Thursday, June 29, 2006

Iona IV - Who Were Those Celts?

We tend to associate the Celts with Ireland, since that's the locale in which their music and traditions flow most completely today. But in fact the Celtic tribes covered most of Europe in the immediately pre-Christian centuries. Like other tribal societies, theirs was a culture of war, headed by a king and emphasizing the bonds and loyalties of kinship.

It appears that women played significant roles in Celtic society and leadership, and that their pre-Christian religious beliefs and rituals emphasized the sacredness of the land and the natural world. Those aspects of their culture were incorporated into Christianity as they adopted it and are reflected in their artwork, increasingly popular today. Although the Celts were eventually subsumed under Roman and Germanic control, their influence extends far beyond the stone monuments still scattered across Great Britain, Ireland, and northern France.

When my daughter and I visited the Canadian Maritimes last summer, we saw evidence of Celtic influence scattered across the countryside. And whenever a group of children departs from the North Carolina camp where she is working, the counselors sing them out with the Celt blessing:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft across your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

A terrific website on Celtic Christianity can be found

Images: A map of Celtic Europe, a pattern from a cemetery monument here, an illumination from the Book of Kells.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Flower Power - Round Robin Photos

Today's Round Robin Photo Challenge sent me back to a wildflower hike my father and I took with a group on a nature preserve a year ago May:
Indian paintbrush, trillium, and maybe someone else can identify the third one!

Check the Round Robin site to see the other entries!

Iona III - The Last Millenium

The Vikings destroyed all evidence of the original monastery at Iona, including most of the stone Celtic crosses, but in the early 1200s a Benedictine monastery and an Augustinian convent were built there. St. Benedict of Nursia (in Italy) is the author of the rule for life that continues to govern hundreds of monastic houses around the world 1500 years after his lifetime. During the so-called "Dark Ages" in Europe, after the collapse of the Roman Empire and destruction of much of its urban infrastructure by the tribes of the north, the monasteries and convents emerged as rural centers of learning.

The Roman Catholic Iona community continued to flourish until the Protestant Reformation. The Protestants, being a peaceable lot (akin to the Vikings) bent on reform, demolished most of the buildings and burned the library, and what was left gradually receded into oblivion. The abbey came under the control of the king and, eventually, private family ownership. A subsequent duke in that family line began some restoration work in the late 1800s, transferring ownership of the church properties to a foundation when he could no longer afford the work. The abbey was restored by the early 1900s and in 1938 the Reverend George MacLeod founded the contemporary
Iona Community, which describes itself as "an ecumenical Christian community of men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church that is committed to seeking new ways of living the gospel of Jesus Christ in today's world."

Today you can walk among the ruins of the convent cloister, visit the abbey buildings, and participate in the life of the Iona Community for a day, a week, a year, even up to three years. We will be living in one of the community residences and participating in its life -- liturgy, meal prep or cleanup, conversations with people from all over the world -- for a week.

Some reading:

Columba: The Celtic Dove
ed. Kathie Walters

The Pattern of Our Days: Worship in the Celtic Tradition from the Iona Community
by Kathy Galloway

Celtic Prayers from Iona
by J. Philip Newell

Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality
by J. Philip Newell

The Isle of Iona
by Alastair deWatteville

How the Irish Saved Civilization
by Thomas Cahill -- and many thanks to Russell Smith! for this recommendation. All four Cahill books are in my summer reading pile, but I had not thought to check this one for Iona material.

You can see a panorama of the island's exteriors here (click and drag to move the panorama image in a circular motion), of the cloister here, and of the inside of the abbey here. The panoramas take a minute to load, but are well worth a look.

(Images from top to bottom: Celtic artwork on a cemetery monument here, the cover of the Book of Kells, the Abbey at Iona)

Iona II - The Christianization of Scotland via Columba

St. Columba, previously of Ireland, founded a Celtic monastery on Iona in 563. An educated nobleman and priest, Columba had founded several monasteries before running into some problems (the stories, not surprisingly, conflict with one another) in Ireland and departing for another coast. The Iona monastery gained prominence, sending missionary monks to Scotland, England, and the continent, and functioning as the center of the Irish church until a 664 schism. (The primary dispute had to do with the dating of Easter, as so many of these things do, and resulted in the decline of the Celtic church and the ascendancy of the Roman church in the British Isles.)

