Saturday, December 12, 2015

The God I Know

I am deeply troubled by what I have been hearing from those who call themselves Christians. 

I am a cradle Christian, a follower of Jesus, and an Episcopal priest.

When I worked in professional theatre, I encountered a number of people whom I call "refugees from religion."  Many had once been religious and most were spiritual.  But they had been hurt in the name of Christ, taught about an angry God who would condemn them for any of a number of sins, including, for some of them, being who they were.  The Gospel was not good news for them but had been used to scold, to criticize, and to shame.  In some cases - to destroy fragile spirits.  How deeply sad I was to learn that my beloved religion had treated such good and dear people in ways that drove them out rather than inviting them in.

I will never forget one friend telling me how much he had loved the church as a boy. He then turned to me with anguish in his eyes and asked me how he could continue to be part of something that told him that he would go to hell because of who he loved.  It didn't make sense to him.  It doesn't make sense to me. 

The God I know is very different from the ones my friends had been taught to know.  I did my best to show them the God I knew, not by preaching to them or trying to convert them but by demonstrating that not all Christians worship the Angry Hall Monitor in the Sky.  I talked about going to church and what I had heard in the sermon that week, not for their benefit but because I was excited about it.  Sometimes my friends and I engaged in conversations late at night about what we thought and believed about God.  A few asked if they could come to church with me.  One said he felt connected to church because on Sundays I always came to rehearsal dressed in my church clothes and it reminded him of his childhood.

Some of my friends were quite angry.  They would talk about how hateful Christianity is.  I would always defend my religion.  One friend and I got into a mild argument one day when he said something derogatory and I responded that not all Christians were like that.  He mentioned a Christian leader in our area, and I said, "He doesn't speak for me."  My friend demanded to know why the Christians who did not agree with Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or other Christian leaders of their ilk were not more visible.  He told me that we needed to speak up.  I have never forgotten that conversation. 

When I went to Israel in 2000, the trip that led me to pursue ordination to the priesthood, our tour visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.  I had a powerful experience at the children's museum there.  At one point we entered a room so dark that we had to hold onto a handrail to keep from stumbling.  Overhead a voice read out the names of children, their countries, and their ages - children who had been lost in the Holocaust.  Inside the dark room were candles reflected in mirrors.  When you looked at them straight on, you could see columns of individual candles stacked from floor to ceiling, about a foot from each other on all sides.  If you shifted your gaze a little to the side, however, the candles reflected into infinity, merging with the reflections of the candles in the next column, giving the illusion of millions of tiny flickering lights.  All those voices silenced.  All that potential lost forever.

I later wrote about that experience, "I could not take a picture of the tiny flames surrounded by all that darkness, but instead I had to memorize it, to etch it into the backs of my eyelids and into my heart so that I might never forget.  So that if I ever live in a time like that of the Holocaust, I will see those tiny flames, and I will stand up and say NO.  I will raise my voice against those who would snuff out the flames."

I don't own a TV station, and I am not the President of a university.  I do not have the power and influence of some of the more visible Christian leaders in this country.  But I do have a voice, and I can say that they do not speak for me.  Any Christian who is preaching violence against other children of God does not speak for me.  And let me be clear that all human beings are children of God.  

The God I know is the God of love.  
The Jesus I know came "to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." 
The Jesus I know said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" and told Peter to put down his sword.
The God I know gave up power to dwell among us and to die as one of us, loving us and forgiving us.
The Jesus I know endured death by crucifixion rather than lift a hand in violence.

The men who are proclaiming violence in the name of God do not speak for me, and they do not speak of the God that I know.  I pray that they will come to know the God I know.  I pray that Christians everywhere will be known for how well they love, not how well they defend themselves.  
I pray for peace for all of God's children.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Rainbows and Labyrinths - Advent Hope

God is so good.  I find this time of year hard, when the days are so short.  I thrive in the warm sun.  Ever since Advent last year I have also been struggling with some anxiety/depression that is made worse every time I turn on the news and every time I scroll through Facebook.  I despair of there being any wisdom or love in the world when I see over and over how badly we human beings treat each other.  And I find that even my to-do list can be overwhelming some days.  It has been recommended to me that when I feel one of these anxious "episodes" coming on that I get outside and walk.  When I complained to my therapist one day last January that I couldn't take a walk because it might rain, he said, "The worst thing that will happen is that you get wet."  I didn't appreciate the comment at the time, but I've come to see his point.

Today was one of those days when I was too whiny to walk.  It was chilly and so overcast that it felt like twilight inside my house all day.  I had run errands and done some house chores and was starting to move around the house aimlessly while craving sugar.  I kept telling myself that I needed to go out and walk.  When I went out for the mail, it had started to rain, and I just couldn't bring myself to be out in it.  At about 4:20 I looked outside and saw a glimmer of sunlight.  Just go, I told myself.

Out I went, bundled up, Ipod in pocket, hood up, scarf wrapped warmly around my neck.  As I walked out of my neighborhood, I could hear the sound of raindrops hitting my hood.  The air smelled of wet leaves and smoke from a wood fire.  As I turned the corner out of my neighborhood, I looked over the trees to the east and saw a rainbow.  I started laughing with delight.  "Thanks God!" I said out loud.  I took out my phone to take a few pictures.  The further I went, the brighter the rainbow got.  It lasted all the way until I got to the labyrinth.  I kept turning to look at it.  For awhile there was a double rainbow.  The bow went from horizon to horizon, arcing across the sky as the sun sank down. 

When I got to the labyrinth, I could see the sun setting in the west and the rainbow in the east.  Raindrops continued to fall on my head.  I've never walked the labyrinth when there was a rainbow before.  I walked on behalf of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who is in the hospital with a subdural hematoma today.  I also walked for a young friend who is having a challenging experience today and for Randy, my old theatre colleague, who lost someone dear to him.  I walked for those killed in San Bernadino and for those struggling in Chicago.  I prayed for all who are in the darkness.  In the center, I offered a blessing to Eastern State Hospital as I often do.  Peace.  Healing.  Wholeness.  Compassion and patience for the caregivers.  Bless this place as a place of healing.

I know I'm an idealist and probably naive.  But the good news of the Gospel tells me that God's going to win in the end.  The rainbow is the symbol of God's promise to us.  Whenever I see one I'm filled with hope.  I don't believe I've seen one in Advent before.  It was such a wonderful reminder to me not to give in to despair.  It may suck right now in many ways.  But that is not the end.  There is always hope.  Thanks, God.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

How Do You See God?

