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!!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Surgery, Self-Care, and the Election

On Wednesday morning I woke up with dread in my heart and went downstairs to turn on the news. When I saw the headline, I instantly turned it back off.  I didn't watch anymore, and I didn't look at FaceBook for a few days.  I started to sink into a depression as I imagined all the terrible things that could happen, the most frightening of which had to do with nuclear weapons.  By the time I got to Morning Prayer with my fellow Bruton Parish clergy, I was barely able to lead the service as I choked back tears.  The words of the liturgy were comforting, and I was grateful I could just read them.

Later I asked to assist at our healing Eucharist.  When someone asked why there were two clergy there when we usually have one, I answered, "Sometimes you just need to be at church."  I needed the Eucharist.  And I wanted healing prayer.

I'm having surgery on Tuesday.  I have a dermoid cyst in my right ovary causing it to more than double in size, and the whole thing has to come out.  Turns out dermoid cysts are weird things that contain genetic material like hair, bones, teeth, and skin.  As a child I thought I came from another planet.  Seems as an adult I have a little alien inside.  Alien removal will happen on Tuesday.

The surgery will be outpatient, laparoscopic, and should take less than an hour.  No big deal.  But I will need time to rest and recuperate from the procedure and the anesthesia. And I know I can't go into it in a state of depression.  I have to keep my spirits up so that I will be able to heal.

So I have been working to take care of myself.  That means I have to be careful about how much news I can take in.  I have to eat right and sleep and walk.  I've had my house cleaned and took my car to get the oil changed.  I'm walking the labyrinth. And I even purchased a new bed, since the one I've been sleeping on is at least 25 years old.  On the airplane they say that you have to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help someone else with theirs.  If I don't take care of myself, then I won't be able to help anyone else and I will have a slower recovery from surgery.

Today I took a walk to the labyrinth after finishing my sermon.  The sugar maples blazed in their glorious fall foliage.  How I love them.  I soaked up the beauty, listened to the chirps of small birds, felt the crunch of acorns under my feet, and walked the sacred path, sinking into God's peace.

Most of all, I have been staying close to God.  How grateful I am to know that God is in charge.  Maybe I'm in denial - certainly I am appalled by the things that the president-elect has said and done, and I'm horrified at the potential for damage to our country and harm to those most vulnerable.

AND, I believe that God works through everything.  Even when I don't know how.  So, my friends who are grieving, raging, despairing, and afraid, I hear you.  Take your time to feel your feelings.  Be gentle with yourselves and your loved ones.  Take walks.  Plant bulbs.  Dig in the dirt.  Feel the sun on your face.  Give your bodies good food and move around.  Turn off the electronics for a bit and hold your loved ones close.  Be gentle.  Be gentle.  Be gentle.

There will be much work to be done to stand with the oppressed, to reach out to those in need, to hold the leaders accountable.  I am hoping and praying that things will not be as bad as they appear, but if they do go that way, we will need our strength.  We will get through this.  We must take care of ourselves so that we can be there for those who need us.  Love will win.  If you can't believe that now, I will believe it for you.  Love heals.  Love wins.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Practice

I grew up in a family that loves sports and watches them fairly obsessively.  Especially college football and March Madness.  And the Braves.  And Wimbledon.  And the US Open.  And golf.  You get the picture.  As an adult, I have enjoyed a largely sports-free life. 

Except for the Olympics.

I love the Olympics.  Gymnastics has always been my favorite since I watched Nadia Comaneci in 1976 when I was a small, seven-year old girl.  Now I also enjoy watching the swimming and diving, track and field, beach volleyball, and many of the other competitions.

Like many young girls who watched Nadia, I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast.  Let me be clear that this was not a realistic dream.  But I wanted it even so.  When I was about 10 I preferred turning cartwheels to walking.  In class softball games, I always took an outfield position because I could do cartwheels instead of having to pay much attention to the game.  I took gymnastics lessons.  My dad made me a balance beam and even hung a bar between two pine trees in our backyard so that I could practice at home.

What makes the Olympic athletes so good is their practice.  As much as I loved gymnastics, I would never have been Olympic material because I would never have been willing to devote myself entirely to the practice.  Maybe to turning cartwheels everywhere I went, but not to the real gritty practice where you get rips in your hands from the uneven parallel bars and your feet are blistered and your muscles hurt most of the time.  If you want to get to the Olympics, and even more if you want to win a medal, you have to give years of your life to practice.

Even if you don't want to be a medalist in a sport, to enjoy it, you still need to practice so that you have the skills you need and so that you're ready both mentally and physically, whether it's for a fun game among friends or for some kind of competition.

Spiritual practice is not unlike the practice needed for sports.  We don't have Spiritual Olympics.  (If we did, I'm betting Desmond Tutu would get the gold!)  There's no competition in prayer.  Now way to win, and thankfully you don't have to "beat" someone else.  And yet the practice is equally important.  Because there are spiritual challenges, and they often come when you least expect them.

Regularly engaging in whatever spiritual practice we have chosen is what allows us to be ready when the challenges come.  If meditation or labyrinth walking or praying in color or lectio divina or centering prayer or the daily office or some other spiritual discipline becomes a habit for us when things are going well, then we will turn to it much more easily when the bottom drops out and we're faced with something difficult.  Whether it's a diagnosis or a loved one's death or listening to one more story of violence on the news, we will have our default practice in place so that we can stay grounded in the midst of whatever happens.

In his book, The Naked Now, Richard Rohr says, "We must move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion, or little will change."  Belief is certainly important, but if it doesn't influence how we act, then I'm not sure how it's helping.  If I go to church and say that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, but I don't go out and treat my neighbor with dignity and respect, then I'm not sure what good my belief is.  I'm not talking about getting into heaven.  I'm talking about being a follower of Christ.

As I think about Richard Rohr's assertion, practice seems to have two meanings to me.  First, we need the practices of our religion, those spiritual disciplines that enable us, not to earn a place in the afterlife or to win a spiritual competition, but to grow more deeply in faith and to respond to whatever comes from a place of centered maturity.  Second, a practice-based religion would be about how we live our faith rather than just what we believe. 