The Vikings showed up in the 700s, the 800s, and the 900s, destroying the monastery in 986. The famous
Book of Kells illuminated manuscript was probably produced at Iona in the 800s (too late to have been written by Columba himself, as tradition long held) and removed to Ireland, where it remains at Trinity College Dublin, during the Viking raids. Iona itself would rise in another incarnation in the 1200s; in the meantime it would become the burial ground of kings from Scandanavia and Scotland, including Macbeth himself.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Iona I - Pilgrimage Plans

In another couple of weeks I will be on the island of Iona, off the northwest coast of Scotland, spending a week as part of a group from our Presbyterian church. My husband and I will be spending the preceding week in Paris. My warped thought processes last winter produced a speedy determination that, as long as I had to cross the ocean, we should make the most of it, despite certain cost factors that render that decision laughable.

I thought that I would write a bit about our plans as I start to orient myself toward the next few weeks, starting with the whole Iona idea, the brainchild of our new associate pastor. Thanks to her, we are in the midst of a three-year cyle of adult programming on the themes of The Bible, The Traditions of the Church, and Christian Practice. The Iona trip is meant as a culmination of the past year's work on the second topic, but I see now that it also serves as a bridge between the concepts of tradition and practice.

Our little group has been decimated by illness -- two of the women were diagnosed with breast cancer almost simultaneously in the past month and will be spending the next few weeks contending with chemo instead of lost luggage. (Their plights make my decision, along the lines of "once in a lifetime -- the money be damned") somewhat less laughable. As a result, there will be twelve of us, ranging in age from 80+ to 15, meeting in a Glasgow hotel one evening and making the journey to Iona the next day. One of the women who was somewhat hesitant to make the committment last winter told me that the deal was clinched when she heard me talking about the trip as a pilgrimage ~ a word that always reminds me of Mrs. Ellis, my English professor for Intro to British Lit at Mount Holyoke, who told us that each year she hoped in vain for one of her former students to produce a movie of The Canterbury Tales.

Well, it won't be April and we won't be looking for the bones of
St. Thomas Becket, but we will, for those of you familiar with The Canterbury Tales, make up a somewhat diverse group of pilgrims. According to one of those internet quizzes making the rounds some time ago, I get to be the Prioress. I don't remember a thing about her Tale, but I'm guessing that enlightenment is sure to come quickly from another quarter.

Our destination:

Main Entry: pil·grim·age
Function: noun
Pronunciation: 'pil-gr&-mij
1 : a journey of a pilgrim ; especially : one to a shrine or a sacred place
2 : the course of life on earth

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,

To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.
(Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales)

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Trying Hard To Be Grateful That We're Not Talking Nina, Pinta, or Santa Maria

12:00 Noon ~ Arrive at airport checkout counter with son en route to Spain.

12:40 PM ~ Son is finally checked in and I am waving good-bye as he makes his way through security.

4:40 PM ~ Son calls; plane is landing at JFK half an hour late and he has an hour to make his connection.

5:20 PM ~ Son calls; he has made it from one side of the airport to the other and is confident he will miss his flight as he is now required to go through security again.

5:35 PM ~ Son calls; drenched in sweat from running, he is the last person on the plane which is departing momentarily.

2:30 AM ~ Son calls; plane arrived in Barcelona an hour and a half late. He has one hour to make his connection and is standing at the end of a long and static line with yet another security checkpoint ahead.

3:00 AM ~ Son calls, wondering whether he should abandon check-in line and try to get to gate. I try various Iberia Airlines numbers in U.S. and Spain to find out how Barcelona Airport works but apparently everyone else is asleep or on siesta.

3:15 AM ~ Son calls, much more cheerful. He has realized that when it's time for a plane to depart, they move everyone from slow general line to fast specific-to-that-plane line. Surely he will be sent to the fast line in a minute.

4:00 AM ~ Son calls, dejected. He had reached the head of the slow line only to be told that his plane's doors were closed and that the passengers for his flight had been called to the fast line much earlier -- when he was still sitting on a Delta aircraft.

5:00 AM ~ Son calls to say that he has another flight in five hours. His luggage is presumably in Valencia but since he is not there to retrieve it, no one is promising anything.

9:45 AM ~ Update: Flight to Valencia delayed. Son sounds on the verge of collapse.

