Sunday, November 26, 2017

2017.11.26 Thanksgiving—A Love Sabbatical

On Thanksgiving day this year we celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. That’s not such a big deal, but it’s not bad mileage for a second marriage, or for two Leos living under one roof roaring.

Today is Christ in Majesty (aka Christ the King, but that's too limiting) Sunday. We were married on this Sunday in our parish church during the Eucharistic liturgy, November 23, 1986.

We celebrate our anniversary and Thanksgiving every year in southern Maine. But isn’t that family time? Yes, and the gift we chose to give ourselves was some time just for us—time away from professional duties, home, and yes, from our very large extended blended exuberant family. 

Yes, we miss them, and yes we love them all. And yes, we always call them all. And yes we (I) have felt guilty. They in turn are relieved of having to manage the holiday to include one more family— besides their own, their in-laws’ and that of former spouses, not to mention any aunts, uncles or cousins— in the Thanksgiving rituals.

To ease my guilt about breaking tradition, being selfish or abandoning, or thusly accused, I told myself for years that it was good for our progeny that they didn’t have to worry about us—including us, or not, or where. Thanksgiving after all is only one day, not an easily moveable feast. That was my assumption, not necessarily their desire or convenience.

But this year I tell the truth without excuses. This love sabbatical from the beginning has been our choice, a mutual choice made, only in part to escape family chaos, but mostly for our own benefit. Oh, yes, we are retired now. And yes, we aren’t living geographically on top of most of our offspring. And yes, we are able to see some old friends living in Maine. And no, this isn’t where we honeymooned. And no, this sojourn is not a glamorous vacation or getaway. Our choice has little to do with these factors.

So why do we do this?

We do it because we like coastal Maine and wintry sea, and the little humble unglamorous Seaside Inn bed-and-breakfast with large rooms and teeny bathrooms, we have stayed at for years. We do it for quiet, to catch up on reading, to avoid the temptation of over-checking emails, texts, phone calls. We do it for memories. Mostly—truly, deeply, really— we do it for love. We do it so we can enjoy each other’s company—just the two of us. We do it so we can stay in love. I am grateful we have enough health and resources to nourish our love and marriage this way.

As always the poet best captures the value, both ultimate and temporal, of love.

THAT I DID ALWAYS LOVE

That I did always love
I bring thee Proof
That till I loved
I never lived - Enough -
That I shall love alway -
I argue thee
That love is life -
And life hath Immortality -
This - dost thou doubt - Sweet -
Then have I
Nothing to show
But Calvary -
        Emily Dickinson

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017.11.19 The Music of Noble Grief Untold

Here's a small inside story, lean but robust. It’s about a saxophone player, the father of a little six year old girl named Ana. It’s about another father who has two daughters—and very long arms. The saxophonist is Jimmy Green. The man with long arms is President Barack Obama.

The public facts to this story most Americans know and remember with varying degrees of shiver and sorrow. On December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty small children and six staff were murdered —mercilessly, without warning, and arbitrarily— mowed down by a gunman with a rifle.

When I heard about this massacre my first reaction was similar to my reaction when I first heard about the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York: “Come on!” I laughed, as if such things happened regularly—and never. I could access neither fact nor feeling—for days. After the Newtown tragedy, President Obama addressed the nation—with tears and grace— at a memorial gathering. Only then could I cry and, oddly, relax.

President Obama flew right away that same day to Newtown, to the school. This is the duty of a president, the letter of the law one could say. The spirit of that “law” revealed a man’s heart. President Obama is a man who is able to govern and to weep, to take authority and to let his heart break visibly, to wage war and to make peace. On occasion politicians can be heroes.

Joshua Dubois (b.1982) head of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the Executive Office of the President of the United States from 2009 to 2013, wrote about that day in “The President’s Devotional: ‘What Obama Did In Secret In Newtown.”  The staff coordinated details, but the president did the difficult pastoral work. The families gathered in classrooms. The president, briefed on names, moved unhurriedly from room to room. He gave each person a hug and asked “Tell me about your son, or daughter.” He looked at and held photos of every dead child. He listened to descriptions of favorite foods, television shows, the sound of the child’s laughter. Younger siblings were tossed in the air, laughing, and then received a box of White House M&Ms. Who knew there was such a thing?

“In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break,” Dubois wrote. Some small measure of love was given to every single bereaved family member: “The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.”  Over and over, for hours.
How can one sustain such authentic tenderness over an extended time—knowing that no amount of comfort or prayer, even from a president, even from God, could be adequate consolation?

According to Dubois, President Obama never spoke about these meetings. “He was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.”

What is not so public is that Obama went to Newtown a second time, just months after the tragedy, to visit the families in their own homes. I am privileged to know some of one of those visits: the one made to Jimmy Green the professional saxophonist and his wife. 

Think of a saxophone and its sound. Is it not the most lugubrious? Although usually associated with jazz, the saxophone can wail out the mourning night—a long sound, the sound of grieving parents, the eternal sound of God’s grief.

Jimmy Green was in Rockport, Massachusetts last summer as a visiting artist for the Rockport Music Association’s Jazz Camp, an educational jazz program for children.
                                     (Green with his saxophone.) 
A good friend of mine hosted Green and asked him, naturally, about his children. She was taken aback first  to hear that he was the father of a six year old girl named Ana who was murdered in Newtown. Ana, he said, loved music and dance, and she loved to love. Here she dances with her daddy.
About Obama, Green said,  “I knew the guy was tall, but I didn’t realize he had such long arms. He just sat with us (Green and his wife) on the couch and held us both together.”

