The Slow Work of God by George Merrill

“Above all,” writes the famous paleontologist and Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, “trust in the slow work of God.” He continues, “ . . . it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.” At eighty-three, I’m learning to trust the slow work of time, which is, I’m sure, the slow work of God.

It’s autumn on the Shore, harvest season. I, too, am well into the harvest time of my own life. In my mind I frequently survey the landscape where I once sowed, the Island I was born on, and the various landscapes through which I’ve passed since. I see some things are gone, others have changed, and a few brought to fruition. My landscape has widened. The world of my youth was an insular one and now, with time, it’s become a global one.

Fall heralds the end of one season and begins another. It’s a time of transformation and for me, heightened awareness. I first see transformation in falling leaves and vibrant colors, but also in the autumn light. It assumes a softer character, so different than the garish light of mid-summer. On the edges of significant changes, I become more alert, as I might while driving through unknown terrain. Having arrived at the harvest time of my life, I return occasionally to the fields where I’ve sown.

Even with fall’s beauty radiating everywhere, I must confess I also feel tinges of melancholy, or is it nostalgia? I’m not sure.

I suspect that melancholy is the deepening awareness of my own vanishing history that grows more dim with the passage of time. There’s magical energy associated with the “firsts” of our lives. The excitement diminishes with time: the thrill of the first bicycle (it was a second-hand refurbished one as the war was on and few were made); the smell of my first new car; my first puppy named Pete who died of distemper; the first trip to the Statue of Liberty where I walked up the spiral staircase to see the harbor from its crown; there was my first love. There was the first photograph I took, developed the negatives and made the prints.

As a teen I was a lifeguard on the beaches of Staten Island. I once rescued someone. It was the only time and I recall it vividly. The slow work of God, sixty-seven years in this instance.

Growing up on the Island, the ethnic and racial differences were not as obvious as they are today. I knew no Asian kids in school, only one African-American and no Hispanics except once when, as a lifeguard, I rescued a little girl. It was my first hand introduction to how vulnerable and lonely being a stranger in the land can be.

The surf is gentle on Island beaches and bathers have to walk some distance to get in deeper water. It’s a safe place.

One day a thin and frail looking woman (in those days I would have said a foreigner) came over to the observation chair and got my attention by tapping me on the foot. I could see she was frightened and she pointed out to the water and muttered something – I think now it was in Spanish – I couldn’t understand. She beckoned me frantically to follow her to the water line. She pointed to a little girl who was out some distance, but not yet over her head. I could see the girl was standing. The water, however, was up to her chin. She was frozen with panic, afraid to move. I took large strides into the water, put my arm around her waist and walked her toward the shore. She clung to me and I could feel her shivering with fear. As we made our way to the shoreline, I felt a surge of protective compassion for her even though I knew nothing about her and was sure she was not really in much danger. The mother rushed over, put her arms around her, and looked at me in a way that said she was grateful, but, I suspect, also feeling awkward that she couldn’t tell me since she spoke no English.

In retrospect I believe I read the scene accurately. The mother and her child could speak no English. My guess now is they were Hispanic. After I returned to the beach I felt an overwhelming sadness. What must it be like to be in trouble in a strange place that you know no one? What can you do when you are afraid, but cannot speak the language of the people around you? I can only imagine how acutely vulnerable she felt and how hard it must have been for her to trust anyone. She didn’t speak the language, which would only have marginalized her more.

I often took the ferry from Staten Island to Manhattan, passing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island hundreds of times on the way. Both fascinated me. I saw them as the symbols of what America aspired to be, namely, a nation ennobled by offering hospitality to the stranger, a sanctuary for the tired and the poor.

Once I was a stranger.

A few years ago I took an elderly woman to a hospital while I was in Puerto Rico. She’d fallen and had lost considerable blood. She was diabetic and hadn’t eaten for hours. I spoke no Spanish. The halls were filled with patients milling about. I didn’t know where to go where to take my concerns. Doctors and nurses didn’t wear identifying uniforms. I asked some people where to register, where to go. They shrugged their shoulders in a kindly way, but indicated they spoke no English.

I felt desperate and lost.

“You don’t speak Spanish?” a short plump woman asked me. She had a lovely smile. I told her my dilemma. She oriented me to the hospital procedures, identified a doctor and even asked me where I’d parked. “The police will take your car if it’s in the wrong place,” she warned me. “It’ll be hard to get back.” Unlike the little Spanish girl of my Island epic, I could in this instance – with almost tears in my eyes –communicate my gratitude to her in a language she understood.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor by George Merrill

I’ve been around and on the water most of my life. I was born on an island, vacationed on another. Now I live on the Eastern Shore that is surrounded by water and for all practical purposes, is an island.

I’ve been seasick twice. The first time was crossing the English Channel from the Hook of Holland to Dover and the other sailing off Tortola in the Virgin Islands. Being seasick is a miserable experience. You think you’ll die and at times, wish you would.

A seasoned sailor once told me that the best way to stave off seasickness is to keep your eyes fixed on the horizon. As tumultuous as the sea can get, the horizon will appear steady and affords a stabilizing orientation that helps to make us feel balanced when everything around us is heaving.

I think of the socio-political climate I live in today as heaving. I feel tossed this way and that. It’s as if I spend my days trying to stave off the queasiness that frequently arises in my stomach when I look at my country and a world that seems to be going mad. It’s as if we were on a ship with a malfunctioning compass, a contentious crew and an ailing captain. We’re sailing under a cloudy sky that occludes the sun or stars so we can’t orient ourselves. I sometimes feel frightened, uncertain, lost.

