Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012.01.01 Holy Naming

It’s New Year’s Day. It’s also the Christian feast of the Holy Name.

Some Christians think there is only one holy name, and that it’s the name of Jesus. They’re wrong.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love Jesus, both the holy man of Nazareth with the ribald humor and the buoying laugh and also the one the Church elevates to messiah, one sent by Godde to liberate and bring the good news that what?.......we’re saved.

But then you look around and guess what?... we’re not saved or it doesn’t look that way with all the mess of our lives and all the messiness and corruption in the world.

Salvation isn’t rescue it’s hope. And hope that is seen isn’t hope.

Scripture makes a big deal of God’s naming us each one and all, a way to acknowledge each one’s special place in the Heart of Love.

So who named you? My dad named me LYnda because he wanted to call me Lyn which he did. He only called me Lynda when he was seriously pissed off, like when he hollered me back inside as I was scampering across our lawn while sneaking out to meet my boyfriend who waited in the darkened getaway car down the street.

The sound of my whole name caught my attention. I was saved from teenage sex, which frankly was far more threatening than my father’s wrath.

Just his calling me by my whole name was enough to make me remember he cared about me, for better or worse.

Or . . . he’d call me by my full name when he “got me.”

(Our little granddaughter Phoebe, three, recently commented about her Uncle Robbie who’d given her a large empty cardboard box to play with, “That Uncle Robbie, he really gets me!”)

Dad “got me” when I told him I wanted to be a priest and then went quickly into a long awkward and inadequate explanation of something I couldn’t explain. He said “It’s OK Lynda. I understand.”

How do you name yourself? How do you name God?

God names us, and in so doing "gets" us, than tries like hell to save us from harm, failing almost every time but still trying.

Now that’s holy naming. Listen and hope.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011.12.28 Truth and Fact

A huge ceiling to floor oil painting of a rose, painted by Mary Daly RSM, hangs in the chapel of Mercy Center in Madison, CT. It serves as a reredos.

I have often gazed at its multi-petaled beauty and thought it an icon of the sacred heart, roomy enough to enfold the cosmos into its soft velvety bosom.

On one retreat I decided to dissect a real rose I had picked from the garden. I operated on it with caution, care and respect, as an good autopsy-ist would. I wanted to know how many petals there actually were in my cosmic image of divine love.

There were a disappointing 53 petals in my big fat red rose. I laughed to think how easy it is to align truth and fact as if they were the same phenomenon.

Of course I didn’t expect the number of rose petals to be infinite but I’d hoped for more than 53. The fact was this rose had 53 petals. The truth for me was its appearance of petaled profusion suggested something much more than its parts.

Fact is material knowledge. Truth partakes of a transcendent dimension, pointing beyond its literal manifestation. Facts, however, are the necessary vehicles of truth.

When I used to read Goodnight Moon to my young children we all knew the facts: bunnies don’t talk, have bedtime stories read to them, or sleep in beds.

Beyond facts lay truth: a good story well told makes everyone feel hopeful, can fill us with love and respect for all things, from a large glowing moon to a simple soothing bedtime ritual. Truth can replace fear with peace. Truth comes through facts.

ONE baby is born in a measly manger and kings think he’s a messiah in the making. All mothers think that of every babe, but the Magi? Story is fact + truth.


Fact gives truth a leg to stand on. Truth puts a bloom on the cheek of fact lest its concrete gray complexion fails to inspire.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011.12.25 Every Baby is God

Sharon's Christmas Prayer
by John Shea
She was five,sure of the facts, 
and recited them 
 with slow solemnity, 
convinced every word 
was revelation. 

She said they were so poor
they only had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat
and they went a long way from home 
without getting lost.

The lady rode 
 a donkey,
the man walked,
and the baby 
was inside the lady. 

They had to stay in a stable 
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee) 
but the Three Rich Men found them 
because a star lited the roof. 
Shepherds came and you could 
pet the sheep but not feed them. 
Then the baby was borned. 

And do you know who he was? 

Her quarter eyes inflated 
to silver dollars
The baby was God.    
And she jumped in the air, 
whirled round, dove into the sofa, 
and buried her head under the cushion 
which is the only proper response 
to the Good News of the Incarnation.

2011.12.24 Shepherd's Carol

WE stood on the hills, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Watching the frosted meadows
That winter had won.

The evening was calm, Lady,
The air so still,
Silence more lovely than music
Folded the hill.

There was a star, Lady,
Shone in the night,
Larger than Venus it was
And bright, so bright.

Oh, a voice from the sky, Lady,
It seemed to us then,
Telling of God being born
In the world of men.

And so we have come, Lady,
Our day’s work done,
Our love, our hopes, ourselves
We give to your son.

Words, ANON.
Oxford University Press

This carol was written for the Choir of King’s
College for ‘Carols from King’s’ in 2000.

And then one day they discovered there was also a girl in Christ, a daughter, and that the Messiah needed no surgery or counseling to be "transgendered"-in-the-flesh. Faith invited more room and a change in excluding attitudes. Grin with me and be a blessing.

2011.12.23 Christina Rosetti on Christmas

Christina Rosetti on Christmas

CHRISTMAS hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answ’ring music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.


Faber Music

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

2011.12.21 Every Day Salvation

Just the other day I was exiting my favorite bookstore Porter Square Books having bought my 1-millionth book, an activity tantamount to starting a fund to bring back dinosaurs, when I hear the familiar Christmas season tingle of bell.

