Wednesday, August 31, 2011

2011.08.31 Prodigal Lover

It’s my son’s 44th birthday today. Happy birthday, son.

I dedicate this little poem to him and to the biblical figures, Peter and John, who ran to the tomb to see if what the women reported could be true, that God always brings new life out of the stuff of our worries and fears.

A wise woman writer Judith Shulevitz wrote: “We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.”



He is running for love
against the wind
Pushing aside
forces, furies, old wounds
in the path
as he runs for love
for love

Earth has no fire
like this man’s love.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

2011.08.30 Goodnight Irene or Perfect Sunday, not Perfect Storm

I still think of going to church as an important part of my spiritual health. It’s part devotional duty and part inhaling the Holy in community through song, word and sacrament. So even though I’m retired and church-going is not a “job” I go.

That said, I don’t mind missing church for a good reason. Tropical storm Irene today was a good reason. Winds threatened, our porch door sailed open though locked, and our governor declared a state of emergency pleading with people to stay off the roads. It turned out to be not as bad as meteorology predicted. But who can really predict weather?

Yet, in New England at least, we love to talk about the weather. It’s as mysterious as Godde whose grace is even more unpredictable. The religiously sane among us don’t even try to predict Godde. Most clergy try anyway because we think it’s our job. It is, but who does any job perfectly?

So I wasn’t disappointed at all when, after careful discernment and checking news of parish cancellations, my husband decided to call the parish where he’d been contracted to fill in and crawled back into bed next to me this morning.

We slept till 10 a.m., made love, cooked a sumptuous brunch, read the Sunday papers with ease, had hunks of dark chocolate for brunch dessert, and remembered to thank Godde for this unpredicted Sabbath grace.

It was made even more beautiful to me when I read in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine an article by Linda Wertheimer about a middle school in Wellesley Massachusetts where they have an education unit on religion that includes trips to worship sites and services.

It’s controversial of course but students have benefited from knowing something about religion. Religion, like it or not, has been and will continue to be a major player in history, world politics, and many personal lives. But it’s a “spiritual lemon.” People fear its bitter power and want to make lemonade out of it instead of getting to know its zest.

My favorite quotes from young students: “They are not teaching you the religion, they’re teaching you about the religion . . . they’re trying to get you to learn.” And: Before the comparative religion class I didn’t realize that Christianity came out of Judaism.”

That’s good education. That’s good spirituality. That;’s good religion.

Maybe the best part of this “perfect” Sunday was seeing that religion can be a respectable curriculum item in public education. When religion is too isolated it is dangerously subject to fanaticism, exclusionary politics, idolatry, and yes, war.

Paradox: the more you know about other religions and their participants, the more you are able to appreciate and value your own even if you are an atheist.

Good night Irene, and thank you in the name of Peace and Love.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

2011.08.25 POLITICAL RANT

Today would be my father's 100th birthday. He died 30 years ago, too soon for the length of my love. This rant is for him. He loved to rant mostly against Democrats. But now I'm sure he, a sensible and respectful man, would wonder about his own party.


MICHELE BACHMANN ADVERTISES HERSELF AS A MODEL CHRISTIAN AND AN EXEMPLARY WOMAN WORTHY OF BEING THE PRESIDENT OF THESE UNITED STATES.

I AM A CHRISTIAN PRIEST IN THE CHURCH OF GOD, EPISCOPAL BRAND. I SPEAK FOR MYSELF NOT FOR MY CHURCH.

AND WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY IS AS AGAINST MY “CORE BELIEFS” AS BACHMANN SAYS UNCONDITIONALACCEPTANCE OF HOMOSEXUAL PEOPLE IS AGAINT HERS. .

I FIND MICHELE BACHMANN’S POLITICAL POSITIONING NAUSEATING, FULL OF GLITZ AND SHOWING OFF, TRYING TO MAKE A MEGA CHURCH OUT OF HER CAMPAIGN AND ARRIVING TELLINGLY LATE FOR EVERY SCHEDULED APPEARANCE. CATCH HER IF YOU CAN! CUTE GAME.

