Friday, June 18, 2010

MoviPrep

We’re down to the countdown, the last few days before moving and retirement and enjoying some elegant last suppers with non-parishioners. One especially elegant one with our favorite musician, Mark Nelson and his marriage partner, sousaphoninst baritone and marine, David Oliver. Mark is as versatile and creative with food as he is with notes!

The day before the moving van comes and we are truly deprived with only our bed, clothes for the morrow, dop kits and Ms. Wise our cuddly, guardian mini-owl who will travel with us to our new home piloting from her seat on the dashboard, we will have to be ready—or not.


Yesterday I murmured to accomplice in marriage, Dick, “I want to go back to Egypt!” (Remember the biblical story of people of Israel who in faith followed Moses out of their servitude in Egypt and ended up in the wilderness for forty years whining to go back to Egypt where at least they had meat to eat and daily bread? Luckily God sent quail and manna.)

Food as bodily sustenance and spiritual assurance.

Manna is a weird substance but it contains all the minimum daily requirements of fruits and veggies and it’s not hoarfrost! God in the biblical story “rained bread from heaven” in the form of a fine flaky substance like coriander seed or cotton balls. It tastes like wafers in honey, very sweet—as fine as cotton candy that disappears in your mouth.

Manna is a special blessing which of course moderns have packaged, marketed and sold to pious foodies. Some refer to it as American popcorn, because manna is just as mysterious though less noisy in the making.

But to the ancients manna was a gift from God—unexpected but perfect like a childless over-aged person who suddenly becomes pregnant.
Manna was not quite bread; however, quail was definitely meat!

Even the bitchiest prayers can be acknowledged, satisfied and become blessings.

So I email my friends and tell them to SEND MANNA...or at least some Kentucky Fried ersatz quail.
A former parish warden dropped off some chicken wings at the door to pass for quail but the neighborhood predators, cats and squirrels, got to them first.

And another friend sent a hilarious column Colonscopy Journal by Dave Barry. He tells all and tells it with graphic humor. The best, as we all know who have had this treat(ment), is the preparation potion you drink for colonic purgation called MoviPrep, aka GoLightly. The names are like sheep’s clothing for wolves that explode inside you as they ravage, eliminating any and all refuse.


MoviPrep has become my new name for preparing to move. The process of culling your stuff doesn’t go lightly; nor does it prepare you for anything but pain.

Your stuff is precious even if you can’t remember what a lot of it was or is. Pitching and doling resembles amputation. And you know how you can feel a missing limb for days, months, years. The car and the beloved eight-foot sofa that just won’t fit were the worst! Cried like a baby in heat.


Humor helps because tears of laughter blend well with tears of sorrow. In fact today this little ditty popped into my brainless mind: Love and sorrow. Love and sorrow. Go together like there’s no tomorrow. Dear sisters and dear brothers, You can’t have one without the other. Pathetic, no? But truisms usually are and we need to keep this one because nowadays love and marriage aren’t as inseparable as we once thought.

So we are in MoviPrep, the wilderness in between—the place where we have set all these prescribed/appropriate (hate that word!) boundaries about no contact with parishioners (the need for them to detach you know) and basically having no friends or feeling as if you have no friends.

So every morning we wander and wonder.

This morning I poured orange juice over my cereal. It tasted lousy but it took me several mouthfuls of the noxious blend to realize it wasn’t milk and Cheerios.

Then later I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy two shower curtains for our new abode in Cambridge since cleanliness is next to youknowwho-ness, and came home $224 poorer—a few little items.

On the continuing subject of Last Last Suppers, we’re moving-prepping right along, We should be losing weight with all this stress and strain but instead we’re gaining from all the sumptuous caloric last suppers.


But honestly we don’t mind because we’re crying it all out in grief or losing it in sweat from heavy lifting.


Is there good news? Mmmhmmm. We love our new digs and our new landscape and the one neighbor we’ve met who hooted at us from her top floor window.
And I suppose after it’s all done we will feel lighter and cleaner as you do after the colonic purgation of MoviPrep—ready for a post-colonscopy pigout.

Emptying and fasting is good in spiritual traditions. But so is lavish "delighting in fatness" as the Bible puts it— and abundance of life , God's desire for all Creation.

