Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2011.11.30 A Family Saints Day

When I was a young teen and panting with romanticism, I admired Roman Catholics, actually envied them because they had stuff— like beads and prayers and saints names and days. They also prayed, to a woman of all things. AND they had answers to any religio-spiritual questions I might ask. And I had plenty of questions. I felt we Protestants were deprived.

But what I loved the most is that these Catholics had a whole array of saints, one for every issue and ailment and prayer concern you could think of. They even each had a saints name. I thought that was elegant, so personal. There was no saint Lyn.

Of course later when I took instructions to join the Roman Catholic church I found out they didn’t think much of women, except the statuary kind.

So I found the ANGLO-Catholic Episcopal church where there were beads that were optional, or less compulsively omniscient, and a liturgy that made me swoon almost as much as the Latin Mass. But here I had to wrestle with what all these mysterious words meant. It grew me up into a priest.

I made my own beads and use them when I’m dead tired or deeply desperate and wordless.

And I picked out a few saints to personalize according to meaningful days in my life and family. One was St. Andrew whose holy day is today.

Andrew was a nice and curious guy, a disciple of John the Baptist who suggested he meet this Jesus. Eagerly Andrew went to investigate. Then, according to the biblical story in John’s gospel, Andrew rushed back to fetch his bro Simon Peter.

Andrew never made it into Jesus’ circle of intimates. He wasn’t the type to aspire to the episcopate. Maybe he was lucky. After all look what became of Peter. Who would want to be pope?

But Andrew recognized a good thing like forgiveness and the God of love Rabbi Jesus preached, as a good way of life to follow. And he didn't get possessive with his new way but shared it immediately.

Andrew is patron saint to Scotland, part of our family heritage, but that’s not why I chose him as one of our family saints. I chose Andrew because on this day, 10 years ago, my two sons nearly died in a car accident. God didn’t save them, they were plumb lucky. But God I believe worked transformation in their souls after their shared trauma.

In time and with gratitude these brothers supported and led each other into a new way of life.

Each person finds his or her way to truth and holiness, and some people do it together.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011.12.04 25 Years of Wedded Laughter

Evening conversation or its lack between a middle-aging couple, retired and gratefully vital but with occasional memory lapses, can be sparse or sparred, but most always risible.

Astonishing how SHORT the “short” is in short-term memory loss.

Example: SHE confesses to forgetting to flush. (Now that’s VERY short term memory loss :0

HE reminds her by calling attention to it, loudly of course and from two flights down.

OK this is us of course. It's how we stay married by laughing.

What did I want for our 25th wedding anniversary?

I answered boldly and with surety: I want you to stop wearing underwear and socks. It would make folding the wash so much easier.

I knew his asking was a joke because we have long since not given gifts to each other in the interest of not accumulating anything that we will have to pack and move, facing wrenching downsizing choices.

OK, he said, if you don’t ever buy another stitch of clothing for as long as you live.

I won’t, I swore, silently adding “with Godde’s help.”

How did we make it the second time for this long?

You’re too ornery and I’m too terrified, he said.

Or vice versa I said.

Obviously, we have little shame left. And today we caught ourselves defensively competing over who forgot or remembered what—when and correctly. Imagine! BUT... what one forgets the other remembers and vice versa.

We’re having hysterical fun, even when we fight which happens often and lasts shorter than short-term memory loss. Not really a fight just a skirmish to make sure we’re both clear on our points. Just so neither forgets!

This is aging love—all gratitude, all laughter, and all truth in a big fat spiritual grab bag.

Thanks be to God whose sense of humor is eternal.

2011.11.27 Advent Commandment

Every pregnancy is holy and every pregnancy asks us to slow down, heed inner life growing, and wait with gentle patience for the birth—of Jesus and whoever else is en-wombed.

No flesh is illegitimate!!

A wisdom that needs to take on the tenor of a commandment for all seasons, not just Advent. Our culture is blessed with instant communication. I find it helpful and use email but not social networking—yet. I still love long lunches with friends and park bench chats — in the flesh.

I received this email from a friend recently. She was getting tied in knots by email correspondence, if it can be called that.

She wrote: i've come to hate e-mail - no voice, no nuance, too quick, too easy (and you can quote me on your blog). i get about 150-200 per day at the college. madness, sheer madness.

