Spiritual Lessons Learned from the Royal Wedding…

     I didn’t get up in the middle of the night to watch the big event on television, but I did make certain the royal wedding of Megan Markle to Prince Harry on Saturday, May 19th was recorded.

     I love pomp, pageantry, and a good love story. And, I relish almost everything British.

     For years I’d told my husband I thought we ‘should’ get a headboard for our king-sized bed. But, it wasn’t until after several episodes of Downton Abbey as I watched Lady Mary Crawley reclining against a huge headboard while reading in bed, that my vague desire became reality. I now feel quite elegant reading in bed, leaning against the tall, tufted headboard I found on Wayfair.com, even though my attire in sleep pants and faded t-shirt is a far cry from the Lady’s lovely lingerie.

     All factors of British splendor were provided plentifully in the beautiful Windsor Castle wedding, and I enjoyed every minute. I was, however, surprised by an aspect of the much-watched, televised event. The high-profile marriage blended a variety of cultural aspects, which frankly, I found refreshing and lovely.

     I was touched especially by the sermon delivered by Bishop Michael Curry, a black Episcopal priest from Chicago. His zealous delivery included quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King and references to the Civil Rights movement as well as vibrant descriptions of the power of love, especially, the love of God as exhibited through Jesus Christ.

     The television cameras captured discomfort—perhaps even disapproval—of staid Brits during the passionate preacher’s talk. I understood, and on some levels, even related to their discomfort.

     Their reactions reminded me of a story told by an Evangelical pastor friend. The clergyman found it necessary to go to a rough and tumble biker bar to deliver a message about one of the bartender’s family members. The conservative religious leader admitted to being uncomfortable in the unfamiliar environment but explained his epiphany when a patron sidled up to the out-of-place pastor waiting at the bar, and said, “Now you know how we feel when we go to church, preacher!”

     It’s normal to feel uncomfortable in an unfamiliar environment or with people not part of our accustomed culture, people who don’t speak our same language or share our well-known, cherished faith traditions.

     While watching this phenomenon on television, I too had an epiphany—or, perhaps, merely some reminders:

     1) God is never surprised.

     2) No cultural norm, however well-established or rough and tumble, causes Jesus discomfort.

     3) God views spiritual practices, whether that of a 6th Century Desert Father or Mother or those of 21st Century Anglican or evangelical believers, through the lens of Divine love.

     The same God who gave Jesus in love to illustrate God’s exact image remains the same God.

     The fancy theological term for this God-characteristic is immutability. God’s character has always been as it is now and will always be. God’s character of love is innate and unchangeable.

     I’m not sure about you, but this truth creates enormous comfort in the soul of this grandma, who is all too aware of her most pronounced mutability.

     Whoever you are, wherever you may be in your faith journey, I pray blessings on you today…

Sue Reeve

Montana Boy Leaves Lasting Legacy

Sue Coyner Reeve

Note: Today’s post is an article I wrote several years ago. I’ve had this posted in previous Listening on the Journey… Memorial Day blogs. It is longer than usual, but I think my memories might interest you, and may even resurrect some of your own.

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My paratrooper father during WW II, home on leave

     Wednesday, May 12, 1943, as world war raged, four young boys graduated from Chinook High School. The next day the high school buddies enlisted.

     Two days later, Al Coyner, whom I would later call “Dad,” left Chinook for basic training in North Carolina. Dad was like many WW II veterans who served their country honorably and then returned home determined to put the horrors of war behind them, focusing instead on building a prosperous, peaceful nation for the next generation. Dad rarely discussed details of his war experience. Our family is indebted to Lois, Dad’s classmate, neighbor and future sister-in-law, who gave us the service records she maintained meticulously for her friend, Al.

     One story Dad proudly told us was how he entered the U.S. Army as a skinny 5’9,” 140-pound kid and emerged from grueling paratrooper training a few months later 175 pounds of solid muscle. Al was assigned to the newly established 517th Parachute Combat Team. The regimental commander, Colonel Louis A. Walsh, Jr., laid a solid foundation for the young men he called his “True-As-Steel Troopers.” A booklet describing the history of the 517th says the team was, “…too small for the headlines, but big enough for battle. These men fought wherever, whenever and with whomever they were cast. Their eon of history is short; their chapters are long.”

