Monday, December 31, 2012

2012.31.12 Holy Innocence

Isn’t it true that we often remember, best and most lastingly, the small pieces of advice from wise teachers in elementary school when we are most vulnerably wide open to awe and wonder— before worldly sophistication sets in.

Here’s one from a third grade teacher shared by our parish priest ,who never forgot it.  The children became tense at the sound of a loud approaching siren. The teacher asked what the siren meant.  “Someone has been hurt,” they said,  and called out their own fearful speculations: fire, an accident, an bad emergency. 

The teacher listened to the children’s apprehensive associations. She affirmed them all with the compassion that only good listening can offer. Then she said:  “All this is true, children, but remember too, that whenever you hear the sound of a siren,  it also means that someone is on the way fast to bring help.” 

The time between Nativity and Epiphany, when the Magi finally make it to Bethlehem, thanks to a good star + wise astro-physics and astro-theology,  is a time for breathing after the rush and panic of conspicuous consumption.  

It's a time for hope, enormous hope, unknowing hope.

Something brand new has happened, and we have no idea what it means yet. It’s also very dark time,  full of many “sirens.” A time of mixed fear AND wonder.

When I was pregnant with each of my children and in their early infancy I felt the same—excited wondering, and also exhaustion from the weight of it, and the worry about whether this child would be all right, and would I be a good enough mother?

You know that any “child” will face all of life’s challenges, some more intense than others. Being born whole is a blessing, but only the first step. In church, therefore,  we keep on singing hymns that include cradle and cross, because we know we need to keep hope alive amidst the sirens that signal both hurt and help.

For who knows? Three weird desert types, from the east or the streets, may just ride in, on camels or in hot green sneakers, with wisdom and gifts that may get us through the night, help us understand that there is more than hurt and fear in store—always.

The third graders and their teacher had it right. Help is on the way, and some of it is up to us. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012.30.12 Mary, Joseph, and Santa Claus

In a neighboring town in a Boston suburb we saw a creche set-up, effulgent with strings of lights, strung about on hapless trees. Creche figures stood tall, gathered in a threesome: Mary, Joseph and Santa.

The sight amused and teased me. The first temptation was to scoff and scorn such cheap excess.  The second was to lament the way the religious meaning of Christmas has been all but lost. And the third was to wonder if Santa was an image of Divinity, of Christ.

In important ways Santa is a christ figure.   In equally important ways,  Santa falls short, because the old elf's generosity and love has conditions (naughty and nice lists.)  But.....Godde's love in Christ offers unconditional love.

Christmas is surrounded by other holy day traditions with similar meanings. Hannukah is a celebration of liberation for the Jewish people, ancient and modern. The day after Christmas, Kwanzaa is celebrated. It’s a pan-African celebration of “first fruits”—all the best offerings and gifts coming together in a celebration of shared life. Kwanzaa started during the Black Freedom Movement in the United States in1966, but has ancient roots in Egypt.

All these days honor the mystery of the human spirit. Religious interpretations attribute a portion of that mysterious expansive spirit to God working within human strength, empowering us to go beyond our limits for love, liberation, and generosity.

Kwanzaa’s founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, chose to make the holiday cultural rather than religious, so that people of all faiths could gather to celebrate.

American culture right now has more Santa-awareness than Christ-awareness. Christmas has become more holly day than holy day,  a day more cultural than religious.

Some Christians rue this as religious loss, but I wonder if it’s gain? 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012.12.25 Merry Christmas For Ever

Many of the words people have used to speak of the Dec. 14th  Newtown CT.  tragedy are negative. They are un- words: unbelievable, unreal, unimaginable, unspeakable, unheard of, unbearable, unmanageable, unholy, ungodly.

I’ve noticed that many of these same words—unbelievable, unimaginable, unheard of, unreal, even ungodly—are also used to describe Christmas, a time when Christians believe by faith that God was born into human flesh as an infant, a God who gives UNconditional love. How ungodly! Not our almighty, divine, alleluia Lord! Unbelievable!

The only way to catch the grace of such an unbearably unreal story is to tell another unbelievable story.......then wait and see.

Once upon a time there lived a king of great power, wealth, and majesty. He ruled over a small kingdom and lived in a palace, full of riches,  jewels and treasures. The king’s castle sat atop the hill overlooking his kingdom, which he ruled with justice and equity.

The king loved to ride about among his citizens in his royal  or on horseback.  All the people cheered and bowed as he rode by.

One day the king caught sight of a beautiful maiden carrying a basket of bread home to her cottage. He watched. He took in her pleasant face and form, unable to avert his gaze. In short, the king became smitten with the young woman, and every day he would ride along the route she took. His heart’s desire was to marry the young woman, love her, and bring her to the castle to live with him—happily ever after.  

How would he make this happen?  He devised many schemes to make his will done.

First, an edict announcing that he would have her in marriage. No one would disobey a king’s orders. But no, the king knew better: love never happens by commandment or control.

He thought then to send his most eloquent messenger in person to deliver the king’s proposal, begging her assent. But no, true love is never indirect, no matter how elegantly it’s presented.

Then the king decided to shower the maiden with gifts and jewels that would please anyone. But no, she would be grateful, but so what?  Love and gratitude aren’t the same, and true love can not be bought or sold.

Ah, the king finally thought.....I’ll go to her house myself. I will appear at her door in all my royal finery and splendor and dazzle her. Then surely she will fall in love with me. The king was sure of this plan, but his Spiritual Director cautioned him: “You will blind her with your glory and make her afraid. Even the most holy awe isn’t love. Think and pray some more, my Lord King. Love is never from a distance, any distance at all.

Quickly, the king thought of a disguise, and just as quickly he unthought it.  She might fall in love, but when he revealed his true identity as king she might get angry at the trick. True love doesn’t wear a mask and doesn’t work by deceit.

Months passed and the king grew weary and was ready to give up. But no, his love for the woman was growing stronger, so strong it made him weep.  What could he do? Immediately, from deep within his longing soul he knew what he must do: He must stop being king.

This path made the king very sad and very scared. To give up all his wealth and privilege and position was terrifying.  To be himself, not an almighty king, was even more terrifying. 

But the most awful part of this plan was its risk. What if the woman didn’t fall in love with him? What if he, after he met her, didn’t like her? 

Still, this is what the king did. He went and lived among her people, worked and played, laughed and cried, came to know her and her people and they all came to know him—up close and personal.

The king’s plan took time and sacrifice but it worked. He and the woman married and lived happily ever after.

Their love grew ever nearer and ever greater, ever nearer and ever greater. 

The End For Ever.

(The above legend is not entirely original to me. Parts of it came from19th century Danish Christian existential philosopher/theologian, Soren Kierkegaard.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012.12.23 Mary, Mary, Mary

        by John Taggart

Love enters the body



almost completely breaks and enters into the body

already beaten and broken

peaceful if breaking if breaking

and entering the already broken is peaceful

untouchable fortunately


This poem almost broke and entered my heart.  Some Christians will say it’s the “wrong” Mary. We should be honoring the Blessed Mary Mother Virgin Divine on the fourth Sunday of Advent, just before Christmas.  But no.  There are multiple generic Marys—all sacred, all blessed, few virginal, all bursting with love to give and to receive.  

Who this Christmas will break and enter your battered and yearning heart—peacefully? 

Friday, December 21, 2012

2012.12.20 Teen-Holy

Here’s what Izzy looked like when she was a tween, that is between single number ages and thirTEEN. Twelve seems like the longest year.

She has just turned 13 and is bursting with hormones and mood swings. A seminary professor once compared a grinning ball of energy called a teenager, suddenly appearing without warning on a stair step as you’re ascending carrying a bundle of laundry, with the Holy: a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. 

Teens are a tremendous and fascinating mystery.  They are goofy and wise, in your face and secretive in equal measures.  I remember one of my sons as a young teen asked for a hairdryer with a style comb, a stuffed teddy, and a lock for his door—all for Christmas. He got the first two.

I think of Jesus’ disciple Thomas, whose calendar day it is today. He wanted proof of identity of Jesus in resurrected form. And Jesus said, OK touch me and see. I’m the same one you love and follow, just in a different form. A teen might say, Here I am, the same one you birthed and love, just in a different form.

Having a FaceBook page is an age-related privilege Izzy loves. Perhaps she has age on her brain. Recently she posted the names and ages of all the 20 children and 6 adults who were murdered at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. Adult ages:  56, 52, 27, 30, 47, 29. Children, 16 aged 6, 4 aged 7.

Then she wrote a small prayer: "God please help their families and friends cope with this tragedy."  

By the time Izzy is old, like her Grammy, I bet she will post a prayer also for the murderer, the one just as holy though not as innocent. And post a prayer for his mother, whom he shot before he went on his rampage. I bet Izzy will think of that,  because that’s how she is at heart.

No one really knows why this happened, and may never know.

The young man was developmentally disabled, and himself a “child” of 20. He shot his mother who had tried to love him, and then headed for the school and sprayed bullets around the office and first grade classrooms in a Newtown school. And finally he shot himself.

These two more lives were lost also in this holocaust.  These two lives are grieved by someone somewhere—and in heaven.

But the reported death toll has been consistently reported at 26, and that’s what I read in most newspaper articles and heard on television. Twenty-six. 26. 

