important upon a radical notion of hospitality that rightly begins with a willingness to lay aside their own preconceptions about which groups and people are “genuine” and listen deeply to the needs being expressed by those around them.

It is this radical hospitality that both defines, and drives, every person in the room. As is appropriate, this radical hospitality was on display not only in the work of those attending, but among the individuals themselves.

My own off-hand comment during a discussion about mental illness, caregiving, and the challenges this disease has imposed upon my own family led to quiet moments of support outside the main meeting hall. Expressions of concern, stories of shared struggles, and extraordinary offers to help emerged. These expressions, one could say, are timeless and central to the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds. But as studies have shown repeatedly, many people in faith communities receive these expressions of help with strings that tie them to judgments or a desire to “fix” whatever problem is faced.

WITHOUT STRINGS: Both the work of the people in the room, and the relationships that were joined, came without strings. Only a willingness to enter a relationship and work together to hear what those thirsting for an understanding of their relationship to the divine are genuinely asking for.

The revolution in relationship on display this weekend is no doubt based in ancient practice and faith expression. But then, most every revolution in relationship (Martin Luther and Erasmus, the Shakers, and Martin Luther King, to name but a few) was likewise begun.

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Dawn at Shaker Village Kentucky by David Crumm

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Categories: Great With GroupsNatural WorldPeacemaking

Passover, by Debra Darvick from This Jewish Life the book cover to visit its webpage.DEBRA DARVICK is a nationally known columnist (you may have seen her stories in Good Housekeeping and other magazines) as well as an author who has just released This Jewish Life: Stories of Discovery, Connection & Joy. That book contains dozens of true stories about Jewish families as they move through a typical year. The following overview of Passover is from the introduction to that section of her book. (Learn more about Debra’s book by clicking here or on the book cover at right.)


Passover affirms the great truth that liberty is the inalienable right of every human being.
M. Joseph

By Debra Darvick

Pesach, Passover, follows Purim by a month and a day and commemorates the liberation of the People of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Outside of the High Holidays, Passover is likely the most widely observed holiday of the Jewish calendar. Celebrated for eight days—seven in Israel and by Reform Jews—Passover begins with a ritual meal called a Seder, an hours-long celebration filled with food, discussion and singing that enables Jews to fulfill the commandment to retell the story of our going out from Egypt.

The most distinguishing feature of Passover is matzah, a flat cracker that substitutes for bread during the holiday. When the People of Israel fled Egypt, there was no time to allow their dough to rise. The flattened cakes they ate come down to us as matzah. The laws of Passover dictate that prior to the beginning of the holiday, the home must be cleaned of all chametz, that is, any food that might have any leavening in it whatsoever. No bread, no noodles, no cereal or cookies. The night before the holiday begins, some families conduct a chametz search. By candlelight, children se tout with a wooden spoon and feather to collect bits of chametz that their parents have set out around the house for them to find. These last bits of chametz are set aside to be burned the following morning. Those who observe the law in the strictest sense will have in their homes only those foods that ahve been certified kosher for Passover.

On the Seder table are other foods symbolic of the Passover story—saltwater simulates the tears of the Hebrew slaves; horseradish represents the bitterness of their lives. An egg symbolizes the cycle of life; charoset, a savory mixture of wine, cinnamon, apples and walnuts, symbolizes the mortar used in construction of the Egyptian cities. Greens, called karpas, symbolize spring; a shank bone, zeroah, symbolizes the sacrifice of the Pascal lamb. Four glasses of wine are drunk, at prescribed times during the meal.

To entertain the children during the long meal, a tradition developed to hide a small piece of matzah called the afrikomen during the early part of the meal. Toward the close of the evening, all children present are invited to search for the afrikomen and then ransom it back to the head of the household.

The Passover story is told in a book called a Haggadah. Haggadot, the plural form of the word, may be simple or ornately illustrated. They have long been an art form in and of themselves; there are hundreds of Haggadot to choose from.

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Categories: HolidaysJewish

Lenten Journey 5: In death … is life.

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys

FOR LENT 2013, ReadTheSpirit has two offerings for you:

1.) DAVID CRUMM’S ‘Our Lent’ Thousands of readers have enjoyed the day-by-day book of inspiring stories, Our Lent: Things We Carry.

2.) LENTEN JOURNEY The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & Guide for Caregivers is publishing a new Lenten series:
Part 1: Introduction and ‘Deep Calls to Deep’

Part 2: ‘Rituals & Practices (and Flowing Water)’

Part 3: Surprised? Or, is this an invitation to a blessing?
Part 4: Legacy of imperfection and grace.

5: In death … is life.

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

THIS MORNING I WITNESSED IT—and I cannot keep it to myself. As often as we may see this in the natural world, the experience is riveting. Some truths we do not face easily.

Something must die for us to live.

That’s a fact. An axiom. A truth of nature: In death is life. This process unfolds all around us all the time, as simple as arising each day and eating breakfast—even our cereal was once a green and thriving plant.

