Sunday, October 13, 2019

2019.10.13 Two Eves and Me

One of my mentors is Eve Ensler.  She is an American playwright, performer, feminist, and activist, known best for her play, "The Vagina Monologues.” I once had a starring role in that play. More humbly stated, I performed one of the monologues sitting atop a three-legged stool dressed in my clerical collar—and nothing else. Okay that’s a lie—fun, but a lie. I wore my professional uniform: black pants and shirt with a traditional stiff white band of plastic circling my neck. The collar, after which I’d lusted for some years, identified me as clergy, in my case an Episcopal priest. This collar gave me authority, authority it would take years for me to fully internalize, and even more years to relinquish so I could begin to rely on my own authority not the uniform’s.
Ensler’s play premiered in 1996 and was hailed by Charles Isherwood of the New York Times as “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.” Ensler’s mission was to campaign globally against anti-female violence. She offers the script free of charge to local groups every February 14th. Ensler as a young woman.
The Gloucester Coalition for the Prevention of Domestic Abuse, of which I was a member ,got the script in 2006 and put out a call for auditions. My heart leaped and I signed my vagina up for an audition. We got in. There were no official costumes, so I decided, with some trepidation, to wear my collar for the performance. 

I spoke the part of a mature woman who had attended a vagina workshop. Honestly, there really were such things. They were designed to help woman connect, or reconnect, with their sexuality, specifically to get to know their “privates". No kidding, women lay on mats and pretended to have a relationship with their vaginas while a young twenty-something guided them along. All I had to do in my monologue was portray my vagina’s release from hidden shame to wondrous self-affirmation while sitting on a stool, wearing my clerical collar, and faking an orgasm on stage. I got a standing “o”—that’s ovation.

There were some older women from my parish in the front row. They looked stern I thought, but I saw one of them suddenly cover a giggle. They never said a word, a grace for which I adored them. But two young women joined the parish after they saw me in the play, and another friend in my yoga class told me her 80 year old mother had whispered to her: “Can we go to that church?” Well, there’s more than one way to evangelize. Call it V-evangelism.

Eve Ensler is sixty-six now and continues to write about big topics like God, death, and women. I write about the same topics. Her experience of being systematically beaten to bleeding by her father throughout her childhood was more traumatic, although comparisons are odious, than my experience of being sexually molested in a NYC movie theater when I was eight by an old man with a long white beard who looked just as I thought God would. I called him the old God-man.

I buried my own trauma in an abyss of shame—sure something was wrong with me that this happened.  It was not until I was in seminary seeking God, a way out of shame, and the fullness of my own sexuality, that I wrote about what happened to me in a journaling course that encouraged experiential theology. I’d thought just knowing what happened was enough, but knowledge was only the melody. When supported by the tones of my feelings and bodily sensations, the truth grew robust—and holy. I knew I had written the old “God-man” to death—myself and my body to new life. Perhaps this was my own vagina monologue.

Like Ensler, I found healing through writing, as well as through performing in her play.

Ensler has just published a second memoir called Apology in which she exhumes her father through her imagination and writes the apology she wished she’d had from him. She ends her book with: “Old man be gone.” I now that feeling. Old God-man be gone!  AMEN.

I wear my collar now when I’m officiating at a religious rite and when I feel proud of something I’ve done with God’s help, such as writing books in which the Holy Spirit takes the lead.
In the 5/26/19 NY Times Book Review Ensler quotes from her favorite book: "Letter to a Child Never Born," by Oriana Fallaci: "And yet, or just for this reason, it's so fascinating to be a woman. It's an adventure that takes such courage, a challenge that's never boring. You'll have so many things to engage you if you're born a woman. To begin with, you'll have to struggle to maintain what might even be an old woman with white hair or a beautiful girl. Then you'll have to struggle to explain that it wasn't sin that was born on the day when Eve picked an apple, what was born that day was a splendid virtue called disobedience.”

It remains a challenge for us women to find our voices, our bodies, and our dignity in this rootedly patriarchal world, still doggedly resistant to sharing power. But we are present. We speak. We write. We keep on disobeying the rules set for us by forces over which we had no control. We will simply BE. What grace there is in that simple declaration of Being itself—just as we are. Thanks be for the first woman Eve and for all her spiritual namesakes, like me and Ensler, and so many others. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

2019.10.06 Invictus/Convictus

Many people have deep soul-convictions that shape their lives from the beginning and get more courageous and more sinewy when threatened. Such was the case for Nelson Mandela when he was imprisoned for treason during the hard struggle against the apartheid politics of the South African government. Mandela spent 27 years in exile, some of it at Robben Island in hard labor.