On my way to Newport News this morning I saw a sign saying there were wind restrictions on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  Not a problem for me since I wasn't going that far, but it was an indication of weather conditions in the area.  50 degrees with 15-20 mile an hour winds makes for very chilly outdoor sitting.  Brrr...  When I first arrived at CNU I considered sitting inside, but I ran into one of the staff who booed me when I said I thought it was too cold to be outside.  So I decided to give it a try.  I was bundled up in a base layer, clergy shirt and CNU sweatshirt with my down coat, scarf, gloves, and a prayer shawl for a lap blanket.  The blanket made all the difference in keeping my legs warm. 

Breathe in peace.  Breathe out love.  I started the new breathing exercise that my therapist has taught me.  Breathe in peace.  Breathe out love.  As I began praying for the campus, a young woman walked up to me with two beverages in her hand.  "Would you like a hot chocolate?" she said and held out one of the cups.  "Yes, I would," I told her.  "Thank you."  Gratefully I wrapped my gloved hands around the warm drink.  "I heard you say you were cold," she said as she headed off to class.  Wow.  These students are so thoughtful and generous.  I wonder if they are on all campuses, or if there's something special here at CNU.  I certainly wasn't that thoughtful when I was in college.

One of the Canterbury students brought her lunch out to eat with me, and we had a good conversation.  Tonight the group is having dinner together at Scott Baker's house.  When he's not busy priesting, he loves to cook.  I've heard rumors of tortellini soup and lasagna, and I made pumpkin and pecan pies.  It should be a fun evening, and 8 students are coming with me!  We're fortifying them for their exams next week.

One of the students from another campus ministry came over and brought me some more hot chocolate.  The CRU (Campus Crusade) students had a hot chocolate station in the Plaza today, while they were doing an evangelism experience.  My young friend invited me to go over so he could introduce me to the CRU team.  As people sipped hot chocolate, they were invited into conversation about some images that had been attached to a posterboard.  I understand that the images came from mysoularium.com.  The CRU students asked a series of questions about the images including:
Which three images would you choose to describe your life right now?
Which three images describe what you wish were in your life right now?
Which image would you choose to describe God?
and a few more. 
We had a fun time picking our images and saying why we had chosen them.  It was a great way to get conversation going, and I may use it with the Canterbury students or at SpiritWorks.  I talked for awhile with the student who asked me the questions and ended up saying a prayer with him, too.  He and his girlfriend want to be medical missionaries one day.  When I was in college I just wanted to get through exams!

Later on another student I know came up, clearly feeling the stress of the end of the semester.  He didn't have time to linger, so I offered him a hug.  Someone who I think is a professor rode by on a bicycle and asked for prayers for a person suffering with cancer.  For awhile I watched some men in a cherry-picker lift thingy putting up the big Christmas tree in the middle of the Great Lawn and fixing a giant star on the top - it will be lit Sunday night.  I had to keep shifting the station to stay in the sun but the shade rapidly overtook me, and finally I gave up and retreated to the campus coffee shop.  I had made it my full time, though, with a brief break inside for a pit stop and my usual visit to the OSA office.  The student aid there will be studying abroad in London next semester, so I was glad to get a chance to say good-bye to her and offer blessings for her next adventure. 

It may have been chilly and windy at the prayer station today, but the warmth of the students more than made up for it.  Whatever else it may be, Advent is the Season of Hope.  Spending time with the CNU students fills me with hope.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Acapella Thursday


Too much rain today - I had to move inside.  My usual indoor spot in the David Student Union was taken by a Christmas tree in the process of being decorated, so I shared the rotunda area with the ROTC recruiters.  It was a fun lunch because we were treated to a performance by the acapella group University Sounds.  I didn't even know that acapella groups were a thing until I saw the movie, Pitch Perfect, a few years ago.  There are at least 6 groups here at CNU.  One of the Canterbury students brought her lunch and sat in my extra chair, and I decided to pull out my lunch while she was eating hers.  We had barely started munching when the USounds began their three song set.  We had front row seats.  Students lined the walls of the rotunda to listen to the impromptu concert.  The group announced that they have a CD coming out in February.  I love being in a place where at any moment I can hear spontaneous singing!  If I'd been outside, I would have missed it.  At one point today I had four Canterbury students surrounding the prayer station as we listened to the mini-concert.  It felt like I was in the cool place.


My extra chair was full most of the time I was at the prayer station.  Several lengthy conversations
and a few prayer requests.  It's such a privilege to be a companion to students as they grow deeper in their relationships with God. It's getting to that time in the semester when tests, papers, and presentations are piling up.  Stress is building and sleep is hard to come by.  I pray for peace and endurance and patience and strength.  I pray for God to remove fears and give wisdom.  I pray for good humor.  Most of all I pray that students will remember that they are God's beloved children no matter how the grades turn out. 


Last week I didn't get to come to CNU because I was driving to Knoxville on my way to Sewanee for the 25th reunion of the class ahead of mine.  It was such a joy to get to see dear old friends and to join with them in a singalong 25th anniversary celebration of our production of Godspell.  CNU isn't the only place where singing breaks out spontaneously!  Because I went on the trip, I missed being here last Thursday, and it felt like I had been gone a long time.  Tonight is our last regular Canterbury meeting before the end of the semester.  Next Thursday is Thanksgiving, and the Thursday after that we will have dinner at Scott Baker's house.  He is a wonderful cook and treats the students to a home-cooked meal at the end of each semester.  Sustenance to get them through exams. 

So much gratitude for this ministry and the students whom God brings my way.  Especially in a time when most of the news is so disturbing - it's a blessing to spend time with all these young people.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Gum Wall

When Jan and I were in Seattle for the Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church Conference, we went to see the famous Gum Wall.  It's located in an alley below the Pike Street Marketplace.  A friend had recommended we see it, and since the Market was closed by the time we got there, we decided to look for this marvel of stickiness.  How grateful I am that we were there in October and not July.  I read that when it's hot the gum gives off a sweet, strong aroma and the pavement becomes sticky.  What surprised me most was the length of the walls on both sides that were covered.  So. Much. Gum.  It's really gross.

When I was a kid I liked to chew gum.  My mother bought my brother and me Trident sugarless gum, but we preferred Bubble Yum, Hubba Bubba, or Bubblicious.  I was also partial to Freshen Up gum, the kind with the liquid gel in the center that squirted flavor into your mouth when you bit down on the little square.  My mom liked to make her gum snap and pop when she chewed it, and I spent years trying to make the same crackling sound that she did.  She was also an expert on blowing bubbles, and with practice, I learned to do that too.  I'm not sure when my enjoyment of gum waned, but I know that I haven't liked chewing it in at least 20 years.  I find that the flavor lasts such a short time, and my jaw gets tired easily from chewing.  Plus, I get bored with it after a few minutes.

