Monday, December 31, 2007

Can I Listen for a Year?

It's that time again ~ time for those resolutions that tend to go by the wayside, one by one. Especially those involving scales and chocolate. But I'm seeing some extraordinary resolution posts online, especially from More Cows, whose plan is to try to do something every day of 2008 to care for her body and something to care for her mind. and from Jan, who posted a set of Spiritually Literate New Year's Resolutions with accompanying links ~ I think I might spend some considerable time pondering these over the next day or two.

One of them is the one I had already decided to focus upon for 2008: Listening. I might be a better listener than I give myself credit for, but not by much. I've become better at prayer, otherwise known as listening for God, by giving significant and disciplined attention to that part of my life over the past couple of years but, in that regard, as the great ones remind us, we are all always beginners. There will forever be plenty of room for resolution there. And as far as listening to other people? Well, I have a great deal to say myself! So in that regard I am more of a pre-beginner, the girl in the shallow end who doesn't want to let go of the ledge.

My daughter identified me a few days ago as a total extrovert, based upon her impression that someone will tell me an entire life story in the context of an elevator or grocery store encounter. But I think that (exaggeration) has more to do with enthusiasm than with listening skills. I am genuinely interested by what most people have to say about their lives, but my conversations are always peppered by my own commentary, which bubbles out of my very real engagement but often cuts off the other person's full expression and most likely leaves the impression that I haven't appreciated what she has had to say. That's not true ~ often I will find myself thinking afterward, Why didn't I ask about this or that? or, Why did I interject my own opinion at that point; I missed hers entirely or I wonder what he meant, exactly ~ but I am seldom patient enough to acknowledge the words and experiences of others as I should.

Jan's link
says of listening that "[it] is often associated with others. Listening involves attention, being present, and hospitality, and it is a component of devotion, nurturing, and wonder. " Many times I have heard people immersed in Ignatian spirituality talk in terms of practicing "attention, reverence and devotion" to that which we encounter.

I would like to be more intentional in my experience of appreciation for others and more forthright about my gratitude for their presence and contribution. I think the key for me is listening. And I think that if I can manage one resolution some times on some days in 2008, that will be some-thing!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Church Questions ~ Dialogue Sought

We met twenty years ago in, of all places, a church. I know it was twenty years ago because The Lovely Daughter was a newborn, and I say "of all places" because, for many of us, church was an unlikely destination. The reasons were various but there we were, a group of couples with young children, trying to figure out how to live as families and a group of mothers, in particular, starving for adult companionship.

Snapshot, maybe fifteen years ago: our group has expanded a bit, but most of us are connected in significant ways to the same Methodist church. We serve on boards and committees and take classes and run events. Many of the children attend the church's cooperative nursery school, and their mothers duly take turns on the school's board. Our social lives center around events at church and events of our own in which we all participate with energy and enthusiasm.

Snapshot, oh, say, last week: the families are a good deal more tattered these days. Divorces, a couple of remarriages, some of the young adult children struggling to accomodate to the "adult" part of their identities, parents who are veterans of layoffs and any number of unexpected battles with finances, illnesses, and others of life's myriad curveballs. A couple of the families are still active in the Methodist church, where a major new addition has engaged the services of those who are architects for the past few years. I'm down the street with the Presbies. None of the children have any church involvement, and many of the adults have let it go as well.

Saturday mornings usually find me at a local bakery/coffee shop with a group of the moms. This morning I went with a mission in mind and was disappointed that only two others showed up ~ we all see so much of each other during the holiday season that I suppose most felt that today could slide ~ but I went ahead with the two questions I had for them:

Do you feel that you have a religious, or some kind of spiritual life, whether on your own or with your family?


Is there any way in which you could foresee church as having any appeal for you in the future?

I didn't ask those questions with publication in mind and I don't want to violate the privacy of my dearest friends, even in my pretty-much-anonymous blog. But I do think that some of what they said generally bears consideration for those of us who care about the church, however we encounter or define it. These are women, after all, who were at one time deeply engaged in the life of their church and full of hope that they and their husbands and children would continue in that pattern.

Both of them deem their lives spiritual, although their definitions were, to my way of seeing things, vague and had little to do with the 2,000 year old tradition of Christian spirituality -- or any other tradition of spiriutality, for that matter. Their disinterest in Christianity isn't connected to an exploration of Zen or an attraction to another faith, for instance. It's more in the way of a sense that traditional religion of whatever persuasion has little to offer in terms of an expression of that part of our lives that we would identify in some way as spiritual; a sense that that part of our lives is best engaged individually, in private, in the realm of every-dayness.