As I write this, next to me sits a copy of The Week magazine. Like many magazines, the last page (The Last Word, this magazine calls it) offers reflective columns that deal with human-interest issues. The October 20th edition ran a piece on Mr. Rogers of the famous Mr. Rogers Neighborhood series that first ran on television in 1968. A picture of Mr. Rogers accompanies the article. He’s in his cardigan sweater, seated, smiling, as he puts on his sneakers. Rogers radiated an aura of benevolence that was infectious and from all accounts he was in real life the same kind, gentle, and caring man, as he appeared to be in his programs. He is an example of how character counts and how it can make all the difference in the lives of others. He had been a part of that horizon we seek as the world pitches and roils around us.

When I first saw the column I wondered, why now? Rogers died in 2003 and, although his program was shown for some years after his death, I assumed that he had become more like an old attic piece that may once have been loved and treasured and then wound up tucked away and forgotten. His reemergence is prophetic.

Prior to seeing this recent article, Mr. Rogers first came to my attention at the time of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. The horror of that senseless slaughter rippled through the country and it was front-page news for weeks.

At that time someone posted one of Mr. Roger’s comments online, a comment made years before on one of his programs. In his skillful way, he was discussing with his television neighborhood how when scary things happen and we feel all alone, it is not the end of our world. “My mother would say to me,” he told the children, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers –so many caring people in the world.”

The post reportedly went viral. It must have generated interest for millions in the country. The comment captured the national imagination. I believe it spoke to a deep need and a national hunger. It was an inspired statement from a man long gone, a statement recalled in the fullness of time, as if, as they say of angels, that the wounded and needy were being ministered to by messengers of God. America is facing ugly and scary things. We are reminded that there are helpers, people who are there for us in the darkest hours to aid and comfort us.

I remember at the time of the bombing there was a lot of television coverage focusing on people who suddenly appeared from nowhere to be available and help. One physician – perhaps participating in the marathon, ran to the hospital to make himself available to the wounded.

Anthony Breznican, the author of The Week article, recalled Rogers speaking those words of assurance when he had been a boy. Years later he found solace in those words as he struggled through personal crises of his own in adulthood.

I was curious that the journalist would write about Mr. Rogers now in the present atmosphere where threats of nuclear war and the mass shootings are the norm. We’re not having wonderful days in the neighborhood. There’s the bellicose rhetoric coming regularly from Washington. The recollection of Mr. Rogers was as if Breznican looked at the distant horizon and saw the person of Fred Rogers, and he felt calmed in the storm.

Loving-kindness will orient us in tumultuous times. Caring gets easily eclipsed in the tempests roiling in our world today. I suspect Mr. Rogers is speaking to his neighbors again, a voice beyond the grave, pointing us to the horizon of hope and comfort, the way prophets’ voices once spoke to a people who’d lost their way.

His message is as eternal as it is simple:

“To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers –so many caring people in the world.”

There are a lot of good people left in our neighborhood.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

What the Wild Things Do by George Merrill

What wild things do is filled with primal wisdom. Their doings may seem inscrutable but you can be sure they’re informed.

Job, of biblical renown, believed the earth, including its creatures, would teach us what’s important to know about life. ‘Speak to the earth and it will teach you,’ he said. His message was simple. Let nature guide our ways.

In the fall, when the sun’s declination lowers as it makes its daily trek across the sky shadows grow longer. I’ve noticed, too, how the sun’s rays highlight anything that can glitter, the way shining a light beam flush to the floor reveals tiny shards of broken glass.

My studio is about a hundred feet from the house. Walking to it one morning this fall, I spotted a single silk thread shining, one end fixed to a porch stanchion and the other end to a magnolia tree in front of my studio. The single strand stretched over a hundred feet. How it survived wind, rain and birds on the wing is remarkable. It’s inspiring to see how such creative and delicate art, such as spiders weave, can survive in a world that has become so violent. At the most primitive levels, nature teaches us the art of living.

Spiders weaving webs is a task filled with uncertainty. The spider affixes one end of a strand to something solid. She manufactures liquid protein, which solidifies into threads as she lays each strand. The spider then lets the loose end play out and wind currents take it. Where the other end sticks becomes the first strand from which all the others proceed, like the first sentence in a paragraph.

Just why images of the spider’s web, joined witches riding broomsticks as Halloween’s premier spooky icon, I don’t know. From my point of view, a spider’s web is pure art, an engineering marvel and I would add, an inspiring statement of patience and persistence.

Often, the voice first heard in a crowd is a whisper. Gentle words influence others more profoundly than harsh ones. The spider web’s gossamer and flimsy appearance belies its resilience. Those silken threads have a tensile strength that’s astonishing relative to their weight. The web’s threads rival steel and Kevlar, the material used to make bullet -proof vests. Paradoxes abound in the natural world. Appearances deceive: There is great strength in what at first appears weak and fragile. Consider butterflies wings, as thin as tissue paper, and they can travel half way around the globe.

I watched a Monarch on the wing the other day. She darted this way and that, up and down, but always in a southwesterly direction. Soon another flew by and within an hour I must have seen at least fifty all fluttering feverishly, many erratically, but ultimately going in one direction. They were off to southern climes, probably Mexico over two thousand miles as the butterfly flits. Some can travel 265 miles in a day. Considering they don’t fly in a straight line, I suspect the mileage count gets doubled. Inclement weather is a constant threat. It is a long and hazardous journey they undertake, beginning with the same uncertainties that beset a spider’s web productions, namely fragility and vulnerability. What the spider and the butterfly teach me is how important it is to go about my business focused, patient and persistent. As a writer, remaining focused, patient and persistent takes about all the energy I can muster.

While writing this essay my wife asked me to go shopping with her. We left Bozman for Graul’s on the St. Michaels road. I noticed a green leaf bug had settled on the car’s hood just in front of the windshield. He was about an inch and an inch and half long. The leaf bug was bright green. I was sure he’d jump off when we started. He didn’t. Instead he stayed put for the long haul. I don’t know how he did it.

