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 Hart, 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.” 


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 any more. I ask them to tell me about the God they do not believe in. Answers vary, but mostly they use language like Mary Hart 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.

There’s 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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.  


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: . 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.
         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. 

         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:  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.

         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:
         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” 

        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.               


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.


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:  Her blog is :

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.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

2019.08.04 Who Taught You To Walk?

Today’s scripture readings began at home and continued in church.

Some people abstain from looking at the morning newspaper before they come to church to worship. They say it’s a practice that protects their minds and hearts from being stained by reports of violence, and more violence. Violence sells newspapers. It’s also a fact. I read the paper as I drank my morning coffee before I headed to church.

Today’s lead stories in the Boston Globe: One detailed more mass shooting in El Paso Texas and Dayton Ohio; another was about a man who buys then runs "sober houses" where recovering addicts get support and safety while they recover from the disease of addiction. Many of these places are unsafe, unclean, and extremely costly. Families of addicts empty their wallets and bank accounts in hope. Residents are instructed to stop taking any and all prescribed medications and “find a Higher Power.” Death happens, because God fails. Not only is this bad and errant theology, it is CRUEL THEOLOGY, motivated by greed camouflaged as health care treatment.

I longed for hope and different headlines. In church I heard more of the same about human behavior. AND, I also heard the voice of God speaking tenderly through the Old Testament prophet Hosea (11:1-11) about loving Israel as a parent loves a child from birth—embracing, leading with “cords of human kindness, bands of love,” teaching the child to walk, and, even when the beloved turns away, refusing to “execute fierce anger.” Why? “I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.”

Nowhere is there a suggestion of divine abandonment or wrath. These are human fears only.

In Luke’s gospel story (12:13-21) there is a dispute about dividing the family inheritance. Money again! Someone in the crowd wants Jesus to instruct a brother to divide the family inheritance. Ah, the inheritance! Jesus replies: “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” Then he warns them to guard against “all kinds of greed”—ALL kinds. 

Then Jesus offers a parable about a rich man whose harvests are so abundant he has no place to store it all. He, notably, does not think of sharing but decides to build larger and larger barns to lay up his goods, saying: ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ Oh, how familiar this sounds today. This is not what I was hoping for. I felt as if I were reading the daily news reports. Are we in America now storing up every privilege, every claim to greatness, every imperialistic ostentation, every violent strategy (war), even reiterations of policies that equate compromise, aka diplomatic dialogue, with appeasement, aka losing?

What is God’s policy? Jesus tells the self-satisfied Soul in the parable what God, Creator of all wealth, said to the greedy Soul: “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

It is left up to each one of us and all of us collectively to discern what being “rich toward God” means. (One of my ways is to counter cruel theology, even if it’s in scripture. It breeds spiritual poverty.)

May I gently suggest you remember who taught you to walk? Who let you fall down and who picked you up to try again with tender encouragement—all your life. Who loves you in spite of yourself?

Life is short. We do not have much time to gladden the hearts and minds of those who travel the way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind. Be rich toward God, O my Soul. Be rich.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

2019.07.28 Do You Pray?

Let us pray. Let us pray. Let us pray. Oh God, let’s pray. Do you pray?

A teenage granddaughter once asked me, with a flounce of her head and a challenge in her voice: Grammy why do you pray? I was suddenly stunned and stumped and said the first thing that popped into my mind: I pray because I love. She made no comment but I kept on obsessing. Maybe I should have said I pray because GOD loves. Then I thought: Well, what is the difference? Aren’t we immersed in God’s love all the time? And God in ours? Is all Creation not God’s prayer?

Most prayer is lowly, earthbound, unsteady, even precarious. At the same time it deserves the highest reverence and the greatest praise. Sometimes I wonder if we take it for granted.

All living things pray in particular ways as everything reaches and stretches for love and life. Prayer is paying attention to that desire, noticing its variations, sinking into it, allowing its energy to connect you with what/who really matters to you and to God. 

Prayer, however, can be a touchy topic—loaded you might say. News commentator host of the WGBH’s nightly Greater Boston, Jim Braude, recently commented that to pray, as Speaker Pelosi did for our president and our nation in divisive times, was “smarmy.” Smarmy? I became immediately indignant and fired off a letter telling Braude his comment itself was smarmy and that he knew nothing about prayer.  I heard nothing back of course. Maybe he thought that all such prayer was condescending. How does he know?

