Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Coot Day

On my walk today, I spent several minutes observing a coot swimming in the reservoir. I'm not sure I've ever had such a close view of a coot, and I couldn't figure out how it could swim with those long, long toes. But now that I've found a photograph, I see that each toe has little webbed sections protruding from it.

Coots are such bizarre birds.

A quiet day. A Hebrew class and a lot of work, most of the day, on Psalm 88. I liked it because of its unremitting expression of anguish, but it turns out to be a work of immense artistry as well. Now I like it even better. More on that another day.

A meeting for a group project. Another tantalizing Lean Cuisine dinner.

And now I am reading Calvin on the authority of Scripture. Interesting that, on the same day on which I spent so much time contemplating a coot, I am now contemplating Calvin's words about our inability to know God fully in God's creation as opposed to God's revelation in Scripture. I am reminded of one commentator who suggested that there is little evidence for Calvin's having ever paid much attention to the creation he describes so brilliantly.

But ~ he did pay a lot of attention to Scripture, and certainly in a more lucid and cohesive fashion than that of which I am capable.

So I guess tonight I am glad enough for Calvin, and for coots as well.

I had not anticipated an alliterative post when I got started.

Try to restrain yourself if you comment.



Forgot one little thing in the current events department.

Gregarious Son had an emergency root canal today.

Nine hundred uninsured dollars.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An Ordinary Tuesday, Fall 2009

Slept in a tiny bit ~ nothing about the dark and the rain urges me up and out but ~

By 7:00, on the road for the long drive to seminary. Some days it goes by quickly. Today: 70 miles down, 66 to go; 71 down, 65 to go ... . Like that. When I get here, I am greeted by the chimney swifts who circle the office building.

Late morning class on Church and Sacraments. I love this class. The professor is organized, calm, paced, scholarly, and the epitome of clarity. Today's topic: Calvin on Scripture and preaching.

Lunchtime class: the discussion group centered on our field ed experiences. A young man presents a case study.

I finish unpacking and run to the grocery. I live in a furnished dorm room here, with a teeny kitchen space -- Lean Cuisine for the next few nights.

I finally settle down to work on Hebrew, rewarding myself with a walk after a couple of hours. It's stopped raining but it's like November. The sky and the reservoir water are both slate gray, and a crowd of migrating Canada geese has materialized. I know ~ a gaggle of geese. I usually use my walks as prayer time, but I get two phone calls.

Evening education class. It's about media and education and cultural competency and education. Two point five hours. I'm at my limit.

Dinner. A little research for my first sermon at my field ed church in three weeks. A long time messing around, mostly online.

I was going to outline my Hebrew paper, but now I think not. I'm reading Timothy Gallagher's book on the Examen, for the third time and very very slowly and meditatively, and so I think I'll get in bed with my book.

Tuesdays are way too full for me. It's hard to manage all of the above and my thoughts, which are not about any of the above, as well. Tomorrow, with only one class and otherwise a whole day in which to work and walk and think and pray, will be very much easier.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

God as Irony

As most of you know, through a series of those ironical twists of life which I am coming to see as the places in which God dwells most deeply, a couple of Jesuits have played huge roles in my landing where I am now.

I did the graduate work necessary to retain my teaching license at the local Jesuit university. At first, my reasons had to do with convenience of location and ease of registration; later, they had to do with my pursuit of what I called my "stealth religious studies degree." Needing work in literature and history which I could justify to my licensing board, I took courses that met my real interests in the other arena of my life. Since I taught world history, it was easy to get approval for graduate work in Islamic history and philosophy, in Renaissance art, in medieval church history. Since I taught English, I managed the same for the courses I took in spirituality and autobiography and spirituality and literature.

And when the "official" requirements were behind me, I got started on a course in Ignatian spirituality, asked the professor to guide me through the Spiritual Exercises, and found myself applying to seminaries.

