Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Retreat

Today I'm posting solely on my Advent blog, where I'm following the RevGals Retreat.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tomorrow Night !

My girl Elphaba ~

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Wishes to All ~

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mishbarim: Dismantling Your Life

Like most middle class Americans my age, I have invested most of my life in building. School, marriage, family, career, home. It all went pretty well for awhile. I was a reasonably generous person ~ nothing outrageous, no Mother-Theresa like complexes for me ~ but certainly I gave of my energy and my time and my money and my gifts to my family, my church, and my community. And why not? I had plenty to give; it hardly hurt me to spread a little of it around. Oh, every once in awhile I would find that I had over-committed myself in one realm or another and I'd have to invest some effort into stepping back, but that was about as difficult as it got. We are not talking Ms. Self~Sacrifice here. Except for a couple of times, when disaster hit and left our family confused and hurting ~ but we were capable of determined re-building efforts, and we were always surrounded by people who helped us. So re-build we did.

This is different. This is so different.

Everything has to go.

OK, not everything. Not much of anything exterior, really. The house is still (barely, per usual) standing , the Quiet Husband is still employed, I am still in school. The Gregarious Son and The Lovely Daughter are employed and moving forward, and working to heal a little. We are all trying to heal a little.

But the interior everything ~ it has to go. I have found virtually nothing in a traditional life of Christian faith and practice, at least as I once knew it ~ and I knew it pretty well ~ to sustain me. I remember that a year or so ago, a fellow blogger wrote frequently of feeling shielded under God's wing. No wing for me. One of my professors, when I visited him last spring to seek some academic advice, apparently felt obligated to offer some of what must have seemed to him to have been kindly words of pastoral assurance. It was all I could do to escape his office without throwing up. I have had a number of conversations with others who have experienced similar depths of trauma in recent years ~ and very few have found in church a place of respite or solace.

I have found nothing in my own efforts. I have been busily erecting walls of self-defense against the endless waves of sadness and anger but there is, in fact, no technology available for building walls thick enough to withstand them. I know that, of course. The primary emphasis of the program which I attended a few weeks ago on death and dying was on the need to go deep into and all the way through sorrow in order to make any sense at all of it and to absorb it into the rest of your life. That was not news. But the reality is that the dailiness of life requires a good deal of wall-building. The balance ~ between the barriers you need to secure in place to walk through the grocery or to withstand a basic class discussion on baptism (oh, right, actually I didn't make it through that one . . .) and the openness and honesty needed in order to confront and accommodate one's real life of struggle and sorrow ~ the balance is a tenuous one to maintain. It's no wonder that bereaved people tend to isolate themselves. I'm certainly much more content when I do.

I like that word, accommodate, at least for now. I've read several comments by parents of children who have died by suicide to the effect that acceptance of our loss will never be a possibility, but that accommodation is a realistic hope. I looked it up in the thesaurus and, while some of the synonyms make sense in this context and some do not, the one that resonates with me is attune. We do have to make room for and host this terrible reality, whether we want to or not, but it is perhaps an additional goal to attune ourselves to the nuances of loss and pain in this world, beyond ourselves.

To dismantle and to re-attune who we are, how we hear, what we see, how we know and how we understand. It seems to me an optimistic approach, given that our lives have been pretty well smashed into little bits of broken debris.

(And here's something interesting, for the academically inclined: For that mammoth paper I've finished on Psalm 88, I did a little research on the word mishbarim (breakers), because of the line in verse 8, "Every breaker of yours knocks me down." It seems that the word mishbarim is used in ancient Semitic writings in two fundamental ways: to mean either "waves" in the context of the sea, or "pangs," as in birth pangs (which of course, come in waves). In either case, it refers to powers that shatter or break. In one text in the Dead Sea Scrolls (no no no, of course I haven't read the DSS ~ but I can read about them), the images of birth pangs and the waves of a storm at sea are combined, and the mythologies of other Mediterranean cultures are filled with references to waters, waves, and floods of chaos.)

I am quite taken with that information; that for thousands of years people of a multitude of cultures have melded wave imagery for sorrow and brokenness with wave imagery for birth, and have woven both strands into their sacred texts.

