Monday, December 22, 2014

Darkest Night

In the middle of a conversation with my parents yesterday during which we had talked quite a bit about triaging various expenses and repairs, my dad suddenly piped up and said, "I have some good news!"  His voice was so bright and cheery.  I said, "You do?  Let's have it."  He said, "The days start getting longer tomorrow."  The glee in his voice was a delight for me to hear.  Both my dad and I struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Basically we get the blues in the winter, and though we both dislike the cold, what really makes us droop is the lack of sunlight.  The days are so short and it's so hard to get outside, especially when it rains.  We both would prefer to hibernate inside by the fire and emerge when the crocuses and daffodils start poking their little heads up, heralding the coming of spring.

I have struggled this Advent, not just with the cold and darkness, but also with the barrage of images of death, violence, disease, and just downright meanness in the world.  And then, when the report about the torture done in this country in our name came out, I felt like a knife had been stuck in my back.  I don't usually write about political issues because I haven't figured out how to do enough research to be informed enough to articulate something that would be helpful.  Mostly I just listen and try to learn.  It doesn't seem like all the online hostility furthers the conversation anyway.  One thing I do know, though.  Torture is wrong.  I am a follower of Jesus, who suffered torture before being crucified.  I may be naive, but as a follower of the one who told us to love our enemies, I believe that torture is wrong.  Period.  And the fact that my fellow countrymen committed such atrocities fills me with shame.  This torture was committed on my behalf.  And for that I want to put on sackcloth and ashes.  I am grateful that I live in a country where I have great privilege and much more security than many living in other places, but I am ashamed that security has become the idol to which we have sold our souls.  The prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures cried out, "Repent."  Indeed.  Repent.  We are a country in need of repentance.

The words of the Confession from Enriching Our Worship keep returning to my mind, especially these:
"We repent of the evil that enslaves us,
the evil we have done,
and the evil done on our behalf."

The evil done on our behalf.  I repent of the evil done on my behalf.  Please forgive me, God.  Please forgive the United States of America, Jesus, for doing to others what was done to you.  Please forgive us for the evil we have done.

It feels like the darkest night will not end.  It looks like injustice will triumph.  At times it even feels like hope is lost in a country where we can't even find a way to have civil conversation with one another.  It is a dark, dark time.  And yet, what we know is that Jesus was born into a dark time as well.  The people had walked in darkness a long time before his birth restored the light.  When he came he brought hope that all would be redeemed.  I do not know how all this hatred and violence will be redeemed, but I do know that "nothing will be impossible with God."

My friends, I have some good news.  The days are getting longer.  The people who have walked in darkness will see a great light.  
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

This Christmas I pray for all who have suffered torture and for their tormentors, for all who have suffered violence and for those who are violent, for all who are victims of disease, despair, and destruction.  I pray for the establishment of justice and righteousness in this and in every land, hoping that we one day we will no longer be walking in darkness but will be the people who walk in light.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Blessings

A few years ago at the conclusion of a gathering of my colleague group, John Kerr said good-bye to me at the door of his house and spontaneously reached out to give me a blessing as I left.  He said, "We don't do that enough, do we?"  Bless each other.  Ever since he and I have been exchanging blessings, and I have found it to be such a lovely way of praying for each other.  Recently I began reading Russ Parker's book, Rediscovering the Ministry of Blessing.  It talks about the scriptural roots of blessings and the different types of blessings and how they can be used in ministry.  It's been a wonderful book to read in Advent and has inspired me to start thinking about how I can incorporate blessing prayer into my ministry more.  The Plaza Prayer Station is one place I'd like to try it.  

This past Thursday was a day full of blessings.  It started with two St. Stephen's volunteers who helped me load up an abundance of snacks that had been donated by members of the church to hand out to students during their exams.  United Campus Ministries organizes the event.  From 10-4 each day of exams churches come and hand out treats to frazzled exam takers.  Some are nervously preparing to take an exam and some approach the table bleary-eyed, scarcely able to focus because they've been writing essays for 2 1/2 hours.  Some are hyped up with the joy of an exam-gone-well or with sugar and caffeine pulsing through their systems.  We provide chips and fruit and granola bars and other sweet and salty snacks.  We always have a few home-baked items, and those are the most popular of all.  The students are sweet and appreciative, and we assure them of our prayers for them in this stressful time.  This year one student asked for prayer for her baby who is due in 3 weeks, so I was blessed to be able to pray with her.

After time at the snack station I moved out into the cold, windy winter sunshine of the Plaza and set up the station.  A few regulars came by and a couple of new ones.  I prayed for a mission trip to Vietnam and for discernment and clarity for some making decisions as well as for relief from stress and anxiety.  At one point I was startled by the loud sound of three young men on skateboards zooming by.  They weren't my skateboard dudes, but they brought a smile to my face nevertheless.  Another student brought me hot chocolate, and I was grateful because it was cold!

It was my last time to sit in the Plaza this semester.  Just before I decided to pack up, one of the original members of the skateboard crowd came over to chat.  He was the very first one who had come over to me on that warm September afternoon when I began this ministry and told me he thought what I was doing was cool.  The first one to come up and the last one I spoke to before leaving.  Only God, I thought, could bookend the semester so neatly.  I invited him and the campus ministry he's a part of to participate in our "Blessing of the Semester" event that we're going to do on the first Sunday of next semester.  It will be kind of like a house blessing, only we're going to bless all the main buildings on campus.  We'll start on the chapel steps in full vestments, swinging incense and carrying a cross, and we'll make our way through the student union to the humanities, science, and business buildings, past the admin building that's under construction, through the library and back to the chapel.  I'm hoping people will see us crazy Christians and get curious about what we're doing.  Blessing the semester.  Blessing the campus.  Blessing the students, faculty, and staff.  And most of all, giving thanks for all the ways God continues to bless us.  

As for me, I deem the first semester of the Plaza Prayer Station a success beyond my imagining.  I trust that God has blessed CNU through me.  I know God has blessed me through this ministry.  And now, we rest.  Until next semester...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Gratitude

I arrived today at the prayer station harried and worn out.  Yesterday I had taken my car to the shop for a coolant leak only to find that it needs a new water pump to the tune of a grand and many hours of labor.  That meant no car for today.  Fortunately Jan Brown loaned me hers, so I could get to the prayer station and to Eucharist.  For that I was grateful. 

At the same time, I have awakened the past few mornings feeling stressed and anxious and even depressed.  Turning on the news and scrolling through Facebook show me again and again that Everything Is Awful in the world right now.  From racial injustice to ebola to ISIS to political vitriol and growing rage and hate, I feel overwhelmed by dark things in our world.  And then more particular stress includes a very busy few weeks at both jobs with little time for breathing, rest or pre-holiday activities.  Add increasing costs of insurance and car repairs and other expenses, and I've had a hard time finding serenity this Advent.  I long for peace, and instead I feel simultaneously agitated and weary.