Mandela’s story is complicated, just as any story of someone who struggles with spiritual ideals and cold hard reality and falls down many times along the way is. Nevertheless, he was a man of conviction and spiritual strength. While imprisoned he was offered his personal freedom once. He refused  to comply with the condition that he unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon, saying: “What freedom am I offered while the organisation of the people (African National Congress) remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

Mandela emerged after much negotiation, including international protests, and pain to be elected as South Africa’s first black chief executive in 1994.

Mandela subscribed to basic democratic values and the African ethical tenet, ubuntu: “A person is a person through other persons.” Mandela died of respiratory illness in 2013 at the age or 95. He was not a model of moral rectitude or religious rigor, but he was a man of conviction. How? Well, in part because he kept this poem alive in his heart as a mantra, a prayer with which he strengthened his soul.

Invictus  William Ernest Henley, 1875.

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

The wisdom of this poem is true for me, up to a point. As I age and face my own convictions,  the mastery of my soul has withered. I of course am neither as strong or as bludgeoned as Mandela was, but when I read “Invictus” I said yes, then, not convinced, and being a word-nerd, I looked up the word roots, Latin of course.
    Invictus means conquered from within already, and therefore unconquerable from without. Invictus is I. Yes, I was conquered from within like Mandela. 
     Convictus means conquered with (con), not alone, like with a close friend or intimate association. Convictus is WE. Yes, I was conquered by not feeling alone, because God was there. We are masters of my soul.

Convictus Lyn Gillespie Brakeman, 2019

From the vastness of the sea,
the endless stretches of sand,
I am drawn into one drop, one grain—
my own.

I am not the master of my fate,
the keeper of my soul
as I’ve spent years imagining—
and forgetting.

It’s not so.

For years ago
I deeded my soul to God
my heart to Christ
my fate to the stars

Thus . . .
all my words
my deeds
my thoughts
are convicts—
escapees, convicted anew—
over and over, daily.  


Sunday, September 29, 2019

2019.09.29 A Big Ask

With respect and a dollop of humility, I write to ask for brief reviews on Amazon for my memoir God Is Not A Boy’s Name. Becoming Woman. Becoming Priest.  A review only has to be 1-2 sentences. You do not have to have bought the book on Amazon to review it, and the audiobook is a brand new addition to the print version. Here is the link https: . Click on image then under author's name where it indicates "20 ratings" then to"Click here to write a review."  And here is a moi-pose with two of my books, a red blouse for spiritual pizazz, a corpus-free crucifix, and a stiff clergy collar for show.  Thank you.
         Recording a book is an adventure with quirks. It’s not at all like doing a live reading. I knew audiobooks were on the rise. I contacted my publisher to inquire about audiobooks, specifically mine. “Sure, we’ll publish it.” They sent their specs.  The catch? I had to find and finance a sound proof studio with good recording equipment—pricey—to lease. I even called Perkins School for the Blind. They do not lease studio time, nor does MIT. I nearly gave up but instead I lobbed a “Hail Mary pass” to Facebook. Tap, click, ping. A next-door neighbor replied immediately, letting me know that another neighbor had such a studio in their basement. Right next door!  Meant to happen, a friend chanted. Karma, karma, another said. OMG, said I. 

         I called the studio neighbors. I’d heard their backyard concerts many times, but I’d never met them and had no idea they were so charming and ran a family business, Amador Bilingual Voiceovers, in their basement studio. Here is a link:  Contact the Amadors if you would like to lease studio time. I also didn’t know that I could help them by signing a petition for a building variance they needed to stay in this neighborhood. We negotiated times (early evenings ) and leasing fees (affordable). And Lo! I launched my short career as a recording artist; they got their variance.

