Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween . . .

Quiet around this blog lately. So I thought I'd add some tidbits as we await our ghostly visitors.

Two weeks of classes and a week to finish up papers and finals left in this term. I am trying to work very steadily, because I know that if the flu arrives I will be out for a week of my own and even more should one of the kids get it. I'm very much on target, but I can't say that I'm ahead. Although if I stay healthy, that could change in a day or two.

Due to the workload, I'm reading other things that are manageable in very small chunks these days. On my "current" stack:

a book of
Anne Sexton poems,

a book of
Mary Oliver essays (and a few poems),

von Balthasar book that's been lying around here for awhile.

And I picked up Rowan Williams'
new book on Dostoyevsky at the library this week, but that probably needs to await the end of finals.

The Lovely Daughter has just appeared in her neon pink wig, pink graduation dress, pink Tinkerbell wings, and purple, navy, and green suede books, ready to venture forth as a pink fairy. She and the one of her friends who is also living at home this year have to go by their middle school science teacher's house. He's the one who told them, when they protested a class trip to D.C. over Halloween, that they were too old for trick or treating. Consequently, the four best friends made sure to go to his house every year while they were in high school, and it only seems appropriate that they should return as college graduates.

I got my hair cut this afternoon. Basic bob per usual. As he finished, the hairdresser asked if I'd like him to touch up my make-up. What make-up would that be, I wondered? There is another world out there.

Thirty minutes and we've only had eight trick-or-treaters. It's cold, cold enough that I reminded Gregarious Son of the year he and Chicago Son went out with another set of twin boys from their class ~ in the snow. We had a lot of fun in those days. A beauitful little girl from down the street just came by, and we discovered that she doesn't at all remember the Lovely Daughter, who babysat for her family for years. Of course, the pink wig might have something to do with it.

Well, that's my exciting life. I guess I have to go back to work and then eventually out to dinner.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday, Monday

~ Started writing a blog post and did nothing else that I had planned to do early this morning.

~ Had a three-hour lunch with the associate pastor at my field ed church; very informative and not at all optimistic about call possibilities in my Presbytery.

~ Went for a walk in the cemetery; discovered that the holes are dug for our memorial bench; had a long phone conversation with a friend about a possible memorial scholarship at the kids' Montessori school; took some photos.

~ Went to a church where I sometimes sit to pray; on the way in, ran into a Jesuit I know who told me about his sister's having lost a 19-year-old son to a car accident many years ago; went inside and sat there and cried.

~ Stopped at the grocery on the way home to pick up a couple of necessities, including a pumpkin.

~ The Lovely Daughter made us stir-fry for dinner; it was very, very good.

~ Packed up for tomorrow's drive; going to try to upload some pictures. Maybe one or two will show up here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Church and Girls and Their Moms

I was visiting another church, and at the end of the service a young-ish couple got up to make a stewardship presentation. They talked about how much the church means to them, and about how involved they are in the church and in its associated school which their three elementary-grade aged children attend. They were attractive and energetic and articulate, and bubbling over with the general goodness of life and their joy in their family and church.

It was pretty painful to watch, if you happened to be me.

I used to be that mother and my family used to be that family. It was hard to watch them as the person I am now. It was hard to think about myself having made similarly enthusiastic presentations in oblivion to their possible effects. It is hard to think about ministry and how to conduct church services in which the pews are filled with people experiencing all kinds of hardships as well as all kinds of joys.

After they stepped down, we sang the last hymn, and then it was time to leave. I was pretty near the front of the very large sanctuary and I wasn't in a hurry, so as I reached the back, few people were left. But among those who were still there was a small group in one pew: a young girl sobbing into the lap of the woman next to her, another girl about her age curled up in a man's embrace, and a couple of other adults looking fairly dazed and disconnected.

I felt as if I should understand the little scene playing out before me, but there was no reason that I would. And then I thought: I wonder if that's the family of the woman who died in a car accident a few weeks ago, leaving twin daughters behind.

If it was ~ how excruciating it must have been for those girls, to see another mother from their school laughing and talking about all the things that she does with her children. All the things their mother will never again do with them. To see their classmates smiling and waving at the congregation.
It was hard for me and I am all grown up and I have had some time.

