Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Five: Some Forks

Wonderful Friday Five today! Here it is, from Singing Owl:

I am at a life-changing juncture. I do not know which way I will go, but I have been thinking about the times, people and events that changed my life (for good or ill) in significant ways. For today's Friday Five, share with us five "fork-in-the-road" events, or persons, or choices. And how did life change after these forks in the road?

Obviously, the biggest fork in my road, ever, has been the sudden death of my son six months ago. But that horror of a life-changing event happened within a broad context of life, and it's that context that I want to focus on today. Herewith, five forks:

1. That first Brownie camera, received for my 9th birthday. I have experimented with photography off and on throughout my life, and it has played a big part in helping this cerebral, left-brained, language-oriented person become more attuned to how vast is the universe beyond words. I have noticed, in the six months since we lost our son, that despite the cascade of words that have come my way, most of the things which really speak to me are visual, either images themselves or words which create images.

2. The marriage. I have been married my entire adult life, since just before I turned 21. All of the things I have done as an adult have been within the confines and expansiveness of that relationship, meaning that, while sometimes my options have been limited, I have always been supported in decisions that are sometimes a little bizarre and more often than not seem to lead nowhere. I became a lawyer, a teacher, and now a seminary student, welcomed three children and said good-bye to one, all in the context of one marriage.

3. The venture into church, a Methodist church, in my late 20s. I simply woke up one morning and announced to the Quiet Husband that we needed to find a church. Who knew? In addition to serving as the foundation for a whole host of life choices, that church was the place in which we became part of a group of friends who have been family to one another for more than twenty years.

4. Great-horned owls. I first became interested in birding as a law student, when I read an article about a local guy studying and photographing nesting great-horned owls. Who could not fall in love with baby GHOs? That led to a decade-long volunteer relationship with the Museum of Natural History, my first experiences as a teacher, time up-close-and-personal with bald eagles and, most of all, a lifelong dedication to birds of all kinds.

5. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. After a couple of graduate courses on spirituality as expressed in literature, I signed up for a course on the Exercises and within a couple of weeks asked my professor whether he would guide me through them. With that low-key modesty characteristic of individuals of profound achievement, he simply said "Sure," never letting on, as he had not through three semesters of classes, that he is one of the giants of Ignatian interpretation. A year later, I was en route to seminary and to becoming a spiritual director myself, immersed in an experience and a tradition of prayer that have, quite simply, changed my entire being and course of life.

So that's it, five forks. All of them unexpected people, unexpected gifts.

(Image: Here.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Reflections on Ash Wednesday

Return to me with your whole heart. That was the line from Joel 2:12 that I heard early Wednesday morning.

Your whole heart, I thought? What can that mean, when your heart is not whole?

My heart is shattered.

It lies in tiny shards all over the ground.

Its jagged pieces spin into space, floating past Jupiter like lost little pilgrims.

Its dusty bits float on the oceans, bits of ash, sparkling grimly in the sunlight and filtering slowly downward, into the darkness where oddly luminescent sea creatures chart paths we can barely imagine.

One might want to turn to God again. The word metanoia slides off the tongue. It sounds graceful, and hopeful. But if God's desire is for a whole heart, if one can turn toward God only with an intact heart, then one is surely lost.

Late last night I turned to the passage in another version. Return to me with all your heart. Of course, I had known, in some small and isolated portion of my mind, that "whole" meant "all." I had known that in my own broken heart the response to what seemed a play on words but was really a conundrum of translation reflected my own longing for wholeness.

Your heart. In Biblical Judaism, the seat of your being. The essence of who you are.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. So end the readings for the day, with the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:21.

Barbara Brown Taylor has a wonderful sermon about the treasure in the field. (The Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew has a lot to say.) The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Why does he purchase the entire field; why doesn't he just dig up the one section? The treasure, she concludes, is scattered in plain sight, glittering all over the field.

Your heart accompanies your treasure and so there it is,

strewn across the field, scattered across the universe, mixed with the salt of the sea.

Return to me with your whole heart.

Return to me with the gift of a heart so cracked open that that in its wholeness it encounters brokenness everywhere.

Return to me with all of your heart.

You will find its pieces in places to which you would never have sought to journey on your own.

It is, indeed, an appalling thing, the strange mercy of God.

(Cross-posted at Desert Year.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stolen Poll - and a Little Fun on a Somber Day

I basically lifted the sidebar poll from The Anchoress.

Part of my procrastination effort with respect to my take-home exams.

So . . . what about you?