         Setting/Scene: basement room small, dimly lit, filled with computerized equipment, looking like Mars to me. A high stool where I sat to record; a three-sided enclosure in which there was a laptop screen with my document on it, and a large adjustable round microphone to pick up my dulcet tones as I spoke. Flipping printed pages makes too much noise. I silently thumbed the screen to advance the pages as I read. I got so tense my thumb ached.
         Action: I’m a soloist speaking into the box. I learned which buttons to push to stop and start and how to use the little cricket to click when I made a mistake or coughed. Magically, I read over the muffed word or sentence or paragraph, then read on. The clicker signaled the editor where there was need for a correction. 
         Rules: Keep your mouth clean. I  rehearsed out loud every time before a recording session. Who knew there were such things as “mouth sounds”? You’re not aware of them as you speak, but the sophisticated equipment picks up tiny clicks of the tongue, teeth crunches, exaggerated swallowing, not to mention heavy breathing. I had to wear soft silent clothing, which meant no corduroy, and short sleeves, make sure I was well fed so my stomach wouldn’t rumble, and always have warm water at hand. I have a chronic unpredictable cough which I prayed away, not always successfully.
         Emergency: One evening I arrived, checked the manuscript, and glanced at the big computer on which I could see the sound screen. It was blank—flat line. I panicked. No one was in the adjoining office. I ran upstairs and called out, HELLO. Someone came running and consoled me. We went down to the studio, where my savior clicked the Z key, and VOILA the deleted text reappeared. 
         Experience: highly disconcerting and exhilarating. There was no audience, no one to flirt with. Just me and my laptop. Also, no tangible product, no sweet words to adore or edit out. I had to read my book exactly as it is written—word for word—into the air. Despite being a high school thespian, I’m no actor. I decided not to try to imitate a bishop’s voice, or God’s, whose voice sounds just like mine anyway. Lovely. A standout feature in the neighborhood train, passing by hourly, clang-clanging as RR gates descended and ascended. My ears tuned in; I paused to give the train the right of way.
         Cast: Besides me, Steven Hopkins, the sound engineer, equivalent to an editor for a print document. Some nights he stayed late to be in the studio with me. This was honestly like having a chaplain at my side when my insides curled up in a tight ball of anxiety. Steven is a friendly gifted young man with an astonishing ear. He doubled as the clicker, stopping me for re-reads/edits.  Contact him about projects:
         Reprise: Steven asked me to return after I’d finished and said THE END. (Yes, I even recorded that, imagining The End scrolled across the screen in large letters accompanied by goofy music like the end of all those Looney Tunes I’d watched as a kid.) Steven was sound-fussy and wanted me to re-record a three-word phrase and one chapter title over and over till it was perfectly clear. I think it was Chapter Nine. Loving Alkies.  Then Steven cut and pasted the perfect re-read into the text—vertical blue lines mashed accordion-style into one another, an image so different from horizontally ordered words marching across a printed page. 
         Product: My180-page book God Is Not a Boy’s Name. Becoming Woman. Becoming Priest has an Introduction, 19 chapters (most about ten pages), and an Epilogue. My limited voice lasted about an hour at a time. It took me 20 hours @ $50 an hour. The publisher took some more time to listen and approve it and advertise it on their site and with Amazon the “Almighty” 

        You can pause, click, course correct, and carry on with grit and grace even after blunders.
        There are friends to help even when you think you’re alone in the dark. 
        Loving thy neighbor includes being loved by thy neighbor. 
        You can try things you never imagined were possible.
        Should you be willing to do an Amazon review there’s a free audio sample to click.               


Sunday, September 22, 2019

2019.09.22 The Spirituality Of God In ALL Things

 If God is truly omnipresent, then there is nowhere God is not.

If Godde is incarnate/immanent, in all things, then there must be a spirituality of all things—including all things evil, ugly, fraught, greed-ridden, driven and riven by sin and death.

May we not be naive or arrogant enough to set limits on the limitless presence of divinity, nor stupid enough to envision God present only in wise people and things, not in the foolish, only in good not bad, only in new not old, only in love not hate, only in life not death.

I awoke this morning with this insight—not new, but newly striking. I remembered a book I’d read Into The New Age by the late British theologian and bishop Stephen Verney. This book and its predecessor, Fire In Coventry, are his spiritual interpretations of the bombing and total destruction of the Coventry (England) cathedral in WWII. The phrase that awakened me this morning was : “Good and evil interlock.”  The books are not simply about a devastating fire and the rebuilding of a downed cathedral. Nor are they stilted intellectual theological treatises against the horrors of war and the grandeur of God anyhow/triumphant, a God who most wonderfully works with the faithful to rebuild the cathedral. No, these books relate the totality of the lived experience of the consecration of a whole community, not just a building, within God’s Holy Spirit of Reality—Reality!  (A centenary edition of Fire was published in 2018, worth a read.)

