Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Five

A terrific set of Labor Day questions from Singing Owl:

Tell us about the worst job you ever had.

Summer after my sophomore year of college: Hasbro Toys assembly line in Pawtucket RI, making yellow plastic GI Joe flashlights. "Nuff said.

2. Tell us about the best job you ever had.

Adjunct instructor in English at community college: students from countries all over the place and an array of income brackets, many of them about to lose their public assistance benefits under the Clinton Administration's revamping of the welfare system, and trying to earn as many college credits as possible to make themselves more employable. A number of of my students had struggled against alcohol and/or drug addicition and lost children to County Services, and their comeback stories, written in formats we struggled to transform into pieces recognizeable as basic English compositions, were truly inspiring.

3. Tell us what you would do if you could do absolutely anything (employment related) with no financial or other restrictions.

I would be a pastor-spiritual director-adjunct college instructor-photographer. (Sound familiar? Two more years?) Our way too-big house would be transformed into a retreat center and we would live in the bungalow next door. Or in someplace spectacularly beautiful. For instance, Oregon, or the desert southwest, or Maine, or Paris. The American church in Paris was looking for a pastor last year; I thought that sounded just about perfect. And French learned via the hanging-out-in-cafes method would be a breeze after Greek and Hebrew.

4. Did you get a break from labor this summer? If so, what was it and if not, what are you gonna do about it?

I don't think CPE counts as a break. But I did have that one day in North Carolina. And I AM going on retreat next week.

5. What will change regarding your work as summer morphs into fall? Are you anticipating or dreading?

Back to seminary, back to spiritual direction program, onward to church intership. Mostly anticipating, but a little apprehensive about my ability to pull off this balancing act for yet another year.

Bonus question: For the gals who are mothers, do you have an interesting story about labor and delivery (LOL)? If you are a guy pal, not a mom, or you choose not to answer the above, is there a song, a book, a play, that says "workplace" to you?

My twin boys were born on Labor Day week-end 24 years ago! Bullet points: overdue, induction over Friday and Saturday, c-section, and by Saturday night I was a nursing mother of two! OR photos show one baby settled peacefully into a satisfied sleep and another baby wide-eyed and frantic about the new turn of events. Nothing much has changed.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

So Far: Disappointed

It's 10:37 p.m.

I don't know how long Barack Obama has been speaking, but I am less than thrilled.

This is akin to a b-o-r-i-n-g state of the union address. Although the Senator is a much better speaker than the gentleman who has delivered the last eight such addresses.

I was looking for inspiration. I was hoping to feel a sense of I Have a Dream vision and pride. I was anticipating an eloquent energy for hope.

I feel like Emily Litella.

Never mind.

Convention Watch

Having made fun of John McCain and his unknown number of houses of which he cannot keep track, in all fairness I now need to note that Barack Obama's Parthenon Pretensions are no more endearing. He has a perfectly nice house on the South Side of Chicago and I think that he should stick with that as his one and only.

And I expect to vote for him, but Oprah's role is another negative in my book.

Why is America so eager to follow's Oprah's lead on style, books, and political candidates? Or anything at all?

Am I really the only woman in America who has never been able to last through an entire hour of Oprah?


Some of you know that The Lovely Daughter began her college career at Tulane University. While she did spend the second semester of her freshman year there, she had fallen in love with the school she'd attended as a first semester refugee, and today she flew back to Oregon to move into her apartment and begin her senior year.

I am still on Tulane's mailing list, and I have followed the rebuilding of city and college with great interest. My own trip to NOLA in January 2006 was a sobering and moving experience. (There are links in my sidebar.) As we listened to the weather reports over the past couple of days, I began to wonder whether class of 2009 would begin its senior year as it began its freshman year. And sure enough, here's this afternoon's announcement:

"Dear Tulane Community,

While Tropical Storm Gustav appears to be tracking to the west of New Orleans at this time, Gustav’s path is still too unpredictable for us to be sure of its ultimate landfall.
After many discussions with our senior leadership team, as well as up-to-the minute reports from our national weather monitoring service, we have decided to close the university at noon tomorrow (Friday, August 29). ***** At this time, I want you to be ready to enact your personal emergency preparedness plans *** "

If it sounds familiar, that might be because this was on my blog three years ago:

"Message regarding university closure:

In response to Hurricane Katrina's shift to the west, Tulane University will close as of 5 p.m. today, August 27. *** Everyone should begin implementing their personal hurricane plan now."