Ash Wednesday Prayer

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already
halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

~ Walter Bruggemann

(For over thirty years now, Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) has combined the best of critical scholarship with love for the local church in service to the kingdom of God. Now a professor emeritus of Old Testament studies at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, Brueggemann has authored over seventy books. Taken from his
Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), pp. 27-28. )Found on Textweek.

(Cross-posted at RevGals Prayers.)

(I am putting my favorite over at Desert Year. Link in right hand column.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Upcoming Lent

For the past couple of years, I've made a point of observing Lent, mostly in an interior way. It doesn't coincide with a commercial season -- no way to confuse messages and activities as we do in December. (Although this year, given the bleak economic news day after day, might present a new opportunity. Not one that the retailers would find appealing, however.) I'm not part of a church that does Lent in a big way -- my own congregation is celebrating Shrove Tuesday with a pancake supper and then Ash Wednesday with a communion service with the imposition of ashes, and offering three Taize/Iona music services on Wednesday nights -- all good, but not a particular focus on daily attentiveness to the season. And unfortunately I won't be in town for them -- but I think that I can participate in something similar at a church near my school. I don't recall Lent garnering much of a mention at the seminary itself last year. I suppose I could have missed it.

Lent is the season for which I have longed for nearly six months. It's the season I've been in for nearly six months. I'm glad it's upon us. Easter looks to be pretty rough, but Lent I can manage.

So I'm changing the blog colors (very subtly on the other blog - desert is desert) -- slowly -- and adding some links -- and . . . some other things. On the outside, I'm participating, as a presenter and as a spiritual director, in a few different Lenten retreat opportunities. On the inside, I sense a healthy and holy turning toward hope. In a small way.

I'm grateful that Lent is a L-O-N-G season.

(Image of Chartres Cathedral found

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday Six Minutes of Stream of Consciousness

Hung out with some friends for breakfast this morning. In our tiny little group of five seated around the table: two deaths in the past year, a son's marriage in the past week, another son's job loss; we pretty much run the gamut. Spent a couple of hours in the late afternoon at an orientation for a week long retreat at which I will be a spiritual director. The Quiet Husband is mumbling to himself as he does the taxes. What with my being in seminary and the economy, we have taken a real hit in the past two years. Back to the retreat - the directors are Catholic, Presbyterian, and Baptist/Episcopalian. We had some great conversation. I did a lot of laundry today. I would rather have gone for a walk but I'm not sure it ever got above 20 degrees and I was NOT IN THE MOOD FOR THAT. Enough already. I finished an ethics paper this morning and sent it in and then found that after five days of nonstop work I just did not have another hour in me. I don't have much mental stamina anymore. That's it, six minutes: some good, some bad.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Skyrocketing Anxiety

I am taking three courses for credit this quarter. Two of them, ethics and pastoral care, are fairly straightforward. One of them, Christology, is not. I am reviewing material for the take-home exam in my possession, due in two weeks.

As far as I can tell, I have not understood a single aspect of this course.

I'm not sure that this has ever happened to me before ~ except in calculus. I never grasped a concept in calculus, but I memorized the textbook, and aced the exam by recognizing problems parallel to those I had memorized and filling in the relevant numbers. My capacity to memorize has evaporated with age, which was the problem in Greek last year. I understood maybe 75% of the construct of the Greek language, but I could never remember any of it from one day to the next.

This is different. This is terrible. I just looked up synonyms for "understand." Comprehend, apprehend, catch on, deduce, infer, perceve, register, take in, appreciate, fathom, get. Nope, none of that going on here.

I have been wondering if maybe grief destroys myelin. I think that perhaps it does. I'm not sure that anyone really understands the physiological consequences of grief, but I can easily believe that one of them is the complete evaporation of the myelin sheath.

I'm in seminary. Studying for the Christian ministry. Christology is, oh, you know, at the center of the whole enterprise.

This is a problem.

Status Report

I have had a few days, here and there, that have been easier. I have had parts of days that have been good.

And in spite of myself, my calendar is filling up. So I made one -- a calendar, I mean. I put all my stuff on it and color-coded everything, because I remain pretty hazy in general orientation. (Got an assignment back that said, essentially, "This would be an A paper -- for a different course.") My beautiful calendar looks incredibly efficient, and got me out the door to three appointments this morning.

And then I came home and saw that I had some messages, three of which boiled down to, "Hey, I'm waiting at the coffee shop . . . where are you?????"


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Doing Things Differently

Last night I went to Mass and this morning I went to my own Presby church. Our pastors are both leading a group traveling in Israel, and today's guest preacher was none other than my very own CPE supervisor from Giant Famous Hospital.

