Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

Thanks to the WordPress Reader, I’ve been perusing other blogs to “catch up” on what I’ve missed while immersed in my studies. I see that this week’s photo challenge is “community.” My first thought was to skip this challenge and jump into it next week. But FrancineInRetirement‘s blog reminded me that “community” applies to many beings and things. So here is a shot that was taken about a week ago that certainly fits the bill. 😉  Thanks Francine.




The Assignment


One of the expectations in my ethics course is that each student will examine the values that guide his or her life and will thus ultimately guide them as they counsel others.  One reason this is so important is that as counselors we will each eventually counsel someone who happens to have values that conflict with our own.  As counselors it is not our role to impose our personal values on the client, nor to place undue pressure on the client to make choices of our—the counselors’—choosing.  Rather, the goal is to facilitate learning, to encourage the client to evaluate their own values and how faulty thinking may lead them to violate their own values.  The hope of both client and counselor is for the client to learn to make healthy choices, maintain healthy boundaries, and to become fully alive and fully functional contributors to the community in which they live.


This is all very tricky to accomplish (which is why I’m in school for three years learning the hows, whys, what fors, etc. to becoming a licensed professional mental health counselor.)  Today I decided to post my course discussion for this past week.  I have elaborated a wee bit on three guiding values in my life (but by no means the only values).


Identifying and Assessing Values—Cecelia Futch (as posted in Professional and Scientific Ethics for Counselors/Therapists at Capella University)

Service, humility, repentance; these three are the values that I would consider to be among the most important values in my life at this point.

Service is about what we give to others.  Service recognizes that we as individuals are part of a larger whole, and that none of us is here solely of our own volition.  We go through stages and periods of our lives, and at each juncture we rely on others to varying degrees for support.  It could be reliance on the farmer who grows our food, the collector who carts away our garbage, the nurse who watches our vital signs, the parents who gave us life, and so on.  Whatever and wherever we are, we are part of a larger community.  At times we have to rely on the community to help support us (I know it sounds socialist—oh well, it is what it is) whether for material goods, or for spiritual or mental sustenance.  At other times, when in a position to do so, it is important that each of us “give back” or support the health of the community.  That may be through volunteer work, or possibly through our livelihood, or maybe in our religious community.  However we do it, service is the activity we participate in that acknowledges we are part of something bigger than our individual self.

Humility is the recognition that we are not all powerful, all knowing beings.  Humility reminds me that I am but one person in a sea of humanity, and that there are worlds of information and systems of which I know nothing.  Humility also allows me to recognize my strengths, talents, knowledge and ability without overstating or understating (false humility) who I am and that which I bring to this world.  Humility also helps me guard (as does service) against a sense of entitlement, which is a form of abuse.

Repentance is what this work, counseling, entails.  I do not speak of it in Christian terms, but as Jewish woman, repentance is about turning around and going in another direction.  It involves recognizing the errors we have made, resolving to correct those errors, and to change our life for the better, or more holy, way of living.  This is essentially what psychotherapy involves.  A person recognizes that there is something wrong in their life, that as a result they are experiencing pain, discontent, depression, the list goes on.  They seek counseling to clarify what is causing the pain, to consider options that will set them on a new path toward healthier living, or to acquire the tools necessary to walk a new path.

To my understanding, these values tend to be universal but may be expressed in different terms by differing groups .  Realizing that these are my personal values, and that others have different values, I tend to think that I would counsel someone according to their values as long as it did not entail harming someone else.  Remaining neutral allows the client to form and hold to their personal tenets which guides them in their daily lives which takes place outside the counselor’s office.  At the same time, it would be impossible for me to completely hide my values from the client for the simple reason that it is these values that guide my life.



Obviously there is much more to examine and expound upon when it comes to values.  As previously stated, these three are not the only values of importance to me, but they are certainly three “biggies.”  I encourage you to think about your values and if you feel comfortable in doing so, please share.  Feel free to comment on my posting, too.  I welcome your feedback.


