Sunday, January 26, 2014

Snow Days in the South

Nothing better.  Well, nothing better in the winter, anyway.

It starts the night before when you're peering out the window at the cold rain falling in the spotlight outside your parents' bedroom, willing the rain to freeze, willing it to change over to white flakes.  You alternate between studying for the big test tomorrow and running to the window.  "C'mon, c'mon," you say to the rain.  You study as best you can, but you keep hoping it will get just a little closer.

The alarm goes off the next morning and you listen to the clock radio, listen to the DJs on Z-93 calling out the school closings.  Clayton, Dekalb, Fay-yette, Fulton.  You're so happy to get the news that you don't even mind the mispronunciation.  Why is Fayette County such a difficult name?  Then it's up and to the window to look out at a world turned white overnight.

After breakfast it's time to bundle up and go out to play in the snow.  Long johns, gloves, scarves, coats with hoods, boots.  Once bundled up, you feel a bit like the Pillsbury dough boy, ready to waddle out into the snow.

The first steps outside are my favorite part.  It's so quiet!  Everything is muffled and still, except for the crunch of the boots in the snow.  I like looking at the snow on the branches of the trees and on the leaves.  I like how everything slows down and I just notice the icicles and snow.  It's harder to walk, slower going.  You have to be more intentional.  I love that first walk out into the snow before footsteps mar the pristine surface of the snow and before things start to fall on it and before it starts to shrink.  Sometimes the snow is still falling and you can catch the flakes on your tongue, like the Peanuts characters.

Some snow days are spent devising ways to sled - flattening cardboard boxes to slide down the neighbors' hill, or taking a walk back to the steep hill by Steve Newton's house and taking turns with neighborhood kids who have real sleds.  Once I even got to spend an extra snow night with my friend Jill Babb, and we went sledding down one of the hills AT NIGHT!  Not sure if I ever told my parents.

Sometimes snow days are spent trying to make a snowman which can take up most of the snow in the yard.  Or snowball fights.  Sometimes I would just walk around, seeing the world all new and fresh and bright and cold.  Watching the steam of my breath make clouds in the air in front of my face.

Eventually, we would be cold and wet and come traipsing back in, shedding layers of clothes as we walked through the garage to the house.  Usually there was a fire and hot chocolate to welcome us back to the warmth.  Usually dinner time held the stories of the adventures Dad had getting home from work.  He always made it - he was smart about snow! 

Snow days were magical, festive holidays.  We didn't want too many of them because then we had to give up days of spring break or summer.  But we wished and hoped for them as a break in the middle of winter.  They were a time to slow down, to pause and notice the world around us, to take a "time out" from normal.

I feel a little sadness now that I am grown.  Seeing snow fall still brings that magical, festive air for me, that feeling of excitement and hope.  But it is often quickly replaced by the disappointment of having to cancel events, the challenge of digging out the driveway, and the anxiety about driving on roads I have no business driving on.  I am alternately irritated and saddened by the anger that I hear from the grown-ups about all the stupid southerners who don't know how to drive (like we are flamingos who should suddenly be expert ice skaters) or the anger that the southern cities don't own more snowplows.  It's almost as if the snow is a personal insult to some people, falling just to irritate them or ruin their day.

What's supposed to happen, grown-ups, is that you're supposed to have a holiday.  A day to stay home and play, to notice the silence of the snow.  It's not so magical up north, at least it wasn't when I lived in Chicago.  It was mostly drudgery to be endured.  But down here where it happens so rarely, I still remember that feeling of waking up in the morning, waiting to hear if my school was closed, and then plunging into a winter wonderland of adventures.  It's snowing!  Want to go out and play?

Friday, January 24, 2014

First Fridays First Anniversary

On February 7 SpiritWorks will celebrate the first anniversary of our First Fridays Recovery Worship Service.  It has been an amazing year.  We have blessed babies and pets, witnessed the renewal of marriage vows, and baptized three people.  We have offered prayers for healing and candles for lighting.  We have had congregations numbering from 12 to almost 50.  I had hoped but could not have imagined how meaningful the service has been and how blessed I have felt by the privilege of participating in it.

In honor of our first anniversary, we are bringing in the Rev. Becca Stevens as our guest preacher for the service.  It will be at 6:30 p.m. at Bruton Parish Church on February 7.  You may remember me mentioning Becca and her organization Magdalene and Thistle Farms.  Becca led the healing oils workshop that I wrote about here.  She is also a graduate of my alma mater, Sewanee.  Magdalene is the residential program she began in 1997 that serves women for two years without charge and without government funding. Becca also founded Thistle Farms, a social enterprise, in 2001, which currently employs nearly 50 residents and graduates, and houses a natural body care line, Paper & Sewing Studios and Thistle Stop Cafe.  She has raised more than $15 million for the organizations she supports.  Named a Champion of Change by the White House in 2011 for her work in domestic abuse, Becca recently received an honorary doctorate by The University of the South and is the youngest and first female recipient of their Distinguished Alumnus award.

The theme for our weekend with Becca is "Love is the most powerful source for social change in the world." Becca will be offering a workshop, "Love is Good Business" on Saturday, Feb. 8 from 6:30-8:30 at St. Martin's Episcopal Church ($10 donation).  A graduate from Magdalene will be with her to share her story of recovery.  On Sunday Becca will be the preacher at all three services at Bruton Parish.  During the weekend her books and Thistle Farms products will be on sale at each event and during the Diocese of Southern Virginia's Annual Council at the Williamsburg Lodge.