Word nerd that I am, I looked up the words. Did you know that the Latin root for prayer is the same as the root of precarious?  Precarious prayer?  If I pray because I love, then it is precarious as hell, because love is precarious. I put my soul on the line when I really care, care enough to pray, to risk exposing my heart. And then what? I never know.

Abraham, for example, checks with God about Sodom and Gomorra. What’s God’s plan here? Is it really to destroy everyone in these putatively evil cities? Is God vengeful, wrathful? Some people today assume this is how God is too? Abraham “comes near” to God with his questions. NOTE: God listens AND responds as Abraham argues his case, over and over he asks: what if not everyone in these cities is sinful as charged? Abraham is assured that the God, who has made covenants of belonging and love, will not destroy everyone if just one measly righteous person is therein alive. We think God tests Abraham? No, it is Abraham who more often tests God.

Abraham’s prayer style is conversational, an inner dialogue. Mine is the same. I, like Abraham, learn something about myself, about love, and about God when I pray this way. Outcomes are rarely exactly as I pray. The same is true for Jesus. He taught his disciples to use the basic structure of the Jewish prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer. He also elaborated about love-on-the-ground: if your child or someone you love asks for fish would you give a snake? No. For the sake of love you’d bend heaven and earth to give what is asked, even if it has to be stale bread or peanut butter because you can’t afford fish. You give in the spirit of love as you pray like crazy.

You know how to work this ethic in your personal life. You know how to work this ethic in your politics. Prayer may be precarious as love is, but it is not loving when energized with the spirit of venom. Listen to Rachel Maddow. Listen to Rush Limbaugh. Their causes and goals differ, but the venom behind their “preaching” is the same.

Prayer is a precarious love song. Ask, incessantly for exactly what you want. Heck, even our  public communal prayers are direct and bold, in manicured language, yes, but still we ask: God save the world, heal the sick, love the sinners, bless the dead. These are down-to-earthly love prayers. Pay attention to what happens, however small and however obvious. 

One of my sons, John, moved recently into a new neighborhood. He has two children Phoebe, 11 and Dylan, 5. They all felt the initial awkwardness of being strangers in a brand new neighborhood. The children sat with TV and their tablets, and Dad wondered and worried. Then the doorbell rang. Phoebe jumped up and ran to open the door, Dylan hot on her heels. There on the front stoop stood a group of young children. They chirped in chorus: “Hi. Do you play?”

Do you pray? Do you let it be precarious, wholly true, bold and direct?  “God, please be with my newly divorced son. He didn’t want this. Now he’s grieving, and trying to be a single dad to two young kids who miss their one-and-only home and so wish their parents were together, and they can’t make it happen.”
Who knew God would appear at the door and say: Do you play? 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

2019.07.21 The Man In The Moon

Fifty years ago in July of 1969, I was thirty-one and the young mother of three children: two daughters, ages six and five and a son, age two. My then-husband and I were on Nantucket vacationing with some friends. All the children had gone to bed and were all, finally and mercifully, asleep at once. We adults, however, were more awake than we wanted to be after a drowsy beach-day in the sun. We sat huddled around a small radio, the only communication available in our rented cottage, and strained to make out voices through the static. It was barely possible to believe that the radio voices were speaking to us from the moon, the same moon to whom, or to which, we nightly bid “good night” reading the favorite bedtime story, Good Night Moon.
This night was not like any other night. It was so unusual that not one of us bedraggled parents was drinking a goodnight beer. Nor did we repair to the porch to gaze at the stars-and-moon show, which on a cloudless night was panoramically visible thanks to the absence of ground light.

This night we strained to hear American astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, deliver a newscast from the moon on which they walked, or more accurately toddled or wobbled in their moon-suits. We kept silence before, during, and after the broadcast was over for some time. No one commented at all, but our faces shone—alive with wonder. Then we went to bed without comment.

Who knew awe could be so unitive—electrifying and soothing at the same time? 

The next morning we told our children what we had seen. A daughter comment offhandedly: “Oh yeah, the man in the moon. I’ll have Cheerios.”