Noting the irony I shot back my instant reply with a quick click: Tis madness indeed! And it's deaf, dumb and blind to boot!! Jesus, however, did heal such blindness with a click of his prayer-suffused hands, no? Maybe we should pray on this, to heal the device-addicted culture. Of course we will be called old fogies but I don't care. We are older, not fogies just spiritually sane.  We can remember a more connected less harried world. And Eucharist is for remembering our embodied holiness, last time I ate, right?

Paradox: The more connected our devices tell us we are the more disembodied and non-incarnational we get.

Today’s culture is anti-Christian. I don’t need everyone to espouse Christianity. Some days I don’t myself. But it sure wouldn’t hurt to pay attention to one of Christianity’s central ideas: INCARNATION.

If G-d or the Holy lives in our human flesh, honors it enough to dwell therein, then maybe we need to do likewise. Touch and the keen eyes of understanding heal souls.

The lady preacha (not ordained) Baby Suggs says in Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved:

"Here, . . . in this place, we flesh; Flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it, love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. . . . Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them, touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face, ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, You! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. . . . You got to love it. This is flesh that I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance, backs that need support; shoulders that need strong arms. . . . More than eyes and feet. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear em now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

This is the prize: ALL flesh is blessed so bless ALL flesh.

(This means you have to keep in shape AND love your muffin tops, too.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011.11.24 Thanksgiving

Originally this day was declared a national day of thanksgiving and prayer.

Often the prayer part gets left out or hastily truncated before we dive into our feasts.

So here is my prayer along with my thanks for life itself.

Dear God, Thank you for You, for the gift of divine presence in my life. You help me stay me, no more and no less. You bless me with wonder. Bless to me this sacred gift, keep me faithful, and be a spirit of prayer and thanksgiving within me and within all the people I love and believe in. As I pray without ceasing in good times and bad may I also be grateful without ceasing in good times and bad. By this I plan to help You make a feast for the hungry and the starving to share together. Let's try. AMEN.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2011.11.20 King Sunday

When Dick and I were married 25 years ago we chose to have our marriage liturgy on a Sunday morning in the parish church where Dick was rector.

Ours was a second chance marriage. I had been on the search committee of my home parish when we elected Dick as our next rector. On paper he looked quite ordinary and I remember throwing his profile aside saying Let’s chuck this Simeoneee ( I pronounced it incorrectly) guy. Boring.”

I got outvoted because Dick’s profile had advertised his interest in doing youth ministry, the speciality of the former rector. I commented that they all said that, good marketing.

In the short run youth won out. In the long run so did love and eventual marriage. Going through divorces in a small town in a smaller parish was no picnic and neither of us would have opted for that if we’d seen alternatives. Both of our ex’s took their second chances too and are happily remarried.

I remember debating our day. We chose this Sunday called Chist the King, which 25 years ago was Nov. 23. The day marks the end of the Pentecost season and is the springboard into Advent, time to expect the new baby and begin the life cycle again.

Christ the King is a glory day, an all white day just like a marriage or Easter. Time for new life, for recognizing anew who really is in charge, and it’s not you. And time to know that in Christ we see the love of God lived out in the flesh and are supposed to try to follow the good example.

I don’t like royalty much but thought the day for our marriage would be OK since if Christ were sovereign of the cosmos then no one else could be—ever. We would be mutual marriage partners, no one on top, except of course........ :)

But I drew the line at the Diademata hymn—terrific triumphant music but all about kingship and completely and exclusively masculine language.

Jesus was a man and can keep his male pronouns but Christ is alive in an eternal spiritual way and can not be He, Him or His all the time. So I ruled out the crowns and the He’s and that hymn for our wedding day.

Today in church we sang that hymn and for every He that was clearly not referring to the life of Jesus on earth I sang Christ, a more neutral word, gender-free.

You don’t have to be a man to be a christ. Neither for that matter do you have to be a Christian to be a Christ.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011.11.23 Leaps of Faith

I’ve returned to reading some literary classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Brideshead Revisited.

Contemporary work pulls me along all right but its prose is slick, speedy and often dependent on contrived plot twists. Fine-tuned prose with nuance is slow and deliberate ushering me INTO the drama rather than floating me along on top of it.

I've long believed that the arts—all of them not just the fine arts— can save the world. I’m supposed to be saying that God saves the world but salvation requires human hearts and minds and limbs—and leaps of faith.

