Thursday, July 30, 2009

Qals and Piels and Hifils, Oh My!

I am sitting in my own living room with Gregarious Son and Lovely Daughter and Quiet Husband, totally vegging out while they watch TV.

For the past 50-some nights, I have not been able to relax for one second without thinking that I should be going through my Hebrew flashcards.

What a bizarre sensation it is, not to have to give a thought to a stack of flashcards or pile of charts or other unintelligible material.

Exam over. Retreat and then month off. Phew.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Think These Would Have Been Good Questions

(See the previous two posts for an explanation).

How have your family, childhood, and adolescent experiences influenced your life of faith and call to ministry?

You've worked in two other fields. How do your previous experiences affect your understanding and practice of ministry? Is there anything you would like to share about work in the "secular world" which might be helpful to those of us who have spent our entire adult lives in ministry?

What's it been like to go to seminary as a second (OK, third) career student? What have been your favorite courses? Where have you learned the most? Have you had any internship or volunteer experiences you'd like to tell us about?

Could you explain what the term "spiritual direction" means and what your training as a spiritual director has involved?

What did you find enriching about CPE? Do you think it's a worthwhile training ground for future pastors?

What can you share with us about pastoral care in light of your experience since the death of your son? What have you learned about suicide? About parental loss?

What passages of Scripture have been especially meaningful in your life?

What interests you so much about interfaith dialogue? How do you imagine incorporating that priority into your ministry in the church?

I kind of like my questions . . . . If I were questioning me at this stage in the process, these are the sorts of things I'd like to know something about if I were limited to questions about call, life, experience, etc. and precluded from asking about theological matters.

Note to self for any similar future scenarios: Organize what you'd like to communicate about yourself very carefully in your mind so that you have access to it and can speak about it regardless of how the questions are framed.

A learning experience . . . .

Humor and Seriousness

Got back to seminary late last night and reviewed the meeting at some length with Dramatic Friend, a wonderful woman from my Presbytery whom I met last summer during CPE, who showed up here this summer for Hebrew, and who went to the meeting last night to support me.

She goes before Presbytery this fall and, after we rehashed the questions I was asked, she said she thought she'd go to her meeting and say, "Would you please ask me Gannet's questions? We've discussed them thoroughly and so I can answer them, plus ~ I can give you her answers!"

In all seriousness, and it took me awhile, but I realized something that we all should know by this time in life: it's hard to ask good questions in a situation like that. Questions that are conceptual and vast and seem tinged with a bit of an ideological bent are almost impossible to address off the cuff. (Unless, of course, you are a politican, which a couple of my FB friends thought candidacy meant!) The questions that work are those which address the specific and call for a narative answer.

It's the difference between a job interview question such as What's your greatest weakness? and one one along the lines of Could you describe a situation in the last few years in which you've made a big mistake, and how you handled it?

There I was, all prepared to talk about my life (which, yes, is a scary subject these days) and I got huge Scriptural and theological questions, the kinds that fill libraries. Do you suppose, I said to Dramatic Friend, that people thought that, under the circumstances, those would be easier?

The other reality, of course, is that some of what I was asked does not fall within my usual range of contemplation and action, which might explain why I could not translate the questions into stories upon which I might reflect. The upside is that I was reminded that there are things barely on my radar screen which are of great importance to others, just as there are matters of critical concern to me to which other people are oblivious.

Now: I really have to focus on nifal and piel!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Adventures in Ordination

I went to the Presbytery meeting.

No theological questions are permitted at this point -- not until next year. At this point, the questions are supposed to be about your call, spiritual experience, seminary, things like that. I had spent considerable time mulling over the statement I had submitted, trying to see it through different eyes and imagine what questions people might have.

I was asked four questions. One on call and three theological. None on anything I had written.

After the third question, someone in the congregation finally objected. But the fourth one was also theological, albeit better disguised as something personal.

I'm now a candidate in the ordination process.

But I can't say that I'm feeling too terrific.

And I have a Hebrew final in 59 hours.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Week Ahead

Guelph Labyrinth

Big week ahead.

Tomorrow night I go before my Presbytery for the next step in the ordination process. Usually these meetings are upbeat and joyful; mine will most likely edge far to the sober side of the spectrum. I have written candidly about Chicago Son in the statement I have to present, partly because his life and death are now so germane to my call to ministry and partly because I don't want people to feel that they must tiptoe around the edge of whatever real questions they have. I am hoping for some joyful moments at the end!

Thursday morning: our Hebrew final. I have a good grasp on what all the possible issues are (and believe me, that's a huge step forward). The question remains: can I remember how any of them work out? Four more days to cram it all into my brain, a few hours of writing, and then -- over!!!