In the rooms of recovery we say that the best antidote for fear, depression, anxiety or other negative emotions is gratitude.  Today I got to witness that in abundance.  The primary theme of my conversations with students today was gratitude.  Several young women whom I've prayed with before came by to tell me that things in their lives were better and to say thank you to me for my presence and my prayers.  A number of other students whom I hadn't met came up just to say that they'd seen me previously from a distance and they wanted to thank me for me being there.  One young man saw my sign and gave me a thumbs up while I was talking with a staff member who had dropped by for conversation, and then he returned a few moments later to ask if he could take a picture of the sign. 

There were a few students clearly feeling stressed by the amount of work they yet need to do this semester, and I was able to say prayers with them, but others simply wanted to say how thankful they were that their work is almost done.  Many people walked by with a smile and a hello even when they didn't stop.  One woman clearly read the part of the sign that says, "Tell me your stories about God," and said, "God is good."  All the time. 

It was very cold at the prayer station today, but I turned on my little heater and it took the chill off of my legs.  One student asked if she could pray for me and said a prayer right then and there for people struggling with addiction and for release from stress.  Though no skateboard dudes were out today, I was able to catch up with one of them later in the coffee shop.  He's taking a class on C.S. Lewis.  Cool!  When I told him I would be there for awhile next week before I head off to do a healing service on the Eastern Shore, he said, "You have the coolest job."  I do.

Sometimes it seems like Everything is Awful.  And many things are right now.  But focusing on gratitude for what is good serves to lighten my heart.  Today at CNU I received prayers and blessings and gratitude, and it fanned the small flame of hope inside that never quite goes out, no matter how the darkness grow.  The light shines in that darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.  I am grateful today for the students and others I encounter in the CNU community and for the gift of this prayer ministry which feeds me as much as it does those for whom I pray. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sabbath Sunset

Today in spiritual direction we talked about Sabbath and what it is for me.  I smiled sheepishly because this is a topic I often discuss with others, encouraging them to observe Sabbath.  But I'm not always so good about observing Sabbath in my own life.  I do have a day off from my jobs every week, and I'm good about taking it about 98% of the time.  But that day often gets packed full of errands and appointments and to-do lists.  My spiritual director suggested that Sabbath time might include a variety of activities as long as they are things that I want to do.  Then he asked, "What restores you?"  A few things came to mind quickly - reading fiction, spending time outside in nature, listening to music, movies, rest.  I try to take time for some of these things each week, but the trick for me is not to feel guilty about all the things that aren't getting done while I'm doing the things that restore me.  I can never be reminded enough to be gentle with myself.

When I got home I decided to take a walk.  Of late my walks have been mostly about exercise, trying to get steps and get them quickly.  But tonight I didn't set the Nike app to tell me how fast and how far I walked.  I just put on my headphones and headed out to enjoy being outside.  As I walked past the rec center and up the hill through the trees, I noticed a golden light illuminating the beech leaves that are still clinging to branches in their various shades of yellow and brown.  I suspected the sunset might be a good one.  Coming out of the trees, I saw the clouds all pink and gold above me, and I quickly walked up the hill that is across from Eastern State Hospital.  I stopped to let the walkers behind me go by, and I stepped off the path so that I could gaze at the brilliant sky.

I decided to sit down on a small hill and just watch.  As I sat down I remembered how I used to walk by the river three blocks from my house in Norfolk and watch the sunset.  I did it every night that I was home and the weather was good.  I didn't realize how much I have missed watching sunsets.  "This," I thought.  "This is what restores me."  Watching God's glorious artwork.  I never tire of watching them.  As much as I love living in Williamsburg, there are not many good places for watching sunsets.  I'm so glad that I happened upon a place where I could get a good view. 

At first I didn't take any pictures.  I told myself that we've become obsessed with with trying to capture moments on film rather than just being present to them.  So for awhile I simply sat on the ground under the trees and watched. And then I took some pictures, not because I wanted to capture the moment, but because I wanted to share it.  Walkers and joggers passed by, and they smiled, but they didn't turn their heads to look at the beauty around them.  Maybe they could see it anyway.  I hope so.  But I was there.  And I saw.  .  I was reminded of what restores my soul.  That is what Sabbath is.  Taking time to sit still and enjoy the sunset and say, "Wow, God.  Thank you."  Later as I continued my walk, the wind that had blown all day seemed particularly intense, and I remembered my spiritual director's final question to me, "Where is God in all of this?"

Here.  Right here with me.  In the wind, in the sunset, in the walking.  I had a blessed evening walking and being close with God.  I pray that those in Ferguson may feel God's presence, too, though their evening has been quite different from mine and it will take much more than a sunset to restore their souls.   

Thursday, November 20, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Observing the Proper Rites

One of my favorite books is The Little Prince, and one of my favorite scenes from the book is the one in which the little prince meets the fox and learns what it means to be tamed - to establish ties.  The fox instructs him to sit a little distance away and to wait patiently and then to sit a little closer each day.

"The next day the little prince came back.
'It would have been better to come back at the same hour,' said the fox.  'If, for example, you come at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy.  I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances.  At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am!  But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .'"

Today I was not able to come at the same hour to the Plaza Prayer Station.  I was not able to observe the proper rites.  Sometimes we have to choose between two goods.  It was one of those days where I wished I could clone myself.   For months I have been scheduled to go to the Dean's meeting for our Diocese in order to do a short presentation about the Addictions and Recovery Commission that I am helping to restart with Jan Brown.   Our appointed time was 11:40 at Bruton Parish in Williamsburg.  CNU is about 40 minutes away in Newport News.  I knew I would be late for my usual noon arrival in the Plaza. But there was nothing I could do.  The presentation was very important.  I'm glad I went.  And I'm sad that I arrived over an hour late.

I think one of the hardest parts for me was that I had no way to let anyone know.   I simply was not there at the usual hour.  So I missed my regulars, the ones who are getting out of class or lab at 12 or 12:15 and scurrying off to lunch before their next class.  I did get to see my skateboard crew who were sans skateboards but still sitting outside on this very windy day, eating lunch and filled with frivolity.  As I walked up with my chairs and sign, one of them said, "I was just saying to myself, 'Where's Lauren?' and you appeared."  It felt good to be expected.  Just like the first day I had encountered them, this group bubbled over with joy and laughter and playfulness.  It was a delight to share the Plaza with them.

As the wind blew strong and the shade kept overtaking me, I wasn't able to stay as long as I would have liked.  While I was there, though, one of the Canterbury students sat down and had lunch with me, and I did have one prayer request from someone who told me she had often seen me sitting there.

When the scene from The Little Prince came to me as I was sitting in the Plaza, I realized that my ministry in the Plaza is much like the taming of the fox.  Each time I come I get a little closer to them, and they get more used to my presence.  It is helpful if I come at the usual hour and they can look forward to me being there.  If I come at just any hour then they don't know when to find me.  I feel sad when I miss them.

Of course the other thing that the little prince learns from the fox is that we are responsible for what we have tamed and that when departure draws near we will be sad.  The sadness I experienced today is a preview of the sadness I will feel in a few weeks when the semester draws to a close.  Next semester I will be back, but schedules will be different, and I will probably get to "tame" a new batch of students, though hopefully I will also continue to build relationships with some from this semester. Or perhaps it is me who is being tamed. We'll have to wait and see.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Cold Hands, Warm Hearts

Remember that saying, "Cold hands, warm heart"?  Well, it was definitely true today at the Plaza Prayer Station.  Forecast was for low 50's, overcast and 50% chance of rain.  Reality was mid 40's with a stiff breeze and cooling over the afternoon.  Fortunately the rain didn't start till much later in the day, but I didn't think it would be possible to sit outside in the cold air with no sun.  Talking with my rector this morning I mentioned that I needed fire to warm myself and the students.  Lo and behold, he has a very portable little propane heater that is perfect for the ministry.  So with renewed courage, I set out for the Plaza, feeling confident that my little heater would do the trick and I wouldn't have to move inside. 

With my fleece-lined flannel shirt, coat, and scarf on, and after carrying all my stuff out to the Plaza, I actually felt pretty warm, so I sat down and waited, pulling out my rosary.  I only got halfway through the Lord's Prayer before my first student popped by.  He told me that he loves knowing that I'm there and that when he came out of his lab today he said to himself, "Yep, she's here." He told me he was always going to drop by to say hi.  Warmed my heart!  Not long after another student walked by, read my sign, said, "Cool!" and then called back over her shoulder, "I'll be back."  "I'll be here," I answered, and she did come back later.  There were more "popcorn prayers" today as it was too cold for lengthy conversation, though one student got his lunch and we chatted while we both ate. 

It seemed like I saw more than the usual number of people today which surprised me because of the cold.  No skateboard dudes.  Not many people hanging out in the Plaza.  But people came over with purpose, either requesting prayers or thanking me for being there.  It was an hour and a half before I realized that my hands were like ice and it was time to turn on the little heater.  Alas!  The knob that turns on the gas had fallen off in my car, so I couldn't turn it on.  Though I was disappointed, at least I know I can use it on another day. 

Toward the end of my time a member of the staff came and sat down and asked me what this was all about.  Then he asked if there was anything I wanted prayer for and he prayed with me right there, just like I do with the students.  He's Baptist, so I'm guessing that extemporaneous prayer comes a little more easily for him.  I was grateful for the prayer. 

The whole afternoon filled my heart with warmth no matter how cold my hands got.  I had woken up in a bad mood, and though I have gotten better at trusting that God is going to provide for this ministry, I had thought that today I would have to move out of the Plaza, and I just didn't want to.  At one point a student came past and asked me if I wanted some tea or hot chocolate.  I did indeed, and about 20 minutes later he returned with a steaming cup of it.  While he was inside a flash mob-esque event happened right in front of me.  A young man ran up to a young woman and started singing "You never close your eyes anymore when I kiss your lips..." a la Tom Cruise in Top Gun.  After the first line, about 15-20 young men came running over from all corners of the Plaza and encircled the two, swaying and singing, "You've lost that Sigma feeling..."  Now I have no idea what the young woman did to lose the Sigma feeling, but it was very entertaining for me!

I know I write this over and over, but I am continually amazed at how the students will come up and pour out whatever is troubling them, sometimes to the point of tears streaming down their faces.  Tests and presentations and papers are piling up, and stress is high.  I remind them to breathe and I pray that God will remove their fears and anxiety give them strength and endurance as they work.  I remember those days so well, when all the work was so overwhelming.  But to talk about their worries with a total stranger is evidence to me that God is at work in that Plaza.  It's worth cold hands and feet and nose and ears and an entire chilled body to be able to be a channel for a little spiritual warmth.  Plus, there's chai and chocolate croissants (heated) waiting in the coffee shop when I'm done.  I never thought I, who hate the cold with great passion, would feel grateful for a couple of hours of sitting out in the cold, but my heart is full of gratitude.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Don't You Fret

Today's stint at the prayer station reminded me of the line from Eponine's song in Les Mis, "Don't you fret, m'sieur Marius... a little drop of rain, can hardly hurt me now."  Also, the beginning of Psalm 37, "Fret not yourself."  I was fretting.  All week I've fretted.  Not in a losing sleep, pulling hair out kind of way, but in a "doggone it, I don't want to miss the prayer station" way.  Rain had been in the forecast all week, and I still hadn't figured out exactly where to be because I can't take the sign out in wet conditions or the ink will run.  Even taking it to another building wouldn't work.  So I was fretting and trying to figure out what I would do and where I would try to go.  I hoped that the rain would come over night, but no such luck.  90% chance.   

However, as I arrived on campus, there was no rain.  It had been raining, but it stopped.  So, I decided to take the sign over to the David Student Union where I put it in a dry spot just outside the doors.  When I got back with my chairs and bag of leftover Halloween candy and such, I discovered that it wasn't raining, so I spent the first hour just in front of the columns where I was quite visible.  When the rain started back up, I was able to tuck in between the columns under a bit of an overhang, and squeezed in another hour.  In a dry moment I carried the sign back to the chapel, and though the ink ran a bit, it wasn't too bad.  A few minutes later the rain started coming down in earnest.  I swung by my car, picked up my umbrella and headed into the coffee shop where it was warm and dry.

See, I didn't need to fret.  It all worked out.  And I'm so glad it did because I love being at the prayer station.  Today I got to have a chat with one of the Canterbury students about a cool sounding class called "Page, Stage, and Image" that will be offered next semester and involves Shakespeare.   I also enjoyed a conversation with my friend in Admissions who told me about her husband's mission trip to Uganda.  Several students who have asked for prayers before waved and smiled on their way to lunch, and one called out, "There's my favorite Reverend!"  It feels good to be recognized.  Once the rain had started, a student settled in for a good chat and left saying that his day just didn't suck so much anymore.  Sometimes that's a real bonus - having your day suck less.  He also suggested I learn to tweet, though I'm going to take a little more convincing. 

Time takes time, right, and a little drop of rain can hardly hurt me at all.  God provides.  It feels good to start being recognized on campus.  It feels good to provide a place of peace for various members of the CNU community.  It feels good to help people's days to suck a little less.  It feels good to have my own day brightened by my conversations and interactions with the students, even when it's raining.

Yesterday at SpiritWorks we learned of the death of a young man named Jason.  He was hit by a train in Williamsburg a couple of weeks ago.  Though I did not know him well, I had met him a few times.  He had a sweet spirit and a happy outlook on life despite being in and out of shelters   Addiction is a terrible and deadly disease, and it breaks my heart to see its impact, especially on young people.  I don't know how he came to be on a train track on the evening of October 23, but I do know that he will be missed, and I grieve his loss.

So today it was good for my soul to be present at the prayer station, not doing but being, listening to young people and praying for them, and being immersed in the life of a busy campus.  It was good to have time to be still and pray. 

I don't need to fret.  A little rain won't hurt the Plaza Prayer Station.  And truly, a little rain can hardly hurt Jason any more.  He doesn't feel any pain.  God's got him now. And rain will make the flowers grow.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Slowing Down

After several 80 degree days, storms passed through last night bringing cooler temperatures.  It's definitely fall now, leaves are changing colors and falling off the trees, and today I had to chase the sun with the prayer station because it was too chilly to sit in the shade.  For Homecoming I had purchased a CNU sweatshirt, and I was grateful for its warmth as the breeze whipped across the Plaza today and clouds blocked the sun at times.  I really do need to come up with my winter plan because one of these Thursdays will be rainy and/or much colder.  I'm hesitant to head inside, however, because I will instantly become much less visible. 

It was slow today at the prayer station, but I have made my peace with that.  Visitors seem to come in waves that correspond to the waves of papers and tests.  I actually had some time for quiet prayer for CNU and the community here. Fewer people brought their lunches into the Plaza today, and the tables and chairs had been shifted into sun spots.  One of the skateboard dudes, turned biker dude for today, stopped by to say he had too much writing to do so he couldn't stay and chat, but he said he would look forward to hanging out next week.  Today I brought candy, in honor of Halloween, and a couple of students who have chatted with me before said hello and picked up a treat.

I've struggled a bit with the public privacy of the prayer station and how much to share here in the public space of an Internet blog.  The station is in a public space, and anyone passing by can see me say prayers with people.  But the prayer requests themselves are private, and so I don't post them here, even in a way that can't be traced back to the person making the request.  I want the prayer station to be a safe space, and I don't want anyone to discover their private stories posted on the web.  Today one of my walk-by students who had popped over for a prayer previously stopped by to follow up.  I was glad for my sunglasses because my eyes filled with tears as this student shared some good news and then threw her arms around me in a big hug.  I hadn't expected to see her again or to know what had happened, but I had kept her request in my prayers and hoped for the best.  What a blessing to have her reappear and give me the update.  I'm so grateful that God put me in the right place at the right time to be present to her need.

Students also continue to ask me about the Episcopal Church and what makes it different from other churches.  Most of the students I talk to come from evangelical and/or non-denominational traditions.  They are curious, interested, and I hope that some of them will take me up on my invitation to come to Eucharist on Thursday afternoons.  So far no one has, but I have hope that as they grow more comfortable with me they may find the courage to try something new.  I remember in seminary theology class being asked to come up with an "elevator pitch" for the Episcopal Church that we could give in 2 minutes or less.  Seems like I need to perfect that for this setting. 

People continue to walk by the station and smile.  Some furrow their brows as they read the sign, and some move on quickly as if scared I might force a prayer on them.  Some have gotten used to me and greet me as they would anyone else they know on campus.  I'm starting to feel like I belong, and I try to stay open to whatever will come on a given day. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

View from the Tailgate: Try New Things

Canterbury and St. Stephen's tailgated on Saturday for CNU's Homecoming game.  It was my first time to tailgate.  Last year I had gotten together a Canterbury Support Team from St. Stephen's to help me brainstorm ways the parish could be more involved in ministry to the students, and one of the ideas that came up was tailgating.  It sounded cool, but I had no clue what to do.  Fortunately the person who had suggested it did know and was willing to help.  As it was too late in the year last year, we decided to do it this fall, and Saturday was the only football game we both had free.  It probably would have been better to try it out on a regular game day - Homecoming was a zoo!  We ended up in the overflow tailgating lot because we came arrived later in the day, but it worked out perfectly.  There was a band in our area, and we got to park under the trees on the grass.  It was much less crowded than the main area.  It probably decreased our visibility, but it was a comfortable spot.

We had a few parishioners from St. Stephen's come hang out with us as well as members of the Canterbury Club.  Everyone had a good time eating, chatting, and enjoying the day. A few of us even went to the football game and watched all the Homecoming activities, including fireworks!  Watching the Homecoming Court walk out onto the field at halftime reminded me of my shining moment of glory at Sewanee.  It's still hard for me to believe that actually happened.

I knew tailgating was a good idea, but I was very nervous because I didn't know how to do it, and I couldn't do it by myself.  I had to rely on other people - who did a splendid job!  And how much easier it was to share the load.  I didn't know it would be so hard to park and that there would be so many people and that parking at the church really was kind of far away while lugging heavy things and not knowing exactly where I was going.  But somehow through texts and FaceBook and everyone bringing something to share, it turned out to be a great event.  We didn't get the visibility that I had hoped for, but we learned a lot and had fun doing it, and now we're poised for next year.  We took the Plaza Prayer Station Sign with us so that we would be identifiable.  We were present.  We tried something new.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Minds Fixed on God

O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are 
fixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in 
quietness and trust shall be our strength.    Isaiah 26:3; 30:15
I arrived at the Prayer Station in a terrible mood.  Events of the morning, which do not need to be detailed here, had caused both sadness and disappointment as well as some pretty intense anger.  As I hauled my sign out to the Plaza, I was not feeling the love.  I won't say that steam was literally coming out of my ears, but I felt as if it should be.  As I sat down I knew I had to do something to get centered and come present to where I was.  It didn't seem like offering prayers in anger would be my best course of action.  I texted a friend and asked her to pray that I might find some love in my heart.

This past weekend at St. Stephen's Oktoberfestival, a parishioner's sister had given me a beautiful Anglican rosary with a fairy stone cross and green beads.  I took it out and hung onto it like a safety blanket, using the stones to ground me (pun intended.)  Starting with the Lord's Prayer, I began to pray and realized my mind was not settling down.  So I pulled out my trusty BCP (Book of Common Prayer) and turned to the noonday devotions for individuals and families.  The words of the opening Psalm started to calm me down, but it was the short passage from Isaiah that moved me to a place of serenity:  "O God, you will keep in perfect peace those whose minds arefixed on you; for in returning and rest we shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be our strength."  I breathed deeply as I recognized the words from the Prayer for Quiet Confidence, one of my favorite collects in the BCP.  Keep my mind fixed on God.  That's where I'll find peace.