Grief requires a long reach, a reach only heroes can summon. Heroes are people who do good anytime anyhow.  It is particularly hard for very public people—people who have to be constantly conscious of themselves…like being on camera 24/7— to be heroes of this kind. That takes courage, not just feelings, and not simply military action. Heroes touch the heart of God. Heroes keep us alive and wanting to live.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

2017.11.12 Green Eggs and Ham

Dear Doctor Seuss,

Today I craved eggs for some odd reason. There was no time to make them before breakfast or after church either, but I could eat them anywhere.

Our parish had a church harvest fair. There we sold a Cook Book, among other items. I had stolen recipes about your green eggs and ham from all over and one got into the cookbook. It's nothing compared to the marvelous recipes therein and all for the love of God—as is your prose poetry. Thanks.

I would eat this in a plane, I would eat this in the rain. I would eat this here or there, I would eat this anywhere. I do so like green eggs and ham I do so like it Sam I am!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 thin ham steaks, quartered
10 large eggs
3 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 cup store-bought pesto
1 cup fresh cut asparagus
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

       
Instructions

    1.    Set a large non-stick skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon butter. Once melted, add the ham pieces and cook until browned on each side, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
    2.    In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and most of the pesto (leave about 2 tablespoons out). Set aside. Wipe out the skillet and add the remaining butter. Once melted throw in the asparagus. Cook until the asparagus is soft and tender, about 4 minutes.
    3.    Add the whisked pesto eggs to the hot skillet and cook until soft scrambled. Add the cheese and cook until the eggs are somewhat firm and the cheese has melted. Serve by placing a few slices of ham on each plate and then adding a few spoonfuls of egg on top. Garnish with a bit of the reserved pesto on each. Cook 25 minutes.

If I were you here’s what I’d do. I’d sneak in green is what I’d do. I love the eggs but only green.
I add green dye behind cook’s eye. I do so like my green eggs green with ham—like Sam I am.

Submitted in praise of Dr. Seuss, the late Theodore Geisel (1904-1981) by Priest Associate—
irreverent Rev. Lyn who so likes green eggs and tells secrets for Seuss who pronounces it Zoice—       a remarkable voice.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

2017.11.05 Paschal Symbol

What does this magnificent and majestic tall red sculpture look like to you?

It looks like a massive candle holder without a candle. It stands well over six feet tall and is rubber—not very romantic. [Colorful polymer cast rubber molded from stacked architectural elements, balusters, finials and monumental urns.] I was mesmerized.

The Boston-based sculptor Niho Kozuru, born in 1968 in Fukuoka, Japan, calls this piece Rising Column. I first saw it and photographed it at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusett
As I contemplated this vibrant work of art near a window I saw light shining through it. I thought it was reflecting the sunlight, but read that the rubber substance is, in fact, translucent, and was chosen by the artist for that quality.  

Of course I projected Resurrection onto the rising column—the simple yet mysterious idea that God is unconditional Love that lives forever. We see resurrection when it shines through us. I don’t believe this just because I was taught to, or because it makes sense, because it doesn’t make sense.

I see resurrection when it shines through something common—nature’s bloom, new ideas, extraneous acts of kindness, children at play, transcendent music, art, and words of poetry and prose. For something to signal resurrection to me it must lift my soul in surprise recognition of Life even where it might not belong—like in death, dying, sin, suffering or evil.

On All Saint’s Day (November 1) Christians let resurrection light shine through the dead we no longer see but sense and through the embodied living we do see, touch, hear and applaud, mostly through infants whom we baptize into the life and death of Christ. Nonsensically, we do this all in one breath. On this day, other feast days, and through the fifty days of Easter we light a paschal (Easter) candle—a resurrection light.
Most paschal candles would be dwarfed by Kozuru’s Rising Column. Wouldn’t it be splendid to have a huge symbol of resurrection in our midst all the time?  We’d never forget resurrection life. We can’t afford such grandeur, of course, but we can’t afford to forget resurrection either.

It is my intuition that the Christian church has devoted some fifty years of energy making sure the Eucharist returns to the center of our Sunday liturgy. The altar and the lectern are the upfront focuses, well dressed and lit. Everyone looks to these. Less so the font. I'd like to visually beef up baptism and the font? 

Eucharist and Baptism are the two sacraments Jesus ordained when he was alive, according to New Testament  recollections. Baptism ushers one into the faith of Christ, and Eucharist provides regular nourishment and strength for being a Christian: practicing the faith OF Jesus—not at all the same as belief IN Jesus. When you practice the faith OF Jesus, light shines through you.

Wouldn’t it be fine to have a paschal candle stand more prominent—one so big and central you couldn’t miss it, lit or unlit?  So big you can’t forget you are Christian—sealed with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever— and what a huge gift that is.

I wish many things all the time, and pray for at least half of them half the time. Some come true. 

When I saw this enormous sculpture my heart leapt and said, YES. Its towering red magnificence announced to me the presence of God. Just the sight of it knocked my socks off, jarred me into remembering my baptismal promises and how I will keep them—every day as my baptismal day. 

I need jarring. Therefore, my humble photo will now live on my home altar. It gives me hope.