My heart goes out to everyone in the New Orleans and Gulf Coast area, along with prayers and hopes that Gustav will head back out over the water and dwindle down to nothing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

North Carolina IV

Blue Ridge Parkway Sunrise
Pisgah National Forest
August 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

More New Beginnings

So far, so good. Actually, so far, great!

This year I will be doing what's called field education -- essentially, an internship. I'm doing it in a church in my home city rather than in my seminary city a couple of hours away, which makes great good sense in terms of participating in worship on Sunday. (For at least the first quarter, all of my seminary classes are on Mondays and Tuesdays. My two-city life will become more complicated after Thanksgiving, but we will persevere.)

It makes great good sense in other ways as well, as I will continue learning about ministry in a theologically progressive, community-minded, social justice-oriented church. The building is a magnificent historical structure in a university setting, which is also home to several of our city's finest cultural institutions. Great preaching, great music. A vibrant regional congregation. And all of it a mile's walk from my own front porch!

This morning I stopped in for a meeting of the interreligious task force of an interfaith organization, and returned after lunch for the weekly staff meeting. So I've had a chance to meet some people and introduce myself, and I feel warmly welcomed indeed. I've got work to do and plans to make -- and, I think, a terrific year ahead.

North Carolina III

Hooker Falls
DuPont State Forest
August 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

North Carolina II

Blue Ridge Parkway Sunset
Pisgah National Forest
August 2008

Sunday, August 24, 2008

North Carolina I

Looking Glass Falls
Pisgah National Forest
August 2008

Ignatian Week-end

We sat around in Adirondack chairs on the patio of the retreat house late last night. Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist. A little wine and a LOT of laughter. One of the first year students had been heard to say that she had not imagined a retreat like this one. Well, no; the silent retreats are NOT like this one. This one was for learning about each other and worshipping together and exploring the spirituality that has brought us together to form an unlikely but passionately engaged group.

The first year of our Ignatian spiriutality program is largely academic: classes every other week, all day workshops scattered through the year, SEVENTEEN papers on the theology, practice, and challenges of spiritual direction. Those of us laughing so freely on the patio have weathered that year, and not without rather vigorous debate. We have affectionately nicknamed ourelves The Fractile Fifteen. I haven't read The Shack, but I'm told that if you have, you'll get it.

Now we begin our practicum year, sharing the journey of attentiveness to God with our own directees. Classes are down to once a month, but we still have papers, as well as verbatims (shades of CPE), meetings with directees, meetings with supervisors, meetings with our own directors. Plus whatever else it is we do in life -- work, school, ministries, caring for kids and spouses, caring for elderly parents.

It's a good thing that we're all well versed in humor.


(PS: I'm off to my own silent retreat in two weeks and, as it turned out, one of instructors for this weekend's first year students, a 92-year-old Jesuit, had come down for the a day from my destination and is slated to be my director when I get there. I am thrilled. Rumor has it that he has been a major influence on my original director. I love being the beneficiary of decades and decades of Jesuit wisdom!)

Friday, August 22, 2008

New Year

I've been emailing seminary friends about an event we're planning for September ~

I've met with my internship supervisor and on Tuesday I get to go down and function as an official intern for the very first time, at an interreligious task force meeting hosted by the Presby church where I will be interning ~

In a few hours my spiritual direction program will begin with a week-end retreat ~

And, bizarrely, there has been a pair of cormorants at the Little Lakes for the past week or so. Guess they came up from the Great Lake and found the fishing good. (Image from a Canadan news site.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Campaign Humor

I decided tonight that it was about time for me to start giving some concerted attention to the Presidential campaign. I can't think of an election year when I've had less time or energy to devote to the process, and I'm feeling pretty ignorant.

What a great evening on which to begin!