My high school drama teacher hated when students chewed gum in her class or onstage.  She would always make them spit it out.  I found a cross stitch pattern that I made for her one year as a Christmas present.  It had a picture of a cow on it and the following poem:
 
     "A gum-chewing student and a cud-chewing cow;
     Seem quite alike...
     but they're different somehow;
     The difference is clear...
     I see it all now;
     It's the intelligent look
     on the face of the cow."

My teacher loved it and hung it up in her room.  I can't imagine what she would think of the Gum Wall. 

The Gum Wall has been in existence for over 20 years, apparently started by patrons of the Market Theater while waiting in line.  I guess they began sticking their chewed up gum to the wall about the time I stopped chewing it at all.  A couple of days ago an announcement came out that later this month the wall will be scraped clean of the estimated million pieces of gum.  The sugar and chemicals in the gum are eroding the bricks, so a company is being brought in to blast it clean.  We will have been some of the last people to visit it in its current state.  After the gum from the past two decades has been scraped off, people will be allowed to put gum on it again, but I imagine it will take awhile to build back up.

Though I am glad I got to visit the Gum Wall (once), I did not feel a need to add to the strange artwork.  Hard to believe I've gone my whole life without knowing about it.  Seeing it did not entice me to buy a pack of gum.  In fact, it may have made sure that I never chew gum again!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Humans of CNU

Photo by Chris Shea, Humans of CNU
Today, right as I got to the prayer station, a student came up and asked if he could sit down.  He wondered if I was familiar with Humans of New York and said that he was doing Humans of CNU and that he'd like to take a picture of me and talk to me.  I said sure.  He asked me about the prayer station and why I was doing it.  He asked me what I was passionate about and what my hobbies were.  We had a lovely conversation, and he permitted me to say a prayer before he took my picture and went on his way.  I was honored to meet him and to be the subject of one of his posts.  You can see what he posted here

The interview was the beginning of an afternoon of conversations and prayer requests - it might have been the most I've had in one day.  My extra chair was filled most of the time, and people would come up for prayers even while I was conversing with someone else.  One student sat and ate his lunch with me and talked about the worship ministry he helps lead on Wednesday nights.  We mused on how worshiping in a place week after week for years soaks it in prayer.  It can become almost tangible - like a monastic community.  The place where they do their Wednesday night worship is right where I sit for the prayer station.  Pretty cool how all these different ministry groups overlap.
 
 Another treat of the day was getting to watch a group of male students sing "My Girl" to a giggling, blushing female student and then present her with roses and a t-shirt.  I asked someone what was going on and learned that a fraternity will go with a member who wants to ask someone to go with him to a formal.  They all sing to her a way of asking her to go.  I had seen a similar ritual on other occasions but hadn't known what it meant.  It didn't seem formal enough to be a marriage proposal, but it also didn't seem random.  The singers today did a particularly good job. 

While I was sitting, one of the CNU employees who drives the golf carts/Gators to pick up trash, drove up behind me and walked over to hand me a sprig of bush with a perfect white blossom at the end.  I buried my nose in it and inhaled deeply - can't mistake that fragrance. 
"Do you know what it is?" she asked. 
"I do!" I said.  "It's a gardenia." 
I held it out to my lunch companion and he smelled it as well.  I thanked her, and she hopped back onto her vehicle and drove away.  I have no idea where she found a gardenia on Nov. 5, but I stuck it in my cup holder, and its scent wafted over the prayer station for the rest of the afternoon.

It was labyrinth day again, and I had feared we would be rained out.  A terrible accident with a fatality had blocked I-64 this morning, so it took me over a hour to get down to Newport News.  When I arrived, it was pouring rain.  By the time I set up the prayer station, the rain was mostly over, but I had to wait to see if the Plaza would dry enough to put the labyrinth down.  It did.  More people came to walk it, a couple of whom brought headphones and listened to music while they walked.  What a great idea. 

The young man who had asked me to pray for the people who had stolen his bicycle rode by and told me that a friend had decided to give him his bicycle, so he was back on wheels.  He thanked me for the prayers.  These students blow me away. 

I got to have a nice long chat with a Canterbury student about writing and other fun things and another Canterbury student also came by for a bit.  Today was a day of rich conversations about future plans and prayer and if it's really God's plan when bad things happen to us and how to be present to those whose loved ones have died.  I also got to join United Campus Ministry and the new Lutheran Ministry group for a short evening service in the chapel before meeting with the Episcopal Campus Ministry students.  At the ECM meeting we watched part of Bishop Curry's sermon from his installation and talked about Moses and Prince of Egypt.  It was a most excellent day.

Whenever I'm asked to measure this ministry, I have trouble quantifying it.  Thanks to you, my readers, for being witnesses to the stories that are at the heart of it.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Telling Our Recovery Stories

Last week I went to the Gathering of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church in Seattle.  I will post more about the conference later, but for this post I want to talk about the exercise we did on the first afternoon.  Jan Brown (newly elected VP of RMEC) and Shannon Tucker (current president of RMEC) led a session on "telling our recovery stories."  Shannon moved us by sharing his story of addiction and recovery with vulnerability and honesty and a good sprinkling of humor.  And then Jan asked him to share his story in 5 sentences.  The distilled version was equally as powerful as the longer version had been. 

After Shannon's story, Jan invited those who wanted to give it a try to come forward and share their stories in 5 sentences as a way to introduce themselves to the whole group.  It was also a way to bring many voices into the room, not just those of the presenters.  I was astonished by the courage of those who shared.  One of the goals of the afternoon was to learn a new way to talk about our stories – instead of saying, “Hi, I’m Lauren, I’m a co-dependent/addict/alcoholic,” we were taught to say, “Hi, I’m Lauren, and I’ve been in recovery from co-dependence for 4 ½ years, and what this means for me is …”   Earlier in the morning Becca Stevens had talked about how our stories need to be stories of good news.  Hearing so many stories of recovery was seriously good news to me.  We often hear about how hard it is to recover, and yet it happens all the time.

Try it.  What would your 5 sentence recovery story be?  Don’t opt out – we all need recovery from something.  