I hasten to add that my interpretation of what I heard is not necessarily complete and therefore, not necessarily accurate. I'm just doing the best I can with what I have at the moment.

With respect to the second question, I heard nothing that would indicate any attraction to the church as an institution, as a community, as a place of worship, or as a locus for encounter with God. Among the (many) reasons I have become interested in the issue of adults and the church is the recognition, as described in the blog Mark Time several days ago, that people are often hurt by the church: by its cliqueiness, by its narrow-mindedness, by its mistakes in judgment and process that are perceived as personal slights, by its inability to frame and sustain genuine welcome and hospitality. And I heard about all those things in some detail this morning. Most of the stories I knew well, and many concerned events that I had at one time or another sloughed off fairly easily. But I tried to listen really, really carefully this morning, and what strikes me now is the incredible height of the standard to which we want to hold the church. As beaten and bruised as it is, we still want it to be the insitution in which people behave differently than they do elsewhere, and we are truly and deeply devastated when they do not.

Another interest of mine: I have been wandering around thinking that as we age, my generation of Boomers is going to become more interested in end-of-life and, therefore, spiritual issues, and may turn to the church for answers and support. It seems that I might be completely wrong on that one. Neither of my friends see the church as a place in which she wants to invest energy or committment, even in exchange for support and practical services as parents die and we ourselves grow older. They expressed no interest in having long-term connections with a pastor or congregation; no sense that it might be desirable to have anything more than a drop-in relationship with respect to a worship service or a funeral. (Or, I suppose, a wedding ~ the type of event we moms are most likely to be planning in the next decade.)

My husband is not in any way religious and so, when I talked this all over with him awhile ago, he asked the question I had been trying to unearth. "What is church for, anyway?"

I suppose I could write for hours on my own relationship with the church: on my understanding of the interrelationship among tradition, community, and spirituality and how essential each is to the others; and on how those portions of my spiritual life which are indeed private and individual, some of them shared at most with just one or two other people, exist only in the context of the scripture and traditions of a history of (so I believe) revelation and relationship.

I have no argument with the discovery of relationship with God in both the beauties and the challenges of the natural world, of human relationship, of daily endeavor. I know that we can find God in all things. But it seems to me that without the community, the texts, the traditions of the church, we lose access to much of the story.

But ~ enough of me. I would love to see some dialogue around this topic.

What do you think, dear readers?

Friday, December 28, 2007

2007 Memorable Moments

I haven't played a Friday Five for awhile, but ~ why NOT two posts in one day? Herewith, from RevGals:

"It is hard to believe, but 2007 is about to be history, and this is our last Friday Five of the year. With that in mind, share five memorable moments of 2007. These can be happy or sad, profound or silly, good or bad but things that you will remember. Bonus points for telling us of a "God sighting"-- a moment when the light came through the darkness, a word was spoken, a song sung, laughter rang out, a sermon spoke to you in a new way--whatever you choose, but a moment in 2007 when you sensed Emmanuel, God with us. Or more particularly, you."

1. Watching one of our sons graduate from college and remembering his graduations from 8th grade Montessori and from my high school alma mater. His twin brother refused to attend his college graduation, making the one we got to share all the more poignant.

2. Two many moments to count as I was the recipient of many good wishes upon my departure from the land of Orthodox Judaism (the school in which I taught) en route to Presby-land Seminary, many of them public and all of them reminders that we really can, on a one-to-one basis, make friendships and develop community in the most unlikely of settings among people who differ greatly from one another. One of the best of those moments: a young man yelling down the hallway, "Hey, Rabbi Gannet!"

3. Sitting in the middle of the Speed River outside Guelph, Ontario to pray through intolerably hot August afternoons on my eight-day silent retreat. The Speed River is neither speedy nor much of a river, but it was perfect for my purposes.

4. Starting both seminary and my training program in spiritual direction ~ not so much moments as processes.

5. A real moment: someone who means a great deal to me saying something so wonderful to me about my potential for ministry that I am able to pull those eight little words out of my metaphorical pocket in the middle of a long night of Greek, turn them over and look at them in surprise, and then plough forward through a field comprised of nothing but mud and rocks.