Twenty-eight lives were lost on that fatal day. 28.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2012.12.19 Bloody Marvelous Hope

Blessed is the act, the act of defiance, the act of justice
that fills the mouth with blood.
Blessed is the act of survival that saves the blood.
Blessed is the act of art that paints the blood
redder than real and quicker, that restores
the fallen tree to its height and birds.

These are words of poet Marge Piercy written on a visit to a holocaust site. She was saying kaddesh as she jotted down her poem.  Kaddesh in Hebrew means sanctification, derived from the word holy.  It is the first blessing prayer said over the cup of wine you drink at the Passover meal.  “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained and enabled us to reach this wonderful moment.”

I felt renewed anguish seeing the images of 20 small caskets, donated (what more can we do?) by the funeral home in Newtown CT. They will house tiny bodies; they will be present at funerals, rituals of remembrance and intimacy, containers for unmanageable grief, a way to DO something.

 In Advent Christians wait for this “wonderful moment” we call Jesus Christ, the Christ event.  And we ACT in the Eucharist, as Piercy wrote, by drinking “blood,” the wine of holiness. It is an act of defiance—and hope.

In hope, we bless God, in our odd blood-stained meal of justice, intimacy, and remembrance, called Eucharist. God, we say in faith, brings forth (Hebrew ha motzi)  fruit from the vine, bread from the earth, freedom from captivity, truth from error, peace from violence, and life from death.  Go and do likewise!

In the absence of certainty beyond faith, we act in hope—over and over—bloody marvelous hope. 

Are we all nuts?  Of course!  But no: it is certainty that is nuts, not hope. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

2012.12.16 A Prayer for a School Shooting

This prayer I received from a blog called the Velveteen Rabbi. Thank you Rabbi Rachel.

When we cry for holy innocent children, “perfect reflections” of God, there are no religions, no idolatries, no power or rights, no arguments, no blame, and no -isms. There is only oneness. Amen.  

God, let me cry on Your shoulder. 

Rock me like a colicky baby.

Promise me You won't forget

each of Your perfect reflections

killed today. Promise me 

You won't let me forget, either.

I'm hollow, stricken like a bell. 

Make of my emptiness a channel 

for Your boundless compassion.

Soothe the children who witnessed
things no child should see,

the teachers who tried to protect them

but couldn't, the parents 

who are torn apart with grief,

who will never kiss their beloveds again.

Strengthen the hands and hearts

of Your servants tasked with caring 

for those wounded in body and spirit.

Help us to find meaning

in the tiny lights we kindle tonight.

Help us to trust

that our reserves of hope
and healing are enough

to carry us through.

We are Your hands: put us to work.

Ignite in us the unquenchable yearning

to reshape our world

so that violence against children
never happens again, anywhere. 

We are Your grieving heart.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012.11.15 On the Other Hand, God

In the wake of the Newtown, CT.  school shooting this week, the tremors, like an earthquake aftermath, will ripple throughout the immediate geographical area, and also through the hearts of people the world over.

One of my sons, who lives in the neighboring town, posted on FaceBook that his son Will, age ten, cried himself to sleep last night. One of Will’s ice hockey teammates is a student in the school where the shooting happened. He was not killed because he was not a kindergartner. Will cried anyway.

Reactions start small and spread.  Every single reaction matters. Every single thought and feeling count— rational, sentimental, denying, skeptical, optimistic or pessimistic, prayerful, practical, bold and impotent, frightened, guilty, loving. ALL of it matters. 

Many people will rush to church, as to an Emergency Room in a time of crisis. They seek healing for broken hopes, wounds new and old, everything/ anything they can’t control. Treated, they leave and don't return till the next emergency.

Maybe Godde can help. If even for an instant, we look to the stars and wonder. This night the blamers of Godde seem as uncertain as those who turn to God for help.

This is a season for children. Secular or religious, children lead the way, in life and in death. It’s silly really. What can a child do?

Inspire and empower love, that’s what.

Kids teach us to care wildly and boldly, move us to lobby for better health care for the mentally ill, to confront powerful gun control resistance, force us to wake us and develop the public will for change, push us to act because we are angry and scared and we love.

We the people really are the people, aren’t we?

Not for naught that the biblical story of Nativity tells us God comes as a newborn child. Not for naught that the Bible reminds us that “a little child will lead them.” 

Will we follow? 

Friday, December 14, 2012

2012.12.14 Not God

Today's school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (a small community right next door to where one of our children teaches and some of our grandchildren attend school) means that 20 TWENTY! young children are dead, and 6 adults.  The children were babies, kindergartners. It's a massacre of holy innocents. I write through blurry tear-filled eyes.

My Godde!

More information will flesh out motives and patterns and all that BUT for now....... so what!  All we can do is sob.

I want to know where the HELL our Congress is? Why the HELL wasn't the ban on assault weapons reinstated? Why the HELL is it legal in 33 of our states to purchase deadly assault weapons of mass destruction with NO license or identification? How the HELL can we justify a whole war in the Middle East over the possibility of concealed weapons of mass destruction, when we can't even keep them out of our schools and away from our babies? In short, what the HELL is wrong with us? What the HELL is wrong with this country with its grandiose vision for peace-keeping?

People want to blame God at times like this. "Where was God when this happened?" they whine.

I ask: Where the HELL was humanity?

I'm grateful our President had the nerve to invoke God, prayer and scripture.  God is "close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds" according to Psalm 147. That's where the HELL Godde is.

People today blat on about being secular humanists. Well, OK, then let's get going and humanize the HELL out of ourselves.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012.12.12 Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Me

In 1831  Catherine McAuley, Mary Ann Doyle and Mary Elizabeth Harley professed their vows as Sisters of Mercy. It has been 181 years since the Order’s official founding and I’ve been a Mercy Associate for 20 years. I’m not Roman Catholic; I’m Anglocatholic. We all count who serve with their gifts.

Catherine never isolated or insulated herself or her community from the miseries of Dublin’s poverty. She felt the Spirit of Godde-Goodness was calling her to serve, especially the poor and the broken.  She would be, as would the other women who joined her, a steward of the gifts God gave her of compassion, organized effort, and leadership. 

Her leadership style was one that balanced freedom with authority. The order, like most women’s religious orders, is based on, and held together by charism—spiritual gifts. Charism is a different kind of glue than the glue of obedience that binds us in institutional loyalty based on doctrine and dogma.

Theologian Roger Haight said, “Spiritual nourishment is of higher value than institutional loyalty. If you’re not fed, leave and go where you are nourished.” 

For all these years, the tradition of Mercy has carried on its mercy ministries in many healing ways: education, health, spiritual guidance, and works of mercy for justice and peace. Think nuns on the bus.  

Judy Collins wrote a song dedicated to the Mercies who saved her life and freed her to use her own charism in song.

“Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me this song.
 Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been traveling so long.”

Catherine McAuley hasn’t yet made it to sainthood. Godde knows why.   Maybe no direct miracles attributed to her.  Now I ask you!

Today is 12/12/12. It won’t come round to an even dozen like that again for 100 years.  Let’s hope it won’t take that long for us all to have mercy for real, and for Catherine to get beatified. 

Hooray for foundations—garments as well as loving acts, both quite merciful.   

Sunday, December 9, 2012

2012.12.09 Breathtaking/Breathgiving

Some things take your breath away. Could be death, danger—or awe.

One such "thing" is Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived and taught the God of love so fiercely, with such boundless compassion, that they called him the Christ, a word whose root meaning is salve, a healing ointment. Think salvation.

The other is oxygen.

At a recent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY,  I talked with  two brothers, both on oxygen. One of them I'd known about and one of them was newly encumbered.  I felt sad for them, and scared for me.  I have lung disease and dread one day having to drag around a tank and have tubes to force oxygen into and through my nose so I can breath. I'd been told things like: Avoid oxygen as long as you can. Resist it. Don't do it till the doctor threatens death.

But these brothers gave me hope.  Oxygen, they told me, rather than a death sentence oxygen meant new life. Oxygen was a beginning, not an end— metaphorically, a manger not a cross. Travel was possible, eating obviously was, as well as good humor, garrulousness, and a spritely step.

The way these monks spoke of their disability and their oxygen would've sounded counter-intuitive, or at least nuts, if it weren't so authentic— joyful not doleful. They weren't playing a pious role.

The click-clicking of the oxygen machines in the silence of chapel prayer suddenly sounded to me like applause. 

I've prayed for years to the tune of a hymn,  Breathe On Me Breath Of God. I use my own text and prayed in hope, with fear in my heart. Now I can pray it in hope, with hope in my heart.

Breathe in me, breath of God,
healing my lungs disease,
so that I may in purist love
breathe in and breathe out with thee.

Breathe in me, breath of God,
for when my life is done
and my sweet lungs lose all their power,
my last breath and yours are one.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

2012.12.05 Tabernacle

dull, brass immensity
immeasurably plain
House where the blessed flesh
and sacred blood—containers thereof—are
secure against invaders, the hungry of soul
It stands on the threshold of a hitch in time
the present immense
it doesn’t know it is about to
from a cold monstrosity—invention
of exclusionary politics— to a
pulsing throbbing quivering sacred heart

Are there, or were there, locked hearts in your life?  Enclosures of trapped love?  You have a key, don’t you?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2012.12.02 Advent Invitation

I’ve followed many a shiny
into many a stinking stable
to find it
Leaving, I look back—
A streak of light
on a strand of straw
bids me stop,
                                        LGB 2012                           

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2012.11.28 Who Wears Prada?