Here’s mine:
1.  After a lifetime of exhausting myself striving to please others, I have been in recovery from co-dependence for 4 ½ years. 
2.  I now work part-time as a recovery priest with a non-profit in Williamsburg, Virginia and part-time as a college chaplain. 
3.  Sometimes it seems like I will never be able to let go of all my co-dependent behaviors, but I remind myself that I am a work in progress. 
4.  I am grateful for the health and happiness that I have found on my recovery journey.   
5.  Most of all I am grateful to God for bringing me the help I needed and for putting me in places where I can be of help to others.

Your turn. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dudes being Dudes

Last Thursday most of the visitors to the Plaza Prayer Station were dudes.  Not skateboard dudes.  Just the regular kind.  I don't know why I'm surprised when the guys come by to talk.  One of them has stopped by on a number of occasions.  I asked him about a small group that he's part of.  He told me about their meetings - where they share what we at SpiritWorks call "highs and lows."  They call them "ups and downs" or "nopes and dopes."  I had never heard the latter term, and he had to explain that it means the same as highs and lows.  After their check-in, one of them shares something that he's been thinking about and the conversation goes from there.  I told him how wonderful I thought it was that this group of guys could sit around and have honest, open conversation with one another.  Do guys get to do that often?  He said, "It's great.  We're just dudes bein' dudes talkin' about dude stuff."  I laughed with delight.  Dudes bein' dudes.

The next dude who stopped by blew me away.  He told me that his bike had been stolen and asked me to pray for those who had taken it - that maybe they would have a change of heart and make different decisions in the future.  His words stopped me cold.  I just looked at him in shock, unable to speak, astonished at the maturity and wisdom of his request.  He looked back at me and gave a sheepish smile and said, "I know it's kind of cheesy." 

"No," I told him, dead serious.  "It's not cheesy.  It's powerful."  I told him that I would absolutely pray for those who had taken the bike, and I did.  I told him that I was glad he had stopped by and glad to have met him.  Sometimes God teaches us things so gently.  I'm sure I would have had a few choice words for someone who stole my bike - and they wouldn't have been words of prayer.  How grateful I am to that young adult for his understanding of Jesus' message - to pray for those who have hurt us. 

Another young man came by a bit later and said he didn't really have a prayer request but wondered if there was anything I'd like him to pray for at his prayer group meeting that night.  I asked him to pray that those who need the prayer station will find their way to it.  He said he could do that.  And then, as he lingered sitting in the chair next to me, I told him about my other job, working with people healing from addiction, and asked him to pray for those who are struggling with addiction.  He told me that was something near to his heart and that he would do it. 

When I had  arrived at the Prayer Station I was disappointed and grumpy, irritated with myself because I had gone to the ticket office to get our tailgate pass for the Homecoming game, only to find out that they had sold out.  It never even occurred to me that could happen.  Though I couldn't have known, I felt like I had let down both students and parishioners who were planning a fun Saturday afternoon.  It was hard for me to settle in to a posture of prayer.  Again I was grateful for the gift of the students who bless me at least as much I as bless them.  Thanks, God, for the dudes and dudettes, for the young men and women, for the staff and faculty and even guests to campus who stop by the prayer station. 

As I was getting ready to leave, President Trible (PTribs to the students) stopped by to say hello.  He thanked me for my presence on campus and asked me when I would be restarting my weekly Communion service.  He told me he would help me promote it.  Hopefully next semester.  But you know, in a way, the prayer station is its own form of communion, a sacrament by which those of us who come to it are fed and nourished.  The gifts of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Evening at CNU

Several people have commented about the quality of the light in a picture of the CNU clocktower I posted on Facebook Thursday night as I was walking around campus.  It was a beautiful night, cool, but not cold, the light from the setting sun illuminating various parts of campus.  This post is going to be more of a photo journal of my time.  I had decided to dine on a margherita pizza that I purchased from Hearth-Fire Pizza, a vendor at the CNU Farmer's Market.  Dessert was a Royale cookie from the Student Union - chocolate chips, coconut, macadamia nuts and more!  I called it the cookie with all the stuff until the lady who works at the register told me the official name.  Delicious! 

Shadow in front of doors on right is Violin Guy
After eating dinner and sitting in the Plaza for awhile, I heard a violin start to play.  I've heard it once or twice before.  Turns out a student practices on the front landing of the new Christopher Newport Hall.  Violin Guy is what some of my students call him.  (Apparently they also have Jurassic Park Guy who wears everything from Jurassic Park, Jedi Guy who wears a brown robe, and Matrix Man who dresses like a character in the Matrix.)  Listening to Violin Guy transported me back to late evenings in Sewanee, walking through the quad with friends, having spontaneous leaf fights, and being startled by the melancholy notes of a saxophone played by someone sitting on the Chapel side steps.  It was like having a soundtrack for the evening.

I bumped into a couple of students who were standing on the Great Lawn finishing off snow cones and soaking up the final rays of the sun.  They said they just had to get outside for a few minutes.  After chatting with them for a few minutes, I circumnavigated the Great Lawn a couple of times, getting in a few extra steps, stretching my legs, and savoring the sights and sounds of the CNU campus with the violin music in the background. Students walked and biked past me, and a few rode skateboards or scooters. I heard an "Eeek!" as one young woman almost ran into me. "Sorry ma'am," she said as she rolled by, teetering on a skateboard.  "I'm just learning."  I laughed and told her she was doing a great job.

The clocktower looked almost magical in the orange glow of the sun.  I passed young couples holding hands as they walked and an older couple who were using an out of date map to look for a fountain that has been moved.


















I was surprised to notice a statue of St. Francis that I've never seen before.  Such an unusual representation.  Different from the old man in a monk's robe surrounded by animals in a garden.  Just past the statue of St. Francis, I might have seen a dawn redwood tree though I can't be sure. (By the way, scientific name of the dawn redwood:  Metasequoia glyptostroboides - one of the things I remember from my college Dendrology class.  Why is it that the less than useful information is what lingers in my brain while the more important things have disappeared as if they were never there?)  

I felt at peace as I strolled around the campus offering silent blessings as I went.  It really is a lovely campus, and it was a perfect evening to be out in it, just being.  Students seemed a bit more relaxed, having just returned from fall break.  One of the students who talks to me at the Prayer Station wheeled by on his bike and told me he had gotten engaged on Monday.  What a treat to be able to celebrate with him.  As I packed up my chairs and sign to get ready for the meeting with the Canterbury students, I noticed that most of the light had drained from the sky and a moon sliver hung over the campus buildings in the west.  Twinkle lights in the trees near the chapel gave it a holiday feel.  I walked around a little more, breathing in the night sounds and sights, watching the Big Dipper emerge, listening to the water in the chapel fountain, gazing at the play of light and shadow in the twilight.


What a delightful end to the day!