On the St. Michaels Road I was doing between fifty and fifty-five miles per hour. The leaf bug first faced to the side, but gradually aligned his nose with the direction the car. His two antennae, in length as long as he was, streamed behind him like reeds bent low in a windstorm. He was instinctively trying to minimize wind resistance. How, I thought, could he possibly stay fixed securely on the hood of a car? How could he gain sufficient purchase on such a slippery surface to stay put and resist the force of the wind? He did just that and remained as firmly rooted as if he were bolted down like a hood decoration. He did shimmy and shake some – but what else could he do? He was, after all, like a leaf in a hurricane.

For all that, he appeared nonchalant, unconcerned that he might be blown away. He’d move his foremost right leg deliberately and place it slowly forward to his face as if he were trying to keep the wind from his eyes. At times I was up to about sixty mph, but he held his own on the hood. In the parking lot at Graul’s, I took a closer look at the leaf bug. He made no effort to leave, but turned slightly, positioning himself perpendicular to the sun as if trying to get warm now that he was out of the wind. When we returned to the car he was still there waiting. I assumed he was insisting we take him back home where he had been so unceremoniously shanghaied.

We returned home. Before taking the groceries into the house I took a closer look at him. He had only five of his six legs. An accident? Combat? I had no idea. His right rear leg was missing. He’d extended his left rear leg to the hood’s edge, lying just where the windshield extends upward from the car. If he’d been a boat in a storm, he’d effectively have secured himself aft with single stern line and with his other four legs rooted firmly to the hood kept his bow from being upended in the wind.

The lesson? When the ride gets rough, and you’re out of control, and you’re sure you’re going to be blown off, best to simply hunker down and hold on tight.

It’s what the wild things do.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Let’s Give God a Break by George Merrill

I would like to write in defense of God. In my opinion we have abused him (or her) shamelessly. It’s high time we give God a break.

Biblical history has its own problems with fake news. “God reigned down burning sulphur on Sodom and Gomorrah,” the bible tells us in one epic account. Why? God abhors homosexuality. Lot’s wife became collateral damage: she looked back on the city about to be destroyed. God instructed her not too. She was reduced to a pillar of salt on the spot because she turned around to look. Disobedience? Maybe, but another possible transgression suggested is that she became too interested in what was going on there. In either case the punishments, in my view, did not fit the crimes.

With the advent of modern biblical scholarship and scientific archeology, many of these accounts of divine retribution are believed to be more mythical than historically credible. Historically credible or no, myths make their point and this one and many others like it are that God’s wrath can be savage and spiteful. Much of historic religion has targeted gays and lesbians for just such punishments.

I recall after 9/11, televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were outspoken about how America’s tolerance of gays, abortion, lesbians and the ACLU caused God to open the gates to the terrorists allowing them to enter and cause this national tragedy to happen. In short, the attacks on 9/11 were God’s judgment against America’s growing liberal agenda.

Significant numbers advocating for this vengeful God have traditionally been associated with the Republicans who share their party’s contempt for liberals and their agenda. This has created a delicate situation now since the Republicans hold not only the house and senate, but the executive branch as well. Conservatives are more cautious about calling the disasters God’s retribution since Republicans are now in the driver’s seat and for the most part are setting the national agenda.

Rush Limbaugh, a loyal pundit of the right, got God off the hook this time by handling the recent hurricane tragedies this way. He just couldn’t help but blaming somebody.

“There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it … All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and more dangerous, and you create the panic, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.”

He seems to me to be saying that anyone even talking about the reality of destructive hurricanes makes the storms bigger and more frequent. He gives climate change talk the same power that God possesses; during the creation God only had to say ‘Let there be light”, and it was everywhere.

Televangelist Jim Bakker was determined to keep God active in the retribution mode and stated that “this flood is from God.” Why? To punish Houston’s former mayor for attempting to subpoena ministers’ sermons. Wouldn’t you wonder what the mayor knew about Texas clergy that God preferred to keep classified?

Pastor Kevin Swanson asserts that Irma’s path could have been altered had the Supreme Court only decided that abortion and gay marriage were illegal. God didn’t move the hearts of the Supreme Court in a timely manner. The pastor suggests that, the whole mess happened because God dropped the ball and didn’t act sooner. It doesn’t make God any less retributive but God is now also accused of not staying on top of things.

Ann Coulter, not averse to speaking her mind, interestingly wasn’t sure hurricane Harvey was God’s way of punishing Houston although she tweeted that the explanation was “more credible than attributing [natural disasters] to ‘climate change.’ ” I think she was uneasy attributing the hurricanes to God outright but she did so in a disingenuous way.

James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame, while describing the Sandy Hook shootings as God’s punishment for tolerating gay marriage and abortion, was curiously silent on the recent storms. He championed God’s wrath in the past. I wonder why he remained silent on the matter? Too busy with family business, I suppose.

Pat Robertson also did not comment directly on God’s role in the recent storms, but spoke to it obliquely. Robertson saw the hand of God in the Haiti and San Fernando earthquakes and suggested that the political pressures America puts on Israel, causes natural disasters. My guess is that he’s soft on Israel because Jesus was born there. He also warned that gay tourists at Disney World could cause a meteor strike. So much for star of wonder, star of night.

Michael Brown, a member of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, cautioned that, “we must be very careful before we make divine pronouncements about hurricanes and other natural disasters.” He praised Houston for having stood bravely against the rising tide of LGBT activism concluding with this observation: “Why would God single out Houston for judgment?” One preacher suggested that Houston got it big time because they elected a lesbian as their mayor.