Evelyn Waugh gives an example of the intricacy of the creative process and its spirituality from the point of view of a painter.

“I had the perspective set out in pencil and the detail carefully placed. I held back from painting, like a diver on the water’s edge; once in I found myself buoyed and exhilarated. I was normally a slow and deliberate painter’ that afternoon, and all the next day, and the day after, I worked fast. I could do nothing wrong. At the end of each passage I paused, tense, afraid to start the next, fearing, like a gambler, that luck must turn and the pile be lost. Bit by bit, minute by minute, the thing came into being. There were not difficulties; the intricate multiplicity of light and colour became a whole; the right colour was where I wanted it on the pallette; each brush stroke, as soon as it was complete, seemed to have been there always.” (from Brideshead Revisited)

For brush stroke, substitute word, step, breath or note.The creative process when it takes over is deliberate AND random all at once. Inordinate time is spent to perfect each stroke, word, note, step, or action, but in the end one must risk the plunge toward something new. Think how risky it feels to fill in a pencil sketch with paint you know you can't erase. An act of creating is like jumping INTO your soul, INTO God.

When I was eight I paced the high diving board, coming right to the edge, looking down in terror at the waters of Long Island sound below, sure to swallow up my small earnest body forever. I’d been told I’d be OK; I could swim; the waters were deep enough. Still I paced.

I’d like to say that a lovely spiritual moment of faith helped me leap, but in truth it was spotting a teen ager climbing the ladder. I was more afraid of being thrown in with mock and toss than I was of the waters, so I grasped my nose tight and leapt. Sure enough the waters caught me and buoyed me up. I can hardly remember a more triumphant moment. Later I’d boast, maybe feel grateful, but for now I just burst with pride and I was totally myself, soaking wet and safe.

It takes the same boldness to step onto a stage, write words on a page, sing notes out loud, participate in religious liturgies and rituals when you have no idea what they mean, pray without inhibition, hurling your words at an invisible Love, preach to high heaven, even though Ms. evil eye sits in the pew grimacing with her arms crossed over her chest—the body language from hell.

Like Waugh's artist you leap IN anyway. Whether your work is worthy of critical acclaim or not you have given something of your soul and so been saved

God is like that,leaping INTO creating with abandon—like a kindergartner with finger paint—faithful, free, flambuoyant, and pleased to bursting with the effort.

God is like that, leaping into Mary's womb, letting go into a scary new process—completely faithful, free, flambouyant,flawless—and pleased to bursting with the new life her womb will labor into being.

The sturdy graces of Thanksgiving are at your back. Lean on their memory as you leap INTO Advent to create something new.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

2011.11.16 Getting Spoiled?

Sometimes I worry about my grandchildren and American children today getting spoiled by so much privilege and affluence.

Then I wonder if I spoiled my own children. Trying to please them, indulge their wants, having trouble saying no, being a career codependent when they were growing up.

But no. I absolved myself. They were all spoiled enough by this culture and they are far from selfish brats.

I decided numbers helped. I had too many children to spoil. A crowd helps. A rough and tumble crowd helps. Not much room for attention to be overly lavished when there are four needing it, often all at once. They had to take care of themselves and each other especially when I hit midlife and broke out, seeking to fulfill my own desires beyond motherhood.

This is why I love the little reference in scripture to Jesus brothers and sisters—and cousins too. It is only disputed because people want Jesus to be be unique and heaven-sent—uniquely wombed so to speak. But no, he grew up in a clan and thrived—quite unspoiled.

It’s no more holy to be the one and only than it is to be one of many.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

2011.11.13 COMMON CHURCH, COMMON PRAYER, COMMON GOD, COMMON HUMANITY

I’ll call you after church, I said.

Oh, you still do that? my son said with the delicious innocence of the mildly churched.

Yes, I still go to church even though it’s not my job any more, I said.

Then I wondered why DO I go to church—really?

I know I don’t HAVE to go and often I’d much rather stay home than brave the subway and whatever vicissitudes of weather have arisen overnight unexpectedly. BUT I trudge on, part duty, part habit, part spiritual need.

In church I look for two experiences both spiritual and both commonly identified as signs of the presence of God: transformation from within and a feeling of unity from without.

