Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Jeremiah Program

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

One of the things for which I’m most grateful is my education. Until these later years, I never fully appreciated the range of opportunities I’ve had over my lifetime. I never fully appreciated attending a women’s college until now. I loved the small Christian preparatory school that I attended in the south; but I had no idea how privileged I was. Over the years, in various and diverse public and private schools, I began to learn that life is much different, much bigger and broader than I ever imagined.

As a young mother, I always appreciated the saying, “Teach a man and you teach an individual; teach a woman and you teach a family.” Today, I don’t think this is necessarily true.  Now family is an interesting concept. I like to think of family in the broadest of terms. I think of family as the family of God; and as our presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, often proclaims, “All means all.” We are all family.

I never was a single mother, although at times, because of my husband’s frequent travel, I often felt like one. To be honest, I can’t imagine getting an education without the backdrop and support of my social location in life – something that I was born into and for which I am most grateful. To be sure, I have had my own struggles and made my own choices, certain beds that I made and in which I had to lie down, but I didn’t have to struggle with a new language, a different culture, and a lack of money or support in getting an education.

The Jeremiah Program, in partnership with Endicott College, is trying to make a difference in the lives of single mothers and their children. Students are chosen by their desire to work hard to achieve a career-track education while continuing to be responsible for their children and their educations as well. Trying to break a cycle of two-generations of poverty, these women support each other as they learn life skills and empowerment in addition to taking college level courses. Often times they do so while living in housing or with a family that is not conducive to “staying the course.”

I like to put my gratitude into action. In turn, I receive lessons of immeasurable value. I want to help mothers and their children step up and out of circumstances that hold them down or hold them back from flourishing in yet unrealized ways. The Jeremiah Program in Boston offers mothers and their children this possibility and hope. They are family members, from one generation to the next, as it began long ago with the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 31:15-17

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future.

Friday, December 18, 2015


The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling 

I mentioned the word “vulnerability.” I had intended to offer a phrase: “a little bit excited, a little bit nervous.” True that; and yet what I suddenly realized was that I was feeling vulnerable. It’s encouraged these days, you know. In some circles, it’s good to be vulnerable. In others, it’s the very last thing you want to be, and if you think you are, you don’t ever want to admit it. People will take advantage. People will blow you apart. Globally, of course, a lot of people are feeling vulnerable and for a variety of good reasons.

I have no reason to feel vulnerable. I am well protected and defended in so many ways; and yet there I was. I was asked to offer a word. So I said, “Vulnerable.” I don’t know why.

I’m usually not a fan of poetry; and frankly I tire of returning to the same old or new wells. I find it difficult to absorb the meaning of a poem when it’s read out loud. I prefer well-crafted stories. I prefer silence, and time to appreciate the well chosen (perhaps spirit-inspired?) words of any kind of writing. When I read Steve Garnaas-Holmes poem, I was blown away by his “rough-edged wind.” For me, it was a warm wind blowing through the window beside the chair that I occupied in a church balcony. He was inviting me to take off my coat in the silence.

“Let the cupped hands of the manger hold your heart open with God’s deepest desires.” Okay. Yes, God, or someone else, keeps breaking my heart open so that it stays open. Okay. Yes, God, or someone else, keeps breaking my heart open in order to let the light shine into the darkness. Okay. Yes, God, or someone else, keeps breaking my heart open so that I know that I’m still alive. And yet, why am I too afraid to look deeply into that open heart?

I’ve heard doctors talk about holding human hearts in their hands while performing surgery. But this? The cupped hands of the manger holding my heart open? A shed waits? For what? Dust is settling and the shadows are bedding down for the night, and I am suddenly wide awake in my balcony. I am on the edge of town and at the end of the day, and although I feel as if the light is all used up, there’s a spotlight that I can’t ignore. I am feeling full of longing, waiting for my deepest ache and empty space to be filled. I think I know my desires; but what are God’s? I’m a little bit excited; I’m a little bit nervous.

Then I see those cupped hands on a manger thousands of years ago. And I see the jaws of life holding my own heart open. I wait in silence, for I know not what. I  still feel vulnerable, and I pray those hands belong to God. Peering carefully, I look. I see God’s deepest desires for you and for me. I see a baby in a manger. I see new life. I still feel vulnerable; and yet I wonder. Is God’s deepest desires for you and me to “just” keep our hearts open?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Keep it Simple

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Sometimes there are no words, or perhaps only a few. “Silence is best when destruction and violence is all around you. Create something simple,” she suggested. So I did. I colored a mandala; I created a tree of outrage and grief, and then a tree of joy and hope. I made a slow-burning pot of lamb stew. I poured a glass of red wine. The victim and the victor; the mother and the child; the Advent prayer of hope; and the gospel response. A simple Word made flesh.