God gets portrayed as having sex on his mind all the time. I think those who champion his vengeful acts are the ones obsessed with sex and I would add, violence.

What are we to make of all this?

Four things come to mind.

One, we are still adolescent children in gaining a wholesome understanding of human sexuality. Secondly, nature, for all our scientific advances, remains mysterious and unpredictable. We try controlling it, but we can’t.

I don’t think we’ve grasped the reality that we are a global community and we have responsibility for each other, not to punish, but to heal. Finally, we keep trying to draft God into our causes, like selective service once called us up to serve in the military. We require of God that he do our bidding. It is very hard to grow into the knowledge that we’re made in God’s image when we keep trying to make God into our own. We fashion him in our own image, and unfortunately, not with our more endearing qualities: deceit, manipulation, coercion and violence. And for all that, would you believe, that at the end of the day God doesn’t punish sinners, but forgives, loves and welcomes them into his arms. Now that’s the real miracle.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord”

Thank God for that.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

No Forwarding Address by George Merrill

In my last column I mentioned having grown interested in writing letters, real letters not email. In part, the idea was born by a book I read about one woman’s discovery in writing letters to people who’ve influenced her life. What she wrote impressed me.

One of the advantages of being an octogenarian is the long view of life that the years provide. I have both the time and the perspective to recall a rich repository of people who have been significant to me. To intentionally think about those people and what they meant to me is not, as you might expect, just going over the same old turf again. There are new discoveries. The recollections reveal new and startling aspects of how I have been influenced by others. Intentionally pondering the meaning of old relationships is filled with meaning and at oftentimes, surprises.

I’m thinking particularly about a recent letter I wrote – the second one I wrote with an intention to communicate gratitude for what she meant for me. I sent the letter to Maureen.

She was a colleague of whom I was always fond, but at the time I hadn’t realized just what it was about Maureen that drew me to her. We worked together thirty-five years ago. She had that ineffable characteristic gentle people possess: an unassuming presence that brings grace to whatever they’re about. In some ways she seemed to be able impute life even to things as inanimate as a small pile of stones.

Maureen had been a nun in a cloistered community. After years of discernment, she discovered she was being called to a new ministry. She received training and served both as a hospital chaplain and a pastoral counselor.

Occasionally she would lead small groups in meditations. She’d craft small objects as aids to the meditations she’d lead. There was one I remember. From one point of view it was wholly unremarkable. My memory of it – were talking some twenty to twenty-five years ago– is admittedly sketchy. My mind’s eye recollects a pile of small stones, placed on a dish. A candle was placed on the mound.  It seemed to me at that moment that the stones became like some ancient monument to a holy site. Some spiritual awakening had occurred and a small mound of stones had been erected to memorialize it. There is no material monument left by Maureen’s meditation except the picture in my mind and while the details are hazy, the feeling of awe, a sense of the holy is not.

As fuzzy as the image remains in my mind, and that I don’t even recall the particular subject of the meditation, the impression remains and the feeling I have about it is undeniable. She had the gift to bring a spiritual awareness to the things to which she gave her attention, significance that, of themselves, they didn’t possess. She didn’t teach the stones to talk. She invited them to communicate a mystical presence by the intentions she invested in them as she assembled them for the meditation rite.

I’ve sometimes thought of specific places like Lourdes or the Mount of Olives as holy places. I’m beginning to believe that by itself a place is not holy – what makes it holy is the time, the place and the people converging on it at a particular instant. All the circumstances at a particular moment conspire to create an experience that transcends time and place to reveal a new reality, as if by being present with open hearts a small window in the firmament of heaven is thrown open, revealing something of the eternity beyond it.

I will not know what Maureen may think of the letter or even if she will see her graces the way I describe them. I’m not sure she will recollect our common history in the same way as I have. I have seen that happen in families eager to share reminiscences only to discover that one may see particular moments very differently from others. Is it then possible that our experiences with each other may not be as significant when we all see the moment in the same way? We all have our town take. Our shared history with each other is indeed mixed. Few of us will ever know the full impact we have had on another. It may remain hidden for years as if under a small mound of stones.

Sending the letter became my way of reconnecting and celebrating what others have meant to me. Beginning to write the letters I find the hardest part. At first I have only a person’s image in my mind’s eye or some associated objects. Soon a feeling follows. It’s hard to put into words. For a while I’ll draw a blank, but soon recollections begin to take shape and the words come to express my gratitude.

There’s a Christian teaching called the ‘communion of saints.’ It’s stated this way: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight . . .” When I was a boy, I imagined that I was surrounded by all my relatives who’d died, gone to heaven and they hovered around me, invisible, rooting for me like Casper the friendly ghost. They were my celestial guardians. My youthful understanding of the communion of saints did not survive my seminary education, intact. One thing changed: I believe that those witnesses compassing about me now include many of the living. And I can send them letters, unlike friendly ghosts or even saints that we assume reside in heaven but never leave forwarding addresses.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

I Sat Right Down And Wrote Myself A Letter by George Merrill

More than once I’ve wished that the news were fake. It’s demoralizing because it isn’t.

There are migrants seeking safety, natural disasters and brutal regimes oppressing their peoples. These inequities seem everywhere and are especially painful as I look at my own life. My life is privileged. I feel shame at times, and at other times guilty – like the survivor who has escaped the misfortunes plaguing his neighbor. Why him and not me, or more darkly, feeling relieved that it was he and not I.

Of the feelings I experience in the face of the world’s pain, it’s helplessness that I find the most disquieting. In truth, there is little I can do.

I am a white, middle class privileged resident of Maryland’s Eastern Shore where I effectively want for nothing. I have the freedom of mobility, amply supplied markets nearby, and a car with access to fuel. I receive health care because I am one of those fortunate people who have a good medical plan. I have fresh water at the turn of the faucet, a waste system that efficiently discharges effluences, electricity to cool my house when it’s hot, and oil to warm my house in cold winters. My children and grandchildren are safe, as I am.

Like many people of good will who have the means (and some who don’t), I give to relief agencies, try to do justice where I can, advocate for victims, try to be intelligently informed, but at the end of the day, I still feel that acute sense of how impotent I remain in a world filled with suffering.

In the face of so much suffering, and after doing what I can do materially to address some of it, how am I to be in the world in ways that won’t make me cynical or lead me to despair? Are there ways I can make a difference? Could it be something as simple as writing letters?

The thought came to me recently when I ran across a book called, “The Forever Letter” written by a Rabbi, Elana Zaiman. She develops her idea from a lesser-known tradition in Judaism called the ethical will. This is a statement an aging person might pass on to his or her children to share special values and traditions important to the writer. It’s a kind of moral legacy as well as one of love and care. “The Forever Letter,” is intended to be a hand written letter. It is less formal and offered as a gift of gratitude to anyone at any time that we’ve loved and treasured. As a letter, it can be held and embraced for a lifetime. That makes it a forever letter.

I struck me that if I were to make a list of those people who have, in varying ways, been important to my life and then tell them that by writing to them, I would be actively engaged in creating a tangible web of love. I know that a heart awakened by love is better informed to deal wisely with both good and bad fortune. An awakened heart is always open: a despondent heart closes down and pulls back.

Letters today are arcane. A handwritten letter is distinctive, however. It can be held and embraced, as Rabbi Zaiman notes, and can be read again and again. There’s intimacy in reading sentiments written in the hand of the person sending it. In that sense, there’s a tangible part of that person in the letter itself. I remember reading that Viktor Frankl kept his sanity during his imprisonment in the death camps because he wrote his thoughts on scraps of paper. It gave him meaning to survive in a landscape of total meaninglessness. It was love that helped him stay alive. He writes about that love:

“But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imaging it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.”

I confess that I was energized at first by the thought of writing forever letters. Then I began to feel resistance. I could see myself trying to think myself out of writing that first letter. I have no doubt that something about the idea both allured and scared me.

I decided I would not analyze my resistance. I’ve done that before as a way of ducking an issue. I sat down instead with a real fountain pen and paper and wrote a letter to a young man of thirty whom I began mentoring when he was eight. We cut Halloween pumpkins together, read Harry Potter (I never like Harry Potter books), took trips to the beach and the like. He lived hard times. He is in serious trouble now. He called recently to tell me. I did what I could, but it never occurred to me to write him now that he’s facing his own demons. That’s where I started to lay the first strand in creating a web of love and care.

Would my letter help my young mentee’s troubled situation? At the time I wrote it I was not sure. I knew only that I had taken the time and the energy to communicate to him that he was not alone in his misfortune and that someone valued him at a time in his life in which he had little value for himself.

As it turned out he never received the letter. It was never sent. I learned from his relatives shortly before mailing it that the situation had worsened and nobody was sure just where he was and what had become of him. I felt let down, as if I had been too late. Should I pitch the letter or keep it, I wondered?

Someday I may be able to give the letter to him. In the meantime I decided to save it as a symbol. It represents to me my first conscious effort to be aware and then communicate my own feelings of gratitude for what others have meant to me.

This is one forever way of being in a troubled and tumultuous world.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More by George Merrill

For those with apocalyptic leanings who fear that the end time is near, 2017 hasn’t been a reassuring year.

The election kicked off confusion and chaos in Washington and throughout the world. There was the Charlottesville tragedy, the hurricanes in the Caribbean, Florida and Texas, the two earthquakes in Mexico, and recently Kim Jong-Un gleefully flashed his latest rocket claiming his is the biggest and baddest in the world. These happenings alone would suggest that the world’s end time, if not imminent, isn’t that far off.

But take heart.

Like embers flickering in a soft breeze, two bright spots recently appeared on the national scene. I thought they were encouraging.

The House and Senate Minority leaders struck a deal with President Trump. Both minority leaders proposed a plan to keep the government solvent and to aid hurricane victims. Trump bought in. In fact he was so enthused he was reported to have called both ‘Chuck’ and ‘Nancy’ the next day to express his delight in brokering a deal with his new congressional colleagues.

Both sides of the aisle are wary. The Democrats can’t imagine a deal with Trump that wouldn’t leave them holding the bag. The Republicans feel betrayed. However, taking the deal at face value definitely marks a departure from recent political intransigence. Where will it go from here? “We’ll see,” as our president often says.

Another bright spot recently revealed that, during recent Texas and Florida hurricane disasters, loss of life was kept to a minimum. Given the enormity of the storms, experts agree it could have been much worse. Over the last sixteen years government agencies have learned to cooperate more efficiently in sharing resources and information. Former deputy of FEMA Richard Serino also made this observation: “Now we’ve seen images of neighbors helping neighbors. They’re the real emergency medical workers.” It was a snapshot of what the possibilities of cooperation between people and their government can do in the face of disasters.

Cooperation gets things done. Those cooperating frequently remain invisible to the world. The peacemakers may be the children of God, but very few are ever thanked or get into the public spotlight.

I remember about ten years ago watching a conversation on TV. Democrat and former member of Homeland Security Advisory Council member, Lee H. Hamilton, and Republican and former White House Chief of Staff, James A. Baker, co-chaired a panel on Iraq. It led to a discussion of diplomacy.