I just saw on alternet a great photo and small story about a bunch of men parading along an avenue in Toronto in stiletto high heels. Yeah for men in Canada!

This is experiential solidarity with women in a clear physical sense.  These men grimaced occasionally, but they are demonstrating while they teeter along. They are men against violence against women.

They are part of a movement called the United Gender Movement. 

Native American wisdom counsels that if you want to know someone or find cooperative ways to make peace, you have to walk a mile in another person's moccasins.

Maybe two blocks or so in Prada shoes—the devil's footwear to be sure, aka women's fashion designed by men, or nasty dominatrices—is a beginning.

(I saw some Prada heels on line for $1495.00. Yes, I did.) Think how much money we'd have to put towards those "entitlements"—or are they gift/bribes?   Neither. They are benefits people and businesses bought and paid forward for.  Godde helps those who need it.

My take: 
 1)  United Gender is the only way to act to help Spirit create peace and justice.
 2)  Women really ought to think about joining in this effort, doing their part by REFUSING to wear such footwear (if you can even call it that) .........unless of course we see this steel stiletto as a potential weapon of defense.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012.11.25 All Things Holy

What seems holy right now is the truce in Israel/Palestine. Having just been there, I apprehend the land itself and can feel its concrete meaning—more than in a distant hymn or a prayer. The poster above hangs at St. George’s College on the site of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in East Jerusalem. It sums up Divine holiness for me.

We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary on Friday. We know we’re OK because we still love and spat with regular verve. It’s what keeps us together. Dick gave me a hilarious card with two love-bears on the front making eyes at each other.  "You know, the secret to a happy marriage is how often you say those three little words…”  You open it and see the two romantics whisking out the door with the caption "LET'S EAT OUT!"  We did, delighting in good food, good conversation—Holy Healing Meal. 

I'm hobbling on a broken foot bone, using a cane, and wearing a romantic and ugly gray air-cast boot. (Tripped on the sidewalk coming home from yoga, of all things.)  No drive and no walk makes me grateful for a very active and loving  husband—Holy Matrimony.

My card for Dick pictures a cute little monkey :"If we were monkeys, I'd pick the bugs off your fur."  Open it: "And if we were bugs, I'd help you hide."— Holy Humor.

Poem by Ursula LeGuin, “Every Land”—Holy Writ.

    The holy land is everywhere.—Black Elk.

Watch where the branches of the willows bend

See where the waters of the rivers tend

Graves in the rock, cradles in the sand

Every land is the holy land.

Here was the battle to the bitter end

Here's where the enemy killed the friend

Blood on the rock, tears on the sand

Every land is the holy land.

Willow by the water bending in the wind

Bent till it's broken and it cannot stand

Listen to the word the messengers send

Life from the living rock, death in the sand

Every land is the holy land.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

2012.11.21 Thanks Given for a Book


Religion Gone Astray. What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith
by Pastor Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman 
2011, Skylight Paths, Woodstock, Vermont, 170 pages.

“We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep......” 

When as a college student I first found and fell in love with the Episcopal Church in 1958 the congregation said this line every Sunday from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer’s General Confession. I called it the sheep clause and loved it because it rang true.  I had run amok in so many ways, some of them by own foolishness and some by ambush.  And so had everyone else!

Religion Gone Astray  is a seminal book for the future of the religious enterprise, because it takes erring and straying beyond the individual and into the institutional.  Religions are like sheep:each one prefers and guards most zealously its own pasture, its own group, its own images of divinity, and its own practices. Because these things are precious they are worthy of defense and feel crucial to survival—at significant cost. 

The interfaith vision of this book touches on the costs of too much safety-in-the-fold devotion,  precisely in the paradox that the more we defend the more we offend. While all religions and their scriptures, at God’s command, issue calls to provide for strays and aliens, most of them are so bent on caring for their own well-being they don’t find out what other religions are about.  There are blinders on each sheepfold.

 As I joined the Christian sheepfold I knew there was a place for me,  and somewhere there was a God who cared about the whole, including the strays, the lost, the foolish, and the headstrong.  As a Christian I could be lost and found. Nice!

Over time, however, I began to wonder if Jesus in the parable of the Lost Sheep returned the strays to their own comfy group,  or did he simply challenge them to find God wherever they’d landed?

This book has affirmed my suspicions about the challenge underlying this cozy parable. Exploring the core belief of each major religion the authors make confession to God and each other on behalf of their religions’ sins (my word) and the challenges each faces to save the souls of each religion. 

All religions put faith in a God who cares about each AND all at the same time.  These authors try to be a bit more like God. They stick to their ongoing interfaith conversation, develop deep affection for each other, and deepen their own faith —without fighting for it.

The authors expose four ways in which each religion has gone astray and lost touch with God, self and neighbor:

    Exclusivity: staking claim to a One and Only Truth
    Violence: justifying brutality in the name of Faith
    Inequality of men and women:  domination politics to preserve patriarchal power
    Homophobia: denying the legitimacy of homosexuality in practice and in being

Chapters explore these four religious errors. Each includes a personal reflection, a look at how institutions and scriptures have strayed into practices that keep the people of the one God apart,  scholarly commentary, core teachings and healing, and particular spiritual practices from each tradition. It is readable, accessible to all, and there's no bloviation in it!

One of my favorite practices, comes from the advice of a Thai Buddhist who taught Imam Rahman to say Neti! Neti!— which means, Not this! Not this!—to keep violent thoughts at bay. (I use it to keep judgmental thoughts at bay.) Violence in religions arises when extremes are taken as the whole, dualities advanced as the one correct picture, and violence-advocating verses in scripture are preached as the whole truth about God.   

Judaism’s core gift is Oneness AND Jews also hold onto choseness; Islam’s is Compassion above all, AND Muslims hold the Qur’an to be superior; and Christianity offers Unconditional Love AND claims that only One Name saves. 

Go figure:)

I find these authors most honest and credible when they write about inequality between women and men in their religions.  They laugh at themselves: three straight  patriarchally stereotypical men offering insights about equal inclusion of women and homosexuals in their “club.” They admit that each religion has been spiritually truncated by the exclusion of women’s voices. And they sight ways in which change is happening. This book is one effort. 

My only regret is that I wish these authors had done more with language about God, particularly those troublesome masculinizing pronouns that keep deity clothed in masculine language. We can no longer afford to have an exclusively male deity, even in languages like Hebrew that have gendered nouns. Our God  is so much more than the biggest and best one of us. Does not Divinity deserve our strenuous effort—an interfaith jihad for gender inclusive language, yes, even pronouns?

My personal image of Godde is a Being of beings fully feminine and fully masculine. Abstract images like light or even wisdom, leave me..... not cold but lukewarm.

According to the authors of this book, “Religions go astray when they contribute more to human suffering than they do to human healing.”  There will be evil, and we will do evil, but we can not BE evil.

I recommend this visionary book for individual and group study in and among any and all religions. 


Sunday, November 18, 2012

2012.11.18 Religiophobic??

“Don’t mention religion or God to them. You’ll be blasted out of the room...they’ve been hurt and are pissed,” said my brand new employer.

 I’d just been hired by as a chaplain in a new alcohol/drug rehabilitation center. I was a religious professional on the way to being ordained an Episcopal priest— and already there was a gag rule.

During my first week on the job I went to the detox area in fear and trembling to visit my very first patient, thinking the warning might be exaggerated, and reminding myself confidently that they had advertised for a chaplain. It was a title they wanted to change to pastoral counselor but I had lobbied  for Chaplain, a title with religious implications—and won.

“Get the f... out of here, you goddam religious freak!”  Noelle screeched before I even introduced myself.  I backed out of her room slowly and mumbled fleeting impotent words of comfort like it will be all right—for my own benefit. Then I went to find my supervisor to ask for a change of assignment.  She said no.

“Take it slow and easy,” she said.  “Detox is monstrous. She’ll be more reasonable when she is alcohol free. Just don’t mention religion or God.”

But I hadn’t.

When Noelle came to my office for her first post-detox meeting I was tense awaiting another assault. Instead she was cautiously friendly. It turned out that her reaction had been to a cross I’d worn. It was a gift from my husband and I loved it. I hadn't mentioned religion when we met; I hadn't needed to, I was wearing it around my neck. Noelle told me that her mother had beaten her up at night and preached religion at her all day. It wasn’t hard to listen to her painful story and to feel compassion.

“Why is the place where Jesus is supposed to hang empty on your cross?” she asked.

“Because he’s not there any more,”  I said.

“It’s kinda pretty,” she said.

I  took the cross off and let her hold it. She declined the offer to let her try it on, saying it was mine.  When Noelle left the treatment center after four weeks she looked well and happy.  I'd never suggested she go to church, and I don’t know if she held onto her sobriety. I pray so. She healed my fears and helped me be an authentic goddamn religious freak.

