Sunday, June 23, 2019

2019.06.23 Teachers—And Then Some

One of the most treasured and, yes, loving, professions is that of being a teacher. Teachers are all over the place, but I’m thinking of classroom teachers. I remember the ones who shaped my life by knowing the shape of my life before I knew it.

How, for example, could my high school English teacher have known when he assigned year-end senior projects that the best assignment for me would be Charles Dickens? He knew before I did that I leaned toward compassion and justice for underdogs. He knew that I swooned over big spiritual Scrooge-like transformations. And he knew I had a penchant for good words, preferably big unmanageable ones, and a longing to be found, or at least noticed.

My favorite Dickens novel was Bleak House. Honestly, I don’t remember much of it except that it was about a young girl who wrote letters to an older man who took great care responding to the girl’s missives. Thus she grew to love herself. The relationship wasn’t lascivious but avuncular. I remember it felt holy to me. Here’s a quote: “There were two classes of charitable people: one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.” 

No, I did not remember those exact words. I looked them up. They felt just like something that would have stuck with me, made me laugh, and justify some of my own supercilious attitudes towards my elders. One of those elders must have gotten my drift, or been prodded by my mother, because, yearly for years, she gave me a bound-in-leather, gold-leaf, edition of a Dickens novel until I had the whole set. I hope my son Rob still has them—not for the money’s worth but for the soul’s worth.

A grandson, fourteen, recently responded to my typically-adult-inanity: What’s your favorite subject? He said something like: “Last year it was History but this year it’s English.” Why? Because last year’s English teacher was “no good.” The teacher makes the subject matter live. It’s an art.

My youngest son John is a teacher. He chose his profession, inspired by a teacher who wasn’t even his teacher but a special presenter in one of his college classes. The topic was educational advising, or how to teach teachers.  John thought: “I’d like to do that.” After the presentation he went to talk to the presenter, who was in a hurry and brushed off  John’s enthusiasm—a cardinal sin, I’d say. Nevertheless, even a sin can plant a seed. John pursued education instead of following his brother and dad into a business career. He taught in a racially segregated elementary public school in Florida. Anti-segregation laws soon passed, so his school had to integrate—admit more white children. The experience was formative for John, professionally and spiritually. Perhaps it was “Dickensian.”

I think this is how the Spirit works—not telling us what precisely to do but setting a small fire under our own desires.  I pursued, not Dickens, but writing with a religious, if sometimes sarcastic, bent. John returned to Connecticut, taught fifth grade, got his master's degree, and now heads up the library in an elementary school, where, you could say, he teaches teachers or at least ignites their impulses—known and unknown.  

Just a few days ago John was in an ice cream shop. The teenager behind the counter looked familiar. The boy smiled. John said: “I think I know you.” The boy said: “Mr. Brakeman?” John remembered instantly this young fifth grader, Timmy, I’ll call him. He had been a history buff with a special interest in American history. John had encouraged his interest and found books to fan the embers. Timmy told John he was going to college next year and planned to major in history. “Thanks for the education, Mr. Brakeman. The ice cream’s on me.” What better praise can there be?

It excites me when all that praise and glory we blast off on regularly in church escapes into the world we foolishly call secular, as if there were really a difference. If only we would notice. Pay attention to the small stuff that’s not supposed to happen but does.

Poet Brian Doyle wrote about another fifth-grader. May this poem serve to bless all teachers everywhere who teach knowledge—and knowing.

A Poem for Literature Teacher Beth
Morgan of Lassiter High in Georgia

Maybe you will think this is a tiny thing
But I do not think it’s a little thing when
A student asks me if I could possibly jot
A poem for his absolute favorite teacher
Because he wants to give her an odd gift
Of a poem by a writer she enjoys and he,
The student, says he knows this is crazy,
But he really admires this teacher, so he,
The writer, touched by the student’s guts
And how fine the teacher must be to jazz
 A student like that, says sure, and he sits
Down one morning to scribble the poem,
And here it is, but this poem, you notice,
Is a poem about the student being moved
By a teacher, and the teacher being zesty
And honest and real and so passionate as
To stories that he, the student, will never
Forget the teacher. That is the best poem.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

2019.06.16 Knocking Off THE Father and Loving the Daddy

Happy Father’s Day. Happy Trinity Sunday.

Many Christians claim to understand the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, yet no one does. How can the one God be partitioned—thrice holy? In church we pray to OUR FATHER. We bless and anoint in the name of THE FATHER. Adding HIS only son and a holy spirit, we lustily sing Holy, Holy, Holy. We proclaim, praise, and triple-bind ourselves into this girdle of holiness and name it One God. Now who really does not secretly know that the real head of this sweet holy trio is THE FATHER? 

I’m a woman, also a mother. My preferred pronouns are she, her, hers. I’m not named as one of these major God parts. I’m not bitter, because my spiritual experience tells me I’m holy, and that the Trinity really means that the One Father God’s holiness is innumerable—not three or even three zillion. God has no preferred pronouns. God is not my father. 

Most days I adored my father. I used to think he was like God and imagined him in grandiose ways. One day though I did discover that he really was the bravest man in the universe.

Daddy was a city man—reserved, handsome, advertising executive. As a child I longed to capture his attention. My strategies, chiefly cuteness, incessant questions, and begging for one more book, bore little fruit—except in the summer when left the city and spent time on a farm up-state. Daddy commuted but took lots of vacation time. We got to explore the near-sacred mysteries of life on a farm.

We’d read picture books about farm animals, so we’d practiced neighs, brays, moos, cackles, and oinks. On the farm our book-animals leapt alive. We bonded over barnyard sights, sounds, and smells, especially freshly mown hay, pigs wallowing in mud, and cows. I was scared but Daddy was brave. Watching a cow give birth terrified me. The mother cow struggled and bellowed. Daddy told me to wait, luckily refraining from a lesson in sex education. I held my hands over my eyes, but peeked. When the calf finally emerged my heart jumped. How had it fit inside? This led us to the bull—a daddy to avoid, Daddy said.

The bull had his own stall. We peeked in. The bull snorted and had sharp piercing eyes—angry. One day the farmer asked Daddy to help get the bull up a ramp and onto the trailer for transport. The bull was secured by ropes tied to a halter. I watched, shivering with fear. Some men tugged the lead on the halter and pulled. Others poked with pitchforks from the rear. The raging bull jerked his head and took a quick turn toward Daddy. The farmer yelled: “Jump aside quick!” I held my breath till the bull galloped up the ramp onto the truck. Daddy was saved.

Driving home, I asked softly: “Daddy, were you scared?”

“You bet I was Lynnie,” he said.  

At that moment I knew my father really was the bravest man in the universe.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy—God also of course and in case.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

2019.06.09 Who Is a Mystic?

Most people would say “Not me!”

Pentecost is the wildest, freest, most voluminous occasion and season of all seasons spiritual. It marks the biblical story of Creation’s awareness of the presence of a Holy Spirit that powers, let’s say, divine activism. GO! She travels far and wide, probing the depths and sowing seeds of hope, healing, and divine Goodness and Love. She/He is gender-free and bright green, passionate red, eye-popping gold and blue-all-over—a genuine Mystic, wisely irrational. 

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes about the Kabbalah Jewish mystical tradition:  “I think what our generation seems to be living through is the realization that rationalism is only part of the answer. I think, I’m not the first one to notice this, that Auschwitz and Hiroshima were perfectly rational decisions. So there’s this sense that religion has to be more than rationalism. Any mysticism offers—it says, sort of like in the corner, ‘Psst, hey kid how would you like a direct experience of the divine? Would that help your religious life?’ A lot of people discover that they’re mystics after all when they’re given that offer.” 

Rabbi Kushner’s definition of a mystic: “A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradiction, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” 

I like that definition better than the one that insists on a direct experience of the divine—not because it is more rational, far from it, but because it makes room for the immanence of the transcendent—the divine within us, encouraging and empowering us to trust that hidden unity.

Kushner is a long time student of the Kabbalah. He was influenced by a Jewish historical figure named Gershom Scholem (1918-1982). Gershom rescued this tradition from obscurity.  The spirit of Kabbalah wraps teachings in teachings, wisdom in wisdom, life within life—analogically, like a Torah scroll wraps round itself. Kushner is the Emanu-El scholar at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, and the author of many books.
As a young child I experienced an invisible, inaudible, listening Presence I called God. I chattered. God listened. I learned that I mattered. You could say my words wrapped within The Word. I erred and strayed, but I never forgot the mark that experience left on me. It left me with that “gnawing suspicion” Kushner described: Good lies concealed in any chaos.

Every morning about 4 a.m., the birds begin their day-song before day breaks. They are natural anticipatory mystics, sensing, trusting, and proclaiming the light before it comes. Seeds planted in fertile soil do the same. Tree roots are the same: they hide under layers of concrete sidewalk, yet they push through and grow! GO. So also for tiny seeds of kindness planted in trusting desperate souls. Lions know when to leap and monkeys when to race up trees. GO! Jesus knew when to shut up and when to GO!