I’m paraphrasing, but the picture they painted in my mind was graphic. In diplomacy, progress is agonizingly slow, and measured in inches rather than feet. You think you have it and now you don’t. You go over the same ground again and again only to find you are back where you started. It recalls the feeling of futility we’ve all had doing those knotty tasks that life sometimes calls on us to perform. In the conversation, one of them said to the effect, that after months and even years, you gain an inch and you begin slowly building on it in the same plodding way you got the inch. They both were very clear about the patience and psychological endurance that it required and the results were never wholly predictable. No matter how disappointing, you just show up and try again. That’s the art of real deals.

On the issue of cooperation, Lewis Thomas, the late dean of the Yale and NYU Medical Schools, pathologist, biologist, pediatrician and award-winning author was convinced that “the driving force in nature . . . is cooperation.” He sees it operative in the most basic life forms like our cells. In short, he insists that the evolutionary process is the survival of the most cooperative, not of the fittest. This extends to our microscopic cells.

Establishing cooperative relationships is the lynchpin in the lives of a cell. Cells not only learn to get along with toxic bacteria but, in a complicated symbiotic process, cells can make these pathogens indispensible to their own survival, like making silk purses out of sows’ ears. Thomas explains in detail the science of this process, but honestly I grew hopelessly lost among the bacteria, the chloroplasts, anaerobes, mitochondria and prokaryotes so I decided to take his word for it. I was sure he knew what he was talking about. Thomas’s thought is hopeful and inspiring; that right down to the RNA in our cells, we’re hard wired to get along.

So if our cells have learned that cooperation is the formula for survival, why do we get so stuck in conflict?

My guess is that our spirituality is evolving. It’s been evolving more slowly than biological cells. Perhaps our spirituality began developing later than our cells, and hasn’t had time yet to catch up. Spirituality is slowly working its destiny out in us. Visionaries are always ahead of the game. Prophets antagonize their contemporaries because they keep people’s focus on fundamentals like love and cooperation. The basics of survival are not welcomed when we’re hell bent on being first.

What does cooperation look like? There’s an old Chinese tale that describes it nicely.

“Can you tell me,” a dying old man, once asked a wise elder, “What are heaven and hell like?” The wise elder took the man inside a house. In every room tables were filled with delicious food. The people sitting around the table were all thin and hungry. Each held chopsticks 12 feet long. No one could not get the food to their mouths with such long chopsticks. The dying man then said to the wise elder, “Now I know what hell looks like. Show me heaven.” The wise elder took him to another house. They went inside and saw many people well fed and happy, but they too had chopsticks 12 feet long. Puzzled, the old man asked, “All of these people have 12 feet chopsticks too, yet they are well fed and happy, please explain this to me?”

The wise elder replied: “In Heaven we feed each other.”

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Got Your Number by George Merrill

Recently, I thought that I’d bring a measure of order to my unruly life, the way I occasionally clean out closets or drawers. I began sifting through contacts listed on my iPhone in order to delete some. The list was long.

Maybe half were still current contacts: others had moved away, some had changed their phone numbers and email addresses, and there were others from whom I’d simply drifted apart. What was disquieting was that so many had died. But all the names and numbers, which for a variety of reasons had grown obsolete, remain listed as if auld acquaintance – whether among the quick or the dead – should ne’er be forgot. In truth, they were not. They were listed among my “contacts.” I went through most all the names. Some I’d not thought about for years, but deep in the corridors of memory they were alive and well. So were the associations I had to them and the circumstances that once connected us. Our relationship to others is reciprocal in nature; in all our exchanges, in varying degrees, we give and we get. We belong to a huge network of significance. The longer we live, the wider it grows.

Not long ago on Facebook, I received an invitation to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday, her picture smiling and happy: she died three years ago. When I saw her picture a pang of grief swept through me as though it was the day she died. How easily a ‘then’ leaps from the past to become a ‘now.’

Old phone numbers that should be lost to me from disuse often linger in my mind’s memory bank, hidden from immediate sight, but easily recalled. I remember my childhood phone number at home. It began, ‘Gibraltar 7.’ Several friends’ numbers began “St. George 7” and one had the famous “Murray Hill” exchange. These were the arcane codes by which we once dialed or directed the operator to connect us with one another. Even at my age, when immediate recollection can be unreliable, I doubt that I will ever forget my father’s dog tag numbers assigned him by the Army during WW II – 0527071. That was seventy-five years ago. In all kinds of ways, we continue doing numbers on ourselves.

Numbers are symbols. Typically they quantify by being icons of amounts and how much. The ‘how much’ can also be construed as the total depth of meaning. Take December 7, 1941. My father had been playing poker with friends. I suddenly recall sitting on his lap. I do not recollect what he said, but I could see the anxiety on his face. The dates and numbers may carry not so much a clear thought, but a depth of feeling, the chilling kind that I felt when seeing the look in my father’s eyes on that day.

For Americans, 9/11 holds a particular horror. It was the day we lost our innocence. Since perhaps the war of 1812, Americans have believed in our geographic invincibility, and our psychological invulnerability.

Then 9/11 became an infamous date. When I see the date signifying that day I recall just where I was when I heard the news. I had been standing on line in Graul’s super market and perusing magazines at the checkout counter. The headline of one tabloid announced how a woman had given birth to a frog. The tabloid included pictures – not of the birth – but mother looking happy and although hard to tell, baby frog, too. I thought at the time what a heavy burden this places on friends who are usually moved to say how much baby looks just like dad or mom. I didn’t get to read on as someone in the checkout line mentioned an airplane crashing into one of the twin towers. How quickly my world, our world, can go from absolute absurdity to total horror in a matter of seconds.

As I scrolled down looking at names and numbers, I noticed how some spanned my lifetime. Others represented chapters in my life. The names conjured up places I’d been, things I’d done, and affiliations I’ve had; there are names of fellow clergy, and people connected with college and seminary; Habitat, Talbot Mentors, PEACE, the church, the writing community, photographers and not the least a brother and sister I’d grown up with.

