Monday, March 22, 2010

Difficult Days

The last several days: very, very difficult.

At lunch, a friend sat down with someone new to me, someone who, as it turned out, lost her husband ten months ago. A midlife marriage, no children, deep closeness, and then ~ just over, she said.

We talked, a little.

I didn't have much to say. I was aware, in some vague place I hate, of how little of her experience I comprehend.

It's a place from which I recoil because it's the one in which I am aware of how profoundly alone we are.

I wandered through it a couple of weeks ago when Musical Friend, on the second anniversary of her husband's death, was challenged by someone else about how she had spent part of the day.

And then a few days after that when the funeral of a friend was the occasion for further acknowledgment of how different our apparently similar experiences are.

And then this lunch. I said that my inner, deepest core is a place of such complete sorrow now.

I said that most of the day, although no one would know it, my mind is engaged in thoughts and images far from what lies before us or from what we are discussing.

And our mutual friend said that that will go away.

With all the confidence of someone whose children are all alive.

I said that I didn't think so.

The woman who has lost her husband said that hers, her inner core, is filled more with anxiety. She is, evidently, quite shaken by the speed and completeness with which life changes.

I said nothing. I know quite a bit about that, but nothing at all from her perspective.

I thought that it would not be wise to try to challenge her, or to insist that things will change.

I couldn't see any reason to sharpen the blade of loneliness that slices the space between us.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Eighteen-Plus Months

Sometimes I still need to write over here, in relative anonymity.

Still in the house tonight. The Quiet Husband went out of town to visit his family for the day, Gregarious Son is at work, and The Lovely Daughter is over the the house of the new man in her life.

I was thinking, earlier, about another spring, 2001. Once the kids started school, we always spent the last two weeks of March in St. Augustine, so tonight we were probably packing up. I looked at the photos from that year - they all look so young! The Lovely Daughter and friends in their middle school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed right before spring break; the boys, tenth graders, in soccer and high school t-shirts; all of them in the pool in Florida late at night and on the beach all day.

It was a great life.

I knew it was a great life. So much more than I could have ever imagined. So much love and laughter, so much energy and humor.

So much lost.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Move to New Blog

In real life, I don't think that I can ever move. We've lived in this house 26 years and I am a Keeper of Papers and Books and Photos and Clothes That No Longer Fit.

Although ~ I recently talked to a couple who've downsized to a city condo. They told me that it's a two year project, and I believe them. Truthfully, I would love to move down the hill to one of the brand new condos in Little Italy ~ only a few short blocks from University Circle and its museums, the orchestra, and some wonderful possibilities for walking. Or even better ~ to a condo on the lake. (I'm sure those are priced well beyond our means. But the fantasy is a good one.)

If I find myself without employment this summer, I may make a dent in the two-year project.

Anyway, moving to a new blog is complicated, but there are no 20-year-old tax returns and children's artwork to discard. So I'm almost settled in over at


Come and visit!

If I can ever launch the new camera, I'll host a housewarming party.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vacation That Isn't

I don't think that a single day lies ahead in the next two weeks in which some form of scheduled interaction with someone is not required. A little much for this perceived-as-extrovert-but-not-one kind of person.

This morning I am headed out to meet with the friends with whom I used to spend every Saturday morning. That tradition broke down for me last fall when the rest of them decided to spend that time at a farmer's market and I decided that I needed to conserve my energy instead.

Tomorrow~ field ed church all morning and then the entire afternoon spent at my home church where a friend and I will be getting people started on our prayer retreat. We begin with a meeting of the spiritual directors, and then the retreatants will join us for orientation. Each of them has agreed to spend half an hour in contemplative prayer and half an hour meeting with a spiritual director over the next five days -- quite a venture for Presbyterians! My co-leader and I had hoped to be solely engaged in the organization of this one, but the numbers and schedules haven't worked out that way. It looks like I will be meeting with two people each evening, so in this case I am conserving mental energy ahead of time. It doesn't sound demanding, but listening attentively to someone and trying to follow her prayer life for several consecutive days is exhausting!

Monday ~ I am meeting with someone who is planning a year-long Ignatian retreat in everyday life. I am extremely excited about that, but it entails a huge commitment on both our parts. Four years ago I was in the middle of my own retreat, and I am still in awe that someone else who had multiple other responsibilities was willing to meet me at 8:00 in the morning once a week to accompany me through the Ignatian Exercises. That memory and the recognition of all that changed in my own life as a result help to propel me forward when my own phone rings.

And there is a sermon to plan for Thursday, and a huge paper to write. (I didn't realize just how huge until I started it last night.)

Well. I wanted to be a pastor and a spiritual director. Be careful what you wish for, right?

My camera and its various accoutrements is sitting here next to me on the bed as I type. I am going to start figuring it out later today, and I've started a new blog under my real name for the upcoming adventure. I have no idea what will happen to Search the Sea, but I think it's time for a different approach. If you are interested in joining me over there ~ so far a title is all that exists ~ email me at gannetgirlatsbcglobaldotnet.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Ignatian Exercises

Here's something pretty cool.