Bonus Moment: A long walk with a friend early last spring, discussing her husband's reaction to having been downsized from his job as a corporate attorney and his refusal to look for any other kind of work (the severance package having been at least a silver parachute made such a decision possible) due to his feeling that he is "too old to learn anything new." She did not yet know about my seminary applications, and I glanced at her in some horror, thinking that I had failed to take into consideration the possibility that I might be too old to learn anything new. I am so grateful for that moment, in which my sense of grace and call began to crystallize in a whole new way as I began to understand just how radical to (some) others and yet how natural to me was the path upon which I had embarked.

Quite a year.

(Image: Jesuit Retreat Center at Guelph.)

End-of-Year Blessings

Steve at Beyond Assumptions has generously tagged me for a Bogger Blessing, which I am happy to pass on. Unfortunately, I can't seem to persuade his description of this event to cut and paste into my blog, so you'll need to go to his to read it -- so perhaps the problem is a fortunate one after all. He's been writing some really thoughtful stuff as of late.

My taggees:

Quotidian Grace, who does, in fact, exude grace and graciousness in her quotidian life, and also provides a running narrative of great entertainment value to humans and canines alike;

Mrs. M at
The Kitchen Door, whose blog reflects her challenges and joys with great honesty and energy; and

Mark at, of course,
Mark Time, someone always willing to confront the uneasy questions and question the status quo on his life.

I'm going to go ahead and post this and then look for some more stained glass, so come back for both the pretty pictures and to check out the continued movement outward of blessings.

(Tiffany Window from Chicago Stained Glass Museum)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas!

The details are from the Nativity Windows at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Vero Beach Florida and are the work of the Conrad Pickel Studio. I was looking around for something lovely to offer my readers for Christmas and these popped up ~ a special delight to me since I spent such happy childhood months in Vero.



For unto us a child is born.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Advent 17: Midlife

Sometimes I just make a list of what I've been doing all day, as a way of remembering what my life was like at a given time in a given place, and that's what I feel like doing tonight. So, a window into the life of a midlife seminary student and mom of young adults:

I worked on Greek for awhile early this morning. We have to translate the two nativity stories for Friday, today is the only day I have big chunks of time available for it and, as will become obvious, for me those two little translations are no small task.

I went to a class that I'm visiting whenever I can; this quarter my schedule prevents me from taking the section of church history that I would choose if I could, so I am sort of auditing it when I can. I want to know everything this particular professor has to say about Luther and Calvin, and today was a Luther day. I did Greek and tuned in at the critical moments to take occasional notes on the stuff I don't understand.

I sat in the empty classroom and did a few more Greek sentences and then went to the last half of chapel to hear at least some of the lovely music planned for today.

I made a call to Chicago son's girlfriend to tell her that a package would be arriving today and to confiim their plans to visit her family in Arkansas for Christmas. They were with us for Thanskgiving so I Am Not Complaining. Right.

I had lunch with the aforementioned professor and a lively group of students, ready to put classes aside for a couple of weeks and happy to laugh over Christmases past and present filled with little kids, Barbies, and reindeer on the rooftops.

I spent some time with another professor in my continuing effort to address some of the theological questions that challenge me.

I continued my game of phone tag with someone in my presbytery who is helping me out with internship possibilities.

And then -- another hour translating Greek, an hour with the Greek tutor (poor guy -- he must have said the same thing fifteen times; perhaps it would stick if only it made just the tiniest bit of sense!), an hour's walk as this really cold and really beautiful day turned from dusk into evening, a call to the Lovely Daughter about summer job issues, a very short dinner with some very funny conversation and then -- yeah, you got it, three more hours in the library devoted to -- ahem -- translating Greek.

It is really pathetic when two stories you almost know by heart still require that many hours to translate.

And now -- I am going to go and finish reading the Book of Acts for my New Testament class. Reading the Bible in seminary -- a novel idea. Oh -- no -- wait! I did spend the entire day attempting to read two teeny little passages in Greek. Does that count?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Iona Community: Cloth for the Cradle

When the world was dark
and the city was quiet,
you came.

You crept in beside us.

And no one knew.
Only the few who dared to believe
that God might do something different.

Will you do the same this Christmas, Lord?

Will you come into the darkness of tonight's world;
not the friendly darkness
as when sleep rescues us from tiredness,
but the fearful darkness,in which people have stopped believing
that war will end
or that food will come
or that a government will change
or that the Church cares?

