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God’s Reflection is in Everything and Everyone: Remembering Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I remember the first time that I met Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin.

I didn’t know what to expect, except that he would not shake my hand (I had received that wisdom from a Conservative Rabbinic friend who said: “When you meet him, don’t take it personally, but he will not shake your hand.” He went on to explain that in keeping with the foundational Jewish value of modesty, an Orthodox Rabbi refrains from touching a woman other than his wife and immediate family).

I was thankful for that valuable information because it helped me avoid what could have been an awkward beginning to an introductory meeting with one of the spiritual leaders of a faith community that I was charged to cover as the religion writer for the local newspaper.

Over the years, I enjoyed building rapport with both Rabbi Sasonkin and his lovely and loving wife, Kaila.

Last week, Rabbi Sasonkin passed away (at the age of 54). When I got the news, I began to reflect on the intersection of our lives.

I recalled how there was something within him – an inner-contentment from knowing God and from his commitment to doing the will of God. That something within him, which I call God’s spirit, touched my inner spirit.

That remembrance led to my beautiful epiphany: Without using physical contact, Rabbi Sasonkin touched me in a most profound way. He embraced me with his spirit.

It didn’t matter that we were from two different faith traditions. I saw God’s reflection in him and he saw God’s reflection in me. We saw value, dignity, and worth in each other.

We had a kindred spirit connection. The light in his life made mine shine a little brighter.

I will remember what he said: “Thank God!” for everything.

I will remember what he did: Welcomed others with a warm smile, kindness, respect, and an open heart.

I will remember how he made me feel: Accepted, appreciated, and loved.

May he rest in peace.

May the Almighty comfort his family.

(Rabbi Menachem Mendel “Mendy” Sasonkin served Anshe Sfard Congregation-Revere Road Congregation in the greater Akron, Ohio area from 1995 until his death on October 2).

Posted in Associate Blog

Autumn and the Courage to Let Go, Let God

Blog by Sr. Amy McFrederick, OP

I don’t remember a September/October when I didn’t feel a resistance to the coming of Autumn, though the fall colors never cease to surprise and delight me. Though a recurring part of the changing seasons—the prospect of trees inevitably letting go of their glorious foliage, soon to be stripped down to their bare branches for winter–gives a poignancy to the fleeting beauty. Autumn Trees demonstrate to me much courage and faith: to let go, let God when Spring is nowhere in sight.

Recently in a phone visit with Associate Pat Krause, as she shared about her ongoing ministry to/with her brother who suffers from dementia. For both of them it is a daily letting go.  She recalled a reflection that she had shared as an Associates’ Prayer Page in April, 2014 and how it still holds much meaning, and continues to be a source of inspiration and strength for her today.

Since so many people in our lives today have a family member, friend or acquaintance with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia—and suffer with them—Pat’s reflection is relevant for all of our readers.

TRANSFORMATION
by Patricia Krause, OPA

“Will you come and follow Me if I but call your name?  Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in Me?“ –“The Summons” by John L. Bell

As I knelt there in St. Anne’s Church after Communion, these words from the song “The Summons” were being sung. Tears began to roll down my cheeks and I could hardly restrain my sobs. You see, just that week my brother who has dementia had to be placed in an Alzheimer’s Unit. As I pondered these words they appeared to be spoken to him, and I could only imagine how frightening these words could be for my brother and any person suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s,  if they did not have faith and trust in God.

In Alzheimer’s and dementia, one is called to a place where one does not know and never will be the same. Accepting God’s call to the unknown allows God’s love to be shown to those who care for them and love them. That person is asked to leave themselves—who they were—behind, and in doing so risk the hostile stare of others who cannot, or will not, see who they are. We must enter into their world in order to meet the person they are. The person themselves and we who love them are asked to love the person they have become. They must wrestle with the fear of who they are, and through this, reshape  the world by admitting others into this sacred space. God has called my brother and so many others on this journey and though this summons is not to anyone’s liking nor what the world would recognize as anything but folly, God has selected these precious people to be His gift to others. God and God’s love is revealed in these chosen—through our sight, sound and touch—if we are willing to see beyond what was and what now is.

Now is the moment of our metanoia –
A season of change; a time of forward movement.
Together we rejoice in the abundance and fullness of life
Which we are called to embrace and to share.
Our Transformation.  Our Spring.
(Ministry of the Arts)

I will not die but live and declare the deeds of our God.  Ps 118:17

 

Posted in Associate Blog, News

CHOOSE TO CONQUER YOUR OBSTACLES

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Does the name Andrew Peterson mean anything to you? (No, not the musician or the author).

I’m talking about the Andrew Peterson who overcame Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to become a three-time Special Olympics Gold Medalist and the second Special Olympics athlete to qualify for the Boston Marathon (which he is scheduled to run next year, a month after he represents the United States in the upcoming 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi).

