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.
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." Touché, 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 agapé 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.
Monday, March 28, 2016
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
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:
I am so tired of waiting,
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
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.
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.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
In honor of CNU day, there was a flash party on the Great Lawn during lunch. Music blasted from
speakers, while crowds of students dressed in either green or CNU blue gathered around the on the lawn. I was told that it was a dance party, but I did not detect much dancing going on. The only song I recognized was the "Cupid Shuffle," that we had learned to dance to at SpiritWorks a couple of years ago. No, I did not get up to dance. I held onto my dignity by maintaining that my presence at the prayer station was more needed than any unfortunate dance moves I might make. Watching this clergy person "break it down" might have brought some amusement but probably only embarrassment on my behalf. The dance party ended with a huge group photo on the steps of Christopher Newport Hall, the new administration building. I wish I had made it over to capture the picture, but at the time I was enjoying good conversation with students who were choosing not to participate.
As an observer I always have to piece these rituals together and try to figure out what's going on. It looked like the Greeks were organized into teams: Team 1, Team 2, Blue Team, Green Team, etc. The first event was some sort of chant/cheer competition. Because I was sitting and they were standing I couldn't see everything that was going on, but I could hear the cheers. It looked like most of the students were reading their cheers from their phones, and some of them were hard to hear. To my left was the green team. As far as I could tell they were the loudest, and the most energetic, dancing to their chant and jumping up and down. More of them seemed to know the words of their chant. I decided that I would vote for them. (Not that anyone asked me.) I found out later that they won that portion of the contest.
Next came an event that I didn't understand. From my vantage point it looked like a few students were gathered in the middle of the circle and that they had small boxes tied around their waist, positioned on their butts. I thought the object was to dance until the box fell off, but when I asked a student later, he told me it was called, Minute to Win It. The boxes were tissue boxes filled with ping pong balls, and the goal was to shake all the ping pong balls out of the box. I couldn't determine who won that one, but it sure looked like they were having fun.
Surprisingly enough, even in the midst of all the chaos, I still had some good conversations and prayer time with students. Last week had been quiet at the prayer station - I think they had to get used to me being out there again. I know a lot of seniors this year, and I'm excited to hear about their plans for the future. They're winding down, trying to stay present where they are and especially enjoy the good company of their community while also looking ahead to what comes next. Not a bad place to be.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
On that same chilly Thursday, I had a great conversation with a student. He told me that he was learning that experiencing joy did not necessarily mean being comfortable. Such wisdom for someone so young. Joy and comfort are not at all the same thing, are they?
When I was in seminary I did my field work at St. Elisabeth's in Glencoe, IL. My supervising priest, Daphne, used "seekjoy" as the first part of her email address. I used to smile as I typed her address into the "To" portion of an email. What a great reminder - seek joy. I wonder if part of the challenge of our society is that we're seeking comfort and not joy. I don't mean the comfort that we seek when we're grieving or struggling and we long for God's peace or a kind word from our loved ones. I mean the comfort of ease, the comfort of complacency, the comfort of numbing ourselves so that we don't have to witness the pain of others or feel our own pain.
The student I spoke with was realizing that doing God's work brings joy but often takes us to places of discomfort or calls us out of our comfort zones. Yes, oh yes. And at the same time it's so easy to slip back into the comfort and ignore the call. Sometimes it means standing up and speaking out, especially against injustice. Sometimes it means sitting down and listening, especially to voices that don't share our privilege. It means sitting with our own discomfort when we're told we don't know everything and we can't fix everything. I find it so hard to sit in the in between, to listen when I want to act, to stand up when it's going to cost, and yet, there is joy to be found in all those occasions.
There's is probably much more to be said on this topic, but I hear my taxes crying out to be finished. I hope that the student I spoke with will continue to seek joy and not stay comfortable. I hope I will too.