The Jesuit community at Georgetown University has created a series of videos to explain and comment on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. These gentlemen, from all over the place, are some of the heavy hitters in Ignatian spirituality ~ they are the ones whom the rest of us read and listen to as we learn to do spiritual direction.

The first speaker is noted European historian John O'Malley, S.J. When he talks about Ignatius working on the Exercises in his early life, he reminds me of the constant interplay of traditions n my own life: Ignatius was studying and writing in Paris at the same time that John Calvin was. There's no evidence that they met, but a few summers ago I certainly enjoyed walking the streets in the neighborhood they had walked and contemplating my multi-dimensional heritage. At the time, I was finishing the Exercises (with one of the Jesuits who's apparently going to speak in this series) and starting to imagine myself in seminary and in ministry.

As I watch this first video as I write, I'm thinking that Joseph Tetlow, S.J. is a little intimidating! I wonder whether I would have fallen in love with the Exercises if he had been the one to introduce them to me. It's true that it's quite a challenge to learn articulate your prayer life as you make your way through them, but it's a loving and generous experience, not a scary, intellectual one.

These presentations take a bit of stamina, but are well worth your time if you have any interest in Ignatian spirituality or spiritual direction.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I have been thinking about this problem of Lent. Like many of my sisters whose children have vanished from our lives, I don't see the need to "manufacture" a time of attentiveness to sorrow, to repentance, to sin, to error. I am very, very attentive to all of those things. I don't need a separate season in which to immerse myself in awareness and regret. I am consumed by them.

The word metanoia is the Greek word for repentance, for turning. In Hebrew, shuv means return. Return to me with your whole heart, says the prophet. Many sermons delivered during this time of year reflect upon one or both of those words.

What would I say, if I had to say something? Return is no longer in my vocabulary.


To something new?

Incline. Perhaps incline.

Incline implies a certain hesitance, a degree of fragility, an experimental move.


So here's the deal. I bought myself a Christmas present, an SLR digital camera with an extra (slightly) telephoto lens, and I took it to the Keys over Christmas, and The Quiet Husband ended up in the hospital, and so I know nothing at all about my new camera.

On Thursday I take my last final exam and then I have 18 days before I have to go back to school. I have a lot to do during those two weeks, including a paper in which I have to address some unintelligible material, but no long drives and a lot of the intensity of my life temporarily removed therefrom.

I am going to learn a little about my new camera during the first week, and I am going to take it with me for a couple of retreat days the second week, and I am going to start photographing the words metanoia and shuv.

I have absolutely no idea what means. But I don't think I can start to live them until I see them, really see them, in unexpected ways.


(Image: Twisted Oak by Tess Kohrnak, here. I tried google-imaging the word metanoia, and found nothing helpful, and then I tried the word twisted, and this is what I came up with. I don't mean twisted in a negative kind of way, but in a turned, inclined kind of way. I wonder what I will come up with for myself.)

Speaking Into The Void

A couple of the posters on the FB site Oh No, You Didn't -- Things Said to a Grieving Parent Better Left Unsaid have mentioned conversations with people whose children have died subsequent to the deaths of their own children and who have said, " I realize now that I had absolutely no idea what you were talking about."

In an odd way, that's a bit comforting. Or at least reassuring.

It's not particularly comforting to know that our words are incomprehensible.

But I have read a lot of words in the past week about Lent, about the need to enter deeply into our places of loss and grief, about our need to wander the desert.

Why would anyone want to do that, I wonder?

It's such a relief to realize that my own reaction of bewilderment comes from the parched and barren land to which I have unwillingly relocated, and that I do not need to go further, because I am already here.

Believe me. You do not actually want to come to this place.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Back Story

It was an ordinary day, in fact.

But at some point I wondered, Do you count the times when your thoughts are interrupted by a flash of pain so intense that you think you will not get to the next moment?

Karen commented that she wonders whether rituals like Ash Wednesday are perhaps made for those who need to be broken open to the hurt in the world. Perhaps. I know that I feel no desire for more of it.

Gabriele wrote a beautiful post in which she talks about a shift in her feelings about Ash Wednesday after years of avoidance.

Last week I responded to two questionnaires produced by graduate students studying parental loss to suicide. Both of them were designed for parents in the first two years of loss, and I gathered from the questions that the students have some kind of idea that the pain recedes by the end of the second year.

I think that they are going to find that they need to reframe their studies and start over,

But then, it does change. It does. And it must become fairly invisible.

Otherwise, why would you even ask how often a parent thinks about her lost child? Isn't "all day long" the obvious answer? No one will respond to any of the other choices on the surveys.

One of my professors was astonished when I explained, in January, that I had come late to every class in December because he insisted that we open the class by singing Advent hymns and I simply couldn't stand to begin the day that way.