Before I could finish reading the rest of the short devotion, a student came up and asked if I was the person who worked at St. Stephen's.  He said he was interested in coming to a service on Sunday but didn't have any experience of the Episcopal Church.  So we sat down and chatted about the structure of the service and what he could expect if he came.  It was one of the quickest answers to prayer I have ever experienced.  It never ceases to amaze me how I can pray and pray and pray about one thing and not seem to get an answer but then in a moment of need in a different situation, an answer comes almost before I can finish saying, "Help me, help me, help me."  As I turned my attention to the skateboard dudes and others who came over to chat, I was able to let go a bit of my frustration and anger.  Isaiah's reminder to keep my mind fixed on God was timely.  I know I've read this devotion at other times, but I had forgotten that was the scripture reading in it.  My job isn't to worry about other people's business; my job is to keep my mind fixed on God, and if I do, I will find peace.  Also, asking God to smite people probably isn't the best way to keep my mind fixed on God!

It's Homecoming week at CNU.  The Plaza was lined with signs that campus organizations had made in honor of the week.  On Saturday Episcopal Campus Ministries will be tailgating for the first time.  One of the skateboard dudes said he'd come by to visit us.  He also asked me to tell him the next time I'll be preaching at St. Stephen's because he wants to come listen.  It was a good day at the Plaza, and I'm grateful that I didn't let what had happened earlier ruin it for me.  I'm glad I had the sense to open my Prayer Book when I needed some help.  I'm delighted that the students continue to hang out with me and share their lives.  Mostly I'm grateful that God brought that promised peace and reminded me that my best choice is always to fix my mind on my Creator.

Friday, October 17, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Time Takes Time

New Prayer Station Location  - nice flowers!
In recovery circles we have a saying, "Time takes time."  It seems like a "duh" saying.  But whenever I hear it, I sigh with a deep recognition - right, time does take time, and it doesn't matter how much I want things to move faster, they take the time that they need to take.  Anyone who has tried to build a relationship knows this.  Part of the reason I moved out into the Plaza was to start building relationships.  I have some good relationships with the students who come to the Canterbury meetings and Eucharist - we've had time to spend together and get to know each other.  So why would it be a surprise that the relationships in the Plaza also need time to grow?

Yesterday I was blessed again by a steady stream of visitors, including President Trible who saw the station for the first time.  He thanked me and said, "Please pray for me and for CNU" over his shoulder as he walked into lunch.  I do.  Every week.  In between student visits, during my "campus prayer time," I usually start with him and the administration and then faculty, staff, and students, before heading on to other intercessory prayers.  But I'm finding I have less time for quiet prayer. 

I had a few more "drive by" prayer requests yesterday, students who make a beeline for me, stay standing, and usually ask for prayer for a loved one who is sick or suffering.  These students are often in a hurry, on their way to class or a meeting, but their loved one is heavy on their hearts and so they ask for a prayer.  I don't know them before they come over, and I don't know if I'll ever encounter them again.  We pray for them and their loved ones during the Prayers of the People at Eucharist later in the day, too. Last year Becca Stevens, who is the chaplain at Vanderbilt, told me that I should never feel bad about a ministry of presence.  She said, "They'll find you when they need you."  It seems like they are.  Even when I feel invisible, they are taking notice. 

I also had a continual flow of "chair chatters," people who plop right down in the chair beside me and start to share.  Sometimes they make casual conversation, and other times they start pouring out whatever is troubling them at the moment.  Sometimes they ask me questions; they're so curious about my college experience and what I think about what's going on in their lives.  We talk about vocational discernment, relationships, plans for the future, academic stress, leadership of small groups, and campus events.  Most of them asked me about my fall break and what I had done.

One young woman hadn't come by in a few weeks and said she realized that today was Thursday and she would get to see me.  "I don't know you very well, but I just want to hang out with you."  High praise, in my mind.  I had been wondering where she had been as I had missed seeing her on previous days.  She was living her life.  It takes time to build relationships, and these students have so much on their plates. Today we got to "hang out" and get to know each other a little better. 

Time takes time.  It takes time to find the best spot for this ministry - a spot that's visible but not in the way, with the appropriate amount of shade or sun.  Soon it will start to get cold, and I'll need to relocate again.  It will probably take time for the students to re-find me when I do.  It takes time to build trust, to learn enough information that I don't repeatedly ask what someone's major is or where they're from.  It takes time to establish presence - that I'm not a creepy stalker priest or an "in your face" religious person, that I'm safe and supportive and willing to listen.  It takes time to know and be known.  What a blessing to have this time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Twinkies, Seed Planting, and Fall Break

Activities in the Plaza
I haven't had a chance to blog about last week's time at the Plaza Prayer Station because I left immediately afterward to begin my journey to Georgia for my mother's 70th birthday party.  But it was another amazing day with beautiful weather and a fairly constant stream of students.  It felt a little like a festival in the Plaza - three groups had set up before I arrived.  The sorority Pinktober lemonade stand was back on the opposite side of the Plaza, and on the side I usually sit on were the Student Assembly and a fraternity raising money for the Special Olympics.  Many more people were hanging out and passing through.  I learned that mid-terms were over for many students though some still had one or two to take.  But there was a lightness that hadn't been there the week before that I think had to do with the closeness of fall break.  I set up in a new location, much closer to the door of the DSU (David Student Union).

Leftover Twinkies
At one point in the afternoon, I noticed a large group had gathered around the fraternity tent.  Music played loudly, and it looked like the crowd was watching something.  I wondered if it was some kind of dancing or flash mob type thing.  Though I couldn't see what was going on,  I later learned that it had been a twinkie-eating contest.  I think that the winner ate 9 twinkies in 1 minute.  Someone came over with the leftover twinkies and said, "Would you like a twinkie, ma'am?"  (It's still hard for me to be comfortable being a "ma'am.")  I took one and, of course, was sorry that I had when I bit into it.  They have not gotten better since the last one I tried!

Skateboard dudes hung out with me as well as some students I hadn't met previously.  It was a blend of students asking for prayers and students who settled in to my extra chair for a chat.  I felt deeply honored by the conversations that I had with some of the students.  One talked to me about the challenges of planting seeds - how one never knows what, if anything, will grow.  He asked me if I'd ever planted any seeds in my life that had born fruit 20 or 30 years later.  (I'm not sure how old he thinks I am!)  I was able to share with him stories of my time in the theatre and how so many people there were "refugees from religion" and how I preached the gospel to them without words but just by living my life as best I could, going to church and sharing my experiences.  Since leaving theatre I have received several emails and letters from people who told me that my example had led them back to church.  I had no idea I was having that impact at the time.  Certainly wasn't what I was trying to do, and yet I'm so grateful to hear those stories.  Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1 Cor. 3:6).  It is a blessing when we get to see that growth.
Canterburian Megan with sign

The previous week I had felt a bit discouraged by the lack of student visitors, and I thought maybe my seeds weren't going to to grow after all, but last Thursday, the station was overflowing.  Some of the students who came for a chat ended by asking for a prayer about what we had discussed.  Everyone who stopped by seemed to leave feeling blessed.  What they may not know is how blessed I feel that they take time out of their day to come up to a "ma'am" and share their lives and concerns and anxieties and joys with me.  I don't fix anything for them, I just listen and sometimes ask questions and every now and then I intentionally plant a seed.  It's up to God, of course, to give the growth, but I try to keep planting faithfully, praying that I'll get to continue seeing the growth each week and also knowing that there are times when the seeds are buried deep in the ground and need more time to sprout. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Walk Humbly with Your God

On Thursday I headed out into the Plaza with high hopes.  I'd received so much publicity and positive feedback about the prayer station in the past week.  It might have gone to my head just a bit.  Not to worry.  There are always new opportunities for humility.

When I got to the Plaza I noticed that I would be sharing the space with one of the campus sororities.  They were giving away pink lemonade as one of their "Pinktober" events to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. "My" spot was available, so I set up my sign and chairs, ate my granola bar and eagerly awaited my first visitors.  I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  It seemed like there weren't as many people in the Plaza.  No skateboard dudes.  Not as many students eating their lunch outside.  Well, mid-terms are next week, I thought.  Maybe everyone is studying. 

The longer I sat without visitors, the more I had to remind myself that my primary purpose in sitting there is to pray.  And I can do that whether individuals come up to me or not.  So I did pray, for all the students I know and the concerns that have been brought to me in past weeks, for faculty, administration and staff, for other campus ministries, for seminaries, especially General, and for any other concerns that came to my mind.  I prayed with my rosary.  I prayed noonday prayer and the noonday family devotions.  I tried to radiate a sense of peace and calm for those who might be anxious or taking tests.  I imagined a wave of love emanating from the Plaza and extending throughout the campus.  At one point I got up and went over to the "Drink Pink" booth for a cup of pink lemonade.  I made a donation in honor of my mom who is a two-time survivor and whose 70th birthday is this week. 

Posing with President Trible
I tried not to be disappointed. I also tried not to over-analyze whether my spot is in the best locationor whether I need to move.  It seemed like the women of Zeta Tau Alpha were having similar issues, though more people wanted free lemonade than prayers. I watched as they tried to figure out how to get more visitors to their booth.  They were very excited when President Trible came over and posed for a picture with them.  I heard them wondering whether a different entrance to the Student Union might have more traffic.  When one of them started to walk away, I heard another say, "Don't leave," and I smiled.  It's a little scary out there in the Plaza on your own.  Best not to do it alone!

As I sat there I remembered that I wasn't alone either.  So many people were praying for me and for the ministry.  And of course, God is there too.  At our Canterbury meetings we've been talking about where we've encountered God during the week.  I've noticed that most of us tend to share moments of happiness or answered prayers.  We tend to associate God's presence with times of joy and positive outcomes.  But is God any less present when a chaplain sits and prays for a campus by herself than when students flock up to her?  Do we only thank God when we get what we want or when it goes better than expected?  As I've reflected on this week's time at the prayer station, I've come to realize that God may have been present in a very different way, but in the midst of all my expectations, it was hard to see.

It had been an exciting but exhausting week for me at both my ministry sites.  Lots of publicity, pictures with the governor, long nights of working on an essay for a contest, and a bit of an intestinal thingy that wasn't serious but left me feeling a little weak and not able to eat much.  I was longing for rest and renewal.  And isn't that what I received as I sat in a comfortable chair on a beautiful day watching the clouds drift and praying for the well-being of others?  A gift of rest.  A gift of time just to be.  It didn't feed my ego.  But it did feed my soul.  So my prayer this week for those at CNU and any others who need it is that you will also receive the gift of some "still time," time for being, time for waiting, time for walking humbly with God.  May you be open to the gift of that time, and may it nourish and restore you.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Forecast from the Plaza Prayer Station: Overcast with a Request for Prayer

Yesterday it rained.  And rained.  And rained and rained and rained.  I prayed that today would be clear for my time at the Plaza Prayer Station.  I haven't yet figured out the rain plan.  Today dawned overcast, but no rain.  (Thanks, God!)  A little chilly, but not cold.  No need to find a shady spot in the Plaza today.  When I arrived, the Multicultural Student Association had set up a Spanish Fiesta in the corner that I have come to think of as "my spot."  Spanish food and beverages called out invitingly from tables.  I didn't want to intrude on the event, so I found a different spot, still in view of the chapel.  Apparently there was supposed to be dancing at the Spanish Fiesta, but the speaker system wasn't working, so no salsa today.  I would have enjoyed watching that.  Several of the MSA students came over to see what I was doing and expressed their appreciation. 

Each time I go, it's a little different.  I told myself, "Be open."  Open to a new location.  Open to a new experience.  Open to whatever God brings on a given day.  Today one of my skateboard "dudes" dropped by for a couple of minutes, but for the most part the station functioned the way I had originally imagined it, with students and even staff stopping by for a prayer.  Prayers were requested for injuries, for sick relatives, for clarity and growth. I broke out my oil stock for a wounded eye.  I lost count, but I would guess I had at least 10 prayer requests in about an hour and a half.  A few stopped in to ask what it was all about, and one person called out in passing that I could pray for everyone to be okay.

One of my favorite moments was when I returned to the station after a bathroom break and discovered a student taking a picture of the "How may I pray for you?" sign with his phone.  He told me he was really glad that someone was doing this.  Several people walked by and said "Thank you," and many more smiled.  After I said a prayer for one person, she asked me how she could pray for me.  A gift!

I find that I am at peace in this ministry, though I could still use a little more confidence in my ability to pray extemporaneously.  Each Thursday I want to get there earlier and stay later.  I think I would enjoy being out there all day if I didn't have other responsibilities to attend to as well.  And if the rain held off.  I'm guessing I need to come up with the rain/cold location next.  I had thought it would be the coffee shop, but it's so crowded and loud.  It's tough to find an inside spot that is both visible and yet private and quiet enough for a conversation or a moment of prayer. 

Today is the first day I've had people read the sign, stop, turn around, and come up to me to ask for a prayer.  It seems to be filling a need, and for that I am grateful.  It makes me wonder where else we could set up prayer stations or "praying posts" if you will.  Again - not in order to find members or create pledging units, but to carry a ministry of presence into the world and meet people where they are.  The students are so grateful for the prayers.  Who else might be longing for them as well?
View of Trible Library from my chair

Friday, September 19, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Never Underestimate God

I had such low expectations for this ministry.  My whole goal was to be brave enough to set up a sign and sit next to it.  I had figured it would take a long time for students to get used to me being there.  Never underestimate God. 