Good and evil interlock IS the Spirituality of God in ALL things. The ruined remains of the burnt cathedral were cleaned up, but left standing to abut, interlock with, the new creation—a sacrament of what a consecrated community can create. The product is intriguing but not as much as the Spirituality it re-presents. (The ruins and the incorpated ruins)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

2019.09.15 Blog Report

Dear faithful blog readers. We made a quick trip down to Bridgeport Ct Hospital today. Son John is a trail biker and he had an accident. Broke scapula, clavicle 6 ribs and his pinkie. All banged up. He will be okay but as his Mama had to go down to see his face and give him a kiss.  Tomorrow they will probably do surgery on the recalcitrant pinkie finger (bent all the way back in the fall).  

John is in good spirits and tolerated pain meds all right, though there is still quite a bit of pain.  So grateful  he's all right and it wasn't worse. Also grateful for his super duper all-head helmet with just a visor for sight.

I did gently suggest that he might consider riding trails that were less challenging. He countered with the fact that he'd seen a riding suit he can afford with thick padding in all the right places.

One day he will actually grow up. I love him at every and any age. 

Thank for your prayers.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

2019.09.08 New Beginnings With Digital Rotogravure

Today ( who knew?) is National Grandparents Day in America. I write to honor the role of grandparenting. Whether it is daily or yearly, it matters enormously to the old and to the young, linking up a family by generations, memory—and heart.  It is also the end of summer and back-to-school time, a time to cheer and feel proud, and a time to weep with longing under the sharp knife of time's inevitable passage.

For many children the first day of school each year is a time of excitement and anticipation, perhaps a little anxiety. Parents, especially single parents or grandparents, try hard to hype it up, while hiding their own relief at having some time off from 24/7 on-call duty.

Sometimes there’s a shopping outing to buy a new first-day-of-school outfit and hit the local pharmacy for school supplies, some of which are extraneous these days with so much school work done on computers. Everything is laid out in readiness the night before. Backpacks, stuffed to distortion, not including homework and textbooks, although it might include your favorite mitt or good luck charm tucked in, stand all on their own and wait to be placed and strapped onto young backs. In some cases, the backpack is bigger than the child whose small legs stick out from beneath the load.

Ah, school is a serious thing indeed. Not only do you get educated in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, you get all their enhancements, nuances, and advancements squeezed into your brain over at least 12 years, and more if you so choose. The little old schoolhouse never dies, it only grows, just like the students who get educated to grow in mind, body, and spirit.
Now I am aware that I write all this as a privileged, white, well-educated woman in her 80s who, way back when, discovered in school a place of achievement, an endeavor she could master, a lifetime project in which she could excel over a long time, and oh my, I loved those grades. For a time I allowed achievement to define me as a person,  as if it enriched my very soul, as if it were my god. Thanks be to a God-school called seminary, the Bible in which many stories reflected my own experience (ya think David was an overachiever who learned humility the hard way?), prayer, spiritual direction, vocational maturity, writing, good friends and family, my own children, and a real and lasting love—none of which I achieved, all of which I gratefully received through the grace of a God who loved me no matter what —I  am able now to celebrate the joys of school through the excitement of my grandchildren, minus two who have finished school for a while. Here are some back-to-school photos I proudly share.

Dylan Brakeman, entering Kindergarten
Phoebe Brakeman, entering 6th grade
Eliza Brakeman, entering 8th grade
Will Brakeman, entering his junior year in high school—so happy to pose once again for his back-to-school photo
Lucia Simeone, entering 10th grade
Brianjohnson Fontaine, entering 8th grade
Thomas Simeone, entering 7th grade
Harrison Simeone, entering  4th grade

 Ali Simeone, entering junior at Lehigh University, with Daniel Epstein

Luke Simeone, entering freshman year at Drexel University
 Gillian Brakeman Colbath, graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, anticipating graduate school to study for an MSW.
Isabella Brakeman Colbath, graduate of City Year, Boston

And because it is summer’s end, I can’t resist including pictures of my beloved’s 78th birthday celebration in Nantucket with his sons, Simeones all (l. to r.) Mark and Matthew, their wives, Rosemarie and Annemarie, and moi (shortest), not to mention the joy of Grampy Sim eating a huge ice cream sundae all by himself.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