A friend whose husband is close to death wondered what she would do with his clothing, and expressed some kind of combination of surprise and horror when I said that I haven't done anything about clothes yet. "It takes that long?" she asked.

The presenter of that webinar my advisor and I watched last week advised clinicians to rethink their assumptions about length and intensity of grief when it comes to parents who have lost children to suicide. I think that that suggestion applies to parents who have lost childen by any means at all.

And no, I didn't count the times yesterday.

But late last night I went outside to move cars around and there was a U-haul truck parked in front of one of the houses across the street and I felt a sharp breath contract my chest. We rented a U-Haul in Chicago that October to bring our son's belongings home. I have had the same reaction whenever I have encountered one of those trucks when I have been out driving. I have lost many of the memories of those few days, but the feelings associated with them are almost as strong as they were originally.

A U-Haul. Only the last of maybe a dozen things yesterday that stopped me in my interior tracks.

Friday, February 19, 2010

An Ordinary Day

This is one of them: I went up to the bakery/coffee shop, came home with an orange juice and a chocolate croissant, and settled back into bed to work on Sunday evening's service for the East Indian group that meets at our church. They want leftover love and valentines; I want Lent. So I am going to offer a short meditation on the daily examen as a spiritual practice that engages us with the love of God.

I cleaned the main bathroom and got started on the laundry, which I returned to off and on all day.
Spent an hour reviewing one of the texts for next week's final.

In the middle of the day, in honor of, according to the paper, the first sunny day since the solstice, I went out for a walk in the cemetery, where the roads are fairly clear. The sky was BLUE. Anyone remember that? Between the snow and the fact that I have barely been out-of-doors for two weeks, it was a slow and laborious walk!

After my gourmet lunch of Ramen noodles, I settled in for some reading of the Reformed scholastics. Not an easy crew, those guys. I have reached the point in the 1600s where they are in a big debate over free will with the Jesuits. You'd think I'd enjoy that, right? But the truth is that I have no idea what either side is saying.

I've reached the tv stage now. The Quiet Husband is out at soccer practice, Gregarious Son is at work, and The Lovely Daughter and I are watching
What Not To Wear.

And pieces of news today: I may have a new directee who wants to make the Ignatian
Exercises, one of my favorite things to do. The Lovely Daughter got a second social work school acceptance. (!)

Tomorrow should be another ordinary day. I'm very good with that.

(Image: Cemetery Walk)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Strangest of Times

Lent is a strange season for a Protestant seminarian.

My last class of the quarter met this morning. Last term my one third-year required course was in church and sacraments, a wonderful class in which our professor repeatedly nudged us to consider ways in which we might make use of Word and Sacrament in order to offer our future congregations more clarity with respect to who they are.

Over the winter the major requirement has been missiology, another terrific class, this time with the professor nudging us to understand the church as the community from which we are sent forth, as God is by nature a sending God. After class today I laughed as I told the professor that we are going to need 50-hour Sundays to accomplish all the things he and his colleagues are telling us we need to do.

As I drove home, I thought about the similar to-do lists that have been at least implied by our professors in theology, in Scripture, in pastoral care, in homiletics. The combination is daunting. I also thought about the very wise words a classmate shared with me a couple of days ago. She spent a couple of years between college and seminary in China and related that it has been said of such an experience that "People go there for a week and write a book; they go for a month and write an article; they go for a year and are silent."

It's true of anything, I suppose: The more you learn, the less capable you feel of instructing anyone else. We have been filled with words, and words about words, for nearly three years. We are Presbyterians, most of us, and we believe in the one Word, Jesus Christ, and in the Word of Holy Scripture, and in the possibility that our own words will make their own small contribution in service of the others. But we know that we are much like Americans who have been to China for a year, and should at least at times be reduced to silence in view of what we have witnessed.

Silence. It is a subject we have not formally explored in these three years. And here it is Lent again and it seems to me that the only genuine response to make is one of silence. Silence before the great and terrible mystery of suffering. Silence in the face of a God who shares in the most human of experiences with the purpose of shattering its power.

I do not expect, not yet this year, to be prepared for suffering to be demolished. Easter will, once again, come far too soon. And I will not look particularly silent on the outside; I have too many responsibilities that preclude an outer demeanor of contemplation.

But inside, I am already gone: way, way down into the silence of Lent. It will seem like a noisy season to me in the exterior worlds in which I spend my time, worlds which will be filled with music and preaching and teaching and other forms of oral expression, all of them in dissonant contrast to the silence of the interior world I carry with me.

I am watching the men's Olympic figure skating finals as I write this. It occurs to me that these athletes, surrounded as they are by crowds and cheers and applause, must also enter deep wells of silence, invisible to the rest of us. Perhaps this season of my life is my own personal Olympics. On the outside: focus, determination, an endless series of tasks.