Saturday I drive to Guelph for my retreat. For eight days the forty or so of us there will spend all of our time in total silence, excepting Mass if we are inclined to attend and a daily meeting with a spiritual director. I have written them about the circumstances of my life, telling them I need a retreat director who is experienced, resilient, and fearless. I have had my moments of trepidation, and long periods of wondering whether attempting to make another retreat, ever, after last year is an indication that I have finally and completely lost my mind ~ but mostly, I can hardly wait.

All of which means that a week from right now I will be surrounded by ~ SILENCE.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Across Pretend Borders

I had an unexpected and wonderful exchange last night which caused me to take a look at my email inbox this morning.

I read a lot of religious blogs ~ no surprise there ~ a few of which are listed in my links. Many of them reflect occasional or, sometimes a lot of, defensiveness, hostility, and anger. Sometimes you know it's coming, because that's just who the writer is. Nothing he or she says could possibly induce you to view the faith reflected in his or her writing as something desirable or even worth exploring. Sometimes it's a surprise. There's a blog written by a woman of a somewhat different persuasion than mine whose writing I've enjoyed tremendously, but twice in the last week she's revealed another side in the form of biting remarks pertaining to my own perspective. (No, I've never linked to her blog.) I'll still read her, because I'm curious about her journey and hope it goes well, but the pleasure is gone.

As for myself, I'm thinking about abandoning my pseudonomynimity (too many syllables?), which has caused me to realize that sometimes I am a bit too uninhibited. Perhaps the name Gannet Girl enables me to believe that I can hide behind a multitude of sins. I do think that I may have written things that might on occasion hurt one or more of the individuals whose name pops up in my mailbox, so some culling is in order.

My inbox for the last day or so? (And this is only one of the four. An older ones contains most of the ads and the emails from my long-lived moms' group, my seminary mail contains most things school-related, and a Gannet Girl account contains blog stuff.) In this one: A few inward/outward and Sojourners daily mailings, some of which I'll get to and some of which I won't. Several digests from Parents of Suicides, most of which I will delete because ~ too much. A Benedictine monk. Two Jesuit priests. Two Presbyterian pastors. A friend from church seeking to confirm a presentation. Two people connected to my spiritual direction program. A good friend about a book club selection. Several church friends about the upcoming year's adult education program. Dell, McAfee, and Borders. (The latter three always show up eventually.)

What does your inbox say about your life? I hope that mine reflects openness and curiosity on my part. It for sure reflects a host of different people with whom I am connected in all kinds of ways and who all represent the generosity and care extended to me over the past year. (OK, maybe not Dell and McAfee. But even they make it all possible.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Loyola House - Meals Magnifique!

Since I've imposed a moratorium on myself with respect to my daily 24/7 obsession with muddling through Hebrew, I thought I'd add some more about my upcoming retreat which is becoming, amazingly, something to which I am looking forward. Amazing in the sense that I can't think of anything else in the past eleven months, other than The Lovely Daughter's college graduation.

Probably many of you have been to various retreat house and conference center meals where the menu resembled something akin to that found in your local high school cafeteria. And I get it -- time is short, budgets are limited, and not too many people working for cafeteria level wages have the interest, knowledge, and skills to develop a menu based on fresh local offerings, Not being a cook of any sort myself, I can hardly complain. When I went to Guelph two years ago, I expected the usual overcooked chicken, scalloped potatoes, and green beans dumped out of cans, and I would not have been disappointed by same.

Did I ever underestimate the creativity and hospitality of the Jesuits ??? (One might mistake them for Benedictines!)

Herewith, from the new brochure (linked in my previous post):

Our continental breakfast includes fresh fruit, yogurt, muffins, citrus marinated prunes, fresh baked breads, hot oats, cereal, and Guelph’s own Planet Bean fair trade organic coffee. Hot breakfasts can include poached, fried, or scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, sausage, French toast, or pancakes.

Every lunch we offer a house soup such as ginger carrot, fresh tomato fennel, chowder, sweet potato, or roasted vegetable. Our entrées range from spanakopita to pasta primavera. Salads might include Greek, roasted sweet potato, fresh greens, tomato basil, or coleslaw.

Our dinner entrées can include roasted lemon chicken, fish in a caper tomato broth, beef and vegetable stew, Moroccan tagine, or roast pork with rosemary. Dinner accompaniments range from herb roasted sweet potatoes, fresh vegetables, or roasted Yukon golds to a mixed rice pilaf.

Desserts are our specialty! From fresh apple crumble pie and butter tarts to orange pecan cake to a simple fresh fruit bowl.

We take great care to bring you the freshest ingredients in all of our preparations. Whenever possible we use as much locally grown food as we can, especially from our farm right here on the property. Everything is made in house from the beginning without the use of pre-made ingredients.

