Saturday, September 29, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
In the meantime, I want to respond to this anonymous comment that appeared after one of my posts a few days ago, a post about juggling the demands of my life:
"i cannot seem to put myself first long enough to figure out something for me. I'm always holding back and evaluating: do I want this enough to make the impact on the rest that it will certainly make?"
What I am doing by going to seminary while my youngest goes to college is, of course, having a huge effect on my family. Although my husband and I have watched friends live apart for career reasons (mostly having to do with the conflict arising from wanting teenage children to stay in their schools when a parent's job moves to another city), the actual doing of it is quite different from the watching of it. The financial impact is tremendous. The uncertainty about the future, about whether I can even manage this, is a huge and tidal uncertainty -- wave upon wave of question upon question. The knowledge that I could be living a productive and contributory life without the massive effort involved in starting all over is always with me.
But this is, really, the only thing I can do. The only way I want to be right now. It really is living into the answer to a question: Will you?
And regardless of the outcome, we will have paid attention to the October 4ths and 5ths of our lives, and lived as wildly and expansively and lovingly as possible in the sure knowledge that those days do come, for every single one of us.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
It was just the call I needed, the reminder that this universe stretches far and wide beyond whatever engages us here.
A couple of months ago, as I sensed I was losing my footing amid too many competing desires and claims on my life, I asked my spiritual director, who balances an extraordinary stack of responsibilities, many of them of enormous significance to a variety of communities and institutions, how he maintains his equilibrium. "I just try to remember," he said, "that nothing I do is all that important."
He and my father are about the same age. I am often acutely conscious of my desire to absorb everything I can of the wisdom of their generation, beside which my own occasional grasp on human experience seems to float in unintelligible fragments.
Sometimes I just need to listen to my phone messages.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Suffice it to say that perfectly usual and normal bacteria in a dog's intestine can suddenly grow out of control and attack their environment, with brutal results. Cause unknown and therefore not preventable, but unlikely to happen again.
She's been on IV fluids and antibiotics for 30 hours now. When I talk to the vets at Super Duper Vet Specialty Center, I feel like I'm talking to the Mayo Clinic.
As it turns out, it was a really, really good thing that she got sick on the week-end; without someone there keeping an eye on her all day, she would surely have died of dehydration and kidney failure.
It's also a really good thing that we have almost no carpeting in our house.
All good thoughts and hugs have been much appreciated.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Possibly the hardest aspect of going to seminary at my stage in life is that you are responsible for so many OTHER things in a way that you simply aren't as a young adult. I was about to start college when my first stepmother died; it would never have occurred to anyone, least of all me, that her unexpected death might alter my plans. In the last couple of years, three friends and acquaintances in my age group have died, and another is desperately ill; their children's college and new-job lives continue. As is, of course, the wish of their parents.
But when you are the parent, or the middle-aged adult child, it's another story entirely. I am very aware of the potential for disaster to arise on any number of fronts, and of the reality that there's not a thing I can do about it. Among my close group of friends, several of us have just in the past couple of years rearranged our lives for considerable periods of time in order to care for ill or dying parents. At this exact moment I am , like pretty much every one of my close friends, juggling major concerns that have little or nothing to do with seminary. One of the young men in my class said to me the other day, "If Greek is the biggest challenge you face in seminary, you've got it made."
He has no idea.
Of course, I'm not alone. I am slowly getting to know some of the other older students, and most are balancing plates that would take no more than the slightest of nudges to shatter out of control.
And I came home this week-end to a taste of the precariousness of that balance: a dog who is suddenly and out of the blue so sick that I can only wonder that she is still alive. Most of yesterday morning was devoted to the vet and a dog bath, but to no avail; we cannot clean up the messes fast enough. I have had almost no sleep; I had an 8:15 church meeting this morning and came home immediately thereafter to collapse into a nap. I feel terrible about leaving tonight, terrible for the dog and terrible for the husband who will be on solo duty tonight and will have to take her back in to the vet tomorrow. (Terrible especially for the husband with respect to the endless clean-up; it seems that this is one of those situations where my complete lack of a sense of smell is a great boon.)