So, though I swear this won’t be us, immediate accumulation of more stuff!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Last Last Suppers

Our last two suppers before we retire and move, one on Friday and one on Sunday, were held in the parish church sanctuary. Both were overseen by Christ, Host of the Christian faith; both were holy banquets.

We and all honored guests arrived Friday night to see the entire sanctuary set up as a feast, our penultimate last supper. Space had been made for milling and spilling. Tables and the altar itself were laden with every kind of delicious food and our choir’s baritone soloed as bar tender serving wine and soft drinks. Acolytes in black circled and weaved their way in and out with serving trays and little paper napkin/purificators (the name for the white cloth used to wipe the chalice as it is passes from communicant to communicant at Communion.)


A grand swell of organ music like a shofar summoned the people to be seated for a tasteful, funny and dear program. No one had to say “The Lord is with you.” We knew it. We all sat in prayer with unbowed heads. The parish comic acted as emcee; a parishioner guitarist, his young son at his feet playing air guitar, played his favorite Beatles song; and a poet with eloquence read “Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver. The wardens, a boy one and a girl one, gave brief tributes as Dick and I reached for the Kleenex.


Carol presented a beautiful book stand made by parish woodworkers to serve as perch for a huge Memory Book in which every parish individual or family created a page. Usually one puts a Bible on such a stand but for now this Book will be our bible of remembrance and thanksgiving. It represents a people who know how to be eucharist, how to give thanks for all things, how to remember and honor the best and the worst of times, and above all how to come regularly to dine at God’s holy dining room table for better or worse to receive the grace of God. The Church at its gracious unconditional best.


Rick presented us with a purse. I half expected him to lift up a small purse like the one Queen Elizabeth always has draped over her arm. But instead he held aloft an envelope. Suspense rose as in the academy awards while he slowly opened the envelope and announced in solemn tones, “There’s a check here for $42.50. Oops, move that decimal point over two.” The Magi never had such treasure, such richness of heart.


Dick and I gave our celebrative thanks. I don’t remember what either of us said, only that I asked Jesus to hold onto my tears so I could speak my gratitude without blubbering. But we both choked up.


To be known just as you are and loved just as you are is grace.


It was tribute enough to see that all our teaching and preaching over the years about being a eucharistic community, about bringing God into the middle of our lives on Sunday and every day, of not being afraid to let the sanctuary be holy all the time and filled with Spirit and joy whatever event was going on there. Just like a cathedral!


The second last supper at the parish was the regular Sunday liturgy for the third Sunday after Pentecost. Many of the same people returned for the second banquet, the altar still dressed up for a celebration. We priests wore red vestments, the color of the Holy Spirit— She who would not be called He.


The Sunday Mass/Holy Eucharist was as alive and vibrant with Presence divine and human as it was on Friday night and, for me and my personal Jewish roots as well as the roots of Christianity, connected Friday Shabbat holy meal with our Sunday Eucharist.


The reading from the Old Testament (I Kings) was a long story about King Ahab lusting over the vineyard of Naboth who refused to sell in spite of over the top royal purchase offers. Never mind, said Ahab’s wife Jezebel, I will get you the vineyard. She did by an elaborate ruse that included murder. Naboth dead the vineyard was now Ahab’s. What some women will do for their husbands! BUT of course God intervened with disapproval and Ahab and Jezebel suffered dire consequences for their crimes. There are consequences for everything and I can believe that God’s justice in the human soul sparks human action and conscience.


The lector read the whole drama with particular animation and a bass voice. Half way through the amazing but sadly true to human nature plot he interjected without missing a beat, “I’m not making this up you know.” And the people, already full of amused shock and awe, broke into open laughter. The place was alive, alert and authentic, as down to earth and true in fact as all Old Testament stories.


The gospel reading was from Luke 7, the story of the woman sinner, reputed to be Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had healed of seven demons. Grateful for her wholeness she anointed him with perfumed oil of blessing as she kissed his feet and wiped them with her hair. A romantic gesture to be sure. Still, I can imagine someone feeling such gratitude and humility after healing by whatever means. But today such an extravagant gesture would be eschewed by doctors, therapists or clergy— bad professional boundaries.

What price boundaries when love is the message? I wonder.