A transformative experience can be as simple as a mood change and as complex as a theological insight. Like just recently realizing that Jesus did not flip his miracle-making gesture so a few loaves of bread became enough to feed thousands, he just had compassion, recognized hunger, told them to sit down in small groups, invoked a blessing of God, and told the crowd to count on being filled.

Obviously symbolic and eucharistic, the story newly struck me as good advice for an anxious church hungry for growth. Have compassion, the Spirit will grow within you if you just sit down, stop gawking at a guru for miracles, and begin a conversation. That’s transformation, growth from within on COMMON ground.

I confess a chuckle noticing that the story claims to feed 4-5000 men “besides women and children.” But who knows how much the thinking-ahead women stuffed into their outsized satchels, just in case anyone got hungry along the way? :)

A unitive experience? It’s standing around the altar area with some 30 other Jesus followers to receive consecrated bread and wine from a COMMON plate and a COMMON cup, gifts of one deity COMMON to us all. I feel God calling us to participate in COMMON prayer, be more aware of our COMMON humanity and act accordingly to assure the COMMON good.

I can get such experiences elsewhere but I can count on getting them in church where the Spirit connects me with divinity-in-humanity through worship, song and sacrament— IN God and IN common.

Oh yes, I also go to church to worship Godde, the transcendent mystery who both loves me with an intimacy so acute as to be almost threatening if I let it, and who is completely other and beyond— IN whom WE live and move and have COMMON being.

Monday, November 7, 2011

2011.11.09 God Talk and the Akedah

I don’t know why theology has always fascinated me. I suppose it’s a mystery I can’t grasp and can’t stop trying to, anyway.

Some Christians I imagine think that the idea of grace/free will cooperation for the good started with them, or at least the New Testament Jesus. But it’s more ancient than that.

I’ve been reading Bruce Feiler’s book Abraham, a fascinating and beautiful read. He writes about what I call the story of the gasp heard round the world, the story in Genesis 22 (called the Akedah in Hebrew) about the near-sacrifice or the binding of Isaac, as most Christians call it—and use it to condemn the God of the Old Testament as if there were two Gods.

Abraham heard God ask him to give his son Isaac as a burnt offering apparently to TEST the solidity of Abe’s faith.

There have been many interpretations of this theological horror story. Who would do such a thing? What kind of God is this? Where was the mother? This is Holy Scripture?

My own favorite is that Sarah arranged with God to provide a ram for the burnt offering so Isaac, at the last-gasp minute, would escape unharmed but with a lifelong case of serious post-traumatic stress disorder. Abraham I thought had obviously made an incorrect discernment of God’s will.(My rational was obviously me trying to save God!)It happens all the time, and to the most prayerful of u, I'd say. Poor Abe.

But Feiler points out that in the story God does NOT ask Abe to kill his son but to OFFER him. Early Jews referred to the event as the OFFERING,not sacrifice or binding.

Think of the Offering in Church. Good season to think of what you can offer to help God create peace and justice.

“A potter doesn’t test defective jars, they would break. He only tests sound ones.” Such is the basis for a Talmudic interpretation that suggests that Abraham was testing God,not the reverse, see if "His" promise of continuing and multiplying Abe's line were the real deal.

Now that’s a role reversal.

The consequence of such a flip is that God is brought down to earth rather than Abe being elevated to heaven. Abe is the actor and God the reactor.

The theological boundaries are confused— or are they?

Feiler suggests that ABRAHAM BECOMES GOD’S PARTNER. They belong to each other.

“Their mutual trials completed, their love consummated, Abraham and God have now been irreparably fused.”

This is chilling and thrilling theology, a scandal to some: through trauma, God and Abraham became partners forever—humanity and divinity conjoined and blessed to work together to mend the world.

The New Testament will take that union into the flesh of Jesus.

All of this is POWER WITH, NOT POWER OVER theology—from way back. Talk it up
!

2011.11.06 God Talk and Demons

The bishop was delivering a terrific sermon on healing presence and demons, until he suddenly veered off on a theological path I couldn’t follow—not that I didn’t understand what he said, but I just didn’t think it sounded like the God I’d met many many years ago who listened me into life.

The biblical story was highly symbolic and desperately real.A man gone crazy, socially ignored and relegated to the tombs where he cried and flung himself and rocks about. He was out of his mind. Jesus appeared and was not afraid as all the man’s neighbors were. Jesus listened the man into his right mind. That’s a short summation of the potential of healing listening to restore mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

The bishop spoke about research that indicated mental illness as one outcome of absolute social and economic powerlessness—no control over one’s life and choices. No dignity whatsoever. Such poverty can literally drive one crazy.