Two interesting pieces of writing have popped up on my computer in the past few days. One was a comment on an old post from someone who sees the Exercises as a one-way street toward a specific destination and urged me to avail myself of resources which, had he skimmed this blog, he would know that I have been immersed in for years. The
other led me to a reflection on Father Tom King, a Georgetown Jesuit who died a few months ago, written by another Jesuit who had first encountered him as a student. Here's the part that caught my attention:


"I asked him why he had focused so much of his career on the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - a Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher and theologian whose work had for a long time been considered suspect by the Vatican. I asked Father King if it made him nervous to be associated with someone who had for a while been silenced by the Church because of his work.

First, he gave me a long discourse on the nature of time. ...

Then he said something that was for a me a moment of grace, a signal moment in the gradual emergence of my own vocation. He laid out for me his understanding that in the Church, as in any organization, someone has to be willing to be ahead of the curve, even though that can be an uncomfortable and even treacherous place to be. If no one is willing to do that, he said, then progress will stall, growth will be stunted. That would be bad for the Church. Someone has to be willing to lean into the future, to take the risks associated with asking "What if?" That's why the Church has Jesuits, he said. "


I've had two Jesuit spiritual directors over the past now-going-on-five years. One of them helped me through the long process of discernment that led me to seminary and, although he himself is now elsewhere, has remained as an eloquently supportive presence in my life during this past horrific year since the death of our son. The other has seen me through the questioning and anguish that, while it changes, doesn't end, and has been a consistent presence, guide, companion, and friend through a time of relentless turmoil.

Neither of them has ever indicated any kind of idea that the Exercises or the prayer life that emerges out of them is limited to a particular kind of person or a rigid focus. The process is always one of growth in relationship with God through Jesus in their Spirit, but how that works itself out remains to be seen and lived, not controlled.

When I read the reflection about Tom King, and his insistence that someone has to be willing to ask, "What if?" I thought ~ that's it. That's what lies at the foundation of spiritual direction, at least as I have experienced it and now try to make it available to others: that willingness to ask, "What if?"

What if I help this woman who has wandered into my class make the Exercises ~ to what might that lead?

What if I accompany this woman through overwhelming and immobilizing grief ~ how might that reality be transformed into another?

I have thought for a long time now that the foundational attitude of an effective spiritual director is one of hope, and I am sure that I have challenged the hopes of both of these men. But "What if?" is a question of hope.

It remains a baffling irony to me that my journey has taken me from a teaching experience in an Orthodox Jewish school along the path of Ignatian spirituality and into a Presbyterian seminary education. (And that's only the last ten years!)

I am extremely grateful to have run into Jesuits who are willing to ask "What if?" and to lean into an indecipherable future.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Musing About Calling

The other day, about to expire from boredom during a lecture on material I have covered repeatedly during nearly each of my various stages of life, I began to play around with the question of call.

I tend to think of the possibilities in terms of three major areas:

Solo pastor of a small or smallish church, a likely venture for a THIRD career woman in (okay, past) midlife. A call in which I could play a major role in shaping and communicating vision and mission, building community, caring for people. A call in which I would do most of the preaching and much of the teaching. A call which might, depending on the resources of the church, be some version of part-time which, while I know part-time does not exist, would provide me with the contractual freedom to teach a college class once or twice a year and set aside a small chunk of time in which to do spiritual direction.

Associate pastor of a larger program-sized church. Another likely venture for my stage in life. Much less of a role in the vision and mission and the preaching (unless it were one of those apparently few-and-far between churches like my home church, in which the senior and associate pastors enjoy a truly collaborative relationship). Perhaps some specialized role in teaching or pastoral care or some combinatuion thereof. And again, perhaps a version of part-time that would allow for other work not specific to the church's mission.

Chaplaincy. A less likely possibility, simply because of the economy and other factors beyond my control, in the setting of my dreams: multicultural, multifaith, acute care Famous Giant Hospital. More likely in a nursing home or hospice setting, or perhaps on one of the smaller campuses of FGH. Only occasional preaching and far less teaching. Perhaps an opportunity to make a significant contribution to the development of the role of spiritual care to patients and staff in a clinical setting; perhaps not. Definitely a role in providing one-on-one and small group pastoral care; perhaps a place for spiritual direction. Probably time to teach that occasional college course. The ability to retain connection and involvement with my home church.

