Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just Curious

I was looking at my Ash Wednesday poll, upon which at one time I had intended to comment ~ but life got the best of me ~ and then I thought of a new one.

No reason in particular. Maybe it's the shadow of The Shack. Maybe it's being back in a seminary where 99% of the population refers to God by male pronouns 100% of the time. Maybe I'm just curious.

Anyway, have a go at the new poll in the sidebar. Comments welcome.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Think I've Figured It Out

No, not death ~ I haven't figured that one out.

But I think I've realized why I have had such a visceral reaction against The Shack, which many generous people in real life and online have recommended to me.

The Shack presents a generous God who cares for all of the people of the world, who lovingly acknowledges the depth both of social sin and individual sin, who exudes forgiveness in situations we would find challenging beyond the possible, and who gently reminds us that we are the creatures and not the Creator. So far, so good.

But in The Shack, as in real life, the child is GONE. She is not coming back. She will never live the life her parents dreamed of for her, she will never marry the young man they would have loved, she will never have the children who would have brought her such joy and made her parents delirious with ecstasy. Her mother will never touch her hair again; her father will never kick a soccer ball down the beach with her again. Her many good gifts will never again be shared with the world. The doctor, the architect, the teacher she might have been ~ she will never be. All of those things which made her uniquely the child she was and the adult she would have become, all of them are gone.

Just gone.

I know that my Musical Friend finds comfort in her vision of the life to come, a vision in which she and her husband will be reunited. She relies in part on the words of her sister, who lost a teenage son and says that when they are together again, none of this will matter.

I find that my own feelings are quite the opposite.

This is the life I want back for my child. This one.

The Shack just rubs my face in the thick, dark reality that it is not to be.

Cross-posted at Desert Year.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Perplexed and Pondering

In the Catholic world, today is the Feast of the Annunciation, which offers me an excuse to post my favorite painting again.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Summary Ten Minutes Max

I loved doing the retreat . . . I am grateful to one of my someday-to-be-an-Episcopalian-priest CPE colleagues for showing me how to do annointings . . . wish it hadn't been so gray and chilly out . . . had some wonderful conversations . . . all indications are that it went well . . .

I am really tired and I have a lot of my own reading to catch up on . . .

CPE connections: one of the retreatants recognized me . . . she is a nurse at Giant Famous Hospital . . . we will be there tomorrow for the Lovely Daughter's eye surgery . . . my CPE supervisor will come by for awhile . . . the other retreat director had recently had heart surgery there and I have watched heart surgery there so we had much to discuss . . .

I am having a terrible time getting an internship organized for next year . . . The seminary would not let me start late this year and the church I was so excited about last year is not even thinking intern for next year thanks to the economy . . . I really need to address this problem this week . . .

Lots of people are blogging about writing and new perspectives and new disciplines and Lent . . . In another week I will have been blogging for five years and I think that should have something profound to say but I don't . . . I thought that I would perhaps have a deep and intense experience of Lent but I'm not . . . I have a ridiculous resevoir of self-discipline but no idea about perspective anymore . . .

Last week I spent a few minutes talking to someone who is in the middle of great turmoil, personally and professionally . . . she told me that if she could just get out for a peaceful walk for twenty minutes . . . I told her that she was thinking too small . . . I have been thinking about withdrawing from school and driving to the Coast . . . The Pacific Coast

Or getting on a plane for France and walking the Camino de Santiago . . . if I could just walk some hundreds of miles . . . I had always hoped to walk the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in North Carolina with Chicago Son . . . one of many things that will never happen . . .

More than ten minutes due to interruptions . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Women in Religious Leadership


I had remarked to someone a couple of weeks ago that the Reformed faith seems so ~ masculine ~ to me ~ so male-oriented in language, liturgy, experience ~ and that it had occurred to me that the Roman Catholic church, despite its rejection of women in the roles of priests and deacons, has a strong sense of female spirituality, fostered no doubt by the attentiveness paid to Mary and by the prominence of women saints, many of whom were emphatically determined administrators, scholars, healers, and educators.

As I spend this week-end co-directing a retreat at which I am the only Protestant on the premises (one of the reasons I was asked to come was that last year about 25% of the retreatants were Protestant -- but apparently they didn't return!), the reality of the official Catholic take on women is painfully apparent. Several of the women have asked me about the ordination of women in the Presbyterian church -- they are accustomed to and expect limitations. A couple of stories have surfaced about women doing parish work equivalent to that of men on parish staffs, but being refused appropriate titles and acknowledgment. And as it was announced that there would be a mass this afternoon, I was reminded of the words of a Jesuit in a book on spiritual direction, describing women with whom he meets who are called to the priesthood but precluded due to their gender -- how, for instance, they run retreats and then have to invite a priest to drop by to say mass, a priest who has no connection to the experience or community of the reteatants.