If we were practicing our faith more, then I believe there would be less hostility in the world.  And I don't think that's just a naive idealism. 

Ever since I have adopted walking the labyrinth regularly as one of my spiritual practices, I have noticed a change in my life.  Less anxiety.  More authenticity.  More creativity.  More love in my heart.  More ability to forgive.  It's not something that happens instantly - oh, walked the labyrinth today and all my troubles melted away.  It's the day in and day out walking, even when I don't seem to get anything out of it, that has deepened me in ways I'm not even sure I fully understand.  I walk it now when someone dies.  I walk it when I'm feeling anxious.  I walk it when big events happen whether good or bad.  I walk on behalf of others.  I walk on behalf of myself.  Over the years I have tried a variety of spiritual practices, and some I continue to use, but walking the labyrinth allows me to engage my whole body, mind, and spirit in my practice. 

The labyrinth isn't for everyone.  But whatever your practice is, (if you don't have one, I encourage you to find one,) consider this encouragement to keep going.  Keep going deeper.  Keep practicing.  Keep growing.  We have to find away to work together in our world, if we don't want it to be destroyed.  I believe that spiritual practices help. 

We may not win a gold medal, but we may help save our planet and the people who call it home.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Love is love is love

I confess.  Despite the urging and enthusiasm of some of my best-loved friends, I have not gotten on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Partly because I don't like rap.  Or hip hop.  It's hard to convince myself that a rap musical is something I would enjoy, no matter how clever and brilliant it may be.  My brain is just too slow to follow the rapid patter of words.  Part of it is stubbornness.  Sometimes I resist simply because everyone is telling me that I have to.  I have come late to many good things because I didn't want to join the lemmings, even though sometimes the lemmings are jumping into something amazing, and it would benefit me to be running with the pack!  So until now, though I have smiled at my dear friends' addiction to Hamilton, I have refused to engage with it.

On the Sunday of the Orlando shootings, I heard something about a shooting before heading into church, but somehow it didn't penetrate.  It's like my brain said, "Does not compute."  Maybe it was because the news story was so brief and there seemed to be so little information.  Maybe it's because I've become acclimatized to stories about shootings. 

It wasn't until I got home from church and checked in online that I discovered what had truly happened, and it started to sink in.  But I still couldn't feel anything.  I knew that this was a terrible, terrible thing, but I couldn't connect to my feelings.  Numb.  Depressed.  Discouraged.

After an afternoon of aimlessness, I turned on the Tony Awards.  I used to work in the theatre, and I used to watch the awards show, though I haven't always remembered in recent years.  These days I rarely know any of the plays.  I tuned in a few minutes late but in time to see the brilliant opening number that reminded me so much of a number we did in our high school one-act production of Magic! written by my high school drama and music teachers, Robin Bennett and Janice Folsom.  It was a collage of songs from musicals suggesting that "That could be me" in each one of them. Watching it transported me back to my childhood room where I listened to the cast albums of all those musicals and played all the parts.  

The rest of the night made me so proud of the arts community, for their passion and compassion, for their collaboration and inclusion, for their humor and joy, for their talent and brilliance and dedication.  Their witness shone out against the darkness, and I am grateful.  Watching all the performances made me nostalgic for the theatre.  Or at least for theatre people and opening nights.  Nothing can make me nostalgic for production meetings at midnight!

As expected Hamilton won many awards.  But what blew me away was Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance speech.  He wrote a sonnet.  If you didn't get to catch it, click here. A couple of the lines really hit me in light of what had happened in Orlando.  "When senseless acts of tragedy remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day."  Oh yes.  My heart is breaking for the families and the loved ones of those who died.  Not one day is promised, but they didn't think it was today.  It was so unexpected - and it could happen anywhere at anytime.  This addiction our country has to guns and violence is something I cannot understand.  How do we stop the fear that seems at the heart of it all?

Not one day is promised but the enormous numbers of young people overdosing on drugs didn't think it was today.  We are losing them to heroin and other opioids.  Our country uses 99% of the worlds supply of hydrocodone (found in Vicodin).  Why are we in so much pain?  This may seem a non sequiter, but pain and fear are at the core of all this violence and death. 

Not one day is promised.  All we have is today is today is today.  Dear God, please help us use it for good.

Lin-Manuel's sonnet went on,
  "We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
  We rise and fall and light from dying embers
  Remembrances that hope and love lasts long
  And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
  Cannot be killed or swept aside"


Hate and fear seem stronger, but they are not, despite how it may seem right now.  Love and hope last longer.

Love is love is love is love is love is love is love. 

I believe in God who is love.  God who loves every single person whom God has created, including all of the people seeking safety and celebration at Pulse and even the man who gunned them down.
Love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside. 
Sisters and brothers reading this, we must work together to let go of our fear and to heal our individual and collective pain.  We must. 

I still have not listened to Hamilton, but I'm getting closer to being willing.  Its creator has inspired me.  Thank you Lin-Manuel and the Broadway community, for the evening of hope.  Thank you God, for the love.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Remembering Marlene

Sometimes I walk the labyrinth to honor a person who has died.  On Tuesday night I walked for Marlene Linz, who died from cancer last Saturday.

The first time I met Marlene (I believe) was on the weekend that Peter proposed to her.  We were at Camp Mikell, where Peter and I had met as campers and served together as counselors and summer staff.  The first week I knew Peter, I was a rising sophomore in high school, and he was a senior.  I fell head over heels in love.  Sadly for me at the time, Peter fell head over heels for another girl in my cabin.  He was kind and gentle, but he had eyes for someone else.  At the end of the summer I wrote him a letter proclaiming my love for him, and he wrote back telling me he hoped we could be friends.  We have been ever since.