I wanted to stop and say, I know. I know what it's like to lose your mother in an automobile accident. I know what it's like to grow up without a mother. But of course, I didn't, because I didn't know anything at all about the family sitting there and, even if they were who I think they were, I am a complete stranger to them. But I do think about the family I know of, and pray for them often.

And then I drove home, and thought about a conversation my daughter and I had had earlier in the day, in which she had poured out some frustrations to me and had then begun to talk with delight about something else. And I thought about what it is like not to have those conversations with your mother. Not even to know such conversations exist until you have a daughter of your own.

I hope those girls have daughters someday.

I hope they get to wave good-bye as I did today, to a 22-year-old woman sporting a bright pink wig, off to meet a friend at her Montessori school's Halloween party, eight years after she last attended that party as a student. I hope they get to live as mothers the lives they are missing out on as daughters.

I hope they can someday find a way to be in church, filled with peace rather than with sorrow.

I hope I can, too.

Cross posted at Desert Year.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Toes 'n Things

The really big and most important news in my life is that I have what I guess is an ingrown toenail. It is excruciating. And yes, I am going to a doctor, in Seminary City because I have more more potential free time there than I do at home, but the appointment is still 10 days away. Lots of soaking and Neosporin.

In my googling around to figure out my pathetic state and what to do about it, I found a youtube ~ a young (I presume) woman's video of her messed-up toe with her voiceover saying "Look at my toe -- owie, owie ~ it's so sore ~ owie, owie." Just how I feel! She comments that she can't believe it's her most viewed video. Misery loves company, I guess.

Toe nothwithstanding, The Lovely Daughter's Americorps colleagues came for breakfast this morning en route to Children's Hospital Down The Hill where they are hosting a Halloween party. They are all doing college counseling in Big City's Less Than Stellar School System and today's is a required service project but, required or not, they are a terrific group of young people. They left here after pancakes et al. as Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, a vampire, a fairy princess, a witch, Harry and Hermione, and I guess a couple of characters I can't remember.

I spent the rest of the morning at the local Jesuit retreat house with a woman I met when I co-led a retreat there last spring. Like me, she is without one of her adult children; in her case the mother of three of her young grandsons. We talked, not surprisingly, for two hours. There was a retreat going on at the center and we had planned a fall walk, but her hip and my toe (owie, owie) kept us inside and we found a tiny chapel in which to sit, undisturbed and undisturbing.

Nap time, I do believe.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Down Where?

As you know if you've been reading this, I'm doing my "field ed" (internship) in a downtown church this year. Every day, whether I am there or at seminary or at home, I wonder what I am doing and what God is inviting me into. Every day, I think: a year from now I will most likely be doing something in ministry, and my vision of what that might be probably could serve as a definition for the word "murky."

This morning I am doing the readings in the main service, and tonight I am preaching in a smaller service. My sermon is sort of on the topic of gratitude, which you can imagine is a difficult one for me. I try to remember the words of one of my seminary friends, now out in the world and looking for her first call, when I questioned my capacity for taking Homiletics last spring. "You will be studying and proclaiming the Word; what could be more healing?"

I have this to say: Healing comes in odd forms.

As I am getting ready this morning, I've read two things that apply. The first, a wonderful and brilliant sermon from Songbird, which I suggest you read in its entirety, closes with the following:

" . . . Jesus is turning the whole idea [of greatness] upside down for us, reminding us how far we have to go to go with him. He made it plain how far you have to go: all the way to the bottom, out of love for all. . . . "

The second, quoted on The Website of Unknowing, is from Parker Palmer's The Promise of Paradox.

"The way of the cross is often misunderstood as masochistic, especially in an age so desperately in search of pleasure. But the suffering of which Jesus spoke is not the suffering that unwell people create for themselves. Instead, it is the suffering already present in the world, which we can either identify with or ignore. If pain were not real, if it were not the lot of so many, the way of the cross would be pathological. But in our world — with its millions of hungry, homeless, and hopeless people — it pathological to live as if pain did not exist. The way of the cross means allowing that pain to carve one’s life into a channel through which the healing stream of the spirit can flow to a world in need."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spiritual Direction 101

Nice video on spiritual direction here ~ about eight minutes.