I followed the sound and sure enough there were two old men dressed in red, looking Santa-ish and ringing little bells. They stood next to the Salvation Army kettle into which they hoped generous people would toss coins, maybe bills.

Moved by a force not quite my own I put a $20 bill into their kettle and said “The Salvation Army saved my nephew.” The old man bell ringer’s eyes filled up and so did mine.

There we stood on a crowded shopping street in the city of Cambridge MA. weeping for salvation and for my nephew Sam who had been brought back to strength and health and sobriety, not once but many times, by this gently militant crusading for Christ organization that has been “saving people in Christ’s name for over a century.

I moved on lugging my book cache and he resumed his bell ringing. Somehow it sounded different.

I told my sister of the encounter and I bet she cried too. Today is the Church’s calendar date for Thomas the apostle known by some as the one who doubted the resurrection good news. Neither my sister his mom or me his aunt have ever doubted Sam, the boy, now man, of countless life chances and countless salvations.

Tomorrow is also the Solstice, a day when the sun returns its face to give us a scintilla more daylight. Such a welcome gift as we enter the bleak of winter.

My sister told me that Sam had asked for the Bible on CD for Christmas. Too hard for him to read but not hard to listen to. At the Salvation Army shelter where Sam again is trying to chose life, he is steeped in recovery program and goes to church every day. He is Christ-soaked and Christ-doped,which is better than being alcohol-soaked or heroin-doped.

Sam had told his mom that there was some guy in the Bible, Zeph-something who told him God would give him a new heart and a new spirit.

That biblical guy was Ezekiel who, along with other prophets, delivered the divine promise: “A NEW HEART I WILL GIVE YOU, AND A NEW SPIRIT I WILL PUT WITHIN YOU; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek. 36:26)

Sam heard words that articulated exactly what he needed, an entire full-body transplant—new heart, soul, flesh, mind body, the works. The odd irony of this connection the kind Spirit makes is that Ezekiel in his day, and to many biblical interpreters in modern day, was thought insane because of his strange images and visions.The ancients said possessed; moderns said schizophrenic or manic-depressive.

Yet Ezekiel became one of the major prophets in the Bible. You could die laughing. But that kind of thing happens often. It’s the work of the God of reversals. Sam is one of those reversals. Let it hold.

My sister and I decided to split the cost of the Bible on CD for Sam this Christmas. The rest is up to Sam, the Salvation Army, and God-in-Ezekiel.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

2011.12.18 Anyone Noticed Santa/God?

The wondrous Christmas figure of Santa Claus as many know was based on the generosity of an early Church Bishop Nicolas of Myra (ca. 342 CE) who gave without condition—and NOT exclusively to those in need, but to all, most especially children.

His behavior was so strange that he became Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus. He’s all around this time of year.

My grand daughter Phoebe screeched last year at the idea of sitting in the lap of this bearded and red-suited stranger going HO HO HO. But now she’s 3 and very sophisticated. She was silenced into awe when a Santa squeezed her shoulder. Told it to anyone who would listen.

Now that’s just how the ancients felt about God and Christ through their spiritual experiences. They told it all over, spreading the good news: He touched me. He touched me.

There’s a BUT to this joy, and that is that many faithful people have projected onto God the same conditional perspective we put into our ideas about Santa: IF you’re nice you get a gift BUT IF you’re naughty you get coal, or nothing. AND of course both MEN are omniscient so they know. Spooky dooky!

Do you think kids believe that threat? Probably not or no one would ever give Santa or God a chance, because they both always comes through with something without needing to be bribed by goodness.

So why, in heaven’s name literally, do some Christians have so darn much trouble adjusting their theology to allow for the central value of their faith, which is unconditional love or grace through forgiveness? Repentance isn’t, in my unhumble opinion, required. Rather it’s a byproduct.

That’s the free grace of divine nature. We may not know it or care about it. We may not be able to be that way ourselves. And we may not be able to receive such unconditional grace. Does that make it unreal?

Hell, if God is any old benign conditional parent in the sky, then I’m an a-theist.

PS An old friend who couldn’t resist just sent us some cocktail napkins with a cartoon on them depicting a mother with a small girl in a line waiting to give Santa this year’s demands, read transactional grace. The caption reads: “You should go and talk to Santa, dear, even though you feel he screwed you last year.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011.12.14 Occupy and Organize

Let’s get organized! I think I shouted that to my young family or if I didn’t I thought it loudly.

I wonder if Godde conjured that divine thought just the second before the firmament split-seconded out of control and Creation burst through.

It seemed to me that in our family of six we needed to find a way to go in the same direction at the same time at least once a day—other than to bed.

So I have admired the Occupiers very much, for their cause, their zeal, their endurance, their shear voicing of truth, and their non-violent ways. AND I want them to get organized so their truth-voice will not fade out and whoosh away like so much sage brush in the desert.

So I say to Occupiers: Don’t get lost. Don’t lose your vitality. OCCUPY YOUR IDEA. Get organized and take your voice to the halls of executive and legislative power. Politics is a hard go, but GO.

At Christmas Christians celebrate anew the God who OCCUPIES human flesh in Jesus, and in you & me too! This idea took hold and held on in spite of many attempts to evict and convict it.