I was reminded of reading of a new priest's excitement about saying mass for a community of nuns and thinking: they could say their own mass, couldn't they?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Retreat Run-Down

I think I've participated in four kinds of retreats:

1 ~ Working retreats. I've been on nonprofit board retreats and I've been on Session retreats (Session being, in Presbyspeak, the governing body of the local church)~ and the goals have been mixed. The former mostly involve presentations and small group work, often focused on a single set of topics or issues. Our session retreats include some of the same, but since the elders of the local church are meant to serve as its spiritual leaders, the retreats also include educational presentations on matters related to church governance and opportunites for spiritual growth -- time for Bible discussion and lectio and silent prayer and journaling. I've been on nonprofit retreats in classrooms and offices and board rooms and somewhat more bucolic settings; our Session retreats are held at a local retreat center, a beauitfully maintained former convent surrounded by acres of woods.

2 ~ Get-away-and-bond retreats? I guess that's how I'd describe the women's retreats I've been on. Presentations, art time, conversations -- lots of conversation. I'm going off to the aforementioned retreat center with the women of my church for one of these next week-end.

3 ~ Silent retreats. Time away to spend in silence with God. I was on such a retreat when my son died last September; I had gone on an 8-day retreat the summer before: no conversation at all, except for an hour a day with a spiritual director. No conversation at meals, at the pool, before or after mass ~ no conversation at all. My favorite kind of retreat. I'm signed up for eight days for next summer, albeit with some trepidation.

4 ~ Preached retreats: A combination of presentations and silence. That's what I'm doing this week-end, in the context of a women's retreat at another local retreat center. I just received the schedule; there are several presentations and a discussion group scheduled across the week-end, but the rest of the time, including during meals, silence is the expectation. I had been thinking that I had never done this before and that it was just my luck that, for my first time ever, I would be one of the presenters ~ but then I remembered that I had been on a similar week-end retreat with my church several years ago. We had invited two presenters from the
Church of the Saviour in Washington D.C. to talk about their concept and practice of inward and outward journeys, and we spent the nondiscussion times in silence. So maybe I do have some sense of what it will be like.
Since the Lovely Daughter is home this week-end, I'm going back and forth each day to the retreat center. I'm glad that it's basically a silent retreat, since I won't be missing conversation time by going home.

I'm surprised, looking back at this entry, to discover how many different definitions of the word "retreat" I've experienced. My conclusion? I'd choose the week of silence over the rest anytime.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday Thoughts 10 Minutes Max

Yesterday was difficult -- I thought I was going to give up on seminary -- as I was staring at the wall I was reminded (for the 15,849th time) of St. Ignatius saying, "No changes in desolation" -- and so I managed to prevent myself from walking downstairs to the registrar to withdraw. I thnk there were a lot of prayers surounding me yesterday, too. . . .

Today is a little crazy. I have to drive back to seminary for my homiletics class, make a five-minute presentation from memory (which won't actually happen), and then drive right back home after class (yeah, 2.5 hours each way -- but it's the OTHER presentations I'm interested in) because by then the Lovely Daughter will be here! She has a minor operation on Monday to re-correct an eye muscle issue that was first addressed when she was three ~ we have to get it in now, since she will lose her health insurance when she graduates from college ~ so her dad is taking the day off to pick her up at the airport and take her to all her pre-op appointments. The surgeon wanted her to be good and tired when she saw him so he could better assess her eye; hence, the all-night flight from the Oregon.

It was kind of fun to visit her eye doctor over winter break, not having seen him in 18 years. He and I recognized each other, but he said that he would never have known her, of course.

Then a busy week-end, helping to lead a women's retreat and running back and forth from the retreat house to hang out with my beautiful girl. The topic of the retreat is Women Following Jesus and my presentations are on the Woman at the Well and Phoebe, the deacon mentioned at the end of Romans.

Ten minutes -- now breakfast and into the car.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Meanderings 10 Minutes Max

Encounters today: met with a friend to talk and do lectio for a hour or so -- restorative. Met with my grief counselor -- not sure how to characterize that. Pretty much on my own since then, but Gregarious Son just came home from work.

Long walk all the way around both Little Lakes (3.5 miles?). I was moving pretty slowly by the end. The merganser pair is still there, and when they zoomed across the lake they looked magnificent. Remembering a swimming break on a Canadian canoe trip with the boys as a family of common mergs fished nearby. Remembering the loons. There might be a loon or two on the Little Lakes soon. There is a wonderful article in the new Christian Century about God and silence, and I took it with me and prayed through it on my walk.

Drafted my Homiletics assignment. It is a challenge to preach without energy, without . . . . Just without.