On the inside, the silence that offers the space for possibility, for hope, for encounter.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Three Things

Uno: I learned a great new phrase today: assumptive world. It means just how it sounds, and the context is the idea that trauma destroys the one you had. My advisor, preparing for a pastoral care course on loss, invited me to "attend" a webinar with her this afternoon on caring for suicide survivors. It was an excellent program ~ and that's where I learned this new (to me) phrase. The overview didn't contain any information through which I haven't lived, but it was helpful to see it all laid out; it gave me some insight into how very different my life has become from that of most people I know. And my new terminology helped me understand why I have inner (and sometimes outer!) meltdowns over perceptions and beliefs so at odds with my own. So often I don't understand why other people find certain words or convictions helpful, but now I see ~ as long as their assumptive worlds remain intact, they have no reason to imagine that the things upon which they rely do not have universal power. And there's nothing quite like a child's death by suicide in terms of blowing one's assumptive world to bits.

Dos: As I was leaving her office, another . . . um, let's just say that he's a pastor . . . came by and made one of the most impossibly inappropriate jokes about suicide I've ever heard. Actually, I've only heard two remarks in that vein, and they've both come from pastors. (And I'm the one worried about being pastoral enough to pass ordination exams ???) I have tried to explain that suicide is the one topic I know of (someone else I discussed this with mentioned the molestation of children as another possibility) about which joking is not acceptable. Unlike other areas of black humor in which survivors or members of a relevant group joke among themselves, I have never heard anyone affected by suicide joke about it. Only these two pastors.

Tres: Today I joined a Facebook group called "Oh no, you didn't ~ things said to a grieving parent better left unsaid." I guess I needed that today. The postings are ~ well ~ some of the statements are truly unbelievable. It seems that I am not alone at all.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ash Wednesday Prayer


Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Bless├Ęd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

(from T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ways I Can Tell That Surviving a Child's Suicide Makes Different Demands

Much of the time I can hardly bear the things that most people apparently find comforting, reassuring, or joyful:

1. Assurances of God's presence in times of turmoil.

2. Assurances about resurrection, how we will be all be reunited, etc., regardless of theology of same.

3. Assurances that light can be found in the dark.

4. Valentine's renewal of wedding vows.

5. Weddings, new babies, anything that reminds me that the young man I love found himself on a path that precluded that all we had hoped for and dreamed of for him.

6. Actually, now that I think of it, confirmation or assurance of just about anything at all.

I think I get it. The completely destructive, upside-down-and-inside-out nature of a child's death by suicide simply eradicates all familiar terrain and brings into question absolutely everything.

Sometimes I feel like I spend almost all of my time crossing very thin ice ~ the exceptions being the times when I crash through into very deep and icy water.

I am glad ~ really ~ that other people find comfort in all those things that usually offer it to one degree or another. But seriously ~ please don't assume that your experience or conviction is applicable to mine.

(Yeah, it's been a rough few days.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I've been attending the New Members' Class at my field ed church, and today a young lady, a high school student who's planning to join the church with her mother, drew me aside and asked me to explain what Lent is and to give her some suggestions for participating in it.

Two weeks ago, my best friend at seminary asked whether I wanted to join her at the church we went to two years ago for the Ash Wednesday service. I quickly said yes, remembering only the next day how traumatized I was by last year's service at my home church, when I had realized too late that I did not want anything to do with those ashes, since I have an urn full of them in my own home. I have not yet decided what I am going to do this week.

At any rate, Lent is coming, and it is going to pull me into its vortex, regardless of what I say or do about it. Last year I posted my response to the first reading; I am going to have to give some thought to what, if anything, has changed with the passing of another twelve months.

Jan has posted a wonderful selection of resources for the upcoming season. I haven't looked at all of them, but so far I especially like this little calendar from Explore Faith.

My Jesuit list:

from the Jesuit Retreat House in Cleveland,

from Creighton University;

from the Loyola Press Ignatian Spirituality site.

It all comes down to the same two quotes I was thinking about as Lent loomed on the horizon a year ago:

You cannot conceive...nor can I or anyone -- the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.
~ Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.
~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Little Hints

A few days ago, Karen, who has also lost a beautiful young adult son, left a comment, kind of out of the blue, saying that if I give a retreat sometime, she'd like to come.

A friend from my home church and I, both products of the same spiritual direction program, are putting the final touches on a "retreat in daily life for busy people" as a Lenten offering for our church for the first week of March. We've gleaned only a few participants, but that may be a good thing for our pilot effort. I wrote the retreat months ago: a five day exploration into the wisdom of our lives. It follows the basic Ignatian pattern in abbreviated form, with each day given its own prayer focus: our engagement in creation, our participation in sin, God's call as experienced through the life of Jesus, the pain and loss of the crucifixion, and the joy and triumph of the resurrection. Those involved will be invited to spend half an hour a day in quiet meditation on suggested readings and questions and another half an hour meeting with a spiritual director to talk it over.