Details and speculations about further space research and travel are available and most beautifully presented in the 7/19 issue of National Geographic. I was fascinated to read about the array of meaningful earthly objects the astronauts took with them into space.
    -Alan Shepherd (Apollo 14) hid in a sock a six-iron clubhead, which he attached to a tool handle to hit two balls on the moon. [Wonder if they’re still orbiting, and if so does this count as an everlasting cosmic hole-in-one?] 
    -Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) brought a piece of the Wright Flyer’s wooden propeller. [Never forget those on whose shoulders you stand as you make advances into uncharted territories.]
    -Deliciously, John Young (Gemini 3) smuggled on board a corned beef sandwich to share with his crewmate, Gus Grissom, who stuffed the treat into his pocket when crumbs began to float around the cabin. [Not till after he got a huge mustardy bite, I hope.] 
    -Closest to my heart was the offering of Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11). He brought wine, bread and a chalice to celebrate Communion on the moon before he walked on it. NASA kept a lid on the gesture to avoid negative reactivity, and later Aldrin wondered if he’d done the right thing celebrating a Christian ritual in space. He wrote in his 2010 memoir: “We had come to space in the name of all mankind—be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the Apollo experience than by giving thanks to God.”

Before Aldrin and Armstrong disembarked, Aldrin asked the ground crew on Earth to keep a moment of silence to contemplate what was happening and to give thanks in their own way. Many future space travelers have memorialized awe in words and gestures of their own traditions.To this day Lunar Communion Sunday is still celebrated at Webster Presbyterian Church in Houston where Aldrin was an elder. Aldrin’s impulse is easy to understand. Only the small of mind and heart would think he was trying to colonize the moon for any one religion!

“In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.”  Aldrin wrote.  Here is the cup. Interestingly, he read the New Testament parable of the vine and the branches not the Last Supper  story.
To me his description of the wine's movement is just how the divine Spirit moves about in the world, curling slowly and gracefully—like a snake but neither biting nor poisonous, though it may nip a bit to make sure we are awake. 

Future space research and travel will continue I’m sure and, I hope, build a spirit of collaborative awe not competitive grandiosity. The National Geographic article interviewed Russian cosmonauts as well as Americans: “Interestingly, the cosmonauts I met in Russia seemed to share two perspectives with their American counterparts. First, their time in space made them profoundly more interested in protecting the Earth. Second, they think the idea of permanent colonization of space is bonkers.”  (p. 95)

Bonkers indeed. I’ll have Cheerios while I appreciate the lovely moon from right here on this  glorious Earth, praising human ingenuity right alongside divine creativity.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

2019.07.14 A Runcible Spoon Of Course No Less

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea

   In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,

"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
   What a beautiful Pussy you are,
        You are,
        You are!

What a beautiful Pussy you are!"


Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!

O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-Tree grows

And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
        His nose,
        His nose,

With a ring at the end of his nose.


"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
    Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."

So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon;

And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
    They danced by the light of the moon,
         The moon,
         The moon,

They danced by the light of the moon.

When I was a little girl I adored this poem. I still do. It feels like year-round, summer-like, whimsical nonsense that makes great sense for no good reason whatsoever.

Logically, I would have queried without ceasing about what a runcible spoon was, but I have no memory of getting stuck on “runcibility,” having figured that it was just a special spoon that we didn’t happen to have in our kitchen drawer. I looked. Besides, why would we, we were not owls or pussycats? [Clever silversmiths through the centuries have indeed designed made-up runcible spoons.]

Early on, my ginormous imagination, aided by expansive curiosity and self-help investigation, swallowed things whole or made them fit into my life’s schematic, including the outrageous idea of God. My mind was logically nonsensical. Still is. This can be a dangerous modus operandi, of course, but it can also be fun, and for me at least, it didn’t crush my soul, but gave me God along with many other wondrous mysteries.

I’m sure the poet Edward Lear must have had a logically nonsensical mind like mine, although here he looks more eccentric, as one might expect of a proper Englishman born in 1812, than whimsical.
Lear was the penultimate of 21 children, raised by his eldest sister Ann, 21 years his senior, after the post-Napoleonic war and the resultant collapse of the family business. As if that weren’t enough to douse a soul, Lear suffered from epileptic seizures, bronchitis and asthma, partial blindness, depression he called “the Morbids,” and the pains and pangs of unrequited affections in attractions to both sexes. Still, or therefore, he made stuff up, and called his writings and illustrations: "nonsense literature for children." I was charmed as a child. I remain so as an adult.