1:30 PM ~ Update: Son in Valencia in his residence, showered and feeling much better now that he is no longer trying to use his (very) limited Espanol to converse with ticket agents. Luggage? Iberia Valencia says it's in Barcelona. Iberia Barcelona says it's in Valencia. I remind him that we got the same stream of vague and mis-information last year when his luggage left Barcelona and apparently visited London and Chicago -- and then after two or three days suddenly landed on our back porch. Not time to worry yet.

I know that it was more difficult for Columbus to go west, but still.

Read the previous entry. Today I choose North Carolina over transatlantic travel.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Summertime at Camp

Welcome Back!

Beach Towels Decorate a Cabin Porch

Milk for Little Cows Arrives Via Holstein Truck

Poland, Kazakhstan, and Great Britain

It's late July, I'm turning ten, and I'm in the middle of my first two-month sojourn at summer camp. I'm -- finally! -- learning to swim and to ride. The Wicked Stepmother is 500 miles away and I'm reveling in freedom and independence as I act in plays, scramble around waterfalls, and soak up the beauty of the hemlocks and mountain laurel of the Blue Ridge.

When my own kids go to camp and, eventually, become counselors, I am reminded of how gently I was introduced to the wideness of the world in the context of a North Carolina Valley. Their counselors were from Poland, New Zealand, Australia, England, South Africa, and Ireland. My son loved the Russian kitchen crew with whom he worked and camped out; my daughter and her co-counselor are sharing their cabin with two young women from Uzbekistan. My own memories include Shane and Sami, two young men from Ireland and Lebanon who were counselors for a cabin of boys way at the top of the hill, and who were full of laughter and fun. I have always remembered them because it was not until several years later that I grasped just how difficult some parts of the world are and, having known Shane and Sami, I have never really been able to undertand why. If only every 10-year-old spent a month or two in the mountains playing soccer and going swimming with counselors from all over the world, perhaps this wordd would be a different place.

The Lovely Camp Counselor is having a wonderful session with a great group of girls after that first difficult week with young ladies who were inconstant terror of being consumed by spiders. Her words of wisdom, after a camp-out in which the campers showed far more stamina than their counselors:

"Mom, it's SO much easier to be up all night because the girls are laughing and telling stories than because they are upset and want to go home!"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Life I Was Meant For

I am away for the week at a program for teachers, paid for (including stipends) by corporate sponsors who want to improve economic education in the United States. The program itself, taught by luminaries in the field who also happen to be terrific communicators, is outstanding. But here's what's important:

I have a sparklingly clean hotel room with a queen-sized bed JUST FOR ME, a tv and remote JUST FOR ME, and my son's laptop, JUST FOR ME.

Someone makes the bed and cleans the bathroom and stacks up fresh towels every morning, and that someone is NOT me.

When I emerge from said bathroom, no cat litter sticks to my damp feet, and no dog needs to go out. (Well, she probably does need to go out, but someone else will have to take her.)

There is a hot tub downstairs, where I have just spent more than an hour in uninterrupted adult conversation.

My favorite parts so far: the chocolate pudding for desert and the huge soft soft soft white towels.

Hmmmm. I can't figure out how to highlight on the lapttop so I can fix the font. Downside to everything, I guess.

PS (Friday night): Home again. Font figured out. College town decimated by storms last night -- downed trees all over the place and no power in hotel last night or in classroom building today. Terrible earache tonight. Son en route to Spain tomorrow.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Dead Sea Scrolls - Part II (Photo in June 14 Entry)

Why do they matter?

Since, as far as is known, there is not a single original text of the Bible, Jewish or Christian, in existence, they matter a lot.

For Jews, they represent a confirmation of the accuracy of texts produced 1000 years later. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the earliest extant Hebew text was from about 900 CE. The Dead Sea Scroll texts are eerily similar to the later ones, and provide a bonus new paragraph to the Book of Samuel.

From a Christian standpoint, the Scrolls provide a new foundation upon which to understand the thoughts and beliefs that shaped early Christianity.

One of the major questions about Jesus has been: how much of his teachings were already present in first century Jewish culture, and what was original to Jesus? Until recently, little was known about first century Judaism. All modern Jews descend from the Pharisees; they are the only group for which written documentation has been available and, therefore, the only group to whose teachings those of Jesus could be compared.

There are striking similarities between Jesus' words and the teachings of the Pharisees in the areas of God as Father, the resurrection of the dead, helping the poor, and the law as, essentially: love God and love your neighbor.