SHE MUST HAVE BEEN BULLIED BECAUSE SHE IS A BULLY, AND WORSE, A BULLY IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST WHO, LAST I LOOKED AT THE GOSPELS, WAS ONE GIVEN TO EMBRACING OUTCASTS, FINDING OUT WHAT THEY WANTED AND HEALING THEM ON THEIR TERMS.

JESUS DIDN’T DO WITH HIS BODY WHAT BACHMANN IS DOING WITH HERS; SHOWMANSHIP TO AVOID TRUTH. HE MOVED AMONG THE PEOPLE TALKING AND LISTENING AND RISKING HIS LIFE.

AS A CHRISTIAN I TRY TO EMULATE & TEACH THAT KIND OF MOVEMENT—WITH GOD’S HELP. I FAIL REGULARLY AND KEEP TRYING ANYWAY.

BACHMANN IGNORED THE COURAGEOUS GAY IOWAN TEEN WHO (see Boston Globe august 19,A1) SHOUTED OUT HIS FEELINGS ABOUT BEING A SECOND CLASS CITIZEN BECAUSE OF THE PREACHMENTS OF SOME CHRISTIANS LIKE BACHMANN. BACHMANN WENT “DEAF.”

I DON’T GIVE A DAMN IF SHE THINKS THIS KID IS LIVING IN SIN BECAUSE OF HIS SEXUAL ORIENTATION. HER ARROGANT AND, YES, FRIGHTENED AVOIDANCE SPEAKS VOLUMES ABOUT HER POLITICAL INCOMPETENCE AND HER CHRISTIAN DISGRACE.

IF BACHMANN’S POSTURING IS A COVER UP FOR SOME UNACKNOWLEDGED PAIN, I FEEL SAD—BUT NOT ENOUGH TO WANT HER ANYWHERE NEAR THE HIGHEST OFFICE IN OUR LAND OR STRIKING A POSE SHE CALLS CHRISTIAN.


Monday, August 22, 2011

2011.08.20 Bernard de Clairvaux:Love in Process

August 20 is the calendar day set aside to remember one of my favorite Church heroes. Yes, a Father, a man and a Saint Bernard, not canine with saving stimulants but human with saving spirituality.

“Who among you my brothers, was not born amid feces and urine?” he reminded those in his charge. Kinda keeps you humble, no?

But to be serious this 11th century Cistercian monk abbot gave us a summation of the spiritual process of Love
-Love of self for self’s sake.
-Love of God for self’s sake
-Love of God for God’s sake
-Love of self for God’s sake

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2011.08.17 Habit & HIgher Level Spirituality

Vacation time is so gloriously sluicy it skitters by almost unnoticed or marked, a bit like retreat time. (That’s why this post is longer than my usual posts.)

Vacation is un-timed time. I love it in limited hunks. At the end of two weeks of vacation I feel both sad to leave and also glad to be getting back home to my routines.

I find comfort in my habits and quickly wonder if I’m therefore deficient spiritually. It’s like judging rosaries as rote and therefore spiritually immature. Still, I’m routinized more than I like to admit, and I need it.

In a wonderful book I’m reading by Judith Shulevitz called Sabbath World she researched human habits and discovered that we humans are wired for habits. Habituated behavior can change the shape of the brain enabling automatic responses to stimuli. That sound like instinct, like animals not of the human kind. Shouldn’t the human brain be beyond that?

The power of habit according to William James is the “flywheel of society, a conservative agent.” Oh yuk. Now I feel defensive and repelled. Conservative?

Shulevitz writes about the value of keeping the Sabbath. A a Christian priest I ascribe the same value to participating in the Eucharist. You gotta do something holy with your body, not just talk about it. And you gotta do it over and over again.

Shulevitz points out that we would rather be masters of our fate than creatures of habit but that, according to James, habit is necessary and efficient because it “reduces unnecessary expenditures of physical and intellectual energy AND FACILITATES HIGHER LEVEL THINKING.”

Imagine!