In the Old Testament, God spoke directly to prophets who conveyed divine messages—mostly about ways people can help God by listening and looking, especially in the darkest corners of misery to see where God needed help to create life anew. Imitate God, they said. Imitate Jesus the Christ, Christians say. Imitate Holy Spirit! GO!

When the prophetic tradition died out, people feared there would be no more direct Voice of God. Would God be silent? No. God continued to communicate in a new way called the bath qol.  It means “the daughter of a voice”—not inferior to what prophets experienced but more inward/subjective, far-reaching. For Christians, this voice is carried by the Holy Spirit. It is what Jesus heard within himself at his baptism: You are my son, the beloved. GO!

I have heard this bath qol seven times in my life, mostly posing challenging questions, such as what in the world are you thinking of here? These queries were personal wakeup calls for subjective clarity. 

BUT twice, God’s bath qol was more direct.
    -I was in deep distress after being turned down in the ordination process. I had run out of words completely, maybe like Jonah sitting dejectedly under the sheltering plant God provided and Jonah failed to appreciate. Or Elijah sitting outside his cave in misery. Both discerned the bath qol telling them: GO! This is the same voice Mary Magdalene felt within her vision at the empty tomb of grief. GO! To me God said: “No one can take this away from you, Lyn.” This stark truth was confrontive not comforting.  I heard: GO! 
    -And once again when I was fretting about ordination, Godde’s bath qol said:“Lyn I don’t care if you’re ordained.” How rude. I got it. GO! I kept going, unresolved.

Do such experiences make me a mystic?  I don’t know. But I can tell you that I do have the annoying tendency Kushner identified as mystical: "the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradiction, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.” 

I say “annoying” in part because this tendency annoys my empirical beloved husband who accuses me of missing the obvious ingredients that make things look impossible. I do miss them, but that’s often because I trust there’s something unitive, transformative, gloriously hidden, and emergent—if I can only trust the long slow work of God and my own grit to GO— no matter what.

In sum, I bet there are more mystics in this world than not—a few are clothed in human flesh.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

2019.06.02 Ask and You Will Receive

Furious Prayer for the Church I Love and Have Always Loved but Which Drives Me Insane with its Fussy Fidgety Prim Tin-eared Thirst for Control and Rules and Power and Money Rather Than the One Simple Thing the Founder Insisted On.

Granted, it’s a tough assignment, the original assignment I get that. Love—Lord help us, could we not have been assigned something easier, like astrophysics or quantum mechanics. But no—love those you cannot love. Love those who are poor and broken and fouled and dirty and sick with sores. Love those who wish to strike you on both cheeks. Love the blowhard, the pompous ass, the arrogant liar. Find the Christ in each heart, even those. Preach the Gospel and only if necessary talk about it. Be the Word. It is easy to advise and pronounce and suggest and lecture; it is not so easy to do what must be done without sometimes shrieking. Bring love like a bright weapon against the dark. The Rabbi did not say build churches, or retreat houses, or secure a fleet of cars for general use, or convene conferences, or issue position papers. He was pretty blunt about the hungry and the naked and the sick. He was not reasonable; we forget this. The Church is not a reasonable idea. The Church should be a verb. When it is only a noun it is not what the Founder asked of us. Let us pray that we are ever after dissolving the formal officious arrogant thing that wants to rise, and ever fomenting the contradictory revolutionary countercultural thing that could change life on this planet. It could, you know. Let’s try again today. And so:amen.

by Brian Doyle, A Book of Uncommon Prayer. 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary, 2014

The Muddle
A man named James who sits in his wheelchair in Harvard Square. I pass him every time I walk from the subway to where I get my hair cut. I only see him once a month, but I look forward to it. James is a lovely man with multiple handicaps, a gentle soul, and a smile from heaven. You could say James is homeless, disabled, an amputee, a street person, a beggar just looking for the next drink. You could discount him, as some do when they bustle by. I know he lives someplace where he is taken care of, and that someone brings him daily to his spot. He’s not an aggressive man, and he doesn’t call out or rattle a cup of coins for attention. But boy, when James smiles you know the world is his proverbial oyster—and you are the only one who matters at this moment. And James knows how to ask for what he needs. This is the part of the biblical wisdom we do not easily engage: asking and receiving are related, part of a whole. Once James asked me to marry him, and once he stammered, “ I love you” and motioned to me to lean towards him for a kiss. He is a person who matters, and I am not the only one who notices James.

The Miracle
Google-godde came to the rescue. James made it online. A Harvard senior, George David Torres, befriended him. James told Torres that he needed a new wheelchair. He asked. In the midst of Torres’s final exams he took the time and the heart to start a gofundme page to raise money for a new wheelchair for James. People were generous and Torres worked with The Boston Orthopedic and Respiratory. James received his new chair plus the bonus of a new cup in which to store his earnings.  Here he is with his new chair and cup—and his thank you note in process.

So much for envious projections of snootiness onto Harvard students. Call it Harvardism.

So much for assumptions about the general goodness and generosity of the public. Most people are kind.

So much for judging street beggary and putting everyone into the same nasty box called lazy, irresponsible, poor, or drunks.

So much for the idea that it is mostly religious or churched or Christian people who do their spiritual homework and follow Jesus’s only one commandment: Love. And doesn't love require paying attention and listening, both asking and receiving?

From what I have read about street people they appreciate money, but more importantly, they appreciate being noticed. I am not the only one who notices James. All this took place at the end of last summer. This summer so far I have missed James and pray with him. Please do the same if you will. Prayer is not a haughty holier-than-thou practice, nor is it magic or useless. It evokes hope in absence. It invokes God. Anyone can pray, and there probably is no one who has never prayed.

May Brian Doyle have the last word: 
Let us pray that we are ever after dissolving the formal officious arrogant thing that wants to rise, and ever fomenting the contradictory revolutionary countercultural thing that could change life on this planet. It could, you know. Let’s try again today. And so:amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

2019.05.26 Rogations

The tender seed finds the stirring of life deep within itself - and what is deepest in the seed reaches out to what is deepest in life . . . "
~ Howard Thurman, from Meditations of the Heart

Many of us are used to thinking of God as up there, then coming down to be in and with us before leaving again. It feels, metaphorically, as if divinity hits a home run, then dashes in to touch home base —for a brief moment only— before disappearing into clouds of fame and glory. This spatial metaphor fits with our penchant for divine transcendence, but it’s not very grounded and it creates an image of divinity that borders on condescension. No wonder so many of us don’t feel at home with God.

Jesus spoke frequently about seeds and planting seeds, waiting for seeds to grow, and sowing seeds along paths. He would sometimes bend down and scoop up soil or seeds, and he frequently bent to listen to the words of children. He was fully earthed, even earthy I suspect.

On Rogation days we let God come down to earth. Rogation comes from the Latin root rogare, meaning simply to ask. On Rogation days, Christians ask the soil to nurture seeds we plant, that they may bear fruit and feed us. We also ask that God nurture spiritual seeds implanted in our flesh, that we will grow strong and faithful and plant ourselves solidly on earth to practice the way of love just as Jesus the seed-planter did.

Some of the most delightful seeds I know come from the mouths of young children. If you listen for seeds of wisdom you’ll find them in the mouths of young children.

Here’s a story about Jack. Jack is six. He is a child who asks multitudes of questions about everything that pops into his mind. Jack asks about God. His curious mind is open and fresh. What is God?

Enter Grandma. She reads Jack a book called What Is God? by Etan Boritzer.
The book is brilliantly illustrated. It explores every aspect of Jack’s question, a question people the world over ask and wonder about all the time. There are no answers, but Jack is not alone in his wondering.

Jack’s Grandpa tells Jack about a book he wrote about Tim. Who is Tim? Tim is a large pink stuffed chimpanzee that belonged to Jack’s Daddy, Michael. Jack is all ears. Tim went everywhere with Michael, but when Michael slept Tim had wild, scary adventures. Grandpa shows Jack a book he wrote about Tim’s escapades.

Where is Tim now?  Grandma and Grandpa explain to Jack that when they come to California to visit Jack they leave Tim back east. Jack bursts into tears.  “How could you leave Tim all alone?"

A discussion ensues about what is real and what is make-believe. Tim is not real. Tim is just a toy.  Jack listens to all the explaining, then firmly asserts: “The tooth fairy is real.” Grandma and Grandpa nod. Jack had that week lost his first tooth. He knows the tooth fairy is real. Jack is ready to go to bed now—almost. “Wait, let’s read What Is God? It’s a beautiful book,” Jack says. And so they do.

Like Jack, we all go through awakenings many times over. How many comings-of-age are there?  How many home-bases do we seek and touch? How many wondering questions are too many? There’s nothing silly or childish about such questions. They pop up, especially when someone dies, or is missing, like Tim. Where is he? Will we see him again? Is there a heaven? What is God?  Such questions have no answers and we shouldn’t try to answer them.

Just let the imaginary bump into the real. Let them co-exist, complement one another. We need cold hard facts and the creative imagination of unknowing. In the same way we need the God hidden intimately in seeds and the God bursting with glory rising.