Will you come into that darkness
and do something different
to save your people from death and despair?

Will you come into the quietness of this town,
not the friendly quietness
as when lovers hold hands,
but the fearful silence when the phone has not rung
the letter has not come,
the friendly voice no longer speaks,
the doctor's face says it all?

Will you come into that darkness,
and do something different,
not to distract, but to embrace your people?

And will you come into the dark corners
and the quiet places of our lives?

We ask this not because we are guilt-ridden
or want to be,
but because the fullness our lives long for
depends upon us being as open and vulnerable to you
as you were to us,when you came,
wearing no more than diapers,
and trusting human hands
to hold their maker.

Will you come into our lives,
if we open them to you
and do something different?

When the world was dark
and the city was quiet
you came.

You crept in beside us.

Do the same this Christmas, Lord.

Do the same this Christmas.

Read at our Lessons and Carols Sunday night.
Image from the Vatican Collection.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent 15: Miscellany and Mary

On the practical life side: huge blizzard. Very exciting driving back from church this morning. I had not been planning to return to seminary until 5:30 tomorrow morning because we have Lessons and Carols tonight and I had figured that making a 2.5 hour drive first thing in the morning was preferable to doing it in the middle of the night. Now it seems that maybe both are out. I am going to curl up in my bed in a few minutes with the Greek participles that are indicative of a possible maxing out of IQ and see what happens. The Lovely Daughter ~who has returned from nearly four months of college in Oregon to my delight, joy, glee, and utter happiness ~ and I are going to Lessons and Carols tonight regardless.

On the good memories side: The youngest reader always gets the first of the nine readings in Lessons and Carols, a service which wends through the entire story of salvation and therefore begins with Genesis. When she was eight, the Lovely Daughter was the youngest reader, which meant that as I walked through the halls of the church on this particular day twelve years ago, I could hear the music director rehearsing pronunciation with her: "E-N-M-I-T-Y. And I will put E-N-M-I-T-Y between You and the Woman . . . ." There's always something incongruous on this night that is just right: the voice of the tiniest soprano singing the first verse of Once in Royal David's City in a darkened sanctuary, the gradual and triumphant swell of voices of choir and congregation and organ and (when we're lucky) timpani by the final verse, and then another very small person climbing into the lectern to begin a story of evil and heartbreak that will ultimately end in redemption and joy.

On the Advent side: I woke up this morning thinking of Mary. I had discovered yesterday that a number of people have posted the Tanner Annunciation painting this week, which caused me to look back at my posting of same a year ago and to think about that moment of surprise, in my life and hers. I remember the morning I learned I was pregnant for the first time -- the stick turning blue in the bathroom, the quiet house, the yellow walls in the bedroom as the winter sun rose, the triumph and hope of my own after months of disappointment and frustration and the beginnings of what looked to be a long slog through medical machinations. Now, twenty-three years later, I look back and think of all that I did not know that morning. I did not know that a year later I would have twin boys to nurse through the Christmas Eve service, I did not know that twenty-three SECONDS later my three children would have turned into adults, and I did not know how much joy and sadness in would be possible to experience in between those years.

As for Mary, I'm going to look for another piece of art to post, but here's what I wrote last year when I was thinking about Tanner's work:


Last year about this time I came to the realization that the Mary we think we know, the demure, humble, and modest young woman of Nazareth, probably bears little resemblance to the real Mary. It seems to me that the Mary so often portrayed in art and music and story may represent the blind misreadings of a patriarchal church of the subsequent 2,000 years more than she does the real girl who found herself in something of a predicament and decided to honor the gift and the challenge.

Just think about the fourteen-year-old young ladies you know and imagine the attitude it would take for them to stand up to parents, fiance', extended family, and friends in Mary's circumstances. Imagine the courage. Imagine the sense of being enfolded into the wildest plan God could imagine and recognizing the pivotal role you are being asked to play. Imagine bearing God's peace and justice into this world.

Imagine the light.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Advent 14 - Reflections on Spiritual Direction

A couple of weeks ago my spiritual direction class spent a Saturday with a Jesuit on the topic of the inner movements of consolation and desolation: medieval terms which reflect the soul's movement toward and away from God. Not language you are likely to hear in the context of church, but language which directors in the Ignatian tradition use all the time. Our day-long discussion was lively and envigorating as we tried to grasp essential but often elusive concepts, and at one point I said, "I am in awe of this entire process, and more than a little apprehensive about my own role in it."