Week 1:  I show up with sign and chair and nervously sit and pray.
Week 2:  One of "my" students comes by to say hello and then a handful of "new" students come over to check out the prayer station and stand around chatting with me.
Week 3:  "Repeat customers" come over as soon as I arrive and plop down next to me on chair and bench, sharing concerns about their lives, asking about my faith tradition and why I started this ministry, conversing about the Enneagram and labyrinths, and sharing pictures of their projects for art class.  I extend the time I'm there to accommodate the traffic and to give myself time to pray once the Plaza clears out for class.

In three weeks this ministry went from no visitors at all to a constant stream of students hanging out, coming and going, checking in and introducing me to friends.  New lesson this week:  eat lunch before I come because once I sit down, there's no time for food.  And:  Never underestimate God.

I have been praying for a way to reach more students.  Fliers, campus email and tv announcements, Facebook, texts, and banners have failed to reach more than a handful of students.  Or our message hasn't been compelling enough to stand out from the plethora of campus activities.  And so, in the interest of ministering to a campus instead of just trying to grow a group, I wanted to figure out what a small Episcopal campus ministry could offer this school.  Many of the students already participate in campus ministries like InterVarsity, Campus Crusade (CRU), RUF, or Young Life, and many more participate in the astounding variety of Bible studies provided on campus.  We began offering a weekday Eucharist last semester, but that's still hidden away in the chapel (even with all the aforementioned advertising.)  It feeds a few, and that's wonderful, but I thought we could do more.  How, though, to become visible?  (Especially if we are shy and introverted!)

Last year I tried bringing Micah the black lab puppy.  Lots of students came up to pet him - he was a big hit.  But conversations ranged from "May I pet your dog?" to "Thanks for letting me pet your dog," to questions about Micah's age and known tricks.  And, we couldn't go inside.  I interacted with students, and I understand that some chaplains are able to transform the interest in the dog into deeper conversation.  I am not so gifted.     

This prayer station ministry, though, seems to be working.  Not to grow a group.  To minister to the campus.  The students I talk to are leading their own Bible studies as part of another campus ministry.  And yet they are drawn to the presence of a person praying for them, someone who doesn't judge or grade them, someone who isn't there to enforce rules, someone with a little more life experience, someone who has time to listen.  And maybe that's the most important thing - being visibly available to listen.  One person told me that after she had met me last week, she came through the next day and looked over to "my" corner of the Plaza and felt sad that no one was there.  Another person said she had seen the station on the way to her chemistry test and it made her smile.  Many of the ones who spoke to me yesterday said they'd see me next week.  They wanted to know what day and what hours I would be there.  

Maybe next week I'll take a prayer book.  Maybe we'll spontaneously start doing noon-day prayer together.  Maybe I'll bring the portable labyrinth from SpiritWorks.  Maybe I'll have another week where no one comes.  But they will see me, sitting there, available if they need me, ready to listen.  There's no telling what might happen.  We need to stay open for surprises - there's no telling what God might do next. 

Plaza Prayer Station
View of Great Lawn behind the Prayer Station

Monday, September 15, 2014

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Do Not Assume

The second day of the CNU prayer ministry dawned hot and very humid.  I had decided to arrive a little earlier than the week before in order to be present for the peak of lunch - the most crowded time in the Plaza. 

As I settled in, I realized that I was looking right at the chapel.  A good focus for me as I prayed. When I had stopped by St. Stephen's on my way in, I learned that the Bible study group had been praying for me.  I had asked the congregation to pray for this new ministry the Sunday before, so I was delightfully surprised when I learned that they actually were.  My rector also offered me a rosary to take - another good focus for prayer.  This time I was more ready.  I put my phone away after taking a picture of the chapel, and made an agreement with myself that I wouldn't check it until the end of the hour. I knew several people were praying for me, and I wanted to do my part - praying for the campus until someone came up to ask for prayer.

Right in front of me a group of students was hanging out, having a wonderful time.  Two guys with skateboards seemed to know everyone who passed through the Plaza.  If we'd been in another setting, I might have described the two as surfer dudes.  I was a little nervous sitting so close, afraid that they would find the woman in the black shirt and white collar "uncool."  I assumed that they weren't the praying types and was scared they might even make fun of me.  But I couldn't help smiling because they looked like they were having such a great time. 

Though this wasn't a surprise for me, I rediscovered how easily distracted I am when I'm trying to pray, especially when I'm also trying to maintain an open and friendly disposition so as to encourage students to stop in for a prayer.  The rosary helped.  I prayed for all the students in Canterbury by name and all the other students I know as well.  I prayed for the campus, for those who are lonely or struggling or taking tests, for those who are struggling with addiction or any other trouble.  I prayed for faculty and staff.  I prayed for Sewanee and Seabury and the other campus ministries of our diocese and their chaplains and other clergy I know and anyone else who came to mind. 

And then a student I know came up to say hello.  The first person to break the invisible barrier that seemed to be preventing people from stopping to talk.  Plenty of people were passing by and reading the sign, and some even smiled, but until the one student stopped in, no one had spoken.  We talked for a minute and I offered a prayer.  It wasn't long before one of the skateboard dudes came over to talk.  "Here it comes," I thought.  I put on my most welcoming, trying-to-be-cool-while-sweating-in-a-clergy-shirt-and-please-don't-say-anything-mean-to-me smile.  "I think what you're doing is cool," he said. 

Lesson # 1 - Do not assume that surfer looking dudes don't pray. 

The guy and a couple of his friends talked to me for about 20 minutes or so.  They asked what I was praying for, told me about the Bible studies they lead, talked about an interest in "liturgical" prayer, and chatted about things that interested them.

Lesson # 2 - Do not assume that members of a differing campus ministry will think poorly of the prayer ministry I'm offering.

The consensus among this group of students was that visible prayer ministry was a good thing. One student came up after the others had left and chatted for awhile and then gratefully received the prayer I offered. 

Lesson # 3 - Just don't assume anything.  Stay open to each moment and what it will bring.

Ministry of presence is hard for me.  I feel like I need to be "doing" something and that there needs to be some way to measure it.  What matters, though, is the showing up and the "being" there.  I imagine it will be different each day that I go, and that I will continue to be surprised.  I look forward to what new lessons time at the Plaza Prayer Station will bring.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How May I Pray for You?

Sometime last spring I read a blog post by Jonathan Melton, campus minister at University of Wisconsin-Madison.  In the post Jonathan talked about starting what I call a "chapel steps" ministry in which he put out a couple of chairs next to a sign that said, "How may I pray for you?"  Although I didn't remember all the details, that blog post lodged itself in my brain, and from time to time I would think about it and ask myself whether I wanted to start such a ministry at CNU.  What he did sounded so brave to this shy introvert.  But it also sounded like a way to have an actual praying ministry on campus, and that appealed to me.

I ran the idea of the prayer ministry past my students, and they said, "If you're willing to do it, we think it's great."  That was the real question - was I willing to do it?  In my head where I'm courageous and filled with great ideas, I was absolutely willing to do it.  But then fear and worry took over when I tried to picture how I was actually going to do it.  So I found Jonathan's blog post and reread it.