As a spiritual director, I use some of Joseph Tetlow's materials. He's a contemporary of my first Jesuit director, and the interview gives a little sense of the gentleness, intellect, and insight behind the generation that re-thought Ignatius' work and made it accessible to those of us who would never have encountered it without their efforts.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday Musings

I'm at home today, since I have no classes until late morning tomorrow.
I took the car in for its 60,000 mile check-up. The mile walk home was VERY chilly.

I finishd the editing on a 5-page outline for a group project. Two of us are rather particular about our work and two are not. Would it be snarky of me to say that in a couple of years the two young men will have found calls to churches before they even graduate and the two middle-aged women may stil be looking? And that that division reflects the division of labor on our project?

To be fair, the young guys DO NOT HAVE ANY IDEA what they are overlooking. I suppose I was very much the same as a young lawyer, and I must have driven my older colleagues equally crazy.

I am going to take another stab at my paper on virtual life and bodily life. It's supposed to be 750 words and when I got it down to 800 on the sixth try I decided I could not allocate any more time to it. But now it's kind of a game, and also a way of procrastinating Hebrew. I was going to write something very personal about blogging, but I ended up with something far more academic and only the vaguest reference to my online life. A lot of what I do in seminary is connected to my personal and family tragedy, but it's not necessary that everything be.

I AM going to do some Hebrew eventually. And clean the kitchen and vacuum the first floor. I would clean my car but -- it's not here, too bad.

On the subject of blogging, I'm also watching the poll over at Desert Year. I am fascinated by the fact that at the moment, two-thirds of the respondents describe God has having been far way or absent at the time of their deepest loss. Obviously this is a completely inaccurate poll of only 36 people so far. But the question I have at the moment: does that percentage reflect something vaguely accurate about the experience of loss, or does it merely reflect that people are less likely to respond to a question when their experience has been positive and more likely when they have something negative to say?

And finally, since my paper argues that virtual communication can be as intimate, as superficial, or as a confusing combination of both as real life, let me close with a response to someone with whom I have a solely (so far) online frienship, one which I value tremendously. Quotidian Grace has written another protest against twittering in worship. From my now-academic paper, at least as it reads at the moment:

"The downside of technological communication emerges when we permit it to disrupt existing real-life relationships. It tempts us to forget that which embodied community reminds us: relationship requires engagement with others. Texting or twittering during church services or meetings raises serious issues of attentiveness. The immediacy of virtual interaction exacerbates impulsivity and discourages more measured and thoughtful communication. Bonhoeffer’s insistence upon the value of a community life paced by monastic tradition speaks to this concern. It is difficult to advance the “encounter [with] one another as bringers of the message of salvation” when we are engaged in constant expression of self."

So there.

My day.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hey ~ A Poll

I've added a short poll to my
Desert Year blog and I'd really appreciate it if, after you've finished ogling Mad Men's finest (below), you'd amble on over there.

It's been a long 13.5 months of trying to absorb what both the finest and the not-so-fine minds of the past 4,000 years have had to say about the presence of God in the midst of suffering. I'd like to know what your experience has been.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Don Draper?

So how is it that in a poll on something called Ask Men, Don Draper was named as the most influential man?

He is

1. a fictional character

2. a hopeless philanderer

3. who lies obsessively

4. about, among other things, his identity

5. to, his wife, among other people, about virtually everything.

All of the above make him a compelling character, but . . .


OK, I wouldn't mind if his hats influenced men's styles. Jon Hamm is ridiculously handsome and Don Draper's hats are pretty cool. But that's about it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Breakfast Conversation (II)

I've been mulling over another part of the breakfast conversation.

My friend said, more than once, "All you can really do in this life is choose whether to be happy."
Or something to that effect.

I don't believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. Happiness is a nice side effect, and one that probably a majority of Americans experience much of the time.