Tim is alive. So is God.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

2019.05.19 Invigoration

Last week I had two invigorating experiences—speaking experiences that sparked my soul and brought light to my eyes, and fire to my heart. I was tired when I went in all prepared and—my armor—but when I came out I was alive, awake, fired up not burned out. I was the principle speaker. But I was the speaker in words only.  My listeners supplied the heft, the spiritual energy, and the authentic Word. (I capitalize that to mean that I think God/Spirit was present in the connection—not the whole cause of it, but the true essence.)

Part I  The Young

On Tuesday I visited a college class,The Psychology of Spirituality, at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. My oldest Granddaughter, Gillian Colbath, a SCSU graduate, had loved this class. The professor, Dr. Jessica Suckle-Nelson, aka Dr. S., had told me the class loved my talk last year, so I invited myself back. The seventeen twenty-something students wandered and straddled and finally assembled. They all sat along the edges or in the back of the classroom at lab table desks. I began: “This looks like church. Everyone sits way in the back or lines up along the side—as if you couldn’t be seen.” Everyone laughed. At ease.

Introductions with name, place, and serial number are always dry and boringly necessary. I invited each one to say something interesting about him or herself and simultaneously guaranteed that I wouldn’t remember any of their names. We laughed. Interesting things included being born with no pinkie knuckles, living in Greece for a year, playing three musical instruments well, feeling lost from a connection with religion or God, being agnostic but curious, and more. My own thing was: I am a wannabe Catholic, one-time Presbyterian, turned Episcopal priest—happily ever after, so far. I watched each face light up as each shared a mere snippet of what made them—them. No one balked. Analogically, I felt as if we all were baptized together in the gentle waters of the divine womb—all born together not of years, but by Soul.

I then invited them to go deep with apologias, not as an apology or regret, but as a way to say more about what mattered to them. Blank faces looked as if I were crazy. I even told them I had read the famous tract Apologia Pro Vita Sua written in 1864 by John Henry Cardinal Newman who converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. Handsome sage, no?
Newman's work was like a spiritual memoir in defense of his controversial choice. His contemporaries freaked out, as people do when you push an already tight envelop wide enough to split its seams. I told the students I struggled through Newman’s famous work and didn’t understand a word. I did, however, get the idea that it was good to know what I was doing and why. And hey, Newman’s tract raised such a fuss it became a best-seller, is still in print, and  in time qualified him for sainthood. Don’t be afraid of yourself and the depth dimension of life, I suggested. There’s wisdom to be found. Newman's lasting goodies include:
    To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often
    Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a                 beginning.
    Growth is the only evidence of life.

I felt invigorated by the openness and curiosity of these young people, even though I did most of the talking and had to be reminded that I’d just gone over the magic hour of class dismissal. Graciously, they applauded and left. I hope the time was as nourishing for them as it was for me. Perhaps the greatest joy of the day was getting hugs and grins from Gillian, a beloved first granddaughter with the loveliest smile and personality I think I have ever seen.

Part II The Older

On Thursday I spoke to a group of about twenty older women on the topic: “Am I My Sister’s Keeper?". They are part of Women Explore, a group that has been meeting since 1953 to hear speakers and each other on the sacred dimensions of a woman’s life. Men were admitted so I brought my faithful beloved chauffeur/husband. He is my personal GPS without whom, well, I get lost.

With this group I had as much fun. They were all white proper Bostonians mostly from Cambridge, so I began with my own apologia: I am white, elite, went to elite schools, privileged, and cis-gendered. I’m also religious—not a very politically correct marker these days. I am also sick of being labeled and typed. I’m not consistently aware of my privileges, but I try, and trying is divine. I use my privileges for those closest to me in love, and I use them for larger causes like social justice. But I’m sick of being stereotyped for my labels. So add that I’m a woman impatiently aging and pissed. I swear this country would elect a newt or a dishrag before it would elect a woman as our president!  

Again, humor eased us all into a loaded topic. 

A focus speaker talked about her personal experience with the topic. She said she devoted herself to caring for others and posed questions about how much "is too much." She was trying to figure out the difficult answers on her own, a strategy that rarely works. She apparently had left herself off the list of those who also need her caring compassion.

I advocated for collective spiritual keepership and focused directly on the biblical story about two brothers, Cain and Abel, and the poignant extremes of sibling rivalry leading to the first murder + cover-up in the Bible. What we notice—when we wake up—is that God knows what Cain has done, is not pleased, exiles Cain, and then gives him a “mark” assuring him of God’s presence and his survival. Look always for the last word! Simply so.

The Bible remains, mysteriously, a best seller, because there is every human problem imaginable in it. Believe me: your own story is in there. The wonder of it is that there is a consistent relationship pattern of connection/disconnection/reconnection. Astonishingly, the people and God reconnect even after the worst possible messes. Often God initiates the reconnection, though sometimes we do in our prayers and with the graces of forgiveness, advocated by all spiritual gurus. 

Collective spiritual keepership means that we all are keepers of one another. Benefits include: non-partisan politics, fuel for our prayers, healing collective shame, efficient action, awareness enough to build mutual relationships, commitment to organizing for the common good, justice, equity, truth-telling, peace, energy enough to save our drowning planet, Mother Earth.

We live in a tragic time of renewed holocaust mentality: burnt offerings—guns burn, fires burn religious structures, kids in schools burn, tiny children burn with loss and terror. With the resurgence of white supremacy comes the supremacy of terrorism and holocaust as strategies of choice.

The women asked many questions. They burned with the fuel of longing for change, and for a new way of being people together. The young burned with the same energy. Such inner burning is not holocaustal. It is the fire of spirituality, burning within us. It is strong. It is alive. It is available. It is what connected the nuns and the “nones”, both fueled by the same activist energy, now working together for change. It is what fires up all religions. It’s what inspires Goodness, what Creator God started in the beginning. In today’s gospel Jesus re-reminds us to Love each other. Yes, and while you’re at it love yourself.

You may not believe in God, yet you can believe in the fire within you, and you can act with Love as its fuel. Love is the only fire vigorous and hot enough to burn out destruction by holocaust fires. Love will save us and our drowning planet. And, for Christians, it is the ONLY mission Jesus fired up.

And so may we try. 

Monday, May 13, 2019

2019.05.12 Mothers' Day

It’s Mother’s Day, and so it is!! Reposition the apostrophe and it is Mothers' Day. When mothering types act together, take note and watch out.

Motherhood is a funny thing really. It’s a loaded topic. Many people write about it, critique it, identify changing stereotypes, decide just how it should be enfleshed—womb or no womb—even in men. Most families, created by love or sacrament or law, have a mothering type in them.

At our recent diocesan clergy conference we heard amazing presentations by the Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral. Her topic was “Beyond White Supremacy: Being Church in a Changing America” Douglas is a black woman, a scholar, a powerhouse presence, and a mother. There is much to relate about her presentations. Today I honor her mothering spirituality and priestly vocation of word and sacrament.


Dr. Douglas’s talks were not simply about racism but focused directly on black bodies and the American culture of anti-blackness and white superiority, implanted from the beginning within the founding narrative of Anglo-Saxon  exceptionalism. It’s in our national genes, transmitted from generation to generation to blacks and whites, fostering mutual suspicion, fear and aggression within a structured power imbalance system tipped against blackness. This condition has also invaded our interpretations of Holy Scriptures and our capacity to discern the work of the God’s expansive creativity without racial assumptions and biases. You’d think Jesus was white!  Douglas had to reassure us a few times that she in fact is still a Christian. I wondered why. But I believed her.

Douglas is also the mother of a son. She mentioned him on and off throughout her passionate discourse. She is a mother daily afraid for her son in this country. She has deliberated sending send him to Africa. She, like all black mothers, daily drilled into her son the basic rules for survival in a world ruled by white authority, privilege, and law. Black mothers drill these rules into their sons—over and over. This is how you will get home safely, son. These Mothers’ Rules are strategies for safety. They focus on street behavior and go far beyond what a white mom might suggest for pubic decorum to her sons—in urgency and impact.  Yes, be careful and don’t be fresh or mug or steal or lie, etc., I, a white mother, would throw off by word and example. Still, a privilege I realized I have had as a white mother is that there’s not the underlying daily terror of being targeted for violence-unto-death FOR NO REASON.  Douglas has spent most of her life trying to figure out why black-skinned people were targeted. The only rational answer is: NOTHING.  The rules must be obeyed anyway.

10 Rules of Survival if Stopped by the Police

1. Be polite and respectful when stopped by the police. Keep your mouth closed.
2. Remember that your goal is to get home safely. If you feel that your rights have been violated, you and your parents have the right to file a formal complaint with your local police jurisdiction.
3. Don’t, under any circumstance, get into an argument with the police.
4. Always remember that anything you say or do can be used against you in court.
5. Keep your hands in plain sight and make sure the police can see your hands at all times.
6. Avoid physical contact with the police. No sudden movements, and keep hands out of your pockets.
7. Do not run, even if you are afraid of the police.
8. Even if you believe that you are innocent, do not resist arrest.
9. Don’t make any statements about the incident until you are able to meet with a lawyer or public defender.
10. Stay calm and remain in control. Watch your words, body language and emotions.