The call of course was for disciples to offer compassionate listening presence to help mend the world with individuals, but also to challenge large systems whose policies and practices create severe polarities between haves and have nots.

Think Occupy Movement. Think the one and the 99 percent in America.

Disciples of healing help with their bodies and minds, and they help by opening their wallets to build programs to narrow the chasm and assist the human rights revolution.

Instead of AMEN the bishop veered. He told the large congregation gathered in the cathedral for our annual convention that no one was there because they chose to be there. They were there, each one, because God had chosen them to be there—to worship God, to catch inspiration, and to join the mission for the mending of our broken system.

Suddenly I veered too. I wondered if God chose the people who sat outside on the cathedral to catch the patches of sunlight and warmth to be there? I wondered who God chose to do the work of justice, peace and love, and why God didn’t choose more people to be here in church with their compassionate hearts—and their wallets.

Why didn’t God choose all the other people roaming the fair city on this lovely Saturday especially if there were a shortage of disciples? And what if the crazy man had rejected Jesus’ approach, had not chosen Jesus?

In short I felt a little manipulated by this dangerous theology of forced choice that set God up as the decider and the chooser as if human freedom were not part of the process. It made God sound manipulative. It seemed to compromise the partnership between grace and freedom.

I met God when I was three and I didn’t feel chosen at all, just loved, accompanied, heartened, and listened to, like Jesus listened to the demoniac. I didn’t feel unique or special.

As I grew up I thought my meeting God was intimately connected to my choice to seek refuge from the parental cocktail hour.

I love my husband and I can’t, for the love of us, tell you who chose whom first or when. Or who initiated the movement. As I grew into my first love affair with God, the issue of who chose whom first was moot.

It seems to me that the demoniac and Jesus chose each other, or were magnetically drawn together almost simultaneously. Lo! Dispelling demons became a joint venture.

This is why I prefer the theological vocabulary of love and connection over the vocabulary of choice/chosen because love is about mutuality and choice is about power.

To be honest, I trust, with humans and with God, the mutuality of love over the power of choice.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011.11.02 Keeping Madeleine's Commandment

After Madeleine L’Engle adjured me NOT to become a little man after I got ordained, I faced a few hurdles in carrying out her word of wisdom.

The adornment hurdle surmounted, the next hurdle I faced in my obedience efforts was what I call how we do business together?

As a parish priest I thought the way to lead was to meet with parish leaders for conversation, encourage prayer, and come to consensus about action.

Whatever policy and decision we made we all would support and help implement, including fielding the growls and ongoing recalcitrance-for-its-own-sake.

This is a process way of getting things done, and in fact a women’s way. Women tend to talk things over together, sometimes too much. Through the experience of being connected, listening and sharing, a path to successful action is created. One talks, another listens, the first speaks more, a third comments until all of us are on board and everyone knows the experience of the others and of the group.

Sometimes I confess it seems as if we all talk at once, we all listen at once, we all understand at once, and we all come away knowing self, other, Other, task at hand, what to do and what was said. Men think it’s insane, but it’s only different.

This way sounded good to folks but the parish culture was not used to it—a secret I didn’t know. They were used to talking a lot, then having the priest make the decision, reinforce it, take responsibility for it—all alone.

Here’s an example:
1)Complaints about noisy kids in church.
2)I brought it to the vestry and staff leaders
3)WE deliberated and prayed over a couple of months and made a fair policy then wrote it down to be communicated with everyone and appear in the weekly worship bulletin.
4)WE agreed to support the policy as a parish policy for the sake of the whole
5)I fielded a confrontation from an angry parent.
6)THEY, or most of them, expressed sympathy and compassion for the mother/complainant.
7)OUR policy became MY policy.
8)I took the issue back to the leadership group and met reluctance in the name of Christian charity for the parents, not something we had not discussed. I got a partial buy-in only.

So it went. I felt lonely, angry, betrayed, hurt and foolish. My style of leadership had been sabotaged because I DIDN’T TURN INTO A LITTLE MAN, making most decisions autonomously from his own authority, not as dictator but as a buck-stops-here leader.

I should have let them call me MOTHER. I debated preaching naked—pin-up style!