Morning Rituals

For as long as I can remember, Mom would get up long before daybreak to begin her day.  She would brew a pot of coffee, pour a cup for herself and one for Dad, add two teaspoons of sugar per cup, then return to bed, coffee in hand, where she and Dad would sit quietly talking for a bit.  We kids were not allowed to bombard them with our demands until they had some time alone together.  This was their daily ritual, one that never changed in all the years I was growing up (except when camping, then the roles reversed.)  It is a most wonderful and intimate way to start one’s day, I imagine.  I remember being on the other side of their bedroom door and hearing their muffled voices.  We never knew what they were talking about, and at times wondered how two people could always have something to discuss every morning, day in and day out. But, they did, and to us this seemed perfectly normal.   I was in high school before learning that this morning ritual was an uncommon habit not practiced in the homes of my friends.     

 Another morning ritual–winter morning ritual– from when I was very young also brings fond memories…now.  Although we lived in Louisiana, winter could (once or twice a year at least) produce a “cold snap,“ with temperatures plummeting into the 20’s.  Central air was a rarity found in few homes at that time.  Rather, we had open flame gas heaters in every room.  That way we could heat the rooms in use, and close off the rooms not in use. At night we slept with no heat in our bedrooms because Mom was too fearful of blankets accidentally being tossed onto the flame. That meant that when bedtime came, we would have to crawl in between marble cold sheets. To say that this was no fun is an understatement, but once I crawled in and made a little cocoon for myself, the chill would quickly dissipate.  It helped that the bed was piled high with Momma Futch’s (Grandma) or Mom’s home-made quilts.  The next morning while it was still dark, after Mom put the coffee on to brew, she would come around to each of our rooms to light the heaters while we were still in bed.  When we arose, the room would still be chilly but not frigid.  Just as bad as crawling into bed at night between cold sheets is stepping into icy clothes in the morning when dressing for school.  So, time permitting, we would warm our clothes before putting them on by standing in front of the heater and literally holding our garments over the flame.   My three brothers and I would each claim a heater for this purpose while Mom was in the kitchen preparing breakfast.  It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the house down!  Speaking of breakfast, we had a variety of choices the entire time I lived at home: Quaker Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Ralston. Add to that  a piece of toast (no one makes toast as good as Mom does.  Ask my kids.  She takes a piece of bread, dots it with dollops of butter, sticks it in the oven to toast, then slathers it with plenty of homemade jelly) and a glass of powder milk and we were set for the day! There you have it; our winter morning ritual on cold Louisiana mornings!     

my piano
My Piano


Our move to Kentucky when I was fifteen years old changed some of our rituals.  No longer did we have the open flame heaters.  Now we had central air. Mom was no longer the “alarm clock” who woke us up and started us on our days.  I missed that.  But we still had an alarm clock to get the family up and going in the mornings.  Me.  I played piano, but as I began high school, finding practice time proved to be quite challenging.  Mom’s solution?  Practice first thing in the morning before going to school.  So, each morning around 5:00 (or 5:30 if I overslept) I would get up and practice the piano.  Since I had to do this, it wasn’t like this was my choice, I would begin by practicing a few scales–in fortissimo!  I am told (by my brothers, and a couple of cousins who lived with us for a few months) that I played so loudly the walls would shake.  A bit of an exaggeration, I assure you, but practice I must, and if that was the only time available, then the family had to endure this with me.  The truth of the matter is that playing the piano was seriously important to me. Throughout high school I found ways and places to practice (the school‘s chorus room during study hall, the church piano when no one else was around, etc.)  At one time in my life I was pretty good, good enough to win a small scholarship to begin college.  After a couple of years, however, I forfeited my scholarship by changing my academic major.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had continued with music.  Today my piano is a living room ornament, a dust collector, but from time to time I still enjoy sitting down and plunking out a tune.  Much to Richard’s relief, I gave up those early morning practice sessions long before I met him.    