                                                                  * * * *

Over time in my chaplaincy there I mentioned religion a lot in my work with addicts. Few were hostile; in fact many longed for the basic ideas and sacramental practices they’d known as kids. Every time someone came to see me it was a confession of sorts. Listening was absolving.  I used Bible stories like the prodigal son or daughter coming home to Love; spoke of prayer as a common denominator; offered ashes on Ash Wednesday,  and was bold enough to convert my office into a Meditation Room always open for prayer and quiet. No one came but it was there.

All these courageous alkies helped me become a goddamn religious freak of a woman priest.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012.11.14 Eat Lou or Die?

Well, you won’t really die if you eat Lou, that is, your biological life will continue full of protein and new strength, but your spiritual life may suffer a bit.

The late Lou and his surviving team mate Bill were working farm oxen at Green Mountain Junior College in Vermont. The college has a sustainability vision which of course requires that some things die that other may live. The college made the same mistake that the biblical God made in Eden: made the forbidden fruit too attractive and told Eve and Adam in paradise a lie (they would die if they ate)— to protect them from knowing how to do evil as well as good.   

Green Mountain's farming program encouraged the students to love and befriend the farm animals —including Lou and Bill with whom the students worked to plow fields and haul heavy loads. The strong oxen duo served well for ten years. Now they were scheduled to be slaughtered for meat for the college meal program.

BUT these oxen had acquired names and become like pets to the students who protested wildly when it came time for the violence of the slaughter house for Lou. They knew Bill would follow. They knew too much.  They cared too much. They had the knowledge of good AND evil.

When you engage the human heart you invite love and compassion and then you put stops on violence, because how can anyone of sound mind and heart slaughter or harm a creature they also know and love?

Recently Lou was euthanized despite local offers of retirement care until natural death— a post-controversy compromise I assume between the high value of sustainability and the equally high but less predictable value of love. 

Is this a lesson in sustainability and its natural consequences? Or is it a call to become vegetarian? Or is it a challenge to expand the breadth of compassion and its mercies? 

Would I never again enjoy a hamburger or a juicy steak if I thought it might be Lou or Bill?  I don’t know to be candid.

But I do remember the late Benedictine monk and liturgics scholar/professor at Yale Divinity School Aidan Kavanagh’s fierce clarity when years ago he taught students that: “the holy things of the liturgy did not ‘drop from Heaven in a Glad Bag’ ” and  to remember that, “the Eucharist began in the slaughterhouse.”  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

2012.11.11 Aria on a Tricycle

Now that we have a new/old President and congressional reps old and new, we begin again.    And we also need a respite from everything serious, or that’s my unhumble opinion. Here is something fun.

 This is Jane. This is Jane singing a Verdi aria from her mezzo profundo  soul. This is Jane laughing at trike-ology. 


Jane lives in Cambridge.  She is a mezzosoprano opera singer and voice teacher married to an astrophysicist.  How did that happen?  Who knows but they are a dynamic pair—one looks at the stars and the other sings to the stars.

Jane does have a car but prefers public transport or.....her TRICYCLE. How did that happen?  Jane knows how to have fun, how to play.  When she rides through a high school yard young people cheer and wave: GREAT BIKE! 

Yes, its a trike. Takes me back to the olden days and my first shiny red trike. I lived in the city but could ride it in Central Park at the playground where my mother used to haul us in carriages and by hands every day for an outing.  That’s what city kids did. 

As we got older we played on our own, throwing pinkie balls against walls of buildings, hop-scotching anywhere available, and playing hie and seek in the apartment building basement where the storage lockers and the laundry were.  The basement was the most fun because it had  many nooks and crannies and places to hide and invent scary myths about what sort of “bums,” our word of the day in the 40s,  hung out there.  And every storage locker looked like a jail cell. 

Jane can be spotted on Mass Avenue and on many side street toodling along helmeted and fully equipped with her smiley face flag to alert cars and bikers and pedestrians to her presence.  And she never tips over.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

2012.11.07 Grace Works

Grace doesn’t always just happen; grace works.

I am happy about the election results—not just that our President and others I voted for won, but because there seems to me to be something much greater and deeper going on.

Our nation split and partisans fought with vicious vigor—and now, thanks to gracious “winners and losers” there appears to be willingness to let go and collaborate, to take a Godde’s eye view. Not to eliminate debate and conflict but to know that there is something more precious at stake than individual concerns: the good of the whole.  

Most people think of grace as an amazing and surprising phenomenon—like out of nowhere. And it can be like that.

But there’s another way in which grace operates and that is deep within a system, like deep tissue massage over time.  This kind of grace pulls for the goal of unity without uniformity, and more acceptance of self AND other.  It’s relational grace.

Grace has a history in America.  It has been embodied in many leaders and followers carried forward by the risky work of reconciliation and compromise. It has always headed in the direction of e pluribus unum and it has always meant enormous transformative, emancipatory change.   

Over all my years I’ve prayed for this kind of unitive healing in our family, blended and in-lawed and multiplying.  Sometimes I tried to make it happen and sometimes I impeded it by my own selfish choices.  Now I see it happening. I thank God AND every single member of this beloved community.  (Maybe my children would say it’s Mom being idealistic again.)  Perhaps it is—still..........

It's a blessed jubilant triumphant time for many—and a vulnerable time, a time to stay alert.  Our Episcopal prayer book has a petition in one of the Compline (night) prayers: "shield the joyous." 

Grace is a religious word. All religions have this theological idea. Grace is at work in religions—ironically, tougher to massage.  

In the words of theologian and scientist Teilhard de Chardin, this grace is “the long slow work of God.”  It calls for patience, honest effort, trust in God, self and neighbor, and  ”accepting the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”


Sunday, November 4, 2012

2012.11.04 Twill Soon Be Over—But First You VOTE

It’s amazing how much email I’ve received in the last two months— every day all day from so many really famous people like the President of the USA and every hot shot Democrat you could name. 

I’d be flattered if I didn’t know better.  Intense partisanship exausts me.  I’ll vote for President Obama because I trust his face and his grin when he opens it up. I trust his vision for the future of our country and I know he’d never put a dog on top of his car for a long highway drive!

When I was a child I wanted a “ Romney-esque “White Knight" (or John Wayne) to sweep in
and make everything right even if it meant hurting everyone else but me. As an adult I want a Yoda-type who can see all colors in all people and work to fit everyone into a multi-colored, multi-religious community.

I’m a Democrat because I’m a Christian who believes Jesus “occupied” the Galilee and stood firm for his vision of peace and justice, dignity and  economic equality for all citizens of the kingdom of heaven on earth. He lived and died for his vision—not the only one in history to have done so!  If the grossly wealthy have to pay more taxes to help the government even out the playing field I’m for it. I don’t trust private business or philanthropists to accomplish this. 

In Massachusetts we also vote on question #2 about Death With Dignity, aka Physician-Assisted Suicide (language is everything.) I will vote in favor of it so the conversation will open up. Legislation that allows a choice is not forcing anyone to choose the option provided.

I worked as a chaplain on the spinal cord team in a big city hospital. What we are talking about here is NOT ending life but ending prolonged/ chronic suffering—agony either physical or emotional that even medication doesn’t remit for long. Having no choice in such situations is costly to the patient, the health system, and the loved ones who stand by. witness.

Ever watch the euthanization of a beloved pet?  Casey the retreat center dog at Mercy Center  was always there to welcome guests, hang out in the chapel—a restful wagging presence. When it was time to say goodbye to Casey, who could no longer live without constant pain, the vet administered an injection and those who wanted to could visit to say goodbye. It was Compassion in action, sort of like the Godde of love I love.

They shoot horses, don’t they?

I am not a Christian who believes that Godde desires the agony of anyone, and certainly not of Jesus who freely chose to die for his gospel of Love. I bet that choice broke his “father’s” heart.   

Voting isn’t a right or a privilege, it’s a responsibility. As religious professionals clergy promised at ordination to take our places in the councils of church governance—to be church politicians and church business people.  We grouse about it because we think we should be about higher things, loftier tasks. Nevertheless................ the spirituality of governance in the church is that the body of Christ politic argues and debates. No one is forced to follow what our majority resolves. And then we sing a hymn of praise—not to ourselves. 

Thou shalt not not vote.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012.10.31 Halloween

Do you remember your first Halloween costume? I don’t but I bet it looked like a princess, ballerina, fairy or angel with a sparkly mask if possible.   Later I “went” as Huck Finn, and a “hobo”— masculine versions of freedom.

I asked two of my granddaughters, What are you going to be at Halloween?  A hippy said the 16 year old. Just about anything would work. A zombie cat said the 12 year old, with big whiskers and a cape—all black.   The difference in their  age-related stances toward life. Both wanted to make a statement, possibly keep adults at bay for a day.

This Halloween, 2012, is special, because we can replace real fear with fake fear, real life with fantasy life. 

We’ve been terrified by a recent monster storm that left much damage in its wake. And we’ve been bombarded with the politics of a presidential election, each party terrorizing the other with negative ads and horrifying prediction. 

Halloween is fun. Some religionists think it’s celebrating magic and sorcery but I think it’s a very good way for all of us to let out our secret ghoulishness, be really fierce and scary or play the celebrity...... when no one know who you are, you think.  To be silly and spooky without embarrassment, maybe cheat by decorating a tree with toilet paper even when you got a treat.