The only rule I might add is don’t wear a hoodie!  Or maybe, DO wear one and hide your hands because they too are black. Maybe wear long pants in all seasons. It gets absurd, but then the situation is ab-surdus—coming from deafness, totally out of tune. American anti-blackness is just that. Tragically, however, these rules are not wildly illogical at all.

I know this seems depressing for Mother’s Day, but it is Mothersday. I have never thought about this day as racial. My love and caring for all my children and grandchildren, biological and acquired by love, is intense, and my protective instincts, to the point of defensiveness, are equally great. I confess I worry more about my daughters in this patriarchally-charged American society, but I have never worried about my sons or daughters, because they are white-skinned. Every time a black boy is shot on the streets I know that a mother’s heart is broken. (Also a father’s heart.) I  know as well that some white woman’s heart gets broken too, because her son has been arrested as a perpetrator of racial violence or has been shot himself as a bystander in a melée. 

Why are so many Christians silent? Why is this subject not preached more in white churches? Is it in black churches? Statistically, Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in the week. Churches are segregated not by policy, but by racial choice. White people are no more welcome in black churches than blacks are in white churches. A black Episcopal priest and a friend said he felt at a loss about how to communicate all this to his black congregation. He said a white man came to church not long ago and wanted to join the parish. “My people were suspicious. Why is that man here? Who is he?” It felt invasive and so it was. Should it be?

How did we get there and how can we get out?  American statesman, orator, abolitionist leader, and escaped slave, Frederick Douglass wrote in 1845: “Between this land and the Christianity of Christ I recognize the widest of possible difference.” I bet Frederick Douglass still prays from his grave.

We hear preaching against violence in general, but not so much against white supremacy in our religion, which is, we proclaim, the Way of Love, divine and human, without exception or condition.  Is there something askew in our religion? Has the Biblical witness been used to reinforce the Anglo-Saxon narrative of whiteness as divine? Indeed so. 

Both Douglas and Douglass challenge us all to interrogate our history and our dominant narrative. Will we be a country and a church of white exceptionalism or a country and church of liberty and justice and compassionate love for all—in FACT?

Will we be the beloved community envisioned by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. the vision for which he died? Will we be the kingdom of God that Jesus Christ envisioned and died for? Faith is always dangerous and risky. So is life. 

What about Mothers Against White Supremacy?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

2019.05.05 Rich Blooming Thanks and Farewell

We have had such a week of riches I hardly know where to begin writing about it all—like choosing between dark chocolate and red wine.  So I’ll start at the end this week and work my way back, hoping to sustain the rest of Easter’s 50 days with glories. 

Dick and I have been the Diocesan Coordinators for the EfM program for nine years. With a combination of deep sadness and a ready-to-be-done feeling, we passed the proverbial baton onto, well yes, younger people with just as much zeal and skill. EfM is a program of adult Christian formation that engages small seminar group participants in sophisticated curricula about their religion (Bible, both testaments, Church history, theology up to the present day) through a process of theological reflection (affectionately called TR) by which group members connect biblical material and other historical and theological resources with their own lived experience.

How is God in this with you? is always the spiritual question and quest.

Example: “There are days I, (a junior high public school teacher) feel like Moses trying to guide a group of frightened hormonal teens through unsteady waters and a desert to a promised land where they can discover their own core convictions, values, and gifts. I talk to God a lot, a lot. I feel often like a failure.” The group identified with “Mosaic” frustrations and sought ways in which God’s presence was there for Moses—and for them. Moses became a biblical prayer partner, modeling faith, endurance, persistence and prayer conversations with God.

EfM participants get to share and to know each other well over four years of study, prayer and experiential TR. In knowing and sharing, participants mature in their faith, connecting their own faith story with the stories and wisdom in their faith tradition.

As Coordinators we inaugurated the team coordinator model here. We are only the third EfM coordinator in Massachusetts since 1983. We have set up regular training events for mentors whose “Mosaic” task is to guide groups in theological reflection toward spiritual maturity. Mentors needs support and collegiality. We have hosted mentors’ meetings, often twice a year ,over the years. We have been available for advice and supervision of mentors and groups as needed. We have hosted mentor trainers from out of state on occasion. We have supplied comfort food, especially M&M's and wine, for mentors in training.  We have advocated for and promoted EfM wherever we can throughout the diocese. We have worked hard to make the diocese aware of EfM and its illuminative spirituality. Even so, the Episcopal Church has identified a crisis in formation for adults. We do well by children and youth, but with adults not so much.

We have great confidence in the new Diocesan Coordinators: David Bresnahan and Laurie Brown. To the group’s delight and ours, they led us in a TR as a way to say good bye: a TR on Lyn and Dick. They listed all the pluses and minuses of our ministry and came up with a metaphor for how we have served in this ministry: Yin and Yang.
We explored and identified with the image through everyone’s experience and feelings. The group had many insights about the porosity, vulnerability, challenges, tensions, temptations, and flexibility of our image. We shared laughter, joy, and some tears too.

To close, we wrote a Collect together and the group laid their hands on us as we sat in their midst—hands of love. Here we are posed in front of the Collect we all composed.

The Collect, in case it is not legible enough:

O God of yin and yang;
You pour your love into us and gently hold us in tension.
We ask that you keep us open to “both/and” so that we know the other in ourselves.
In the name of the Cosmic Christ.  AMEN.

I can’t imagine a more powerful or enlivening way to receive authentic thanks and farewell, profound and not sentimental, from this awesome group of bright mentors.We experienced God in this Incarnational process, feeling the energy of the divine spirit caressing and strengthening body and soul at once. Add a gorgeously decorated sweet chocolate and vanilla cake and PERFECTION.

Thank you blessed and beloved mentors.  Thank you. EfM is yin/yang, right?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

2019.04. 28 Am I My Sister's Keeper? Women Explore.

Most of my life I’ve resisted being anyone’s keeper or being kept by anyone else. I don’t mean being a “kept woman”—like by some man for his sexual pleasure. No, that would surely lead me to suicide or homicide. Maybe a deep sense of belonging or true love, but it would have to be mutual. It’s hard to give with no take. Then again, what would be the spirituality of keepership?

On Thursday May 16th at noon I will be speaking on the topic “Am I My Sister’s Keeper?” for the lecture and discussion forum called Women Explore (WE) at 45 Mt Auburn Street, Cambridge. All are welcome. “Am I My Sister’s Keeper?” is one of the topics scheduled for WE’s spring series on women immigrants, sex trafficking, women’s rights, and more.

I was invited because I asked—how obvious—and because I am a lifetime female explorer. People mostly think first of Columbus, or men heading out to cross dangerous seas to discover new lands, crossing frozen tundras, scaling the peaks of Everest, when they think of explorers. Of course women can and do explore this way. And I’m not the only woman who has a deep intuitive sense of a bright, splendid, ineffable, unnameable, and unmanageable Mystery that lies beyond her grasp but that she can discern shimmering in a child’s face, or in human kindness, as well as in the glory and ferocity of nature. Some call this energy soul; some call it spirituality. It’s worth exploring together.

WE provides lectures and discussion within a feminist learning community for women, to connect with the sacred dimensions of their experience and to support and encourage each other in the world community. It began as T.O.P., the Theological Opportunities Program at the Harvard Divinity School in 1973. Sacred? Theological? Divinity School? I called WE. They’d had a cancellation for this topic. Timing is everything. But am I my sister’s keeper?  I know for sure I wasn’t such a great keeper of my own biological little sisters. Still, the topic became emblazoned in my imagination. I love to infuse meaty scriptural wisdom with feminine energy.

WE is committed to liberation politics and is aware of many ways in which women are still oppressed living in a patriarchal system. God knows all scriptures and all religions are familiar with the unjust structures of patriarchy. But would this group take a Rev.?

The issue about being another person's keeper appears in an ancient biblical story about the first murder and cover-up. (Genesis 4:1-16) Contemporary societies should be right at home! After the Garden of Eden affair, things go down hill fast for the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, jealous of his younger brother Abel’s apparently earning divine approval, murders Abel, then covers up the ugly deed. God suspects evil, yet questions Cain about his brother’s whereabouts. (Isn’t that funny, when most of the world thinks God knows everything anyway, yet God courteously—respectfully— asks anyway? ) Cain, defensive, pops his infamous question to God: “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The story unfolds in fascinating ways. It is not historical/literal, but boy, is it true  to human experience! The question the story poses, though unanswered, has gravitas and still hangs over history and human conscience to this day. And now WE is wondering about the gender implications. Are women our sisters’ keepers? Am I?
I set to wondering. Is this question more sensitive for women, and also men, who have struggled with addictions and codependency issues?  How does care-taking differ from caring?  What does the word “keeper” really mean? What about parenting? What does Christian faith have to say about this issue? Was Jesus Christ anyone’s keeper? This topic is rich and I plan to consider it with care—after I consult with my flesh-and-blood living sister.