The biggest discrepancies between the teachings of Jesus and those of the Pharisees have to do with a focus on end-times, including an end-time meal (as it was explained to us, what we think of as The Lst Supper in Mark actually looks forward to the return of Jesus, rather than backward to memory), an emphasis on baptism, an approach to the interpretation of Scripture in light of the community's experience (i.e., looking back to Isaiah for the words, "Make way a path in the wilderness"), and a value in the practice of celibacy.

Until the last several decades, it was believed that all of the above discrepancies indicated ideas original to Jesus and the Church, but the discovery of the scrolls idicated that they were all beliefs common to the Essenes. With respect to the passgae form Isaiah quoted above, the Essenes believed that they were in the wilderness and that study of Torah was "the Way."

None of this means that Jesus, or the early Christians, were Essenes, a theory I have heard from time to time. But it does demonstrate how many of the early characteristics of Christianity were Jewish.

And that the real differnece between Christianity and the ideas and concepts already floating around in its original culture are its beliefs in the Resurrection and Jesus as messiah.

Of course, I now have yet another new book, this one all about the Dead Sea Scrolls. . . .

(Cynthia: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity by Carsten Peter Thiede, Professor of Early Christian History and ordained Anglican minister.)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pass the Peace


I read the Scripture.

And preached the sermon.

And offered the Commission and Blessing.

The choir sang the Benediction.

Then I looked at our pastor and said helplessly, "Isn't there something now about peace?"

And we both dissolved into laughter.

She, fortunately, could remember the words.

I went for a walk at 7:00 this morning and I'm going for another one.

Really, it was all ok.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Modest Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls - Part I

Many of us have some vague ideas about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Desert caves, Bedouins, clay jars, old writings about -- what, exactly? That was about as far as my knowledge extended until I went to a lecture a couple of weeks ago that preceeded a guided tour of the museum exhibit in which a fragment of one of them is displayed. I love a great "Mystery of History," so indulge me in this brief summary of what I've learned (and credit goes to the seminary professor/parish priest from whom I've learned a tremendous amount about scriptural criticism and interpretation in the classes he has offered for laypeople over the years):

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of about 800 manuscripts, found between 1947 and 1956 in the caves of Qumran, on the northwest side of the Dead Sea. They are handwritten, mostly on animal skins, some on papyrus and, while none bear authors' names (as was traditional at the time) or internal dates, they have been dated (and yes, you can google them and discover that they have been carbon-dated) from 200 BCE - 100 CE, largely by their parallels to histories written by Philo and Josephus.

The leading hypothesis about the Scrolls is that they constituted the library of the Essenes, a Jewish sect of the first century, contemporaneous with the life of Christ. They contain no reference to Jesus or his followers, but they do contain most of the books of the Hebrew Bible, including multiple copies of many of them, and a number of books not known before that describe the life of the Essene community.

The discovery of the Scrolls and the dawning understanding of what they represent is a great adventure tale: from a young Bedouin shepherd throwing rocks in a cave and running away when he heard the sound of something breaking, to the return trip and discovery of the first seven scrolls, to the baffled Syrian archbishop who bought four of them for $100 and the equally confused professor at Hebrew University who purchased the other three, to the Johns Hopkins manuscript expert who immediately recognized them as the "greatest manuscript discovery of all time," to the race to the caves by scholars and Bedouins as the word leaked out that something of value might be hidden in them, to the 15,000 fragments carted off -- many by Bedouins to marketplaces -- and painstakingly retrieved over many subsequent years, to the Wall Street Journal ad that brought the Syrian archbishop a rather large return on his initial $100 investment. The original seven scrolls are now all in Israel, except for the small fragment that came to us handcuffed to its caretaker and under 24/7 guard in the museum.

Why does anyone care? Stay tuned. . .

Friday, June 16, 2006

I Am Afraid. . .

. . . that this being the last day of school, I went straight to the university library, returned one book, renewed a book that I can't find, paid the rather substantial fines on each, and took out five, yes, FIVE, Karl Rahner books and also Belden Lane's Solace of Fierce Landscapes. When I am going to fit all these in, along with the stacks of books on Chartres and Iona leaning precariously on the dining room table, I have no idea, but the fact that I do not have to grade one more single paper on either World War II or the American Revolution fills me with optimism and hope.

I also went downtown to initiate the first financial transaction that might make it possible for me to go to seminary in a year.