A five year old named Sharon told the old story to her poet father John Shea who wrote a poem about his daughter’s solemn retelling of the ancient story. Sharon’s response is the only possible one to such a gloriously preposterous idea:
“Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars.
The baby was God.
And she jumped in the air,
whirled round, dove into the sofa, 
and buried her head under the cushion 
which is the only proper response 
to the Good News of the Incarnation.”

This Occupy movement may hold hope for what is currently thought heinous to so many: ORGANIZED RELIGION.

The early seekers and followers of divinity realized there was more to this messy life than human effort. In time they organized themselves and drew a community together to worship a Mystery they couldn’t know except by faith.

Religion’s journey began in relationships of mutual caring among human beings who shared inklings of intuitions of the Beyond, the More. They were intimately connected by their fears— and their awe. Wonderstruck they “dove into sofas” and uttered prayers. It began with astonishments and a vision. Only later did they get organized in writing and practices and, heaven forfend, structure.

Of course the impulse to organize can go awry but not if the people keep hold of the vision: love, peace, justice for all earth— because of an OCCUPYING GOD.

Friday, December 2, 2011

2011.12.11 Fleeting Frail Memory

It occurred to me as I write my memoir that even the facts I know I don’t remember long or well, often doubt altogether. It’s why fragile memory can’t be proven, only explored and experienced with loving care. Then gone.

Here is a quote on memory from Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.  I love it.

"My theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey morning of war-time. These memories, which are my life—for we possess nothing but the past—were always with me. Like the pigeons of St. Mark's, they were everywhere, under my feet, singly, in pairs, in little honey-voiced congregations, nodding, strutting, winking, rolling the tender feathers of their necks, perching sometimes, if I stood still, on my shoulder; until, suddenly, the noon gun boomed and in a moment, with a flutter and sweep of wings, the pavement was bare and the whole sky above dark with a tumult of fowl. Thus it was that morning of war-time. "  

I do envy that prose. We'd be blackballed today probably for such a lengthy sentence but it is eloquent.  We who write are all honey-voiced don't you think? 

My favorite Christmas memory of my childhood is my father reading aloud "Twas the Night Before Christmas" as we small three daughters listened in awe and wonder. The story itself held all the enchantment of the Nativity story. It's the story that converts and transforms, not its veracity.

My second favorite or clear memory of Christmas is of my father singing carols in his rich bass voice in church. It was enough just to listen and watch the candles flicker for me to know Love lives no matter what else dies.

The Eucharist is like Waugh's memory pigeons, a glimpse of remembered life, sharply present, beckoning, the past possessed, then, suddenly, swallowed and gone—not forgotten just gone. The Greeks call this phenomenon anamnesis (no amnesia.)

All you can do is say thanks for the memory.

2011.12.07 Anita Hill, Still Brave

It's Pearl Harbor Day, a time to remember tragedy, grieve our warlike ways, and up our efforts to prevent war!!

Also a fitting time for me to commemorate one of my heros who in her own way made a contribution to the effort to end violence and its ideologies.

In early October I heard Anita Hill speak on her new book Reimagining Equality. Stories of Gender and Race and Finding Home.

Hill as I expected her to be was eloquent speaking of how our ideas about HOME shape our experience and form our ideas of justice and equality in America.

I remember being riveted to the TV in 1991 when Hill confronted the issues of sexual harassment at the Senate hearing to confirm Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court Justice.

I’d never heard of sexual harassment but I sure had experienced it in church and society AND never thought a thing about it. I figured it was about my being an attractive women. Imagine!

Not until I read and became a feminist did I understand inequities, power dynamics and patriarchy, aptly defined by theologian Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza as any system of social organization that depends for its stability, its very existence, on -isms, strongly held beliefs and norms whereby one group has,and is supposed to have, more power and more access to resources than all others.

The inequity is structured right into the system,politically, economically, and theologically. It’s a short attitudinal hop from God HE the Almighty power to HE the man who has power over the woman. HE with all the power and right is sexISM.

Ism to me means that whatever precedes the -ism has all the power in the mind of a culture, an individual, or a group. I’m glad Christianity isn’t called Christian-ism.

Anita Hill told us that her grandmother’s name never appeared on the documentation or deed for a large farm her grandparents homesteaded in 1869. Her grandFATHER went from being property to owning property, the American dream. What happened to HER? The grandparents farmed the land together, both giving sweat and tears to the project of landed freedom. It wasn’t that her grandfather treated her grandmother with personal disrespect; the context ignored her very existence.

That’s old stuff you say. Maybe and maybe not. We’ve come a long way for sure and we’re not there yet. Hill cited the current housing crisis and foreclosure as no accident. The crisis is gendered. Women, singles in fact, have been unable to get loans and gain greater economic independence.

The two-parent single home solution isn’t working as the dream. It is failing to provide true HOME.

This is not the space to go deeper into this but Hill said the American dream of everyone being able to own property has ballooned. It has become distorted to mean that every American MUST HAVE bigger and bigger homes. "Trophy" mansions represent a failure of equity. They are symbols of a failed vision.

I’ve never like the idea of equality anyway. Human beings are not equal. They are equivalent, of equal value in our nations and in our churches.

Hill suggested that HOME means belonging, safety, community, not just house.

Many churches bear the name Heavenly Rest. Rest is a biblical metaphor for God. It doesn’t just mean peace after you die. You have a home in God as you are right now.