Over our years together at camp we grew close.  I so admired Peter for his enormous talents.  He could sing, dance, act, lifeguard, tell stories, and play guitar.  He loved puppets and hoped to become a puppeteer.  Best of all, he loved the kids at camp like I did.  Over the years I redeveloped crushes on him, but we were always best as friends.  We commiserated with each other through broken relationships and celebrated together when things were going well.  I often caught rides with Peter to and from camp sessions.  Once Peter drove 3 hours up from Atlanta to Sewanee, where I was in college, to sit and comfort me for a couple of hours during a particularly difficult time, before driving back 3 hours so he could be at his internship at the Center for Puppetry Arts the next day.  One of my favorite things in life was sitting around a campfire while Peter played the guitar, and we all sang along.

Peter and Marlene at Guest Camp
When I met Marlene at Guest Weekend at Camp Mikell one Labor Day weekend, I knew that Peter had found the perfect woman for him.  She loved him, but she did not get pulled into the "Peter fan club" behavior that some of us had a tendency to do.  She was beautiful and down to earth.  She was creative and practical.  I heartily approved and was thrilled when I learned he was proposing to her that weekend at camp.  I was blessed to attend their wedding and have visited them on and off over the years.

Peter's dreams came true as he began working on Sesame Street and then Bear in the Big Blue House and Between the Lions.  He and Marlene moved to New York where I visited them many times.  I was always impressed with how grounded Marlene was and how devoted she was to her children.  She also had a passion for pottery.  I prayed hard for her when she had to stay on bed rest for months during her first pregnancy with twins.  I don't remember exactly what it was she did during that time, but it was something creative that she could do from her room, and I remember appreciating her determined spirit. 

I later prayed hard for her when I learned she had breast cancer and again when I learned that it had moved to her brain.  Peter says that she did not fight cancer, she lived with it, and that is true.  Oh how she lived.

Jan and I spent New Year's with Peter and Marlene and their children in 2012.  Marlene was undergoing chemo and had her head wrapped in beautiful scarves.  I wasn't sure whether she would be up to company.  Jan and I were taking someone to a treatment center about an hour from their house, and they told us to come and stay.  Marlene sat in the dining room as the whole house centered on her.  She was very practical, resting when she needed to but still directing things from her spot.  It was clear that her strength fed the whole Linz household.  She told Jan that she drank 2 glasses of water every morning.  Jan has done the same ever since, and she thinks of Marlene each morning while she drinks her water.  Marlene was talking about dreams of helping women and children in Africa, even while she was in the midst of cancer treatment.

I didn't know the cancer had gotten worse until I received a message via Facebook that Marlene had died on Saturday.  I cannot imagine how Peter and their kids must be feeling.  I am glad that Marlene is no longer in pain, but I am deeply sad for her loss.

On Tuesday night I went to the labyrinth in her honor, even though it looked like it might storm.  Dark grey clouds loomed overhead.  Raindrops plopped down on my head as I wound through the first turns of the path, and I wondered how bad it would get.  Not bad at all.  Just a few sprinkles before the wind blew the darkest clouds to the east.  A mockingbird perched in the top of a crape myrtle nearby and sang through his repetoire of tunes.  As I traversed the outer circuit of the labyrinth, I heard an inner voice say, You have to let me go, Lauren.  I didn't feel Marlene's presence in quite the same way as I have for some others, but I realized I was, indeed, hanging on to her.  I didn't want to let her go.

As I walked I kept looking to the east, hoping for a rainbow.  It would be so perfect, I thought.  A rainbow for Marlene.  It didn't come.

When I reached the center, I looked west, where the sun was descending behind some clouds.  A few rays of light streamed out from behind the clouds - it was like paintings you see that make you think of heaven.  Sunlight and clouds and blue sky in the background.  Stunning.  No rainbow, but a glimpse of heaven instead.

Still, on my way out, I kept straining to see a rainbow.  Surely it's going to come.  And then I realized that it wouldn't.  That's for you and Peter, I seemed to hear her say.  I don't need anything so dramatic.  Ever practical, even in my imagination.  She died in her own room in the house she loved, surrounded by her family.  She is at peace.

As I left the labyrinth, I took a picture of a tall sycamore, illuminated with golden light, leaves quivering in the breeze.  It reminded me of Marlene, deeply rooted, its presence offering strength and comfort.  When I see it I will remember her. 

Although I didn't know her as well as I would have liked, I am so glad I was blessed to know her at all.

Farewell, Marlene.  May you rest in peace and rise in glory, and may God bring comfort to all who grieve.  Your spirit will linger in our hearts.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Marathons and Miracles

The past 10 days have been like running a marathon for me.  I'll bet some of my clergy colleagues will chuckle, thinking I'm a bit of a light weight, but I'm not sure I've ever been responsible for so many liturgies in one week - not even during Holy Week.  This was my schedule:
   Saturday - Blessing of a Civil Marriage with homily and Communion - outdoors at Kingsmill
   Sunday - Preaching and Celebrating both services at St. Stephen's
   Monday - a few pastoral care needs
   Tuesday - 7:30 am Eucharist at Bruton
   Wednesday - 11am Healing Eucharist at Bruton with noon Bible study following
   Thursday - 11am Daughters of the King Installation and Eucharist and luncheon
   Friday - First Fridays Recovery Eucharist
   Sunday - preaching 3 services at Bruton
Each one had a homily or sermon.  I'm ready to keel over in a heap.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not complaining.  If there are two things that I love to do, it's preach and celebrate the Eucharist.  Doing that every day?  It just doesn't get any better than that.  And when I think back to the hours I kept when I worked in the theatre, this is like a jog around the block.

However, just as a marathon runner could probably sail through the race as long as there are no injuries, bad weather, or unexpected occurrences, so too I would have found the week a challenge that I was ready to meet.  Except.

My nemesis.  The Common Cold. 

For the past two weeks I have been struggling with some kind of upper respiratory thingy that has turned into a nasty cough this week.  My head has felt like it has been stuffed with clouds, preventing me from hearing much of what people have said.  I am so grateful for my lifeline of Halls lemon-honey cough drops that has gotten me through each service, though I would be happy if I never had to stick one in my mouth again.  I have drunk enough hot tea with honey and glasses of water to drown a hippopotamus.  Actually, my liquid intake has made me feel like a hippopotamus.  I have spent several hours on several nights sleeping propped up on pillows on my downstairs love seat because lying flat makes me cough too much.  This morning I woke up at 4:11 with a coughing attack that didn't let me go back to sleep. 