I can't remember how many houses I have, either. But if the number is nine, here are the locations I choose, in no particular order:

St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Brevard, North Carolina

Paris,France (Sixth Arrondisement)

Monhegan Island, Maine

Chautauqua Institution, New York

Glen Arbor, Michigan

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Truro, Massachusetts

Williamstown, Massachusetts

I've thrown in an illustration of my place in Paris. If I'm at one of the others, go on up and make yourselves at home!

Monday, August 18, 2008

21 Years Ago...

My friend Mary Ann and The Quiet Husband and I were wandering up and down, up and down the hallway of one St. Luke's Hospital. We had spent all of the previous day there, to no avail. After a fitful night of sleep at home, complications had made themselves dramatically manifest again, and so there we were. Walk walk walk. Groan groan groan. One contraction hard upon another, doing . . .nothing. Please please please. Not another c-section.

FOUR other women came into the hospital, fussed and yelled, and produced babies. We passed their rooms over and over again, hearing the sounds that indicated that at least some people up there were reaching their goals.

4:00 in the afternoon? It would be ten more hours before I would cry, "I can't I can't I can't" and grit my teeth and grind my heel into my doctor's knee and call to him from somewhere far, far away, "Joe, HELP me!" Before he would say, "PUSH. THE. BABY. OUT." Before The Lovely Daughter, with limpid blue eyes wide as they could be, would be placed gently on my belly and look at us as if to say, "I know who you are, too."

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I'm venturing, in a tentative kind of way, out of anonymity and into the arena of ecumencial and interfaith dialogue to which I am increasingly and insistently called.

I'm setting up a new blog, to which I will refer here only on rare occasion, such as this one, in the form of an invitation to email me if you want to read it. I'm keeping this one for the personal reflections on all topics that come to mind, and so I'm sticking to my pseduo-anonymity here, and I'm not linking back and forth.

Will I come to regret this? Only time will tell. There are some either/or folks in my world who don't necessarily welcome the both/and-ness of my perspective. But really, a girl can only be who she's called to be.

Friday, August 15, 2008

End of CPE (Two - Postponed)

CPE ended today and I have been in bed -- mostly asleep, and feeling lousy whenever I wake up -- for hours. I'm hoping it's just the letdown -- and not that I managed to pick up some hospital bug on the very last day. (I only foamwash my hands maybe 200 times a day.)

We had a wonderful little celebration, and finished up some paperwork, but otherwise my day was very busy, with two deaths and two people very near to death on my MICU, one of my five units. The people who arrive there are mostly as sick as people can possibly be. I realized in responding to a colleague's question that I have had, I think, two days at the hospital this summer without deaths -- and there have been several days where the number has exceeded one. One night there were four deaths in the space of a few hours on the palliative care unit. Four is not, actually, unusual for a night. (At night, one chaplain is responsible for the entire hospital.)

Sometimes when people die, I have spent parts of several days with them and their family. Sometimes I meet them as they breathe their last. I try, always, to offer words that mark the passage through death as one of utter grace, praying that the dying person be welcomed by the radiance of God, and that their loved ones be sustained by the knowledge that their presence and witness is a final and extraordinary gift. I would be surprised if any of those left behind remember my words, but I hope that they remember the moment as one that honored the life of their loved one.

It can be tiring.

And so for myself this evening, I think a little dinner and a very long and deep sleep are in order.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Slightly built, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and flip-flops, she stands in the waiting room. She looks thoughtfully out the window, unfolds her arms, and reaches for the Coke in the McDonald's cup. A couple of sips. Hands in her pockets. "We weren't expecting this," she says.

"Tell me about your mother," I say.

She smiles gently. "She is the most wonderful woman. The most welcoming woman. Her vegetable garden is unlike anything you've ever seen."

She glances at the door to the ICU.

"I'm going back in there to be with her."

This morning she was holding out hope. In another hour, she will make the most difficult decision ever asked of her, and then she will say good-bye. In between, I will sit with her family, and I will begin a prayer with the words, "Oh, Holy God, none of us wants to be at this meeting."

My friend Lisa has challenged herself to write something every day. I decided to go for my own version: five minutes of descriptive writing every day for a month. This is Number 1, with the people involved appropriately disguised.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

More Fashion Commentary

From The Lovely Daughter, while shopping for college:

"Hmmm, just what everyone wants: to look like a gigantic flower . . . " .