I was reminded, as we so often are, that it is not about me. It's an oft-repeated truism that in spiritual direction it's the Holy Spirit who is the director. The human "director" (for want of a better term; other terms like "guide" or "companion" are often tried, but people always seem to come back to the ancient one, since its connotations are generally understood) is present to ease the process, but is by no means actually directing anything. These days I tend to think of the director as a pointer, as someone who gently indicates, and not necessarily by saying so: "Maybe that way."

Yesterday I spent an hour with the head of our program -- my end-of-semester consultation/evaluation -- and as we talked I realized, yet again, how dramatically my interior life has been changed by the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. It's a great relief to have found community in my program, since few people in my worlds of family, friends, church, or seminary have much interest in the kind of immersion in relationship with God that direction fosters. I'm not at all sure about how that happens -- it seems that when the time is right, a path opens, although you may be unaware of it when it happens.

I do know that it's something people can't be "sold" on. Earlier in the week I ran into a mom I knew from our Montessori days; two of her children have attended one of the major Jesuit high schools in town. I mentioned what I am doing and that several of the women in my program have emerged from the spirituality program for parents hosted by that particular school. "Oh, I know about that," she said. "I just haven't had time for it." I wanted to say, "Reach out and grab it!" But I had had an almost identical conversation last summer with a neighbor whose children have attended the same school, so I just commented that, "They do great stuff," and moved on to the next topic.

It's baffling. You can be carefully raising your children in your tradition and surrounded on all fronts by some of the best it has to offer, but not moved to wade into it yourself. Or you can be the only person in your entire family who even takes note of the existence of God, and find yourself, to all appearances completely by accident, making your way through a 500-year-old process of prayer with a Jesuit who after his own 50 years of experience can listen, completely unperturbed, to everything you have to say, and every once in awhile gently point, "Maybe that way."

It really is awesome, in the most traditional sense of the word.

Advent all year.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent 9 - Great MInds Think Alike

Michaelangelo ~ Sistine Chapel

As I've already mentioned, the words of the prophet Isaiah play a big role in Christian readngs for Advent. And in an entry last week I ruminated about how neither the Old Testament prophets, whom I am studying these days, nor Michaelangelo, who just happened to come to mind as having had an analagous experience, understood their work as something they wanted to do.

This morning in my class on the prophets, our professor started talking about how Amos did not want to be a prophet, did not want to identify himself as a prophet, insisted that he was only a prophet because God had called him into that role - much, he said, as Michaelangelo did not want to be a painter, identified himself as a sculptor, and painted only because the Pope demanded that he do so. And of course the reluctant and unhappy Amos was a prophet par excellence, and the reluctant and unhappy Michaelangelo was a painter of the same caliber.

And where, I thought, have I heard this before?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Advent 8 - Which Way?

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"

Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:1-12 [NRSV])


There is no way to get around it; this material always sounds a jarring note prior to the Advent we like to experience, the one where we sing carols and anticipate angels and shepherds and wise men from afar. Sheep and cattle and camels, too -- no scowling tigers or lunging bears. We like to limit our Advent discord to family squabbles over fake versus real, pine versus spruce, steady versus twinkling. No vipers ands burning chaff for us, thank you very much.

But there it is, right at the beginning of the Gospel, and what are we supposed to do with it?

I always wondered about John the Baptist. I mean, he sounds quite ill. Who would have listened to a man wandering around in animal clothing, crunchy locusts and honey dripping from his hands as he shouted his unique mixture of invective and ecstatic proclamation?

Years ago, I used to work downtown, and a large lady with a tamborine made frequent lunchtime sojourns up and down the block in front of a major department store, shouting the good news of salvation to all the passers-by, who studiously looked the other way. A gentleman in a suit often roamed the same block, preaching fire and brimstone at the top of his lungs. One day he walked right up to me, pointed his finger in my face, and intoned in a deep bass voice worthy of James Earl Jones, "God sees all of your secret sins!"

That was not good news to me.

I spent this past Thanksgiving week-end in Chicago with my family, and we went to see the Christmas displays at Marshall Field's. Sure enough, the Chicago version of John the Baptist inhabited the corner in front of one of the Snow White display windows. This one was a yoing man, eanestly sincere as he repeatedly insisted into a bullhorn that the oblivious shoppers needed to hear the words of the Gospel and ensure their salvation. Most of the people, of course, ignored him or, if forced by the crowd in his direction, turned politely away.