Can’t you just picture the dancing duo off to a honeymoon by moonlight in a pea-green boat with honey and money and quince and mince, and a ring to seal the deal—forever and ever amen?
All this whimsy might augur a mystical moment, prescient of my early ascent toward sainthood. OR it might simply be the beginning of my slide into a deliciously runcible dementia.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

2019.07.07 Are We Free Yet?

America has just celebrated its big National Holiday. I hear the echoes of firecrackers and take in all the flags that suddenly popped out everywhere. We think it’s our birthday as a nation, the time we gained our precious national independence and identity. I celebrated with cookouts, friends, sitting by a pool, thinking of my children, loving the world, and feeling thankful and free. This flag image is rigid. I chose it for that reason.

Now that fireworks and celebrity have died down, I wonder: have we celebrated with integrity the spirituality of this great holiday/holy day? What IS the spirituality of independence anyway? How do we live it? Does it mean independence FROM one another? Or does it mean independence TO make local decisions that guarantee state’s rights. OR maybe it means that we have lost sight of our INTERdependence? Have we forgotten how to be ONE nation indivisible yet supple?

At a high school graduation we attended recently we all stood to sing the national anthem, and I wept—yes for the sheer sentimentality of it, but also with grief over our self image. Have we lived up to our song’s vision?  Or have we used it to justify making one more war somewhere? Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave of which we sing? Are we free to be who we say we are and want to be according to our national vision?

I think this holiday is stuck in its original historical context: winning the war and getting rid of Brit rule. We thought we were free. By proxy right now, we are cleansing ourselves of other foreigners and strangers in our midst, especially those who might threaten our political and legal stability, deplete our resources, and present a moral and spiritual challenge we do not have the courage to confront. 

We are stuck, it seems to me, in a rigid habit of thought. We think in opposites, personally and globally. Our mentality, reflexively, is oppositional, frozen-in-place. Whoever we imagine to be our opposite has power over us. We could think appositely. We could ask: what stance, position, or way of thinking is apt in the realization of our vision of collective freedom?

Here’s a word I just ran across: misandry.  It means dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men (ie the male sex). It’s pronounced MISS-andree from the Greek miso- (hating) + aner,  andr man—on the pattern of misogyny.  Hey, there’s a word I bet we all recognize: misogyny, the opposite of misandry. Misogyny is recognizably popular right now in church and state.

I’ve been tempted at times to nurture a bitter misandry, especially in this patriarchal world and church. But I don’t hate men. I love them, well, most of them. And I need them to compliment and to enrich my femaleness. Some of Dick's and my best marital moments grow out of our spats, which, ironically, serve to boot us from opposition to apposition. Really!

Whenever I’ve expended too much energy on hating men, using patriarchy as my cover, I’m not free to be FOR much of anything, including my self. Still, I admit the men I know and love are apposite to my religion and politics, not opposite. I hang out with the proverbial “choir”—appositely aligned.  Am I too afraid to find real opposites? Sometimes. 

America does not feel free to me right now, fireworks aside. Americans are stuck in spat mode, either FOR or AGAINST our current president. That’s how we think. It’s how we talk. It’s in the air and on the air. People talk about how to “cope.” Many opt out of the fray. Others fight. Some pray. Some get lost in cotton candy positivity. But few honestly pretend this is not going on.

My Christian faith helps me. Christ’s compassion has no borders—no borders on the human heart. Divine generosity is limitless, its signature vast. The spirituality of freedom and true independence is scandalous open-heartedness.

Yes, I know this spiritual vision is extremely demanding. I also know that we have no right to give God a nationality—ours.  Nor do we have a right to give God a gender—anyone's.

What do we dare to want for our birthday, America? What will be apposite to freedom?  How can we soften our flag, our souls, and our borders? With what gift?

Today I saw a small boy with his pregnant mom and another woman perhaps a grandmother. He was restless, shifting his weight around and clutching a towel and a set of goggles. I smiled at him and said: "Hi, you ready to go swimming?" "Yes, I've been waiting to come to this pool for years. This is my big moment."

Sunday, June 30, 2019

2019.06.30 Leaving and Grieving With Grit and Grace

It is hard to say goodbye and harder to make that goodbye authentic, that is, with feeling but not sloppy. There’s only one way to do it—just do it. The apostle Paul called it speaking the truth in love. I call it leaving and grieving with grit and grace.

We have been priest associates at a parish in Charlestown Massachusetts for seven years. Today was our last Sunday. We’ll be moving on, not because of anything negative, but because it is time. A bit of the process:

Our notice in the parish newsletter, June 10—Holy Spirit season takes hold.
Dear Parishioners of St. John’s,

In conversation with one another and in communication with the parish wardens and Canon Carol Gallagher, the regional canon for our area of the diocese who has oversight over transition processes, we have decided that it is time for us to move on from St. John’s parish. Our last Sunday in the parish will be June 30th.

