In-person worship suspended beginning this Sunday, March 15.
Do you have a talisman?
A medicine man once asked this of me. The wise ones who nurtured him taught him the importance of carrying a medicine bag for himself as he cared for others.
The things we carry to strengthen us, to encourage us, to help us return to the ground of our being are sacred. Like a living prayer, too intimate for words, we may choose not to name them aloud.
Sitting in the dark during an Advent service of Taizé, my talismans made an appearance, greeting me through prayer. I imagined donning them, one after another. Gifts from those who have nurtured me. Sacred objects, artifacts, that connect me to the spirit of my ancestors.
I used to literally wear them, intentionally placing a ring on my finger, clasping a bracelet on my wrist and a necklace around my neck. It was done with the same prayerfulness as celebrating Eucharist. And then… I stopped. For a whole host of reasons… But in the dark of Advent, they returned to me, as did a company of others.
In the storms of life, whatever those might be, we need the prayers of those who have witnessed to us, had faith in us, loved us into our flourishing. So I returned to a childhood minister, and a medicine man, and a mountain shaman who traveled miles to teach. I returned to letters from my grandfather, and his belief in my still unformed substance.
Advent is a restless time, a time of hurrying up, getting ready, and trying to wrest ourselves into a stance of waiting in the right way – as if there is a “right” way. It’s a time of uncertainty. Even though we know the story, it’s as if we are searching to learn it again, to get it, again. And so I returned to a Quaker professor, and the practice of letting the silence gather us. I returned to the reliable clock of a teacher that relieved us of worry about when our time together would end. I returned to the frozen air of winter, and the quiet, slow crunch of snow. I returned to the candles of the night, settling my aching soul.
In the spirit of waiting,
We’re pleased to present the December 2019 issue of our Seventh AveNews church newsletter. It is packed full of important information and fun photos, so be sure to check it out!
CLICK HERE to download a PDF copy!
I came upon this story I shared with you in 2001, and in reading it again, I wanted to pass it on one more time.
It is from Ronald Rolheiser’s provocative book: The Holy Longing. The story unfolds with ‘once upon a time’ ….
Once upon a time there was a town that was built just beyond the bend of a large river. One day some of the children from the town were playing beside the river when they noticed three bodies floating in the water. They ran for help and the townsfolk quickly pulled the bodies out of the water.
One body was dead so they buried it. One was alive, but quite ill, so they put that person into the hospital. The third turned out to be a healthy child. They then placed her with a family who cared for her and took her to school.
From that day on, every day a number of bodies came floating down the river, and every day, the good people of the town would pull them out and tend to them — taking the sick to the hospital, placing the children with families, and burying those who were dead.
This went on for years and the townsfolk not only came to expect the floating bodies, but also worked at developing more elaborate systems for picking them out of the river and tending to them. Some of the townsfolk became quite generous in their tending and a few extraordinary ones even gave up their jobs so that they could tend full-time. And the town itself felt a certain healthy pride in its generosity.
However, during all these years and despite all that generosity and effort, nobody thought to go up the river, beyond the bend, and find out why those bodies came floating down the river.
This story challenges me to be more intentional about the whys of life, rather than simply accepting things “as that’s the way it has always been.” When we acquiesce to statements, behaviors, biases and beliefs simply “because” — we are like those well-meaning folks in the town who responded to the situation in front of them, failing to ask the systemic question, why.
Why are there bodies floating into our town? What is happening upstream? Is there outbreak of disease that we may be able to help cure? Is there an oppressive government that is ruling its people unjustly? Is there a war taking place?
I believe that God longs for us to ask the whys of life — thus enabling us to respond in ways that bring change and not simply support the status quo.
Think about it …. our lives, and world, could be a significantly better place for all her inhabitants — if we simply asked the question why before we respond.
Asking why with you,
Jeff S. Gaines
In April 2017, when I offered to work on researching and documenting the history of our Seventh Avenue pipe organ, Estey Opus #2886, little did I know where that path would lead me and the many doors that would be opened along the way. I shouldn’t have been surprised: my initial inquiry to the Brattleboro Historical Society was answered within a few hours, and shared with trustees and volunteers, including retired attorney, John Carnahan. Soon he sent me a large package containing copies of all the correspondence and order records related to our organ. They revealed the careful planning & design that went into Opus #2886 and helped the Organ Committee decide to pursue restoring this historically important organ at a time when many churches are abandoning theirs.
As a retired archivist, I was interested in finding out what other records might still exist for the 3000 or so pipe organs Estey built prior to closing in 1960. While visiting Boston in Fall 2018, I traveled to Brattleboro to meet John Carnahan and visit the Estey Organ Museum, founded by local publisher & historic preservationist, Barbara George. During our behind-the-scenes tour of an upper floor in one of the original Estey buildings, I noticed a room filled with boxes of dusty envelopes that really needed some care. I thought I might be able to help and suggested returning to clean and stabilize this part of the collection that Barbara had rescued along with the 8 original Estey buildings. They said yes, come! Exciting news, which I shared with Jack Bethards, President and Tonal Director of Schoenstein Organ Builders of Benicia, the firm that’s restoring our organ. He gave me a crash course in how organ records and drawings are created, used and maintained, and offered to stay in touch during my visit.
So, on Wednesday morning September 11, John, Barbara and I climbed the stairs to an upper floor of Estey Building 7-8, and began our work to examine, clean and organize the Organ envelopes before transferring them into clean archival boxes. Work that often seems ordinary and routine to me became exciting as we uncovered drawings, installation notes, paint and wood samples, and sometimes photographs, for many important organs throughout the U.S. Our work became even more important when a reporter from The Common’s, the local weekly, visited and found our work so interesting as to be worthy of frontpage story! See http://www.commonsnews.org/site/sitenext/story.php?articleno=31049
Although the boxes did not contain an envelope for our Estey Opus #2886, it somehow seems fitting that nearly 90 years to the day since the order for Opus #2886 was placed, someone from Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church has established a new relationship with descendants of the Estey Organ Company of Brattleboro, Vermont.