Last night I took advantage of streaming video to watch the PC(USA) General Assembly's election of the moderator -- the Reverend Joan Gray -- who will serve for the next two years. As I commented elsewhere, I disagree with Joan Gray on the ordination question (I hope I am portraying her accurately by stating that she said that she did not yet believe that the Biblical case for gay and lesbian ordination had been made, and had decided to live with the discomfort her position creates for her), but she seems to be a person who can bring people to the table and enable them to hear each other -- a true definition of moderator. And if the internet has brought me anything, it is the realization that my little corner of the Presbyterian church is apparently on the extreme cusp of progressive/liberal/whatever you want to call it, even within the PC(USA) itself. We seem pretty middle-of-the-road to me, but apparently other people are not of that opinion (including my son and one of the rabbis with whom I work, who both laughed long and hard when I tried to make the case for our middle-of-the-roadness.) So perhaps a moderator who can reach her arms farther out and around than I can in is order. At any rate, it was a fascinating process to watch.

I LOVE the internet. I can't believe how much there is to do and see and learn from my computer. But I love my new books, too. I'm going to go and read one of them right now.

PS: If you scroll all the way down, just for today, you can see a close-up of a section of the image above.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Temple Scroll

Guess what my son and I saw tonight?

Yep, a fragment of THE Temple Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, outside of Israel for the first and only time and housed in a fabulous exhibit at a local museum. 2,000 years old, part of the Essene library at Qumran.

We were pretty excited.

I'll try to post more about the Dead Sea Scrolls tomorrow. For tonight, I am just really amazed. Right there, under glass, six inches from my nose.


I've been pretty down the last few days. Dead cats and good friends leaving and all, plus I keep reading about the Presbyterian Church.

That would be my church.

I was trying to write something in response to many of the blogs and comments and news articles scattered around the internet, and I was failing. And I need to go to work. And I need a chocolate croissant rather desperately.

And then I realized why I was having such a problem. I have been trying to respond (which means letting others set my agenda), and I have been trying to respond to pronouncements rather than stories. There are a lot of pronouncements in Presby-related commentary right now, MSM and otherwise. Few of them characterize anything that I understand, because what we have in our lives are our stories, not pronouncements.

Pronouncement: Adultery is wrong. Story: The Scarlet Letter. Now, is it wrong or isn't it? For whom? By whom? When? Everyone has a different story: Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale, the community. It really doesn't help to intone a la Cotton Mather that "Adultery is wrong." It might help to listen to the stories.

Yes, that was an extreme example. So intended.

Pronouncements: The Presbyterian Church (USA) should divest itself of certain financial entanglements that would seem to support Israeli action against Palestinians. Or, the opposite. The Church should prevent the ordination of gay and lesbian persons. Or, the opposite. Pronouncement: God is Mother, Father, and Creator. Or, not. Pronouncement: The Bible is the sole authority for the Church. Or, there are multiple authorities from which we can seek to discern God's presence and will. Or, not.

The image above is from the tile mosaic around the Tiffany window in the chapel I've been studying. Two of the artistic themes portayed throughout the chapel are The Cross and The Rainbow.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More Tiffany

Tough week.

Several veterans are finishing their last year at the school where I work. It is slowly dawning on me that I will have absolutely no one left with whom to commiserate next fall. I am going to miss a lot of really wonderful people, and be very lonely besides.

The Presbyterian Church is gearing up for the bi-annual General Assembly (our national representative body) debate on ordination standards which means, essentially, on gay and lesbian ordination. And a Texas Presbytery is vigorously debating one of its church's willingness to permit an atheist to become a member. There is so much acrimony in the air on both issues that I'm thinking I should just return to the practice of law, where the adversarial process is at least well rewarded from a financial perspective.

A couple of days ago I removed a dead cat from the street where it had been hit and placed it gently on the tree lawn, hoping that its humans would find it more or less intact. I did the exact same thing at Christmas when I left a friend's party and discovered what turned out to be her back yard neighbor's cat in the street. All because when our lovely cat was hit three years ago, the body ultimately returned to us was so badly smashed that my heart still breaks when I think of him, and I would never want someone else to see their cat that way. I would never want another cat to be that way.

The Lovely Camp Counselor left a message this morning when I had forgotten my phone -- apparently she and her co-counselor were up all night and she was about to collapse from exhaustion. But that's all I know so I am left to wonder: Homesick camper? Catfight among pre-pubescent girls? Someone sick?

