Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019.12.29 Christmastide and the Politics Set In

The day after Christ-Mass, December 26, is the day we remember St. Stephen, the first deacon and martyr, stoned to death for his faith in the foolishness of such a faith built on vulnerable Love not Power.

Then on December 27, we remember St John the Evangelist who dared to proclaim the gospel of The Word Made Flesh, the great miracle of the Incarnation. No one could believe that God “Almighty” would be such a fool as to take on human flesh, joining humanity and divinity together forever. God, help us to honor the divine spirit in our own flesh.

On December 28, we remember more martyrs of the flesh, Holy Innocents, young children slaughtered by order of a terrified “caesar” who feared the spread of Christianity, and with it the loss of his own kingly power to another one called Jesus the Christ, Lord of all, ruling with Love not Power.

Today, December 29, the first Sunday after Christmas we anticipate the story of the Magi, Eastern sages/astrologers who, instructed by the frightened rival-king, Herod the Great, traveled to Bethlehem in search of a star that would guide them to the birth of this rumored new Messiah. Herod, puffed up with his kingly power, sent for the Magi to find this rival, so he too could bow in worship.  Herod lied. 

The Magi, canny and wise, were not easily fooled. They left their precious gifts at the manger scene and split. Why? They weren’t about to risk being whistle blowers, yet they knew they had seen a more authentic “king” than Herod. Their wisdom was confirmed by the Voice of God, a character in biblical story, warning them that the Herodian establishment  was a threat the land and to their own lives. The godly solution was simple: Don’t tell; Keep Herod in the dark; Don’t buy into his deal; Listen to my voice.

The Voice of God is a prominent character in all biblical story. Do you hear it sometimes too?

Here is a poem written by a Welsh poet and teacher, a man whose life was passionately dedicated to justice in spite of painful personal losses and an early death after a stroke at the age of 67. The young children Williams taught were mesmerized by his charism and riveted by his poetry.  Williams, like the Magi, discerned the voice of God in the mystery of a simple story.  A wise man himself.


In the Days of Caesar, by Waldo Williams (translated from Welsh by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury)

In the days of Caesar, when his subjects went to be reckoned,
there was a poem made, too dark for him (naive with power) to read.
It was a bunch of shepherds who discovered
in Bethlehem of Judah, the great music beyond reason and reckoning:
shepherds, the sort of folk who leave the ninety-nine behind
so as to bring the stray back home, they heard it clear,
the subtle assonances of the day, dawning toward cock-crow,
the birthday of the Lamb of God, shepherd of mortals.
Well, little people, and my little nation, can you see
the secret buried in you, that no Caesar, ever captures in his lists?
Will not the shepherd come to fetch us in our desert,
gathering us in to give us birth again, weaving us into one
in a song heard in the sky over Bethlehem?
He seeks us out as a word-hoard for his workmanship, the laureate of heaven.


Oh God, such poetic politics does give me hope and a swoon.

We cannot, any more than our ancient forebears could, live without the Voice of God, however and wherever, we hear it—very often in some kind of unbelievable story, even your own. Listen for this voice, heed “subtle assonances” beyond reason or politics as usual. Don’t buy into lies or listen to contemporary Caesars, “naive with power.” 


Wednesday, December 25, 2019

2019.12.25 Listen Well

Occasionally, a homiletic reflection is offered that is hard as stone and true as the natal cry of Life. Below is one offered by the Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates, Bishop of Massachusetts. I’m grateful!

And every stone shall cry.  And every stone shall cry, in praises of the Child by whose descent among us the worlds are reconciled.”  [Richard Wilbur, Hymn 104, The Hymnal 1982]


A manger hard as stone.  The poor little family arrived weary from the long journey.  A child was born.  Born in a stable, laid in a manger, so we say.  But in that time and place animals were sheltered not in a stable, really.  It was a cave, hollowed out of the rocky hillsides upon which villages were nestled.  For 20 centuries our human imagination has carried this story.  We place it in settings familiar to us.  Of course we do, because the story belongs to us.  So the holy family is imagined in a barn, and the child is laid in a wooden feeding box.  And that is right, for Christ surely is born into every land and time and culture.  But in ancient Bethlehem that night, that little homeless family was in a rocky place. The manger was hard as stone.

Walls hard as stone.  Twenty-first-century Bethlehem is criss-crossed with walls.  Concrete walls up to 25 feet high divide neighborhood from neighborhood, family from family.  Observation towers appear where the barrier turns a corner. Graffiti on the wall says, “Welcome to Santa’s Ghetto,” and “Ich bin ein Berliner” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Pope Francis, on his visit to Bethlehem, made an unscheduled stop.  He walked to the wall, bowed his head in silent prayer, laid his palm against the cement and touched his forehead to its coldness.  In Bethlehem today the thousands of pilgrims that for centuries flocked to the place of Jesus’ birth at Christmas have dwindled to a trickle.  Too divided.  Too dangerous.  Too broken.  The walls in Bethlehem are hard as stone.
    


A heart of stone.  The Hebrew prophets knew the stony human heart.  They saw wanton cruelty and needless starvation; sacking and looting; the destruction of God’s temple; plunder and fire and blood and death.  Such hardness of heart has endured in the ensuing millennia.  Crusades and inquisitions; genocides and holocaust; bombs taking planes out of the sky; chemical and biological warfare; murderous attacks in schools, clinics, houses of worship; immigrant children held in cages.  In the face of humanity’s murderous ways, came Ezekiel’s clarion prophecy:  "Thus says the Lord God: … I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” [Ezekiel 36:22,26]  The human heart can be hard as stone.

A heart of flesh.  At Christmas we greet the very heart of God made flesh.  Born 2,000 years ago.  Born again every time the vulnerability of human love fills the rocky trough of human cruelty.  It is in the very nature of love to be vulnerable. Precisely because God loves us was Jesus born, vulnerable to the needs of every helpless infant.  He grew, dependent upon the care of loving parents.  He preached and taught, vulnerable to the resentment of the religious establishment.  And he died, vulnerable to the cruelty of the Roman occupation.  He died every bit as vulnerable as the victims of warfare in Syria and Yemen; as vulnerable as the victims of terror in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, of massacres in Pittsburgh, El Paso and Jersey City.  He died as vulnerable as me and you.

But listen well:  In that infant birth–and in the life, death and resurrection that followed–God in Jesus proclaims that the joy and peace of the incarnation will not surrender to the terror of Herod’s day, nor ours; that vulnerable love is stronger than hateful death; that trust is stronger than suspicion; that faith is stronger than fear; that innocence is stronger than cynicism; that life and love are God’s will for us, and are our ultimate destiny.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  [John 1:1,4-5]  This is the message of Christmas.  Not the stony human heart, but the compassionate and imperishable heart of flesh is what we proclaim, 2,000 years ago, and emphatically now.

Christmas blessings to you!

The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
December 16, 2019

Sunday, December 22, 2019

2019.12.22 Tidbits of Holy Wow

People throughout history have always asked big fat unmanageable questions like: Is there God? How did we get here? What is the meaning of life? Who IS holy? No one has good or manageable answers that satisfy all human hungers for the Holy. Holy is not about being good. It’s about being whole-hearted, letting your soul choose life.

I sometime fret about church attendance. Occasionally, I nudge my children to “go to church.” I’m gentle but I know it’s a little nag. Yet, do I really care? I have to say, not so much. Then I worry that I have detached with denial and not with love from the Holy.

 The Holy is everywhere. All you need is to Wonder and go WOW!