I will be back on Wednesday, and I am afraid I will be returning to a Terrible Decision, if it has not already made itself.
5:00 Postscript: Le chien got so dehydrated that I ended up dedicating most of the afternoon to the Emergency Vet Clinic. She's there for a couple of days of fluids and tests; initial results indicate that her vital organs are functioning beautifully and no explanation for her symptoms may be forthcoming.
Bill: Astronomical. Peace of Mind: Not Yet. Greek Verbs: Not Yet Either.
Well, THAT was a great week-end.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
That got me thinking about some of the stranger aspects of blogging.
For instance, my kids know I blog (one of them reads it --hey, Chicago Son!) but none of my real life friends do, except for online friends, who count as real (!) to me whether I've met them or not. If my daughter reads it, she hasn't told me. Same for my husband. My son mentioned it to my father once and I nearly passed out, having just written something of an extended and passionate piece focused on an obscenity.
I'm not sure why I would think at this point in life that my dad would raise an eyebrow at my language. But he is my dad. I suppose that in reality he would get a laugh out of this paragraph.
I often ruminate about personal matters in my blog. I write a lot about the losses that have framed my life, but mostly only with respect to myself - and even in that respect, I leave the really tough ones out. Probably the biggest exception there was the series I did as my stepmother died from cancer, but I knew neither she nor her family would see it. I took care not to be exploitative as I tried to articulate my issues with her fruitlessly aggressive medical care.
On the whole, I try to be discrete where other people are concerned. Other than the occasional picture (no names) of my kids and their friends, I don't identify people and I don't shout my locale my from the rooftop. If I were getting divorced, you would not hear about it here until it the dust had settled. (No, I'm not.) I tend to stay away from the more controversial aspects of politics and theology and social issues, although I doubt that my locale on the spectrum would be a big surprise to anyone who reads me for long. (Do I need to clarify? In my community, pretty middle of the road. In the country as a whole, that seems to mean quite a ways to the left these days. It's not a secret. I'm just not into the mean-spirited debate into which blogging can degenerate so quickly.)
I guess what I am thinking about is: to what extent does this offbeat genre reflect who we really are? You get what you see with me, but obviously I censor considerably. Would I write differently if I knew that all my friends were reading? Everyone here at school? My former students and colleagues? Do I write about certain topics, or take certain approaches, with specific online friends in mind?
All questions worthy of reflection, and a good deal more interesting than the present active indicative tense in Greek, which is going to fill the next four days of my life.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
I am lost, I am in the wrong place at the wrong time, I miss flights and busses, I can't find things, I can't remember what I am supposed to have with me or what I am supposed to say.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize reflections of the stresses of a new life.
On the plus side, every single one of these dreams has been situated in Tuscany.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Walking into the door of a church to have have the greeter, a ten-year-old girl, smile and say, "Are you the preacher?"
Preaching for congregations not my own, congregations where there was not a single friend in front of me nodding, "Go Gannet!"
Preaching for congregations in the plural -- two services, one right after the other;
Preaching for tiny, tiny congregations (counting me, twenty-four in the first and nine in the second!)
Being asked to lead the informal praise singing at the beginning of a service (the second one, for which the music person did not materialize) -- I laughed and said that they should add to their praises the fact that they would NOT hear me sing!
Preaching in a little white country church set out in a field among goldenrod and gravestones;
Making a spur-of-the-moment decision to go with the original plan in the nine-person congregation, overcoming my original instinct to change format completely to accomodate the small group in a more informal manner, and following instead my revised instinct in favor of the traditional approach, realizing that the congregants were eager to worship with the formality and dignity that they would have experienced had their church been filled with the 200 people it can hold;
Engaging in candid lunchtime conversation with two delightful older ladies about the pitfalls and challenges of maintaining a small church presence when no preacher responds to a call and the younger people drift away.
Really, an excellent day.
If only it were not framed, beginning to end and side to side, by Greek vocabulary endings!