I made myself a little chart: three columns for the above across the top of the page, and a list down the side of things I deem important to ministy, assigned points across the page with respect to how each form of ministry coincided with the areas that seem to matter, and added up each column. I thought about it awhile, and then decided to circle those aspects of ministry of particular importance to me and re-calculate my columns.

Where is God in all this? I wondered to myself. The results were interesting but not surprising; what was surprising was how much more distinct the choices became when I limited my points to those parts of ministry which call out most profoundly to me.

I'm going to save that sheet of paper and try it again as this final year of seminary draws to a close. In the meantime, I think where God was in all this for yesterday was in a lunchtime conversation I had with a pastor from my presbytery who has showed up here for a continuing ed program this week. A little more clarity, a little more understanding about how questions to ask and how to find out the real answers (or something close enough), and a lot of encouragement.

I wonder every few minutes whether I should stay in seminary for the next few. Maybe the fact that I am drawing charts and quantifying things which cannot be quantified and seeking out advice from wise people means that the answer is: So far, yes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Long Ago Catholic Education

Messages have started to pop up on Facebook re: the reunion week-end nearly upon us for my Catholic school, which I attended as a boarding student in grades seven through nine. I was a nonreligious girl from a borderline Methodist family when I landed in that new and alien world. At the time, I had a stepsister who had spent one (!) high school year in a Catholic boarding school in Florida as her parents divorced. My father visited her a couple of years ago and told her about my seminary journey, to which she responded,

"Ha! The nuns won!"

I thought it would be fun, with our reunion coming up and FB posts appearing from women whom I can remember exactly as they were as the teenagers with whom I lived, to repeat a post from some time ago about my Catholic school years:

Picture: A scrawny twelve-year-old girl with humiliatingly nondescript short brown hair and bangs, wearing a brand new plaid jumper, a pastel blouse with a Peter Pan collar, and black flats. She is being ushered through the high-ceilinged corridors of the convent, hugely built in the mid-1800s and home to classrooms, dormitories, elegantly crafted shelves and woodwork, well-appointed parlours, kitchens, dining halls ("refectories" in convent parlance), and cloistered chambers for nuns.

Her guide is a nun -- and whatever that might be, the place is crawling with them. They are all decked out in long black habits and starched white wimples (new vocabularly words for our heroine), with crosses jammed into their black belts like hunting knives and lengthy strands of black beads swaying against the folds of their skirts. (The word "rosary" is, also, as of yet unknown.) As they reach the enormous Gothic chapel, our young lady discovers that most of the women and girls, upon entering the door, dip their fingers into a container of water and make a mysterious sign across their bodies. They kneel in the aisle and then sidle into the long pews, where they again kneel on little cushioned benches that seem to have been placed there for just such a purpose. Being sort of Methodist, our observer has never seen anyone kneel in church -- not that she has ever encountered holy water or the sign of the cross, either. But she is willing to wait things out patiently. She is only twelve, but she has encountered enough new situations in life to know that there is no point in assuming or expecting anything. Whatever happens will always be something far different from anything that could have been anticipated.

The only man in evidence, grandly dressed in long robes, is at the altar, where he lifts an enormous round gold container of sorts into the air and chants something unintelligible. Most of the crowd in the pews chants right back. Within a few moments, all is made transparently clear: nothing will ever be comprehensible again. There will be no clarification of beads, crucifixes, water, hand signs, kneeling, nuns or chants -- it turns out that every single word is spoken in Latin.

And thus I was introduced to the Roman Catholic faith. A pre-Vatican II faith, in which young women were graduated from high school and immediately entered the convent, in which priests were placed on pedestals so high you could barely see them.