Suffering from impeachment fatigue, sick of life-according-to-Twitter and the temptation to stop caring, I watch for signs that help me to care anyway, to wonder and laugh. Some of what inspires Wonder in me is quirky. In the absence of any objectivity in American politics, I stop trying to find out THE truth. Instead, I find things that make me laugh and feel the uplift of joy—not happiness as if everything is suddenly perfect, but joy—a kind of heart-leaping energy that reminds me I am as alive as when I was born.

The brilliance of the Holy comes to me from inside my religious traditions as well as from outside them. It comes from inside my own mental meanderings as well as from the view outside my window, which today included two men at work on a construction site next door. They were bundled against the cold, likely freezing as they hammered and banged away at the slow-to-rise foundation of a duplex. Suddenly, they started to play—slip-sliding down the snowy slope as if sledding on boots, laughing, throwing snowballs. Childish? You bet. Holy? You bet.

Then I received an image from a friend who has collected Santas for 20 years. Everywhere she goes she finds images of Christmas in the many artistic and cultural variations of Santa Claus, giver of good gifts. She now has a mantel that will hold all her Santas. Room at the “inn” for all.











We have been watching some British television. Its wry humor feels just right. We’ve watched “Fleabag.” It’s a family sitcom, totally unorthodox and outrageous, just what we love, maybe need. At the heart of the drama is a young woman in search of a young man to do “it” with. She becomes smitten with a Roman Catholic priest. Their flirtatious interplay is mutual. In one scene she declares that she does not want to be Catholic, not that he has asked. He quickly, and with total sincerity, replies: “Oh good, I’m so happy that you have such faith in a totally meaningless universe.” This is just before she moves intrepidly into the topic of celibacy.

Just this week I noticed on my home altar a stink bug that had crawled up onto a small cross to die there. The cross is a small replica of the Cross of Nails, originally designed from the burnt nails left after the Coventry Cathedral in England was destroyed by fire. Stink bugs, by the way, are agricultural pests, but they won’t hurt you unless they’re assaulted, and, in defense, emit a hideous stink!  Astounded, I touched the insect to check for life. It was quite dead and quite securely anchored. I laughed. Every critter has soul, is Holy. Of course I projected all kinds of Jesus-y thoughts, settling on: “Into your hands, O God, I commend my spirit.” All Creation is Holy and all returns to its Creator. Here’s my stink bug corpus.
Then in my chiropractor's office I noticed a new addition to the decor. Sitting comfortably in a chair next to the waiting room was a human skeleton, all 270 bones accounted for. The pelvic area looked ample so I thought this skeleton was female. I laughed out loud. What a perfect ad for chiropractic medicine. It keeps your bones in alignment. It feels good to be all lined up inside and out. Thinking with my spiritual imagination, I thought of the word righteousness. In the Bible righteous is a very good way to be. It means being in right relationship with God, yourself and your neighbor—all lined up. The Hebrew word is tsaddiq. When the chiropractor adjusts your bones, you are aligned, righteous, each bone in line to work with the others for a whole body. Here’s my righteous bone-girl.

All these odd tidbits of Holy are not my way of being sarcastic, making fun, or being sacrilegious. They are ways to see beneath the surface of things, and most especially, ways that "life" me and make me laugh with joy—that heart-leaping energy that reminds me I am as alive as when I was born.


Sunday, December 15, 2019

2019.12.15 Bentley's Snowflake

This photograph is called “Bentley’s Snowflake # 4 and is the 167th photographic print out of 200 of the same snowflake. Yes, it really is a snowflake pic, created way back in the late 1800s by the first known photographer of snowflakes, Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley of Jericho, VT. Here's #4.




As a young teen Wilson Bentley was fascinated by snow crystals. Farm folk dreaded the winter but young Willie loved it and looked forward to it. He collected snow crystals and examined them under an old microscope his mom gave him when he was fifteen. Snowflakes were too complex to record before they melted so he attached a bellows camera to a compound microscope and, after lots of experimentation, he photographed his first snowflake on January15,1885.

Eventually, he perfected a process of catching flakes on black velvet in such a way that their images could be captured before they melted. Imagine! 

Bentley described his little flakes as “tiny miracles of beauty” and “ice flowers.” He worked with George Henry Perkins, professor of natural history at the University of Vermont and published an article in which he argues that no two snow crystals are alike, just as no two individuals are alike.
#4 has personal and historical meaning for me and my spouse Dick. It was a gift after we officiated at the marriage of Ellen Riddick and Brian Russo at a small Episcopal parish church in Jericho where a dear old friend, the Rev. Daniel Riddick, Ellen’s dad, was the rector. Jericho is also where Wilson Bentley’s farm was and where he did his best snowflake work.

Wilson Bentley died of pneumonia on December 23rd, 1931 after walking home in a beloved blizzard. His artistic work has made many people happy. Here he is with his camera and  microscope. He didn't die cold of heart.


Bentley’s name is memorialized in the naming of a science center at Johnson State College in Johnson Vermont where John Brakeman went for a year in 1990. I remember staying on the phone with him when he was caught in a terrible blizzard driving his old car that had no snow tires. The college was atop a huge hill. John waited till he saw a large snow plow and slipped in behind it. He drove all the way up the hill safely following that big old plow.

You see lots of things in this life look impossible but might not be if you just stop, sit down, and shut up long enough to think. In the same way lots of things look exactly alike, especially when they’re all together in a heap like snow piles of flakes or hundreds of people in a stadium. But each flake is totally unique and absolutely special just as it is. So it is with people. Each person is totally unique and absolutely special just as they are—every one beloved, a tiny miracle of beauty.

Remember your own uniqueness as this little Snowflake #4 winks at you from wherever it hangs. May it bring you good luck and be a miracle of beauty to remind you you are never alone no matter how small you may feel. Let it be a blessing of Hope, Joy, and Christmas always.
                                                                                                            

Sunday, December 8, 2019

2019.12.08 You Do Not Have To Believe In God To Pray, Do You?

The Advent season is paradoxical. It’s full of darkness and ominous warnings about endings—of the world, of human lives, of our whole planet in peril. Simultaneously, Advent also offers stunningly compelling images of light—the light of a single matchstick struck to brighten a small space, the light of a single candle passed around to light other candles, the pierce of a single note or voice, calling now and over time for people to look and see and expect.

Such Advent chiaroscuro is just enough to hold a community at worship, or at war, in thrilled suspension for mere seconds. That’s when you hold your breath and breathe. That’s when you murmur, Oh my God, and you don’t know why, but you think it might be prayer.

Once upon a time, a little boy loved a stuffed animal whose name was Old Rabbit. It was so old, in fact, that it was really an unstuffed animal; so old that even back then, with the little boy's brain still nice and fresh, he had no memory of it as "Young Rabbit," or even "Rabbit"; so old that Old Rabbit was barely a rabbit at all but rather a greasy hunk of skin without eyes and ears, with a single red stitch where its tongue used to be. The little boy didn't know why he loved Old Rabbit; he just did, and the night he threw it out the car window was the night he learned how to pray. He would grow up to become a great prayer, this little boy, but only intermittently, only fitfully, praying only when fear and desperation drove him to it, and the night he threw Old Rabbit into the darkness was the night that set the pattern, the night that taught him how. He prayed for Old Rabbit's safe return, and when, hours later, his mother and father came home with the filthy, precious strip of rabbity roadkill, he learned not only that prayers are sometimes answered but also the kind of severe effort they entail, the kind of endless frantic summoning. And so when he threw Old Rabbit out the car window the next time, it was gone for good.

So begins the article “Can You Say  . . . Hero?” by Tom Junod, originally published in the November, 1998 issue of Esquire Magazine.  The current popular movie, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” is the story of Mr. Rogers and Tom Junod and Old Rabbit—and a lot more. Junod is a writer who was assigned to interview Fred Rogers, hero of children’s television and originator of the show for young children: “Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.”