So I’m OK with feigning horror at any masked child garbed in her/his latest fantasy, or playing a guessing game about who could this princess or fairy at my door really be, or what famous rock star I’ve never heard has come to ask me for candy?  I’m sad we don’t get any kids any more. Fear of  poison apples you know.  I do Halloween vicariously at a distance with photos like this. 


Sunday, October 28, 2012

2012.10.28 They Say...Plan Ahead

They say you should plan ahead, not wait till things are in crisis and/or you’re too old and sick to make good decisions. Be prepared like a scout!  So they say......

A big broad swatch of a storm is headed this way, to hit tomorrow. Who knows how ferocious it will be so we're battening down and going out for dinner before the deluge—as if it's our last meal.

I just returned from a same-time-next-year women's weekend in Maine.  We number seven, ages 58-75 from CT., MA., ME and NH,  and we've been meeting for... no one can remember how long.  We laugh, talk, play games, eat M&Ms, and shop. We also talk about our hopes, fears, and souls—and prepare for the unknown future together. Together.

Age happens like storms. Dick and I are  trying to be responsible and make plans just so we know the options and just so our children won’t have to guess at things and do it all for us, and just to prevent altercation about what Mom/Lyn and Dad/Sim would want.

so they say.......

We recently visited our second assisted living facility in Cambridge. It was lovely. We both came home depressed. The place was elegant, very homey or as homey as you can be away from home.

Our first foray at another such place had gone well. So what happened?  I’m not sure, but as we talked we agreed that both of us had felt as if we were a "duty" to our guide, rather than people who mattered. And both of us had noticed, although my husband Dick spoke it aloud, that the guide addressed her patter exclusively his way, looking at him almost without a nod in my direction. I’m a bit inured to that kind of attention deficit but Dick was startled.  I was pleased he noticed it and didn’t like it.

The experience once examined gave us an unexpected boost: we were still vital, still passionate about justice and equity, and more humble than ever about how much control we try for and how little we end up with.

Just one more bloomin’ spiritual trust lesson.  Good for a hearty laugh, refuge in a storm.

Life is but a series of reprieves anyway, right?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

2012.10.24 Who Is a Leader?

I did not watch Monday’s presidential debate.  We turned it on and immediately the thrust and parry began, the fencing match that political leadership has become.  Each flick of the saber knicked my soul.

Each candidate had something offensive or defensive to say—right away. It’s not that you couldn’t pick out a few points or identify an issue, but the energy of warrior prevailed.

Instead we turned it off and shed some tears remembering the recent death of a great statesman George McGovern, a man of warmth, intellectual clarity, and dignity. 

Frankly, I don’t want America to be the strongest nation in the world. Honestly, I don’t care if we are second or third or last.  I’d rather see us begin to pay it forward, to give more than we expect to get, to appreciate more than we want to be appreciated, to give applause not expect it, to be less rather than more exceptional, and to give more thanks than we get—way more.  And I wouldn’t mind some spoken reverence for a power greater than human, more compassionate than human, and with better bigger, broader eyes! 

Images of JFK confronting the Russian superpower about setting up lethal missiles in our back yard (Cuba) came to mind. We watched an excellent PBS video on the details of that terrifying time.  Our president went against all his advisors and made a deal with Kruschev which they both held between them and which worked for both men and both nations to save peace and more importantly to keep the world alive!

When you can actually imagine, envision up close the end of the world, not on a sandwich board shouldered by a delusional prophet, then true fear can drive you into sanity, a greater power than the power of might or winning.  That is what happened to both world leaders. Fear drove them sane not mad— and it drove them together.

Fifty years ago I was riveted watching President Kennedy on national TV, simply stating a boundary and saying no to the hostile plan of encroachment and threat and yes to the vision of peace for all together.  He was a leader who served humanity as a DOVE! When someone speaks like that you listen, and you feel respected, too.

When my dad called me “Lynda” (my given name) I listened. It didn’t just happen when I was caught sneaking out to meet my teenage boyfriend whom I later married. It happened when I told him I wanted to be a priest and started to blather about why as if I had to justify my vocation. He  said, “I get it Lynda.” 

Who of these two presidential contenders in 2012 would I want to stand firm on my behalf, on my country’s behalf,  about anything, not just missiles? 

I would want Barack Obama because I think he has the gravitas and the language skills necessary to restore true statesmanship—oratory not single-issue rhetoric—to the office. He is a leader who can compromise to serve peace. He also can wait.

Romney is competent, skilled, and impatient. I’d be afraid he’d smirk.

Friday, October 19, 2012

2012.10.21 Who Me.....a Nun?

    It's my 20th anniversary as a nun—sort of. 
    I became an Associate of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in October of 1992 not long after I learned that Roman Catholic women’s religious orders had an associateship program by which lay people could join them in prayer and commitment to works of mercy. 
    The charism of the Mercies seemed perfect to me. I’m always in favor of mercy since I need so much myself and can be quite merciless with myself and others, though I try to keep that impulse a secret when it arises—except toward my husband...he says.  But the specifics of the Mercy vision were the attraction: a lifelong commitment to contemplative prayer and ministry that connected the ignorant with educational resources, the ill and infirm with healing resources, and the impoverished with economic resources.
    Knowledge, health, money and Godde all wrapped up in the spirituality of Jesus of Nazareth my chief guru.  
    My fascination with Catholicism began when I was a young child and my Catholic aunt came to visit. I used to tiptoe up to her bedroom door which she left ajar and peek in. She knelt down next to her bed and began to mumble and rattle a chain of beads.  Then she put on a black sleeping mask like the Lone Ranger’s and crawled into bed for the night.  
    I was drawn into some kind of spell by what I thought was magic . My aunt called it “saying my prayers.” My mother said they were “Catholic” prayers.  My Presbyterian church had prayers of course but these “catholic” ones seemed mystical, and embodied at the same time.  I saw the same thing at Mass.  These worshipers were active. They moved their bodies, kneeling, standing, folding their hands, bowing and walking up the aisle together to eat a holy meal at the altar.  In my church we mostly just sat for everything. They even brought the communion meal to you on little trays.

    As a twenty-something I took instruction to become a Roman Catholic, a convert like my aunt had been. It seemed I could have the spirituality and the ritual, but not without just the right amount of too many rules—and a pretty clear sense that women were important to clean up and set up but not allowed to serve at the altar. 
    This church of my infatuation was too tight for me, so, with the help of a college chaplain,  I discovered the Episcopal Church where I could have the sacrament of the Mass with all its grandeur and grace— and fewer rules.  There was a chance for women to be priests in that tradition, so much smaller and more supple than the huge Roman Catholic behemoth of an institution.
    I was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1988 after a colossal struggle with that church’s institutional bias against the presence of women invading  the centuries old inner sanctum of an all-male priestly caste of male privilege and authority. My little “jihad” was worth it. Today I’m proud of my small and limber Episcopal church—Anglo-but-still-Catholic church, still wrestling with integrity and threats of schism over issues of inclusivity.  And I’m proud and happy to be an Episcopal priest.
    Experimenting recently with an online invitation to write a six-word memoir I jotted down quickly: Wannabe Catholic nun turns Episcopal priest.  Pretty good summation.
    Lingering longings, however, persisted, not strongly just small heart tugs. I never felt called to be a religious sister. The Episcopal church has monastic orders for women I might have joined if I  hadn’t also been dying to have kids.  It was the Catholic connection I got wistful about from time to time especially when I went on retreats at Mercy Center in Connecticut and received spiritual direction from a wise, witty, and utterly French Jesuit priest named Pierre Wolff who guided me so well in the ways of Jesus Christ that I became smitten, not with Pierre or even Jesus, but with the whole astonishing God-in-the-flesh thing.
    One of the Mercy sisters sniffed out my heart’s desires, as good nuns can do. She told me about associateship and I leapt at the chance.  In the Extended Mercy Handbook Admission Criteria, the first eligibility criterion for associates reads,”be practicing members of a Christian faith, ordinarily, the Roman Catholic faith.”  
    ORDINARILY jumped off the page. It didn’t mean necessarily or always; it meant usually.  So I could be unusual and quite ordinary.

     Mercy Foundress Catherine McAuley’s leadership style was refreshing. Though every ounce a leader, Catherine did not like the Mother Superior title; she insisted on the dignity and integrity of every single woman who joined the order—also each one’s need for freedom to develop fully as a sister and a daughter of God.  This was advanced thinking in her day and certainly didn’t match any traditional patriarchal church leadership models I’d known. 
    Freedom within authority best facilitates spiritual and emotional growth. Catherine believed  this truth, and governed accordingly.  I liked that a lot!  Catherine was also fond of saying “Mercy is justice in tears.” Not original to her, but what wisdom ever remains original? Mercy has no patents or copyrights. She begins in wonder, and never stays put for long. 
    Taking instructions, something ordinarily expected, I bristled when our teacher Sister Grace Mannion called God “the divine conniver.”  It was the Protestant in me, but it didn’t arrest my journey; later Grace, whom I’ve come to regard with admiration and affection, and I laughed about it.