"Or how about . . . a pumpkin?"

"I guess if this is what they have to offer in the way of jackets, I'm going to be very cold this winter."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Observations

Sitting here awaiting another Michael Phelps race . . .

North Carolina was the perfect respite. Unfortunately the computer is once again refusing to recognize my ancient camera's greeting, so the pictures may be a few days down the road. Let's just say that every CPE week should feature time for sitting in mountain waterfalls.

Look at those cameras of those sports photographers! Gannet is solid green with envy. Oh shoot, now the 200 fly is at 10:18. I can stay awake, but maybe not online.

CPE evaluations are upon us. I cannot believe that this summer is just about behind us. I will not miss the overnights. But I will miss my encounters - with the stunningly beautiful Arab women, with the patient looking astonished by her sudden possession of a new heart, with the people battling pre-surgery fear and post-surgery pain, with the disoriented and confused and lonely folks who find themselves facing unbelievable medical challenges, with responses to physical challenge and family heartache fueled by dignity, by terror, by faith, by anguish. I will miss the openness to challenge, dedication to hard work, and resistance to sleep deprivation of my CPE colleagues. I will miss our supervisor's insistence on self-exploration, on inclusive language, on building a spiritual program that reaches out to embrace people of all walks toward or away from faith.

I have so loved this experience. But I am very grateful for waterfalls. And sleep.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Goin' to Carolina...

Behind me:

Eight verbatims, four book reflections, weekly general reflections, I don't know how many overnight on-calls, an 8-10 page final evaluation in first draft form, so much suffering and death with humor and triumph blended in, so little sleep and so much tension and the inevitable tears and laugher . . . one week of CPE to go . . . screech to a halt:

We have to go to North Carolina for a three-day week-end to retrieve The Lovely Daughter from her life as a camp counselor. The waterfalls and the mountains and the trails of Pisgah Forest are calling.

We have to take my little car because The Quiet Husband's bigger one is still recovering from its encounter with a deer two weeks ago. It will be a very long drive in a very little car. But at the end will be those waterfalls and mountains and trails and, best of all, The Lovely, Lovely Daughter.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Michelle has written one of the best pieces I've ever read about a silent retreat, here, and has reminded me of some of my own experience.

When I was on retreat at Guelph last summer, the 90-plus degree temperatures every day made the pool a most welcome respite. I think that I went swimming every afternoon right before dinner, and a couple of times after dinner as well. At first I wondered: would people actually swim in silence? I needn't have asked. There were always five or ten people at the pool, and many nodded and smiled, but no one said a word.

Early in the week, I sprained my toe as I stumbled over a deck chair. The pain was excruciating, the kind the makes you feel momentarily as if you are going to vomit. Normally under such circumstances, such an encounter would be followed by a string of loud and angry expletives on my part, but I managed to be unusually restrained in the context of the swimming silence. I sat on the edge of the pool for awhile, hoping that the icy water would reduce the inevitable swelling and bruising, and limped back to the house. My labyrinth prayer walk after dinner was an exceedingly slow one. Hours later, in the middle of the night, I went down to the kitchen to fill a washcloth with ice and to dig around in the first aid cupboard for something with which to tape my throbbing toe.

As Michelle so eloquently notes, in the silence you make less of your needs, less of yourself. You discover how little of yourself you need to impose -- on the space, on others, on the silence itself. The normal chatter and rueful laughter that accompany minor klutziness -- unnecessary. The need for attention -- none, when others have considerately provided for your needs so that you can quietly take care of yourself. The will to overcome? It's up to you. You can live with the pain and the limp and walk the trails and labyrinth, and swim in the pool, and visit the barns and gardens and river -- or not. In the gentleness of the silence, your decisions are your own.

The company you keep is entirely with Someone Else.

Friday, August 01, 2008


I thought that it would be a shame to spend my summer doing CPE at Famous Gigantic Hospital without taking advantage of the opportunity to observe an open heart surgery.

So that's how I spent my morning, standing on a stool right next to one of the surgeons as they replaced a valve and did a bypass.

I could say a lot about what I learned from a scientific perspective, and what I added to my pastoral care perspective, and what I concluded from a theological perspective, and maybe someday I will. But for now I'll leave it at: