Thursday, January 29, 2015

View from the DSU Prayer Station: Entertaining Angels

Today at Eucharist in the chapel we celebrated Andrei Rublev, the Russian monk and iconographer from the 1400's. His icon of the Trinity is my favorite.  Rublev based this icon on an earlier one called, "Hospitality of Abraham," depicting Abraham's hospitality to the three strangers/angels at the oaks of Mamre in Genesis 18. The original includes Abraham and Sarah offering food and drink to the three who may have been the Trinity.  In Rublev's icon there is a space in the front, almost as if the three are inviting the viewer to the table with them.  Who is offering hospitality to whom?  Before Eucharist today, a man came in looking for help.  He is a refugee from Israel/Palestine and has been brought here to be an Arabic translator.  But the process of getting him into housing and food stamps and all the needed services is slow, and he needed help getting kosher food for his family.  This is not something I am set up to do at the CNU chapel 15 minutes before a service.  So I called over to St. Stephen's, and they were able to help him there.

Earlier in the afternoon I had arrived on campus running late and in low spirits.  Each Thursday I try to get to the chapel prior to noon so that I can get my sign out of its storage space before the Catholic Campus Ministry Mass starts.  As I was behind my time, they were already setting up.  I darted in and tried to get the sign out quickly so as not to be in the way.  One of the CCM students saw me struggling a bit with carrying the sign and came out and offered to carry it for me.  He chatted with me and carried it all the way to my spot in the DSU.  He said it was a great sign and he didn't want it to get banged up.  He had appreciated seeing it on Thursdays. 

Who is offering hospitality to whom?  I didn't have any prayer requests today, but I did have a number of people drop by to say hello and chat for a minute.  As I sit and offer prayer to the campus, the campus welcomes me into its midst.  It seems that we bless each other.  CNU's vice president, a parishioner at Bruton Parish stopped by today and said he hoped to make it to Eucharist one Thursday.  I have had exchanges with several of the staff as well, and today I enjoyed catching up with a couple of them.  The lady who takes the money in the lunch area was having a birthday. 

It was so cold today that I stayed inside, though the drafts from the doors were tough to take.  Towards the end of my time I found that I couldn't stop shivering.  I picked up some hot Chick-fil-a nuggets and fries and then stopped in to see my friend in the Admissions Office.  She is the perfect person to have in an Admissions Office.  So warm and full of life, bubbling over with joy.  I basked in her smile and bright energy as the heat in the office stopped my shivering.  She had come up to me after I had been introduced at the Trible's campus ministry dessert event and asked if I would pray for staff, too.  Of course.  I look forward to seeing her each week whether she waves to me while I'm at the prayer station or whether I drop by the office to see how she's doing.

Who is offering hospitality to whom?  Who are the angels and who are the hosts?  Who are the strangers in need of a little kindness?  Today I felt like others were angels to me.  But I suspect some of them may have felt the same.  I have quoted this before, but I think it bears repeating, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2.)  One of my hopes for the prayer station is that it would offer that hospitality, that invitation.  Just like Rublev's icon, inviting viewers to come a little closer and spend some time with the mystery.

Friday, January 23, 2015

View from the Plaza Prayer Station: Hug from God

I don't have a picture from yesterday's time at the Prayer Station.  I completely forgot to take one.  About a half hour before I was due on campus, as I was sitting in my office at St. Stephen's taking care of some administrative tasks, I heard that a parishioner had died.  As the rector is away at a continuing ed event, I immediately tried to call to reach the family.  When the answering machine picked up, I heard the voice of the man who had died.  It was so surreal in that moment.  I had just heard that he had died, and yet there he was, talking to me through the phone.  Though I didn't know him well, he had always been very kind to me and was known for taking pictures of me standing next to the bishop at big events.  Tears welled up in my eyes as I struggled to make sound come out of my mouth to leave a message. 

Needless to say, I was late to the Prayer Station.  When I arrived I opted to sit outside.  It was supposed to be in the 50's, but really it was 44.  The sun was warm, but the wind was cold.  When it stopped blowing, the sun was warm on my back, but it didn't stop very often.  Still, it was good to be back in my spot outside, even though I had to keep shifting my spot to stay in the sun.  I had a couple of conversations with Canterburians, and several people popped by for prayers.  It always makes me smile when they want a hug afterwards.  In college I was known as the Designated Hugger because I was always going around giving out hugs.  But with Safe Church on my mind and the awareness that hugs are not what everyone wants, I now let others initiate unless I know them well already.  To me the fact that they ask for a hug after prayer means that they've found some comfort and that they feel safe.  One of the things I often complain to God about is that God is just so intangible.  I find myself wishing that God could hug me.  And of course God does, through other people.  I hope for those who come to the Prayer Station that their experience is like receiving a hug from God, a moment in their day when they know that they're not alone.