If we could begin to see each other this way we might rework the American dream and work to enlarge the concept of HOME as belonging in a community of equivalent souls where anything that devalues things black, female, disabled, poor, etc. undermines the whole.

According to Hill we need a movement from tolerance to belonging—very spiritual, very political, very economic, very American.

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


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!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

2011.10.30 Keeping Madeleine's Commandment...Continued

The next hurdle I faced in my obedience efforts not to become a little man after I got ordained was what I call the earring crisis.

I started out eager, panicky, and utterly cloying in the first parish I served after I was ordained a deacon transitioning to priesthood. I was all prepped to serve God and the rector obediently—also Madeleine’s commandment.

It didn’t start off well. The rector had NOT told the parish I was coming on board. Or rather he told them by addressing the congregation and asking them if they knew what an ordained deacon was and what role a deacon played in the ministry of the Church. Everyone looked blank.

So he introduced me by name, invited me to stand, and held me up like a poster child for the diaconate. Then he started a round of welcoming applause. The congregation joined in, because how could they not?

I stood there in my shiny new white alb, my face as red as my new Christmas-tree-bulb red deacon stole draped over my left shoulder and down over my left hip (just the opposite of Miss America’s sash!) And me with no ramp to parade!

I don’t know if his passive aggressive way of communicating was about being a man or not but I decided he modeled a way NOT to communicate.

At the coffee hour a statuesque woman came up to me, put her hand on my arm and asked “Did you know we didn’t know you were coming?” I told her no I didn’t know, and she patted my arm in a deliciously matronizing way, smiled and said, “It’s OK we’re all here.” I felt tears puddling up but didn’t let them escape. She became my deacon, my woman minister, and my “mommy” in that parish from then on, a model of how to be gracious and also direct—a woman perhaps.

The next week an epiphany happened. In the parish’s cobwebbed suggestion box there appeared for the first time since forever a handwritten suggestion: THE PRIEST SHALL NOT WEAR DANGLY EARRINGS.

I gave it to the male rector. “This is for you,” I said. We laughed. I was too scared and servant-ish to be more confrontive and direct with him about his wiles, as was my goal. That would take time. After all I was a woman!

I wore dangling earring most Sundays at the altar—a little flaunting and a little pride in proclaiming my femininity.

Or you could say it was a way to keep Madeleine’s commandment.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

2011.10.26 Being IN Your Writing

A friend wrote to say she was thinking of starting over with her reams of pages toward a novel she has wanted to write, and will some day get write—or right.(My humor)

Writing is easier than organizing I find, mostly because it’s more fun. It gets your juices up. The drone and drudge is getting it organized and into a structure that makes it shine and make sense—like a trellis for beautiful roses—for its beholders.

I recommended starting afresh and just giving it 2-3 hours a day. This is advice I’d never be able to follow. I hate the idea of scrapping it all and starting again. Admit I have done it with some chapters and do it daily as I cut and paste.

As to time, there is an isolation that comes with being an artist of any kind. It’s wise only to devote a certain amount of time each day...then go out and play.

I'm fresher in the a.m. but I find I don't get to it till after 1 or so by the time I do my prayer time, yoga stretches, walk, emails, breakfast and morning paper, maybe a phone call, and try to be nice to my beloved.

I call this pre-crastination: doing NOW what might wait till LATER, or tomorrow. As opposed to pro-crastination: doing LATER what might or should be done NOW.

Take your pick about where manyana (couldn’t figure out the tilde) fits in for you.

Everyone says I do it backwards, that writing should be priority and come first. But pre-crastination works best for me. I hate having undone “essentials” related to my mental, emotional and physical needs/wants hanging over my head.

When I write I like to feel free, to be totally devoted to it. I find when I get INTO it and it sparks I‘m not alone at all but full of life energy coming through my words. I am IN my words rather than my words being IN me.

I find it essential to have a writers group, or take a class or two. You need company for the journey and help for the task. Hook up, as they say. The encouragement is so important, as is the critique and accountability.  

Start slow, small and beautiful, close to the hem of earth where Spirit roams and broods.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011.10.23 Message and Vision

I recently received one of those love-engendering emails that circulate around. A story of a woman who had rescued then nursed back to health a fallen squirrel.

In the squirrel’s recuperation period, before it would be set free to be a full wild squirrel, the woman’s dog had pups.

The photos series showed various shots of the newly healed squirrel joining into the mothering, nursing, bonding process, curled up cozy with the puppies. Adorable and of course it made me smile and sigh and yearn.

But then an intruding thought said, What about photo shopping? This all could have been done easily by inserting squirrel shots into the puppy mélange. The endearing and meaningful photos could be virtual, not real. Ah, technology.

Suddenly I had a quick flurry of something like a million butterflies let loose in my gut and I wondered what I could trust. What is really real?

I decided to go with the message of love among vastly different species and the vision it bespoke for us humans—if only we could dare to snuggle up next to neighbors instead of building walls and fences.

Photo shopping MAY be a medium by which Spirit reminds us that it is the centrality of the divine message and vision that is important to notice, photo-shopped or not.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2011.10.19 Bodies Beautiful

All this flap about Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown exchanging gender-ish pleasantries with political agenda.

Whose body to vote for?

I believe that one should always write and speak from one’s own lived experience. I also believe that everyone who reads or hears you will place her or his interpretation onto your words.

That’s happening in droves over the trivial politics-as-usual ribaldry in the body politic.