     By August 1943, the 517th had broken all records for the Paratroop School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On September 23, Al was promoted to Corporal, and he received his wings on September 25. He returned to his beloved hometown for brief furloughs in November 1943 and March 1944. On one of those visits the local newspaper editor asked Al how many times he had jumped from a plane, and reported, “The hero thought for a moment, then replied, ‘Well, to tell you the truth, sir, I never have jumped. But I was pushed 449 times!’”

     One year after the local Chinook boy graduated from high school, he was carried on a former luxury liner across the churning waters of the Atlantic along with fellow Troopers and three detachments of WAC’S. They landed in Naples, Italy, on May 31. For two weeks the soldiers were introduced to the culture. and then resumed training—this time in the rugged Italian terrain. On Sunday, June 18, the boys encountered their first taste of “real war.” Over one hundred German prisoners were taken, and the 517th experienced their first casualties.

     I wonder if it was at this time Dad lost a special friend. I recall Dad’s response when I asked about his wartime friends, “I had one friend,” he said, “and when we lost him, I never had another.” When my dad joined the Army, he was acquainted with loss. He remembered the deaths of an older brother and sister, and his much-loved father passed away when he was the tender age of 13. I can only imagine the loss of his buddy, with whom he shared the bond of war. This emotional trauma was like no other, and after his friend’s death, the young soldier steeled his heart against the angst of another loss.

     Following this battlefield initiation, the young men were told they passed their tests “Magna Cum Laude,” and they were taken to Rome to rest and get ready for the next round of war. The order soon came. The Men of 517 readied for combat. Sprayed with camouflage hoses, loaded into trucks and dispersed to airfields scattered along Italy’s boot, final preparations were made. The Troopers were given scraps of paper on which messages were written in French…”I am an American;” “I am wounded;” “I am hungry;” as well as questions that would help the soldiers determine details about their German enemy. Big C-47’s carried the young men to Southern France. Before the dawn of day, young troopers were dropped into an inky pre-dawn sky. My father was among the brave soldiers who attacked enemy convoys and severed vital communication lines. The U. S. soldiers adorned captured vehicles with crude white stars and strips of multi-colored silk.

     Bitter battles were fought on French soil. One such battle liberated the village of Sospel. Dad never mentioned Sospel. It wasn’t until after his death in 2006 that we learned about this French village. While some family friends were visiting France, they strolled across a stone bridge into the quaint village, lingering to look at a memorial plaque on the bridge. Our friends, with a basic understanding of French, understood the memorial was dedicated to a regiment of American soldiers who freed their village. A plaque at the “Point of Liberation” in Sospel listed soldiers from the 517th PRCT F Company. Our friends were pleasantly surprised to see a familiar name among those listed, “Al Coyner.” They wrote on the picture sent to our family: “The people here still honor and appreciate the men of F Company for saving them from horrific torture from the Germans.” This story seemed a fitting benediction to the life of a fine, hard-working, honorable man who always showed unwavering loyalty to country and family.

     Victory in Europe was declared May 8, 1945. Al arrived in New York City on December 13. Staff Sgt. Coyner was discharged at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, on December 18, 1945. Within two years a small town boy had transitioned into a brave, honorable soldier. He was awarded numerous medals including Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.

     Al traveled across the ocean and fought in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. His travels also took him to Switzerland and Denmark. During his time in Rome, he toured sites in the Eternal City and saw Pope Pius XII. The small town boy enjoyed seeing Bob Hope, several U.S. Generals and the impressive French General Charles DeGaulle. A highlight of his military career was participating in a parade of four nations honoring General Patton and a Russian general. Dad marched proudly with the victorious troops down De Linden Strause, a famous street in Berlin.