I couldn’t resist a little post-homily (Dick's) addendum: Notice who gets to go down in history over centuries with the bad reputations! I had to keep up my feminist rant. Later I thanked everyone for their amused acceptance of my politics. For some it was to humor me; for some it was genuine appreciation, and for a few I’m sure it was teeth-gritting tolerance. Still I felt loved. Even when I met a former parishioner in the elevator at the hospital who asked me, “Is he gone yet?” I could tell him “not quite” and chuckle, he having no idea who I was as a priest, woman, spouse of the "real" priest.


Later as I presented the children with Bible quotes. I told them these wouldn’t mean much now but to keep them and one day they would dig them up and discover some spiritual wisdom. The Word in the words. I have heard many adults in this work tell me that they had received such a quote at Confirmation or something and years later found it hidden in a dresser drawer and suddenly light shone.


After the Holy Eucharist banquet was over and everyone had been fed Dick and I offered brief closing remarks. I thanked for many things, most importantly for this community having given me over the years an opportunity to blossom and grow into the fullness of myself as a woman priest. With very few exceptions I have never felt like a sidekick or some kind of subsidiary priest at St John’s. It is a gift of unimaginable blessing to me.


My exit line went something like: This parish is full of amazing creativity, musicians, artists, poets, dancers, writers, orators, woodworkers, liturgists and the unsung beauty of just plain good humor and kindness. I firmly believe that the arts will restore the world to its natural beauty and god-given goodness But now........get out there and recruit some corporate types. You need money.”


Then Dick with his own art of oratory made an elegant tribute, presented a flow chart of who will take care of what, said fear not in many ways, announced the end of his rectorship and our priestly ministry here, then said with a brief sob. “We will no longer be your priests and pastors, but we will always be your friends.”


We should have sold little tissue packets for an almighty sum as a last fund raiser as Dick suggested on Friday!

Dick then read a formal proclamation that officially turned full ecclesiastical authority over to the wardens until such time as the 21st rector of St. John’s parish church was elected to begin a new chapter in the life of Christ at St. John’s.


As our gift to the parish we had framed and gave them a blessing we have frequently used. Dick graciously invited honored guest, the Rev. Claude G. Hopper, the only grasshopper with a clerical collar, ordained as an Episcopal priest by the late Blair McElroy, to join us. Claude hopped between us as we said the final blessing together.


Life is short.

We do not have much time to gladden the hearts and minds of those who travel the way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit be upon you and remain with you always. AMEN.

PS Just one more holy banquet, a festive coffee hour with just the right amount of too much food.







Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Last Suppers

In the closing weeks, now days, of our time here in Gloucester and at St. John’s Church before we move into retirement, we are being treated to many last suppers, breakfasts, lunches, teas and coffees. The bounty is varied and all of it bittersweet.

I can understand the impact and value of the Christian tradition’s focus on Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples and friends. I know why they picked this moment as the scene that would be re-enacted over and over weekly in most Christian churches to remember the love of God communicated by Jesus Christ— a love so broad, so rich, so free as to include us all as guests without invitation, RSVP or conditions.


I can understand the sacred Friday Shabbat supper with ritual candles and remembrance of God’s faithfulness in the covenant.


I can understand why a prisoner facing execution is given a last meal, whatever he or she want without condition, to say goodbye to earthly life. Grace in a meal.


I can understand why as a child I was offered my favorite meal on my birthday and sometimes while recovering from a bout of some childhood illness. Mine would always be tuna fish casserole sans the peas but with potato chips crumbled on top, chocolate milk and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. Now it’s meat loaf of any variety with peas, potatoes smashed, then red wine and dark chocolate.


And I understand why the Last Supper became the Holy Communion/Eucharist sacrament of remembrance, justice, thanksgiving and forgiving, compassion and hope— the food of grace.


Don’t we all know this same experience around a family dining table when the food is sumptuous, the conversation heartening, and love connects? And don’t we all also know the truth that this ideal is rarely unbroken by more difficult feelings like anger, fear, guilt or sorrow?


But we come to the table anyway—again and again and again—with outstretched hands.


Our “last suppers” have all been holy too— lots of love sprinkled with the sorrow of goodbye and the hope of new life and the fear of loss.


For us the theme of “last supper” had many variations: from tea or coffee with dunking biscotti, to caesar salad with chicken times 5-6, to elegant dinners with wine and quail or some bird or other, to the most precious of all, a dinner out at Friendlys complete with my old favorite vanilla with hot fudge sauce no cherry.