I have taken Mucinex.  I have taken NyQuil.  I have taken lots of vitamins. 
I have taken my temperature.  It goes back and forth from 97.5 to 99.

Yes (to all the moms out there) - if my symptoms continue this week, I will go to the doctor.

Plus I've had ants invade my home.  Have you ever battled ants?  They are persistent and ubiquitous little bugs.  Enough said.  

Today in my sermon I talked about how we're often so busy praying for the big miracles that we can miss the small ones that are right in front of our faces.  I have prayed and prayed this week for God to heal me from this cold, but to no avail.  In the midst of my marathon, I have enjoyed the blessing of some of those small miracles:
   -Jan Brown's prayers that I'm convinced got my voice through the last three services today
   -a man who stopped by at the end of the 7:30 service this morning and brought me a fresh picked rose that he said would boost my immune system for 5 days.  Not sure of the veracity of that statement, but it sure made me smile.
   -Hearing Ralph Vaughan Williams The Call played and sung multiple times this morning - one of those hymns that speaks to my soul.
  -the delicious salads at the DOK lunch.
  -the beautiful, sweet faces of all the people at worship.

One of the gifts of starting my time at Bruton not feeling well is that I've been forced to stay grounded.  I haven't felt well enough to be "on," trying to impress.  I've stayed quieter because talking makes me cough.  I've stayed present.  It's given me an opportunity to listen and watch and begin (as I have in each church I've served) to fall in love with the people of God in this place.  

This marathon has ended, and I am grateful to rest.  I am also grateful for the gifts that I've received.
(But if you'd like to take the cough away now, God, I wouldn't complain!)   

Monday, May 23, 2016

2nd Sunday at Bruton - Gifts and Superpowers

Yesterday was my second Sunday as the Associate Rector for Outreach and Women's Ministries at Bruton Parish Church.  It was my first Sunday at the 7:30 service.  Jan was the preacher, and I was the celebrant.  Sunday services at Bruton begin with announcements, so after entering from the sacristy with Jan and the two Eucharistic Ministers, reverencing the altar, and moving to the crossing, I introduced myself to the congregation.  They clapped.  I was surprised and pleased.  I'm going to have fun when I get to be at that service.  After highlighting a few announcements from the bulletin, I began celebrating the first Eucharist of my time on the staff at Bruton.  Of course I've celebrated the recovery Eucharist once a month at Bruton for the past three years on the first Friday of each month.  But this was my first time for a Sunday morning. 

For the next two services, I was what they call "2nd paten."  This person processes in, sits in the middle chair of the rector's box during the Ministry of the Word, and then distributes the wafers during Communion.  Serving Christ's body to the people of God is something I could do all day long.  Seeing each face, knowing that each is a beloved child of God, smiling at them if they make eye contact, blessing them, being a channel for God's love - it just doesn't get any better than that.

Second paten was also a good role for me yesterday because the services were a little more complicated with the choirs singing a Haydn Mass at both the 9:15 and the 11:15.  It was lovely.  Beautiful, soaring music made Trinity Sunday especially festive.  And, I was glad that I didn't have the responsibility for knowing when we were to stand and sit.

Yesterday we also dedicated new kneelers that go around the altar rail.  Stitchers have been working for a long time needlepointing the cushions to help celebrate Bruton's 300th anniversary.  Many of the stitchers were present yesterday at the 9:15 service for the dedication.  I have done some cross-stitch in my time, but nothing like these kneelers.  They are stunning.  I remember seeing one of them in progress when visiting my colleague, Mollie Douglas Turner.  They will be a blessing to both people associated with Bruton and the many visitors who tour the church each year.

Here are a couple more:

Bruton is also developing a flower guild to do the flowers each Sunday.  I have often been blessed to be at churches where people have the gift of arranging flowers in creative ways.  Because of my connection with nature, I am grateful that flowers are a part of the way we glorify God.  And I am so thankful that there are people with the gift for arranging them!  Craftiness is a gift I did not receive, and I so appreciate and admire it in others.  The same person who sang the soprano solos during the Haydn Mass also helped arrange yesterday's flowers.  Every time I hear her sing, I tell her that she sounds like an angel - I could listen to her forever.  It's clear that she has other gifts as well.  So many people contributing in so many ways to make the service beautiful. 

As for me, I learned again what my best gift (or superpower) is.  My smile.  So many people commented on it.  No matter how many times people tell me that they appreciate my smile, I am always surprised.  It's not something I work at.  It truly is a gift.  It comes naturally and easily to me.  What a wonderful world God has created in which we all get to use our gifts to bless others. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Transition

In the 1990's I spent five summers as a stage manager at the Interlochen Center for the Arts near Traverse City, Michigan.  Northwest Michigan is a lovely place to spend the summer - low humidity, breezes off the lakes, long days where it seems like the sun will never set.  Each summer as I walked around campus, I enjoyed listening to the music from orchestras rehearsing in outdoor concert spaces and individuals practicing in the tiny wooden cabins scattered through the trees.  On Sunday nights I usually attended the World Youth Symphony Orchestra concerts in Kresge Auditorium, a covered space with open sides and glass windows behind the stage that allowed us to see the movement of the lake while listening to the strains of a famous composer's symphony. 

Working with student actors and professional directors and designers brought me joy.  Each summer I stage managed the Shakespeare play and the 10-day show.  We rehearsed morning and evening with time for paper work and meetings in the afternoon.  We had Monday afternoons off - time for naps or canoe trips or trips to Grand Traverse Bay.  One summer we even drove out to Lake Michigan at night for the spectacular Perseid meteor shower.

I loved my summers at Interlochen.

Except.  Each year I had to acclimate.  The staff arrived a week ahead of the campers in order to get everything ready.  I was the stage manager of the 10-day play.  This meant that the day the students arrived we held auditions.  We had ten days to cast, block, rehearse, and tech the show before we opened.  It never seemed possible, though we always made it work.  My first summer we did The Rimers of Eldritch, and another year was To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday.  I can't remember the other years, though I'm sure I have records somewhere.