Hence my interpretation is this: It’s possible that Scott Brown meant that it was a good thing that Elizabeth Warren didn’t have to take off her clothes to meet her expenses—not because her body wasn’t much to behold or wouldn’t make much, but because she was spared the humiliation of having to go naked for money.

What he did with his body wasn’t shameful. It was just a symptom of a society possessed with sexual uncertainty and puritan angst. I’m glad his physique could help him out. That’s not sarcastic.

In an unjust society you do what you have to do to survive without destroying someone else or yourself.

When I go to a store, as little as I possibly can, to buy a clothing item I hate to stand in front of the mirror and take in a close-up of my body in the full length mirror. It’s not ugly or gross but my shame sees me as ugly.

(I hate even worse when a salesgirl pokes her nosy nose into the dressing room to chirp, "How are you doing Ma'am?") Shame again.

In Eden the first recorded post-apple feeling was shame—of their nakedness!

Our shape-obsessed American culture of advertising has not yet figured out a way to love our bodies with grace.

We Christians have not yet found a way to belove our flesh and know God incarnate— Divinity that actually deigns to indwell ALL flesh in ALL shapes and sizes.

Toni Morrison's preacher-woman adjures her listeners: WE FLESH!—and it is good.

Until we figure this out we will NOT love our differently-sized neighbors, our Godde, or ourselves.

NO body shames God.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2011.10.16 WWJS?

It was past my bedtime when the text bleep came in, bedtime being a relative thing and wholly retrogressive—earlier and earlier the older you get. But you turn on the light for a precious granddaughter named Izz.

“Hi Grammy,” the text message read, “What language did Jesus speak? Mom doesn’t know either. xxoo Izzy.”

I’m not too old to text but my device has teensy letters on its phone-like, not typewriter-like, key board. So I got under the light and texted back: “aramaic but the new testament is written in greek. how was your dance?” (Didn’t bother with caps but found the ?)

Text back: “It was goo.” Followed immediately by, “I mean good.”

End of soundless conversation with a beautifully curious 11 year old granddaughter.

Why in the world was she thinking of Jesus? The family doesn’t go to Church although they did for a while and they come willingly when they visit. Their northeast US secular world isn’t geared to religion, Jesus, church.

The next day, Sunday, I called to inquire, being as curious as the girl who asked, and the cat I just looked up and spotted paroling my back fence, on a squirrel prowl.

“I don’t know,” was the answer I got. Of course I pushed her a bit. “I was just thinking, wondering about it and Mom didn’t know so I called you, ” she said. “OK I was just curious,” I said.

Exchange of love you and byes.

I was curious, also wondering if Jesus might have planted a calling card in her heart. It gets lonely being a religious Christian these days in liberal land. But Jesus, or Christ, speaks to the ears of our hearts sometimes and if he were here now he might even be a secular humanist who believed in God.

WWJS, What would Jesus speak?

I don’t know, but Socrates said, WISDOM BEGINS IN WONDER.

Stay wondering. Be curious Izz. It won’t kill you, or the cat, but it might make you wonder odd but good things. Might even make you wise, or wiser than you already are.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

2011.10.12 Spiritual Writing. One Thought.

Spirituality is loosey goosey to define but here is something that came to me as I read and responded on a friend’s essay on being all F’ed up.

Your writing is spiritual because it dwells in the depth dimension where all hell breaks loose and all heaven breaks through. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

2011.10.09 Strongest and Greatest?

My dad used to say to me when I was growing up, “You’re riding for a fall.” The implicit extension of pride goeth before the fall.

I rarely heeded the warning and he was almost always right, like the time I was 13 and in the finals of a tennis championship. I told him I knew I was a better player than my opponent and I’d win for sure. I saw the gentle warning in his eyes. I lost the match and the championship. And I cried. Pride, fall regardless, he loved me anyway.

What I didn’t tell him was that I cheated on one shot saying my racket didn’t nick the net when it did. Cheating didn’t help. I have never told anyone that till now.

If dad were alive he would say that about this country right now: You're riding for a fall.

“I will not surrender America’s role in the world. This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I’m not your president.” 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney recently said this while vowing vast military growth.

No, I do NOT want America to be the strongest nation on earth. And NO, I do not want Romney as my president.

I don’t want America to be the strongest, the greatest, the wealthiest, the most advanced nation. I’m sick of American grandiosity and swollen ego and I’m sick of the rhetoric of success when it is obvious we are failing on many fronts: to prevent violence against women and children, to feed our hungry, to eliminate racism and sexism, to distribute our resources justly, to wage peace, to get along with our neighbors near and far.

When do we surrender, holler uncle, say please God save us from greatness, it’s killing us?

The worst problem is spiritual because underneath all this lust for greatness lurks a greed so toxic, so sinister, so demonic that it stifles compassion and inspired a corporate giant like Lehman Brothers to plaster its Wall St. skyscraper windows with huge signs that read:


The implication is that they are proud to hold 1% of the nation’s wealth. This is their arrogant response to the young people’s amazing fast-expanding Occupy Wall Street movement. It is a positive statement for community, justice and peace not just a protest against the pride and corruption that deprives the 99% of jobs, opportunities, dignity—and food.

Cry, beloved country you’re riding for a fall.

In other news......I do NOT want my chosen religion, Christianity, to be the strongest, greatest, best or only religion either. It’s riding for a fall.