Thursday, October 8, 2015

CNU Labyrinth Walk

I took the SpiritWorks "Happy" Labyrinth to the Plaza at CNU this afternoon so that students could walk it during their midterms.  This labyrinth is also known as a Triune Labyrinth.  Turns out that the Plaza is a better location than the Chapel lawn if we want students to encounter it.  So many students came by and read the sign and stared at the labyrinth.  About 15 people walked it.  One student walked twice and another walked 4 times.  She said she had done a paper on the labyrinth but had never gotten to walk one before.  I was so pleased to be able to offer her the opportunity.

Since I began the Plaza Prayer Station, I have made the commitment that I wouldn't share the prayer requests or stories that I hear on this blog because they are personal, and I don't want anyone to find their story on the Internet, even if I don't identify the person.  But I wish I could share a few of the stories from tonight.  Suffice it to say, powerful things were going on in the labyrinth.  How privileged I am to get to hold the space for other people to encounter God.  How grateful I am for the ways that God showed up tonight.

I prayed for people as they walked.  One student practically ran along the path, as if it were a game.  She looked like she was having so much fun.  Three young men walked it together, all very slowly and prayerfully.  They called it a prayer walk.  It was mesmerizing to watch the three forms moving back and forth across the sacred circles.  Most got to the center and then just walked straight out, though I noticed that they wouldn't step on the lines.  One person rode his bike around the outside of the labyrinth a few times, not quite willing to dismount and take the walk.  A few students came up and asked me about the labyrinth but decided not to walk it.  Several clearly felt more relaxed after they had walked. 

I don't think the students get much contemplative time.  They're so busy with so many things.  What a gift some of them gave themselves today to be brave enough to come up and try something new - especially out there in front of everyone.  It was good to have the Canterbury students come and walk it, too - and especially wonderful that some of them helped me pack everything up and carry it to my car.  A group of us then went to see TheaterCNU's production of Noises Off!  I laughed so hard I cried.  I last saw that show in 1986 and had remembered it as one of the funniest plays I'd ever seen.  This cast did a great job, and the spinning set got applause, too!

What a delightful day full of love and laughter and labyrinth.  Bless them, God, as they finish this half of the semester and travel home for Fall Break.  Keep them safe as they travel and fill them with your peace.  Give them rest from their labor and the gift of laughter.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kyrie Eleison

It's been a hard week.  Lots of people are in pain.  There's a hurricane churning, building strength, pummeling the Bahamas, and stumping the meterologists who have NO IDEA what it's going to do.  And today, while I sat in the student union of CNU praying for students, faculty, and administration, watching brightly colored rain boots pass by me, and chatting with a staffer about a grief group at a local church, a gunman on another college campus in Oregon opened fire.  At least 13 reported to have been killed with more having been injured. 

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.  May their souls, and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

"The United States makes up only 4.6 percent of the world's population, but consumes 80 percent of its opioids -- and 99 percent of the world's hydrocodone, the opiate that is in Vicodin." (source ABC NEWS

Why are we in so much pain?

We often ask that question at SpiritWorks as we watch the terrible cycle of addiction playing out over and over.  Why are we in so much pain?

We are a country addicted - to painkillers, to alcohol, to food, to sex, to guns.  We are addicted to entertainment.  We are addicted to our own thinking and opinions.  We are addicted to violence.  We are in so much pain, and we seek to soothe it in so many destructive ways.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

I would like to rant about guns and the need to control them and the lack of will in the American people to value life over death.  I would like to rant about racism, poverty, and violence.  I would like to let out a primal scream in despair that we as human beings decree that other human beings are less valuable than ourselves, that other human beings are disposable.  I would like to raise my fist and shout at my fellow Christians, "Where does Jesus say that violence and weapons are part of the kingdom of God?"  Having more people with guns will not make this problem go away!!!

And yes, I know it's more complicated than that.  That is why my rant is so very short.  Underlying all of these issues is the pain. 

Why are we in so much pain?  What can we do to heal the pain?  I know the answer isn't more guns or more drugs or more violence or more food.  We can't soothe it away with substances.  We can't shoot it away.  We don't get rid of it by hurting others or judging others or having power over others.  If I understood him correctly, Jesus said we need to love others and surrender our lives to God.  Like he did.

Please, God, help us turn to you.  Help us to find healthy ways to deal with this deep pain that is swallowing us.  Please heal our pain. 

Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

CNU - Share the Love


Today's sermon - about the Plaza Drama a week and a half ago at CNU.  You can read more about the event in the Captain's Log here.
 "Share the Love"
The Rev. Lauren McDonald
Mark 9:38-50

Every Thursday between 12 and 2, I carry two chairs and a sandwich board sign into the Plaza at CNU between the Trible Library and the David Student Union.  My sign says, “How may I pray for you?  Prayers, blessings and conversation.  No strings attached.”  This is the second year that I’ve offered this ministry, and I’ve had the great privilege to talk with students, staff, and faculty who have stopped by with prayer requests or just to chat.  Many times I get to talk with students who are Christian but not Episcopalian, who are part of other campus ministries and who want to talk about faith and Christ or to ask for a prayer but who aren’t looking to join another group.

A week ago during my time at the Plaza Prayer Station, I heard from several students and staff members about an event that had taken place the day before.  On Tuesday night of that week, the entire CNU community received a notice from the Dean of students saying that a street evangelist was going to be in the Plaza during lunch the next day.  Apparently he had been there before, and I was told that there had been some heated exchanges as he told students to repent of their sins lest they find themselves spending eternity in flames.  This time he reserved the Plaza for his preaching, and the dean explained that he was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.

What happened next is that CNU’s LGBTQ- alliance organization, Spectrum, decided to sponsor a “Share the Love” event that would take place at the same time as the preacher.  Their goal was to talk to students about love and acceptance and to make their presence known.  They respected the open air preacher’s right to speak and peacefully gathered nearby with rainbow flags and signs that said, “Free hugs” and “Carry the Love.”

Thrive is another organization that showed up that Wednesday.  They are a campus ministry group that seeks to unite all the campus ministries.  They sponsor a large worship gathering one Friday evening a month.  Several of their members come talk to me at the prayer station and have participated in our Campus Blessing of the Semester.  They decided to partner with Spectrum in order to share the love that they believe God has for everyone. 

So let me recount who was there.  A street preacher who was preaching about sin and the need to be saved, Spectrum, the LGBTQ group who wanted to share the love, and Thrive, a campus ministry group who wanted to tell everyone gathered that Jesus died for them and that God loved them.  And then there were a whole lot of other students who showed up to see what would happen.  Some came because they were part of one group or another.  Some came because they were curious about what would happen or because they wanted to engage with one of the groups.  Some came because they were expecting, maybe even hoping, to see some sort of a confrontation or show down.