What was I doing there? My father and his brothers were graduates of a high-profile New England prep school and, while he wanted the same for me, my dad was convinced that our local school system was not up to the job of preparing me (to be prepared). He knew the nuns who ran the school -- it was 20 minutes further out into the country from our home. Many girls from our community attended the nuns' school, albeit as day students. I have my stepmother, a woman not much interested in children, to thank for getting me out of the house on a permanent basis by the beginning of seventh grade.

In other words, I had arrived at a Catholic boarding school, kicking and screaming against my forced separation from my friends, for academic and family reasons. No one in my family seems to have given a thought to the RELIGIOUS facet of the school, which would come to permeate my daily life. I can only conclude now that my family was so a-religious (not anti-religious; just oblivious to the whole concept of religion) that it never occurred to them that anyone took it seriously. Not even nuns.

Here, in a nutshell, was life in a Catholic girls' boarding school in the mid-1960s:

blue wool skirts and white blouses designed in, oh, maybe 1940;

daily religion classes, Catholics and nonCatholics segregated from one another, but both taught by nuns;

long and narrow dormitories in which we slept on beds in rows of cubicles curtained off from one another;

the Beatles, the Stones, and the Supremes blasting from deeply recessed windows in hundred-year-old buildings;

a weekly liturgical music class and a weekly choral music class;

cigarettes in the bathrooms and in the fields behind the school;

skirts rolled up to reveal several inches of thigh;

Sunday Mass, Friday Mass, and, often, several other masses;

basketball with nuns in ankle-length habits;

Saturday morning sewing classes, which I avoided by hiding out on the soccer field;

Latin, statues, holy water, medals, missals, lacy caps for entering the chapel, tattered books on the gory and self-sacrificial lives of the saints, crosses all over the place, brief periods of freedom on late afternoon horseback rides, prayers before meals and classes, slipping out and curling up in those deep window wells for late night conversations long after the nuns had gone to bed;

numerous hours devoted to the development of carefully designed plots for infiltrating the cloistered area of the buildings where the nuns lived in order to research the answer to that endlessly challenging and earth-shaking question: What kind of underwear do nuns wear?

And, since it was the 60s: the Smothers Brothers, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and Walter Kronkite.

If you watched the tv show American Dreams a few years ago, you could see in Meg's school some strong similarities to my own. The main difference, of course, was that we lived there, 24/7, and so it was nuns, may of them remarkably young and entirely Catholic, who filled in for parents.

I left that school after ninth grade as an agnostic at best, more probably an atheist. I had had my fill of religious indoctrination and, as a nonCatholic surrounded by medieval ritual, I emerged with a vastly enlarged capacity for skepticism. But I did make three gains that equipped me well for life:

In the first place, I became accustomed to a world in which women managed their own lives. The convent sat on acreage far out in the country and the nuns ran their farm, their convent, and their school. Men were seldom in evidence. Oh, there was a priest, but since I was not Catholic, his presence was of little significance to me. I didn't make confession or take communion or study with the upperclass Catholics, so I had virtually no interaction with him. I never had any reason to surmise that adult women were in need of male approval or cooperation for their endeavors.

Secondly, the nuns were, on the whole, particularly broad-minded women. Probably one of the most significant episodes of my entire educational career occurred when Sister Collette, who taught our nonCatholic religion class in 8th or 9th grade, decided that we would study comparative religions. An extremely young woman schooled entirely in the Roman Catholic tradition, she tried to teach us basic Catholicism, since that was what she knew. We, her irritable and difficult students, did not hesitate to communicate to her that her information conflicted with what we had picked up in various Protestant Sunday Schools. After running into several 13 and 14-year-old brick walls, she announced that she had realized that she knew nothing about religions other than her own, and so we were going to study them together. I don't remember any specifics about what we studied -- although I do know that the only Seder I have ever attended was the one we put together in our little pastel-painted Catholic classroom in the heart of midwestern farmland-- but I have always remembered her fearless and open-minded decision about what we should learn and how we should do it -- with respectful interest and graciousness.