Paid a couple of bills. I wish I had a bill for something fun. I don't. Washed dishes, did laundry, dissed The Shack, started to get organized to drive back to school at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Lots of driving this week, as I have my spiritual direction class back here in the middle of everything else. I am imagining how unhappy our professor is; this past week-end the Catholic Diocese announced the closing of some 40-plus parishes and her vibrant, inventive, energetic parish is one of them. Their recently restored church is magnificent and may soon be empty.

That's it; off to the post office.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reading into Faith

My brother, as I've mentioned in Desert Year, is beginning to imagine a life of faith. Like me, he's in his 50s and grew up in a family whose view of religion ranges from tolerant to skepticism to ridicule; unlike me, he did not have a high school education provided by first, nuns, and later, UCCers well versed in Scripture and Paul Tillich. He's explored Eastern forms of meditation, experienced the discomfort of living in a largely conservative mega-church environment, rejected my suggestion to make the long drive out of the suburbs and into the city in the direction of the two Prebsy churches whose websites shout "progressive and inclusive," and followed my suggestion to have lunch with the pastor of a local church, whom he found to be friendly and engaging but reluctant to address his real questions.

I need some books, he said. So I took a look at my library shelves, so packed that books fall off them more often than not, and sent him a little package:

Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader: Easy, short meditations and some insight into a Christian life of simplicity and depth, turmoil and peace.

Barclay's Mark: It happened to fall off the shelf, I figure the first gospel is as good a place to start as any, and maybe the commentary will help him with a text about which he knows nothing. One of the Amazon reviews says the scholarship is outdated, so I suppose I need to find him something else soon.

Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book: I think Peterson is one of the most elegant writers around, and offers a way into Scripture that combines love and prayer with serious engagement, humor, and generosity.

Other ideas?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Settling In

I'm back at seminary. We are on a quarter system and my first class was yesterday.

Last night, my friends at home gathered after a Taize service, around an altar lit only by candles, to mark the year since Musical Friend's husband died. My husband described it as "terrible, somber, the family much less controlled than they had been at the funeral." That initial shock creates such a protective veneer, seared away a year later. And I had not really thought ahead to what it would be like for my husband, just as I had not thought ahead a couple of weeks ago to what it would be like for me to go into a funeral home. I keep forgetting that we are not who we were.

I have already written in other places that I had read that the sixth to eighth months are bad, really bad, as the shock finally wears off and the real reality sets in. Now, on the outside, we look functional. I go to class, I take notes, I laugh with friends over lunch. I have moments off and on all day when something reminds me of that real reality and I stop breathing and wonder whether I can get to the next minute, but I do. I had a meltdown during an exam a couple of weeks ago as I looked at the questions and the words swam off the page and I realized that I knew nothing, absolutely nothing -- but I was able to compose myself in a few minutes out of the room and return to fill a bluebook with -- something. Yesterday there was a moment in class when the professor said something, something meant to be encouraging and inspiring, and I wanted to flatten myself into the floor and melt away. Intention and effect so seldom merge these days.

Gal wonders whether the word trauma is too dramatic. Oh ~ no. I responded in her comments that if this were physical, we would be covered in bruises, our joints would be swollen, our bones cracked, our blood sometimes seeping through our skin. It only sounds like a melodramatic word because on the outside we look like ordinary people living ordinary lives.


Last week-end, two of my friends, in two different contexts and conversations, referred to blogging as navel-gazing. I decided both times that it probably wasn't the moment to reveal that I have been blogging away for ~ I think it's five years this month.


But I do hope I don't sound whiny. Grief is a self-absorbed process, but I am merely trying to record it as I experience it. I'm not under any illusion that I am the only one.


Cross-posted from
Desert Year, my other navel-gazing home.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Ministry Meanderings (L-O-N-G!)

Much of this post just went off by email to a blogging friend, a woman who is in a doctoral program combining theology and the practice of ministry. (I'm hoping she will clarify and permit me to be more precise). But I am developing an interest in this topic, so thought I'd share here.

Some background:

I'm smack in the middle of an M.Div, program, making a (later than) midlife vocational change. I'm a lawyer and I'm a teacher, and was most of the way through an M.A. program in Humanities before switching to a seminary degree. In others words, I have mountains of graduate school and professional work behind me. I think that I could fairly assess myself as a reasonably intelligent person ~ no genius, and certainly little enough in the way of capacity for memory. But, you know, smart enough for most everyday tasks that do not involve tax returns or electrical wiring.

As anyone who's been reading knows, I have just slogged my way through a course in Christology with great difficulty. I had expected to love it and ~ I didn't. And it has been a very long time indeed since I have submitted an academic paper without a good idea of whether or not I had achieved the hoped-for goal ~ but a few days ago, I did just that.

