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.