The most wonderful thing about the late Fred Rogers and his show was not its popularity, but the fact that so far no one—no one—has been able to prove that Mr. Rogers was not really, in true life that is, as nice as the person he created for his show, a person who welcomed everyone equally with a smile into his make-believe neighborhood, who spent time listening to each child no matter how off schedule the filming of his show got, and who consistently embodied his message: “I like you just the way you are.”  Oh my God

It was all an act of course, wasn’t it?

Tom Junod was grumpy about being assigned the task of interviewing Mr. Rogers for a series on heroes. Junod was cynical, skeptical, and irritated. He wanted some “hot shot hero” to interview, someone who was a REAL hero, not a schmaltzy kiddie show host. And on top of all that the editor of Esquire only gave him 400 words. Reluctantly, Junod did his job. He hung out at the edges of the make-believe neighborhood to meet this make-believe man, this silly non-hero. He hovered in the darkened gloom of the studio and watched, scribbling notes on and off. He intended to create something passably publishable and do it with haste. Gradually, Junod edged from the darkness into the light of Rogers’s soft voice and the paradoxical truth of actually being liked just as he was—mile-high shoulder chip and all. Here is Junod with Mr. Rogers.


No, Tom Junod did not learn to pray, although that was something Mr. Rogers did regularly, and in one scene Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, called the entire theater audience into a silence—just a short moment. We all became a prayer—all at once one, not a sound. No, Junod did not have a religious conversion or suddenly proclaim the glory of God.  No, he did not say Oh my God out loud. And no, he did not write a paean to a lost beloved rabbit—not really.

Such a mixed-up experience is a bit like Advent. We move slowly and uncertainly to let in a little bit of light and hope at a time, just inches at a time. We do not magically transform our darkness of mood or circumstance into light. Nor do we change our personality any more than Junod did, but we do begin to live allowing light and dark to meet each other, to co-exist, neither one compromising the other.

You could say this is what being really nice and really real is all about. Oh my God.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

2019.12.02 At the Turn of the Year

It is not the calendar year that turns in the bleak mid-winter. It’s the Church year. And the Season’s year. Looking outside at 4 p.m. to see the darkness begin to descend, reminds me that the day is turning itself downwards like the knob on the stove makes the bright fire of the burner’s flame slowly lower and lower and lower.

I understand why people become depressed in this season. I understand why people hasten to put up Christmas lights—prematurely. I understand why we rush to the stores to shop for glitter and glamor. I also understand why the Christian church calls for a slow-down, not a speed-up, a space where candlelight suffices. I understand why my heart thrills at the first silence of the first snowfall, a cold wet blanket of hush that says: Nurture the darkness. Let it wrap your soul in hope. Don’t rush. Wait. Listen. Every single snowflake has it own unique shape and its own silence. So, beloved, do you.

Poets and mystics in all spiritual traditions discover the full presence of the Divine in the stillness. Eastern traditions have lead the way. No wonder the Church sings the hymn, “People Look East” in this season. The East is where the sun rises.

One of the Islamic world’s greatest poets, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273), was a Sufi mystic, a lover of philosophy and of humanity. His followers began a school of mysticism for people to encounter the divine presence without mediation. The Sufi religious order was a mendicant order, so not noted for extravagance or shopping sprees. But they were noted for wild ecstatic rituals in which they danced and whirled and often howled. It is known to Westerners as “Whirling Dervishes.”


Notice these dervishes are all men. I find that exciting. Whirling wildly is a form of really letting go without getting drunk or high to do it. Women, then and maybe now, do dance wildly but not often in public, which could be dangerous—an invitation to sexual advances or rape.

Here is the poet Rumi to say it best.

Forget your life.
Say God is Great. Get up.
You think you know what time it is.
It’s time to pray.

You’ve carved so many little figurines, too
many.
Don’t knock on any random door like a
beggar.

Reach your long hands out to another door,
beyond where you go on the street, the street
where everyone says, “How are you?” and no
one says, “How aren’t you?”

Tomorrow you’ll see what you’ve broken and
torn tonight, thrashing in the dark.

Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know
about. He’s not interested in how things look
different in moonlight.

If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.

If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know and
have never seen.

Is what I say true? Say yes quickly, if you
know, if you’ve known it from before the
beginning of the universe.



(NO, I don’t understand it either. So I just swallow it whole and say yes quickly—into the darkness, into the love, into myself, into God.)



Saturday, November 23, 2019

2019.11.24 No Matter What, Love!


 Modern Declaration
    by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never
    having wavered
In these affection; never through shyness in the houses of
the
    rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
loves;
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
    grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these
loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by
    a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers
    of their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
    interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.  



I might have meant this declaration of love to address God whose presence I met as a young child and trust every day—okay with some dips and pauses.

But today I mean this poem for my beloved spouse of 33 years. We were married within the context of the parish Sunday morning Eucharist on Christ the King Sunday, November 23, 1986 with the proviso that we NOT sing the traditionally-themed hymn, “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” There were, and are, enough “hims” taking over everything everywhere that one more hymn to him was just too much, I ruled. And not on the day of my second marriage. 

This day honors a God who brings life out of death. For us, that “death” was the end of our first marriages. I felt joy, fear, grief, gratitude, and love all at once. My pile of feelings brought a few tears during the vows. I will never forget the look on my dearly beloved’s face. The memory makes us laugh. I felt the need and trust of God’s presence intensely, and I was marrying a man who shared that faith. We still do and we call Christ the King Christ in Majesty—a tad less gendered, though I prefer Christ the Kin (one of the Germanic origins of the word King). Yes!

So we married each other on this special Sunday, which in 1986 was November 23. I have never regretted a single moment of our 33 years of loving and sparring and loving and weeping and loving again and again. So, dearly beloved, I say, with the poet (never say poetESS):

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
    interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.  






Sunday, November 17, 2019

2019.11.17 Transforming God

The age of anxiety is upon us—globally.

What DO we teach and tell our children? They are not immune to the talk and the worry in the air, on the air, all over the internet, in the corridors of locked-up-for-security schools. Civics courses teach the history and structure of government. They and are good and returning to classrooms, but what are we doing in religious settings? What are we hearing from pulpits? I hear good hope and Advent spirituality of light. Still we are in darkness nationally and internationally. I say and think to myself, “Fear not.”  Then I hear myself say, “Too late!” Then I laugh. It helps.

According to Mary Hunt, co-director of WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual): "Finally, since so many roots in injustice can be traced to a judging God, a Ruler King, lordship and dominance, we encourage a wholesale overhaul of religious images and symbols. Resistance to that work is the measure of its necessity. Imagine if common language about the divine were gender inclusive, better, not anthropomorphic at all. Consider what a creation story that puts plants and animals on the same plane as people would do for ecology. Think about ways to teach children that diversity and difference, not sameness and dominance are to be celebrated.” 

YES!

For my part, I write and nag and preach when I can about the God I have known and remember always, not just in church. Many people say they do not believe in God anymore. I ask them to tell me about the God they do not believe in. Answers vary, but mostly they use language like Mary Hunt has described above: THE ONE Almighty, King, Ruler, Judge, Sky-King, Super-Man, Lord-of-Lords, and the like. I do not think of chipmunks with such images. Nor do I think of the God I know, present in small wonders, silly memories, and laughter.

I go upstairs to give my beloved a quick hug. He has baked chocolate chip cookies. They are cooling on the countertop and smell deliciously delectably deliriously holy. Why holy? I remember that the voice of God sprouted within me while I was baking chocolate chip cookies for my children back in the 1970s and feeling Stepford-dead. God-in-me asked: “Why are you doing this?" I didn’t know. I laughed. I still don’t know. I remember. It helps.