In the process of rounding up potential directors, I spoke with another man from our program last night who mentioned that he is in contact with a woman who is doing retreats for Katrina survivors, and another doing loss-and-grief retreats. Hmmm, I said, I might like to learn about that. I added that about the only thing I've imagine myself doing in Haiti is spiritual direction for survivors: all the focus now is on construction and medical care, but the grief will be all-pervasive for months. Of course, I don't speak French or Creole, so I'm not much use for Haiti, but perhaps another context, another day.

And then my mind started, completely unbidden, to formulate ideas for a retreat for suicide survivors.

Sixteen months ago, when a father in a suicide survivors' group stated that my faith must have taken a real hit, all I could do was nod yes and shake my head no, I have no idea how to tell you.

And here I am, imagining a retreat day for people in the kind of pain he and I share.

The next day, I received an email from my summer CPE advisor, telling me that if I want to apply for the residency program for next year, I need to get in gear; it's filling up. From a practical standpoint, not what I needed to hear right now. These (four!) snow days have been a great boon in terms of catching up on all that I put aside during the debacle known as January (husband's hospitalization, father-in-law's death, ordination exams), but I wasn't planning to squeeze in another set of essays in which I will have to address Josh's death and its aftermath.

And somewhere in there, I led Sunday morning worship and preached in my field education church on Sunday, and it all went very well, and I thought, How could I not do this? And then I went to a session meeting the next night and was reminded in a rather huge kind of way about all the administrative detail that goes into a pastor's work and thought, How could I do this? A question reiterated when I received a mailing from my home church the next day about a very expensive building repair project.

So . . . in a few minutes I am off to meet with a Presbytery person about The Future, and tomorrow I am meeting a friend who's a hospital chaplain (The Other Famous Hospital) to get her take on all of this.

And meanwhile, Jan Edmiston has pubished a post about spiritual direction, just to remind me that there are Presbyterian pastors who successfully pull off at least one version of what I envision.

So, said my own spiritual director, what is Jesus calling you to?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I am scheduled to make a presentation on walking the labyrinth to the women of my home church Thursday night. Obviously the word "schedule" has a flexible meaning in this snowy week, but nevertheless I have been enjoying the planning and preparation.

What I couldn't figure out was how to make it an experiential evening. We have a small indoor labyrinth at church, but its size and its narrow circuits make it difficult to walk ~ out of the question for a group of more than 2 or 3 to spend time on in the context of an hour's presentation. And even small hand-held renditions of the Chartres labyrinth would be too time consuming for our use.

Finally! a light went on and I googled "three-circuit labyrinth." I'm going to make copies as a handout and that way maybe we can fit in three separate labyrinth "walks" with our fingers at various points in the evening ~ just enough to provide a taste.

There's a canvas replica of the Chartres labyrinth available for walking a couple of days a week at a Presbyterian church near my seminary. That's where I headed for an hour of contemplative prayer right before and right after the ordination exams. It wasn't Chartres but ~ close enough.


Monday, February 08, 2010

Preaching Ahead of Where We Are

Many thanks for all the support and encouragement yesterday!

Last week a friend and I were talking at seminary about our preaching. She acknowledged feeling as if she knows nothing and has no idea what to say ~ feeling like something of a fraud. (She's a terrific preacher, by the way.)

"How do you think I feel?" I asked.

"I think we have to preach ahead of where we are," I concluded.

And I've been thinking about that a lot. How we feel is one thing. Our faith is another. It's nice when they merge, but the reality of being grown-up is that often they do not. And so we preach for others out of the hope that one day they will again.

The conclusion of yesterday's sermon, which was about all those fish and how Jesus out of abundance invites us to share the same:

Do we know when we’re being interrupted by an invitation from God?

When abundance is plopped right down in front of us?

When our God of hope invites us to fish in deeper waters?

Abundance as a gift and an invitation – do we recognize it?

It might look very ordinary

We do not expect Jesus to appear in those mundane moments when we are at our most exhausted and feeling the futility of our efforts.

We are blind to the abundance that lies before us when we are worn down by life’s cares and challenges

It’s likely to be something we resist:

Our to-do lists are long enough, and as long as we wade in the shallows, we have some hope of accomplishing everything on them

Our plans are complicated, and we already know where we need to go and whom we need to call before the end of the day

To be honest, when all is said and done,

We often find it difficult to imagine that Jesus is calling us to anything

And yet there he is, standing on the shore – or in the office, or in the kitchen, or in the classroom, or anywhere else we do not expect him to be, and what he longs for is to give to us extravagantly, so that we may go and do likewise:

Put out into the deep water and let your nets down for a catch.

Welcome the interruptions,

pay attention to the one who is paying attention to you,

let him fill you with a sense of wonder and hope in place of your disappointments

and put out into the deep water and let your nets down.