John is extreme, for sure, and his harsh words interject, at minimum, a sense of unease into our holiday festivities. But Christmas is an uneasy holiday. There is such a gaping disconnect between the meaning of Christmas and the endless round of shopping, decorating and partying that we try not to notice it. But there is John, to remind us.

I'm not, by nature, much of a shopper, so I think it's wise for me to refrain from criticizing people who are. I can think of few less appealing ways of spending my Thanksgiving holiday week-end than racing through stores. But we did have fun inspecting the elaborate Marshall Field's window displays and checking out the giant tree inside. In years past, we've taken kids to see Santa, attended Nutcracker and Christmas Carol productions , and made a family tradition of one big night of downtown shopping. We host a huge dinner on Christmas Day, and a couple of years we've taken elaborate trips. We could by no means be mistaken for clones of John the Baptist.

But that unease is always there. Christmas, after all, is really about Easter. And before Easter comes the ministry of Jesus, with its passionate focus on the poor and distressed. And after Easter comes Pentecost, the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire of which John speaks, which we are supposed to use to bring Christ into the world. There's just nothing in there about maxing out credit cards to buy stacks of plastic kitchens and toy weapons.

One of my favorite Christmas songs, which I've heard only at the church I now attend, is entitled And Every Stone Shall Cry. Its haunting melody reminds us that

Yet He shall be forsaken
And yielded up to die
The sky shall groan and darken
And every stone shall cry

but also that

But now as at the ending
The low is lifted high
The stars will bend their voices
And every stone shall cry.

That song, I think, reflects on what we are meant to hear in the story of John the Baptist each Advent. The outrage is there, of course -- outrage over a world which persists in focusing on the glitz and the tensions of holiday preparation rather than the incarnate presence of God, and which finds expression in a concluding prediction of angry judgment. But so is the disappointment, at our sad inability to recognize that, in the economy of the Bible, the low is always lifted high.


(I wrote this for Advent a few years ago so yeah, this is a reprise. You can tell by the fact that, regardless of what John the Baptist is doing, Marshall Field's is no more.)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent 7 - Happy Chanukah!

The first menorah is inscribed on a sarcophagus at Hierapolis (Pammukale) in present-day Turkey. According to this site, Hierapolis was believed to have been founded by Apollo. It was the site of sacred hot springs, whose gases were associated with Pluto, god of the underworld. The city had a significant Jewish community and was mentioned by Paul in Colossians.

The second one is a bit more contemporary. I think the
artist does beautiful work.

I've mentioned before that I am a bit nonplussed by the lack of diversity at seminary. Don't get me wrong -- it's an outstanding school -- but I do often find myself longing for the variety of a university community. (After I made that comment one day, I was asked whether I didn't find the multiplicity of Protestant dominations represented there heterogeneous enough. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, UCC-ers, Episcopalians. Well, in a word, No. That wasn't what I meant at all.)

It's the middle of Chanukah and I didn't even realize that until last night. Not a sign of Chanukah on the few acres on which I make my temporary home, or in the neighborhood in which we are located. That's just bizarre to me.

So I'm celebrating on my blog. Happy Chanukah!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent 6 - Joel or Isaiah?

I just got back from running errands, an adventure on which I picked up a copy of People Magazine. I have a book on Calvin's Institutes downstairs, and material on some Greek pronoun forms that I've been trying (fruitlessly) for days to memorize, and I've got the final episode of Prime Suspect, finally arrived at the video store (I guess Greek can wait), but as I stood in line at the cash register at the drugstore, I realized that first I needed to put all else aside so that I could catch up on Jennifer Love Hewitt's traumatic beach pictures.

So I came home and had a sandwich and read all about Jennifer and flipped through the magazine and lo and behold, there's a feature on Joel Osteen. Just in time for the second week of Advent, a season which doesn't, by the way, happen to merit a mention in the article.

Now, I'm not going to say a whole lot about the Osteens -- although it's hard not to note that, while a Prebyterian pastor gets to call herself that only after she's slogged through three years of graduate work, two ancient languages, and endless written and oral presentations of herself to various psychological and pastoral and academic committees and boards, and then been called into service by a community, and then had that call confirmed by the broader church, Joel Osteen is a college drop-out whose command of his tradition seems - uh -- let me be charitable here -- on the limited side, and whose community call seems to have some kind of connection to the media industry in the widest possible sense.