The Tiffany window is great, though.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Last night, sitting outside with a group of longtime friends, the first of our summer biweekly "Porch Nights," and hearing about a daughter who was to start a new job today working for a small company that manages private corporate flights, and talking about how I used to do much of the legal work for a similar company, a subsidiary of the very large transportation company I worked for, and about the contrast between then and now:

I used to be a person who put on a suit and heels and went out to the airport early in the morning, where pilots would open doors for me and say, "Is there anything I can get you, Ms. C?"

When was the last anyone EVER said, "Is there anything I can get you, Ms. C?"


Paul writes about his son and new daughter-in-law's wedding reception and I remember an autumn day 30 years ago, when I was lifeguarding at the college pool and looking like someone not on the cover of Vogue in one of those ill-fitting navy tank suits that clung to you like loose cellophane, and I looked up to see a bushy head of hair and even scragglier beard as a familiar face appeared in the window of the pool's office, and my years' earlier boarding school roommate's first love ever waved at me cheerfully, and he told me that he had driven down from Vermont to take me out to dinner, and we went to a cafe in Amherst a block or two from the Lord Jeff and talked for hours about the long ago roommate and her current romantic tribulations, which were many and complex, and he asked me to come up to Vermont for the night, and I thought in some detail about what it would be like to spend the night in Vermont with a man when I could remember the night when we were all sixteen and that long ago roommate had told me in oblique but not uncertain terminology that she was sleeping with him and I could also remember about a year later trying to squirm into oblivion under her parents' dinner table as she screamed at them that she might be pregnant, which I was not sure he wanted to talk about because that situation had involved a different young man, but it turned out that he did want to talk about it, and I thought 'We all know entirely too much about each other for me to go to Vermont tonight,' and so I said that I was seeing someone, which was true but wasn't the reason that I said no.


And of the three of us, the sunnily beautiful roomate with the brilliant mind whose father's plan went something like "Radcliffe Harvard Med Do Not Pass Go Do Not Collect $200," and the handsome young man with the lawyer father and the lawyer brother, and the unlikely girl with the long brown hair and the midwestern accent, I was the one who turned up with a briefcase on a corporate jet another few years later while the other two veered away from college and to the ocean and the mountains, and now I have turned out to be some other person entirely who is still that person who said, "No, I don't want to go to Vermont with you tonight," when I did but I didn't.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Trinity Sunday

Yesterday I tried repeatedly to post an image of the cemetery chapel I was talking about, and it just wouldn't go through. But it's here today, in honor of the liturgical calendar's Trinity Sunday. There in the center is the window that I talked about yesterday.

I gather, from what our pastor said (and from what I've read elsewhere), preachers like to avoid the Trinity as a topic. However, having made that pronouncement, she went on to deliver a beautiful sermon, focusing on the Trinity as perichoresis, or the mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Trinity. Perichoresis is derived from the Greek for "dancing around" or "dancing in a circle" and, as she developed that theme, the Trinity emerged as an interdependent and co-equal expression of the Holy.

So I've heard a lovely sermon, and I saw the fox family mother trotting through the cemetery this morning, and my younger son will be home from college this afternoon. All in all, a very good day.

PS: A week later, I have corrected the spelling of perichoresis. The correct spelling makes a lot more sense, and explains while I couldn't find google references at first.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

From Here to There ~ Part I

In three and one-half weeks, if all goes well, I will be hopping on a plane to, eventually, Paris (two days at Chartres included) and, ultimately, the small island of Iona off the northwest coast of Scotland.

I've been collecting but not reading books on all my destinations -- this afternoon I finally organized them into various piles on the dining room table, so that as the school year winds down I can get started.

In the meantime, I have, quite by surprise, found a new friend and guide in the person of
Wayne, a retired high school teacher who works three days a week as a docent in the tiny chapel sitting above one of the lakes in the cemetery where I walk. I met
him two weeks ago and discovered that he is an encyclopedia of information -- he has clearly spent years researching his chapel and, like me, he loves to travel and sent his children off to see the world, with the result that his daughter now works in Paris and his son in Quito. He and his wife will be visiting their daughter in the fall and, by the time we finished talking two weeks ago, I had convinced him, I think, to add another week and a trip to Mount St. Michel to their itinerary.