Finally, I learned, without recognizing it as a life skill, to form friendships with other girls and women. I learned to see the members of my gender as reliable, trustworthy, and desirable confidants. I learned that girls and women are smart, talented, strong, funny, and hugely determined people. A few years ago, I attended my first reunion, and spent an afternoon with women I had last hung out with when we were 14 together. It was so easy. When you have talked with a good friend all afternoon and late into the night, month after month -- well, it's an incredible way to live as a young girl. I suppose that we were too independent of adult supervision, and too limited in our encounters with the opposite gender (not for want of trying, believe me), but we learned how to be with women.

Don't misunderstand me -- I would not recommend that a twelve-year-old live away from home. But there are always compensations, and the company of strong women, whether twelve or 80 years old, is one of them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Don't Get Me Wrong ~

Jennifer, who's given me lots of support, left a comment on my previous post indicating that I'm leaving the impression that my seminary is a place of discouragment.

Not the case ~ except in isolated (and yes, frustrating) circumstances. On the whole it's a gentle and supportive place. Certainly it's a friendly place. But I do experience it differently than most.

One of the struggles in coming to terms with traumatic and severe bereavement lies in the effort to forge a new identity, the old one having been irreparably torn to pieces. The geography and terrain are the same, the circumstances of life seem vaguely familiar, but your own boundaries and priorities are in flux, and there are going to be painful clashes.

It seems to me that there are three basic ways of dealing with a loss like ours. We are all of us strung out along the spectrum, but still: three basic approaches.

First, you can dwell entirely in your grief. It may seem to some that I do that and, of course, sometimes I do. But I read a lot about surviving suicide, and I know well that there are many parents who remain almost completely dysfunctional years after the death of their child. It's tempting ~ every move toward life feels like an abandonment of your child, and sometimes in the constant pull between the place of despair and the place of hope, despair wins. And for some, despair wins almost all of the time, a situation about which I can make no judgment whatsoever.

Other extreme ~ you can deny deny deny and proceed with life as usual. I know a lot about this M.O., it being the one my family of origin has always practiced. There seems to be some kind of (entirely erroneous) belief that by not acknowledging horror publicly or out loud, you can alleviate the pain. I suppose such an approach does make it easier for those outside the immediate circle of grief ~ but in my experience it makes it more difficult and longer lasting for those within.

And finally, there is the approach I am trying out, in my own blundering, confused,and erratic way: I really do try to integrate what has happened with the reality that remains. That means that I say words like "suicide" out loud and that I express my anguish ~ more than others would like, no doubt, but far less than I feel it. It means that I recount funny and sweet stories about my son without self-consciousness. It means that I do not pretend that everything I have believed ~ about God, about the universe, about other people and my relationships with them ~ has not been drawn into question. It means that I still try to sort out the completely irrational from what few things still make sense and that I am trying to rebuild from scratch.

And it means that I am incredibly sensitive to what goes on around me, to things that seem ordinary to everyone else involved. It means that the most innocuous remark can feel like a knife scraping my skin off and that a genuine conflict, no matter how minor, feels like the top of a volcano flying off. It means that a sermon intended to be encouraging, and so perceived by everyone else who hears it, sounds like words of eternal damnation and hellfire to me.

It's been a year now. More than a year. It will be always, at least in this life. Life and death completely and always intertwined, altering all pathways of perception.

And most certainly altering the experience of a seminary education.

Cross-posted at Desert Year.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Rundown of Day 2

Hebrew Exegesis is going to be fine.

Middle of the day: Very bad. Run-in over certain administrative rules I have unwittingly broken, the breaking of which produced some of my best educational experiences here. Result: Foul taste in my mouth over issue of rules versus meaningful learning.

Chapel: 0 for 2. One of the very few Gospel verses that has given me any solace during the past year was given a decidedly different twist by today's preacher. It felt as if a knife had been plunged into my gut and twisted, and I departed before communion, something I don't do. Well, actually, I've done it twice in the past several months. I'm thinking that it would be better sometimes to skip the preaching of the Word and proceed directly to the Sacrament. Those of you who are Reformed will recognize that as a fairly dire statement of desolation. Those of you who are not ~ well, we do Word all the time without Sacrament, but never vice versa. However, having now sat through several sermons which have caused me considerable pain, I'm ready to scratch them from my daily life for awhile.