So, there I stand, looking out the window, pondering the new day, enjoying a squirrel grazing beneath our feeders. Plumping himself against the winter chill; munching on grains as I had. Chickadees, Sparrows, Cardinals, Wrens peck at these kernels of life that we provide in our backyard buffet. As they crowd our feeders, they scatter an overflow on the squirrel’s head. Even a Downy Woodpcker’s sweet suet bits cascade over this fortunate grazer. Bounty showering all around him, he munches in fat contentment.

Then, a flash.

The birds explode from the feeders—gone—which is what I chiefly notice, at first. Until I realize the squirrel is gone as well. Where? I did see it unfold, I realize. The hawk shot down with talons and beak poised for the strike.

Now, I see that hawk lifting him almost softly—softly to my eyes. The squirrel utters one, short, sharp, final squeak. Soaring to a broad tree limb—50 feet above the fray. I witness a meal that will steel this regal hawk against the winter chill.

The danger past, the other birds return to the feeders one by one. Soon that colorful community is restored. But I cannot turn my eyes from the tree branch. I cannot help but watch—like catching a glimpse in my mind’s eye of myself in a coffin.

We say: In death is life. We know it. But, this is a hard truth, isn’t it? I sit down and jot this prayer, which I share with you today:

O Lord, I eat flesh and I eat grains.
All die that I may live.
This is not a prayer of guilty confession;
I pray in humble thanksgiving today.
Grant me awareness to undergird my choices:
Turn my competition and violence,
Toward stewardship and compassion,
Toward justice, kindness, mercy
And thanks for the promise of life.


Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

This column also has been posted to the website of the Day1 radio network.

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Categories: ChristianHolidaysNatural World

Lenton Journey 4: Legacy of Imperfection and Grace

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys LENT 2013, ReadTheSpirit has two offerings for you:

1.) DAVID CRUMM’S ‘Our Lent’ Thousands of readers have enjoyed the day-by-day book of inspiring stories, Our Lent: Things We Carry.

2.) LENTEN JOURNEY The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & Guide for Caregivers is publishing a new Lenten series:
Part 1: Introduction and ‘Deep Calls to Deep’

Part 2: ‘Rituals & Practices (and Flowing Water)’
Part 3: Surprised? Or, is this an invitation to a blessing?

4: You can sense it in the wood—
Imperfection and Grace

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt FATHER DIED IN MAY 1985. Within a month of his death I announced to my wife that I wanted to learn fine woodworking. My father had worked with his hands as an auto mechanic, but he had never worked in wood. I was puzzled. Death often confronts us with the anxious tension of despair and creativity. A month later, I met a surrogate father. Howard, an artist with wood, spent every morning in his woodshop and every afternoon reading Scientific American. He also was a jokester: The first thing he said as I entered his shop was that we needed to get a bucket of water—for my fingers when I cut them off.

Howard had served as a squadron commander in the South Pacific during WWII; he was a head of research in the U.S. Navy after the war. He built, flew—and crashed—his own plane; he survived with a broken leg. He built his house; crafted ninety classic period pieces of walnut and cherry over decades. The last years of his life he went twice a day to be with his wife whom he had lost to Alzheimer’s. Among his many life legacies were ones that blessed me—his presence as a caregiver and an artist with wood.

I still have all my fingers, and I always chuckle with gratitude as I turn on the saw. I’m more cautious around power tools than computers. They both scare me. When I enter my small shop I always think of my friend—I miss the ornery ol’ curmudgeon. I see and feel his skill, his talent, his life in my own hands as I choose planks of wood to “glue up” for the sides, bottom or lid of a chest. The perfume of each plank is unique to my nose: walnut is sweet; cedar is spicy. I caress the planks and align the grains of the wood, seeking to put their best face forward. It is a slow, intimate fondling of the wood, arranging and realigning, to achieve the best possible assembly. Then Howard’s words remind me, “You are not building a watch.”

I can’t make it perfect, but I still measure twice and cut once. Ah, the joinery—dovetails, foxtails, mortise and tenon—numerous hours of patience with routers and chisels—fitting and refitting. My grandchildren ask, “How many hours did it take you to build this, PopPop?”

“Oh, it only took all the hours necessary to make it beautiful enough for you.”

When is it ever finished? When it is good enough! There are always blemishes, slight seam gaps, chips and imperfections that remain—much like the imperfections of this woodworker. And yet, these boxes are not only storage. They are warm, solid, visually inviting gifts of hope, crafted with patience from flawed wood by a flawed man.

When finished, they call out for a hand to skim across the smooth surface that was once rough-cut lumber. Perhaps, one day, in a pensive mood, my grandchildren will let their hands glide slowly across the surface and, for a moment, their hands and hearts will pick up the flawed spirits that came before and shaped their lives.