What happened was a peaceful gathering of groups who ordinarily would not coexist in the same space.  Everyone’s rights were respected.  The preacher preached.  The Spectrum students hugged people and carried banners and flags.  The Thrive people brought guitars and led the whole group in worship songs when the preacher took a break.  The CNU newspaper interviewed all parties and did an article and TV segment on the event.  There were some police at the edge of the Plaza, but they didn’t need to do anything because of the peaceful nature of the proceedings. 

Which of these groups was speaking in Jesus’ name?   
Which of these groups was putting a stumbling block in front of others? 

I’m not going to answer those questions. 
I’ve shared this story because of the way it ties in to our Gospel today.  The disciples have witnessed a healer who is not part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  When they complain to Jesus – like one sibling telling on another – “Dad, make him stop, he’s not one of us,” Jesus tells them not to worry about it.  Whoever is not against us is for us.

In this passage Jesus seems to have an eye on what the man has done – he has successfully cast out demons in Jesus’ name.  The fact that the man has been a catalyst for wholeness and healing is more important than whether he’s hanging out with Jesus and the disciples.  I might argue that there are some who use Jesus’ name to put stumbling blocks in front of others rather than to work for wholeness and healing.  But I think that Jesus would call me out, too, for judging my neighbor.  

Jesus doesn’t seem to want us to focus on what our neighbor is or is not doing or whether this group or that group is doing something the way we think they should do it.  He seems instead to be asking us to focus on ourselves - what we need to do to serve others and what we need to do to keep from putting stumbling blocks in the way of others.  How are we going to contribute to the healing and wholeness of the world?  How are we going to participate in God’s mission to reconcile the world to God’s self?  It’s so much easier to focus on what that one over there is doing than to focus on what we need to be doing.

What makes me proud of the CNU students is how the different groups assembled peacefully and promoted a message of love.  They didn’t all agree with each other, but they did respect each other, and they did, in fact, share the love.  I understand that the street preacher’s message became more positive under the influence of the students’ message.

In this passage I hear Jesus calling us to self-examination.  Looking at where we are contributing to healing and wholeness in the world as well as looking at where we are putting up stumbling blocks. 

This week I have also heard Pope Francis calling our country to that self-examination – to look at ways we need to work together to share the love of God with those in need.  There are so many ways we can offer a cup of water in the name of Christ.  So many ways we can tear down the barriers between us.  So many ways we can contribute to the healing and wholeness of the world. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Wind Wins

It was windy Thursday at the Plaza Prayer Station.  15-20 mph said my weather channel app.  After days of sweating in the sun, I had a foretaste of the chilly days to come.  A couple of students and a couple of staff people dropped by to talk.  One staff person who had visited a few times last year was part of a singing group that was preparing a CD to send off to the Grammy's that night.  He was so excited to share the news.  Another staff person wanted to talk about the big Plaza drama that happened last week when a street preacher came to CNU - that's another post.  The staff person
kept saying, "I think God loves all of us."  Yes, I agree.

My great disappointment Thursday was when I went in to visit the folks in the Office of Student Activities.  Visiting them was great, but when I returned, the wind had knocked over my sign.  The "How May I Pray for You?" part broke - not just the frame this time, but one of the little dowels that allows it to sit on top of the other sign broke right off. :(  Scott thinks the sexton at St. Stephen's may be able to fix it - I hope so!

Thursday was also a CNU Farmer's Market day.  Vendors come out from 3-6 on Thursday afternoons in good weather and offer their wares to the CNU community.  Pizzas, breads, fresh vegetables, tacos from the food truck, kettle corn, baked goods, jewelry, and someone brings the biggest bunny you've ever seen.  It gives the campus a festive feel.  I had wanted to have one of the pizzas for dinner, but they left before I got there.  It's fun to stroll around looking at the offerings and listening to the music provided by students.  Next week - I'm getting a pizza!

We had two new students at the group Thursday night - seems like we're growing just a bit.  Grateful...


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Clouds Over CNU

Storm clouds loomed over the CNU campus today during my time at the Plaza Prayer Station.  Other than a few minutes of drizzle, no storms materialized, much to my relief.  Many students commented on the humidity on their way into the DSU.  My hair curled into a frizzy mass after sitting in the moisture-filled air for two hours.  When the sun came out, it beat down on the Plaza, but most of the time it was behind a cloud.  One student giggled and asked if I was finding some shade in the shadow of the topiary.  I said I was like Jonah sitting under the plant outside of Ninevah.  She said, "Oh right, and then a worm ate it."  I laughed and said that I hoped a worm wouldn't eat the topiary.

A pleasant breeze blew occasionally, making it cooler than last week.  We are planning another Blessing of the Semester service for this coming Sunday.  I have invited the other campus ministries to participate, hoping to make it a more ecumenical event.  Since we say a prayer at each of the main buildings, I thought  representatives from the other ministries could say the prayers.  Sadly, I haven't heard back from them.  One student who I had reached out to who came to last year's blessing visited me today at the station.  I've asked him to offer the prayer for the DSU.  I hope he is able to come.  He kept calling it the Prayer Walk.  I wonder if I should rename it that - seems like that might be a more accessible name.  He also asked me about our Twitter handle.  Sigh...  I try so hard to keep up with social media, but I just haven't gotten the hang of Twitter.  I don't get it.  But I guess I need to figure it out because that seems to be the place to be at CNU. 

A few conversations today, no prayer requests, though one student who had come with a request last year stopped by to tell me that all was well in her world.  I had seen her go by a few times this year and had wondered if she would stop by.  She passed me today and then came back to give me the update.  She gave me a big hug.  I said, "Blessings on your semester."  She said, "Blessings on you!"

Today I spent time noticing all the different people walking by.  All skin colors, hair colors, heights, weights, clothing styles.  A few bald heads, someone on crutches, another with a cane for the blind, a third on a scooter.  Bicycles, skateboards, shorts, skirts, jeans, boots, sandals, lots of flip flops.  Some in a hurry, some strolling along, some hand in hand, others weighed down with heavy items.  Most with backpacks.  Waves of students in clumps, individuals walking alone.  An admissions tour.  Smiles and waves, frowns and heads turning away.  All God's children.  Bless them.