Many (many!) years ago, before my children were born, I read some words of wisdom in some magazine article or other. In response to someone's Yuppie-oriented reluctance to have children for fear that they would change her life, the writer suggested that no one should have children until and unless she wanted to change her life ~ that that is the point, to want to change your life by bringing the abundance of love into it in a form that will change it in every possible dimension. To welcome mishbarim, both literally and figuratively.

Well. One does not want or welcome the mishbarim of the death of a beloved child. But here they are. Breakers and birth pangs, the complete dismantling of the old outlook and understanding.

Can it be reshaped, perhaps tentatively and gingerly, with something fragile and frail? That's what I'm going to imagine this Advent. I'm going to spend some time over in my Advent blog, and I'm going to take at least part of it to explore the Advent of the Heart words of Alfred Delp, S.J. Alfred Delp was a Jesuit caught up in the Holocaust. He shares a great deal in common with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose work we read a bit of in school last quarter; both were engaged in resistance work against the Nazis, both were imprisoned, both were executed shortly before the end of the war. (Interestingly, according to the introduction to this particular book, during his imprisonment Father Delp received assistance and care from a Lutheran pastor, and is probably quoting Martin Luther at one point. It would appeal greatly to my ecumenical leanings to know that Deitrich Bonhoeffer received care from a Cathoic priest as well. I have certainly heard him quoted in Catholic sermons. One never knows.)

At any rate, Advent of the Heart has popped up on my computer screen via various sources over the past couple of weeks, so I am taking that to mean something. There was nothing fragile or frail about Alfred Delp or his faith as he confronted evil and chaos during Advent. Nothing about Bonheoeffer or his, either. Mishbarim in both of its meanings, and neither of them ever forgot it, whereas I am much more inclined to let myself be shattered rather than reborn.

May this Advent be for the latter, even if in only the smallest of ways. For the tiniest flicker of candlelight in the midst of all this darkness.

Cross-posting at Desert Year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NOT a Retreat Post

OK ~ papers turned in; one final exam (a whopper) tomorrow morning.

Off to have some dinner and climb into bed to read through my voluminous notes one last time.

Good luck to me!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Little Retreat - 15: Anticipation

The Lovely Daughter and I have tickets, the show starts tomorrow night, and our performance is in less than two weeks!

In the meantime, the wonderful Kristin Chenoweth with the Boston Pops ~

And yes, Josh, I have been changed for the better, and for good.

Little Retreat - 14: Algonquin Loons

We canoed and camped in Ontario's Algonquin Park several times over the summers our kids were in middle and high school. Josh loved the loons so much.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Little Retreat - 12: Hannah (Sermon on 1 Samuel 1:4-20)

What do you want so much that you think about it all the time? If you’re younger, maybe it’s a video game, or a particular soccer ball, or some new music for your ipod. Those of us who are a bit older have different material desires – a certain piece of jewelry, perhaps, or maybe something for the house. Perhaps it’s the intangibles that stir up our longings -- a new job? The resolution of a medical problem? A chance to travel to see our families again?

What Hannah wanted more than anything else was a child -- a male child, to be specific. At least the story seems to tell us that that’s what she wanted. She was one of two of Elkhanah’s wives, and his other wife had children and Hannah didn’t. Elkhanah loved her more than he did his other wife, and did more for her, and told her how much he loved her, but the other wife taunted her and gave her a hard time and generally made her life miserable, and besides – in her culture, the production of children was what made a woman’s life meaningful.

Hmmmmm….did Hannah really just want a child, or want a child for the usual reasons we think of for having a child? Maybe not. When Hannah went to God with her longing for a child, she promised that she would consecrate his life to God; she promised that she would turn him over to God. She wasn’t looking to complete a family in the usual way – she wasn’t planning to keep her family together. She wasn’t anticipating the enjoyment of raising a son and watching him grow into adulthood – she was planning to give him away to God.

The evidence, it seems to me, is that what Hannah wanted was purpose and meaning in her life. And in her time and place, purpose and meaning for a woman was all tied up in bearing male children. No wonder Elkanhah’s other wife lorded it over her – the other wife was the successful one, the one whom in the eyes of the community had it made. Hannah had the love of her husband, but without a child she was unable to fulfill her role as an adult marred woman; her life seemed to have little point.