2019.09.01 Stealth Quilt In the Sacristy

On Monday July 1, a time when no one in his/her right mind is in church, including God some would say, a beautiful quilt, hung in the sacristy of St John’s Episcopal Church, Charlestown, suddenly appeared. A photo of the quilt and an explanatory e-note, reminding me that the placement of this creation had been my idea, arrived soon.  Here's the installed quilt.
I nearly forgot I’d cooked up this scheme with professional artist, quilter, and parishioner, Kathleen McCormick. She had agreed some time ago to create a quilt from one of her designs I loved. It was to adorn the barren wall in the newly completed sacristy. And then the quilt just appeared—a quiet annunciation of God’s beauty. My God, it’s more beautiful than I imagined it would be!

Co-incidentally I received a blog post, from Fashionista, of all things, about the “knitting monk,” Brother Aidan Owen of the Order of the Holy Cross in West Park New York. Aidan has taken up knitting as a spiritual practice and has developed his craft through the internet, falling with other enthusiasts into what he calls “the black hole of knitting online.”  With help from the “slow fashion” movement’s emphasis on treating people and the planet with care, Brother Aidan found confluence: “I had my Christian spirituality, I had the ecological stuff, and then I had creativity and making things. And it all came together in knitting because you're literally clothing yourself with stuff from the earth."

The confluence of fabric arts and spirituality is familiar to Kathleen McCormick as well. She sent me some “quilty” notes:  “I grew up near the Amish in Reading Pennsylvania, started sewing when I was young, and made many of my clothes during high school and college. I always went to see the quilts that the Amish made but not until after graduate school, did I find time, a store, and nearby classes. Due in part to the celebration of the bicentennial in the mid 70s quilting was revived; books, classes and new quilts were appearing, and with it my own vocation. Handpiecing and handquilting was where I started and what I loved. The handwork made me feel as though I was a piece of the quilt—the joining of the front, the batting in the center, and the backing.”

Now that Kathleen designs quilt patterns on her own, often for family and friends or, let’s say, for a church sacristy, the creative process is even more intense. “I am putting myself into the quilt—all my particular thoughts and prayers.” [Brother Aidan does the same as he knits—each stitch a kind of prayer.]  “Original design work has helped me to grow both as a quilter and an artist, something that I never thought I’d call myself. In finding something that speaks to me, I find myself having to be honest about what I love about quilting and what my style is—traditional with a modern twist.”  

Does this not sound like Creator God creating a “quilty” world, sewing the divine soul itself into every unique patch and stitch of life? I think so. Just as God Creator never stops creating, sewing divinity into every new soul, and rejoicing in the unfolding wonders, Kathleen creates new patterns and designs from the beginning to the end. “My vision is to instill joy in the process and help quilters who need some help finding a great technique or the inspiration to finish a project or try something new. I have taught quilting for many years and love sharing my quilting knowledge.”

Kathleen now is an ambassador for Island Batik, a fabric company which sends fabric and monthly challenges.  While on  Peaks Island in Maine where she and her husband Jonathan will soon retire, she responds to each monthly challenge with new quilts and designs. Jonathan “edits” her stitches with praise and hung the sacristy quilt with pride. This quilt is one of Kathleen’s favorite designs that she made for an ambassador challenge. It, just like all evolving life, has many variations. “I fell in love with the design at first sight,” she told me. It is part of a series of Super Nova quilts, born during an online class on the intricacies of quilt design. “Its center is a traditional sort of star, but the extra rays are different from many other stars I have seen. The design spoke to me. I tried it in many different colors, but the hot yellow/orange/reds kept inspiring me.”

The sacristy quilt is Super Nova # 2. Its beauty is undeniable as is the obvious labor behind Kathleen’s artistry and craft. Spiritually, it suggests the cosmos in all its glory and reminds me that Divinity reigns far beyond narrow religious confines. As a Christian, I see here the glory of Resurrection, and frankly, the wild rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar.

I thought this quilt should hang in the sacristy, because there it shines on the unsung labors of the many who serve on the Altar Guild, making sure behind the scenes that preparations for Holy Eucharist are done well and with meditative respect. The quilt also reflects a portion of the parish mission statement: Hear the Spirit. See God’s Beauty. Act in love. 

Thank you, Kathleen. I think your quilts are your “McMemoir.”
Kathleen can be reached at:  Her blog is :