Oh, and you can visit us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CnuCanterbury

Or our new twitter account:  @CNUEpiscopal
Guess I'm learning to tweet!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Labyrinth at Sunset

Thank you God for most this amazing sunset!  After a lovely lunch and visit earlier today with my friend and mentor, John Kerr, I decided to walk over to the labyrinth for the sunset.  God did not disappoint.  It was a perfect evening for a walk - coolish with a slight breeze, but warm enough to be comfortable in shorts.  Not too humid.  Sky full of color.  Insects and birds singing sleepy songs.  On my way over I saw a flock of Canadian geese milling around in the grass.  When I got to the labyrinth, I walked and breathed and thought about the dance of the Trinity and how marvelous God is.  In the center I sang one of my favorite John Bell songs from the Iona community:
    Take, oh, take me as I am,
    summon out what I shall be.
    Set your seal upon my heart,
    and live in me.
Arms stretched out, palms upward, offering myself to God.  I am yours, my creator - work through me. 

Not long after I finished singing, I heard a sound and looked up to see the flock of geese flying over in their classic V formation.  One goose trailed behind, finding his way into one of the lines.  The leader honked.  I could hear the whoosh of their wings beating against the air as they flew.  I smiled up at them.

A few minutes later I noticed something dark moving across the sky over my head.  At first I thought it was a giant spider.  My memory flashed to a Piers Anthony Xanth book, read when I was a teenager, that described a spider ballooning itself across vast distances on a line of spun silk.  As I looked at it longer and rational thought set in, I realized it wasn't a spider, but it might be a leaf.  Since I was in the center of the labyrinth, I couldn't imagine where the leaf had come from.  As it descended, floating gently down, a bit of light caught it, and I saw that it was a white feather, a bit of down from one of the geese, separated from its source, fluttering down to the earth. 

One of my spiritual directors used to say that in centering prayer, when we return to our sacred word, we need to do so very gently, "floating like a feather on the breath of God."  She was quoting Hildegard of Bingen.  Tonight it looked as if the feather was floating on the breath of God until it landed on in the grass at the edge of the labyrinth. 

I felt a bit like that feather this evening as I walked, carried gently on the breath of God.  In a world that grows less and less safe, where refugees flee and police folk are shot, where it's criminal to be black and the distribution of resources is completely out of whack, where mental illness and addiction are treated as crimes to be punished not diseases to be treated, where you turn off the news to keep your heart from breaking, where there is so much that is horrible that we numb ourselves to keep from weeping - in that world there is also beauty and goodness and light.  Dynamic sunsets and caressing breezes.  Geese flying and feathers floating.  Birds and insects saying good night.  The groaning of our planet and her people continues, but for a moment there is a glimpse of something else, elusive and fleeting.

Breathe your breath into us, God.  Fill us with your peace.  Hide your children under the shadow of your wings.  Bring us all safely home.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Plaza Prayer Station: September is the New August

I won't complain.  I won't complain.  Before I know it, I will be wearing long johns and huddling around my little kerosene heater.  I will long for these days when I'm scooching my chair into the shade of a topiary, sweat dripping down my back, hoping the students don't mind soggy hugs.  We had some lovely cool and less humid weather in August, but today was like a sauna at the prayer station.  Not that I'm complaining!  One student came up and sat down beside me to chat for quite awhile - dressed in a suit.  I didn't understand why he wasn't melting.  He walked over to where the Student Assembly was handing out free cups of Rita's Italian ice and brought back an orange one for him and a strawberry one for me.  A perfect day for a sweet icy treat! 

A new faculty member stopped by for a prayer and said her two best friends from back in Kentucky are Episcopal priests.  The Catholic priest walked by and said I was braver than he was - it was too hot for him to sit outside today.  I also had a couple of students come by to ask for prayers about their ministries.  It never ceases to amaze me how much these CNU students long to serve God.  I feel privileged to be able to be a companion to them on their spiritual journeys.

The first hour I sat in the direct sun, but by 1:15 the sun had moved behind the DSU, and I was  in the shade at last.  Not much breeze today, but I was close enough to the doors that when the students went in and out I would occasionally get a blast of A/C blowing my way.  Shortly before I got ready to pack up, a young woman and her friend came over.  She said, "I just want to thank you for being here and providing prayers for everyone.  I brought you a muffin.  I didn't know whether you'd had lunch or not."  She held out her hand, and in it was a large blueberry muffin.  My heart melted, and not from the heat.  These students are so generous.  I asked her if I could say a prayer for her, and she said I could, so the three of us prayed, and I sat down to eat half of my muffin. 

Isn't it amazing how God provides?  I had been wondering how to deal with meals today since I'll be here until after 9:00 tonight.  Lo and behold, a generous soul with a blueberry muffin appears and offers me sustenance.  And it tastes better than how I imagine manna would taste! 

Last week the flowers around the topiary were yellow marigolds.  Today they were fuschia-colored New Guinea impatiens.  Constant change at CNU.  I went to visit my friend in the Admissions office, just inside the DSU and discovered the office has moved to the new Christopher Newport Hall.  So I trekked over to say hi to her in her new building.  Quite fancy but far away from where I sit now, so I probably won't see her as often. 

Seniors gone.  New freshmen walking around.  Admission office moves.  New faculty arrive.  Ebb and flow.  It's the circle of life.  I was glad to see that a couple of students who I thought had already graduated have just now become seniors - so I get another year with them after all.  Looking forward to another good year.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Return to the Plaza Prayer Station

I have one word for my return to the Plaza Prayer Station -   Gratitude.  Today I arrived with so much more confidence than the first day last year.  I had my sign and my chairs, and my spot picked out.  In front of the topiary surrounded by yellow marigolds, near the doors to the David Student Union, but not so close to crowd people.  As I sat down I had a twinge of sadness as I thought about the seniors who had graduated and would not be coming by to say hello or share their lunchtime with me.  I pulled out my rosary and said the Lord's Prayer and began my ritual of praying for Administration, Faculty, Staff, and Students.  I didn't get very far before a staff member who I knew from last year came up to request a prayer.  Then one of the Episcopal Campus Ministry leadership team came up and was joined in conversation with me by a student who may become part of ECM.  One of my guys from last year, the first one who ever spoke to me, dropped by for conversation and prayer.  A couple of new students eagerly came up to ask what it was all about and to request prayer for a prosperous school year. 

I sat and gazed out across the Plaza, smiling, as I prayed for blessings on the CNU Campus.  Last year on the first day no one came up to me.  This year I not only had prayer requests and conversation with new and returning students, but many people smiled and waved, and several read the sign and said, "Thank you," or "That's cool!"  I got to speak with the Catholic priests when they passed by on their way from Mass to lunch and chatted with both the new Baptist Campus Minister and the United Campus Ministries Campus Minister.  Lots of turnover in campus ministry at CNU this year. 