I want my religion to surrender its own spiritual arrogance and take its place proudly among the world’s religions. I want it to be beautiful, gracious, and wisely humble.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

2011.10.05 Bounty By Divine Design?


I recently heard a pastor say with clear firmness something like: “We believe passionately that God has sent all this bounty (good results of a capitol fund drive) by design so that we may fulfill His purposes in mission for the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Well now............

I stopped listening after the words “bounty by design” because all I could think of was my good neighbor who had little bounty by God’s or anyone’s design at all.

I also did not want to be included in the pastor’s use of “we.”

I do not think that such ideas about what Godde does are particularly pastoral. Nor do I believe that God distributes bounty even for the good. Sorry. I think this presumes on Godde and makes those who don’t enjoy bounty of any kind either beholden to the ones with the bounty or feeling excluded from the divine economy of distributive grace.

Some will say it’s Providence. OK. But I don’t think divine providence is arbitrary and this sounds as if God plays favorite for those chosen to do God’s work on earth.

We all are chosen and we all try to live it out in the best ways we can with the resources we have.

What do I believe?

First, I don’t know what God does. I just know that I pray and hope and love and trust, not nearly as “passionately” as I could.

Second I do believe that the wee lassy Christians call Holy Spirit, Sophie for short to me, acts as a massage therapist kneading the soul of humanity and all creation to bring forth (ha motzi) good from whatever disaster or error we get ourselves into by human fault or ignorance, individual or collective.

I experience this in my own life and as a Christian I spends my life at the foot of the cross of Christ and other “crosses” just as horrific—in hope and helplessness waiting on God.

That sounds quite different to me from the suggestion that Godde has a plan and provides certain ones of us the proper resources to carry it out.

The only response to bounty if you have it is gratitude and more gratitude, and after that sharing your bounty with those less fortunate.

Probably the intent of the pastor, but she lost me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2011.10.02 Madeleine's Commandment

In the late 70s and early 80’s when I was struggling to get ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church, which was not yet ready for breasts and ample bellies in their pulpits and at their altars, I was fortunate enough to have as my spiritual director the author and theologian Madeleine L’Engle.

Madeleine, now dead and missed, was a commanding presence in voice and height and sheer bulk of wisdom. She towered over me in all ways. I was bordering on meek then, having been rejected a couple of times for ordination and being sure there was something wrong, if not toxic, about me and my gender.

Madeleine was reassuring and kind. She bolstered my soul and gave me hope. But she was no softy. She gave me regular opinionated lectures on things like divorce, a church “sin” I was contemplating. Never, she told me, unless for unremitting homicidal behavior or unremitting suicidal behavior. Well, that left me a broad interpretive swatch.

I remember feeling awed in her presence—also buoyed, but not spoiled.

One day, probably sick of my laments, she said, “Now my dear, when you get ordained, and you will, do NOT become a little man.”

I got it and I didn’t, become a little man that is. I laughed and forgot about it until I got ordained. To follow Madeleine’s commandment has not been easy though I’ve been ordained now for almost 25 years.

The first decision I made not to become a little man was to decide not to be called Mother Lyn. I had enough kids already. Many men still call themselves and/or invite or let people call them Father.

To be called Mother I thought would be like becoming a little man following the tradition of paternalism in the Church making congregants, whether consciously or not, think of themselves and even behave like children, dependent and beholden to Father or Mother knows best. (Petri dish for passive aggressive adolescent subertfuge, if nothing else. )

I told people to call me Lyn. Even “Pastor” suggested a shepherd and her flock of bleating stupid sheep. Not a good model. Besides, images of shepherdesses frolicking on the green or Little Bo Peep just weren’t my style. (God/Jesus as shepherd isn’t an image that much appeals to me either. Baaa)

When parents wanted their children to use a title I’d discuss my perspective of mutuality (my needs are as important as your needs even if I have more authority). If they insisted I conceded to Rev. Lyn. But the kids who wanted to do what everyone else did and who liked the respect usually won the day.

Stay tuned for more on how I tried not to become a little man, in remembrance and loving thanks to a grand mentor, Madeleine L’Engle.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2011.09.28 Secrecy and Transparency

I think that too much secrecy and too much transparency are both unhealthy extremes in human systems, individual, family, organizational.

Both secrecy and transparency as strict policies preclude the obvious middle way—MODESTY.

SECRECY is not the same as confidentiality because it is often fueled by fear more than it is by respect.

TRANSPARENCY is not the same as freedom of speech or right to know because it too is often fueled by fear rather than respect.

I know systems get trapped in extremes of behavior and then try to change but too often change happens quickly and reactively not allowing proper time to discern and discriminate about right choices in different situations. So we set policies!

Parish search committees in the Episcopal Church, for example, are rife with secrecy mandates. Such policies when rigid become paranoid.

I remember visiting a parish for an interview, asking about bathroom privileges (my sarcasm) and being whisked in and out quickly with the comment. “Someone might see you.” I’ve never relieved myself so fast in my life.

Rigorous secrecy is injurious to clergy interviewees who are sequestered and only meet a committee and perhaps a vestry before they appear on their first Sunday. Behold! Clergy never get a chance to experience a community at worship and the community never gets a chance to hear a sermon or see a priest celebrate.

It is also unfair to congregations who have no opportunity to ask questions or shake a hand or listen to a voice. They have a vote but no voice.

