Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Patrick's Rune

Madeleine L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet has come to mind often in the past few days.  I'm sure I'm not the only one having that experience.  It's been awhile since I've read the Wrinkle in Time books, but I've pulled number three off the shelf because I feel compelled to read it again.  Something about madmen and nuclear weapons.

I'm grateful to Madeleine L'Engle for many things, one of which is introducing me to Patrick's Rune which she puts to such good use in A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  The Rune is from a longer piece, "The Lorica," which is attributed to St. Patrick.  Here it is:

At Tara today in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness,
       All these I place,
       By God's almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

I had forgotten about this rune until today when I saw someone else post it.  In this time of threats of fire and fury, of violent rhetoric, and hair triggers, I am grateful for words of power calling for God's almighty help and grace.  It's so easy to get caught up in the anger and fear, and I can't help worrying when I hear world leaders suggesting the use of nuclear weapons.

I share this rune/prayer in case it is helpful to anyone else.  We all have a part in shifting the energy toward peace, and I have gratitude for anything that helps us do so.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Writing Retreat

I spent the better part of this week at The Porches, a retreat for writers.  It was my birthday present to myself, to escape for a few days to the mountains to work on my book and to rest and to hike.  I did a bit of all three.  One of the other writers staying there came to the shared' kitchen while I was eating breakfast on my last day.  She was amused at the human capacity to forget what we've learned.  She was remembering how it takes some time to settle down to a writing rhythm, how she's learned that before and how she always forgets.  I also forget that.  The first day, I was so exhausted that all I could do was sleep.  And then I was disappointed in myself for not writing much.  The second day I got up early and took a walk and puttered and did some writing, but it was hard to settle in.  By the third day, I got right up and started writing.  When I do these retreats, I need to remember to plan to stay for a whole week if I really want to get something done.  Especially if I also want to hike.

My goal had been to finish the current draft of my book.  I knew I needed to finish some editing on the 2nd section and complete the third section and Epilogue.  At the beginning of the retreat the book was about 112 pages.  Now it is 135.  I did do a bit of polishing of the second section.  Now I'm thinking there may be 4 sections instead of three and the Epilogue turned into part of the 4th section, and I need to add a whole new beginning to the second section, and I wrote a bunch of new material that reads like a diary - first this then this then that happened.  So that will need lots more revision.  It's like a big sticky gooey mess, and I don't know how to clean it up.

Sermons.  They're not easy, but I can hold them in my head.  They are 4-5 pages, space and a half, 14 pt. font.  I haven't forgotten the beginning by the time I get to the end.  I have a scripture passage to work with, and I understand the structure.  Books are long, and I forget what I've already said.  This piece started out as a short essay for a magazine.  But it has grown and grown and grown, and I can't wrap my brain around it.

It reminds me of a time at my parents' house when my mother was trying some kind of hash brown/potato dish in the microwave.  The microwave was new to us at the time.  Now usually we had real potatoes, but I guess she was trying something new.  At any rate, the hash browns never cooked.  They kept growing and growing, and the more she cooked them, the more they expanded like paste.  We laughed so hard.  I think she had to throw the whole thing out.  Hopefully that won't happen with my book!

After writing all morning on the third day, I treated myself to a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a hike to Crabtree Falls.  I wanted to get into my body in a way that only a strenuous hike can do.  The first time I hiked Crabtree Falls was with two guy friends of mine on a cold November day in 2003.  Over the years I've hiked them many more times.  The trail is 1.7 miles straight up with switch backs that carry you close to the falls and then away through the trees and then back to the rushing water once again.  At the top there's a view of the surrounding mountains.  I don't always make it to the top, but this time I did.  Whenever I'm in the area, I can't resist returning to the Falls; they are like a magnet pulling me in and restoring me.

Now it's time to get back to my sticky, expanding book and hope that I can knead it into something readable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Comedy is Hard

I wish I were funny.

Seriously.  Being able to make people laugh is such an awesome superpower.  Think about how humor can cheer people up, lighten a heavy mood, diffuse tension, help people relax.  Laughter is healing.  It helps people take things (and themselves) less seriously.  It provides release.

Having a little humor at the beginning of a sermon (as long as it actually relates to the sermon) helps the congregation settle in and trust the preacher.  It opens people up and makes them more receptive to the deeper message that's coming.

But I'm not funny.