My husband the chef points to a reunion notice from my college and says: “Hey, it’s your 70th reunion in 2020!” He’s excited. “Look, Lyn, look.”  I look and see that it says the 70th reunion for the Class of 1950 is 2020. I graduated in 1960. “How old do you think I am?”  We laugh. It helps.

Opening the mail to throw out most of it, I spot just one envelope addressed to me. Envelopes marked first class are rare. It’s an invitation with a festive wreath on it. It’s pretty. It’s a YDS (Yale Divinity School) Christmas party, December 6th. That would be my late maternal grandmother’s 147th birthday. I remember. It helps. The invitation has promise. I show it to my husband who says: “Why don’t they have it up here where you live? We could go.” We laugh. It helps. I snitch a cookie, and only then notice that the bottom side is black. I laugh. It’s good anyway.

Today a small grandchild, five, exuberantly tells me two things on the phone, immediately after saying "Hi": 1) “I WILL be stronger than Phoebe (his older sister). Yup, I will.”  2) “For Christmas I want Transformers. I build them myself. They come in a kit, Grammy.” I laugh. I tell him okay. He laughs. It helps.

Children—even the ones most deprived, most alienated, most discarded, most depressed—still, even at the youngest ages, have dreams and hopes and aspirations and memories.

Who or what made you feel loved, even just for a moment or in a small way? 

I google Transformers, toy. Sure enough they are build-your-own whatever. If you can figure it out, feel free. It’s harder to build-your-own anything when you’re 80 than when you’re 5 and building your whole life in a toy you know is a robot. I laugh. I remember. It helps. Here is a Transformer transformed.




Maybe we can rebuild God?  God, we are told, transforms things, even the worst of things like injustice, inhumanity, evil, collective anxiety—maybe even the climate. But can we transform our ideas and images of God?  Will we?

Yup, we will.




Sunday, November 10, 2019

2019.11.10 How Many Resurrections Are There?

The seasons of Halloween, All Saints, Daylight Savings are all about surprises and disguises. What you thought was one thing is suddenly another. There’s grief. There is also the joy of plain old wondering and searching for what you can’t see. Who is behind the mask? Where did that hour of time go? What now can be trusted?  This is surely what the early Jesus followers must have felt after he died and they could no longer see him in the flesh, even though he had told them he was always there. They told stories and learned how to see through and beyond the obvious. They did not conjure doctrines. They asked crazy questions and they laughed. So do we.

Could There Be a Badger Jesus?

You want to hear a resurrection story? I’ll tell you
A resurrection story. I saw a squirrel get squished
In the street. This was on Ash Street, near where a
Family named Penance lives. Things like this rivet
Me. Religions don’t live in churches. Religions are
Not about religion, in the end; they’re vocabularies.
This squirrel got hammered. I mean, a car ran right
Over it, and the car sped down the hill, and I recall
Thinking that some dog would soon be delighted to
Be rolling ecstatically in squirrel oil, but then, even
As I watched, the animal resumed its original shape
And staggered off into the laurel thicket, inarguably
Alive and mobile, if somewhat rattled and unkempt.
Jesus and Lazarus must have known that feeling, of
Being sore in every joint, and utterly totally fixated
On a shower and coffee and a sandwich. Or walnuts,
Depending, I suppose, on species. Our current form
Is a nebulous idea, is what I am trying to say. Could
It be that resurrections are normal and the one we’re
Always going on about in the Christian mythologies
Is only One a long time ago, when there are millions
Per day? Could there be an insect Jesus and a badger
Jesus and a salmon Jesus? Could there be impossible
Zillions of Jesuses? Isn’t that really the whole point?
American Badger

Thank you Brian Doyle, brilliant “incarnationist” poet. You understood deep incarnation—deep, as in the divinity of all living things, even the dead. I wish you were still alive and writing in your down-to-earth heavenly way. You got the point. You get the point. Thank you.

Look everywhere, especially when you’re squished, or think you are. Don’t forget to look in the mirror—deeply. 




Sunday, November 3, 2019

2019.11.03 How Can A House Divided Stand?

Saints and sinners live side by side everywhere—in every home, town, city, nation, country, church—and in every soul. When you know and embrace this wisdom your house will not be divided.

What happens, though, when ignorance and evil conspire to become institutionalized?

Recently, on the nightly news commentary show, Greater Boston, we heard an interview with French artist and filmmaker François Ozon. He talked about his creative process in making a movie about the abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests. The film is based on true stories and real people and is entitled, “By the Grace of God.”

Ozon spoke about his well-curated decision to make a movie, rather than a documentary or even a docudrama, about the pedophilia crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in France. He got actors to play the parts of the priest, those who exercised ecclesiastical authority, the adult men who'd suffered abuse as children, and their families in Lyon, France.

THE STORY

All the victims had remembered in silence. One man began to search for the others. They found each other, shared their shame and their stories, and were able together to effect some change in a centuries-old rigidified, hierarchical, religious institution. How did they accomplish this?—through the power of truth, collective action, mutual support, media, and the secular legal system.

All of the men had been part of a scout troupe led by one parish priest who was sexually attracted to children. The narrowing of the focus plus the dramatization of the issue made it flesh, made it real, and therefore palpably credible—much more so than a docudrama would have. 

Although this film is in French and has subtitles, the dialogue isn’t complex, and the subtitles are not bothersome.

MEANINGS

Besides a sinking heart, I felt a rising rage AND an expansive hope after I saw it. There is much more to this trauma than meets the eye. 
    -This is NOT as simple as an indictment of the institutional Roman Catholic Church. It is about centuries of patriarchal power abuses and coverups, involving complicit men and women at all levels—saints and sinners all.
    -It is about the politics of money. 
    -It is about confusing the Church with God, commonly called idolatry. 
    -It is frighteningly connected to what is going on in our nation and the world right now.
    -It is about ancient wisdom: words of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke way back in the first century CE: A house divided against itself cannot stand. (Mk. 3:25, Mt. 12:25, Lk. 11:17) You don’t need a personified figure called Satan to know this truth. 
    -It is about the ultimate value of breaking the silence and the shame that engulf addiction and related compulsions, diseases that keep full healing out of reach for too many. 
    -It is about tragic, treacherous exploitation of the best of religious values: forgiveness and divine compassion, and the Mystery of the Holy within and among us. 
    -It is about a terrifying exploitation of the Gospel: Jesus himself loved and touched little children, did he not?
    -It is NOT about priests who are evil, but about priests, such as the one in this film, who repeatedly ask for help for their mental illness and get refused. It is about priests, such as the one in this film who, when confronted, confess over and over. THEY TELL THE TRUTH.  (This is not about all priests of course, but I had one such priest as a client some years back. He had been stripped of everything, including his pension. I saw him for free and felt about as powerless as he did, except to proffer forgiveness divine. I did not know how to psychoanalyze his disease or help him, but I knew moralizing wasn’t helpful at all. He knew that too.) We need more research.
    -It is NOT about pedophilia, because that means love of children NOT sexual love with children. A better word might be pedo-predation.
    -It is about calling Holy that which is Evil.
    -It is about the inability to see saint and sinner at once.
   

OUTCOMES   

The amazing work of this small group in Lyon realized one big legal change: the statute of limitations for seeking reparation or accountability for such predation has been extended in France from 15 years to 30 years. That is restorative justice and hopeful. When we work together, give up our unholy divisions and collaborate for the good of all, we can change our system. Their work continues, and despite complexities, there’s hope for the pope.
   