Transparency in the extreme however is also not a good idea because political gossip and lobbying easily hobble the discernment of the search committee and may prejudice a candidate.

The process is really quite sinful when it’s too blind. It disallows participation even at a modest level of both parties in what in the Church is still called, for better or worse, a “marriage” between a priest and her/his congregation.

A modest appreciation of the needs of both parties in filling such a key position as rector is possible. Other traditions hold open meetings, including mutual opportunity for respectful questioning between parishioners and each finalist. And some invite each finalist to preach and, yes, go to coffee hour for schmooze time. Imagine!

The modesty approach is worth looking at in the Episcopal Church because there is much boo-hoo talk about what we call “failed searches.” WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?

Monday, September 26, 2011

2011.09.25 Diss-Invitation

Recently the University of St. Francis in Philadelphia disinvited retired Globe columnist Ellen Goodman to deliver a lecture on civility.


Why the diss? Oh yes, a national Roman Catholic group pressured the university because Goodman supports abortion rights.

Why really? Because there was money involved. It appears to me to be a case of blackmail by a conservative group with power, influence, and big bucks the university needs to survive.

I don’t know if my suspicions are correct but I might bet on it, though I’m not a gambler—yet.

All this is done of course in the name of God. Again, using God’s name to create homogeneity and conformity or exclusionary politics is not the gospel of Jesus Christ or the God of Genesis.

Anything goes? Well, yes.

We are given the capacity to love and forbear to assure civility.

I mean look at the diversity in the Creation myth in Genesis One. It’s a colorful mélange of all sorts and conditions of life on earth—all of it declared GOOD in the mouth of God. Including both female and male creatures.

The best marriages are between two people who are complimentary and different. Too much sameness is quite cozy and comfortable— happy as a warm moist diaper pail.

We grow and thrive best in diversity where we learn to manage differences and come to love ourselves and the other without constraint and condition. That’s good science. That’s also good theology and spirituality. Homogeneity is only good for milk.

We have failed at heterogeneity-with-love......... but God still longs for it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011.09.21 No Peaceful Religion

Watching the old movie called The Message about the history and development of Islam I saw how similar the themes and patterns of development are in all religions.

All of them start in violence and often resort to it, to defend the God they love who counsels otherwise. Is this a guy thing?

Why do we fight over that which we most value? Sad and crazy.

There are no peaceful religions although all of them preach peace till they’re blue or die trying.

There are no peaceful religions only passionate religions, petri dishes for zealotry for a God who wants love and faithfulness, not death and war. Often in the Bible violence is put into God’s own mouth and onto God’s will. There are two strands of tradition at work as theology evolves: the warlike vengeful God and the One whose steadfast love and mercy abounds.

Christianity, and other religions too, tried to choose the latter but then human “ingenuity” crucified it. And we still do.

How ironic that God’s name is taken in vain to defend God. But God through new voices calls us back to the way of compassion for all.

We have a choice about our own interpretations and theologies. That’s why I love midrash, the Jewish ongoing process of interpreting and re-interpreting the Word of God for each generation.

I do not take scripture literally. Sometimes it re-creates God in our own image. But it is part of our ongoing struggle to understand the mystery we can not.

My favorite midrashic reframe is on the story of the Exodus. The Israelites have crossed the miraculously parted Red Sea and are ecstatically safe on the other side as the sea waters close over the enemy Egyptian army. They all drown. As the Israelites thank God and cheer about their own freedom they spot an angel weeping by the shore. Revealing the enormity of their spiritual naiveté, they ask the angel, “Your people are free, so why do you weep? The angel of God answers: “Because some of my people are dead at the bottom of the sea.”

You see how mixed it all is. But I choose to believe the God whose Word keeps speaking to correct our errant thinking and reinstate Divine Love.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

2011.09.18 God Made What?

A four year old, aware of the 9/11 10th anniversary news clips, which his parents chose to handle with discretion rather than denial, asked the inevitable (no, it’s not about sex!):

Daddy was momentarily thrown for a loop about how to respond.

He said it was funny that his next thought was one of happiness realizing that this young little mind was processing and thinking and communicating and doing so independently.

Still, because this dad is wise and loves God himself, he tried to cut God a break without neglecting his son’s curiosity: “God may not have anything to do with it [terrorism]. God probably doesn’t control everything.”

That was enough for the child who could then go on loving not blaming God—and maybe think twice about his own responsibility in the workings of God’s creation.

Tragedies are not God-driven but humanly inevitable.

The ancient faithful had a theory of “double causation.” It goes like this...................

You can fall off a roof and hurt yourself because you shouldn’t have risked it in the first place, you lost your ordinarily good balance, you took a dare, someone pushed you, or it was the roof’s fault.

The ancients didn’t want to exclude divine activity from any sphere of life at all but were wise to realize that a loving God wouldn’t push you off a roof or will your fall. Hence................................

God stays involved to inspire love and healing in whatever form it may take: a loving stranger who passes by and happens to see you fallen; a medic who treats your body; a loved one who takes time off work to babysit you because you can’t move around much for a while; a church community that prays for you sending healing energy your way, and you know it; and a faith in God who strengthens you from within to forgive yourself, the other, or the roof—and go on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

20111.09.14 Holy Cross Day

For Christians today is a day we remember the painful and ugly cross of Christ crucified. We call it holy because it is an image of tragic and innocent suffering, the kind we all endure in our life time here on earth. Such an image evokes our tears and our resolve not to crucify, not to do what we hate to our neighbor or to ourselves, in any way.

