Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Patrick's Rune

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Writing Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Comedy is Hard

I wish I were funny.

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

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

But I'm not funny.

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

I want to be funny.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

You can sleep when you're dead!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Walking for Peace

I love it when God shows off.

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

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

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

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

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

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