The Priest Associate arrangement was made under the appointment of the former rector, and we have served in that capacity over seven years with gratitude. Your gracious hospitality gave us an altar and a pulpit  whereby we could function as priests during our early retirement years. Thank you.

You are entering a transition time when you will be discerning your future and new leadership. It’s the right time for us to move on. We are making plans for our next retirement phase which will have us moving out of Massachusetts.

With deep appreciation and gratitude for this community, we bid you all farewell and bless you with grit and grace as you go forward. Thank you.


The Rev’ds Lyn G. Brakeman and Richard J Simeone, aka Lyn and Dick

A Gracious Response

This Sunday June 30, we say farewell to Rev. Lyn Brakeman and the Rev. Dick Simeone, who have been an integral part of St. John’s for many years.
Together with us:
    They have preached, celebrated baptisms, officiated and been a spiritual balm at funerals, heard and healed us, and called us time and time again to the Eucharistic table.
    They’ve broken bread with us, laughed, cried, fussed, found things that were lost, and sat with us when we were feeling lost.
    They’ve visited those of us who were sick, dying, grieving, newly parenting, struggling, or confined.
    They’ve inspired and provoked us to look within ourselves and without ourselves to the needs of the whole world.

Lyn and Dick—we will miss you. We wish you oh so well in the next stage of your lives. We send our love, our prayers and our knowledge that we are all and always a part of the community of Christ.
         Catherine and Sarah, Parish Wardens.

What I love most about this response is that it acknowledges that parish ministry happens together. 

Final Blessings  On invitation from the Interim priest, we offered the closing blessings—dual but not dueling. As we said our favorites heads nodded and lips moved in recognition. We felt warmed.
Lyn: Time is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts and minds or those who travel the way with us, so be swift to love and make haste to be kind.
Dick: And, as you go forth to life and ministry, the blessing of the eternal and ever-living God, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit, sustain, strengthen, challenge, and renew you this day and forevermore. Amen.

Party Time This parish specializes in food glorious food. There was enough to feed those 5000 hungry stragglers on the hillsides as Jesus did. (I’ve often thought it would be a great idea for St. John’s to start a small café/tearoom ministry. Then I remembered we don’t have a dishwasher.)

Many people shed tears of love, offered goodbyes and remembrances of beauty and humor, even a little anger. One man remembered that when his mother was sick and lonely and uncertain about God’s judgment, he’d asked if I’d give her a call. I gave her many calls. She called  me “her spiritual advisor,” and, after she’d read my memoir, declared: “Well! I guess if this woman did all this acting up and is a priest, I must be fine with God.”

Parting Words  We each offered parting thoughts—humorous, wise, and into the future. I am only qualified to share my own.

Well, we are soaring up, up, and away with Elijah in the whirlwind, but according to a typo in today’s bulletin we’ll be back again next week.
My two favorite spiritual gifts are grit and grace. [Grit and grace! they repeated knowingly.] A lot’s been said about grace, God’s, yours, ours, so I’m going to zero in on grit. I know some of you worry about the future of this parish, but let me assure you, you have what it takes in your DNA to thrive. I call this grit your blunt force determination and resilience. Two iconic examples:
    -Years ago a fire threatened to burn down the sanctuary. The rector, the legendary Mr. Cutler, placed his body between the stained glass apse window of Christ presiding at the Eucharist and a fireman wielding a large axe, ready to demolish the window. The window survived and the sanctuary didn’t burn down. Grit and grace.
     -Once a diocesan bishop was thinking of closing this parish. A small group of stalwart gritty parishioners, some of them here today, raised a great fuss, organized, and, as legend would have it, actually barred the bishop from entering the sanctuary.  I love the legend, but, in this case, the real story is even better: the gritty small group organized, went out into Charlestown, and rallied as many people as they could ambush to come to church that Sunday. The poor bishop arrived to a full house. He didn’t dare close the place after such a show of Christian zeal! Grit and grace.

The challenge this gritty and graced parish faces today, I think, is twofold: trust mightily in your DNA and simultaneously, slow down, listen to your self, to God, to one another, even a bishop. Christ isn’t presiding over a horse race, you know.

Carry on with grit and grace, beloved. You got this one.