Isaiah forms the backbone of the church readings in early Advent, so I am practically overdosed on his words at the moment. And we're studying the prophets right now in one of my seminary classes. The prophets had a pretty rough go of it. They didn't want to say what they had to say, and no one else wanted them to say it either. No one was editing videos of their presentations, escorting them onto private jets, or following them around with make-up and blow-dryers. Mostly people were trying to run them out of town. I guess they needed the Osteens' publicity team.

But this isn't really about Joel Osteen, or about his opposites in proclamation, Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, et al. This is about the rest of us.

A woman is quoted in the People article as saying to Joel Osteen, "Thank you for making religion a pleasure."

And here's the thing. A life of faith IS a pleasure. It's painful and hard and confusing and challenging and joyful and funny and sad and energizing and bewildering, and it's the most satisfying way I can think of to be alive to as much of what's going on in the universe as we can be, in our own limited way. To live life as fully as we can, as fully ourselves as we can be and as fully in relationship with God as we can, IS a pleasure.
But not remotely in the way implied by the lady quoted in the article.

I know that we need to do a better job of conveying the richness and joy of a life of faith but, truthfully, I can see why we have a problem. The reality is that I don't want to be Isaiah anymore than Isaiah did.

The reality is that I would love for someone to blow-dry my hair for me every morning.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Advent 5 - Cairn

A cairn is a Gaelic term for a small mound of stones left as a marker.

Last summer when I spent eight days on a silent retreat at the Jesuit Center at Guelph, Ontario, I found myself walking the labyrinth for an hour of prayer every morning and night. Whatever I was praying -- a passage of Scripture, an issue in my life, a focus on specific people -- was amenable to being broken down into the series of curves around the labyrinth.

I got started the very first night when, terribly upset about something that had happened within an hour or two of my arrival and unable to sleep, I ventured outside at midnight to wander around and discovered the labyrinth, mown into the grass and completely alight under the full August moon. And then I just kept going, every morning at sunrise and every night at dusk or, sometimes, long after everyone else was asleep.

The interior rose circle of the Guelph labyrinth is created out of smooth and glossy stones, and I began to move them, surreptitiously, into my own small cairn whenever I walked the labyrinth. I didn't want to destroy the outline of the rose, so I had to be judicious in my selection of stones, and eventually I had to settle for moving the same ones around on the rock on which I had placed them. But I left them there when I returned home at the end of the week, a small reminder that God and I had been there together, in rural Ontario.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Advent 4

Isaiah ~ Michaelangelo ~ Sistine Chapel

I could write about a number of things in connection with Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel portrait of Isaiah, which turned up when I did a google search for images of the prophet whose words form the backbone of this week's readings in Christian churches.

I could write about gazing at the ceiling for an hour one day during the summer we took our children to Italy.

I could write about the course I'm taking right now on the prophets. GREAT course.

I could write about the various quandries of my life, so intense at times that twice this week when someone asked me a perfectly ordinary question, a question along the lines of "What are we doing?" I responded somewhat absentmindedly, "Do you mean that in an existential sense?"

But today, when I looked at this painting, I thought of Michaelangelo himself, lying on his back on top of the scaffolding for four years, arguing with the pope as he did what he did not want to do and fretted over his rivalry with Raphael, painting frescoes down the hallway.

We hear the words of the prophet and we look at subsequent artistic renditions and we think, "They got it exactly right."

But it did not feel that way at the time.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent 3 - Gratitude

Some of my online friends have been blogging gratitude (my apologies for the lack of links ~ I left my power cord at home, my own computer is dead, and so I am functioning sans favorites) and I've decided to join them for a day of Advent reflecting on my gratitude for the Chautauqua Institution:

~ my husband and I met there, and

~ my children spent maybe 20 summer vacations there (I have a photo of the not-quite-year-old Lovely Daughter "listening" to Gloria Steinem there), and

~ when I was between churches and casting about for spiritual grounding, I found it there, thanks in no small measure to preachers like Joan Chittister and Barbara Brown Taylor and Karen Armstrong, all of whom have become part of my conversation of faith, and to teachers and friends whose names would not be recognized, but who have shared parts of themselves and their journeys in the context of walks along the lake, classes lit by afternoon sunlight, and conversations at the Children's Beach.