(Image: Eric de Saussure, Peter's Catch of Fish, 1968.)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

I Could Stand Some Clarity

I'm preaching in my field ed church tomorrow. Theoretically, anyway. The last time I had planned on preaching there, my husband's vacation illness kept us in Florida. (And the bills have started coming. Oh my . . . out-of-network charges . . . astronomical. I can't believe that we have to pay so much for a vacation that was essentially two days long and involved transportation by ambulance as well by kayak.) This time: the snowstorm.

I'm not thrilled with my sermon. Too many
shoulds and coulds and woulds pulling at me. Last week I received an email from a neighboring church in my home community asking whether I could fill in when their senior pastor is out of town at the end of the month. I can't, because of field ed, but -- wow. That's the first time that's happened.

Yesterday I poured out a stream of incoherent and unconnected thoughts and experiences to my spiritual director.
What does all this tell you that Jesus might be inviting you to? he asked.

Right. Yeah.
I have to get back to my own voice. My own self.

If I were in
tomorrow's text, what kind of fish would be plopped into my arms?

And what would I do with it once I had hold of it?

Friday, February 05, 2010

Down in the Depths

I asked The Lovely Daughter if she wanted to go and see Up in the Air with me tonight.

"I've already seen it," she said. "And you don't want to."

"There's a suicide?" I ventured.

She nodded. "Offscreen. But I was totally unprepared for it."

"Is that part of why you've been railing against the number of suicides passed off as entertainment on movies and television when they do nothing to further the plot?"

"Partly," she said. "But they're on everything."

I asked a few more questions. I have heard such good things about this movie.

"It's an incredibly sad movie," she said.

"Have we just become overly-attuned to the sadness in life?" I asked her.

"It's not that," she said. "But they try to make things better that aren't. It's just a depressing movie."

Scratch that one.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Gravity and Grace

I stole the title from Mompriest, who has offered a wonderful little reflection here. I guess she lifted the title from her yoga video.

I do yoga, in the most elementary, awkward, and almost immobilized kind of way. (I couldn't touch my toes when I was ten; let's not even go there now.) So the first challenge is to get back to that peaceful and yet demanding connection to my body.

But what I really like here is the multiplicity of meanings associated with these words. Off the top of my head:

Grace: a free gift of God.

Grace: God's loving forgiveness.

Gracefulness: the capacity to move with fluidity and elegance. (In my case: metaphorically speaking.)

Gracefulness: the capacity to absorb with generosity and graciousness whatever comes our way.

Gravity: the force which binds us to our earthly existence.

Gravity: the pull which orients our being.

Gravitas: the weight of wisdom which emerges from experience.

Gravitas: the wisdom to reflect with generosity and graciousness whatever comes our way.

Yes, I do see a connection (fourth definitions).

I'm making a little retreat in another month -- a few days away, with some guidance from my spiritual director. I need some time to make some space for the process of discernment ahead. And I need some silence so that I can handle eight days of it this coming summer with more equanimity than I did last year, when the cloud of grief hanging over my head almost consumed me.

I think I have a name for my retreat now. Gravity and Grace. I like that.

If nothing else, I can pretend that the photograph above is of me. I'm good with the body, the flexibility, or the hair.

(Guess I might need to work on that gravitas thing. But seriously ~ I've pretty much had it with experience.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

My Day

Got up and did a little work on a paper. It's a make-up for the midterm I simply could not prepare for two weeks ago.

Went to see the senior pastor at my field ed church. He says I seem a good deal "lighter" than I have for the past few weeks. Hmmm. Quiet Husband in and out of hospital, high school girl's funeral, father-in-law's funeral, ords, and now a friend is dying. I wonder what "lighter" looks like.

Ran some errands. Stopped to see the friend and his daughters, one of whom is one of the Lovely Daughter's BFFs since first grade. She has been coming home from DC every week-end and this time is staying into the week. The other daughter has been home from New Haven for two weeks. Life is complicated over there.

I liked it better when the girls were all little Montessori kids.

I need to pack and drive to seminary and finish that paper. I need to read several particularly depressing Calvin chapters. I need to think about Sunday's sermon.

I am having more of a reality than a denial day. Sucks.

I love what Karen said in the comments about needing to switch the channel back to denial after short periods of reality. I think I need to kick the damn set across the room.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stages of Grief

I am very, very tired, after having gone to the funeral home with my friend and sat in the same little room that my husband and I sat in seventeen months ago . . .

I came home and said to The Lovely Daughter that I am pretty much not believing it these days. I just think he will come home.

"Total denial," she said. You know, those stages of grief don't happen in sequence."

"I know that," I said. "Denial seems like a high-functioning place though. I spend most of my time there. I'm not angry too often anymore, and I can tell when I'm in acceptance, because then I just cry, because I get it."

She nodded.

"I've pretty much given up on bargaining. It didn't seem to work," I said.