Thinking leads to doing and back to more thinking. So I see what it is that habits conserves, more energy to stretch yourself, and life itself. One value in keeping “sabbath” is that it becomes a habituated sanctuary of time and place to cultivate leisure, silence, love found in relationships with loved ones. Such habits are not dependent on the force of will but create AUTOMATIC core values on which to build a civil society—PEACE.

Once a toddler grandchild had mastered walking to proficiency, made it a habit ie. few falls and faster paces, he then developed higher level thinking which consisted in his case of a new activity: piling up a box, a hassock and a couple of blocks to get up to the counter to reach his heart’s desire: the missing box car to the train he was assembling.

I remember hearing a nine year old concert pianist execute prodigious musical wonders. The conductor asked him how he got his small hands to extend over the octaves required for the compositions he so skillfully played. The child thought for a minute and said simply, “Practice.”

I’ve practiced prayer, just talking to Godde and sometimes shutting up to listen in the silence, since I was a small child. Originally I did it to assuage loneliness and exercise my curiously religious imagination. Now it’s a habit. I just do it, like walking.

Prayer as habituated spiritual practice gave me the context in which self, Godde, church, Jesus, eucharist, priesthood, soul, and the occasional mystical experience thrive.

Ritual/habitual prayer and sacrament facilitate HIGHER LEVEL SPIRITUALITY—closer to Godde or the missing toy box car.

On vacation I take time off from good habits even organized prayer. Wherever I am is sabbath, is church, is prayer. I let myself float about in un-timed time, maybe eating lunch at five and dinner at 9, taking 3-4 walks a day, gazing at the sea or kids in the sand, indulging in random reading and writing like this. I pray with no pattern and make gratuitous assumptions about Godde’s presence.

But after a couple of weeks I need my habits back, those practices that make me both pharisee and monastic—until the next spate of un-timed time.

* * *
It just occurred to me that memoir and its current popularity may relate to the human need for habituated spirituality because it provides, for reader and writer alike, an anchor in time and space, some stability amidst time that is more fluid than fixed. Zazen, eucharist, sabbath serve similar purposes.






Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011.08.14 Is Godde Softening or Is It Father Time?

I’ve noticed in myself that I am not less but more anxious about time, not being on time or being late but about how much time seems to fly by as I age and how much I want it to stop and let me have more of this life I love so much.

On the other hand time is so fluid, so mobile now that it hardly seems a day to day factor. I go by a schedule more or less but the schedule is softer to manage. I mean I can call to let someone know I may be late because of traffic or a sick cat. Or I can forget my watch and know my omnipresent cellphone will orient me. When I get lost I know I can call or even google map my way out of it. (The truth is I call my husband but I have the phone to do that.)

My daughter rarely listens to my messages because she knows she can press a button and call me back to find out. I’m thinking that leaving a message saves her time because it needs no call back. A whole different relationship with time and time values.

What about spiritual time? I mean time that partakes of the eternal, seems to at once stand still and expand endlessly. Time that some would argue is meaningless or wasted.

Today no time is seen as wasted because our omnipresent omniscient devices keep us connected and feeling useful and with something to do while we wait that is to say at all times.

Has far niente, the fine art of doing nothing lost meaning because time itself now is mobile, or not mechanized, that is dependent on a watch or a standard mean time?

One day when I was on retreat I had planned to have a TIME of quiet communion with Godde before I went for my afternoon walk, had my nap, read my book, and then went back to the dining room for supper. This was my planned schedule in my mind, none of it compulsory.

As I worried that I would be late for my self-allotted chapel quiet time and therefore for the whole rest of my planned time, this thought flew into my mind “You’re already IN chapel.”

I thought that meant “You’re already IN Godde.” I guess that’s what they mean by eternal time, not mobile not mechanical not needing to be scheduled—just being in doing.

I value time spent on this kind of softened timeline. The more I get of it the more I will recognize it when it interrupts my busyness.

And the better prepared I imagine I will be when I enter it for ever.






Wednesday, August 10, 2011

2011.08.10 Something Always Good

Today I said to my favorite nonagenarian, “Well the world if falling apart but damn the weather is superlative!”

She replied. “Something always has to be good.”