Years ago a friend of mine commented on relationships and how transitory they seemed to him. We move in and out of each other’s lives. A few relationships remain active and close for a lifetime, but they are few. Most are more transient and although not that close are nonetheless highly influential. The influence may not be apparent at the time. In fact the relationship may seem so casual as to be totally inconsequential. I look back at so many names and numbers, and can see in some a particular contribution to my life that, at the time, I was unaware of.

One was an artist. She’s been gone some time now. I met her when we first moved to the Shore. We were in a workshop and I remember thinking that she was a snob and not anyone I’d particularly want to associate with. As only time can weave through its web of connections, we were to grow close and become soul mates in many ways. We were to share in each other’s spiritual journeys. And how strange it is that only seeing her name on my cellphone contacts that I think of this: clouds.

My friend introduced me to a whole new way of seeing of color. She showed me a characteristic of certain cloud formations I had never seen before.

On bright sunny days with blue skies, white clouds are not really white. When I look closely I now see a variety of the subtle colors that she introduced to me. I cannot look to the sky on days like that, but that I think of her as I note the soft hues on the undersides of clouds and the journey we shared as friends.

Remembering fondly and treasuring these names and the stories/history we have shared, I decided that for now I would not delete any of my contacts.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

What Shall I Wear by George Merrill

From the moment of our birth, we are swaddled, capped and wrapped to greet our world. Fish, animals and birds meet their world au natural. From the start we are embarrassed to reveal our natural endowments, except once, and then only briefly in the Garden of Eden. We keep our privates, private. Critters don’t care a fig.

For us “What shall I wear?” is the first questions of our day.

At the dining room table recently, two of our granddaughters engaged in a heated discussion. It concerned clothes. One was sixteen and the other was eighteen. For many years, as they were both about the same size, they wore one another’s clothes the way the Native Americans once shared the same land with each other; they took turns inhabiting it. For years the arrangement worked amicably and exponentially increased wardrobe choices for both.

The problem: the older girl was soon going away to college. What clothes would stay, which would remain? There was another concern here, although it didn’t surface directly. The sisters have been very close and the older leaving home set into motion the younger’s anxiety about her sister’s leaving. Wearing one another’s cloths indicates the depth of intimacy and ease with each other that both have enjoyed. Clothes constitute more than meet the eye.

Clothes may be utilitarian, but we make individual statements by what we choose to wear. Statements include the sense of our sexuality, or our wealth. We show social status, as in the uniforms, which identify our professional and societal functions like the military, ecclesiastical garb and the doctors’ white coat. Clothes in that sense are like a language; visual symbols of who we think we are or where we belong. Clothes communicate our statement to others.

Recently I saw a young girl wearing jeans. They were deliberately stressed and shredded; fibers opened at the knees, patched here and there and unevenly bleached. They were fitted so tightly that if the girl were a western cowgirl, there would be no way she could get on a horse. What was remarkable was that I could tell that they were brand new. I have been told stressed jeans sell for extortionist prices. The statement the girl’s jeans make is more difficult to read. Why would girls wish to look like waifs in tattered rags? The symbolic significance is a confusing one; blue jeans would naturally come to such a worn condition only by backbreaking labor since for years blue jeans and Levi’s had been marketed specifically to the working man who wanted most their indestructability.

But perhaps there is a message here if we look more deeply. In this post modern era, many of our youth spend little if any time engaged in labor of any kind except perhaps taking the garbage out, cutting grass or washing a parent’s car. Enormous amount of their time is spent riding in automobiles. They’re constantly on cellphones, on computers and watching TV. Does wearing the embattled looking Levis express an unconscious yearning? Do they reveal a latent desire to have performed the physical labor that, at the end of the day, we can point to with pride and say ‘look at what I’ve accomplished?’ It seems to me that today, if Levis were left to wear out naturally, the seat would be the first to go.

Jeans, when I grew up in the late forties and fifties, were especially popular among boys. My first pair of Levis was a signature moment in my boyhood. I bought them in a dry goods store that had a distinctive smell, not unlike local hardware stores of yesteryear. My jeans indestructible character and association with cowboys carried the suggestion of masculine prowess. They were not associated with any elite, but rather the workingman. The coming-of-age uniform for my boyhood was decidedly Levis. It included wearing a white tee shirt with its short sleeves rolled up to secure a package of cigarettes. This is how we chose to dress among our peers, but we carefully lost the cigarette pack when we returned home.

Time is a big factor in how we react to clothes. James Laver, in his book, Taste and Fashion, constructs a timeline, known as Lavers’s Law, by which we can expect certain reactions to dress. Laver notes that wearing something ten years after its time is indecent. Five years old, shameless, but one year before it’s time, daring. One year after it’s time it’s dowdy, ten years, hideous, and fifty years, quaint. Worn seventy years after it’s time is charming and after one hundred and fifty years it’s beautiful. I note that socks and underwear are apparently exempt in the discussion in that Laver’s focus is primarily on what meets the eye.

This is interesting if we follow the fashion trajectory of blue jeans: they’ve traveled uphill all the way. They’ve gone from “work clothes,” to casual, to business and now even to formal wear and are still engaged in a gradual social ascent – even though the jeans remain only a shadow of their former selves. In 1886 when Levis first illustrated in advertising, a pair was tethered between two horses. Behind each horse stood a man with a whip ready to flog the horses: the message? Even wild horses couldn’t make these pants rip or tear. I do not believe that today, with outsourcing, our jeans are made of such stern stuff.