It's an exciting weekend of celebration for our first anniversary.  I am so grateful.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

You Can Do Hard Things

My first year of seminary was hard.  I suppose it is for most people, but I just couldn't seem to adjust.  Not to city living or the cold of Chicago or the extreme amount of reading.  I couldn't figure out how to use the library - the last time I'd done research the library had a card catalog!  It seemed like I couldn't understand the discussions in many of my classes, and I just couldn't seem to figure out what the word, "postmodern" meant, even though it was the word most used by my professors.  I felt very far away from everything and everyone that was familiar, and I was becoming suspicious that my decision to sell everything I owned to follow God was the wrong one.

On one of my breaks I visited my friends Dan and Kathy Backlund in Sewanee.  As I whined and lamented about how hard seminary was, one of them said to me, I think it was Dan, "You can do hard things."  My first reaction was to argue, "Yes, but..."  Yes, I can do hard things, but not as hard as seminary.  And then I realized he was right.  There are many people in this world who have endured much more difficult lives and done much harder things than I have, but I have done hard things, too.  I endured my intern year at Actor's Theatre of Louisville, working 80-100 hour weeks and contracting the chicken pox in the middle of the Human Festival of plays.  I got through my mom having cancer twice (though admittedly that was much harder for her than for me.)  I have survived things that I don't care to share on a blog, and I have certainly worked hard.  I CAN do hard things.

I am so grateful to Dan for saying it to me.  It really brought me up short because I realized that I had gotten into a pattern of complaining.  Yes, seminary was hard, but it wasn't as hard as I was making it out to be.  And I am able to do hard things.  In just one sentence Dan challenged me.  Over the years since then, I have remembered what he said.  Sometimes it takes me awhile, and there are certainly times when I just want to complain about the difficulty of an undertaking.  But the truth is, I can do hard things. 

So can you.  If there's something weighing you down or making your life hard right now, remember, "You can do hard things."  We are stronger than we think we are.   

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On the 12th Day of Christmas

I sit all cozy in my living room staring at my beautiful Christmas tree.  It's all lit up with its beautiful white lights, and it smells so good because I've stopped watering it in anticipation of taking it down.  I see angels and nativities and Bob Cratchit and Leaf Man and shells and santas and colored balls and Raggedy Ann and Andy and Snoopy, and crosses and cross stiches, tea cups and tea pots, cats and moose and bears and the jester and the book fairy.  I love the ornaments and the tree and the sparkle it brings to my house.

I don't wanna take it down!

But tomorrow is Epiphany, and it's time.  Tomorrow is my day off, and there's time.  It just always makes me sad to take it down.  I have so enjoyed the past week.  Many of the things I've been working on, like sermons and planning and blogging and thank you notes, have allowed me to curl up under the afghan on my couch with the tree on and a cat curled up next to me.  It's been a sweet time, a restful time, and I know that part of my reluctance to take down the tree is my reluctance to move out of this in-between time and jump full swing into the new year/semester.  The calm before the whirlwind.

I don't wanna take it down!

We'll see what happens tomorrow.  The cats playing in the tree may convince me it's time as I'm tired of pulling them away from it.  But if I decide to leave it up a bit longer, please don't tell the liturgical police!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Mystery of Grace

This week in Bible study at SpiritWorks, we had a lively discussion about the atonement.  Most particularly, how did/does it work?  So many questions came up.  Does Jesus take all our sins into his body, his heart, his being?  Does he go down to hell and shine God's light and clean it out?  How do the sins get out of us and into Jesus?  What happens when he ascends, is he still carrying all the sins with him in heaven?  The questions were so important to those asking them.  They wanted to know how it works.

I was at a loss.  I've been to seminary and studied theories of the atonement:  Christus Victor, ransom, substitutionary, moral influence, satisfaction, scapegoat, liberation.  I remember sitting on the floor of a classroom at Seabury with one of my classmates, wrestling with how to make sense of it and feeling like my brain might explode.  Every time I felt like I was beginning to catch a glimmer of understanding, my classmate would ask, "But how does that save us?"  I would look at him in dismay, as the little shimmers of comprehension danced away to the edges of my consciousness and disappeared.  "I don't know," I would cry in despair.  I knew they were going to ask me on the General Ordination Exams.  And I knew I would fail because I could not explain it.  I believe in grace.  I believe in salvation.  I believe that God redeems everything.  But I could not and cannot explain how it works.  It is a mystery.

This morning I was reading the chapter in Nadia Bolz-Weber's book, Pastrix, in which she talks about her experience with Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), working as a hospital chaplain.  At the end of the chapter she describes how she heard the Passion read on Good Friday with new ears after her CPE experience.  "God was not looking down on the cross.  God was hanging from the cross.  God had entered our pain and loss and death so deeply and took all of it into God's own self so that we might know who God really is.  Maybe the Good Friday story is about how God would rather die than be in our sin-accounting business anymore" (p. 86).

I know that I long for God and turn away from God and long for God and do things that draw me away from God and the cycle goes on and on.  I cannot save myself through my own efforts because I continue to choose my will over God's no matter how much I try to do it differently.  At the same time I do not think that God is the great hall monitor in the sky adding up demerits and handing out detentions.  I believe that God loves us with a love so extravagant that we human merely beings cannot fathom it, a love so deep that God was willing to become one of us to live and die among us, a love so strong that our sins are washed away in it.  A God that would rather die than be in our sin-accounting business is a God I can believe in, but not a God that I can explain.

At SpiritWorks when we coach people, we often take them through a process of discerning core values.  Each time grace comes up as one of my 3 core values.  Each time I try to clarify what it means.  The best I can come up with is that God redeems everything, and it is a gift to us.  It's not something we can achieve or earn or will.  It's unexpected.  It's forgiveness where none should be possible, reconciliation and healing of that which is broken.  It is light shining in the darkness.

I can't explain it.  (And it's embarrassing as a priest to say that.)  I do not understand how it works.  But I am so very grateful that it does.  Thanks, God.