negel vasser
negel vasser


My rituals have changed over the years to reflect the changes I have gone through.   When I chose to become Jewish, I took on the rituals of the Jewish people.  Even so, some things don’t change.  Much like Mom, I, too, am an early riser.  Once awake, I find it impossible to stay in bed (most of the time…there are exceptions.)  When the last of the kids left home, my mornings became my quiet time.  For the past decade, my ritual has included more “thank you” time, more prayer time.  Before my feet touch the ground, I thank G-d for having kept me through the night, and giving me another day.  I then wash my hands, pouring cold water over one hand then the other a few times.  This is followed with blessings, prayer and thanksgiving.  Only then do I make myself a cup of coffee as I ease into my day.  Unlike me, my husband the scientist wakes up immediately ready to discuss some deep complicated physics problem, or a burning world issue, and he wants my opinion, even if it’s four o’clock  in the morning.  Fortunately, however, over the years he has learned that trying to engage me in anything resembling deep animated discussion before I’ve had my first cup of coffee is a dangerous proposition.    

Morning rituals create fond memories and foster feelings of security.  But they do more than that.  Rituals are the glue binding families together, and oftentimes bring us back together for various events and holidays throughout our lives. How often do you and your family fondly reminisce about some ritualized activity when gathered together for some event?  Rituals identify who we are and Whose we are.  Rituals mark momentous events reminding us that we are part of a bigger world. They help instill in us our value as individuals within a community, be it religious, familial, cultural or ethnic.  Our days are filled with rituals from arising in the morning to reclining at night.  They are important, for the seemingly small, insignificant rituals become the fiber of our lives.  For me, not only do these rituals provide mooring for my soul, but in addition to everything else I have written here, they create that connection which strengthen my relationship with G-d, and provide markers along the path to holy living.    

Memories of morning rituals from my youth are strong and vivid indicating their importance to me.  Morning rituals continue to be vital  to my spiritual, mental and emotional well-being.     

What are some memories of your morning rituals? What feelings do you have about those rituals (then and now)?  How have your rituals changed over the years?

LIFE: The Great Ordeal

In my readings this week I came across a statement that I found to be profound:  “Who are these robed in white, and where have they come from? . . . These are they who have come out of the great ordeal . . . . They will hunger no more, and thirst no more . . . For they will be guided to springs of the water of life, and every tear will be wiped from their eyes.”   These words are beautiful words indeed. I don’t know the context in which they were written.  Scholars ponder the particularities surrounding the writing of these words. Debate is intense, encompassing all camps from the conservative fundamentalist to the rational moderates to the radical liberals. It seems that when it comes to this book, the Revelation to John, most folk are pretty opinionated. I am not going to try to reveal the “original” meaning of these words. I am not going to try to interpret prophesies of which even the experts cannot agree. I am not going to talk about the civil or social history of the times. I don’t know what was happening in the first century c.e. The best any of us can do is offer up speculation based on someone else’s writings, or archeological digs, or whatever. However, I do know what is happening in this world today. I do know what is happening around the country, and in the lives of my friends–and enemies. I know what is happening in my family, and in my life. I do know that regardless of the author’s intentions, these words are rich in meaning for us today.

Life is an ordeal, isn’t it. It doesn’t take someone with a sharp analytical mind to figure that one out. We are hurting people. We are hungry for healing and wholeness regardless of our social or economic location. We may often wonder if we can possibly come out of this great ordeal called life. I am not a Matthew Fox fan, however, this priest/writer/spiritual guide and social activist put forth a theory in his work on creation spirituality that is worth noting. Basically, he contends that we are all oppressed, we are all hurting and in need of healing, we all need to be liberated from that which binds us. The wealthy and the comfortable among us need spiritual liberation, or we will forever hunger and thirst for things which never satisfy.  The poor, the most physically challenged among us need physical liberation in the form of food, adequate shelter and respect. We may be spiritually wealthy, but without physical necessities, we die. Wherever we are located along this spectrum, we each know in our own way what an ordeal life presents.

