December 30, 2008: Redemption (and the Beloved Community

Yesterday morning, after beloved grandson Dmitri and his equally beloved parents had gone home after our wonderful Christmas together, David and I were feeling pretty sad. Rather than indulge in gooey, fattening holiday leftovers, we oh-so-maturely opted for a brisk walk around Concord’s Great Meadows. A wildlife preserve beside the Concord River, Great Meadows is a perennial favorite.

One of the first things we always do at Great Meadows is to check out the  “recently sited” blackboard which hangs on the kiosk at the preserve’s entrance. After they’ve walked around the preserve, birders and small children note what they spotted. Sometimes these chalked notations are pretty fanciful—dinosaurs, sea monsters, etc.—but always worth reading.

Yesterday, however, there was nothing written on the blackboard except “Happy new year!”

“A clean slate!” I thought. “Literally!”

What would a clean slate feel like? What if my considerable “trespasses/debts”, like a messy, much-chalked-on blackboard, had been vigorously erased somehow? As we walked (Great Meadows being flooded, our walk continued around Cambridge’s Fresh Pond, instead) I contemplated myself as a clean slate. It was exhilarating!

I’m not a clean slate, of course. I have made many mistakes.  But every week, when I listen to formerly incarcerated men and women talk about how they’re turning their lives around, I am reminded that although our “chalk marks” are never completely erased, with Spirit’s help, there is Possibility, Hope; can I say Redemption? 

Maybe not. I’ll admit that maybe I’m using the word “redemption” incorrectly. (unlike my “literally” usage which was spot on!) In traditional Christianity, as I understand it, redemption means being delivered from sin and happens through sacrifice. I’m talking more about a spiritual process by which the possibility for change and growth are acknowledged, honored, and acted upon by both individuals and the larger community. A “beloved community.”

I plan to keep using the word “redemption”—as elucidated—as often as possible because such a loving and forgiving concept feels like something people of faith (that’s me!) should just be saying.

And witnessing to.

November 15, 2008: Twin (Mind) Set

Was reminded the other night of the dramatic, charged moments right after Allison and Christina had been born (25 years ago this month): There was “Roth baby # 1,” aka Allison, who’d scored a perfect score on the Apgar and was therefore an instant star in that operating room (It was a high-risk birth and there were lots of medical people milling around in case something went wrong). And there was scrawny Christina, “Roth baby # 2,” instantly delivered to Intensive Care. And there was me, feeling such pride and such fear simultaneously!

Maybe that intense moment on November 2, 1983 was teaching me to think about and to feel two very different things at the same time. Certainly this past week I have been both elated that Obama won and constantly wondering how KT’s faring in jail (At least KT got to vote for Obama before being sentenced). Come to think of it, this mindset’s very much informing this week’s column for the Somerville Journal.

Another example: Last night, Lynn threw a very sweet birthday party for Nesto (Nesto: told you I’d mention you in my blog. So there!) Many of the guests were young people affiliated with the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute which, tragically, may close because of state cutbacks. These young people were so delightfully playful, so comfortable with their elders, so FUN, obviously, in part, because they’ve been doing such important work and have received some excellent training. So I laughed and teased and tossed rubbery anemone-like tossables back and forth with these 16-29 year olds, all the while feeling so sad that the Institute may have to shut it doors. (I’m linking the Institute’s website if you want more info.)

June 25, 2008

Last night was the Graduation Ceremony for the Carey Program. Run by the City of Cambridge’s (MA) Department of Human Services, the Carey Program is a very structured,  9-month opportunity for homeless men, many of them just out of prison, to “become men,” as one speaker said last night. These men live at the Cambridge Y where they report to Carey Program counselors and advisors weekly; meanwhile they’re looking for work and, with assistance from the Program, find a place to live.

Because 2 of the men from Friends Meeting’s meals-and-sharing circle were graduating, David, I and three others from the circle went too. As had been predicted earlier in the evening by Cambridge’s mayor (Denise Simmons; she’s impressive!) and others, the speeches given by each graduate after he’d received his certificate were powerful, tear-producing, amazing.

What struck me was the same thing that struck me when I taught homeless students: How much  having a spiritual life plays a leading role in recovery, survival, making it. “God put some beautiful people in my life,” the first graduate stated. He was followed by graduate after graduate thanking God, asking for a moment of silence, etc.

Years ago I was asked to talk to Harvard Education School students who were taking a look at why some students hang in there and others just give up and fail. When I mentioned my observation that homeless students who had some kind of spiritual life seemed to fare better than those who didn’t, they didn’t seem all that interested.

Too bad.