As I sat, I kept thinking about the circle of life.  A man in his 80's had died.  A beautiful man with a big heart and such depth in his eyes.  I thought about how much he had seen and done in his many years.  He was at the end of life, and I am grateful that I had a little time to be with him though I am sad and will miss him.  At the Prayer Station I see so much young life, new ideas, growing minds.  They bike and skateboard and walk across the Plaza, headed to class, to lunch, to study or to hang out with one another.  They are just starting out.  And here I sit, halfway between those who are just starting out and those who are finishing up their lives. 

It's been a hard week for me.  I found that I didn't have a lot of deep thoughts.  Instead I just sat and watched and listened and prayed.  Being at the Prayer Station is kind of like a hug from God for me. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

View from the DSU Prayer Station - Into the Woods

I prayed for a student with cancer today.

I cannot imagine.  As always when I pray for people with big, scary stuff, the words seemed so inadequate.  I have to trust that God speaks through them because the words seem so small, such tiny points of light to hold in a very dark space.  Like trying to light the way through the woods with a laser pointer on a night with no moon.  Healing does not always mean cure, and God's outcome is not always the one for which we've hoped.  Please, God, speak hope through the words that are too small to carry such a huge burden.

When I was a junior in college, my mother got cancer the first time.  My brother and I found out at Christmas break that she was going for an appointment to learn what it was.  I remember the day I got the call saying that it was indeed cancer.  I think it was a Sunday.  I don't even know how I got there, but I was wandering around in the street outside the old dining hall at Sewanee and I bumped into my friend Giles.  I think I told him.  He invited me in to the Banana-mobile, his big yellow station wagon that often let us know where he was on campus, and he played music for me.  Might have been Enya.  I remember being numb.  I didn't know what to do.  I didn't want to be alone that semester.  But I didn't want to talk.  I remember that I didn't tell my dear sorority sisters at first.  It seemed like I might crack under their love and concern.  I kept trying to hold it together.  I didn't know how to feel.  Though my head knew it was so, my heart had not considered that my parents were mortal. 

I wished.  And wished.  And hoped.  And prayed.  That my mother would live.

And she did.

I remember going to the rooms of friends and just sitting so that I could be close to them.  It was hard to focus on anything, and it was a very challenging semester of work.  I went home one weekend after my mother had her surgery, and all I can remember is how irritable I was.  I don't think I was very helpful at all.  I wanted my mother to be my mother.  I didn't want to take care of her.  I wanted her to take care of me. 

Today I was inside again for the prayer station, under the Into the Woods sign.  I went to see the movie last Friday.  "Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the woods..."  I am grieving for the people who leave us.  My mother battled cancer a second time, and she came out again safe on the other side.  I continue to be grateful for the extra time with her. 

It was very hard for me to cope with my mother's cancer when I was 20.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to HAVE cancer while in college.  I pray that God will lead the student I prayed for through her time in the woods and give her the comfort and strength and courage and support and healing she needs.  I wish...

We are not alone, but sometimes it feels like it.  I wish for this student that she would not feel alone, that she would feel God with her and that all who are struggling right now may feel the peace of God's presence.  There were two prayer requests today, two very big prayer requests, one at the prayer station and one from someone who saw our sign outside the chapel and came in for Eucharist.  "This is how you can pray for me," she said.  Please pray for them.

Prayer Station goes Into the Woods
View of the Student Union from the Prayer Station

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blessing the Semester

Today we did a "Blessing of the Semester" service at CNU.  Again, I cannot take credit for the idea as it came from another campus minister at a conference two years ago.  Sadly I do not know whose idea it was, but I remember someone saying that he had done this on his campus and that it was cool and a lot of fun.  All I remember was that he said there were vestments and incense.  So I got together with St. Stephen's rector, the Rev. Scott Baker, who loves to create liturgies, and asked him if he wanted to help me create a liturgy to bless the semester at CNU.  With some help from the Book of Occasional Services service for blessing a home and reliance on his Baptist heritage of familiarity with scripture, Scott created a wonderful liturgy that we used today to celebrate the new semester.