     My dad never lost his love for the wide open plains and “Big Sky” of Montana. He spoke warmly of Chinook, the supportive community that embraced their family following his father’s death. Dad credited hard work on local farms, in the sugar beet fields and later at the local Safeway store for keeping him out of trouble. He adored his loving mother, Carrie, the glue holding together her big, boisterous German/Irish clan through grief, loss, the Great Depression and a world war in which three of her young sons served.

     In 1946, Dad met and married my mother, Olivia Kathryn, a pretty brunette from a small neighboring town. I was their firstborn. Two more daughters and a son followed. Dad managed Safeway stores in Montana. Eventually, the family moved to Washington, and Dad fulfilled a lifelong dream to own a successful grocery store. His tired heart stopped beating on July 6, 2006. Dad died peacefully while napping in his favorite blue Lazy Boy recliner. A few months later Mom and Dad’s four children, ten grandchildren and seven great grandchildren gathered to honor Al and Kathryn’s legacy on what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary.

     While researching for this article, I discovered a poem. The words, penned by an anonymous author, gripped my imagination and provided a glimpse into the life of my dad as a young paratrooper.

We Paratroopers

Bobbing low and flying high, Motors thunder through the sky! Prop blast over strut and wing… Maddened demons howl and sing And out of this we’re set to fall With a handful of silk and God…that’s all.

A small red light gleams at the door…. Throws blood-red pools on metal floor. Beyond is space, vast, dark and deep. Awake, ye screaming ones from sleep! For out of this you’ve got to fall With a handful of silk and God…that’s all.

A match is struck to a cigarette… Grim young faces in silhouette. No figment of a fear-struck brain. These the shadows that line the plane. They, too, into the void must fall With a handful of silk and God…that’s all.

But our hearts beat high for the land we love And our courage comes from the One above. When down from the clouds with our weapons of Hell We drop to avenge our friends who fell… Thus, all we need when we get the call Is a handful of silk…and God, that’s all.

Point of Liberation – Sospel, France

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Author’s Footnote:

     After telling the story of Sospel to my cousin who still resides in Montana, he asked if I would write a narrative to accompany the photographs our family friend shared with us. He promised to take it to the local museum and hometown newspaper.

     This story is my father’s, but after researching and writing Dad’s story, I realized it is but a microcosm of a million soldiers’ stories. My father was a good man, an honorable man, a man of deep commitment. But, he was also a complicated man, and my relationship with him was often complicated.

     The story of Sospel and of the young, brave paratrooper who helped liberate a nation from potential brutal tyranny has allowed me to connect some emotional dots. For that I am grateful. The realities of war often inflict wounds on not only the bodies but also the souls of brave young soldiers. For most, the wounds eventually become scars, but in the process of healing, the wounded may wound those they love and for whom they fought willingly and valiantly.

     This may be Dad’s story, but in its telling, I honor men and women throughout history who were willing to leave the comfort of the familiar to serve their nation. I learned recently one of my forefathers fought in the Revolutionary War. Another, in the Civil War. I remember many adults from my childhood who bore the scars of WWII. My young husband and other childhood friends served their country in Viet Nam. Children of my friends serve today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

     And throughout the generations, moms and dads, sons and daughters, wives and husbands, friends and lovers have prayed:

with a heart full of faith…and God that’s all!

© February 2011

Blessings to each of you this Memorial Day, and special thanks to all who served their country…

Sue Reeve

Forming a Contemplative Prayer Group…

      Last Monday, I told you about the formation of a contemplative ‘listening’ prayer group I believe the Spirit prompted me to begin during a time of silence when I was on my recent educational pilgrimage to Spain.

      I promised to provide some information in case you would like to begin your own group.

      Before I do, however, I’d like to give a bit of context concerning my understanding of contemplative prayer—also called ‘silent,’ ‘centering,’ or my favorite, ‘listening’ prayer.

      I imagine silence as one stanza of Heaven’s music. When we’re in our eternal home, I have no doubt there’ll be times of loud, joyful music that will cause us to clap, wave our arms and dance. (Thankfully, in Heaven, my celestial perfection will include a good sense of rhythm!) I also imagine times of worshipful chanting or heavenly humming. But, I feel certain, there will be times when melody and beat will be inadequate, and all we’ll be able to do is worship silently.