Saturday, September 15, 2007
This morning as I walked around the Little Lakes (where, I am happy to report, after yesterday's sadness, many dogs and humans were out and about, all in joyful partnership with one another), I spent my time alternating between the memorization of Greek articles and a discussion of leach lines (i.e., septic systems) via cell phone with my real estate agent in the southern part of the state. I would stake quite a bit of money on the likelihood that no one else in Greek or Hebrew was discussing leach lines this morning.
Now, as my determined husband continues his dismantling of the hallway ceiling (our own dog is hiding under the bed after looking at me balefully to ask why we are so insistent on demolishing her home), I am off to memorize more Greek and read Karl Rahner and continue my contemplation of that endlessly intriguing question (well, to me, anyway): revelation via scripture or revelation via human experience?
You may recall, of course, that I am a both/and kind of girl.
Friday, September 14, 2007
So today I was headed out around the Little Lakes, looking forward to a long walk and a couple of hours of absolute quiet, when I heard the most terrible yelping up ahead. I hoped that it could be attributed to a dog or two whose owners had stopped to talk and created a minor civil war, but within a few minutes a woman approached me, gestured backward, and asked hopefully whether I had tied my dog to a tree and left it there temporarily. I guess I look like a total idiot, but whatever.
So we went on a few steps to the spot where she had encountered a perfectly beautiful beagle/lab ~ a healthy, well-fed dog tied to a tree, who had started to cry piteously when she walked by. We talked for a few moments about whether someone might have actually left the dog there while she finished a run or, I don't know, jumped into the lake (no, no one does that, but I guess optimism is not a bad thing). I said that I would be back around in an hour or so and, if the dog were still there, I'd pick her up.
We walked on and a second woman approached us and said, "Please tell me there isn't a beagle/lab mix back there tied up and abandoned." We backtracked and she said a sad, "Yep." She had seen a well-dressed (heels, manicure, make-up, definitely not one of the three of us) woman get out of her car with the dog, disappear into the woods, reappear sans dog, get into her car, and drive away.
The second woman was accompanied by her own dog, whom she had acquired in just this way, and she was willing to consider taking our new friend, if her own dog, abused in his past life and still leery after many years with her, responded in a positive manner. We tried walking the two dogs together and things were looking up, but the newly homeless pup struggled mightily when we tried to put her into the woman's hatchback, and leaped out immediately. ("She'd probably been locked in a trunk," said my daughter later, when I called for commiseration from Oregon.
So the dog and I ended up making a little trip to the police station (she was willing to get into the back seat of my car), the repository for dogs abandoned on the week-end. She was strong and apparently recently pregnant ~ no doubt yet another "cute puppy" who grew up and needed to be trained to a leash and spayed and otherwise actually cared for by people who did not know how or want to learn to take responsibility for her as she grew to adulthood.
I am SICK of this. Just sick of it. She is the third dog I have encountered this summer who needed to be "rescued." (And that doesn't count the kitten I found in the cemetery, whose plight engaged five or six people before he was settled.) I could go on and on and on, but I will just say that this beautiful little dog represents the foundation of what is practically a religious doctrine in this house with respect to where one should acquire a pet (a pound or a shelter) and what one should do with said pet the next morning (put a complete end to its reproductive capacity).
Well, that's my soapbox for the week-end. I know that my friends all provide good homes for their pets, and that many of them prefer reputable breeders to the streets as sources for same. (The Lovely Daughter, the expert in the house, states unequivocally that the frequently-made argument that well-bred animals are more predictable in behavior is utterly without foundation.) I just know that I have spent the afternoon delivering a beautiful dog to her doom, and I try to believe that the Lovely Daughter's volunteer work at Friends for Felines compensates in some small way.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
As you may know, the Funky Winkerbean story of the last months of Lisa's life is exerting a powerful pull on me. Lisa is a wife, a mom to a little girl, a friend, a lawyer, an activist, a woman who has just been discovered by the almost-adult son she thought she had lost to adoption.
On September 13, 1960, I was seven years old. I would grow up to be the lawyer mom blessed by the profound gift of seeing her children grow to adulthood. My mother, on September 13, 1960, was twenty-eight years old and had three weeks left to live ~ which she did not know.