Jonathan's question was "How shall I sit?"  My question was, "How do I make the sign?"  When I'm  nervous, I can get stuck on details like that, and then I have a very convenient excuse for not getting around to the actual ministry.  What kind of sign should I get?  What should I put on the sign?  Where should the sign go?  I figured it might take at least another year to figure out the whole sign thing.  So I decided to cut myself off at the pass, and I emailed Jonathan to ask him about his sign.  He very graciously shared where he had gotten his sign as well as sharing some of what he had learned from his prayer ministry with me.  I had no more excuses.  So I ordered a sign and some brightly colored chalk markers. 

On the day I had decided to start the prayer ministry, I walked onto campus and immediately got cold feet despite the almost 90 degree temperature.  I had decided to sit from 1-2 in the Plaza between the student union and the library.  Though I wanted to sit on the chapel steps, not much foot traffic goes by there, so I wanted to be where the students are.  I thought I would scope out my location before dragging the beautiful but way-too-heavy sign to the Plaza.  As soon as I got there and saw all the students milling about for a "Meet the Greeks" event, fear took over.  "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this."  I told myself it was okay to have a day to scout things out and that I could start the actual ministry the following week.  And then I remembered that the night before I had asked a friend to pray for me and she had said she would set an alarm.  She was praying.  How could I go back and tell her that I hadn't even tried?  So I said my own prayer for strength and courage, and I went to my car to get the sign and the chairs and some water.  A student saw me struggling with the sign and came over to help me carry it.  I thanked him and, after picking a spot in the shade but off to the side, I sat down by the sign to begin my hour of prayer.

On that first day, no one came up for prayer or even spoke, though a few people smiled on their way past.  It didn't matter to me, though.  I prayed for the campus and the students in the Canterbury Club.  At the end of the hour I packed up.  It had been a success.  Not because students had come up asking for prayer - I really hadn't expected that would happen on the first day.  Not because I had helped the Canterbury Club grow in membership.  Not because I had been especially focused in the time of prayer.  No, it was a success because I showed up.  Someone prayed for me, and that helped me to pray for others.  It was really very simple.  Didn't require a lot of courage at all.  By showing up that first time, I knew I would be able to continue the ministry on another day, and hopefully over time it would involve more and more people praying and receiving prayer. 

So, if you're reading this, I invite you to pray for the CNU Episcopal Campus Ministry prayer station.  And be sure to let us know how we may pray for you.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Remembering Joel Harvey

My friend Joel Harvey died yesterday.  We weren't the closest of friends, not like my friends from college or high school, and he wasn't exactly a mentor, though he might have been if we'd been a little more intentional about it.  We served together for several years on the Commission on Ministry, doing the work of listening for the calls of those who want to be ordained.  Sometimes I gave him a ride to and from clergy conferences.  It was on those rides that we learned that we had both worked in professional theatre before becoming priests.  There's something about theatre people that I can't quite explain.  Maybe it's the same for anyone who has been in a previous vocation and meets someone who had the same experiences, I don't know.  For me, finding people who understand both the challenges and blessings of the theatre and the church is a gift.  Sharing the stories of the two worlds created a bond between Joel and me. 

Joel was sweet and kind and gentle.  He told the truth.  In a direct way.  Not mean.  But the truth all the same.  As a CPE supervisor he was well acquainted with how human beings work, and I often found him a source of wise counsel.  When I was making my transition from parish ministry to SpiritWorks, Joel supported me and offered guidance.  He came out to SpiritWorks a couple of times to meet with us and see what we did, and last year he donated a large number of books to us that he thought we could use at the center.  We treasure them. 

Joel was one of those special people who had a big impact on me, even though I didn't spend a tremendous amount of time with him.  I am grateful that I got to see him at Jan's 50th birthday party and several times this summer when I preached at St. Martin's where he attended on Sunday mornings.  He always had a kind and gracious word about my sermons, and I enjoyed being able to look out at him in the congregation.

Today I walked the labyrinth at Eastern State Hospital in Joel's honor.  I could feel his presence with me as I walked, comforting me, blessing me.  I didn't want to say good-bye.  As I was walking the circuits on my way out of the labyrinth, I saw a hummingbird flying between crape myrtle trees.  As I watched, the tiny bird flew out of sight.  Though I longed for it to fly back so I could see it again, I knew it wouldn't.  Joel is gone.  He will no longer suffer from aches and pains or troubles with his heart, but our hearts will have aches and pains as we miss his presence here among us.  Good-bye, my friend. May you rest in peace and rise in glory.

O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day
our brother Joel. We thank you for giving him to us, his
family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on
our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion,
console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate
of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue
our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with
those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.                                                    -BCP

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Forgivenenss Challenge Day 16 - Telling a New Story

The actual Forgiveness Challenge is on Day 21 or so, but I am back on Day 16 because I really am doing this at my own pace.  Day 15 talked about being a forgiveness hero instead of a victim.  The title of it, "Forgiveness Hero," led me to think of my own forgiveness heroes.  Nelson Mandela.  The people of South Africa.  Jesus.  The parents of the Amish girls.  For me, people who forgive those who have hurt them are the strongest and most courageous of all.  Who are your forgiveness heroes?

I want so badly to have the courage that my heroes have and so I have always tried to forgive others, some with more success than others.  Where I fall down is that I move too quickly to say, "I forgive you," because I want to find the peace that comes with forgiveness, but I don't actually do the work it takes to get to true forgiveness.  "It didn't matter," I say.  "Of course I forgive you," I say.  "No worries."  Right.  No worries until the next time when all of my unspoken and unresolved hurt, fear, anger, and disappointment rise up inside me shining a bright light on my lack of honesty.  I do not mean to be dishonest when I say I have forgiven, but nevertheless, I am.

This Fourfold path to forgiveness, this writing down of hurts and stories, this use of visualization to experience and let go of the big feelings, this process of telling the story and finding compassion for ourselves and for the ones who hurt us is a way to be honest about what happened.  It wasn't okay.  It did matter.  AND I can forgive.  For real.  Not just for pretend.  The lesson I have to learn is that I have to own all those feelings that I don't like, move through them instead of just burying them, so that I can tell a new story, a story that does not cast me in the role of victim but in the role of hero.  A story that shows I've healed.  It's not much fun to be a victim, not very life-giving.  And yet without acknowledging the pain, I can't truly forgive it.  

This Easter season is drawing to a close.  As we approach Pentecost, the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit, I pray that God will give us all the courage to walk the path of forgiveness, whether it's the Tutu Fourfold Path or some other, so that we all might tell a new story in which we are the heroes, not the victims, and in which we have come to know the peace that true forgiveness brings.