      Silent prayer doesn’t replace scriptural suggestions to praise God, pray for one another, ask for good gifts or make our requests known to God.

      Christian contemplation, while outwardly similar to other types of meditation, doesn’t release the one contemplating from conscious thought, but as I’ve experienced, focuses on the connection of my spirit to God’s Holy Spirit.

      Father Javier Melloni, the Jesuit priest who facilitated the contemplative prayer retreat I attended in Manresa, described contemplative prayer beautifully as being:

Present to the Presence

     Following is the process our women’s contemplative ‘listening’ prayer group uses.

     We begin the silent portion of our group fifteen minutes after arrival, which gives everyone a chance to get a cup of coffee or glass of water. I’ve cautioned participants beforehand that the door will be locked once we begin our silence.

     First, assume a comfortable posture you can remain in for the duration of silence, such as:

  • Seated with feet on the floor and hands either up or down on your lap
  • Kneeling
  • Sitting cross legged on the floor
  • Yoga child’s pose

     Prepare by taking a few deep, slow breaths—breathing in through your nose and out through your nose. Focus on God as you breathe, for without God, we would have no breath.

Job 33:4 The Spirit of God created me,
and the breath of the Almighty gave me life.

     Choose a sacred word or phrase, and silently align that word to your breathing. A few suggestions:

  • I am yours; You are mine.
  • Spirit, come.
  • Come, Lord Jesus,
  • Abba Father.
  • Jesus

     It may help to visualize a place or scene:

  • By a gently flowing river
  • As a wave on the ocean (I am the wave; God is the ocean)
  • Soaking in welcoming warm sunlight
  • In a peaceful lush, green field

     Why silence? ‘Listening’ prayer is about being rather than doing, saying or thinking

     We will use the Centering Prayer app. (This is a free download if you’d like to check it out. I use it almost every day in my personal devotions.)

     After we’ve breathed and decided on our sacred word or phrase, I read an opening prayer or scripture, which is provided on the app.

     There will then be an opening sound of strings which goes on for about a minute. You can use this time to simply breath or praying, praising or expressing thanksgiving to yourself.

     When the music stops, a period of silence begins. Our group will use ten minutes, which is what I generally use in my personal devotional time.

  • Avoid distractions.
  • Since this is a deeply intimate time spiritually, tears may come. Have a tissue handy just in case.
  • You’ll probably want to have your eyes closed. This is not a time for reading or journaling.
  • If your mind begins to wander (and it probably will) or you start thinking that you are doing it wrong, let that thought go and gently return to rhythmic breathing and your sacred word(s). If you become distracted by your breath, treat this as another “thought” and gently return to your sacred word(s).

     At the end of the 10 minutes, there will be a closing sound (I chose three gongs, each a little softer than the one before.)

     At conclusion of the gongs, I read a closing prayer or scripture.

     Immediately, we begin the Lectio Divina segment, remaining in silence for 15 additional minutes. You may want to change positions at this point. Have your Bible, journal and pen handy.

In Christianity, Lectio Divina is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. Wikipedia

  • Choose a brief passage of Scripture.
  • Read slowly and prayerfully, listening with your heart to what the Lord may be speaking to you.
  • If you come to a phrase—or even a single word—that resonates, remain there. Read and re-read. Ponder with your heart. Don’t worry about reading any further if you don’t want to do so.
  • Write down the verse(s), phrase or word.
  • Reflect prayerfully upon it.
    • What are your thoughts? Jot them down.
  • What ‘action step’ do you think the Spirit is prompting you to take as a result?
    • When will you do that?
    • How will you incorporate the message of this scripture into your day today?
  • Write a brief prayer.

     For our remaining minutes, we’ll check in, and then, dismiss to begin our everyday routines.

     That’s the format of our contemplative prayer group in a nutshell. If you would like more information, please contact me at sue.reeve.cda@gmail.com, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Blessings as you ‘listen…’

     Sue Reeve