Now, like my mentor in wood, I have become a caregiver as well. I have cared for my wife, sometimes more or less intensively, over the past nine years. I now understand more about my caregiver’s lessons—how he held the anxious, daily tension between despair and creativity. Almost every day in my life, creativity wins the struggle. Usually, my projects involve a promise of legacy for our grandchildren.

When my two older granddaughters turned ‘sweet sixteen’, I gave them each hand-crafted jewelry chests. When they graduated from high school I presented them with walnut and cedar hope chests, their monograms inlaid. My hands are not as steady now, my eyes not as discerning, so I have already begun crafting gifts for the younger grandchildren who will graduate five and seven years hence.

I am facing my mortality. But, God willing, I shall pass on gifts to them, as well.

And here is the greatest lesson I have learned: These gifts cannot be perfect. They are gifts of love, patience, persistence, devotion, practical beauty and intimate creativity. Fine woodworking always has imperfections if we look closely enough. And such is life.

Perfect is beyond my imagination, at least in this life. So, I practice a spirituality of imperfection, working to be as creative as possible under a blanket of loving grace.


Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

This column also has been posted via the website for the Day1 radio network.

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Categories: CaregivingChristianHolidays

Lenten Journey: Surprised? Or, an invitation to blessing?

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys around the world are making the pilgrimage of Lent.
For Lent 2013, ReadTheSpirit has two offerings for you:

1.) DAVID CRUMM’S ‘OUR LENT’ Thousands of readers have enjoyed ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm’s day-by-day book of Lenten stories, called Our Lent: Things We Carry.

2.) OUR INTIMATE LENTEN JOURNEY The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt has written books on wrestling with temptations (Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins) and on helping others (Guide for Caregivers).
For Lent, we are publishing Dr. Pratt’s once-a-week series …

Part 1: Introduction and ‘Deep Calls to Deep’
Part 2: ‘Rituals & Practices (and Flowing Water)’

3: Surprised? Of course.
Or, is this an invitation to blessing?

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

IT WAS 7 A.M. I had just taken the first sip of coffee when the phone rang. She said, “My father died during the night. The hospice nurse called me about an hour ago. My rabbi has very young children and I don’t want to disturb them by calling his house this early. I knew you would be up. Will you say the Lord’s Prayer with me and the 23rd Psalm?”! But, I understood what she was asking. I knew that Jewish and Muslim prayer both have parallels to what we Christians call the Lord’s Prayer. She was graciously asking for prayer in my terms. I managed to say, “I am sorry to hear that your father died. I am honored that you have asked me to pray with you.”

I wasn’t fully awake; I stumbled more than she did. But, we prayed the prayer and recited the Psalm together. Then we were quiet for a few moments.

“I am very grateful,” she said. “I feel much quieter now—comforted. Thank you.”

I learned much in my training as a hospital chaplain, then in my years as a pastor and pastoral counselor. I learned that each of us yearns for respectful presence and hospitality from another person. We deeply hunger to be seen and valued with dignity. When a person is in need, their race, gender, ethnicity and religious creed are not foremost—he or she wants person-to-person caring presence.

The truth for all of us: We may be called upon at any time, especially at times we least expect it. We should aspire to be ready to welcome people as they are—wherever we are—and then to find the blessing in that encounter.

Once, in a foreign country, my wife and I were dining in a sidewalk café. The food was excellent and each table was filled. Judith commented on her delicious dish when the woman next to her, having overheard, chimed in with similar enthusiasm for her tasty dinner. Before long Judith and the woman were chatting and comparing recipes while the man and I were talking. He is a long haul trucker who was visiting his girl friend. We talked about the differences in our countries, and I was inquisitive about the life of a trucker. He was quite willing to share the hardships and pleasures of his work. He asked about my work. I told him I am a retired minister and he looked startled.

Then he asked: “Will you please bless me?”

Startled—but I said, “Yes.” He closed his eyes and I crafted a brief blessing based on what he had shared about his life over the last half hour. When finished, I looked in his face. He kept his eyes shut and he was quiet. A tear suddenly formed and ran down his cheek.

“Thank you,” he said as he opened his eyes. “I really needed that. I think I must have been lead to meet you tonight.”

I said, “You have blessed me also. Thank you.”

We may be surprised anywhere. One day, my wife and I were grocery shopping. She had the list, and we were checking it twice. At one point, she said, “I need olives,” and I responded that I would go find them. I turned.

“I need olives, too,” said a nicely dressed older gentleman who had overheard us. We stepped off in the same direction and searched for the right aisle.

Then, yes, he surprised me. “You take good care of that woman, young man,” he said. “My wife of 56 years died two weeks ago and I’m shopping here for the first time alone.”

Ten minutes later we still hadn’t found the olives when my wife found us. But that didn’t matter because I had learned all about his wonderful wife and him. He needed someone to listen and be present. I was the one who found an unexpected blessing that day.

This week, my prayer for you is simple:

May God surprise you, too.


Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

This column also has been posted via the website for the Day1 radio network.

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Categories: ChristianHolidaysPeacemaking