I try to be funny.  Jan cringes on the rare occasions when I get to make the Sunday morning announcements at Bruton parish because my brain thinks I'm supposed to be funny.  And inside my own head, I'm hilarious.  Only, the words don't come out right and I end up rushing through the rest of what I have to say because people are looking at me with a blend of confusion and compassion with a dash of irritation and I know I'm taking too long and I just want it to be over with so we can start singing a hymn and I can go back to reading the words of the Prayer Book which definitely don't require me to be funny.  Sometimes Jan reminds me on my way to make announcements, "Remember, you don't have to be funny."

I want to be funny.

But I'm not.  I'm earnest.  Earnest isn't funny.  At least not intentionally.  I did bring down the house one Sunday morning last fall.  It was the Sunday prior to our pet blessing.  It was also the Sunday before the parish oyster roast.  As I was advertising both events, I was struck with the irony that we were saying special blessings for pets in the morning and then eating oysters and shrimp in the afternoon.  What came out of my mouth was something like, "Next week we will have our annual pet blessing at the 9:15 service.  Those who have pets may bring them for a blessing, and if you're allergic to some of God's creatures, you might want to choose a different service.  In the afternoon we'll have our oyster roast where you can eat some of God's creatures like oysters and shrimp."  It just popped out!  Judging from the roar of laughter, most people seemed to be amused, but I was afraid I might be fired for being too ridiculous during announcements. And there were a few looks of horror at the thought of eating our beloved pets.

Another problem with earnest is that I often don't know when other people are being funny.  I don't hear the sarcasm in the question, and I start explaining.  Or I don't realize someone is joking and I'm giving an honest answer.  It's not funny when people have to tell you they're being funny.  Then I have to sort of fake laugh and try to make a joke about my own inability to understand a joke.  And I'm still not funny.  Sigh...

I know that being earnest has its moments.  Although I want to use humor to lighten the mood when I'm making a hospital visit, and sometimes I do, I've found that a little bit of earnest care and concern goes a long way toward helping someone in a vulnerable and frightening position feel more comfortable.  Laughter can be healing, but it can also be a way to deflect what's really going on.  In my attempt to be funny I may miss someone's cry to be heard and seen.

My high school drama teacher frequently used the quote, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard," when she was talking about acting.  In life, it doesn't seem like dying is easy for most people, and yet I understand the sentiment.  Earnest is easy for me.  Sincere comes with little effort.  But comedy?  Man, I wish I could be funny.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

You can sleep when you're dead!

When I graduated from college, I had the honor of being selected as one of the 2 stage management interns at Actors Theatre of Louisville.  Before I accepted the position, they told me that I would be working long hours for no pay for nine months.  I thought I could handle it.  At first I could.  I was tired, sure, working 60-80 hour weeks.  There was a space of 6 weeks in the fall where I only had one day off.  Mondays were supposed to be off, but sometimes I worked 10-12 hours.  Short days compared to the normal 16.  Sometimes, sitting in the curving halls underneath the stage of the Pamela Brown Auditorium, leaning against the cinder block walls, I would feel my head starting to fall forward on my chest.  "You can sleep when you're dead." was the apprentice/intern motto that year.  You can sleep when you're dead.  

During the Humana Festival of New American Plays, I got the chicken pox and was quarantined for 10 days.  I should have been hospitalized.  The day I came back I worked four hours, and after that it was straight back to 16+ hour days.  Sometimes I would fall down while doing changeovers between shows, tripping on the steps while carrying props or set pieces, and I would just lay there and hope that no one would notice.  Eventually I'd push myself back up on my feet and keep trudging ahead.  After all, you can sleep when you're dead.  

I'm not sure that's what God had in mind for people.  I've been reading books about Sabbath this year and how difficult it is to keep in our current time and culture.  God commanded us to keep Sabbath because God rested.  God.  Are we more indispensable than God?  I'm reading Wayne Muller's book, Sabbath.  He writes:  "Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest.  And for want of rest, our lives our in danger." (p.1)  

Today Jan and I sat in rocking chairs on the porch of the Inn at Kanuga.  Partly we were discussing the workshop she was about to lead, but mostly we were just sitting.  Rocking.  Looking up through the leafy hardwood trees in front of us to the clear blue sky above.  Gazing at the white cross on the opposite side of the lake.  Feeling the soft breeze brushing against our faces.  
We had a few moments of Sabbath in a long conference day.  

Jan commented that you have to feel comfortable in your own skin to sit and be and that many people wouldn't allow themselves to take the time because they would be too worried about what they weren't accomplishing.  I am so grateful we took the time.

Tonight we walked the Kanuga labyrinth and it called us to dance and play.  Silly walking and jumping and laughter.  Renewing after a day of heavy conversation about addiction and opioid deaths and how to reach the different generations of the church.  