During a phone call to my mother in my 3rd or 4th summer, I guess I was complaining about the stress of the opening production when she said, "You get like this at this time every summer.  You hate transitions."  I was shocked to hear her say it.  At first I was even a bit offended.  Whatever problem that I was discussing felt unique to that time and place.  I didn't have the same complaints every year! 

As I thought about her comment longer, I realized that she was right.  The 10-day play was always stressful, and then we got through it and the rest of the summer unfolded more gently, at least until tech for the Shakespeare and Musical shows.  Once those first two weeks were over, I had more time for walks and chats by the lake and bonfires on the bluff and getting to know campers and staff and enjoying northwestern Michigan.  But at the beginning, in addition to that quick start with the play, I also had to adjust to new living quarters, food, schedule, weather (sometimes freezing, even in June!), roommates, directors, leadership, rules, etc.  Plus there was the uniform - light blue shirts with navy shorts, or navy corduroy knickers or skirts for cooler temperatures. 

I agreed with my mom - I did not like transitions.

I'm in one now. 

On May 1 I had a glorious send-off from St. Stephen's, complete with a beautiful cake, cards, presents, kind words and hugs, prayers, and even an azalea for me to take home.  It was hard to say good-bye, even though I'm just moving a little bit up the road.  Jan and I spent the next week in Colorado, hanging out with my niece and nephew for the weekend while my brother and sister-in-law celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary at the Kentucky Derby.  We also had the opportunity to meet with the Bishop of Colorado, attend the Wilderness service at St. John's Cathedral in Denver, explore the red rocks of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, discover and walk the labyrinth at the Sanctuary Center in Castle Rock, and spend two days in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.  As much as I may dislike transition, I sure do like vacation!!

Actually, I'm not sure I hate transition anymore, it just leaves me feeling uncomfortable.  So many unknowns.  So much to be learned and figured out.  The struggle to remain authentic in the midst of new expectations.  Adjusting self-care to fit new schedules.  And as happy as I am not to be driving down I-64 three times a week anymore, Costco is no longer on may way home.

When I was in Denver I spend some time watching my nephew play one of his superheroes games on the big screen TV.  He was explaining the various characters to me ahead of us going to see Captain America.  I'm not a video game fan, and I haven't followed the Avengers movies, but I found myself thinking about my nephew as he guided a character through the game.  I never understood the point of the game, but he seemed to be having a grand time making the characters use their different powers and change into various forms.  When an obstacle came - he just adapted to it. 

I spend a lot of time saying, "Why is this problem happening to me?  How come this obstacle is interfering with my day?  Why can't everything just go smoothly?"  Well that's not life.  Instead of being irritated, why not use a superpower to deal with it and see it as a challenge?  My superpowers may be different from the ones in my nephew's game, but I've learned a thing or two in life.  I can do hard things.  I can adapt when something new comes my way.

In a recent conversation with my colleague and friend, Sven, he suggested that I change my mantra from "I'm bad at transitions" to "I used to be bad at transitions.  Now I'm embracing them."  Yeah.  That. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Last Day, Full Heart


This morning, after snapping my clerical collar into place and pulling on my Canterbury t-shirt, I put on my CNU Episcopal Chaplain name tag for the last time.  Above it I attached my small “Safe Zone” pin.  Turns out the weather was cool and rainy enough that I also wore my blue and white CNU sweatshirt on top of everything. 

My last day at the prayer station.  It was hard to wrap my brain around it this morning, and now that it’s over, I’m still in disbelief. 

When I arrived today, I took one load of stuff to the Plaza.  I was pleased that it was dry enough to set up outside.  After running inside to order a chicken flatbread sandwich for lunch, since I hadn’t brought anything with me, I went to the chapel to get my sign.  Before I even got the chairs out of their bags, the raindrops began plopping onto the sign, threatening to smear the ink.  I checked my Weather Channel app and saw a big blob of green, yellow, and red approaching the blue dot that indicated my location. Scary looking blob.  Promising more than a few drops of rain.

Time to move inside.

I was disappointed to be inside on the last day, but I was glad that I made that decision because a few minutes later I saw students running into the building, soaking wet.  Umbrellas and hoods went up as students headed out into the downpour.  After picking up my sandwich, I began setting up the chairs in the DSU rotunda, when a senior walked in and greeted me.   

“How are your exams going?” I asked him. 
“I just finished college,” he answered.  He had just emerged from his last final.

I held my hand up, and he gave me an exuberant high five.  The look on his face was priceless.  Joy, wonder, disbelief, shock, amazement.  He told me that last night he had felt a flood of feelings and that it would all take a long time to process.  I bet.  He asked what was going on with me, and when I told him about my new position, he said, “You’re in transition too.”

Yes.  Yes, I am.  I guess I feel a little like he does today – lots of feelings.

My Canterbury students surprised me with a gift at lunch – a book they had made of pictures and notes they had written, including one from our student who is studying abroad.  Some were handwritten; some were typed.  They included our scripture, John 8:32.  At first I thought it was a little writing notebook, but when I opened it I saw what they had done and tears formed behind my eyes.  I couldn’t read it right then because I knew I'd be too emotional, but later in the afternoon I read through each note and smiled with wet eyes as I read their kind and loving words.  It was the best gift they could have given me and will be a book I treasure.  I found myself holding it close and finally put it in my bag.  The student who gave it to me said that they had all pitched in.  My heart was so full - gratitude, humility, sadness, joy, surprise, love.  I know they aren't really my students - they are their own wonderful, individual selves, but I can't help thinking of them as my students, and they will always have a special place in my heart.