Years ago I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at a conference at Drew University. One evening a group of us took the train into New York City to see the sights. A resident of that city, a Korean woman, accompanied us as our guide. She took us into the Asian section, then we walked to the Empire State Building. We stopped along the way and did all the “touristy” things. That evening, she took us to the garment district where we ate at a Chinese restaurant/ cafeteria. We ordered our food at the counter, ate at long tables and sat in folding chairs. It wasn’t a fancy place, but the food was delicious, and, as is typical in Chinese restaurants, we had more than our fill. While we sat there laughing, talking and eating, a pregnant woman walked in. She appeared to be spaced out on drugs, even to our inexperienced eyes. She walked to one of the tables and picked up a bottle of Tabasco sauce which she proceeded to pour into a Styrofoam cup. On another counter sat a Bunn Coffee Maker from which she poured hot water into her cup, thus making a soup with the sauce. When asked, the waiter told us that this was her evening meal. We sat and we watched. Our bellies were filled.  But, our souls were famished for we thought we were helpless. Life is the great ordeal to both the filled and the unfilled.

While in Nicaragua, I learned of many other kinds of life ordeals. Poverty, hunger, war. That is a country where two thirds of the population are women and children under the age of 14. There are no role models. There are no teachers. Life is a great ordeal for the entire nation, as it is for two-thirds of the world.  I thought, “Those poor, poor folks.” But, I was brought up short by a woman I met in one of the base communities. This is the gist of what she said: We used to think of G!d as being in heaven. But now I know better. G!d is in our boat with us. G!d lives in each of us. So, when I look at you, I see a spark of the Divine. And I have faith…. We are in the storm, the great ordeal.  But G!d is with us.  And in the middle of the storm, the Divine spark within us brings peace. We are in this ordeal together. We are community, together. And if we are to know the calm, we must see the Divine light in each other.

We have a choice here. We can interpret these words to mean that in eternity, in the future, after this life has been lived, if we but persevere, G!d will take us to the promised land where all will be well with our souls. This is good.  But what about life on this side of the grave?

There is another way to look at this passage. G!d is here, now, today, working in this world, empowering us through the great ordeals and sorrows of life. What would these words mean, if, as the Nicaraguan peasant woman, we saw the image of G!d in all whom we encountered? What would these words mean in how we related with each other and with G!d? What would happen if we lived as if this were so? These words then offer the possibility of radical transformation. Living as if these words were being wrought in our lives in the here and now is actually mind boggling. To live as if we truly believed we were created in the image of G!d, that we reflect Divine light to others, would most certainly bring healing to our bodies, our souls, our nation, and all of creation.  Imagine what would happen! Wars would cease. We could only have compassion for those whom we now call our enemy. Poverty would be eradicated. Physical abuse would not be tolerated. Lines of demarcation which divide people, and oppress all of society, would become ways of valuing the diversity and differences, all of which reflects the depth and breadth of G!d.  To this, add your own dreams for a healed world.

You may be saying this is wishful thinking. And I would say, yes, you are right–except for that little voice
that keeps reminding me the beginning of transformation is within each one of us. For each of us, to believe that G!d will guide us to springs of the water of life is to believe that we will come through the great ordeal. G!d is guiding us when we are moved to call a friend in need, or when we call a friend when we are in need. G!d is guiding us when we pause to listen to a child’s chatter when we really have better things to do. G!d is guiding us when we periodically leave canned goods for the food pantry or gemach, for people we will never see or to whom we will never speak.  G!d is guiding us when we choose to walk in just ways through unjust situations.

With every mouth that is fed, with every thirst that is quenched, with every body that is adequately clothed and sheltered, with every soul that is nurtured, with every life that is birthed, with every death that is honored, within and without, individually and globally, G!d is guiding us to springs of the water of life where  our tears will be wiped away. Then sorrow will cease to hold sway over our being. Depression will give way to joy. Contentment will replace dissatisfaction and cynicism. All this, just for truly believing we are beings created in G!d’s image. “Who are these robed in white, and where have they come from? . . . These are they who have come out of the great ordeal. . . . They will hunger no more, and thirst no more . . . For they will be guided to springs of the water of life, and every tear will be wiped from their eyes.”