This caused me to remember Danny. Danny, a child with Down syndrome, was the “always good thing” in a former CT. parish where I worked.

Danny would come running up the aisle his arms akimbo, spread wide, and with a grin to match the sun’s warmth on his face, screaming, DaddyDaddyHeyDaddy—all run together.

Danny might happen in the middle of a sermon or solemn moment or if his mother held him hostage he’d get his run at the time of the announcement, which is where he belonged announcing his presence and his love.

Research today on finding ways to improve Downs is progressing slowly. There’s not much funding. I read in the NY Times July 31 magazine about a physician with a Downs daughter named Tyche (pron. tishy) He has changed his medical focus and devotes his life to research to help his daughter who in fact can solve algebraic problems. (I tried one myself and had to think a lot.) He wants to use his skills to add to Tyche’s repertoire because he loves her, nothing else.

No one denies the difficulties these children and adults present: shorter life span, adept at disruption, tempers, flinging things about to make messes.

BUT... no one denies their loving natures either, or that they can make you love in ways you never thought you could.

Many people who love a Downs child or adult feel hesitant about changing this syndrome much. Why? Well, I suppose it’s because despite its intellectual limitations Down adorns its bearers with capacious souls that can shine with love and bring the “something always good” into a day, or a room, or up the aisle.

Spiritually, I’d say they are endowed with gifts of personality that help Godde remind us that love can be more valuable in life than success, broad horizons, or intelligence.



Sunday, August 7, 2011

2011.08.07 Our Birthdays

It’s startling in some ways to think that a man I fell into love with, almost without will like you fall into sin, was born on the same day I was. It gives pause.

At least it wasn’t the same year, too. I’m 73 and he is 70.

I don’t know if stars aligned as some say or even planets. Or maybe the gods, whoever these heavenly ciphers are, arranged this bashert, this marriage made in heaven, meant to be.

I don’t believe any of those clichĂ©s but I don’t disbelieve them either.

All I believe is that we have stayed dwelling in love through stress and strains and spats. So far in the angst of aging our biggest fear is that one of us will die and leave the other alone—ahead of time.

Secretly each of us hopes she or he won’t be the one left behind. How hopelessly harmlessly human.

Happy Birthday to us!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

2011.08.03 Writing for Pac Man

Once at a writers conference an agent on a panel commented about the first page of an author’s manuscript:“Don’t make me wait too long to get under the table.”

The first page reading was mine and I was thrilled that agents liked it. “Under the Table” is the title of my second chapter. I reference the experience on my first page where I am in the scene of my ordination recalling what happened under the table 47 years ago. The hint lets a reader anticipate the under the table scene but wait till the next chapter.

Under the table in Chapter 2 I detail the childhood spiritual experience that drew me to follow a path to the priesthood happened.

I wondered if I should put my under the table scene first. Was it too long to wait? Should I follow the comment of the agent? I have actually found a snapshot way to do that. I got the idea from Patti Smith’s, Just Kids.

Still, the dismal thought occurred to me that in this consumerist culture perhaps publishing is in danger of co-opting to a pac man market. Pac man dates me. It was an early video game, probably now judged as too slow, in which a bunch of racing little faces with open gobbling mouths pursued an escapee—you!

Do we presume a bunch of readers so driven by instant gratification that they can’t tolerate waiting? Ravenous like pac people?

It sounds so infantile. Is this a disservice to serious readers? A handicap to serious writers?

Take Tinkers the novel by Paul Harding. I loved the book. I had to wait a lot, to read through a lot of context-building detail near the beginning and throughout before I got to an action scene.

And you could expire waiting for Pulitzer prize novelist Marilynne Robinson to tell you what happens—unless you let the mastery of the prose itself fascinate you. And it will.

I did feel some impatience at first, until I re-learned the first lesson of spirituality: stay steadfast, trust, be alert and notice whatever the Spirit is unfolding on every page. There’s a lot of Religion there as well—and Feminism.

Writers today are encouraged to write to the chase; that is, to get a reader to some dramatic scene as quickly as possible in order to keep her or him turning the pages. Gobble, gobble.

Do you need Pepto-Bismol yet?