At about 1:45 it was time to pack up the prayer station and unload the exam snacks.  St. Stephen's senior warden came by and blessed me by helping me unload and set up.  He also took some pictures and helped with the exam snack table.  I was so grateful for his help.  As always we provided a smorgasbord of options ranging from fruit to Capri-suns to chips to candy, with an especially heavy emphasis on the candy that had been leftover from the Easter egg hunt.  Capri-suns were the first to go.  One of the Canterbury students hung out for about an hour helping us out.  Another came by to pick up a new t-shirt that I had just received from the printer this morning.  A third came by and helpfully filled a bag full of candy for her suite-mates just when we were ready to pack up and assisted us in loading the car.  Hugging each student good-bye was hard, but I am so grateful that I've gotten to have this time with them. 

Leaving CNU early tonight felt strange.  I'm not sure I quite believe it's over.  I will preach and celebrate at St. Stephen's on Sunday at a combined service in my honor and begin another round of good-byes, but today was it for my time on campus.  Like the seniors, I am graduating, and there is a whole heap of feelings.  Though I have a sermon to write and many other things on my list to do, I have been at odds tonight, not quite ready to let go.  New good things are coming, not the least of which is a trip to Denver to see my brother and his family, but for tonight, I'm trying to be with my feelings.  It's okay to be sad.  It's okay to miss them.  It's okay to need time to process.  Both for them and for me. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Saying Good-bye Part 2

It's hard to say good-bye.  And not only to trees.

Today I start saying good-bye to CNU.

Monday night we had dinner at Father Scott's - the last time I will be part of it.  Tonight will be my last official meeting for Episcopal Campus Ministry at CNU.  This afternoon I'm bringing the labyrinth to the Plaza for its final appearance.  Next Thursday students will be finishing up exams, and I will sit and pray one more time at the Plaza Prayer Station and then hand out some exam snacks.  The first of May will be my last official Sunday at St. Stephen's, though I will be there once more briefly to fill in when Scott is away on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend.  Lots of lasts.

I will not miss the commute down I-64 under construction, and I will not miss watching the trees being destroyed.  I will not miss the wind trying to knock me down as I carry my sign across campus or the freezing cold temperatures as I huddle in the DSU in winter.

I will miss the students, the prayer station, the beautiful CNU campus, the quiet prayers and in depth conversations, the chocolate croissants at Einstein's, ECM meetings in the chapel, sharing the labyrinth, the Farmer's Market, blessing the semester, the staff members I've come to know, weekly visits to the OSA office, Sunday mornings with the good people of St. Stephen's, the dinners at Father Scott's, the check-ins with the Canterbury Club, highs and lows, the afternoons praying and talking and being present.  And did I mention the students?  Canterbury students, Thrive students, Cru, UCM, and Lutheran students.  Students on the Diversity Council, students in the arts, student athletes, student leaders, students who I only met for 5 minutes, and students who I got to know quite well.  So many amazing students whom I will miss.

When the seniors graduate from CNU this year, so do I.  I have accepted a position as the Associate Rector for Outreach and Women's Ministries at Bruton Parish Church.  It will be a wonderful opportunity for me to expand recovery ministry and meet a whole new church full of amazing people of God and integrate my SpiritWorks ministry with parish ministry.  It will also be very cool to serve in the church where I was ordained a deacon.  I'm excited.

But first it's time to say good-bye.  Am I starting to sound like Emily in Our Town?  "Good-bye Grover's Corners..."  (Once a theatre major, always a theatre major!)

Good transitions are bittersweet.  In order to say hello to the new thing, we have to say good-bye to what we are leaving behind.  The seniors will be saying good-bye to CNU as they prepare for the new phase of their journey.  Please keep all of us in your prayers as we make this transition.

Although it's hard to say good-bye, the difficulty shows the importance of the relationships.  Thank you, God, for this time at CNU and St. Stephen's, and for all the beautiful people you have brought into my life.  Bless us and keep us until we meet again.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Saying Good-bye to Trees

I live about 40 minutes from CNU.  Each time I go down I drive on I-64.  It is often clogged with traffic, especially when I'm returning home on Sunday afternoons.  They are widening it.  It needs to be widened as it is one of the main arteries into Hampton Roads.  But one of the reasons I have always liked the stretch of road between Newport News and Williamsburg is the trees.  They line both sides of the interstate and fill the median.  When I used to drive from Norfolk to parts further north, I would always breathe a sigh of relief when I left Newport News and reached the stretch of interstate with the trees.

They're taking down the trees.  Every time I drive to CNU, my heart sinks.  I watch the man in the cherry picker lopping off the high branches.  I see tree trunks stripped of branches sticking up out of the earth.  Further along there are stacks of tree trunks in bundles.  Redbuds, dogwoods, pines, maples, sweetgums, trash trees and ornamentals, all decimated.  It breaks my heart, and it's been even worse as the trees have started blooming, only to be cut down.  I hear the words of Dr. Seuss from the Lorax:  "I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees."  I know that the trees have to come down for the road to be widened.  I know that I will be glad when I am no longer stuck for hours at a time in traffic.  But I hate to say good-bye to the trees.

Saying good-bye is hard no matter what.  I had a sweetgum tree removed from my yard in January.  It was growing into my deck and starting to lift the railing off its posts.  Still, I hated to see it go.  I will not miss the sweetgum balls, but I will miss the red and yellow leaves in the fall and the shade in the summer and the birds and squirrels that perched on its branches. I will miss staring up through it's leafy bower to the sky.

I wish that progress didn't mean so much destruction to the natural world.  I know that I will be glad when the construction is done and traffic flows more smoothly.  But oh, how I will miss the trees.

Monday, April 4, 2016

In the Shadow of the Topiary

On Thursday I sat in the shadow of the topiary.  One of the students who comes by and frequently comments on the weather said, "It's not cold.  It's not rainy."  I responded, "And I'm sitting in the shadow of the topiary, so it's not too hot!"  After I said it, we laughed, and I joked, "Sounds like a book title, doesn't it?"  Maybe, if I write a book about my experiences at the prayer station, I'll use that title.  On warm days, the Plaza bakes in the sun, and though Thursday wasn't as warm as it will be when the students return in August, I still got a little sweaty.  I had discovered back in the fall that the topiary gives off just enough shade to keep from getting too much sun on my face and to provide a bit of coolness.  It was a lovely day for sitting outside - breezy but not the 40 mph gusts that had been predicted.  Last weekend I had gotten a new chair because the sack for the old one had ripped and made it difficult to carry.  The new one is electric blue, and I was eager for someone to try it out.