    I was inducted in a Commitment Ceremony 20 years ago almost to this day at the chapel of the Mercy headquarters in West Hartford, Connecticut.  I was one of several inductees, mostly female with a couple of brave husbands in tow.  It was a simple ceremony of prayer and the presentation of a  Mercy pin and a handbook—more rules and expectations.  A reception with lovely and loving food followed, because every holy occasion must always have food to remind us of our humanity and keep us humbly grateful.
    That day I felt complete as if I’d come full circle. I belonged, sort of.  I’ve always been welcomed and embraced, and an anomaly at the same time. Guess that’s my lot, a religious mix.

    Isn’t this how we all are supposed to be in order to blend back into the whole community of Creation?  


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2012.10.17 Lamenting Grace

In the Boston Globe Oct. 15, 2012, Mr. Armerding of Cambridge (MA.) wrote a letter to the editor referring to the October 9 Ty Burr, Globe movie critic’s feature story, “Why I Bike”  in the G section.  Burr had listed three reasons why he’s still cycling: “the grace of God, my wits, and a healthy respect for everyone else on the road.”  The G cover headlined Burr’s wisdom as: “Wits, luck, respect.”

Armerding noted that something was missing and lamented: “Why are you so afraid to paraphrase him [Burr] truthfully? You could even have replaced “luck” with “grace” and kept the religious overtones to a safe minimum.”

Thank you Mr. Armerding and thank you Ty Burr.  And thank you Godde for your grace.  No thanks to the cowardice of the Globe. Paradoxically, they headlined Armerding’s letter “Wait—wasn’t God his copilot?” 

Which way will it be then?

Not too long ago a friend and brother priest, who had just published a very fine book on the use of religious language to support particular political positions as if they were by divine sanction,  commented in response to my congratulations: “Well, it was all grace, completely.”  I replied, “There is no such thing as disembodied grace.”  He grinned and nodded. We laughed. It’s possible to go too far the other way:  All God/No me.

What kind of spiritual ambivalence is going on? Has Godde become politically dangerous? Or are we just too damn proud of our own resourcefulness to give credit to any power not strictly contained in human resource alone—or too passive and spiritually dependent to acknowledge our own efforts?   Or maybe God and trust belong murmured in church prayers or let out in public only on our currency? And isn’t that ironic! ...... we do worship money.

No wonder I’ve been afraid to write my memoir in which God AND I are the protagonist together in my life trip. I call it that, though journey is more spiritually p.c.,  because a lot of it has felt like a trip, a trip-up, a high, or tripping the light fantastic clumsily.  Godde has been my anchor—inner and outer. 

What do I mean by Godde anyway?  OK here’s my elevator speech: Godde is a spirit of goodness embedded in all creation, a Spirit that holds but does not package, holds all creation loosely, lovingly, and lettingly.  God is there for the asking, for the recognizing.  Is grace cheap? You bet!

Godde has no way to us but through us after all.   


Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012.10.14 Sprezzatura!

Picked up a new word. I love new words. And this one has glamor. Sprezzatura!

Doesn’t it sound like champagne popped open and poured? (No, not French. Sprezz... is Italian.)

It refers to feminine wiles, charm spiced with light flirtation, on the surface “all gossamer insouciance, spontaneity—an iron hand in a velvet and deftly stroking glove,” according to a July 30, 2012 piece in the British newspaper, The Guardian, in which  author Hannah Betts makes the case that feminism and flirtation are not necessarily unlikely bedfellows.

A certain amount of sex appeal, studied carelessness, can enhance and advance political and economic negotiations in the halls of government and business.  Betts uses Elizabeth I and Madeleine Albright as examples of how the “rules” of courtship, kept in balance with clear-headedness, can create a language of female authority in a patriarchal system where niceness is weakness.   Elizabeth the Virgin Queen could, for example, be paid court to as everybody’s mistress as well as everybody’s revered monarch.  That’s an art, not witchcraft.

I confess to some expertise in sprezzatura. I learned it from my mother who I thought was a shameless and embarrassing flirt, but then I went and copied her. Sprezzatura craftily employed made me feel powerful, and frankly, alive and attractive. 

It wasn’t very smart to experiment like this as an emotionally needful married woman in the context of the patriarchal Episcopal church with male clergy as my “prey.” I just wanted to be one of them.  My strategy was insane. Still, it felt inevitable. When awakening and radical liberation, from within and without, invites, you leap with little pause—and clean up later.

How do men assert this charm, or do they I wondered?  I see it in various charm-laden ways, none of them boastful — eyes, talk and tilt of head.  Sprezzatura in men reveals innocence, and in women it reveals power.

When our youngest son John was two he and his sweet cousin bit off at mid-stem all the just blossomed tulips that Dad had meticulously planted, a rare domestic endeavor. But Dad, enraged at the damage stood above tiny John breathing fire. John, outfitted by Mom in a double diaper, looked up, tilted his head, and smiled brightly, saying “I love my daddy.”  A lot of salvation both ways happened in that deft sweet stroke.

Sprezzatura isn’t gender-bound, but is a way to steady relationships. Straightforward and clear is best most all the time for both genders. Charm, however, assists, like a good field hockey wing. With it one can be both wily and innocent, a strategy Jesus advocated, for disciples out to transform.

“Charm is a way of getting the answer yes without asking a clear question.”  Camus wrote.

I’m sure the God of scriptures did a bit of charming for the sake of moving the vision forward. Think Moses who needed heavy courting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

2012.10.10 My Take

Every commentater and media blaster has a theory about why President Obama failed to be more forceful in the first presidential debate.  And everyone seems to be angry. And most people have a list of shoulds about what he should have done. And some are shifting their votes to Romney, one friend to the Green candidate Jill Stein.

I want to ring in with my own theory, which to date no one I've mentioned this to agrees with.  Nevertheless...........

A a religious woman I know the power of image and symbol to motivate and influence the human mind and emotions.  If I were lost in a foreign land with no compass and no companion and I saw an American flag I'd head for it. In like fashion I'd head for a Christian symbol, any kind of cross.

Gov. Romney presented a powerful symbol in the debate of last week, an image familiar, that of the political Marlboro man or the heroic cowboy: a man who stood straight and tall, facing anything with confidence—a man who looked the part of a hero who could save. A patriarchal figure, with stance and hand gestures and confrontational braveur to match. Romney is a white man.

President Obama had the body of language of someone who looked as if he had to answer to his opponent, his "master." He stood on one leg and shifted about. His eye contact was poor; he was taking notes and didn't face off much.  He also looked tight, angry and, to my projection, vulnerable.  He didn't look like a hero or a savior—far from the traditional American expectation of can-do spirituaity.  Obama is a man of color.

When my oldest daughter was about 5 we went to a neighboring home to deliver something and an African American woman, one of the "help"  answered the door.  My daughter said in a loud voice after the door was closed, thanks Godde, "WHAT was that?"  Anti-racism training began right away in our house. 

Four years ago Americans flocked with joy around Obama, the new image symbol of our land's value of diversity and equality—our first black president.  I thought the public energy was over the top and worried about that much expectation.  Perhaps Obama was destined to disappoint with this much to carry. I don't know.

From a psychological perspective from the Jungian theory of the collective unonscious I wonder if the history of racism in this country remained unconsciously in the memory of both viewers and participants.  Think attack dog and the dynamics that go with that symbol of power and dominance, then add skin color and it might have been a recipe for the imbalance.

Spiritually, nonetheless, I will vote for vision, future, and hope based in slow but sure progress, over plan, immediate economic fix, and bold optimism.

And I'll pray that the right vision will win and lead our democracy forward with liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

2012.10.07 Patineur

Patineur is a French word meaning skater or ice-skater.  So? 

A friend of mine used the word recently to refer to a client who tended to skim the surface of life, not wanting to “dive into the wreck” a metaphor poet Adrienne Rich used to indicate the courage it took to take the plunge into the whole deep mess of one's life.

Spirituality is about the depth dimension. I remember when I decided to trust my therapist enough to descend emotionally the 14 inches from my head to my heart.  For years I’d managed life from the neck up—very efficiently.  It worked until it hurt too much because one day my heart escaped and went off on a wild love adventure of its own. It took my body along with it . They both went without my permission as, furiously protesting, I followed.

I could no longer be a patineur doing and saying the right things according to Hoyle or my mother.  I had to submit to transplant surgery, not to get a new heart but to readmit the one I thought had betrayed me but could lead me to truth.  The process of reconnection was long, messy, and downright dangerous as all breaking free, and bad, is.

One day I got all the way down to the ruined treasure.  

My therapist had been trying to convince me I was angry.  I only wanted the sorrow. Easier to cry than rage, especially for a woman/good/god girl like me.  I came to a session feeling agitated, annoyed I couldn’t smooth myself out.  

“What is the energy like,” my therapist asked.

“All penned up,” I said.

“Is it an animal? ”

“A bull,” I said.

"Be the bull,” she said.

Is she crazy or what?  I laughed.

“Be the bull,” she insisted.

I crossed my arms over my chest and smiled condescendingly.

Then she did something so rude and outrageous I couldn’t believe it. She got up from her seat, pronounced this session over, and went over to her desk to do paper work.

Feeling huffy and prissy and thinking my therapist a real ass I opened my bag, got out my checkbook and wrote out my check.  I’d show her!  As I was preparing to leave, cruelly abandoned but in a self-righteous huff, my bull stormed onto the scene.  I began to paw the carpet, snort and heave and eventually toss my head in the air and howl, a full-throated human roar. 