"Mom, that is SUCH a denial statement," she responded.

"You have to know you're in denial when you talk about bargaining not working as if it might have. Only a person in total denial could think that there is anything plausible about bargaining."

I love my daughter so much. A couple of nights ago we were watching something ~ I have no idea what ~ on tv and one of the characters vocalized a long litany of recent disasters in her life.

"Do you remember what it was like when a statement like that was just dialogue on a tv show?" she asked.

Time Management

Thanks to everyone who left kind words the past few days. You would know how unwarranted they are if you had been with me on Thursday night when a friend and I decided to go and pray with the Benedictine monks. I am too embarrassed to relate the story; let's just say that sometimes I have no business going out in public. Especially when "in public" means "in silence."

My friend said afterward, "You have to remember that the very last thing that Brother M. said as we left was, "I hope you'll come back.' "

Truthfully, I'm not sure how far one can push Benedictine hospitality.

My schedule has been very tight the past several weeks. It was tight before The Quiet Husband ended up in the hospital over New Year's, before his father went into a dramatic decline and died, before I was asked to accompany someone to a funeral home for an initial visit today, before I was asked to preach next Sunday. I am trying to do all the work I did not do during the final push toward ords and suddenly there are several other things on my plate that weren't there a few days ago.

All of which is to say I think I am coming to terms with something about ministry and time management. There will always be things on my plate that weren't there a minute ago. "Things" migrate fast. I realize that I have to plan my days with huge chunks of time open for the unanticipated. If they don't fill up, then I have space for extra reading and study and housework and whatever, but if they do -- well, I knew that was going to happen.

This kind of non-schedule was a feature of my life when I practiced family law, but there were definitive seasons of inconvenience. Right before school starts and Christmas vacation: divorced and divorcing parents have a tendency to create the most impossible situations for their families and their attorneys. Children have a way of not being delivered to the destinations to which pieces of paper known as court orders say they will be delivered, and total havoc ensues.

It seems that in ministry this goes on 24/7. I'm getting it.

I think this is why I need the quiet of the monastery. It's also why I behave badly ~ inadvertently, of course, but badly nevertheless ~ when I get there.

Maybe I need to go back to the practice of law, where loud noises and expletives are, um, expected.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Never Ending

I wrote this last Saturday:

So . . . yesterday we took two three-hour exams and today we took one more. I wish I had received Mompriest's comment last night because suddenly, at 9:00 pm, I lost any capacity for sleep, and began to churn through all my perceived errors. Today I've been able to put all that to rest, probably because . . .

the Hebrew passage, delivered to us at noon,, is the story of Elijah bringing the widow's son back to life.

I sank into a fairly profound depression for several hours as I contemplated wrestling with that one for five days. (Have you ever tried to count how many stories there are in the Bible of dead sons coming back to life? More than just the main one.) I thought about switching to Greek (it's up to us), but all things conspired against that brilliant idea: memory (none), desire (none), and reality: the New Testament passage in question is one of proclamation and, let's face it, I am way more attuned to narrative.

And when that thought occurred to me, the next one was: does that say something about a call to chaplaincy as opposed to a church, or what? Perhaps I will get something completely unexpected out of this last exam, in the form of clues for next year.

(And I'd love to hear from the other RevGals on this one. My sermons have been criticized this year for being exploratory rather than insistent. The assessment is accurate, but the question remains: Is there a place for exploratory, musing, contemplative preaching in the church? The events of the last seventeen months have made emphatic proclamation an impossibility for me. And, on the positive side, have made the journey through people's stories all the more compelling.)

I think I have to go to sleep soon; I'm exhausted. I hope I can pull this off and put testing behind me FOREVER.


Now it's six days later and I'm finally back home. Writing the exam was fine; I am getting much more adept at putting my personal stuff aside when I have to accomplish an academic task.

I spent some time on the phone this morning with a friend who has an urgent need to know about coroners, funeral homes, cremations, and ashes. I remembered how much it had helped me fifteen months ago to talk to friends who had that kind of knowledge and were willing to share it openly and candidly.

I have to say, the conversation this morning affected me a good deal more than writing the paper had.

Of course, the widow in the Elijah story turned out not to need the information that I now have.

(Louis Hersent Painting)

Monday, January 25, 2010


Today, in the midst of a sky-high pile of academic demands, I paused to remove my name from a parents-of-suicides email list.

I've been on the list for several months and, even though I receive the mailings in digest form, there are 10-20 of them a day. Sometimes many more.

I haven't read them often, but I've read them enough to learn a lot and realize a little beyond myself how much pain this kind of loss produces.

Discoveries of bodies. Autopsy reports. Clueless and insensitive family, friends, and co-workers. Depression and despair. Financial and legal disasters. Physical pain. PTSD. YEARS of immobilizing anguish.

I have been more fortunate than most.