I think I might go with the leaves, too.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I will make a point of noting the significance of the evening when I reach my spiritual direction class tonight.
To a good year!
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Sunday, September 09, 2007
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!
Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!
Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we're reconciled:
Hail and hosanna, warm father God!
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil's new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!
Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!
Words: Brian Wren
Words © 1989, revised 1994 by Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188.
What you can't hear, unfortunately, is the incredible power our organ and congregation brought to this hymn this morning -- one of my very, very favorites. (It seems that there are certain pieces in contemporary music that reach me loud and clear!) I'm sorry that I can't bring to you the alternating voices of the choir, the women, the men and, finally, the entire church simply blazing with music.
I don't have much to add. The usual paradoxes of life: great opening to the church year this morning, with an adult class packed with people discussing what the Bible does and doesn't mean to them; terrific worship service; a mind full of (what I presume are to be expected) doubts and consternation about the seminary journey; and, foundational to all of it, this magnificent hymn.
Friday, September 07, 2007
A few years later, one of the Lovely Daughter's teachers went to Pompeii, and I asked her to bring back a t-shirt for me. She forgot.
Last year, one of my ninth grade students in the Orthdox Jewish school in which I taught for the past six years mentioned that she had been to Pompeii over the summer. "And where is my t-shirt?" I demanded. She looked utterly confused. "I taught you in eighth grade, too, and I can't believe you didn't consult me before you headed off for Pompeii!"
"I'll get you a t-shirt, Ms. Gannet!" cried one of the other girls. "I'm going to Pompeii next summer!"
I stopped by my former stomping grounds today.
I got lots and lots of hugs and many updates.
I got to have a lengthy discussion with one of the rabbis about a question I had asked last year: whether his artist wife could create a piece of work for me, a Protestant, as a gift for a Catholic priest, if such work incorporated words from Christian scripture. He had e-mailed a rabbi in New York, who had finally responded (in English) and attached several other comments (in Hebrew). We were right back where we were a few months ago, discussing the arguments made by some Jews that Christianity is a an idolatrous religion, similar arguments made by Muslims with respect to both Christianity and Judaism, and whether "worship" and "advancement of a belief" are the same thing or not (it depends, of course).
I learned that there is a problem at the moment between Israel and Syria.
I got to hear about a colleague's studies in Israel over the summer.
And I got a Pompeii t-shirt from a fifteen-year-old girl who thought of me when she was far across the ocean.
"Yes," she said, "my mom thought I was crazy."
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
And then remember the first time you read an article tying short-term memory loss to estrogen deprivation and breathed a deep internal sigh of relief? (Even better were the articles that assured you that some day when this all ended, your sixty-year-old memory would be as sharp as that of your teenage daughter. An elusive goal, still in the hazy future.)
But then you probably didn't proceed to try something really foolish, like learning the Greek alphabet. The one with little squiggles which you have previously encountered only in buildings inhabitated by inebriated males and bearing names like Delta Gamma Zeta or Psi Phi Theta.
I, however, seem to have found it necessary to leap where angels, quite reasonably, fear to tread.
Monday, September 03, 2007
We seem to have celebrated Labor Day around here by laboring. I spent much of the week-end writing a sermon and a paper. The sermon is for a preaching opportunity in a couple of weeks: two tiny yoked churches some distance south of here, some of those churches without a pastor which contact seminaries to supply them with Sunday preaching. I had started it several days ago and it wasn't going well and then, suddenly: there it was. I thought I'd better write it down quick.
The paper is the first one for my program in spiritual direction. Let's just say that trying to combine Aquinas, Ignatius, Teilhard, Rahner, Mary Oliver, and my own experiences all into five succinct pages was something of a challenge. I suppose I've left out some critical insight. But I have loved thinking about what I've been thinking about: Creator and creatures, science and theology, God's invitation to us to labor with God in redemptive creation.
My husband's been pulling down hallway wallpaper. He took the pictures off the walls in January, so I'd say we're moving right along. We are down to the studs where water damaged the plaster oh, maybe ten years ago. I hope he is feeling ambitious when he gazes at that corner.