We’re pleased to present the October 2019 issue of our Seventh AveNews church newsletter. It is packed full of important information and fun photos, so be sure to check it out!
CLICK HERE to download a PDF copy!
On Sunday, August 18, we had the delight of experiencing Lay Sunday and hearing from three of our beloved community. We thought it would be wonderful to highlight one of these reflections in this issue of the SeventhAveNews … you can, of course, hear all of them on our website.
“Spirituality through Perspective”
Good morning. The topic of today’s reflection is how our faith or spiritual life impacts our daily lives. As I pondered this question over the past few weeks, I was somewhat alarmed at how difficult I was finding it to identify anything that I thought of as spiritual in my daily life. This was shaping up to be a short reflection!
Like many of you, my daily life is dominated by the mundane — by definition, “of this world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one.” Up around 5am most days, to the gym for a quick workout if I can muster the energy; shower, hop on MUNI then BART; to the office in Oakland for a day of meetings, writing, thinking, problem solving; reverse the commute to SF; dinner, playtime and bedtime with the family; then to bed to recharge and prepare to do it all again. I don’t mean to make this sound like drudgery. There are countless moments of beauty, fulfilment, and joy hidden in the routine, although I’m not always good about recognizing them in the moment. But spirituality in daily life…it almost seems like a contradiction.
For me, spirituality has always been about tapping into, getting a glimpse of, something bigger than myself that helps me understand my place in the world, my place in creation. It’s about getting past the mundane. It’s about seeking perspective.
Marta would be entitled to roll her eyes right about now. You see, in our family and among close friends I have come to be known as “perspective guy.” It’s generally not a compliment.
Perspective guy really likes to place things into the appropriate context. Perspective guy typically listens patiently to people’s concerns and then responds by informing them that their issues are really quite insignificant compared to the civil war raging in X country or the challenges the human race faced in some previous era. Perspective guy is a little too eager to weaponize history and current events. Perspective guy means well, but…let’s be honest, he can lack empathy at times.
So yes, perspective can be abused. But, put to more constructive ends, I also believe that it can be a window to spirituality. And after more reflection, I realized that there’s far more of it in my life than I may have been aware.
Paradoxically, it’s there in the micro…the brief, beautiful moments that form the building blocks of each day. The small things that connect us with something bigger. For me, it’s there when I arrive home from work and overhear Helena, unaware of my presence, quietly talking to her stuffed animals while she arranges them. It was there the day I took a slow motion video of Elise running across Robin Williams Meadow in Golden Gate Park and later watched it over and over again, transfixed by the look of pure joy on her face…frame by perfect frame. I’m generally ambivalent about technology, but I was grateful for the unique and beautiful perspective it enabled in this case.
I also find perspective and spirituality in the macro…the places, experiences, and ideas that give me a chance to zoom out and feel small. To be sure, these don’t happen every day, but our family tries to prioritize building in these experiences whenever we can. Camping beside the ocean, under trees, and in the mountains that have existed for millennia before I arrived on this earth and will, I hope, continue to do so long after I am gone. Sitting by the campfire, looking up at the stars and pondering the vastness of the cosmos…the fact that we live on one planet in one galaxy among perhaps hundreds of billions more. Volunteering as a family at Point Reyes during the winter months and helping visitors spot a gray whale during its 10,000 mile round trip migration between Alaska and Mexico. Going to sleep at night in the volunteer housing at the Point Reyes Headlands and listening to the trumpeting of male elephant seals…all the while thinking about the fact that we are on a different tectonic plate — a different piece of the earth’s crust — than the one we woke up on when we started our day in San Francisco. It’s humbling.
I find perspective and spirituality in the new…even little things. Taking a different route to work. Listening to a podcast that exposes me to a new idea. Meeting someone with a different background than my own. Traveling…either literally…or more commonly these days, through the pages of a book.
So…this is how I seek out spirituality, but how it does it influence how I try to live? Well, it encourages me to pay attention, to appreciate the magic of ordinary days. It keeps me humble. It makes me intensely grateful for all of the blessings in my life. And it leads me to try and emulate, however imperfectly, Jesus’s message of love that is reinforced every day by the Seventh Avenue community. Amen.
– Drew Lindsey
We’re pleased to present the September issue of Seventh AveNews. Click here to download a copy!
Years ago, at a Spiritual Directors International Conference, the keynote speaker Edwina Gately mentioned that at our death there won’t be a scale measuring how kind or holy or good we’ve been. No. At our death, there will be a thermometer checking to see how “hot” we’ve been. I like this image! We’re called to be hot!
◼ Hot as we listen for God’s word for us today.
◼ Hot with justice for all.
◼ Hot with concern for one another.
◼ Hot with passion to care and steward this earth, God’s good creation.
◼ Hot with modeling radical welcome and hospitality.
◼ Hot with the love of God, the compassion of Christ and the reconciliation of the Spirit.
In my opinion, SAPC is a HOT community. You feel deeply. You care passionately. You love with a wide expansive embrace. And that is what we are called to be: a community who supports one
another; a body who prayers for one another. May we continue to embody the HOT message of Christ as we live into these coming days.
Striving for “hottness” with you,
Jeffrey S. Gaines
We’re pleased to present the August issue of Seventh AveNews. Click here to download a copy!