I went back today to get some more information on the chapel's Tiffany window, The Flight of Souls, since I remembered Wayne mentioning that it differs significantly from my beloved
Chartres windows. He spent half an hour explaining to me the process by which Mr. Tiffany created his colored glass, using heat, oxides, and metals to create colors that swam and varied across sheets of glass, from which the shapes were then cut. His critics argued that he was creating "accidental" and, therefore, not valid art, but he was struck by the qualities of impressionist paintings and was seeking to create similar effects in glass that would enable more light to pass through the windows than makes it through the solid colored glass typical of Gothic cathedrals.

I am somewhat intimidated. The cemetery chapel is tiny indeed, and there is so much to learn from its window, mosaics, furnishings, and structure. I can't imagine how I am going to handle Chartres, Notre Dame, and St. Chapelle.

Friday, June 09, 2006

That's All Well and Good in Practice - But Does It Work in Theory? (University of Chicago T-Shirt)

The oldest of my three children (by two minutes) is a lovely young man, almost 22, blond and blue-eyed and nearly six feet tall. About an hour ago he handed in the last paper for his junior year of college. Effective tomorrow at 3:00 he will be evicted from his dorm, which means that he is now trying to get ready to move to his summer apartment a few blocks away.

He does not own a cell phone. (He lost his first one the first week of college.) He does not the know the number of the apartment's land line. He does not know the cell phone numbers of any of his three new roommates. He did come up with all three names after a few minutes' thought, and with the address after it occurred to him that he had an old email inviting him to a party there.

He has not opened a bank account, which means he has not deposited any paychecks for months. He has, however, changed the identifying numbers on the account he and I share, in such a way that he has inadvertently precluded my access to the account. His meal plan has ended, all college offices are closed for graduation week-end, and he has $34.00.

He needs two courses to graduate, but he has not signed up for fall semester classes. The college lost its record of his having passed his swim test the first week of freshman year (maybe that's where he lost his cell phone?) and he forgot to retake it this past semester. He has not been to see his thesis advisor in weeks.

World, we are perilously close to turning this young man loose as a free agent. Beware.

In the meantime, cool carving, huh? I can't find the foxes in the cemetery, so I'm back to photographing stone. So much easier to manage than young men on the verge of adulthood, or some approximation thereof.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


This one's for you, Lisa:

Today I conducted a makeup AP exam for a small group of students, an enterprise which was long on College Board bureaucracy -- letters, faxes, phone calls, you name it.

In the middle of the test, one of the students developed a migraine, went downstairs, and passed out.

I called my College Board contact to explain that in the middle of our retake-of-exam-due-to-irregularity, we had experienced another irregularity.

She was silent for a moment.

"I don't recall this ever happening on my watch," she finally said.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Year Winds Down, The Summer Starts Up

I am the queen of enablers. I arranged for a retake of an AP exam for five students who complained about some unfortunate circumstances that affected their original test. By the time our request was approved so that I could order the materials, I had ten students signed up, none of whom was the original complainant. Now with the tests on their way, one of the ten has decided to skip the retake and another has told me she may be out of town.

Remind me next year: it doesn't matter if the building burns down during the test. No retakes!

I have a number of students experiencing a startling change of heart about work they wish they had done a few months ago that might have alleviated the Ds staring back at them from their grade reports, which means I am engaged in a series of extremely exhausting interactions.

On the bright side, I have observed some amazing student presentations in the past few days. And I've cleared out most of my workspace for the summer.

The Lovely Camp Counselor called tonight. The counselors were all out on the town -- a very small town, but a town, nonetheless. She was a bit disconcerted today to learn that she will supervise a cabin of 9-10 year-old girls; she had been hoping for 6-7 year-olds, the only campers guaranteed to be shorter than she is. But she likes her co-counselor and she sounds great.

I went out to a lecture series tonight and ran into a woman I had first met when our boys were all infants. I haven't seen her in several years, so it was a lot of fun to catch up on each other's children. Its hard to imagine that each of our 21-year-old boys weighed maybe 15 pounds when they met in a moms' group!

And, best of all, I got to talk with
Cynthia by phone today! Now how cool is that? It appears that we have a future together in Pirates of the Carribbean.

I am trying to catch up on the blogs I missed while I was out of commission and out of town. If I haven't reached yours yet, I'm almost there!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Global Issues and The DaVinci Code Revisited

From the Gannet Contemporary History Final, based on some of the presentations students have been making and with thanks to the writers of The West Wing:

If you had unlimited funds to address any of these issues -- AIDS, women and poverty, global warming -- for a period of two years, which would you choose, and why?