And that from someone who is in seminary in part because she loves both preaching and listening to preaching. Or used to, anyway.

Day considerably redeeemed by spending the afternoon engaged in a wide-ranging conversation with my advisor.

Long walk; beautiful evening.

Two hours spent translating three Hebrew verses. Sort of. Could not have done it without English version also on desk, and still several of the words have refused to reveal themselves in the dictionary. I know what they are, but I'm damned if I can figure out what their roots are so that I can find them.

Going to read Bonhoeffer. Now there's someone I'm willing to listen to.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

First Day Back

I'm not writing in my other blog for awhile, because my feelings are too raw these days to share in even a tiny and relatively anonymous public forum. So, over here, I'll just relay a little of how life in general is going:

The downsides:

People talking at me for six hours today, because it's the first day back; that's about five hours and 59 minutes too much of beng talked AT.

This morning's convocation sermon entitled "I'm So Happy To be Alive," which was preached one year to the hour from when three of us were sitting at my son's funeral, my son whose experience of life a week earlier had been so tortured that he could think of nothing but ending it. My best friend was sitting next to me this morning and ased if I heard any of it. "I listened to every word," I said. "I have to figure out how to get through these things." But now, twelve hours later, I remember nothing except how very painful it was to get through.

The upsides:

Seeing friends! Good conversations.

I am, as I had hoped, going to love my Church and Sacraments class. We have to write a short paper on how technology like church websites, blogging, twitter, etc. and their creation of disembodied relationships affects the church, for good and for ill. Will she admit to blogging or not? Maybe y'all can help me write the paper.

I was not looking forward to my required education class at all. Apparently there are many of us with graduate work and much experience as educators, however, and I found the professor to be delightful. It might be kind of nice to take some time to reflect somewhat systematically on the practice of religious education.

I'm all moved in to the dorm room which I will inhabit three nights a week for just one more year so, while I never did get around to reviewing Hebrew today, I now have a pleasant space in which a person who wanted to do such a thing COULD work on Hebrew.

I do not, actually, know such a person. Nevertheless, I now have to go and take a look at all that I've forgotten in the past five weeks, which is pretty much all of it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Return to Seminary

Tomorrow at the crack of dawn I will the make the two-and-one-half hour (I hope!) drive back to seminary, arriving (again, I hope!) in plenty of time for my first class of the quarter at 10:00 a.m. That means that today will mostly be a leisurely rotation of laundry and packing, reviewing a little Hebrew, walking, cleaning house, and paying bills.

I am apprehensive and not a little envious and and a tiny bit resentful. When
Josephine writes about her seminary experience, it sounds as joyful and filled with community and energy and delight as one might possibly hope for. (Her retreat sounded ideal, as well. Sigh.) I see on FB that the folks already back at my school for this past orientation week are similarly filled with exuberant anticipation. (Except for possibly one, who did not elaborate on a surprisingly (for FB) dark note.) Those would be the folks who, with only four or five exceptions, have never mentioned my son to me, or the reason I was not back in school a year ago at this time.

I was like them two years ago, but my life has changed. And there is nothing to do but endure it. Sometimes people ask me how I survive and the answer apparently is: like this. You do the next thing. You cannot wait for joy, or energy, because they are as elusive as the wind. You do the next thing, and you hope, in a reluctant sort of way, that someday things like energy and joy will return in some new and as yet unimagined form.

It's not that there aren't things to look forward to. I have some wonderful friends at school and tomorrow we'll be in class and chapel together and then at least a couple of us, behind the 8-ball for different reasons, will spend lunch discussing our field education assignments. I'm eager to study Church and Sacraments and grateful that one of our most outstanding professors teaches it. In another day I'll be in conversation about the new spiritual direction program just underway, on the advisory board of which I serve. And perhaps, with no chores beckoning, I will settle into Hebrew once again.