I will speak to Women Explore (WE) from my own spiritual experience and professional training, using my own words. PLEASE JOIN ME to explore this tender topic. Come at 11:30 to 45 Mt. Auburn Street. Check website for parking information.

So just maybe I'm a keeper. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

2019.04.21 Prayer On Easter Morning

Yes, my mind knows that this is clearly riffing on
ancient rebirth rituals to honor life returning from
what was seemingly forever dead and icy and
lifeless ground; and yes, my mind savors the genius
of Christianity happily surfing on prehistoric human
ceremonies, how deft we are in our appropriations,
taking only the best; and my mind knows full well
that Jesus very probably arose from the dead on a
Tuesday afternoon at happy hour, rather than a
Sunday morning; yet my heart leaps and my soul
is delighted and my mouth is filled with joy, for
Easter is undeniably the coolest of our annual high
holy days, the day when that which we believe
unbelievably to be true is shouted from churches
and chapels around the world, in every language,
by people of every age from small children capering
in their annual finery to the ancients who sit and grin
at the swirl and song of it all, and then shuffle to
the banquet table. This is the day when we admit,
smiling, that the essence of our faith doesn’t make
sense and isn’t physically possible; how great and
brave is that? How refreshing, to not make sense
for once, how refreshing to remember that we are
sworn to live by our conviction that there is so
much more beyond sense! And so: amen.

Easter is late this year and everyone complains—being sure the weather should comply with the Feast if not the season. They complain just as vociferously when Easter, the immoveable moveable feast, is early, say March 31. And yet . . . the late great writer Brian Doyle who wrote the prayer above communicates Easter’s soul—without a single period (well just one). Periods, or stops, Doyle has declared, are fascist. Easter has no periods and never stops.

Bless to us this Easter rising.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

2019.04.14 Three Cheers. Three Palms. Three Words of Wisdom.

Palm Sunday involves much hullabaloo in the Christian church. I’ve always wanted to downsize the hype, introvert that I am. Do we have to re-enact the triumphal entry story of Jesus on a donkey entering Jerusalem, raising a rumpus, bringing cheering jeering crowds, and raising the hackles of the reigning authorities charged with maintaining order? I feel sorry for them. Jesus was a trouble maker—for the sake of justice we argue.

And then—post-triumph—we re-enact the rest of the story with us all playing the hostile turncoat crowd, betrayers all, shouting: Crucify him. Crucify him. I want to shout STOP don’t crucify him. Don’t crucify anyone! Thank God there’s no sermon on Palm Sunday, save this morning’s brief fervorino, aka pep talk—in this case for Jesus. No need to say more than the complicated tragic story already says.

Sometimes these reenactments feel pale, with people lined up in front reading their parts from scripture. It’s pretty stiff theater, but it is better than to abandon the biblical story completely and write our own little play version—dumbed down as if we all were in kindergarten. So I’m stuck with the Palm Sunday hoopla.

We act all this out and pretend, or pray, we too are going to reform our systems for the sake of justice and love and peace. Does this ritual work? Does it inspire, set on fire?

Well, sometimes it is effective. It helps me return to the beginning and imagine the primordial chaos into which the Creator infused life and hope. This creationing process keeps on and never stops. It gives me hope.

I bring my palms home, drape them over beautiful pictures—icons, a landscape, a cross on the wall—where they will stay until next year’s hope-packed whoopee. Some may even make it to the burning pot where they will be turned into ashes—forehead reminders that we all are dust and to dust we all shall return—for Ash Wednesday. I am happy to have had their company for a year, and to have them renewed for another year.

Ancient repetitive rituals have inner value. Below are three quotes of my own. They were lifted from my blog posts by a spiritual director who used them for her facebook group ministry. She’d started the group to promote her own practice, but it morphed into an online ministry. It was fun for me to see my name and my words, on her site—framed and decorated in colorful ways.
Heed the intimate scriptures of your own heart and intuition.

Religion without spirituality is arid and spirituality without religion is lonely. 
Spirituality is a matter of training your heart and your eye to see beyond or inside a simple ordinary scenario and marvel at its sudden inexplicable grandeur. Do you ask: Is this God?

I'm humbled and honored in the best way—though not too humble to feel surprised at my own wisdom and wonder: Is this God AND me together co-creating?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

2019.04.07 A Flat Out Failed Wrinkle

Recently we watched the movie “A Wrinkle in Time.” I was looking forward to it. I had loved Madeleine L’Engle’s book by that name and was sure the movie would live up to her vision. After all, Ty Burr, cantankerous Boston Globe movie critic, even gave it a few nods, and Oprah Winfrey was in it. How could it lose?

To say I was disappointed is to put it mildly. I was furious. The movie was flat out terrible. Even if you knew nothing about L’Engle’s book or had no expectation, the movie failed to portray in an integrated way the forces of mystery, science, religion, spirituality, and the drama of three children in search of their missing father, an astrophysicist, whom they believed was lost in space.

On their journey the children meet three guides who represent Goodness, possibly the Christian idea of the Holy Trinity, and named accordingly: Mrs Whatsit Mrs Who and Mrs Which. The actors who play these three guides in the movie are token black, token middle east, and token vaporous-mystical. Despite spotlighting big name stars and making God imagery expansive, the film’s dialogue is flat and the plot contrived. Possibly trying to be too “p.c.”, it fails to convey the spiritual depths of the classic good vs. evil drama. The film even downplayed the climactic scene in which heroine Meg Murry, token black, tries desperately to save her younger brother from the forces of evil they call IT. This rescue scene was one Madeleine L’Engle often chose to read publicly, in dialogue with her husband, a professional actor.  L'Engle (1918-2007) wise story-teller imagining tesseracts.
I admit my expectations for this film might have been too grand and complicated by my affection for L’Engle, but this interpretation missed her vision: her desire to communicate the wonders of quantum science through a dramatic quest story with obvious theological imagery.

Theology and science shaped Madeleine L’Engle’s spirituality. I first met her in 1980 when I was in seminary and fretting about having been turned down in the ordination process toward priesthood. I felt ashamed and inadequate. Madeleine, my spiritual director, did not argue with my feelings but rather told me that the institutional church was not exactly innocent in its devaluing of the ministry of women. She also persuaded me not to give up my quest and issued me a new commandment: “Now, my dear, when you get ordained, and you will, do NOT turn into a little man!” It made me laugh and gave me courage to resist being shaped by patriarchal forces—the IT in my life.

I felt like Meg Murry. She was driven to save her brother and find her beloved father. She dared to travel through time and space in the fifth dimension because of a tesseract, a word meaning four-dimensional cube, from tessara + actis "ray", adopted by L'Engle to mean a wrinkle in time through which one could travel into outer space.  As far as I was concerned the Episcopal Church might well have been a tesseract, a realm scary and mysterious with potential to destroy all my hopes and dreams. Besides her brain, her heart, and her love for her father, Meg uses her skills in math and science, her spiritual guides, and her wisdom to outwit IT, a force that insists that everyone is exactly the same. Meg knows that alike and equal are not the same. She persists. I have no mathematical skills, but I knew that women and men were alike but not the same. and definitely not equal—yet. And I did persist, nearly succumbing to the powers of IT and pretzeling myself into shapes I thought would please, rather than being myself. To come to my true self, I sinned and prayed, probably in equal measure, and enjoyed prodigal dollops of divine grace.

L’Engle also persisted. She submitted Wrinkle for publication twenty-some times over several years until finally the first publisher she’d submitted it to accepted it for publication in 1962.
Rejection hurts but it won’t kill you. Its plangency (don’t you love that word?) might even have provided me courage enough not to become a little man, as L’Engle had commanded.

P.S. My husband with whom I saw the movie found it boring. “So you have a copy of the book?”  he asked. I did. He read it and got every wrinkle of it—small but meaningful redemption.

Monday, April 1, 2019

2019.03.31 Prodigality?

Prodigality? It’s actually a word. I looked it up. It’s the noun form of the adjective prodigal, which means spending money recklessly. OR there’s the noun which gets personal: a Prodigal is someone who is extravagant with money—lavish. So you see it is a complex word, loaded and layered. Christians use this word with prodigal abandon, attaching it, errantly and recklessly, to one son in a parable told by Jesus in Luke’s gospel.

American consumerism, I conclude, encourages prodigality, and simultaneously spawns lost souls, which is really what the biblical parable we prodigally call “The Prodigal Son” is about. This boy is lost. So is the sheep in the Lost Sheep parable, and so is the coin in the Lost Coin parable. The grouping of three parable about being lost and found is purposeful.

The lost son has asked, probably nagged, his father for his share in the family inheritance—more than double his allowance I wager. Worse, the father gives it to him, while also giving his older brother the other half. Mom has no voice in this story, but if I were here I’d have advised against this transaction. The younger son wastes his money on “dissolute living.” He gets demonized by interpreters for his inability to resist temptations that few young immature boys could. Who is prodigal here?