After the service I asked her about one of the quotations she had mentioned, likely to appear in my other blog soon, about God holding our tears in a flask. "I think it's in Psalm 56," she said. "Let's check." And we pulled a Bible out of the first pew rack, and then a pencil so that I could make a quick note, and I chuckled and told her about going to Mass.

I've probably written this before, but the difference seems striking to me. In the Catholic churches and chapels I've frequented: no Bibles, no notepads, no pens in the pew racks. The readers identify Scripture passages by book ("A reading from Galatians"), but not by chapter and verse. You don't have a citation, and you can't look it up anyway unless you have your own Bible, and you can't make a note for later reference unless you have your own paper and pen.

I smiled at the assumption inherent in our conversation. A Baptist and a Presbyterian, we expect a Bible to be within reach anywhere in the sanctuary.

Don't get me wrong. I love both worship services, and I am able to accomodate what sometimes seems lacking in one or the other. But the Reformation emphasis on Scriptural accessibility and literacy really does jump out at me in the context of the most ordinary encounters.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Gannet Gift

A gift from Stushie.

Now, if this gannet is off the coast of North America, it is flying into the sunrise; if off the coast of Scotland, into the sunset. It has been my joy to watch gannets from both vantage points and I have decided that in my both/and life, which these days is more intensely both/and than ever before, this particular gannet is flying both ways at once.

Stushie is, I think, a bit less both/and than I am. But this is what happens when you release a gift, whether of words or art or music or birds: others embrace meanings you had perhaps not imagined. And perhaps all manner of things shall be well. I am grateful for the hint of that possibility, as unlikely as it seems.

Thank you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Over There

Today I am heading off for the funeral of my father's third wife's mother. She was 92 and has been ill for six months, but still. My first funeral since our son died. My husband went to an uncle's a few weeks ago. It seems that it was good for him to be with his family. My family is a good deal more complicated.

Sunday night we are planning to go to a Cotillion for the daughter of Musical Friend, whose husband died eleven months ago. It will be their wedding anniversary week-end, and their daughter will be escorted by her oldest brother. Enough said.

Hence today's post over at
Desert Year. Cross-posting feels beyond me at the moment.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Key West in No Particular Order (6): COLOR!

One of the trying things about winter out here on the tundra is its monchromatic nature. Regardless of how disinclined one is to see life in general as black-and-white, the endless shades of gray in the physical world do get tedious.

Herewith, then, a break:

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wild Animal Souls

Purple quotes Parker Palmer:

The soul is like a wild animal.

If I had the energy, I would tag people. But I don't, so: tag youselves. What wild animal has your soul felt like for the past few days?

Thursday: A beaver. Lots of activity. Lots of resources and strengths to draw upon. A lttle frazzled by the end of the day.

Yesterday: An armadillo. Trundling along, glad for a shell. Like a character in a John Irving novel.

Today: Like a wolf, howling at the moon.

I think the armadillo is my favorite so far.

How about you?

Friday, February 06, 2009


The Lovely Daughter has the flu. She sounds miserable. Sometimes 2000 miles is a real distance.

I went down to Giant Famous Hospital this afternoon to have lunch with my summer CPE supervisor. I waited for her on the balcony overlooking a vast registration/waiting area and thought about the two populations of GFH. If you work there, there are always at least five things you could be doing during any minute of the day. If you are a patient or visitor, you wait. And wait and wait and wait.

Which reminds me: I am awaiting the results of medical testing done two weeks ago. I haven't taken the initiative to call because the labyrinthine phone system takes too long to navigate. It will take me less time to send a note, but I don't feel terribly motivated either way.

Tipper the Noble Dog had some medical work of her own down yesterday. Then the car had some medical work done. It was a very expensive day.

As I drove home this afternoon, I saw a bumper sticker that read: I'd rather be birding at
Magee Marsh.

Yesh, so would I.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Ways to Heal

A seminary friend of mine said something wonderful to me this afternoon.

I was describing the process by which I had decided to go ahead and try to take a required homiletics (preaching, for those of you not immersed in ministry-ese) course next quarter. A demanding course that presumes something in the way of optimism. I had had lunch with the professor a couple of weeks ago so that I could explore his expectations and convey a little of the reality of my own situation. (The one in which, for instance, I can't remember anything five minutes after reading or hearing it.)

It might actually help you
, said my friend.

Yeah, that's what the professor said, and that's what he said
, I responded, jabbing my thumb in the direction of another classmate.

, she said, you'll be studying and preparing and giving expression to the Word. How could that not be healing?

If you're reading, thank you for that. It was worth our both being late to wherever we were going.

Cross-Posted at Desert Year.