Yes, life is full and rich and carpe diem and all that.  Yes, we can sleep when we're dead, and we want to be awake while we're alive.  But if we don't sleep, if we don't take time for Sabbath rest and play and prayer, we're dead on our feet.  Rest, my friends.  Allow yourself to rest.  Don't wait till you're dead.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Walking for Peace

I love it when God shows off.

Today was world labyrinth day.  The Labyrinth Society invited people to "Walk as One at 1, joining others around the world to create a wave of peaceful energy across the time zones."  Since I was part of a funeral at that time today, and because it was 90 degrees when I made the plans for our walk two weeks ago, I had decided that our group would walk at 7pm, thinking it would be cool and that we would catch the sunset.  Instead of a 90 degree day, the temperature barely got into the 60's and was mostly overcast with some drizzle - until about 6:30pm when the sun came out and the clouds blew away.  Jan and I bundled up in turtle necks and sweatshirts and headed out after the Derby to Eastern State Hospital for our walk.

Between the weather and prior commitments, very few people made it out, but those who did were rewarded with a very special walk.  We were walking for peace.  As I walked, I breathed in peace and breathed out love, and the lyrics of "Prayer for Peace" came into my head:
     Peace before us, peace behind us,
     peace under our feet.
     Peace within us, peace over us,
     let all around us be peace.

I prayed for peace in the Middle East and Syria and North Korea and for the President of the U.S.  I prayed for peace for all those who are using drugs in an attempt to find peace.  I prayed for peace for the residents and caregivers at Eastern State Hospital.  I prayed for peace for our country and the world.  I prayed for the Navajo people and the water protectors.

As I walked I saw mockingbirds and robins, blue birds and crows.  The waning moon ducked in and out of clouds wisps.  About halfway through the walk, A mass of clouds passed quickly over our heads, and I thought I felt a drop of rain.  The light of the sinking sun turned them golden/orange.  I wondered if we were going to have a little rain shower.

On the way out, I was on one of the outer loops of the labyrinth when I looked up and saw a rainbow stretching from horizon to horizon.  I halted and broke into a smile.  I caught Jan's eye and pointed.  Another one of our group turned to see what we were looking at and stopped to gaze at the bow that had doubled in sections.  I kept grinning as I rapidly deleted photos on in my phone in order to add a few more.  The rainbow remained for most of the rest of my walk.  I looked over and saw the three who had finished before me sitting on the cinder block wall, their heads turned toward the bow, mesmerized.

The rainbow is such a symbol of hope.  Walking the labyrinth on this world labyrinth day and seeing the bow of many colors arching over us, I felt peace washing through me.  Thanks, God, for the reminder of who is in charge.  Thanks for turning the walk for peace into the walk of hope.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve Morning Reflections

I sit on the love seat in my living room with Spirit the cat purring behind me as she takes her morning nap.  Rain patters on the windowsill outside.  Christmas tree lights shine through the gloomy morning.  My Christmas Eve sermon is finished.  Five services tonight, and I get to preach the last two.  We will truly rejoice and celebrate the birth of the Christ child.

Lessons and Carols from Kings College streams from my computer.  So many memories as I listen.  Singing Advent Lessons and Carols at Sewanee was one of the highlights of my time in college.  I hear so many of the carols we sang, and I love listening to the lessons again.  Voices soaring.  How grateful I am for this time to sit and be.

A few weeks ago, on my first day driving after my surgery, I remembered the words of Mladen Kiselov, "Today we go slow - like baby."  We were starting technical rehearsals for Tales from the Vienna Woods, my first show as a stage management intern at Actors' Theatre of Louisville.  Mladen was the director, and he addressed the cast and crew in his Bulgarian accent as we started a long day of integrating actors, sets, lights, sound, and all the other elements of production.  "Today we go slow - like baby."

I had thought that's how Advent would be this year.  It had certainly started out that way - I couldn't even go to services on the 1st Sunday of Advent because I needed to rest.  But I found that I didn't go slow.  Too many things to take care of.  Too many activities.  And once my doctor had told me that I was released to do anything I felt up to doing, I just couldn't hold back.

On some days that was hard.  But I'm glad I was up to it, even if I was tired.  When we teched Vienna Woods, we didn't really go that slowly either.  We had 15 hours to put it together before 1st Dress.  We started out slowly, yes, trying to put everything together, but we had to speed up in order to be ready in time for the audience.

So, too, this Advent.  At first I had to rest so often.  But then I started speeding up.  How could I have missed hearing The Messiah with the VA Symphony?  Or the transcendent Christmas concert by the Bruton Parish choirs with John Rutter's Gloria?  I wouldn't have wished to be anywhere else than with those I was able to visit.  The Christmas gathering at SpiritWorks and the sending of Christmas letters and the choosing of special gifts and the conversations and the connections.  I couldn't keep going slow.