I’m tired of Christian interpretations that identify the effulgent father with the image of God—oh so generous and merciful. This parabolic father is the one who behaves prodigally, dishing out his wealth prematurely. What self-respecting father would do such a foolish thing? In so doing he creates a near-impossible family trauma. The younger son is thrilled and races off into the world to squander his wealth. He ends up in a pig sty starving. He—  cagily and wisely—remembers that Papa has money and fatted calves so he heads back home to a father who welcomes him with a prodigal banquet, thus earning the ire of the elder son who has stayed home, worked hard and invested his money in the local bank.

Okay, I know it’s only a story, but nothing is “only” a story. Every story has value and meaning, especially a parable in the Holy Bible, through which we are supposed to discern the presence of divine grace. Traditionally, this prodigal father is imagined to be God, but I think this pop needs a little deflation.

First of all, this story is in Luke’s cluster of three lost-and-found stories in which all those who have lost something search diligently and ceaselessly for the lost. These qualities—diligent caring for the lost and the least— are divine.

The father in the prodigal, however, is not identified as hiring posses et. al to search for his lost son. He makes no such efforts. Then he sets the boy up for a disaster in which the home-coming banquet is lavish and earns this father a reputation as the all-merciful Lord-lookalike. Daddy is also gracious to the elder brother as well, but it’s too late to prevent the looming sibling rivalry that surely will torture this family for some time, not to mention garnering a reputation for his firstborn as a bitter whiner with no grace in his heart. Divine grace, I conclude, isn’t foolhardy or cheap, is it?

One definition of grace is the experience of being known, exactly as you are, and loved, exactly as you are, at the same exact time. The one who sees you this way with no conditions attached is, yes, divine.

Do you think that is what the father in this story provided to his sons? He knew them both and gave them each equal portions of his money, whether they deserved it or not. He also knew, I suspect, their weakness and vulnerabilities. But he gave extravagantly anyway, and—foolish old coot. Dumb enough to be divine I’d say—and prodigally so.

Monday, March 25, 2019

2019.03.24 Why Church?

In Lent we’re invited to reflect on things that matter, not on every little sin we keep on committing and committing—and once again commit. I define sin simply as whatever separates you from the goodness of God —in God, in yourself and in your neighbor. One of my sins is to be too pushy about my considered opinions, most all of which I adore and consider indispensable

This morning I told my beloved spouse that, although I’d exercised my senior exemption from fasting, I decided to fast from being ornery and bossy toward him. He said: “Don’t do that. I won’t know you’re here.” We laughed.

When one of us gets too high-falutin, the other fights back defensively, and BOOM, we’re disconnected. Then we confess and laugh and kiss, and BOOM, we’re reconnected—over and over. 

One of the things we tussle about is the Church. We have both been professional “churchies” for years. The Church seems, in many places right now, to be failing, or are we failing it? We do not settle our questions of course, but we go to Church regardless. Why? What IS the Church? What is it for? What is its unique raison d’etre? How is it different from so many things that call for our attention, some of which we’d rather be doing?

I’d like to say the Church exists to offer forgiveness for the repetition compulsion called sin. But every family knows and often exercises that function well enough. Why Church?

Is the Church about social justice?—all the rave just now. Well, in part, but not really. Anyone who is civic-minded and inclines toward activism for good causes does social justice. It’s central to the current penchant for humanism—the new true religion. Why Church?

Is the Church a building—preferably on Main Street front and center? Partly, yes. It is easy to get attached to a lovely setting, one in which you have felt safe, have experienced the love and grace of God, not to mention the pastoral care of a priest, many prayers, and those colors sparkling in the sun through stained glass. But God is not a building, though God may be felt in a building. On a religious retreat years ago, I sat enjoying a good meal. Suddenly I looked at my watch and realized I wanted to get to the chapel before dark for my meditative prayer time. I thought “I’m late for church.” Immediately, I laughed at myself, realizing: I AM in Church. And the Church is in me.

Is the Church for community?  Well, yes, but not really. We can find community in many ways, and people do because it’s naturally human to make and gather a community of concern and a team to pursue mutual interests and activities—to belong. Twelve-step recovery communities are an excellent example of intentional communities of support for wellness.

Why Church? 

My answer is that the Church is unique because the Church worships: shows reverence and adoration for a deity, a power both beyond and within ourselves, either individually or collectively. The Church is the BOOM. It offers structured liturgies, rites, rituals practices that re-enact the basic passages of human life—connected in God. I speak of the Christian Church but I know all religions offer similar rites, rituals, sacraments across a lifetime.

In Church you ae lifed—birthed in a font-womb, baptized into God with Christ.

In Church you are fed, brought to a long dining table-altar with the rest of your family. You may be an infant who doesn't take solid food so the priest blesses you; sometimes a tiney fingertip of wine is placed into your mouth. You sleep like a baby—well fed.

In Church you hear lots of music—lullabies cradle you and zestful praise awakens you. You learn some songs yourself in a choir.

In Church you absorb the divine into your flesh—over and over again.

In Church you get to pray, silently or aloud, feeling your sins and sorrows—getting forgiven over and over. You get to say I am sorry and I love you to God and to other worshipers, silently or aloud. Sometimes you get a hug.

In Church you are remembered after you die with prayers, hymns, and sweet words that soak your soul in the security of eternality.  No one forgets you. Neither does God.

In Church you re nurtured from birth to death in wonder, love and praise—over and over.

That’s why Church. Worship is as important as other things you do to take care of yourself. All living things in Nature worship without much help—naturally. We humans? We’re more needy and complicated—mysteries on our own. BOOM, we need Church. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

2019.03.17 Mixed Mood Management?

To balance a mixed mood is arduous, precarious—and yet.

I should be writing about St. Patrick, noted for pubs and miracles and shamrocks, but I’m not in the mood. Oh, I have nothing against this British-born patron saint of Ireland or green clovers, nor his day filled with parades, green cupcakes, and whiskey-induced joy. What does irk me is the one-sidedness of the way some of us Christians, or Americans, or Bostonians overplay the upside at the cost of ignoring the downside. Call it cheating the wholeness of the Holy.

I get it. Joy is more fun than pain. Still: both are real and both are godly and both belong together.

As to St. Patrick, it helps me to remember his beginnings as a lad of sixteen, captured by Irish pirates and taken into slavery to care for animals. That’s enough to know in order to balance things out, stabilize the mood swing option, and acknowledge that sainthood can arise within post-traumatic-stress syndrome.

Much of the time we worship in communities in which the mood is mixed, not unipolar. This is why we have carefully detailed liturgical seasons to observe—different colors, prayers, and moods—to make sure we honor all the vicissitudes of human life. Call it the wholeness of the Holy.

In my parish of the moment we are in mixed-mood mode. The rector of nearly ten years is leaving within two weeks. We feel naturally sad. On the other hand, we feel naturally joyous because he is leaving for celebratory reasons: his spouse has been elected to be bishop in another diocese. We want to rejoice, and we want to make room for sorrow too. We are in mixed mood.

The poor rector himself has been making strenuous efforts to pump the community full of trust, faith, hope, and love.—parting gifts. He is not dishonest in doing this, and the mood is mostly up. Nor is it wrong or even phony to keep the mood bolstered. How hard it is to have somber feelings and be upbeat at once. I was administering the sacrament of healing prayers today. At least twice the number of people came to request healing prayers. They focused on personal needs of course, all true and sincere, yet I wondered if the small numeric surge had to do as much with the underside of the general mood-mix as it did with their particulars. I don’t know. I only know that I felt spiritually enlarged, suddenly grateful, for this space to let down.

I was equally grateful for today’s anthem, for the beautiful poetry of John Donne (1873-1631), English poet and cleric.
-and for the authentic way the small choir sang it. It leavened the mood with wisdom.


Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.


Sunday, March 10, 2019

2019.03.10 Getting "Woke"

Today is Gillian Brakeman Colbath’s  23rd birthday. I remember how miraculous it felt to be present the day my oldest daughter brought forth her oldest daughter. Potentiation. Creation. Woke!

Dear Gillian, I remember when you were 7 you sang a solo on stage all alone—a song learned at camp: “Down by the River to Pray.” I remember you taking the lead in the play “Annie Junior”—little orphan Annie singing “Maybe” in your brand new red dress with the white sash as she dreamed. And hearing your mature adult voice sing as you played your guitar to the Joplin song: “Me and Bobby McGee.” I got “woke”. Most beautiful precious Gillian, I know one day you will sing your own perfect love song to yourself.  You are beloved. I love you. Grammy. (Photo of Gillian, Grammy and Auntie Jill, also with a wondrous singing voice)
According to biblical story, Jesus and his disciples got “woke” on the Transfiguration Mount; the brightest big-bangiest light they’d ever seen shone on them, and Jesus lit up like a firecracker. Have you ever seen someone light up with insight, song, love, whatever? It’s biblical, honestly. 

My “woke” story isn’t as grandly biblical. I was forty, feeling like a mid-life “first-grader” in my first course: The Scriptures of the Old Testament ,at Yale Divinity School in 1978. I didn’t know much about the OT, because, until the advent of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, readings from the OT happened only at daily Morning and Evening prayer, not at the Sunday Eucharist.