To say that Jesus had it worse only cheapens your own suffering, whatever it is, so give yourself a gift today and know that whatever your troubles are they matter to God and to those who love you as God does.

There’s no way to prevent suffering I’m sure but a good way to be with it is to pray and form communities of care and love, communities that stand at the foot of the cross, helpless save for compassionate empathy, tears and prayers.

Sometimes there is something you can do though to prevent injustice and inequity and create nets of support. Money helps. Sharing riches helps even more.

I read a letter to the editor in the Globe this morning suggesting that Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is right by definition to call Social Security a ponzi scheme: a monetary investment vehicle in which gains are made to initial investors with money collected from new investors. The letter writer concludes with...............

“That sure sounds like 20-year-olds paying for the Social Security benefits of 60 year-olds.”


Thank you, all you young people. I am as grateful for the benefits as my parents were for theirs and never resented paying into a system in which the able help the less able.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

2011.09.11 9/11

Do what you are able and for God’s sake be kind to yourself and all creation. But above all pray, for that is how you will be in touch with your internal arbiter, the soul voice that, at its most naked, conjoins with the transcendent to bring forth goodness and peace.

There is no accounting for tragedy—no need to quantify it, no need to compare it as if every tragedy weren't exactly the same to the human hearts involved, and no need to get even for we can't. There is just a need to name our heart's truth and grieve together.

To share on this day of remembrance I quote from Leo Tolstoi who in 1854 was at the front in the Crimean war. On leave he witnessed a public beheading in Paris that changed his spiritual life forever and brought forth his lasting work War and Peace.

Tolstoi wrote: "During my stay in Paris, the sight of an execution revealed to me the instability of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head part from the body and how they thumped separately into the box, I understood, not with my mind but with my whole being, that no theory of the reasonableness of our present progress could justify this deed; and that though everybody from the creation of the world had held it to be necessary, on whatever theory, I knew it to be unnecessary and bad; and therefore the arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, nor is it progress, but it is my heart and I."

Judith Shulevitz writing about the sabbath remembrance in her book Sabbath World ends her fine book with wise and simple words: “We have to remember to stop because we have to stop to remember.”

To pray is to stop, remember, and allow Other to transform your heart’s soul. A sabbath community reminds us to stop, pray and remember to strengthen our collective hearts.

Monday, September 5, 2011

2011.09.05 Labor Day and Memorial Day

Today, a week before the 10th anniversary of the disaster in NYC we call 9/11, is a day on which a LABOR of love was revealed in New York. It is a MEMORIAL to help us remember what we can not restore.

I just saw a video of the memorial, “Reflecting Absence” —for me a spiritual experience, meaning awe, hand to my mouth, a gasp, and tears that flowed with the two enormous human-made waterfalls.

The two pools, a colossus to mark the foot prints of what were the twin towers plunge down, earthward, rather than up, heavenward.

Who decided Divinity was always up anyway?

Like the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. the names are engraved along the granite edges of the pools, in no special rank or order. If only life could be as great an equalizer as death.

I didn’t know anyone personally who lost life but I had a client whose new husband was on one of the planes. So I felt along with her.

I got to wondering about absence and presence. We assume that the presence of God is the only good thing, however in the tradition of the Psalms the felt absence of God elicits some of the most beautiful poetry and heart-rending spiritual aching ever created—a memorial to the biblical God who gave humanity freedom and made it sacrosanct, a gift never to be violated by power, even divine power, a Love willing to be powerless, to be experienced as absent.

The presence of God is not unimportant of course. I see it not in intervention but rather in the tears of a nation, in the labors of those who dropped their own lives for a time just to help in heroic ways offering whatever they had to give including prayers, and in the creation of great beauty in this memorial.

Reminds me of the biblical women who stood by Jesus to the end and so many others who sit in prayer or at bedsides keeping God company.

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


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.











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.”


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 clichés 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?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

2011.07.31 Ha-Motzi. "Who Brings Forth"

Today’s gospel reading was the story about the loaves and the fish, a strange miracle-like story in which Jesus, surrounded by a large crowd—5000 men “besides women and children” (Imagine!)—blesses God, who brings forth enough from what looks like not enough.

The blessing over grain products in Hebrew is:


Ha-motzi means “who brings forth”— as good a definition of what God does as any.

Jesus, like all great holy men, besides many women, blesses God first BEFORE asking God to bless. Before you deliver your bill or particulars in prayer, bless God FIRST. To do so is neither an asking nor a presumption of result but a simple acknowledgment of the nature and possibility of the God HA-MOTZI. Then do your own part to assist the bringing forth.

The motzi is used in formal Temple liturgies. It is also used in homes. It’s a bridge blessing, It connects church and home. Anyone can use it. Once I went to a Jewish friend’s home for lunch. We made tuna fish sandwiches. She made ha-motzi over them and I swear that was the best tuna fish sandwich I’ve ever had.

Christians do not bring home the words of our eucharistic liturgy, the words Jesus would have said, the words he did say on the hillside, words addressed to God first.

What would happen if at our home meals, big gatherings or small, we first made our own ha-motzi?

And if we then added some words from our Christian Eucharist?

Might this spiritual practice in time BRING FORTH humility, gratitude, re-enlivenment, hope, courage, a new chance— just as it does in church on Sunday?