It's spring break for many high schools, and Thursday was clearly a big admissions day.  I watched group after group passing through the Plaza, touring the campus.  Blessings on their college decisions - I wonder how many of them will start in the fall.  Or perhaps these are juniors, visiting colleges so that they'll know where they want to apply next year.  CNU is so shiny and new; I would think it would be popular, though I understand there's a big debate going on about campus housing.  CNU students are required to live in on campus for their first three years, and not everyone is able to get the housing that they want or feel that they were promised.  So far the Canterbury students seem pleased with their housing for next year.

The work load is increasing as the final month of school starts.  Students are stressed, but they're delighted with the warmer weather.  All over the lawns I see them scattered with their books as they try to attend to their studies and enjoy some time outside.  For those of you who know me, you know that cherry trees are a particular favorite of mine.  Because peak bloom occurred over Holy Week and Easter this year in Washington D.C., I wasn't able to get up to the cherry blossom festival.  But for some reason, our trees are behind the DC trees this year, and they have peaked a week later.  Cherries abound on the CNU campus and lining the streets that lead into it.  Puffy white blossoms called me to them on the lawns of one of the residence halls.  I drew a branch down to my nose and breathed in their sweet fragrance.  One student sprawled on the green carpet of grass under the canopy of snowy branches.  I would probably have chosen the same spot.

There were some prayer requests Thursday and one request for help getting service hours.  The Presidential Leadership Program at CNU requires many hours of community service, and sometimes it can be hard to find places to get enough hours.  I was delighted to be able to connect a student with the St. Paul's Saturday lunch ministry that we've helped with before.  The student who first spoke to me at the prayer station is graduating this year.  He's also getting married in a month and has his senior recital for his music major next week.  He stopped by to check in and chat about a Dag Hammarskjold book he's reading.  It was great to reconnect with him and to wish him well on his exciting future.

Change is coming.  Winter rolls into spring as the baby leaves unfurl on the trees and bulbs burst into brilliant colors.  A yellow dusting of pollen coats my sign and shoes and probably the inside of my lungs after sitting outside for a few hours.  Seniors are getting ready to graduate and pack up and move out.  Underclassmen are trying to register and get the classes they need.  Student leadership is changing over as the older students turn their attention outward.  Everyone is busy as they pass through the Plaza on their way to classes, meetings, meals, studies, naps.  These are the days of the CNU lives as we sit in the shadow of the topiary...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday was a full day.  I arrived at St. Stephen's for my weekly check-in, only to be greeted at my car by my rector, Scott, telling me not to come in to the building.  A sewage back-up in the basement of the parish hall, had made the building, including offices, uninhabitable.  Plumbers and water company people were on the scene, but there was no point in me spending time inside.  So I headed over to CNU and spent a little time in the campus coffee shop before setting up the prayer station.  It was a beautiful day but very windy.  The prayer station was quiet; students passing by were in a hurry to get to where they were going.  There was also an event on the other side of the student union from where I was sitting.  Pie the president.  I sneaked over after hearing loud cheers and saw students flinging pies at the faces of sorority and fraternity presidents.  I have witnessed this event before.  I think you pay a certain amount of money to have the honor of throwing the whipped cream pies.  I worried about one student passing by later in the afternoon until I realized that the white dripping down his face was from pie, not a wound. 

For Maundy Thursday I had planned a labyrinth walk.  I brought the SpiritWorks labyrinth, and a friend dropped by to help me set it up.  The wind made it a struggle.  Gusts ripped the canvas labyrinth out of our hands and almost blew it across the plaza.  I tried putting books down on the edges, but the wind tossed them in the air and blew the labyrinth back on top of itself. 
I got more and more frustrated, thinking that we wouldn't be able to set it up.  On my way inside for a pit stop, I noticed a pile of stones off to the side of the walkway.  I picked a couple up and set them on the edge of the canvas.  It was hard to know where to put them because the wind blew against any section not held down.  I left my friend standing on the labyrinth while I collected more rocks.  As I walked to the rock pit, I said, "Really, God, is this necessary?  Can't you do something about this wind?"  The answer I got back was, "I helped you find this pile of rocks."  TouchĂ©, God.  I smiled sheepishly.  The rocks were, indeed, a Godsend.  Once I had collected enough of them, they were able to hold the labyrinth in place for the most part.  Several people commented that the rocks gave it a monastic feel.  They thought it was an intentional aesthetic choice.

My first visitors were staff members from the Center for Academic Success.  They enjoyed walking the labyrinth and said they would recommend it to their students.  I explained how walking it can reduce stress.  They had seen my advertisement in the campus announcements.  Another staff person brought a couple of students out to walk it as well.  A number of students came and asked questions about it or thanked me for having it there, but they said they didn't have time to walk it.  A couple of students evidently thought it was a maze, as they stood nearby and used their eyes to traverse the path - when there were no dead ends or choices, they rolled their eyes and moved along.  Maybe they were looking for a challenge, not a clear path to the center.

Some of my favorite comments were the students who passed by and saw the "Happy Maundy Thursday" on the bottom of the sign.  "Maundy?" I heard them saying to one another.  "What's a Maundy?"  I saw a campus minister from another group explain it to one of his students.  When the Catholic Campus Ministry passed by on their way from Mass, they wished me a blessed Holy Week.  Nice to hear it.  The best, though, was when a small group of girls passed between me and the labyrinth.  "I think you're supposed to walk it slowly and take deep breaths or something," one of them said.  Another one replied, "We don't have time for that."  I laughed out loud, but they didn't have time to notice that either.  On their way they went.

When it came time to pack up, I texted one of the Canterbury students, and he came over to help me.  I knew I couldn't do it by myself in the wind.  Turns out, four other students saw us struggling to fold it up, and they ran over to help as well.  I have to say that the students on this campus are very gracious with their help.