So: bleak midwinter gratitude for summer days and nights.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent 2 - St. Francis Xavier Feast Day

St. Francis Xavier
Our Lady of England Priory, Storrington, England

The first mention I heard of today's Catholic feast day this particular year was from my history professor in the Presbyterian seminary I attend ~ his focus is mission and Francis Xavier is one of his great heroes .

Francis Xavier was one of the initial companions of Ignatius of Loyola and, therefore, one of the first Jesuits.

Creighton's Advent site today suggests that we pray that Christ will arrive to find us waiting. Its
meditation on Xavier himself includes the following: "My prayer for us today is that we can be aware and eager to respond to these invitations from Christ as we grow into His life in our vocation to whatever or to wherever they lead us."

Contemplatives in action: Ignatian heritage and Jesuit tradition.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent I

"Let us walk in the light of the Lord." ~ Isaiah 2:5

I changed my mind (per usual). I am going to blog my way through Advent. Last night I read through the paper journal that I had kept for about the first week of Advent last year and was surprised by the turmoil and uncertainty it reflected. I realized that, now that I am in the habit, I don't want to lose track of my reflections. I do keep a much more private handwritten journal, but this blog serves as a window into what I have wanted to share with others. So for the next few weeks it will be a mixture (also per usual) of photographs, paintings, current goings-on, and Advent reflections. For Advent this year I am going to use Creighton's Praying Advent site, which is filled with great stuff, as well as my usual Pray-As-You-Go, which has some special Advent material planned.

We have a full week-end going on here. My husband is on the board of the local
10,000 Villages and spent all day yesterday hauling stuff around for their sale today, which just happens to be at my church, for which he has just departed. I think he's also coaching two soccer games this afternoon. I spent all of yesterday at a spiritual direction workshop presentation on the discernment of spirits in prayer; there are few things I enjoy more than listening to a Jesuit discuss Ignatian spirituality and having the opportunity to talk it over with him afterward. This morning I am teaching in our Very Cool Advent Series at church on the women in the opening genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew; I get to present Tamar since I just happen to have several pages of notes on her story from my Old Testament class last quarter. (Tamar, for those unfamiliar with the story, might appear on the surface to be a lady of questionable methodology, but is in reality a determined and inventive woman who saves the family lineage from which Jesus will emerge. I like to think that in real life she would be one of my best friends.) And then after church I have that drive back to school and a long night of studying ahead of me.

And despite all of that, Advent has begun. And for me it began a couple of hours ago with this prayer from the Creighton site:

Let us pray that we may take Christ's coming seriously.

To which I added:

Despite the reality that everything will go on as usual: dealing with feelings of sadness and loss, being in family relationships, managing two educational programs and holiday preparations, continuing to build new friendships and to respond to new opportunities -- despite and because of and within all of that, remind me to take the coming of the Christ child seriously each day of this Advent season: attentively and soberly and gratefully and joyfully.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Law and Gospel invited me out to play, so here's a bit of almost-Advent relaxation:
Your three favorite Christmas foods?

Not my area of speciality. But my grandmother made a plum pudding with a (soft) hard sauce that was to die for. I can't actually cook anything beyond a grilled cheese sandwich, but I wonder if my brother has that recipe stashed somewhere . . . and I wonder how much damage I could do . . . .

One of my friends often brings Clementines dipped in dark chocolate to our Christmas dinner. Fabulous.

OK, that's two.

Three Christma secrets?

I don't think I have any of those.

Three favorite pices of Christmas music?

NOW we're talking.

There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob

It took me awhile to find a place for listening to this one, and the results are not entirely satisfactory. Think organ of many pipes and huge choir.

Sing We Noel.

The processional to the Christmas Vespers Concert in which everyone in my boarding school participated every year. The words appear on this program, but I have never been able to find a recording online. Think same as above: organ music and choir of 700 filling candlelit chapel in New England.

Have You Seen a Child? A quarter from Amahl and the Night Visitors featuring Amahl's mother and the Three Kings. There are a few versions on youtube, but I wasted an hour last night trying to figuire out "embed." Go out and get the CD -- the entire operetta is only an hour long.

And one more (since I blew the first two questions): a favorite in our church:

(I apologize for being able to find only a version with that kind of breathless-contemporary-music approach.)(Can you tell that I'm already beoming just a tad bit edgy about what passes for seasonal music on the radio?)

And, by the way, Law and Gospel has some very nice music indeed on her blog.