Such an odd thing to say. Most of that inventory I know from personal experience. I came to a baffled and angry halt for several hours on Saturday, and woke up today in a state of almost complete despair. But before, in between, and after, I had productive periods and good conversations with friends ~ all of which I consider major triumphs.

I have realized over the past few months that I have had a huge thing in my favor. Despite my waiting and expecting it to happen, not a single person has confirmed my worst fears to my face by saying, "You can't do this. You couldn't even keep your child alive; for sure, you cannot be a minister. In fact, you can't be anything at all, ever."

No one has said it. (Of course, maybe they think it all the time. But it seems not.)

I have become grateful for some of the silence that has surrounded me; it seems to underlie an assumption on the part of others that I can, in fact, move forward in my life.

And so: I'm off the list.

The fact that I am the mother of three beautiful children and one of them is lost to me remains the predominant factor in my daily existence. I struggle all day long to accomodate it, and, as far as I can tell, I dream about it all night long as well

But I can balance other things at the same time now, and that's what I want to do.
(Painting: Anthony Pegg, Woman at the Window)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Break Time

I posted a bit about the Hebrew exam which we got yesterday and have to turn in on Thursday, and then had second thoughts, so I'll repost later this week. I was afraid that some kind of inadvertent discussion would ensue, and the last thing I need is to be the first person ever to have her exam discounted due to blogging.

It was kind of a nice day. I've stayed at seminary for the week-end, so I went to a GORGEOUS church this morning, a church at which one of our professors is the senior pastor. In the interests of even more discretion, I am not going to comment on the discussion some of us had afterward and my own observations contrasting this church with my home and field ed churches. Let's just say that between my classes and my experiences, I'm having a fascinating and enlightening year with respect to all the different ways worship might be.

It's been mostly dark and rainy so I've mostly stayed in and worked. (I did go for a soaking walk.) A fireplace would have made for a very nice afternoon.

Now I'm just exhausted. I plan to respond by playing around for a few minutes with one of those counters that tells where your blog visitors are from. So ~ if you're headed for someplace exotic, stop by for a visit!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ords Black-Out

I expect to be put of blogging commission for a few days ~ exams in theology and in worship and sacraments are on Friday, polity on Saturday ~ and then at noon on Saturday we get the passage and questions for the Hebrew exam, which is due the next Thursday. (Yes, I'm putting all my eggs in the Hebrew basket; my aversion to Greek is too strong and, while we know the Biblical books from which the passages will come, I haven't had any time for contemplating two alternate possibilities.)

Mostly I am incredibly busy, and behind on every front. I have no idea whether I will pass any of the exams in this round. But every once in awhile I pause and think,

"I am about to take the exams for ORDINATION AS A MINISTER OF WORD AND SACRAMENT."

I'm not exactly sure how that can be the situation, but it is certainly a daunting and breathtaking and monumentally humbling (an oxymoron, I suppose) one in which to find myself.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bad Bad Sermon Moments

Heard in the past week . . . (and paraphrased, due to the memory thing):

"I just don't understand why people absent themselves from church when they are in terrible pain ~ after all, community is where we need to be!"

and . . .

"If you think that God is absent from those who suffer (immediate context: Haiti), then you shouldn't be here!"

One of the writers on Fierce Good-bye says that, "I know from 4 years experience . . . that about half of all [suicide] survivors will either change churches, or stop going to church altogether."

Shall we guess why?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

That Little Question: Theodicy

As I prepare for my ordination exams, I keep tripping over the issues of suffering and evil. You'd think that I, of all people, would have a handle on them, but of course most of the explanations proffered in our couple of thousand of years Christian history are of little use in the face of reality, whether that reality be a family tragedy or something of the magnitude of Haiti.

In my roamings this morning, I found this, by Episcopal priest Matt Gunter. It's well worth a read. And if you're short of time, here's my favorite line:

"French poet, Paul Caudel, wrote, 'Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it away. He came to fill it with His presence.' ”

God knows my brain is so full of the bizarre conglomeration of material needed for the exams (Can you explain divine-and-human-in one? Whether to baptize a stillborn baby? How your church might purchase the vacant lot next door? The tension among ruler and prophet in I Kings? Anything at all?) that it has begun to leak. But I am going to file that line away for use forever.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Five

It's been months since I've played a Friday Five, but hey: why not today?

Jan writes:

In EFM this week, our question was, "If you were a color, what would you be?" So that's where this Friday Five comes from, at least its jumping off place.

1. If you were a color, what would you be?

Crayola Blue Green, the color of oceans and northern forests.

2. If you were a flower (or plant), what would you be?

A cactus: well-defended and prickly on the outside, hopeful for life on the inside.

3. If you were an animal, what kind would you be?

A cheetah: languid, elegant, and fast. Or maybe a porcupine: see number 2.

4. If you were a shoe, what type would you be?

A pair of Tevas: think beach and hiking trail.

5. If you were a typeface, which font would you be?

Mistral. It just looks like me.