Any discussion of sartorial matters like this cannot but address our universal need to be sexually attractive. By just thumbing through any magazine that advertises clothing, the models – either male or female – look unlike the people we normally associate with, particularly here in Talbot County… except perhaps when our children or grandchildren come to visit. The beautiful young models are shown to encourage vain hopes in us, but I think most would agree, our preoccupations with sexual allure have a natural shelf life.

Until about twenty years ago I enjoyed shopping for nice clothes and believe I had good taste and dressed well. Since I became an octogenarian I no longer think of myself as a sex object and my dress habits have become less inspired and more perfunctory. Now, clothes primarily need to fit loosely, keep me warm in winter and cool in summer. They should not embarrass my spouse and friends and should ideally be made of fabrics able to minimize any food and coffee stains I may have spilled.

Worn a size or two larger, Levi’s might fit the bill nicely.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Spirituality Of Recovery by George Merrill

In the sixties I served as the Chaplain at Blue Hills Hospital, Connecticut’s cutting edge facility treating drug and alcohol dependent persons. I was a young priest and had recently completed graduate studies in psychotherapy and family counseling. I knew little about addictions, but I learned – I mostly began understanding spirituality.

I led groups. We’d sit in a circle. The chairs were hard, the folding ones commonly found in parish halls. One day there were fourteen of us, all men. Some members were new admissions, others recidivists. A third of the group suffered drug addiction. The others were alcoholics. (alcoholism is drug addiction, the substance of choice being alcohol.)

The discussion groups provided safe space, acceptance, and a forum for patients to air concerns and confront “stinkin’ thinkin’,” the chronic attitudes of resentment, self-denigration and/or grandiosity that feed the addictive process.

On this day, the subject settled on “relapses.” Frenchie was the center of the discussion. For years he’d been readmitted off and on for detox. Frenchie was a likeable guy. People took to him. He had a kind face, gentle eyes, and seemed shy and awkward – like an adolescent boy. He worked at lumbering in the Canadian forests. He made good money. He might stay sober anywhere from six months to a year.

One drug addict in the group, a street smart and perceptive young man, asked Frenchie a question in a friendly way. “Why, after almost a year sober, did you ‘fall off’?” “You had it made, man,” he went on, pressing for Frenchie’s story.

Frenchie smiled sheepishly, and told us he’d indeed been doing well. One night, on his way home, he walked by a bar and saw two or three people he knew. “I just went in to talk with them, I swear,” he said with a pleading look.

The cagy drug addict looked at Frenchie kindly, but skeptically and said: “ Hey, Frenchie, ain’t nobody goes into a whorehouse because he just wants to talk to the girls; know what I mean.”

The comment however confrontational was insightful and caring. Frenchie was being taken seriously and his denial challenged in a humorous way, from a peer – someone from whom he might be able to hear what he couldn’t from critical moralists.

Founders of AA had learned long ago that those whose lives have known brokenness, could be the most effective instruments in healing the brokenness of others. In so doing, the broken heal themselves.

Christian spirituality has two best-kept secrets: it seems they’re kept from most Christians: one is how in our weaknesses we find our strengths. The other is how God has deeper compassion for losers than winners. Consider how Jesus befriends Peter, who betrayed him; how St. Paul, a religious terrorist, becomes a Christian advocate; and how the thief on the cross crucified next to Jesus, Jesus promises to welcome in paradise that very day. Jesus did not schmooze the rich and famous. He had a feel for the people on the streets.

St. Paul discovered his strengths by facing his weaknesses. For me, and I suspect others, this is not always a welcome notion. Who wants to face their weaknesses, parts of their personalities that they find ugly (if we can even identify them)? A confrontation like that may drive us in either of two directions: deny the shortcomings and blame others for the alienation we’ve created among friends, family, spouses and employers. The other is to openly acknowledge whatever defects of character we have that are defeating us. Then undertaking the hard work to remove them. AA calls this step “taking a fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The 12 Steps can serve as a universal guide to anyone interested in developing a spiritual practice. In my view, the 12 Steps touch most all the bases.

I’ve known fiercely religious people whose piety is hard-edged and critical. They’re always right and will grumble about “them” and “those” who may see things differently. We all know this as the “holier than thou” attitude. Recovering folk have a perceptive description of the man or woman who is now sober but just as insufferable and unreasonable as any drunk can be. They’ll say he’s a “dry drunk,” meaning that even though he’s stopped drinking, he’s the same unreasonable, defensive and self-defeating guy that he was when drinking.

I befriended a man about twenty years ago – I’ll call him Sonny. He’d been severely alcoholic and lost jobs and almost lost his family. He earned his sobriety slowly but steadily and was now actively working the 12th Step, reaching out to others to offer hope or help to anyone ready to receive it.

One day Sonny and I drank coffee. We talked about our lives. I shared some of the changes I’d seen in my life since the days at Blue Hills. Sonny looked at me with a twinkle in his eye, but straight faced he said, “George, it’s too bad you didn’t know me thirty years ago when I was drinking. I knew everything then and all you needed to do was ask me. I’d always have answers for you. Damn shame,” he mused as he shook his head mischievously; “I guess I’ve just lost my edge.” Humor lends a light touch to painful memories.

It’s been my experience that humorless people are often the least self aware, like many well meaning but self-righteous folk who once gave moral lecture’s to people desperately seeking help for their addictions. A sense of humor indicates the capacity to change where the situation warrants it. It reveals the capacity to live with loose ends without trying to precipitously tie them up to force conclusions. Humor is the reed that survives the storms because it is able to bend no matter from what direction the wind blows.

I studied spirituality in seminary. I discovered it at Blue Hills. I saw a spiritual practice that helped broken lives mend while offering hope to the hopeless. I also witnessed what for us Christians can be a hard truth to take on: that our strengths will be made perfect in our weaknesses.


Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.