I've been backing up photo files and filling bags with water-damaged papers from the basement flood, the one that happened when I was in Ontario. I can't say that I've accomplished a lot, but I've accomplished a little.
Back to seminary in the morning. Now if I can just straighten out my schedule and thereby cease obsessing over the irritation of not having accomplished the only thing I actually cared about accomplishing during orientation last week . . . .
Sunday, September 02, 2007
First official drive to seminary: a peaceful beginning to a day as it moved from pitch dark to sunrise over rolling hills and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony filled the car.
Spiritual direction class earlier in the week: average age maybe mid-50s. Almost everyone has adult children. Seminary class: average age about 24. Almost everyone is one of the adult children.
Lovely and engaging and truly kind and generous people in both places.
I have had enough orientation processes in the past week to last me both this lifetime and the next. I might never do anything new ever again.
Advance class registration by computer would be a GOOD thing.
(Skip this one if you like the song in question. Or just remember that I, too, have had people wrinkle their noses at my preferences.) That song posted on RGBP a couple of weeks ago? I was a bit mystified by the report that it is one of the top ten songs sung in American churches. I happened to hear it live for the first time this past week. I think I was probably the only one in the seminary chapel who was hearing it for the first time, given that everyone else seemed to know all the lyrics. I remain mystified by its quite evident popularity. (I did really like the band. But we could put that song to rest. In my extremely humble opinion.)
Funny addendum: in church at home this morning we sang Earth and All Stars, presumably in honor of Labor Day. As we reached the line about "loud boiling test tubes" I started to chuckle, remembering a rather passionate conversation earlier this summer when it became clear that about half of our members love that song and about half of us despise it. I'm actually neutral on that one.
I am now in possession of a Greek dictionary. Not something I had ever thought of owning until a few months ago!
So what about Gray's? My Jewish teaching colleagues and I discussed it obsessively every Friday morning last year; my women friends and I reviewed it every Saturday morning at breakfast. My daughter has had Gray's groups at both of her colleges. And there I was, watching it all by my lonesome in the dorm Thursday night.
I heard a great many stories over the two-day seminary ordination that began with the words, "I have known I was called to ministry since I was thirteen or fourteen years old." Hmmm. I'm thinking that perhaps I won't be relating what I was called to at thirteen and fourteen.
Kind of interesting: I knew more about what was going on in the world during my eight day silent retreat at the beginning of August, thanks to the prayers offered at mass every morning, than I did in for the two days of seminary orientation at the end of August which, despite myriad presentations and endless conversation (and numerous prayers), felt a bit cocoon-like. The President could have resigned and I'm not sure we would have known about it.
This past week I heard one of the most astounding pulpit voices I have ever encountered. That woman will be an astounding gift to a congregation next year.
I participated in nine masses and four Presby worship services in the the month of August. I discovered a new love for Roman Catholic liturgy and the primacy of the Eucharist therein. (Not so much the music though.)(It does seem that I have some music issues.) Of course, I am distressed every time I go to mass by the absence of women priests. I heard a couple of fabulous Protestant sermons and some lovely Catholic homilies (some of them by women -- but not, of course, by women priests).
I found Protestant spirituality in a Jesuit retreat center, and Ignatian spirituality in a Presbyterian seminary.
Welcome to my world. The one with the endless litany of contradictions that WILL NOT GO AWAY.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
My boys will be 23 years old in a few hours. There they are, three days after they were born, with their great-grandmother, whom they were privileged to know well and whose 100th birthday they were able to celebrate last year!
I know that one of them reads this blog so here, sweetie, are some of the details (gory ones excluded):
Twins are considered full term and ready to arrive at 38 weeks of pregnancy. You showed up two and one-half weeks later, with considerable impetus from a group of perturbed docs, at 6 pounds 14.5 ounces and 6 pounds 4 ounces.
It took you 18 hours to make your debut, finally via a c-section that I watched in a mirror. The sight was nothing short of spectacular.
Your personalities were apparent even in the OR. The photos show that one of you dozed off immediately, at peace with the world, and the other looked around frantically, already imagining the most dramatic possibilities. You each know which you are.
You are off on your own lives now, but I am thinking of you all day.