My God I can’t believe I’m writing about this. But it happened. My heart and body once again demonstrated they had a will of their own. And once again I followed them.

When my bull subsided I came back into the room and looked at my therapist again for the first time. She’d returned to her accustomed seat across from me.  She was an attractive women anyway, but suddenly she was beautiful—striking, bright and brilliant— for the first time. 

I had new eyes. Eyes that didn’t slide quickly over the surface, not patineur eyes, but I will say her face had a patina as she looked at me, the now quiet bull,  and smiled. 

Did I have any words? she asked.  What came to me has stayed with me as a kind of measuring stick for my own integrity, and that of others, even nation and church.  Some days I think we live in a patineur world, slip-sliding along the surface of clichĂ©, slogan, bombast, and empty rhetoric, refusing to let go of our fear of the deep because it might just force us to take a true look at ourselves and the other "side" we imagine will destroy what we love, that they equally love.

The words of the hymn that arose are stunning for their emotional rigor. It’s a violent hymn, a prayer,  not a patineur hymn, its poetry digs deep— “in wrath and fear jealousies surround us,”  “led by no star,”  “love is mocked, derided,” “there is no meekness in the powers of earth . . .building proud towers which shall not reach to heaven.”  "Bind us in thine own love for better seeing.”    The refrain after each of verse is..........................

Thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

2012.10.03 Daughters/Mothers/Grandmothers

My oldest granddaughter is 16, and actually sweet! She has everything going for her—vitality, good looks and figure, thick black hair she thins, bodacious talent for singing and acting, her first tiny pay check from her first tiny job, and a high grade on mothering a newborn (the high school's attempt to prevent teen pregnancy by giving girls a taste of motherhood via 24-hour care of a baby doll who wets, screeches, and wakes up every two hours for another feeding—imagine!)

A good and loving "mommy" AND becoming a feminist.  Here we go again!—a new generation.

As a blossoming feminist, my granddaughter complains about the thin lanky models in Seventeen magazine and wants to volunteer in a rape crisis center.  "Yes I love it, a feminist! I feel like I'm turning more and more into my mom day by day it's crazy! she emailed.  I wrote back that she was also becoming like her Grammy, great and great great Grammies, too.

I feel complimented, grateful and joyful that my daughter and her daughter are in my life.  The poet/novelist says it all.............

Song for a Daughter
by Ursula Le Guin

Mother of my granddaughter,
listen to my song:
A mother can't do right,
a daughter can't be wrong.

I have no claim whatever
on amnesty from you;
nor will she forgive you
for anything you do.

So are we knit together
by force of opposites,
the daughter that unravels
the skein the mother knits.

One must be divided
so that one be whole,
and this is the duplicity
alleged of woman's soul.

To be that heavy mother
who weighs in every thing
is to be the daughter
whose footstep is the Spring.

Granddaughter of my mother,
listen to my song:
Nothing you do will ever be right,
nothing you do is wrong.

"Song for a Daughter" by Ursula K. Le Guin, from Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems 1960-2010. © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

2012.09.30 Jesus Married? OH, Scandal...

Jesus woulda, shoulda, coulda been married—but was he? The Risen Christ is obviously “married” soulfully to every Christian, but in the flesh?

Who really cares?  I value Jesus for his historic presence and all the ministry he did in his short time on earth, and I value all the teachings and accounts that were later written, as history goes, and published in time in the Bible. Maybe the four gospels didn't  mention much about Jesus’ personal life because he was too busy, or because they were too busy just trying to tag onto this dynamo of Love with the far-reaching transformative vision. They must have been pretty single-minded just to keep up.

On the other hand, they might not have written about it because it was the norm in first century Palestine for a Jewish man to be married. Wives weren't mentioned much.

I know scholars will ascertain the authenticity, or not, of Harvard Professor Karen King’s papyrus fragment with its wifely references for Jesus, so I’ll wait. I’m too old for another vocation but if I weren’t I might be a papyrologist.

I confess I’d love it if Jesus did have a personal helpmate who is just now getting her say about things in a fragment provocatively, tentatively titled,  “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.”

Now that would be a best selling memoir, maybe give my own memoir a boost. This is how women are finally getting onto the scene these days.  They speak and write and act like Jesus, whose ethic of compassionate equivalency demands its due.

The breadth and depth of the One Holy Godde as fully male and fully female is my image.

Jesus married doesn’t matter much to me. However, that Jesus called and trusted women disciples does matter. And that patriarchal cultures and religions squished women’s words and presence does matter.  And that this historical error be corrected matters. And that Roman Catholic men and women get to loosen the stays on their sexual corseted religious vocations (forced celibacy and the all-male priesthood)  matters.

I bet Jesus did call women as well as men.  I woulda been in the group I’m sure.  Or I might’ve been too timid; or I’d have insistently dragged my best friend or my own marriage partner along. If I weren’t married I’d have tried to get Jesus to propose to me for sure. 

That’s how smitten I am with his presence and his ideas and his ongoing Christic energy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

2012.09.26 Outrageous!!??

I had an outrageous thought just this morning, one so heretical I gave it a mental cancellation—but it wouldn’t go null or void. 

I thought: What if writing were not all that important and as crucial to communications as educators and others, writers for example, think?

I’d been reading laments and worrisome statistics about the high percentages of today’s college students who simply don’t know how to write, that is to construct an intelligible sentence with decent grammar and punctuation.  It seemed a catastrophe. How would they get jobs? Get along in their relationships? Write papers?  Sermons?  Be a professional of any kind???—and more.

I’m a word person. I love words all by themselves,  and words strung together to make a meaning. I’m also someone who has always loved to read which is how I learned that writing was important.  I’m also a wordy, and sometime last-wordy, person. AND I write books—not for a living I’d starve. Still, to say in writing what I mean so that other literate persons can understand means my life to me—it’s a sacred practice.

Could my heretical insight mean that a whole new language, way of writing is emergent? A whole new language evolving thanks to the internet and texting? What if abbreviations and shorthands and acronyms become the way to write—for everyone? 

Esperanto didn’t work well as a universal language. Language is too personal, a sign of one’s identity, one’s flavor.  Who would sing their ABC’s?  Or practice each stroke of lovely symbolic letters of Eastern languages?  Will we have a language called Unitext? Scriptext? OMGI<3u br="br" dlt="dlt" pos.="pos.">
This is crazy. Or is it?

If it’s not nutz (see?) I hope I’ll be dead to “see” it.  And even more dead if Robo-books (books put together by googling a title of interest and then compiling all the data on that topic into a book which Nimble Books will then print and bind and sell for cents—automated publishing and a proliferation of books of all kinds) becomes the norm. 

Ah well LOL..........what the wise priest in the Bible, Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes, wrote is true: There is  nothing new under the sun.  Thank Godde everything IS under the sun.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

2012.09.23 Politics de Jour

Watching the recent Elizabeth Warren/Scott Brown debate, I decided I did not know anymore what a debate was, because this felt more personal than political— unwinnable war. Now there’s a familiar term. (Think Afghanistan, Iraq, et. al. )  Nor did I know what politics was really good for.

This putative “debate” between the two candidates for the U.S.Senate seat now occupied by Brown, a Republican who advertises himself as the most bipartisan Republican since the beginning of time and led off this “debate” with a challenge to his Democratic opponent Warren. He said she’d checked off the box declaring herself Native American, which “clearly she’s not” (just look at her blond hair and cute pug nose—she should’ve left her hair its naturally dark color perhaps?).......and this “lie” besmirched her character. He wondered why she didn’t release her personnel records.

I  wondered why, too,  but maybe Harvard where she teaches law doesn’t do that. I don’t know.  Warren said she believed her parents who told her her father’s parents disapproved of the marriage because her mother was Native American. She never did a fact check. Statements from her employers testified she was hired on merit.

But...did she check the box to give herself an edge?  Godde knows....and probably Godde doesn’t care.  And certainly I don’t either.  If she did use her heritage as a qualification, so what? I doubt Harvard would hire anyone who wasn’t fully qualified. They have a rep. Still, Warren was a woman breaking into a patriarchal system. Shouldn’t she use every legitimate edge she can?  She, like many women, has proved herself. I hope I have too in the patriarchal church that ordained me almost against its almighty will.

To Warren’s credit she tried to steer the debate to a creative exchange of position statements on issues.  I noticed her tongue swirling inside her closed lips.  Was that nerves or a “be still my tongue” gesture? She cited Brown’s voting record on issues as opposed to putting down his good guy image, big gas-guzzling truck, his victim story, or the fact that he based his pro-women politics on being on the side of women since he was six in an abusive family system. Is he using that line to get elected? 

Both candidates made some points and counterpoints and left unanswered questions, but the tone of the non-debate was one of hostility, the tension camouflaged by too many thank-you’s for the “great questions” etc. and ridiculous acknowledgements that each was a “nice woman” and a “nice man.”

Not a true debate. No grit on the guts of policy,  and not enough opportunity for honest articulation of the visions for the future of the country each candidate stands behind and why. 