It’s hard for us to understand today, in a world in which women, and men, have many different choices about ways in which to live out meaningful lives. I don’t need to detail them – we all know that we have a multitude of options and choices. But in Hannah’s time things were very different. Her husband, Elkhanah, was actually something of a radical– he thought that she should be satisfied with his love, should see her life as valuable because he loved her. But Hannah didn’t see it that way. She thought that meaning and purpose could be found only in bearing a child.

Or……….. did she? Maybe Hannah wanted something more. Most of us, if we want something deeply, whether it’s a video game or a new job, so deeply that we pray for it -- our idea is that God will fulfill our dreams and we will be grateful and then we will go on about our lives, living them pretty much as we always have. We may find more meaning and satisfaction in a life with some new music to listen to, or we may find new purpose in a more challenging job, or a job with a better future – but we tend to stop there.

Hannah didn’t. Hannah didn’t stop there. She could have prayed for a son and promised to be grateful for his arrival and to care for him and raise him well, living out her life as a respected member of her community. She could have – but she didn’t. Hannah wasn’t just hoping for a child, and she wasn’t just seeking a meaningful life. She was looking to align herself completely with God’s purposes – to fulfill God’s desires. That would mean a big sacrifice for her – she would give her lovely child back to God when he was three or so years old -- but that’s what she wanted. And so she promised God that if God would give her a male child, she would consecrate that child to God as a Nazorite. He would be prohibited from certain ordinarry bodily practices, like shaving his head. He would be precluded from indulging incertain delights – like drinking wine. He would be set aside as someone who would become wholly God’s servant as a priest and prophet.

Maybe we should re-think those things we want so much. Maybe we should re-think what and how we want. Maybe Hannah sets the standard. A new item for the house, a new job Something that will give more meaning and purpose to our lives -- maybe that much desired college admission letter? Not enough on its own. Hannah shows us that we might want to think in terms of aligning ourselves with God’s purposes, that our desires are found within God’s desire for us. And those desires – when they are part of God’s purposes for our lives – they always turn out to be about service.

You already know this, of course. I’m just reminding you. Those of us who are teachers, those of us who are running a store or working in a business or government office, those of us who are in school or raising a family – we know, intuitively, that in our service to others we are living out God’s purposes. But might we think about it a bit more? – might we be a bit more intentional about what we are doing? – how might we, quietly, in our prayers, make a consecration , a donation, of what we do to God? How might we consecrate our students, our customers, our co-workers, our teachers and professors, our own children, to God?

Especially, we might ask – especially when we don’t know the end result! So often we have no idea – will that student perhaps grow up to be an astronaut? Will that customer go home, grateful for a kind encounter in our store? Will our children live good lives, helpful to others?

We don’t know, and again we look to Hannah. Hannah had no way of knowing that the baby she cried out for, the child she consecrated to the Lord, would become the prophet and priest who interfaced between the people of Israel and God over the issue of a king for Israel. All Hannah knew was that she longed for a child, longed for a life of purpose and meaning, longed to align herself with the desires of God. Many years after Samuel’s birth, Israel would still be governed by judges, whose main task was to resolve disputes. Samuel would become the prophet who represented the people to God and God to the people in the decision to select Saul as the first King of Israel. Samuel would become the priest who subsequently anointed David as King. Hannah’s willingness to turn her life, her greatest desires, over to God, made her deeply vulnerable to all possibility, but it also and gave her life its ultimate purpose.

If we are able to absorb Hannah’s story into our own, we may find that we live a similar narrative. Our own versions, of course – we face different cultural expectations and limitations in terms of what constitutes a meaningful life in its specifics. But when we seek purpose in our lives by offering God’s greatest gifts back to God in service to others, we not only follow Hannah’s example – we follow someone else who would have known her story. Jesus, in aligning himself entirely with his Father’s purposes, lived his earthly life and then lost it in willing donation on our behalf. In seeking to place our deepest desires within the desires of our God, we imitate Hannah in her quest for a child and her gift of that child to God, and we imitate Jesus in his eternal quest to embody God’s longings by giving of himself to us. Purposeful lives, it turns out, do not come from receiving what we want, but in giving what we receive. Thanks be to God.