Of course, a lot depends upon how you define happiness. But I think it's safe to say that in a world filled with wars, violence, starvation, deprivation, and disease, an awful lot of people do not find happiness in any conventional sense of the word.

The Presbyterian Church teaches that our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. The Catholic Church, that it is to know and love God. My friend St. Ignatius, that it is to praise, reverence, and serve God, or (in more contemporary language), to live with God forever.

Thus those of you who are not religious and from time to time dismiss faith as a crutch or a false source of comfort might see that the purpose of our lives, as stated in major Christian creeds and confessions, is often at odds with comfort.

I can assure you that is not much of an opiate to be told, in the face of the loss of a child, that glorifying God is the chief end of your life.

But as I see it, to say that the point of life is "to be happy" renders our existence virtually pointless, while the alternative, "to know God," offers us dignity and significance.
If all that is available to me in the face of the death of my child is "to choose happiness" ~ well, that seems to me to represent the epitome of triviality. However, if knowledge of God ~ which would also mean knowledge of love, knowledge of ways to remain present to those I care for, knowledge of my life having some purpose ~ remains a possibility, then there is a point to life.

I'm not saying it's easy. And I'm not saying we should seek out misery for ourselves, or view life as a grim narrative of pointless toil or senseless suffering.

But the hard reality is that to know God in the context of Christianity is to know sorrow.

It might seem, then, that it would only make sense to choose the pursuit of happiness over the pursuit of knowledge of God.

But really ~ if the choice were placed in the stark relief drawn by the worst kind of scenario, would you choose trivia over dignity and value? And perhaps it is in choosing the latter that genuine happiness lies.


(Cross-posted at Desert Year.)

Monday, October 05, 2009

My Thoughts Exactly

I can no more keep my bathroom clean than I can achieve world peace.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

St. Francis Day

May God bless you with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships,
so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for
justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer
from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may
reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that
you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able,
with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator,
Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Saviour,
and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide, be with you
and remain with you, this day and forevermore.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall

I purchased this robe today.

I had been thinking about buying a robe because now I participate in worship leadership most Sundays and the seating arrangements require that I exercise great decorum in my posture. A little more cover would give me a little more leeway. But I have wondered whether such attire would be presumptuous. Some of my friends wear robes all the time when they preach; some never. I wasn't sure.

But ~ my best friend at seminary wanted me to help her look at the robes on sale in the bookstore, and we had just been in class discussing Calvin and preaching, and it seemed like it might be all right to try one on.

I was startled when I looked at myself in the mirror. "That is not me," I said. I have no idea who I am anymore, but I was pretty sure that I was looking at someone else.

"That is EXACTLY you," said my friend.

"The style is called Anna," I mused. "That might be me. I feel like a very old woman, and Anna would be a good model. I wonder what the design on the sleeves and hem means."

The saleswoman found the
Womenspirit catalogue for me, from whence comes the photo, and my friend and I read it out loud:

"Anna has an inset of our beautiful Crossroads embroidery around the hem and the sleeves. The Crossroads has much symbolism in Christianity and in the myths of many cultures. The cross has four extremities. The four points symbolize the four corners of the earth or the four winds-North, South, East and West. The center is the "Here", that place in which all things meet, and from which all things are possible. The inner circle behind the cross is the earth and the outer circle symbolizes eternity. "

"I told you," said my friend. "That robe is exactly you."

"It's perfect," said the other two women in the store.

My friend tried on several possibilites and, as we walked back to the main building after making our purchases, she told me that she, too, had wondered about her presumption in buying a stole in Israel two years ago, only a few months after we had begun seminary. One of our professors assured her that her purchase was a sign of conviction and hope.

I haven't felt much in the way of conviction or hope in a very long time.

I had just been talking in class about what it is like to move forward in response to God's invitation when belief and feelings are light years apart ~ something that I am sure most pastors experience somewhere in their ministerial lives, although probably not usually at the beginning. Most pastoral careers are not immediately preceded by catastrophe.

And now I have a robe, a robe named for an old woman who had seen almost everything and then, finally, saw and proclaimed what she had been waiting for. A woman of conviction and hope.

Who is that woman in the mirror?
I wonder.