Without question, this film dramatizes one of the most painful death throes of patriarchy. If you have ever tended to someone who is dying you know what death throes look like—jerky, often lasting for days and weeks, painful to watch. The only thing to do is to be patient, present, take lots of breaks, have people who will listen to you, and pray without ceasing. You are hurting more than the one in the throes. If you are faithful you will trust the outcome and the divine hope within it.

TITLE

See the film to catch the fullness of the power this phrase evokes: By the Grace of God.

BIBLE  Remember the story of Zaccheus, the money manager/tax collector/business man who intuited something sacred going on with  this Jesus and his teaching? The crowds pressed, so Zaccheus went up into a tree to see Jesus as he passed by. Jesus spotted him, glanced up. Their gaze locked. Ever wonder what Jesus saw in Zaccheus's eye, and what Zaccheus saw in Jesus's eye?

WISDOM 

Remember always to ask: the grace of God according to whom?
A divided house cannot stand, but it can be rebuilt.





Sunday, October 20, 2019

2019.10.20 Importunity

There’s this brief but potent little tale tucked into a series of parables about faithfulness and healing in Luke’s gospel. I’ve always loved this story, nicknamed “The Importunate Widow.” (Luke 18:1-8)

I love the word importunate. It’s a word that demands attention—so startling in fact that later translations of the story substitute the lamer word: “persistent.” But who ever looks up importunate?  It means persistent to the point of annoyance or intrusion, and comes from Latin importunus (inconvenient) and the god named Portunus who protected harbors or ports—protected. Importunity connects to opportune, coming at just the right time, or perhaps the nick of time.  Which time is it for this woman, the right time or the worst time?

The parable is about a woman, a widow and therefore on her own and vulnerable, who raises nagging to an art form for good reason. She will not be put off or sent away by the judge to whom she repeatedly appeals for justice against her opponent. One could assume she’s demanding a retrial without an attorney. Finally the judge, sick of her importunity, grants her request—not because he is just, but because the woman is a nuisance, an annoyance, in the manner of a mosquito whining in your ear at night causing you to slap your own ear to get the thing to shut up.
 Is this a story about faithfulness? Or is it a story about justice won? Or is it a “MeToo” story? I vote for #3 and note history: women have felt importunate for centuries, but have been silenced, publicly and behind closed doors—even unto death—
    - by strong cultural norms dictating how women should behave,
    - by women themselves out of fear,
     -by women who have silenced daughters and sons, passing on the silencer tradition.

When my oldest daughter, Bev, was about five she was unjustly punished, and I failed to stand up for her. My spouse/her dad was not a violent man, nor was there overt domestic abuse in our home. This is one small importunate incident. We had weekend guests who were preparing to leave on Sunday morning. They came down the stairs with their suitcases. As we were bidding them farewell, my daughter spotted one end of a toothpaste tube sticking out of Mr. X’s suitcase. It was funny. She pointed and laughed. Her dad became furious, yelled at her, and sent her upstairs to her room. My heart ached for her, yet I said not a thing. Hardly importunate of me. It was a petit mal trauma, the kind that leaves scars on a soul. You see what I mean.

What is remarkable—and truly importunate—is that this story appears in a tome as ancient as the Bible and is called holy. Jesus, as interpreted by Luke, introduces this story as a story about the need to pray and never lose faith. This is a classic case of someone’s, in this case Luke, putting words into Jesus’s mouth— interpretative words. It happens, you know.

The story purports to be about prayer and faithfulness in prayer to God. BUT……..

Faith is too weak a word for the untimely importunity this woman exhibits. Stubborn trust in her own experience and need is more accurate. We know nothing about her circumstances, except that she’s a widow and has an “opponent.” She “continually comes” at the judge, who is corrupt and NOT anyone to pray to. He grants her justice—“so that she may not finally come and slap me in the face”. The idea of course is that God will grant justice more swiftly and fairly than this unjust judge on earth. But where does that leave the woman? Flip the parable.

I see God incarnate in the woman. I see the God who plunders the depths of God’s own desire for justice, a God who never gives up, a God who is the nag, and the beggar, and the abandoned infant, a God who is importunate in empowering human agency with wails in the night and pounding fists on our souls. Can we hear such a God in our midst?  [Oh, this may seem like very undignified behavior for God, but I assure you, it is not at all above the behavioral repertoire of Ms. Holy Spirit to inspire such importunity.]

Jesus, as interpreted by Luke, seducer of Gentiles into Jesus’s flock, plummets headlong into the fray with the widow and judge, taking us with him. Then adeptly he steps back from the action to deliver a challenging and final crowd-stopper:

“And yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” 







Sunday, October 13, 2019

2019.10.13 Two Eves and Me

One of my mentors is Eve Ensler.  She is an American playwright, performer, feminist, and activist, known best for her play, "The Vagina Monologues.” I once had a starring role in that play. More humbly stated, I performed one of the monologues sitting atop a three-legged stool dressed in my clerical collar—and nothing else. Okay that’s a lie—fun, but a lie. I wore my professional uniform: black pants and shirt with a traditional stiff white band of plastic circling my neck. The collar, after which I’d lusted for some years, identified me as clergy, in my case an Episcopal priest. This collar gave me authority, authority it would take years for me to fully internalize, and even more years to relinquish so I could begin to rely on my own authority not the uniform’s.
Ensler’s play premiered in 1996 and was hailed by Charles Isherwood of the New York Times as “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.” Ensler’s mission was to campaign globally against anti-female violence. She offers the script free of charge to local groups every February 14th. Ensler as a young woman.
The Gloucester Coalition for the Prevention of Domestic Abuse, of which I was a member ,got the script in 2006 and put out a call for auditions. My heart leaped and I signed my vagina up for an audition. We got in. There were no official costumes, so I decided, with some trepidation, to wear my collar for the performance. 

I spoke the part of a mature woman who had attended a vagina workshop. Honestly, there really were such things. They were designed to help woman connect, or reconnect, with their sexuality, specifically to get to know their “privates". No kidding, women lay on mats and pretended to have a relationship with their vaginas while a young twenty-something guided them along. All I had to do in my monologue was portray my vagina’s release from hidden shame to wondrous self-affirmation while sitting on a stool, wearing my clerical collar, and faking an orgasm on stage. I got a standing “o”—that’s ovation.

There were some older women from my parish in the front row. They looked stern I thought, but I saw one of them suddenly cover a giggle. They never said a word, a grace for which I adored them. But two young women joined the parish after they saw me in the play, and another friend in my yoga class told me her 80 year old mother had whispered to her: “Can we go to that church?” Well, there’s more than one way to evangelize. Call it V-evangelism.

Eve Ensler is sixty-six now and continues to write about big topics like God, death, and women. I write about the same topics. Her experience of being systematically beaten to bleeding by her father throughout her childhood was more traumatic, although comparisons are odious, than my experience of being sexually molested in a NYC movie theater when I was eight by an old man with a long white beard who looked just as I thought God would. I called him the old God-man.

I buried my own trauma in an abyss of shame—sure something was wrong with me that this happened.  It was not until I was in seminary seeking God, a way out of shame, and the fullness of my own sexuality, that I wrote about what happened to me in a journaling course that encouraged experiential theology. I’d thought just knowing what happened was enough, but knowledge was only the melody. When supported by the tones of my feelings and bodily sensations, the truth grew robust—and holy. I knew I had written the old “God-man” to death—myself and my body to new life. Perhaps this was my own vagina monologue.

Like Ensler, I found healing through writing, as well as through performing in her play.

Ensler has just published a second memoir called Apology in which she exhumes her father through her imagination and writes the apology she wished she’d had from him. She ends her book with: “Old man be gone.” I now that feeling. Old God-man be gone!  AMEN.