A few days later, Quotidian Grace wrote
an entry about a discussion in her church's adult education program on ~ yeah, you guessed it ~ Christology! Although they did not, apparently, identify it as such, that was, in fact, the topic at hand. And I began to wonder, as indicated below, why we are not better versed in these theological dilemmas. I don't expect that most of us would be able to solve them or anything like that; they have, after all, been wrestled with by the greatest minds within and without the church for two and one-half millenia (I'm including the Greeks and their debates over matter and being here). But how is it that the rest of us stay in that damn cave all the time?

Of course, I should speak only for myself. I often find myself envying my Jesuit friends their THREE YEARS of philosophy studies, but then I realize that I could not posibly have survived such training. I do wish, though, that we aimed just a little higher than we do.

My email to my friend (somewhat modified for blog purposes):

"I can't say that my Christology professor has soured me on theology. I would love to ascribe my limitations to him, and I have also considered whether the problem is this experience of unending heart-rending grief, which certainly has profoundly compromised my intellectual capacity.

But the truth is that I have never "got" Rahner, whom we have studied in my spiritual direction program and in whom I have read extensively, and I did not "get" Tillich in the course I audited this past quarter. I read Shirley Guthrie for my basic systemmatics course last year and it was barely comprehendable, and I consider that to be very basic reading indeed.

I think that I just do not have a mind intended for philosophic thinking. I've never understood any of the classical philosophers, either.

Now the reality is that I have a pretty good mind. If you could take it out and look at it, you would say, Hmmm, lots of capacity and very well trained. But -- oops -- this one little section is entirely mising.

I used to think that it was the part that in other people permits access to chemistry, but apparently it is a bit more expansive of a part!

Anyway, your program now is in theology and ministry or something of that sort, right? Making theology accessible to the body of Christ?

Maybe you can find a way in for people like me who run into one brick wall after another. Now I love Moltmann, what little of him I do get -- maybe you could write a study guide for Moltmann! If you aim for about a 6th grade level, perhaps . . . .

I'm not entirely joking. I would love to be able to understand the things I've read. "

Hmmm. Apparently some of my email was cut-off due to a little server glitch this morning. But it continued in this vein:

"I was so disappointed when I returned to church in my thirties, having taken for granted a high school Biblical studies education in which we were introduced to the historical-critical method, to discover pastors preaching as if Moses had written the Torah and no one in the pews could be expected to understand otherwise. Now I find that I am responding much the same way to what little I can grasp of theology. We have a 2,000 (plus)-year-old history of philosophy and theology behind us, and the general assumption seems to be that it is not within reach of the typical churchgoer, and that she wouldn't be interested anyway."

I'm not arguing for church to be transformed into a Ph.D. program in theology.

But it really is exasperating to realize how little of our tradition we share with one another.

And now . . . oh, honestly, I feel another post brewing, this one about my envy of my rabbi friends, whose theological education encompasses endless (and I mean that literally) debate over every topic under the sun. Even I could develop a tiny bit of understanding via a participatory rather than an open-brain-insert-lecture method.

But that's for another day.

Comments most welcome and encouraged!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Screwtape for Sisters

Just got this via email from a friend:

Be the kind of woman
who when your feet
hit the floor each
morning the devil says,
"Oh Crap, She's up!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Three Things I Cannot Do

One should, from time to time, acknowledge her profound limitations.

There are three things I cannot do:

1. Cook.

2. Theology.

3. Embed a youtube video into a blog post.

I leave it to you to determine the order of importance.

Personally, I think it's clear that God had good reason to give us:

1. Restaurants

2. Philosophers and

3. College students.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Prayer in the Middle of the Night

There are a lot of wonderful things about this post and I just want to share it.

I've been looking around for Benedictine blogs for awhile. Partly because I think that prayer is the most interesting, absorbing, challenging, engaging part of life. Partly because I've been interested in the monastic experience for a long time ~ I've read the same things everyone else has, Kathleen Norris, et al.; I enjoy time with the Carmelites; and when I saw Into Great Silence I knew that I had found my calling ~ if only I were, oh, you know, male, single, Catholic, in France, not quite so taken with teaching and preaching, and more tolerant of winter. And partly because of that grace-filled afternoon last fall at Mount Angel Abbey.

Anwyay. The post is about what prayer is and how it can matter. It's terrific.

And PS: For reasons beyond me, my links don't show up in color, so I'm italicizing them and changing the font.

Inquiring Gannets Want to Know

Gannet, who is always attuned to historical and liturgical context, is curious as to why her little Ash Wednesday survey reveals a predominantly Anglican/Episcopalian presence here. Gannet herself being apparently Celtic by name, Puritan by ancestry, Methodist by childhood, Catholic by friendship, and Presbyterian by confession, wonders if all of that equals the Middle Way?

Or is it just that the survey happened to be about ashes?

Maybe if she asked about election, all the Presbies would show up.