But the reminder is always a good one for me.  Going slow like a baby means allowing time to learn, to progress at the pace we need.  Sometimes we can push ahead, but sometimes we can only move so fast.  This morning I'm going slow, but soon I will need to pick up the pace to be ready for tonight.

Whatever speed your going this year, peace and joy to each and every one.  Christmas blessings!  May Christ be born in you.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Small Moves, Small Moves

As I've been recovering from my surgery, my world has narrowed.  My bed, my room, my house.  Just stepping outside the front door feels like an adventure.  For someone who is usually very active and busy, I have had to adjust my expectations.  I'm amazed at the joy I find in achieving the smallest things each day.  I've also been amazed at how hard it is to keep my daily goals small and doable.  I'm reminded of the movie, Contact, with Jodie Foster, in which the child, Ellie Arroway, (Jenna Malone) is adjusting the dial of a ham radio receiver in an attempt to make contact with someone out there.  As her father watches her frustration, he advises, "Small moves, Ellie, small moves."

Small moves, Lauren.  Small moves.  The past two weeks have been about setting small goals and then achieving them.  Or not. Sometimes I pick something that is too hard, and then it's like Ellie turning the receiver dial too much - she winds up with static, and I wind up disappointed by my limitations.  Having the goals gives me something to look forward to, something to work toward, something I can discuss when people check on how I am. Here are a few of them:

Tuesday:  get through surgery, manage pain.  ✓
Wednesday:  walk downstairs and sit on couch.✓
Thursday:  have a BM, shower, change clothes, take a 5 minute walk.  (Way too many goals.  Only achieved the first one.  It's surprising how much you talk about bodily functions after surgery!)
Friday:  have a shower, wear clothes that aren't pajamas, take a short walk.  ✓✓✓ (Did it!  Jan helped me to the mailbox and back.)
Saturday:  take a short walk. ✓ (Jan helped me walk 1/4 way around neighborhood.)
Sunday:  go out to lunch with Jan.  (Too ambitious.  Had to rest from walking the day before.)
Monday:  go to the grocery store. ✓ (Jan took me to lunch and Nicole took me to the grocery store.)
Tuesday:  write some ty notes, make 1 lap around the neighborhood. (about 1/2 mile.)✓✓
Wednesday:  make pumpkin and pecan pies.  ✓
Thursday:  go to Thanksgiving potluck dinner at SpiritWorks.✓
Friday:  walk labyrinth. ✓
Saturday:  go hear bell ringers in CW.✓
Sunday:  go to Celtic service in Richmond for Advent 1 (too ambitious, couldn't do the hours in the car.)

See how small my world has become?  I was so thrilled the day we walked the labyrinth because I was outside in the sun, and walking around my neighborhood has never been so exciting.  Usually that's the walk I take when I'm being lazy and just trying to get in a few steps.  But the two times I've done it, I've gone so slowly, noticing the sun backlighting the golden leaves, feeling the crunch of the leaves under my feet, (HA!  Durn leaf blowers couldn't get them all!) breathing in the chilly, invigorating air, that it has felt like a long journey.  Each time I've been proud to get all the way around.

Having my world narrowed has broadened my gratitude.  So many things to be grateful for.  Gradual healing, time to rest, visit from my brother, excellent care from Jan, beautiful flowers from friends and family, gifts of soup and chicken salad and pumpkin bread and milkshakes, the warmth and purrs of Spirit as she warms my neck, the sweet ball of fur I call Shadow sleeping on my legs, phone calls from family and friends, a delicious Thanksgiving feast, cards and cards and cards.  I feel so loved and supported in this time.

I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to go to the Celtic service tonight.  It feels strange not to be in church for Advent 1.  It seems like every time I take two steps forward, the next day I take one back.  If I want to go back to work on Tuesday, I need to honor my body's needs today.  And today my body needed rest.  Being sick or having surgery teaches me compassion for those who live with sickness or injury all the time.  How hard it is to accept our limitations.  Grateful for the lesson.

Tomorrow's goal is to drive for the first time in two weeks.  And Tuesday I preside at the 7:30am service at Bruton.  There are so many things to be praying for right now.  Will you add me to your list?  Please pray that I can accept the things I am not able to do this week, that I have the energy and strength to do the things I can, and that I have the wisdom to know the difference.  And that I keep resting when I need to.  Small moves, Lauren.  Small moves.

Thank you for your prayers and support.  I am so grateful!!