I wear my collar now when I’m officiating at a religious rite and when I feel proud of something I’ve done with God’s help, such as writing books in which the Holy Spirit takes the lead.
In the 5/26/19 NY Times Book Review Ensler quotes from her favorite book: "Letter to a Child Never Born," by Oriana Fallaci: "And yet, or just for this reason, it's so fascinating to be a woman. It's an adventure that takes such courage, a challenge that's never boring. You'll have so many things to engage you if you're born a woman. To begin with, you'll have to struggle to maintain what might even be an old woman with white hair or a beautiful girl. Then you'll have to struggle to explain that it wasn't sin that was born on the day when Eve picked an apple, what was born that day was a splendid virtue called disobedience.”

It remains a challenge for us women to find our voices, our bodies, and our dignity in this rootedly patriarchal world, still doggedly resistant to sharing power. But we are present. We speak. We write. We keep on disobeying the rules set for us by forces over which we had no control. We will simply BE. What grace there is in that simple declaration of Being itself—just as we are. Thanks be for the first woman Eve and for all her spiritual namesakes, like me and Ensler, and so many others. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

2019.10.06 Invictus/Convictus

Many people have deep soul-convictions that shape their lives from the beginning and get more courageous and more sinewy when threatened. Such was the case for Nelson Mandela when he was imprisoned for treason during the hard struggle against the apartheid politics of the South African government. Mandela spent 27 years in exile, some of it at Robben Island in hard labor.

Mandela’s story is complicated, just as any story of someone who struggles with spiritual ideals and cold hard reality and falls down many times along the way is. Nevertheless, he was a man of conviction and spiritual strength. While imprisoned he was offered his personal freedom once. He refused  to comply with the condition that he unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon, saying: “What freedom am I offered while the organisation of the people (African National Congress) remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

Mandela emerged after much negotiation, including international protests, and pain to be elected as South Africa’s first black chief executive in 1994.

Mandela subscribed to basic democratic values and the African ethical tenet, ubuntu: “A person is a person through other persons.” Mandela died of respiratory illness in 2013 at the age or 95. He was not a model of moral rectitude or religious rigor, but he was a man of conviction. How? Well, in part because he kept this poem alive in his heart as a mantra, a prayer with which he strengthened his soul.




Invictus  William Ernest Henley, 1875.

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

The wisdom of this poem is true for me, up to a point. As I age and face my own convictions,  the mastery of my soul has withered. I of course am neither as strong or as bludgeoned as Mandela was, but when I read “Invictus” I said yes, then, not convinced, and being a word-nerd, I looked up the word roots, Latin of course.
    Invictus means conquered from within already, and therefore unconquerable from without. Invictus is I. Yes, I was conquered from within like Mandela. 
     Convictus means conquered with (con), not alone, like with a close friend or intimate association. Convictus is WE. Yes, I was conquered by not feeling alone, because God was there. We are masters of my soul.

Convictus Lyn Gillespie Brakeman, 2019

From the vastness of the sea,
the endless stretches of sand,
I am drawn into one drop, one grain—
my own.

I am not the master of my fate,
the keeper of my soul
as I’ve spent years imagining—
and forgetting.

It’s not so.

For years ago
I deeded my soul to God
my heart to Christ
my fate to the stars

Thus . . .
all my words
my deeds
my thoughts
are convicts—
escapees, convicted anew—
over and over, daily.  


  BLESS AND HALLOW EVERY LIVING THING EVERY SINGLE DAY. AMEN

Sunday, September 29, 2019

2019.09.29 A Big Ask

With respect and a dollop of humility, I write to ask for brief reviews on Amazon for my memoir God Is Not A Boy’s Name. Becoming Woman. Becoming Priest.  A review only has to be 1-2 sentences. You do not have to have bought the book on Amazon to review it, and the audiobook is a brand new addition to the print version. Here is the link https:https://www.amazon.com/s?k=books+Lyn+G.+Brakeman&ref=nb_sb_noss . Click on image then under author's name where it indicates "20 ratings" then to"Click here to write a review."  And here is a moi-pose with two of my books, a red blouse for spiritual pizazz, a corpus-free crucifix, and a stiff clergy collar for show.  Thank you.
BACKGROUND
         Recording a book is an adventure with quirks. It’s not at all like doing a live reading. I knew audiobooks were on the rise. I contacted my publisher to inquire about audiobooks, specifically mine. “Sure, we’ll publish it.” They sent their specs.  The catch? I had to find and finance a sound proof studio with good recording equipment—pricey—to lease. I even called Perkins School for the Blind. They do not lease studio time, nor does MIT. I nearly gave up but instead I lobbed a “Hail Mary pass” to Facebook. Tap, click, ping. A next-door neighbor replied immediately, letting me know that another neighbor had such a studio in their basement. Right next door!  Meant to happen, a friend chanted. Karma, karma, another said. OMG, said I. 

CALL
         I called the studio neighbors. I’d heard their backyard concerts many times, but I’d never met them and had no idea they were so charming and ran a family business, Amador Bilingual Voiceovers, in their basement studio. Here is a link: https://amadorbilingualvoiceovers.com/meet-the-amadors/  Contact the Amadors if you would like to lease studio time. I also didn’t know that I could help them by signing a petition for a building variance they needed to stay in this neighborhood. We negotiated times (early evenings ) and leasing fees (affordable). And Lo! I launched my short career as a recording artist; they got their variance.

ADVENTURE  
         Setting/Scene: basement room small, dimly lit, filled with computerized equipment, looking like Mars to me. A high stool where I sat to record; a three-sided enclosure in which there was a laptop screen with my document on it, and a large adjustable round microphone to pick up my dulcet tones as I spoke. Flipping printed pages makes too much noise. I silently thumbed the screen to advance the pages as I read. I got so tense my thumb ached.
         Action: I’m a soloist speaking into the box. I learned which buttons to push to stop and start and how to use the little cricket to click when I made a mistake or coughed. Magically, I read over the muffed word or sentence or paragraph, then read on. The clicker signaled the editor where there was need for a correction. 
         Rules: Keep your mouth clean. I  rehearsed out loud every time before a recording session. Who knew there were such things as “mouth sounds”? You’re not aware of them as you speak, but the sophisticated equipment picks up tiny clicks of the tongue, teeth crunches, exaggerated swallowing, not to mention heavy breathing. I had to wear soft silent clothing, which meant no corduroy, and short sleeves, make sure I was well fed so my stomach wouldn’t rumble, and always have warm water at hand. I have a chronic unpredictable cough which I prayed away, not always successfully.
         Emergency: One evening I arrived, checked the manuscript, and glanced at the big computer on which I could see the sound screen. It was blank—flat line. I panicked. No one was in the adjoining office. I ran upstairs and called out, HELLO. Someone came running and consoled me. We went down to the studio, where my savior clicked the Z key, and VOILA the deleted text reappeared. 
         Experience: highly disconcerting and exhilarating. There was no audience, no one to flirt with. Just me and my laptop. Also, no tangible product, no sweet words to adore or edit out. I had to read my book exactly as it is written—word for word—into the air. Despite being a high school thespian, I’m no actor. I decided not to try to imitate a bishop’s voice, or God’s, whose voice sounds just like mine anyway. Lovely. A standout feature in the neighborhood train, passing by hourly, clang-clanging as RR gates descended and ascended. My ears tuned in; I paused to give the train the right of way.
         Cast: Besides me, Steven Hopkins, the sound engineer, equivalent to an editor for a print document. Some nights he stayed late to be in the studio with me. This was honestly like having a chaplain at my side when my insides curled up in a tight ball of anxiety. Steven is a friendly gifted young man with an astonishing ear. He doubled as the clicker, stopping me for re-reads/edits.  Contact him about projects: steven@amadorbilingualvoiceovers.com
         Reprise: Steven asked me to return after I’d finished and said THE END. (Yes, I even recorded that, imagining The End scrolled across the screen in large letters accompanied by goofy music like the end of all those Looney Tunes I’d watched as a kid.) Steven was sound-fussy and wanted me to re-record a three-word phrase and one chapter title over and over till it was perfectly clear. I think it was Chapter Nine. Loving Alkies.  Then Steven cut and pasted the perfect re-read into the text—vertical blue lines mashed accordion-style into one another, an image so different from horizontally ordered words marching across a printed page. 
         Product: My180-page book God Is Not a Boy’s Name. Becoming Woman. Becoming Priest has an Introduction, 19 chapters (most about ten pages), and an Epilogue. My limited voice lasted about an hour at a time. It took me 20 hours @ $50 an hour. The publisher took some more time to listen and approve it and advertise it on their site and with Amazon the “Almighty” 