But I know that my experience of all those things differs in fundamental ways from that of all my classmates and professors. In some ways my perspective is off-balance; in others, more on target than ever before. Essentially, I feel completely alone. I plan to do a lot of listening and little talking this year ~ which is always a good thing, I suppose.

Today's reading from the PC(USA) website seems particularly apt for someone beset by the enemies which plague me, someone invisibly fighting her way through brambles and swamps:

Psalm 51

Give ear to my words, O LORD;
give heed to my sighing.
2 Listen to the sound of my cry,

my King and my God,

for to you I pray.

3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice;

in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.

4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;

evil will not sojourn with you.


8 Lead me, O LORD,
in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

9 For there is no truth in their mouths;

their hearts are destruction . . . .


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Future in Ministry: Two or Three Things

The novelist and short story writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once made the point that every novelist has two or three things to say, which he or she repeats in various forms throughout a lifetime of writing.

At the time I encountered that statement, I was a college student reading through most of his work, and young enough that most things were still fresh and new. The idea that the essence of a person's thought, experiences, approach to life, might be boiled down to two or three ideas, was one of those fresh and new things, and one of the few I never forgot.

Many years later, as I was become an aficionado of the sermon genre, it became apparent that the same statement could be made of preachers. Preachers, like novelists, reveal themselves through words that dance around and through a couple of major themes, the difference being that preachers' themes tend to emerge from the kaleidescopic lens of the Bible.

And then, my first year in seminary, one of my professors mentioned this same reality. And many of the students, not much older than I had been in college, found his words to be as fresh and new as I had Scott Fitzgerald's.

Fresh and new or fresh and old ~ it doesn't matter. I think that we all have ways of focusing, of narrowing in, on our lives and work characteristic of who we are in our deepest, richest, most authentic selves and, if God so graces us, we are permitted to express those selves to others in our work as well as in our kitchens and living rooms and bedrooms.

With my formal training in spiritual direction behind me and one year of seminary left, I have started to think about what my own Two or Three Things might be. I have no idea to what work I will be invited when this second academic portion of my life comes to a conclusion; like an adolescent, I imagine one thing one day and another the next. I probably have, if I remain healthy, fifteen or so years of very active ministry ahead of me, and then, I hope, many years beyond that of perhaps spiritual direction and writing. (You don't have to remind me, of course, that prediction is a futile activity. But one needs to think in general terms, at least.)

I don't know what my activities might entail, but a sense of what my calling is has begin to bubble up. That sense ~ my Two or Three Things, the ones that matter so much to me that I might test each proposed act or potential word (or flow of words!) against them ~ is merely at the beginning stage of a work in progress at the moment.

I wish I had thought of this when I was twenty ~ of trying to boil down to two or three the things that most mattered to me about how to live my life and contribute my gifts to the vast river of lives and gifts that creates the human community. Now, with fewer years ahead of me than behind, it has become an essential task.

And so, my first vague try. Three Things, without (much) elaboration at this point:

"My work is loving the world." (Messenger, by Mary Oliver)

Our narratives are called into life by God our Creator and blend into the narrative of Jesus through the Spirit. It is essential that we tell and live our stories in order that we as God's most beloved may be transformed into whom God calls us to be. (My personal summary of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.)

"Be gentle, for everyone you meet is carrying a great burden." Philo of Alexandria. Those of us who have crouched down and wailed into the dry desert wind need to share that story and and open our eyes against the blinding grains of sand, so that we see more clearly and can share more willingly the weight others carry, freeing them to share and live their stories as well. (A sort of subchapter of my Second Thing, bourne out of the past year of my life.)

What about you? Have you thought about what your Two or Three Things are? Do you consciously try to live them out? Are you able to dispense with those things no longer at the core of your being, and center yourself on those that are?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

25th Birthday

Matt and Josh in St. Augustine
June 2004
(They were almost 20)