The Old Testament! My adolescent impressions, formed from reading the whole bible in seventh grade (when else?), were that the OT was hot and sexy and murderous. Hence, I could hardly wait to find out more. In seminary it was required, and soon we’d be hearing it every Sunday in church, along with a reading from one of the many epistles, most of them Paul’s, and a gospel reading from the New Testament’s big 4: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—specialists in the life of Jesus the Christ.

I sat on the edge of my chair, in a huge lecture hall, my notebook opened out on the pull-up desk, and my pen poised to write down every word I heard. I never wanted to be any place as much as I wanted to be here right now, ready to study God in OT.

The professor entered and mounted the podium. The room hushed.

“In the beginning, God potentiated . . . “ he began in sonorous tones. 

I wrote that down. I knew this once-upon-a-time story: God creating to the point of divine ecstasy, every living thing—even mosquitoes.

For big required courses like this one there were weekly lectures and also smaller classes called sections for which we wrote papers, and where we got to ask our questions and discuss. The sections were led by teaching assistants (TAs), usually graduate students earning their keep. That’s when I met Jim Echols. I bet he was younger than me. He was tall and lean with an afro so significant it looked as if it could topple his head. We could call him Jim. I loved his sense of humor, his mild, slightly amused manner, and his willingness to entertain any and all argument, chief among them biblical inerrancy, which most of us, including me, had confused with biblical literalism. I still wonder.

Just last week I read in the Christian Century Magazine that Jim had died at age 67 of complications after a fall at home. You don’t get a big obit in this magazine unless you have some religious clout. I felt sad. Jim Echols helped me get “woke.” I remember him well.
According to his obituary, Jim did accomplish big stuff. He was an ordained Lutheran pastor, a Rev. Dr. no less, and the first African American scholar to serve as the Dean and President of  an Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) seminary in Philadelphia, and a retired ELCA pastor, having served many parishes along the way of his career in theological education. Jim grew up in Philadelphia. At Yale he was studying psychology, religion, theology, and the church and culture, earning his PhD among a string of other degrees. 

Formation seemed to have been a passion for Jim. He did much work to support and promote high-quality continuing theological education. He would have been a fan of the Education for Ministry (EfM) program in which I have been involved at many levels for 35 years. Another connection I discovered was that Jim, like me, encouraged interfaith relations, helping to create a Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice at the Lutheran seminary.

So my fondly-remembered TA in OT was a rock star. A professor emeritus of church and society and urban ministry at Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago where Jim was president from 1997-2011, called him “a giant in the world of theological education . . .who stirred many people of African descent to aspire to be faithful in their service in the church and the world.” I bet I intuited that way back when I was a green seminarian falling in love with OT and getting “woke.” 

Dear Jim, I am so proud to have known you for such a short time at the beginning of my own theological education. You helped me love the OT and find the grace of God in the oddest of places. I remember when I wrote my final exam for the OT course, I got carried away and wrote in my little blue exam book:  OT LIVES!!  You added a big red exclamation point right next to mine. Thank you. You helped potentiate me. Call it “woke.”

Sunday, March 3, 2019

2019.03.03 Annual, Annual, Annual—Perennial

The annual meeting of an Episcopal parish church can be an occasion for groaning and dread among parish leaders. Our own parish annual meeting this year was quite different from the usual saved-up and savored gripe session.

First, it happened later than usual, because of the rector’s three-month absence as he healed from an accident, followed  immediately by the election as bishop of his spouse—an obvious move out of the diocese for the bishop-elect and our rector. The result of all this was that the annual meeting, frankly, left little room for more than business (confirm a budget and elect officers), kudos and appreciations, and a few well-bestowed gifts.

The normal tenor of many a parish annual meeting, and I’ve seen my share, wasn’t present. I’ve learned to expect:
    -long-held complaints, aired annually for their own sake
    -the annual question from the annual questioner who protests the parish’s annual assessment for diocesan ministries, read, poor-little-us, followed by the same explanation—it’s your taxes, get a grip!
    -what’s a bishop really worth—we only see her or him annually at best, and even then, we have to put on the dog with a super duper coffee hour
    - contesting a slate of officers with the secret wish that you yourself would be nominated by acclaim
    -self-nominations from the floor, which instigates a challenge, requiring a lengthy debate
    -endless budgetary petty picking like why do we spend so much on envelopes? 

All too often the loudest annual-only complainers are those who rarely attend on Sundays, seldom help with parish fund raisers or attend other annuals, like the fair, the rummage sale, Easter. I exaggerate for humor’s sake of course—but not too much.

Honestly, I was grateful that there was no petty tedium this year. Perhaps that’s because we have extremely capable and efficient parish officers and a treasurer who knows how to “treasure” money properly. Perhaps it’s because people were caught up in their own anger and uncertainty, reversal of expectations, fear about the future, pain at the thought of more change, trying to feel joy for the bishop-elect—and yes, plain old abandonment. I don’t know. I do know that I felt more sure than ever I have that this small community will thrive, financially and spiritually and that it will not be by some grace-in-the-sky miracle, but because of the Spirit’s lithe and effective use of our own focused efforts and gifts and prayers.

Lent and buried Alleluiahs aside, we are in Easter now. NOW.   

Henceforth therefore, I will think of Annual Meetings as perennials—Lilies or my favorite black-eyed Susans.

Perennials are enduring, recurring, and apparently infinite. Perennials symbolize hope. They are faithful. They show up. They are like us. Like the Church that goes up and down and dies, not quite, and returns again ready to bloom. Why? Because we keep on planting—day by day and year by year. We sing perennial hymns. We pray perennial prayers and variations thereof, generation to generation. We keep on doing what our founder insisted on—over and over and over—because we are perennials of hope, no matter what.

P.S. I cannot help but add this stunning metaphor the Warden used to describe the parish church. He said "We are getting this stagecoach moving on time and up to speed." Stagecoach? Yippee Kayay!😂😃 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

2019.02.24 Epiphany Everlasting?

Once a long-lost Epiphany Collect, #8, saved my life.

Epiphany is the season of light and life. It leads us into Lent, a season that calls for self-reflection, which can be gloomy. Reflect honestly and you’re sure to discover something icky. The brightest light is Easter of course, but the more light you can attract on the way the better. Hence, the longer Epiphany lasts the better—not only for Lent-avoidance, but because more light in my winter heart reminds me that spiritual light does not start—or end— with Easter.

Few would care, but it’s amusing to eavesdrop on clergy crowing knowingly among themselves: “Hey, we have a long  Epiphany this year! We get to pray EIGHT Collects.” Who but parish clergy would think to think such a thing?

Q: But what happened to Collect #8—my lucky one?
A: Well, my child, my upstairs professor informed me, when Easter falls after April 22, which happens rarely, we get a full Epiphany season, and we pray #8. The last time we got to pray it was 2011. (Oh, how inauspicious! Poor little #8)
Q:When will #8 recur?
A: 2038. Check it out—a splendid prayer (BCP p. 216). Just because it’s rare doesn’t mean it should be neglected. Besides, you’ll be 99 and maybe in heaven by 2038.

Here begins the story of me and #8:  I was hired as a consultant for conflict resolution in a parish in which the leadership was sorely challenged by some malcontents. Chaos was spreading like a red tide into the wider community. Attempts at reconciliation had been ineffective.

Situations like this are not uncommon, but they are painful. Some people had left; some stayed to fight; others sank into anxiety and discontent. The leaders felt helpless and under attack. I was no miracle-worker but at least I had no big personal axe to grind. I listened to the principals, met separately with each, made no judgments, and soon felt as if I were sinking in quicksand, secretly losing my cool while looking cool. Only then did it occur to me to ask God for help. I had of course dutifully prayed at every meeting, but there is soul-deep prayer and token prayer. I had a great big Gethsemane-like ask: Get me outta this!

Out of nowhere, or maybe from the upstairs professor in my head, the esoteric, infrequently used #8 popped up. I thought it was no kind of answer, but then God didn’t really do exactly what Jesus asked in Gethsemane either. I wanted a brilliant self-generated solution that would please all parties and get me much kudos; I got a Collect of little note.

I copied #8, said it over and over, prayed it with my little group, by now stuck in a concrete impasse, then sent them off with the assignment to recite this prayer every single day until we met again in two weeks. Good God, how impotent I felt, but I prayed this Collect daily as if it were my last meal.

“Most loving Father [sic], whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our cares on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.”

In two weeks we met again. I went in, fearing a mini Armageddon and my own self cast into outer darkness. The air in the room I noticed was not as stifling. I don’t know why. The complainers were as adamant as ever, but one cracked a tiny bit, as did the rector. Men close to tears? A deep honesty penetrated the icy standoff. I had no idea what would happen but sat silently with them for a bit, then announced that these meetings were over, and to go in peace. I wanted to add: “and sin no more” but tactfully refrained from doing a Jesus imitation. Everyone left. My consulting work hadn’t worked.