LIFE LESSONS
       
        You can pause, click, course correct, and carry on with grit and grace even after blunders.
        There are friends to help even when you think you’re alone in the dark. 
        Loving thy neighbor includes being loved by thy neighbor. 
        You can try things you never imagined were possible.
        Should you be willing to do an Amazon review there’s a free audio sample to click.               


THANKS.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

2019.09.22 The Spirituality Of God In ALL Things

 If God is truly omnipresent, then there is nowhere God is not.


If Godde is incarnate/immanent, in all things, then there must be a spirituality of all things—including all things evil, ugly, fraught, greed-ridden, driven and riven by sin and death.

May we not be naive or arrogant enough to set limits on the limitless presence of divinity, nor stupid enough to envision God present only in wise people and things, not in the foolish, only in good not bad, only in new not old, only in love not hate, only in life not death.

I awoke this morning with this insight—not new, but newly striking. I remembered a book I’d read Into The New Age by the late British theologian and bishop Stephen Verney. This book and its predecessor, Fire In Coventry, are his spiritual interpretations of the bombing and total destruction of the Coventry (England) cathedral in WWII. The phrase that awakened me this morning was : “Good and evil interlock.”  The books are not simply about a devastating fire and the rebuilding of a downed cathedral. Nor are they stilted intellectual theological treatises against the horrors of war and the grandeur of God anyhow/triumphant, a God who most wonderfully works with the faithful to rebuild the cathedral. No, these books relate the totality of the lived experience of the consecration of a whole community, not just a building, within God’s Holy Spirit of Reality—Reality!  (A centenary edition of Fire was published in 2018, worth a read.)

Good and evil interlock IS the Spirituality of God in ALL things. The ruined remains of the burnt cathedral were cleaned up, but left standing to abut, interlock with, the new creation—a sacrament of what a consecrated community can create. The product is intriguing but not as much as the Spirituality it re-presents. (The ruins and the incorpated ruins)






Sunday, September 15, 2019

2019.09.15 Blog Report

Dear faithful blog readers. We made a quick trip down to Bridgeport Ct Hospital today. Son John is a trail biker and he had an accident. Broke scapula, clavicle 6 ribs and his pinkie. All banged up. He will be okay but as his Mama had to go down to see his face and give him a kiss.  Tomorrow they will probably do surgery on the recalcitrant pinkie finger (bent all the way back in the fall).  

John is in good spirits and tolerated pain meds all right, though there is still quite a bit of pain.  So grateful  he's all right and it wasn't worse. Also grateful for his super duper all-head helmet with just a visor for sight.

I did gently suggest that he might consider riding trails that were less challenging. He countered with the fact that he'd seen a riding suit he can afford with thick padding in all the right places.

One day he will actually grow up. I love him at every and any age. 

Thank for your prayers.

Lyn

Sunday, September 8, 2019

2019.09.08 New Beginnings With Digital Rotogravure

Today ( who knew?) is National Grandparents Day in America. I write to honor the role of grandparenting. Whether it is daily or yearly, it matters enormously to the old and to the young, linking up a family by generations, memory—and heart.  It is also the end of summer and back-to-school time, a time to cheer and feel proud, and a time to weep with longing under the sharp knife of time's inevitable passage.

For many children the first day of school each year is a time of excitement and anticipation, perhaps a little anxiety. Parents, especially single parents or grandparents, try hard to hype it up, while hiding their own relief at having some time off from 24/7 on-call duty.

Sometimes there’s a shopping outing to buy a new first-day-of-school outfit and hit the local pharmacy for school supplies, some of which are extraneous these days with so much school work done on computers. Everything is laid out in readiness the night before. Backpacks, stuffed to distortion, not including homework and textbooks, although it might include your favorite mitt or good luck charm tucked in, stand all on their own and wait to be placed and strapped onto young backs. In some cases, the backpack is bigger than the child whose small legs stick out from beneath the load.

Ah, school is a serious thing indeed. Not only do you get educated in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, you get all their enhancements, nuances, and advancements squeezed into your brain over at least 12 years, and more if you so choose. The little old schoolhouse never dies, it only grows, just like the students who get educated to grow in mind, body, and spirit.
Now I am aware that I write all this as a privileged, white, well-educated woman in her 80s who, way back when, discovered in school a place of achievement, an endeavor she could master, a lifetime project in which she could excel over a long time, and oh my, I loved those grades. For a time I allowed achievement to define me as a person,  as if it enriched my very soul, as if it were my god. Thanks be to a God-school called seminary, the Bible in which many stories reflected my own experience (ya think David was an overachiever who learned humility the hard way?), prayer, spiritual direction, vocational maturity, writing, good friends and family, my own children, and a real and lasting love—none of which I achieved, all of which I gratefully received through the grace of a God who loved me no matter what —I  am able now to celebrate the joys of school through the excitement of my grandchildren, minus two who have finished school for a while. Here are some back-to-school photos I proudly share.

Dylan Brakeman, entering Kindergarten
Phoebe Brakeman, entering 6th grade
Eliza Brakeman, entering 8th grade
Will Brakeman, entering his junior year in high school—so happy to pose once again for his back-to-school photo
Lucia Simeone, entering 10th grade
Brianjohnson Fontaine, entering 8th grade
Thomas Simeone, entering 7th grade
Harrison Simeone, entering  4th grade

 Ali Simeone, entering junior at Lehigh University, with Daniel Epstein

Luke Simeone, entering freshman year at Drexel University
 Gillian Brakeman Colbath, graduate of Southern Connecticut State University, anticipating graduate school to study for an MSW.
Isabella Brakeman Colbath, graduate of City Year, Boston

And because it is summer’s end, I can’t resist including pictures of my beloved’s 78th birthday celebration in Nantucket with his sons, Simeones all (l. to r.) Mark and Matthew, their wives, Rosemarie and Annemarie, and moi (shortest), not to mention the joy of Grampy Sim eating a huge ice cream sundae all by himself.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

2019.09.01 Stealth Quilt In the Sacristy

On Monday July 1, a time when no one in his/her right mind is in church, including God some would say, a beautiful quilt, hung in the sacristy of St John’s Episcopal Church, Charlestown, suddenly appeared. A photo of the quilt and an explanatory e-note, reminding me that the placement of this creation had been my idea, arrived soon.  Here's the installed quilt.
I nearly forgot I’d cooked up this scheme with professional artist, quilter, and parishioner, Kathleen McCormick. She had agreed some time ago to create a quilt from one of her designs I loved. It was to adorn the barren wall in the newly completed sacristy. And then the quilt just appeared—a quiet annunciation of God’s beauty. My God, it’s more beautiful than I imagined it would be!