The newly finished Christopher Newport Hall Administration building with its gold dome peeked out at me from behind the Trible Library.  A cool breeze and mostly cloudy skies kept the temperature comfortable.  It was a perfect day to sit outside and pray.  Tonight we have our first ECM meeting.  I baked homemade chocolate chip cookie bars as a bribe snack.  I'm eager to see if any new students will decide to join us this year.

When I was explaining what I did to one of the new students, I said, "I'm the Episcopal Chaplain and I work with Episcopal Campus Ministry.  This prayer station is my ministry to the campus."  And it is.  I don't do it to advertise.  I don't do it to recruit new students for ECM.  I do it as a ministry to the whole campus.  As my mentor the Rev. Dr. John Kerr says, the ministry of a college chaplain is to faculty, staff, AND students, not just to a particular group of students.  I'm so grateful to be able to offer this ministry and to have the privilege of sharing the lives of the students, the faculty, and the staff.  May God bless the Prayer Station ministry this year and help those who need it to find it.
New Christopher Newport Hall

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Following My Dream

Since I was a child making up pretend stories and acting them out, I have wanted to be a writer.  I used to start writing down the stories that I liked to pretend, but I never got very far.  At the end of junior high I began keeping a journal and have continued that practice off and on throughout my life. 

As a teenager I wrote angsty poetry about whoever I was in love with at the time and had a few of them accepted in the school literary magazine.  Occasionally I talked my teachers into letting me write something in place of a regular assignment - for my entry in the 10th grade Math Fair I wrote a short story about math.  To my shock and chagrin, it won the fair.  I was embarrassed to take my project to the regional fair because the other projects had something to do with math while mine was creative writing.  Once I convinced my English teacher to let me write a poem instead of an essay, and I got an A.  There were lots of creative writing and journaling assignments in high school as well.

In high school I also wrote a play that got an honorable mention in the state Thespian Club playwrighting competition.  I think I was 4th out of 5.  It didn't matter to me how I placed as much as it mattered that I finished the play.  In college I wrote plays in the place of final papers for my Comparative Religion Class and my Contemporary Theatre class. I still can’t believe I got away with it.  Maybe the professors were as sick of reading essays as we were of writing them.

In my early twenties I took a correspondence course from the Institute of Children's Literature on writing short stories children.  I took the course while working at my full-time job as a stage manager for Virginia Stage Company.  I often had to send my assignments in late.  I did manage to write a few short stories and started to research where to send them for publication.

A few years after completing the correspondence course, I read Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, given to me by a dear friend.  I began doing timed writings about a variety of subjects including school lunches, things I wanted, things I didn't want, etc.  I moved on to Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.  A key component of that book is doing what Julia calls Morning Pages, in which you write 3 pages long hand every morning when you wake up.  I worked my way through Artist Dates and the Week of No Reading (not sure I could do that one today!)  To this day I will occasionally do morning pages as a way of clearing my head at the beginning of the day.

Shortly after The Artist's Way I had a month off from Virginia Stage, and I declared it my Month o' Writing.  Never has my apartment been so clean.  I cleaned the kitchen, including my 3/4 size oven and stove.  I cleaned the refrigerator, the claw-foot tub, underneath the furniture.  I had meals with friends and took breaks for walks.  Another writer friend of mine says that when she is supposed to be working on her next writing project her cats start looking at her with their heads tilted because their crazy human will clean the litter box three times in the same hour.  Sounds about right.

By the end of the Month o' Writing, I had written a poem and a short story.  Maybe I had started another short story.  Mostly I would write on my back deck in the evening when the air had been cooled a bit by a breeze.  I sat in my forest green plastic chair that I got from Wal-Mart and covered the matching round table with a dish towel to minimize smudges from dirt or bugs.  About the time that I had found my rhythm, it was time to go back to work.  I decided that I didn't need to quit my day job.  

In the fall of 1999 and the spring of 2000, I began writing prayers in a journal as I prepared to go on a pilgrimage to Israel.  I compiled some of them into a book, A Cup of Tea and a Prayer, that I gave to friends and family members as gifts.   After I returned from Israel I wrote my first real creative non-fiction piece about my trip, Stones that Speak: Stories of a Pilgrim's Journey.  I had never written nonfiction before (except perhaps for a school assignment.)  I didn't like reading it, and so I didn't think I'd like to write it.  I wanted to capture my trip, so I gave it a try.  I also wrote a short story around that time called The Sun Fairies, the last one I have written.  I submitted it to Fantasy and Science Fiction and maybe one more magazine, but it wasn't accepted. 

In 2001 I decided that I wanted to be a writer for real, for real, so I applied to the MFA program at ODU.  I had only taken three English classes in college.  On the application I wrote that I wanted to write science fiction and fantasy (because I love reading them).  I went to an interview.  I received two different rejection letters.  At the same time, my priest invited me to join a group of women discerning a call to ordained ministry.  It seemed clear that God didn't want me to be a writer.

As I prepared for seminary and began my first attempts at preaching, I discovered I had a knack for writing and delivering sermons.  Ah-ha, I thought.  That is what I need to be writing.  Sermons.  For the better part of ten years I have focused my writing attention on sermons (plus paper-writing during three years of seminary.)  Sermons are not easy to write many weeks, but they do have a set length - mine are usually four pages space-and-a-half - and I have scripture texts from the weekly lectionary that give me a jumping off place. 

I'd pretty much given up on being a "real" writer - you know, one that gets published and paid.  I have known since the Month o' Writing that I don't have the discipline to make a living from my writing, even if I did have a piece accepted for publication.  Writing sermons is fairly relentless, even for someone who doesn't preach every Sunday.  It has seemed like enough.

But something has been missing.

I still want to be a writer.  For real.  With a book and everything.

This summer I discovered the Muse Writer's Center in Norfolk.  I signed up for a class on Creative Nonfiction.  I have loved every minute of it!  Except the part where I have to drive through Hampton Roads rush hour traffic and both tunnels are blocked and what should take about 45 minutes to drive takes more than two hours.  Sometimes it's taken almost two hours to get home because of tunnel closures and construction.  But other than that, I have loved it.  Assignments, readings, detailed feedback of my pieces, in-class writing exercises, instruction on craft - it has been fabulous! 

I've written two pieces that my teacher says with more revision would be good to submit for publication.  I won't lie - I do hope I'll be published at some point.  Most of all, I'm happy to be working toward my dream of being a writer.