What irritates me about TDC:

Why oh why did it all have to boil down to sex? Why couldn't a woman and a man be in a deep and committed friendship, without having to have sex? I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that sex is almost always an issue between women and men, but it's not the only one.

And THEN, because a woman who has sex must be a whore, we have to recreate her pristine purity by ensuring that she has a child, so that she can be madonna rather than harlot.

So Mary Magdalene is reduced to Angelina Jolie, which makes Jesus -- oh, let's not even go there.

Monday, June 05, 2006


I spent a lot of the week-end writing, or trying to write, a sermon for two weeks from yesterday. I wrote meandering permutations of four of them. The ideas were just too jumbled. For this summer's lay preacher series, which I am participating in for the second time, our pastor decided to focus on a theme, Faith Matters, rather than the lectionary. She wants us to talk about our personal lives of faith. I have concluded that the lectionary is infinitely easier to wrestle with, no matter how unappealing the texts.

I spent time on the North Carolina trip reading Do You Hear What I Hear? It's a slim memoir by a secular Catholic/Jewish woman exploring her 60-year-old father's call to the Episcopal priesthood and its denial at stage three of 45 by his local discernment committee. An illuminating but disconcerting story, to say the least.

I stayed up night before last to read in one fell swoop Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor's memoir just out on June 1. I have been a Barbara Brown Taylor groupie for years, ever since my stepsister, a parishoner in the Georgia Episcopal church where she was a priest, introduced me to her preaching. She was my first news that preaching could be narrative rather than exhortative, the first person who made me think, "Oh. If that's a preacher, then that might be who I am." She and I seem to be journeying in opposite directions (that are probably leading to the same place), as she has moved from what ultimately felt like the straitjacket of the church to the wider world beyond, and I am moving from a world that is nothing if not diverse into what seems to me to be the framework of a church that encompasses a spacious place. She writes a LOT about burnout. She gives me pause.

Yesterday I was at church for more than an hour after it ended, talking with a friend, a woman my age, who is in seminary and facing a staggering financial setback. Among the challenges of starting over at our age, beyond the struggle to learn those languages made up of little symbols rather than familiar combinations of letters that merged as outgrowths of Latin, are the very real difficulties posed by aging parents, young adult children, and money. She definitely gives me pause.

Now that I read most of the blogs found via the Presbyterian Bloggers linked over in the sidebar, I am getting a much broader view of my church than the one from what is apparently our progressive and liberal little corner out here in the hinterland of extremity. There is a lot of anger and righteous indignation out there over issues that seem to me to warrant somewhat different responses.

It's probably a good thing that the sermon is finished (sort of), the presbytery paperwork toward a life in ministry isn't even started, and I have to spend my day grading papers on World War II. A girl can manage only so much bombardment.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Lovely Camp Counselor

That girl and I had a great time.

We listened to Celtic Woman's Chloe and Dvorak and the soundtrack from Lord of the Rings on the 10-hour drive down to North Carolina while we discussed The Life of the 21st Century College Woman.

We stayed in a terrific motel and had a hilarious conversation with a couple hitting the hot tub with their two young children. They wanted to know if the camp was a religious one and, used to my own diverse and tolerant community, I explained that, while its origins had been Christian, it was now more in the realm of "spiritual" rather than denominational, and that I thought that anyone who did not have religious dietary restrictions (i.e., my own Orthodox Jewish students) could be comfortable there. Then I learned that they were conservative Christians in the process of moving from New York to northern North Carolina to get away from . . . uh . . . people . . . like me. They were very nice about it, though.

Camp is GREAT. I am always amazed that, in this tiny mountain valley of western North Carolina, an international community creates itself around the concept of "a child's world" of music, art, drama, sports, and camping every summer. The daughter and colleagues have an entire week of orientation -- programming, child psychology, safety and emergency procedures, communciation skills, outdoor skills -- this camp doesn't mess around with the well-being of its very young campers. For this week, the lovely counselor is the only American in her cabin of eight girls from England, New Zealand, and Russia. (The one we met who filled us in is a grad student from England; all the counselors must have at least a year of college behind them.) Next Thursday night, after 24 hours off, they'll get their official cabin assignments and first roster of campers, who will arrive Friday morning.

She's going to work hard this summer, and I'm already missing her terribly. But I couldn't be happier that she has this opportunity.