Co-incidentally I received a blog post, from Fashionista, of all things, about the “knitting monk,” Brother Aidan Owen of the Order of the Holy Cross in West Park New York. Aidan has taken up knitting as a spiritual practice and has developed his craft through the internet, falling with other enthusiasts into what he calls “the black hole of knitting online.”  With help from the “slow fashion” movement’s emphasis on treating people and the planet with care, Brother Aidan found confluence: “I had my Christian spirituality, I had the ecological stuff, and then I had creativity and making things. And it all came together in knitting because you're literally clothing yourself with stuff from the earth."

The confluence of fabric arts and spirituality is familiar to Kathleen McCormick as well. She sent me some “quilty” notes:  “I grew up near the Amish in Reading Pennsylvania, started sewing when I was young, and made many of my clothes during high school and college. I always went to see the quilts that the Amish made but not until after graduate school, did I find time, a store, and nearby classes. Due in part to the celebration of the bicentennial in the mid 70s quilting was revived; books, classes and new quilts were appearing, and with it my own vocation. Handpiecing and handquilting was where I started and what I loved. The handwork made me feel as though I was a piece of the quilt—the joining of the front, the batting in the center, and the backing.”

Now that Kathleen designs quilt patterns on her own, often for family and friends or, let’s say, for a church sacristy, the creative process is even more intense. “I am putting myself into the quilt—all my particular thoughts and prayers.” [Brother Aidan does the same as he knits—each stitch a kind of prayer.]  “Original design work has helped me to grow both as a quilter and an artist, something that I never thought I’d call myself. In finding something that speaks to me, I find myself having to be honest about what I love about quilting and what my style is—traditional with a modern twist.”  

Does this not sound like Creator God creating a “quilty” world, sewing the divine soul itself into every unique patch and stitch of life? I think so. Just as God Creator never stops creating, sewing divinity into every new soul, and rejoicing in the unfolding wonders, Kathleen creates new patterns and designs from the beginning to the end. “My vision is to instill joy in the process and help quilters who need some help finding a great technique or the inspiration to finish a project or try something new. I have taught quilting for many years and love sharing my quilting knowledge.”

Kathleen now is an ambassador for Island Batik, a fabric company which sends fabric and monthly challenges.  While on  Peaks Island in Maine where she and her husband Jonathan will soon retire, she responds to each monthly challenge with new quilts and designs. Jonathan “edits” her stitches with praise and hung the sacristy quilt with pride. This quilt is one of Kathleen’s favorite designs that she made for an ambassador challenge. It, just like all evolving life, has many variations. “I fell in love with the design at first sight,” she told me. It is part of a series of Super Nova quilts, born during an online class on the intricacies of quilt design. “Its center is a traditional sort of star, but the extra rays are different from many other stars I have seen. The design spoke to me. I tried it in many different colors, but the hot yellow/orange/reds kept inspiring me.”

The sacristy quilt is Super Nova # 2. Its beauty is undeniable as is the obvious labor behind Kathleen’s artistry and craft. Spiritually, it suggests the cosmos in all its glory and reminds me that Divinity reigns far beyond narrow religious confines. As a Christian, I see here the glory of Resurrection, and frankly, the wild rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar.


I thought this quilt should hang in the sacristy, because there it shines on the unsung labors of the many who serve on the Altar Guild, making sure behind the scenes that preparations for Holy Eucharist are done well and with meditative respect. The quilt also reflects a portion of the parish mission statement: Hear the Spirit. See God’s Beauty. Act in love. 

Thank you, Kathleen. I think your quilts are your “McMemoir.”
 
Kathleen can be reached at: kathleenquilts@gmail.com  Her blog is :   https://www.kathleenmcmusing.com

Sunday, August 25, 2019

2019.08.25 On This Day in 1911................

My father who art in heaven
Hallowed was your name—
    Daddy, then Dad, then mystery itself.

Your kingdom, your will—
            my desire, my hope.

On earth I pursued them
      through tears and fears,   
   
Urging myself forward
      in silent wonder.

You gave me each day my daily bread,
    my nightly peace.

But I wanted more on earth, not in heaven.

Forgive me my striving, my heart stretched thin with longing,
as I forgive you your alcohol and smokes—stealers of time, dealers of death.
Oh, the agony of watching you die, wrestling with demons,
moaning out your salvation—groan by groan through the night.
    Your own wordless lament.
    Your special prayer: What’s the point?

In such dark moments I knew you knew God
    the same God you’d showed me
    when you gave me my name
    when you nodded a blessing:
        “I understand, Lynda.” 
   
You owe me no debt
    I owe you my life, my looks, and my smarts.

I guessed your temptations, your trials and your risks.
    You made them yourself. As did I mine.

Thank you, my father, for sharing your
       God and your faith and your shy kind of love.
    
I longed for more words—but had none myself.
      The problem, dear Daddy? We’re too much alike.

The kingdom, the power, and the glory were yours on earth,
    so I thought. And in heaven?

Grand items like these belong to Mystery alone.
    We couldn’t take more than the glimpses we had, Dad.

Could we?

            Happy 108th Birthday, my father—forever and ever amen. 



Wednesday, August 7, 2019

2019.08.07 For The Beauty Of The Earth

My birthday is today. So is my husband’s We are Leos in love. What I want for my birthday is that we all notice Beauty. It stuns and it saves. We see it in all living things, even when it’s obscured or dimmed by pain. Creative people know this. God is creative and creating all the time—with our help—making and illuminating Beauty. There is nowhere God is not. 

I see it as it looked one afternoon
In August,-by a fresh soft breeze o'erblown.
The swiftness of the tide, the light thereon,
A far-off sail, white as a crescent moon.
The shining waters with pale currents strewn,
The quiet fishing-smacks, the Eastern cove,
The semi-circle of its dark, green grove.
The luminous grasses, and the merry sun
In the grave sky; the sparkle far and wide,
Laughter of unseen children, cheerful chirp
Of crickets, and low lisp of rippling tide,
Light summer clouds fantastical as sleep
Changing unnoted while I gazed thereon.
All these fair sounds and sights I made my own.

    “Long Island Sound” by Emma Lazarus  born in New York City (1849).

I never noticed the beauty of Long Island Sound. It was too familiar a sight to me as I grew up on its banks and splashed in its waters. I think I would die of grief if it were not there to behold—ever again.

Emma Lazarus, a Jewish poet who was concerned for the plight of her people, the plight of the poor, and the plight of refugees and immigrants, knew about the spiritual power of Beauty. She is most remembered for her famous lines published in a poem, commissioned for The Statue of Liberty, gracing New York Harbor since 1886: “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So did English hymnodist and poet Folliot Sandford Pierpont (1835-1917) who wrote the words to this hymn in 1864 when he was only 29.

For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth over and around us lies. 

Lord of all to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.


Our current 1982 Hymnal changed the refrain to read: “Christ our God to thee we praise . . .” I guess they wanted to showcase Christ. But the above refrain is the one I grew up singing in the children’s choir at the Presbyterian Church in New York City, and “Lord of all” best expresses God as Creator of all for all. I believe we must seek beyond— way beyond—our religious preferences for the Beauty of the Earth.

When American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts left this Earth and headed for the moon on their spaceships, they looked back. Here is what they saw.

And this is what they all returned to tell us: this Earth is worth saving, and it has no nationality.

Only from a distance—time or space, physical or emotional— can we get perspective enough to realize what is worth expending every ounce of life, individual and collective, to save—with the help of the cosmic Artist who created it and gave it to us.  BEAUTY.