The predominant factor in Andrew’s ability to overcome was (and is) his father, Craig – who adopted Andrew and his three siblings about 20 years ago, when Andrew was five years old. At that time, Andrew couldn’t speak and had limited motor skills. When he was eight years old, Andrew ran his first race, a 3K, with his dad.

Andrew’s story inspires confidence that it is not impossible to overcome adversity.

(Sidebar: and speaking of difficulties, I’m sure the fact that Andrew is black and his father is an openly gay white man didn’t make life easy either. I encourage you to read more about this remarkable athlete and his father, who dared to adopt a total of six special needs children, proving that love doesn’t discriminate!).

Not only has Andrew established himself as an elite athlete. He also shares his experience as a public speaker and serves as an ambassador for the Special Olympics.

When we experience obstacles, frustration, or failure, perhaps we can learn something from Andrew, like the importance of developing the endurance needed to attain a good outcome; building enough stamina to be able to stand through any storm that life brings our way; and surrounding ourselves with good, positive, and supportive people.

We must think positively, live in faith, refuse to take “no” for an answer, be empowered by each accomplishment (no matter how small), and believe anything is possible if we persevere.

A little more than a week ago, Andrew shared his story with a group of elementary students in Billings, Montana. He recalled how in elementary school most kids couldn’t understand his speech and laughed at him and called him names. He told them how he struggled to walk and hold a fork.

“Since I have brain damage from fetal alcohol syndrome, nothing in life has been easy … So many people focused on what I couldn’t do … I showed them,” Andrew told the students before delivering his takeaway: “I don’t ever want your pity. Rather, I need your respect.”

My conclusion: Don’t allow obstacles to dominate your life. Find the strength to work through the difficulties and setbacks. Don’t dwell on the past. Surround yourself with people who are good for you. Keep moving forward.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Untangled

Blog by Associate Carol Lemelin, OPA

I was in a small store not too long ago and as I was waiting to be cashed out, I noticed a basket of bracelets and necklaces on the counter. I saw one I thought I would like, so I picked up one strand and the entire bunch came with it!  The clerk apologized and said they had been so busy they had not had time to untangle them. I asked if they would mind if I tried and she said they would be thrilled. It only took about 5 minutes and I had them all straightened out. As I worked, I was thinking about how much fun that is for me to figure out what goes where, what’s twisted here, what should go the other way.

That led me to thinking about our personal relationships and how twisted up they can get. How one day of misunderstanding can ruin an entire relationship. The worst part is we tend to leave the mess in the basket and not try to sort it out.  In fact, sometimes we actually nurse that kind of grudge. As we age and look back, we realize that one twist, one effort, one word, or gesture could have untangled the whole mess, but we didn’t do it. It’s not nice to look back on that. Fixing it now is often impossible.

The sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, had a little contretemps over preparing dinner.  Jesus took Mary’s side and that had to hurt, but these women were disciples of Jesus and if they learned anything, they learned to love one another.  Chances are good that they solved their issue quickly because of His influence.

What about us?  Does Jesus influence our behavior?  The dictate to love one another includes forgiving one another. We speak of skeletons in closets.   That doesn’t always mean crimes; it can mean grudges.  It means those big grudges, lifetime grudges that we take out and pet and feed and keep alive.  I might go so far as to say that this is a disease like alcoholism or drug addiction. We have to have it. In a sick kind of way, we enjoy it.  No one can truly love and follow Christ and still carry something like this around. Everyone knows that the person holding the grudge is more burdened than the object of his or her anger. What’s worse, and, frankly ridiculous, is that the object often has no idea about the grudge against them.

When we carry a grudge, we shut Jesus out.  The sad thing is, Jesus is the only answer to ending this.  Jesus is God, and God is love and there is no room for grudges. Prayer will help in finding the strand that will untangle the whole thing.

I know whereof I speak. I carried a grudge for years.  I prayed constantly for Jesus to relieve me of it, until the day I realized it was up to me to find the strand that would unravel the whole thing.  Once I did, the peace promised by Christ was mine.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Each of Us Is God’s Gift to the World

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

While stirring around the house on Sunday morning, I received a very uplifting text message from my sister-friend:

How cool is it that the same God who created mountains and oceans and galaxies looked at you and thought the world needed one of you, too.

I replied: I know, right? And that same God knew the world needed you! Have a great day!

It was a great reminder that we all have something to offer to the world and that each of us is God’s gift to the world. Each of us has value and each of us is important.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world, if we all saw each other as God’s gift to the world, if we all acknowledged and accepted that each human being was born to make a positive contribution?

Everyone has something special to offer, no matter who they are – female or male, poor or rich, old or young, etc. Each person – whether you consider her/him to be like you or different from you – is God’s gift to the world.

I am grateful to my sister for inspiring me to start each day thanking God for the gift of life that I have been given; to present myself daily as a living gift from God; and to embrace and appreciate each living gift from God whom I encounter daily.

I hope you are encouraged to do the same. After all, how cool is it that the same God who created mountains and oceans and galaxies looked at you and thought the world needed one of you, too?

Posted in Associate Blog, News