The agapĂ© meal at St. Stephen's had to be canceled, so we moved the whole service into the church.  I preached, we washed feet, we celebrated the Eucharist, and stripped and censed the altar.  It is one of my favorite services.  I love that the congregation gets to participate, if they so desire, and at least one person said that my sermon caused him to take part in the foot washing, which he had never done before.  It is a holy thing, that foot washing.  The person who washed my feet started saying, "This little piggy..." as she dried my toes.  It is sweet and humbling and funny and tender, all at the same time.  What a glorious privilege to be able to share an act so intimate.  I was grateful for a full day of meaningful ministry with students and parishioners and fellow human beings. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Holy Tuesday


On Sunday I went to the nonviolent communication practice group that I attend once a month.  One of the members opened our session with the following poem by Langston Hughes:


Tired
I am so tired of waiting,
Aren’t you,
For the world to become good
And beautiful and kind?
Let us take a knife
And cut the world in two—
And see what worms are eating
At the rind.

It is Tuesday in Holy Week.  This morning I awoke safely in my house and, after showering and feeding the cats, went downstairs for centering prayer and morning reading.  Something caught my eye on Facebook.  "Praying for the people of Brussels."  Uh oh, I thought.  What has happened now?  I finished my prayer time and then turned on the news while eating breakfast.  There I saw why prayers are needed.  Another terrorist attack.  In Brussels.  Lord, have mercy.  May the souls of all the departed rest in peace.  Please bring comfort to their families and friends.

Yes, Langston, I am tired, too, of waiting for the world to become good, and beautiful and kind.  

Tonight I walked the labyrinth again.  This time in honor of Brussels.  I barely know where it is, and  I don't know anyone who lives there, though a dear friend lives nearby in the Netherlands.  But I remember what it was like on 9/11, and I weep for those who are devastated tonight.  "Now my soul is troubled," says Jesus in today's Gospel lesson from John.  I take it out of context, but I imagine that Jesus' soul is troubled by all the violence in our world.

What are the worms that are eating at the rind of our world?  How do we get them to stop?  

There was much beauty in my walk tonight:  delicate blooms on trees, gentle songs of birds, full moon rising opposite the setting sun.  It was hard to conceive of the tragedy happening across the ocean.  In the center I sang songs that I learned during summers at Camp Mikell - "By the waters of Babylon, we lay down and wept for thee Zion."  "Ruah Elohim."  Breath of God.  The wind was blowing, tugging tendrils of my hair out of its clip and into my face.  Tears lurked behind my eyes but did not fall.  I ended my singing with "Balm in Gilead."  Bring balm to the people of Brussels tonight, God.  

Be our strong rock, God, a castle to keep us safe.  You are our crag and our stronghold. 



Monday, March 21, 2016

Holy Monday

There's a chill in the air tonight as I walk slowly toward the labyrinth.  It's Monday in Holy Week, and I have decided to observe it at the labyrinth instead of in church.  Tonight's walk is not about exercise; it's about slowing down and connecting with God.  A contemplative walk.  My neck is in pain - I must have slept wrong last night - so I massage it as I walk.  When I get to the Easter State campus, I see a row of tall Bradford pear trees in full bloom.  I smell them, too, their not-quite-pleasant fragrance drifting my way on the wind.  When I arrive at the labyrinth, I see that the pears at three of its corners are also starting to bloom, although they are not as far along as the ones I first encountered.  The crape myrtles are still in hibernation, branches bare against the sky that is darkening into twilight.  Spring has begun, but it has not fully arrived.  Though it is chilly, I am grateful the weekend's cold rain mixed with snow has ended.

I walk counter-clockwise around the outside of the labyrinth before stopping at the entrance and bowing my head in prayer.  Take away my judgment, God.  Heal me from my judging thoughts and help me to be open and curious and compassionate.  I enter the labyrinth.  I wind my way along the path, moving closer and then further from the center, walking more slowly than usual.  Taking time.  At one point I imagine releasing my busy thoughts.  I breathe in peace.  I breathe out love.  I find myself wondering if the moon is full yet.  Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  It's almost as early as it can be this year, so the full moon must be soon.  The sun is headed to the horizon, but I can still feel its warmth on my face when I turn to the west. 

In the center I feel a deep stillness inside.  I stand with my eyes closed, facing the sun.  It bathes my face with tender, warm light.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  I start singing.  With each verse I turn to face a new direction.  I can't remember one of the verses, so I sing the first one twice.  When I am facing west again, I sing John Bell's, Take, O take me as I am, summon out what I shall be.  Set your seal upon my soul and live in me.  I decide that I want to walk the labyrinth every day this week if it is possible.  It has been my spiritual practice this past year.  What better way to connect with God?  Of course it may become difficult when it's not my day off, but for now that is my intention.

On the way back out, I notice a couple of cigarette butts in the cracks between the bricks.  I immediately begin an inner litany of judgment about why someone would even bother to walk the labyrinth while smoking and why they would choose to litter in the sacred space.  I know that several of the patients from the hospital have stashed packs of cigarettes in the concrete block walls near the labyrinth, so it really shouldn't be a surprise, but I hadn't thought that people smoked while walking.  Fairly quickly I realize how quickly I have jumped back into judging, so I try to shift my thinking to one of compassion for those who are addicted to cigarettes. 

As I follow the path I realize that I could bring a bag when I come back and pick up the cigarette butts that I see.  That could be my gift to this labyrinth that has nourished me all year.  Tending it, cleaning it, caring for it.  Just as Mary cared for Jesus by anointing his feet with oil and washing them with her hair in the reading from the lessons appointed for today. 

When I reach the entrance I pause for a moment before sealing the circle by walking clockwise around the labyrinth.  I notice other litter that I can pick up when I return.  The sun is below the trees now, and the air is getting cooler.  I pick up my jacket from where I had left it and head for home, stopping to look closely at the pear blossoms on my way.  As I am leaving the campus, I see the moon - almost full indeed.  My calendar says it will be full on the 23rd.  Maybe I can walk in the moonlight later in the week.  We'll see.  It's the beginning of Holy Week.  A good start.

Collect for Monday in Holy Week:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.