We gathered on the chapel steps.  Scott's son served as crucifer, and our Canterbury president, Megan, was the thurifer.  Scott and I were in office dress (cassock, surplice, tippet, hood - thanks Ruth Meyers!) and Scott carried water and a branch for asperges while I carried a basket of bulletins and Episcopal Campus Ministry brochures.  The organist from St. Stephen's and one of the choir members showed up with handbells to keep us on pitch during our one hymn, "Earth and All Stars."  When we started there were 9 of us, and by the end we had added 5 more. One of my skateboard dudes from the prayer station came and brought some friends.  We processed from building to building, following the swinging smoke, stopping in front of each and praying.  We dipped the juniper branch into the water and sprinkled it at each stop, blessing each place.  We said a prayer at the Great Lawn and heard a lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon and then moved on to the academic buildings.  We even stopped under the bell tower and blessed it, too.  We ended on the steps of the chapel with a reading of the Beatitudes and the final verses of "Earth and All Stars."  The whole service lasted about a 1/2 hour.

Afterwards all the students hung out to talk.  I introduced Canterbury students to other students and got to meet a few new ones myself.  I know that some of those who joined us come from a more evangelical tradition, so I was glad they hung in there with our very formal Anglican liturgy and then stuck around to get to know us better. 

It was fun and I think it was meaningful.  We lucked out with a beautiful, if chilly, day.  One of the most meaningful moments for me was when one of the Canterbury students said how much she appreciated the service and how the campus felt different to her now.  Yay, liturgy.  Yay, God!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

View from the DSU Prayer Station - Is it spring yet?

Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, baby, it's cold outside!  Brrrrr....  I'm sure my friends in northern climes will mock me, but it is COLD outside!  I did live in Chicago for 3 years, so I understand that those who are experiencing highs in the single digits may not have sympathy for me.  But it was 11 when I left my house this morning and is now 24 with a wind chill of 16.  Needless to say, the Plaza Prayer Station had to move inside.  I was disappointed, but there was no way around it.  Because the student union (DSU) at CNU has 3 entrances to the area where I was sitting, all of them with big doors directly to outside, it wasn't much warmer in there.  I wore coat, scarf, and gloves the whole time.  I couldn't even stay my whole 2 hours.  As a reward, now I am happily ensconced in a chair at the edge of Einstein's sitting in a sun beam and drinking a hot chai.  (But I still haven't taken off my coat!)

Being in the DSU was very different.  Much louder and more crowded.  Harder to concentrate on prayer.  Mostly I observed the many styles of coats and boots and was happy to see only one pair of shorts.  I though it appropriate for many reasons that I was able to find a spot right by Theatre CNU's advertisement for Into the Woods.  I couldn't always tell if people looking my way were looking at my sign or the ad for the show.  There were so many more people inside than I usually see in the Plaza, so I know that more people saw that I was there, though that didn't translate into more contacts.  Several people came by and said they were glad to see I had moved inside.  A few students who know me came up to say hi and exchange hugs.  It's nice to know more people this semester. 

I had to remind myself that although I know a few more people, I still have to reestablish myself and the prayer station.  Considering that on my first day last semester no one spoke to me, I would say today was significantly better.  The highlight was when a young woman came up and pointed to my sign and said, "Are you part of this."  When I said yes and introduced myself, she said, "I'm not even a student here.  I'm just in high school.  But this is so cool!"  She has already applied to CNU and was here today for a band workshop; she plays oboe.  She said she was wondering what the Christian community was like at CNU.  So I was able to tell her about the various flavors available.  She seemed so excited to see me and be on campus and to know that the prayer station is there.  "Can I have a hug?" she asked.  Of course I said yes, and I wished her luck as she bounced away.  Seems like CNU is a good fit for her from that exchange.

For those of you who follow this blog, I would ask for your prayers again this semester as I continue this ministry.  I can feel your prayer support each week, and I know it helps sustain me.  We will be doing a "Blessing of the Semester" service at 1:00 on Sunday which will be similar to a house blessing but with full Anglican procession, incense, and asperges.  We may have 5 or 25.  My prayer is that it will arouse curiosity and interest in who we are and what we're doing.  My prayer for the Plaza/DSU Prayer Station is that those in the CNU Community who need it may find it and that all who encounter it will feel the presence of God more deeply.  Into the woods of a new semester we go.  May God bless us all!