(Image: Admont Giant Bible, Salzburg; c. 1150 ~ Here)

Little Retreat - 11: Cemetery

The fall color is almost gone, of course, and these images are several years old. But some exact same things happen year after year, and the yellow around this particular monument happens for about a week three-quarters of the way through October.

Some things change. Soon there will be a new memorial bench in the cemetery. I stopped by on the way home from church today and concrete has been poured. Maybe the bench next week?

Today I assisted at my first baptism, and remembered the baptisms of my children, and then I went and stared at the concrete among the faded leaves on the cemetery ground.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Little Retreat -10: Mary Oliver

Song for Autumn

In the deep fall
don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Little Retreat - 9: Mary Oliver

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

Little Retreat - 6: Short Story

One of the columnists in the local paper is doing one of those "write your life story in six words" things.

Mother brother son dead hope fragile.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Little Retreat - 5: Thinking About a Longer One

I just found this article, which might be of interest to anyone wondering about silent retreats.

For the next couple of hours, I am contemplating Mad Men.

But in the background: hopefulness for next summer.

As I used to tell my students: everything is connected.

(I have no idea what the connection between Mad Men and a silent prayer retreat might be, other than that those are the two things on my mind at the moment.)

Little Retreat - 4: Identity

This morning, as I was shaking hands outside the sanctuary, someone addressed me as "Reverend" for the first time.

As in, "Good morning, Reverend."

Something to think about.

(Image: Iona Abbey, 2006)

Little Retreat - 3: Prayer

"Ironically, one may have great trouble praying after going through an especially beautiful, consoling experience. Such experiences often imply considerable unconscious threat to self-importance in spite of their overt beauty. One's reaction to this may sometimes be to turn away from prayer for a while, and one may be mystified as to the reason."

~ Gerald May, Care of Mind, Care of Spirit (1982)

(Cemetery Image, 2004)

Liitle Retreat - 2: Listening

If God has made all things by the Word, then each person and thing exists because God is speaking to it and in it. If we are to respond adequately, truthfully, we must listen for the word God speaks to and through each element of creation ~ hence the importance of listening in expectant silence.

~ Rowan Williams
Where God Happens (2005)

(Image: St. Augustine, 2004)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Little Retreat - 1

The next two weeks are full, and that's assuming that no one around here gets the flu:

Two papers to finish and a mammoth final exam to prepare for ~

Some unbloggable medical challenges ~

A dear friend's wedding ~

Trying to figure out what to do about the holidays
this year, holidays which it would be my preference to ignore (and the first one is only a couple of weeks away!) ~

Yeah, that's enough for a couple of weeks.

One of the little things I have to do is send in my deposit for an 8-day summer retreat
here. After last year's debacle, I am equal parts anticipation and apprehension. I'm going to start small by taking a couple of days of silence for myself at the local retreat house when we have spring break in March to see how I manage.

Anyway, I am thinking about retreats and silence and attentiveness and mindfulness and all those good things, all in the context of the weeks ahead. So I think for the next while I'll try to find something on which to focus each day and post it here.
And by then . . . it'll be time to move over to the Advent blog.

I think I'll go ahead and start right now by posting a St. Augustine (the place, not the man) reminder that there are worlds and creatures beyond the ones which consume our ordinary and frenzied lives:

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Young People and Grief: Resources???

Because of what I write about on my Other Blog, I sometimes get requests for information and ideas. With that in mind, does anyone reading this have any resources ~ I would think most especially books, music, videos, websites ~ for older children and teenagers grieving the sudden and violent loss of close friends?

Medical Report

Toe much better. Not much sleep last night due to constant pain, but I realized an hour or so ago that it's almost gone. The pain, not the toe.

Antibiotics making me very drowsy. Not good as final papers and exams and course of drugs cover the same next 10 days. If it were raining right now I would crawl right back into bed and go to sleep.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


I got my toe fixed.

I feel like a pioneer woman who took a hatchet to her foot.

The doctor was really nice and very efficient and when she was in school she lived a couple of blocks from my home.

But I don't think this qualifies as "it might throb a little when the anesthetic wears off."

I'll spare you a google-image photo.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

In Church For All Saints' Day

Someone said to me afterward, "Oh, you really need to hear it out on the Highlands."

We didn't have the Highlands or the images, but we did have the bagpipes and the organ.