I might add that everything is prepared in silence, to accomodate the retreatants, and presented enticingly in a vast and light, airy dining room, one wall of which consists of windows overlooking gardens and pastures. (And the brochure doesn't mention the brownies, one of which I spirited up to my room every night for a post-labyrinth midnight snack.)

Obviously the expectation is that a week of silent prayer requires a lot of nourishment, and not just of the spiritual direction variety.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Confusion and Affirmation

Earlier this week I spent an hour or so with the committee which oversees my movement, such as it is, toward ordination in the Presbyterian church. In another three weeks they will recommend to the Presbytery, which is our regional governing body and oversees such things, that I move on to the next step.

I don't know what other such meetings for other inquirers (that's what I'm called at this stage) are like. My last two have been mostly about my son's death and its aftermath. The members of the committee are extremely supportive and I am extremely honest. I think it has helped to keep up with my Desert Year blog, as I am not disturbed by questions about how I manage my work, what kinds of accommodations professors have offered me, how we are planning to mark the one-year anniversary, how I take care of myself.

Someone asked me at one point what I thought they should be asking me. That was a good question, and one I had not anticipated. Later, I thought of two things.

What is it like, to survive this kind of loss?

You learn to to live with constant pain. There is nothing that happens, nothing that anyone says, that doesn't remind you of something. When your Hebrew professor says in the middle of class that you can remember how to pronounce the word for "tent" (oh-hell) if you have ever spent the night in a tent during a rainstorm, your mind immediately moves to a night on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park which you have not thought about for years, and the drying-out routine the morning after, and your son's good-humored laughter. The laughter you had been foolish enough to count on hearing for the rest of your life.

As pastors, what should we know, what should we say, when we go to the home of a family where the sudden death of a child has occurred?

You shouldn't say anything, really. You should begin with, "Tell me about your child," and then you should listen. And you should keep listening, for months and years. You won't have the time, and if you have children of your own it will be too hard, but you should do it anyway.

I don't know why I didn't think to say those things. Maybe because I didn't think they were being asked. It's often hard to guess where people are in their curiosity. Most of the time, they seem to be nowhere close to the reality and, regardless of their genuine concern and interest, or perhaps because of it, it feels as if it would be cruel to fill them in. Better to live without this knowledge for as long as you can.

As we talked, I thought about my best friend at seminary. A vibrant, energetic woman, bursting with gifts for ministry. I thought, Her enthusiasm would fill this room. I should be her.

And then one of the gentlemen, a retired minister, said, We are hearing a lot of good things here, and I just want to say, I would love for you to be my pastor.

Go figure.

(Cross posted at Desert Year.)

Sunday, July 05, 2009


I just noted on Facebook that I've just finished the last of the 25 short papers assigned over the course of the past two years for my spiritual direction certificate program. So I thought I'd look back at what we've read and written about:

six Rahner papers,
five sets of case studies,
one Raymond Brown and one historical Jesus paper,
eight papers on the Ignatian Exercises,
two on ethics and spiritual direction,
two on spiritual psychology and life patterns,
and one that I can't seem to find.

For obvious reasons, I got a late start on other work for the second year of the program, but the academic portion is now complete and the rest is moving forward.

Spiritual direction has been such a profound gift in my life; it seems an extraordinary privilege to me to be able to offer it in return. And it seems impossible that the little group that began our studies together nearly two years ago is almost ready to conclude that portion of the journey!

Friday, July 03, 2009


So . . . I think that Lovely Girl of mine has applied for about 50 jobs, last count, and ended up with the one she most wanted. She'll be spending a year with an Americorps project here in City on the Lake, working with high school students on The College Process -- helping them with finding colleges and scholarships, writing essays, interviewing, test prep, confidence building, etc.

Her own formal educational experience has been in environments much different from those into which she will venture in August; this should be an exceptionally good experience for her. From her own high school whose graduates without exception go to college to schools where higher education is barely on the radar screen ~ she will learn a great deal about how expectations and environment affect what we take for granted and what we don't. Her sociology honors thesis was on a related topic with similarly challenged students; this opportunity should meld well with the work she's begun.

She's probably reading this, so let me just add how proud I am -- I know that sending out dozens of applications and revving up for interviews that don't pan out and trudging from restaurant to retail shop in the constant hope that someone else will have just quit is NOT FUN. She mentioned the other day that she kind of wished she'd gone back to camp for one more counseling gig, but she knew that that would have only delayed the job search. Now she may be able to go back next summer for a session or two of the 75th anniversary celebration with a productive year behind her!

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Exam and one term of Hebrew behind me, and The Lovely Daughter called last night to say she's been offered an Americorps job (!) that she was really interested in, and had given up on after hearing nothing since the phone interview six weeks ago.

More news when I know.

A long walk and a little mental break ahead today!