The “brats” continued to attend church. They contended that they were being “forced to leave”  by the rector. They sent me hostile emails to announce their eternal victimhood. The rector presided at the Eucharist as he always did. The complainants left two weeks later, never to return. I have no idea why. Rumor had it they went down the street to another church to try again. I kept on praying the Collect—a dash of necessary humility, laced with gratitude.

#8 just might have preserved us all from “faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal”—and kept us humble.   


Sunday, February 17, 2019

2019.02.17 Valentinus and Me

Who's ever heard of Valentinus?  Well, he’s not the saint who invented Valentine’s Day, alas. He’s not very in-the-box famous at all. Which makes him all the more mysteriously intriguing, if not infamous to me— mostly because his gnostic point of view did not win the day, nor the election as Bishop of Rome.  Check it out, he’s not iconically compelling either.
Valentinus was a poet and visionary, born in Egypt about 100 CE. His writings were sequestered in a cave with other ancient Christian and gnostic scrolls in an Egyptian town called Nag Hammadi. By 1945, scholars were flipping and buzzing about the Nag Hammadi discovery and all the sacred texts found there, Valentinus’s among them—a gospel called The Gospel of Truth.

Gnostic texts were considered heretical, mostly because they claimed to have exclusive knowledge (gnosis) about access to divine salvation. They also maintained that God favored only the spiritual world and was hostile to the material world, thus creating a dualism between matter and spirit. This did not do much for the guy Jesus I’d met in the church window who loved children, even at their worst, I was told. 

In 1945, I was only seven and in love with myself, my pony, and God, in that order. I’d discovered God in my own little “nag hammadi” cave under a dining room table. As a child I was being a little gnostic, coveting my secret knowledge—also learning that I mattered a lot to a super-parent named God. In time it became clear that secrets, although excitingly powerful, weren’t so good for me. I also learned that all matter mattered to God-Creator—not just me. It was a comedown. Thus ended my gnostic phase.

As to Valentinus, his brand of gnosticism eventually proved worthy of scholarly attention, particularly that of Elaine Pagels, noted for her academic work on the value of gnostic gospels. Pagels challenged patriarchal assumptions about sacred texts. As an adult and a priest, I was challenging patriarchal assumptions about just about everything, particularly the authority of women in the church, the authority of the immanent nature of God, and the idea that the closed canon of scripture meant that there were no other gospels of worth. Bunk!—and more bunk! I have spent most of my adult life rebooting the God I’d met as a child, the God of my gnostic days, the God who gave me my spirituality.

One of the Nag Hammadi texts gives the life-giving energy at Creation a feminine voice: 
I am the thought that lives in the light. I live in everyone, and I delve into them all . . . I am she who gradually brought forth everything . . . I am the image of the invisible spirit. . . The mother, the light . . the virgin . . . the womb, and the voice . . . I put breath within all beings.” (Pagels, p 199, Why Religion?)  

Meeting Valentinus through Pagels’s work has been thrilling. St. Paul had merely hinted at other gospels, also at hidden wisdom revealed through the Spirit, “ . . .  for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. . .” (I Cor. 2:10) Even the depths of God? If this Spirit searched even God’s own depths then what was there to fear?  I have taken this as my mandate, permission, and invitation to dive into the “secret” mysteries of God, accompanied by this Spirit. Oh yes, I know we can never know God, but that never stopped me from trying. Paul’s words described what I’d experienced under that table: God and I exploring our depths together in lively conversation. Well, I talked and God listened and loved. Thirty-four years later God spoke to me and I listened.  

The Gospel of Truth, attributed to Valentinus, is all about relationships and connection. I had grown up thinking, and still wonder, about the Cross of Jesus as being the great separator, something that our liturgies still proclaim: the cross is an instrument of torture, suffered by Jesus, for our sake, our sins, coming perilously close to saying it’s our fault, and we should feel like hell about it—still. The Gospel of Truth, reframes the vision of the cross directly in new language: The cross is a “new tree of knowledge, which unlike the tree in paradise does not bring death but life to those who eat of it.” (Pagels p. 201) 

I get so tired of the words of death that continue to enshroud our Eucharist, even though Jesus is supposedly risen and we are to feel joyful and beloved. The words do not suggest that. The Gospel of Truth however suggests that when those who participate in the Eucharist eat the symbolic flesh and blood of Jesus they “discover him in themselves while he discovers themselves in him”. That's powerful truth. This mutuality feeds my body and soul weekly. It brings me back under my table and into my own flesh when I knew God, and God knew me, and we knew each other. 

Heed the intimate scriptures of your own heart and intuition. It’s not meant to be private, esoteric, or used to assert superiority over any living matter. It is, however, not provable, replicable, or measurable—inaccessible by scientific methodology.

Paul hints again at this knowing in his speech in Athens, giving a gentle nod to local poets from whom his broad interpretation is derived. Paul refers to God Creator in whom we all are connected: “For in him [sic] we live and move and have our being; as even some of your poets have said, ‘For we too are his [sic] offspring.”  (Acts 17:28) I knew this when I was three, and still know it today.

(Those sics are mine, because of course God is never to be corseted into one gender, especially when we’re speaking of the vast expanses of all Creation. Please!) 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

2019.02.10 Three LIttle Words—Silently or Aloud

According to song and poetry, love is a many-splendored thing. Love is all you need. Love makes the world go round. Love, according to the Bible, is a divine commandment: Love God and then love your neighbor as yourself. (I would say love your neighbor AND yourself.) Love is stronger than death sings the biblical poet in the Song of Songs. It is love between us that heals and saves.

When I was a kid the first love-talk I got was from God. I was a toddler curious and curiouser. I set out on my own. My mother’s brand of hovering loving threatened to drown me, and my father’s loving silence to erase me. My mother had told me I was a gift from God who loved me. What kind of love was God’s? In a sanctuary of my own making under a large dining room table I chattered silently and aloud until I knew I mattered. This experience I named God: silent, invisible, wordless, powerful—the hum underlying my very existence. God listened without critique or demand. 

I love you is God.

On the day of my ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in 1988, my husband of two years, also a priest, preached the sermon. I was afraid at first to ask him, because this day was so subjective. Did he have the objectivity to do a sermon? Did I have enough emotional control to listen without a faint or a gush of tears? 

The theme of the day wasn’t me or my ordination. It was the angelic Annunciation to Mary that she’d get pregnant with a kid who’d take the world by storm, a son! I was not going to take anything by storm, nor was I going to have more children at my age. But, like Mary, I was terrified that someone or something might mess up this day. I wanted to flee.

I tried to persuade Dick to tell me what he was going to say, but no go. When he got up to preach I hoped he wouldn’t look at me, so I put my head down. Dick does not usually look directly at people when he preaches but away so he can manage his thoughts without a manuscript. I thought I’d be safe from emotions. But when I heard his voice I had to look up. He looked right into me and almost through me as he spoke. I do not remember a thing he said, which sounds insulting, but it is not too dramatic to say this felt like an annunciation moment.  I was locked into his gaze and he into mine, as if we were alone and ready to make love—or already making love.

I love you is a sermon.

Writer V. S. Naipaul writes: “No one cares for your tragedy until you can sing about it." All singing is operatic when you give it your full and best voice while you are caught up in the most dramatic of plots. Writing a memoir is the same. Such powerful singing and writing allows the singer/writer and the listener/reader to fall in love with the tragedy and sing or write it into life everlasting.

I love you is an opera and a memoir.

People gather in church communities to pray. We praise God, listen to biblical wisdom in readings, hymns, prayers, and homilies, leading to a sacramental communion meal called Eucharist. The priest who presides issues an invitation on behalf of Christ:“Lift up your hearts!” We respond: “We lift them to the Lord.” These words connect us with God and each other. They set the tone and put structure around the uncontainable Love that is God.

I love you is community prayer.

As a writer I seek the right words for what I mean. Often they elude me, or too many come at once and I get a pile-up. True confession: I adore adverbs, often condemned, because verbs do the job on their own. Love is a verb—and more.

I love you is adverbial— truly, madly, deeply.

The first time I said I love you I felt instantly terrified and elatedly free. I’d said it before as a teen, but with the manipulative idea that I might get the high school boy I had a crush on to say it back. He didn’t. And with my first love, my first husband, I said it for real, and he said it, and then suddenly it meant sex. I say the three love words often to my children and grandchildren. The short-form “Love you” has its place, but it doesn’t replace all three words together, a carefully complete sentence with profound meaning.  When I say I love you now to my present husband, it usually rises from a sudden internal power surge, like the electrical impulse along a wire. It doesn’t matter whether I hear them back, I still feel elevated. And as I get older and closer to death these lovely three words arrive more frequently, gain depth, and communicate spiritual truth.

I love you is heaven-on-earth, assumed, consuming, forever immersive. 

Susan, a woman colleague and friend about whom I recently wrote, died tragically from multiple internal injuries caused by a tree branch propelled by heavy winds shooting through the windshield and into her body. During her hospital stay she longed to speak but couldn’t. After 4 torturous weeks of trying to speak her needs and her love, she mouthed silently to her beloved spouse of 45 years: I love you. Then she died.

I love you is the last word.