Maybe the rules for political debating these days need to be altered to be more in line with true debate, or the moderator, who did a good job of refereeing, should have more freedom to intervene, to cry foul.   There should be no need for a referee.

Two true confessions: 1) I’m a Democrat and lean toward the vision of that party right now in history because the values of justice for the disadvantaged aided by government policies and programs are more in line with the gospel of Jesus Christ, my plumb line. (I remember the day I snuck into Town Hall in a small CT. town to change my party affiliation, looking around every corner to make sure my father, a staunch Republican I loved and thought I should follow, was nowhere in sight. I bet if he were alive now he might follow me.
And 2) ...I’m a feminist who believes that the personal IS the political. (I first got political with intention when I joined the League of Women voters in midlife. I hated it, not because I didn’t believe in its purposes but because I’m really bad at standing on street corners flailing big signs about and waving, knocking on doors, or calling strangers who might yell at me or hang up.  Thin skin.)  Still, I didn’t think the principle meant politicians should snipe in such personal ways,  the media joining the fray with glee. Feminism meant that decisions made in the halls of government deeply affected women’s personal lives, and therefore all people's lives, so politics mattered, not as a sport but as a way to serve humanity, the common good, and Godde. 

Women have the vote, but political discourse needs some cleaning up. I guess all women are called to be suffragettes all the time really, and in their own ways.

I could actually stump for Jesus—and debate the politics of the “kingdom” without snark.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012.09.19 Spinning Spider Spirit

I have just today observed, or should I say noticed, an astounding phenomenon.

Under my home altar there is a box, the cover of a computer paper box from Staples. In it are mementoes, small spiritual tchotchkes, all of significance to me and a few with universal symbolic meaning.

Here are a few of my favorite things: my first pair of brilliant red shiny party shoes, now dulled, the leather cracked; a tiny red plastic bull I took from some pep-you-up drink maybe even Red Bull—he represents the anger I buried from, say 4 to 34; a small glass dancing owl (my totem,) missing one jauntily flung leg, sitting in my maternal grandmother’s china teacup now filled with old award pins I earned for good memorization of holy texts and creeds in Presbyterian Sunday School; a two inch high tri-fold wooden triptych with Mary ever blessed in the centerfold flanked by two adoring angels; wooden statues of Don Quijote, one of my christs, and Sancho Panza, his acolyte and himself a christ, from a shop in a grand cathedral in Toledo, Spain in 1960; a postcard propped against the edge of my box painted by a monastic artist and picturing a woman, meant to be Mary giving birth to a baby, meant to be Jesus, and a hand, meant to be Joseph’s or Godde’s, cradling the small dark emerging head; my first tiny and meekly bristled hair brush; a photo in a miniscule frame: me at three and my mother at 25+ dressed alike in pinafores with wings, me scowling and mom smiling; a photo of dad in his National Guard uniform, so handsome and so sad he missed the war;  and a cross of Jesus fully alive—an obvious impossibility.

There’s more but you get the picture.

I saw what I thought was dust and thought, it’s time to dust! Under closer scrutiny the dust turned out to be a spider web. I followed its tracings and marveled at the miniature spider in its midst. ( I call all spiders Charlotte and imagine they speak in the dulcet tones of Julia Roberts.)  This Charlotte had practiced her spinning art and with the daintiest ingenuity had connected every single one of my sacred items each to each and all in one.  The web image riveted my attention on the glories of life itself.

I won’t be dusting my holy under-altar box or its contents any time soon.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012.09.16 Spiritual Massage

I heard an unusual comment recently, a compliment to the rector of a neighboring parish from one of the parishioners. The woman said, “He’s great. He’s not a pulpit hog.”

I also heard from a woman priest colleague that it was nice to see girls on the altar  (not dancing of course, or scantily clad)  at a notably conservative patriarchal parish that’s trying to be more open. My friend has also been invited to preach and celebrate there. 

And then I heard from a colleague woman priest and friend that the bishop who 35 years ago had turned me down for ordination just told her that being against the ordination of women had been the biggest mistake he’d ever made. Bravo!

These tiny epiphanies felt hopeful: the Church will continue to chip away at patriarchy, and full inclusion of every person in the worship and politics and vocabulary of the institution will happen. Am I delusional? 

Our current political field in this country is NOT really about the economy,  it is about women—keeping them in their traditional places, or not. You could even say barefoot and pregnant.  Yet after this presidential election the US congress will NOT be, for the first time in history, dominated by white straight men.   

I’m  firmly committed to the idea that as many different voices as possible should grace ALL our "pulpits" and altars and podiums.  It builds community, neighborliness and peace.

Christians are far from uniform in their styles of worship, politics, and theology. We desperately need to talk. We need to cut through assumptions and get to know who we really are.  Distance is no excuse with the internet.

I’ve been trying to promote such connections for years, including interfaith ones. The miles between us are short but the walls are thick and so parochial it’s shocking.

The Holy Spirit, She whom I call Sophie,  eventually works things for the best even when it all looks lousy and hopeless to us and our efforts fail. How does She do it? 

She is a mysterious masseuse of relational connective tissues.  And you know how long it takes   muscles and joints to loosen up and let go—and then pop back tight, over and over.   It’s easier to ease stiff muscles than it is to get stiff people to let go,  and even worse with religious people.  BUT not impossible.

Pray for a massage—full body and spirit.   You may be surprised!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012.09.12 Back To Basics

 I met Joan Chittister, OSB, up close and personal over a bathroom sink at Regis college where she was about to deliver an address to hundreds of fans—hers and Godde’s. She was frantically searching the sink bowl for her contact lens. I told her to stop up the drain and secretly thanked heaven this wasn’t a toilet bowl.  We peered in, groped about, seeking a tiny transparent flap of plastic, essential to Sister Joan’s full vision. We saw nothing.

THERE IT IS! she suddenly shrieked with the joy of a child, scooped it up gingerly, indelicately slapped it into her eye, gave me a hug, and whisk! she was gone—at a near gallop, still a filly at 75.  

Her talk was swoonable: classic religio-spiritual themes of love, justice, peace for all, the Godde-given power of women to transform the world and church, disloyalty as obedience, feminist theology, and a God who delivers the goods with the help of good men AND good women.

Here is Joan Chittister as a newly minted nun with the Benedictine sisters of Erie PA. The photo is old, her face and body young, and her soul eternal. Her proclamations and vision are the same yesterday today and tomorrow, even though the traditional nuns' habit has been replaced by civvies and her eyes need contacts to see—but not to have vision.

Text:  I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life. I fact, I think in many cases your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed.       And why would I think that you don't?       Because you don't want any tax money to go there.   That's not pro-life.  That's pro-birth.  We need a much broader conversation on the morality of pro-life"                  -We the People


(Myself, I'm pro-life—all life . . . AND pro-choice.)


Sunday, September 9, 2012

2012.09.09 Back To Church

“It is a mistake to believe that God is primarily concerned with religion.” 

I read this quote recently in May Sarton’s book A House by the Sea. She attributed it to an archbishop of Canterbury but omitted his name. Even Google didn’t know. Hence, the wisdom stands on its own: “It is a mistake to believe that God is primarily concerned with religion.”

“It is also a mistake to believe that God is negligently concerned with religion.”  (This author I know because it’s moi, more properly, I.)

Defending religion? What hubris!  What I really want to do is jump in the currently popular spirituality pool with the cultural gang.  But I need religion and the church, for better or worse.  

I got religion in church, an extracurricular activity I’d flirted with for years and found boring so I fell in love with cute priests and flirted with the trappings. Still, I couldn’t stop wondering—and wondering what really is the point? 

When the time came for my authentic midlife crisis I’d sunk into moral turpitude— Ok I exaggerate here. Still, only something divine was persuasive enough to drop-kick me back into life-in-God. Call me lost, depressed, stuck in a role, “called” a term the church overuses, whatever,  it really doesn’t matter. I just had to find my first “lover” God, the one I’d met as a young child.

There was no FaceBook then and it didn’t make sense to go God-hunting in a library, City Hall, a bar, or on a bed, though I tried all these options: reading the Bible compulsively from cover to cover, changing my political party, alcohol, sex. At last I rediscovered the Episcopal church, the one that had the most sensory appeal, the one that had colors, smells, bells and human bodies that weren’t screwed to the pews—and, I noticed,  hope for women to be ordained.

Religion in a church community gave me something to DO, a VOCABULARY, and a way to THINK. These structures enhanced what I already FELT about God. I didn’t agree with everything but at least I had something to argue with. I met Jesus on directed religious retreats. As I prayed in silence and into the depth only solitude can allow, Jesus coached me into the radical idea that God’s Love lived inside me, so close I ate, slept and breathed it.

The Episcopal religion gave me a lot of grief and patriarchal baloney about women’s roles. It also gave me guidance without guilt, gravitas with flexibility, sin and  grace, elegant prayers to say in a community, a Big Book Bible, rich in stories that read better than any racy spellbinding novel and were, mercifully, lame on self-help, sacraments, and backbone theology—the bend but not break kind. 

Finally, my church gave me ordination to the priesthood.

God IS concerned with religion. Maybe not primarily, and maybe out of frustration over human meanderings. But it mistaken to believe God is not concerned with religion. In fact, Godde may just be leading the charge for change in the churches of all religions.