Saturday, September 29, 2007

Where there is despair

A reflection on Luke 16:19-31

Francis of Assisi is best remembered as the saint of animals. It is in his memory that we hold our annual pet blessing. Normally this blessing would take place on a Sunday morning in October during the 10:00 service. But this year we have guest preachers each Sunday in Oct. to celebrate our life and ministry together. And I thought having a pet blessing would be just too much. So, we had it last night. It was a wonderful occasion for us to gather with our beloved pets and celebrate the joy they bring us.

St. Francis lived in the 12th century. He was born to a wealthy family and had all the luxuries of a good education. But a series of war related injuries and illnesses caused him to reconsider his life. Over a couple of years he changed from being a carefree playful young man to a man serious about helping the poor and caring for the world around him. To do this he began a religious order, now known as the Franciscans.

There are many legends about the amazing power Francis had with animals. One of them tells us that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, there was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, but the saint pressed on and when he found the wolf he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis. “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.” (Here I picture Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, come to rehabilitate the wolf and the town into a pack that can get along). So, Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens he made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger” the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly, and in return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks.

Not only was Francis the Dog Whisperer of the 12th century, but he also cared deeply for the poor and the hungry. The life and stories of Francis of Assisi connect us to our scripture readings today, giving us an example of how we are to be mindful of how we live. We are to remember that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. We are to share, intentionally, generously, with others. The rich man in our Gospel is not mindful; he is blind to what is going on around him. He does not ignore Lazarus, he doesn’t even see him. The rich man's blindness is not physical, his eyesight is fine. Rather its blindness caused by self absorption. Stories like this one from Luke are intended to help us see that our actions in this life have consequences.

One of the reasons the Episcopal Church has adopted the United Nations Millennium Development Goals is to give us concrete ways to live with our eyes and hearts open. These goals show us we can really see the world we live in and make a difference. The eight goals are: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; Achieve universal primary education; Promote gender equality and empower women; Reduce child mortality; Improve maternal health; Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; Ensure environmental sustainability; Develop a global partnership for development. These goals define real needs in the world and ask us to develop real responses to them. As a congregation we are doing this in three ways: we use and sell Bishop’s Blend coffee; we work to resettle refugees; and today we had our first conversation on keeping people safe in our church.

Bishops Blend is Fair Trade, which means the purchase of this coffee pays the coffee growers a living wage. By earning a living wage the coffee grower is less inclined to supplement the family income by growing and selling illegal drugs. By earning a living wage the coffee grower is less inclined to sneak into this country as an undocumented alien. Paying people a living wage allows families to remain intact, gain an education, and live productive lives. Every time we drink a cup of coffee in this church we are helping families. Every time we buy a bag of coffee to use at home we are helping. And, St. Hilary’s retains a small profit when you buy your coffee here which we donate to our companion Diocese of SE Mexico. Buying, using, and selling Bishops Blend coffee enables us to work on all eight goals.

A second way we are participating in the Millennium Development Goals, or MDG’s, is through our work with resettling refugees. This summer alone we have helped by providing kitchen items: dishes, pots and pans, eating and cooking utensils, for over 20 families. Working with refugees enables us to participate in seven of the goals. Each family we help is one less family facing poverty and hunger, one more family to receive and education, one more family that empowers its women, reduces child mortality, improves maternal health care, combats disease, and develops a global partnership through IRIM. And perhaps in some way I do not know resettling refugees also works to ensure environmental sustainability.

The third way we are participating in the MDG’s is by focusing on Keeping God’s People Safe. This ministry is new for us, at least in the concerted effort we made this morning to look at the reality of abuse in our world and how we, as a church community, can actively work to keep all people safe.

Each of these three intentional efforts requires very little individual effort on our part. But collectively they are making a huge difference in the world. Most of all by engaging in them and keeping them in the forefront of our ministry we have a constant reminder of the needs of the world and how, from our very blessed lives, we are able to address those needs.

St. Francis is attributed with a prayer. Most of you will know it. It is found in our red Book of Common Prayer on page 833, #62. Please open your prayer books and let’s pray it together:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

RevGals Friday Five; Endings and beginnings

1. Best ending of a movie/book/TV show I don't need a "happy" ending, but I do like endings that show some degree of transformation of the characters. I like to see some growth and the potential for change.

2. Worst ending of a movie/book/TV show Endings that leave one feeling desolate. Like endings that offer no hope, not even the potential for hope at some point.

3. Tell about a memorable goodbye you've experienced. I once broke up with a boyfriend who just could not understand that it was over with us. Years later was still hoping for a reconciliation. I finally asked him if he wanted to meet the man I was going to marry (yes, it had been that long). He said yes. So I arranged for this ex-boyfriend to meet me with my fiance (whom I married 22 year ago and we're still together). After meeting my fiance this ex-boyfriend ran out of the restaurant clearly distraught...saying, no. no. you can't marry someone like "him!" I've always wondered what he meant by that. I found it all rather sad but least he got the point and stopped calling me. Of, course now we have caller ID....

4. Is it true that "all good things must come to an end"?
Sure. Change is inevitable. It's ok. Something else will come along.

5. "Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it." --Anne Lamott
Nah. Most everything I have let go I do willingly. I don't hang on to things forever, nor do I fight change. Sure, I might grieve, but I don't cling or claw. That's not to say I don't put up a fuss for some things, just not everything.

Bonus: "It isn't over until the fat lady sings." I've never loved this expression. So propose an alternative: "It isn't over until ____________________" Yes. I dislike this saying. How about, "It isn't over til the lights go out." or. "It isn't over til the dog stops licking it's wounds." or "it isn't over til it's over." or "it's over folks, go home." or "enough already!"

MFR and Sacral Cranial

Today I had the most interesting experience. Ten months ago I got sick, a bad infection that affected my jaw. I had surgery to drain the infection. The infection has been healed since February, but other complications have taken longer. In the mean time I have been receiving some awesome treatment from a chiropractor. I was a massage therapist for nine years. So after years of doing bodywork and caring for others I find myself on the other end.

Today I had some amazing work done. To help the healing in neck and jaw I received a myofacial release (MFR) treatment combined with a sacral cranial (neck and head) treatment. It was a gentle treatment that essentially moved my head and neck in a gentle flowing rhythm back and forth. All the while I was guiding it with my feedback about tight places or any other sensation.

I felt many things. Some of what I felt was tightness in muscles. Muscles in my neck, muscles down my spine, muscles under my scapula, muscles where my head and neck meet. Some points were very tender. My emotions were pronounced. I felt flutters of fear - flutters that are probably body memory of the illness. And some of the tender painful areas seemed like places that "held" a body memory of the surgery itself. It seemed one spot in my neck was "sore" because it was activated during the surgery, which was traumatic for me, and remembers the experience.

The thing is, just because we are sedated during surgery does not mean we do not experience the pain and trauma of it. Our muscles, our bodies, remember things our conscious minds do not. So, this bodywork today brought up the memory, and with any like, released it. Hopefully some of my chronic soreness will be healed.

Then. She did some internal work on the Pterigoid muscle, deep inside the mouth at the hinge of the jaw. WOW. My right side, where the infection was, was unbelievable...tender and filled with sore spots. The left side, virtually nothing. It was incredible body work. Really incredible.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ryan is coming home

In January I wrote about my daughter's boyfriend Ryan. He serves in the army, 82nd Airborne. He was deployed in January to Afghanistan. But now he is coming home for a two week leave, they call it "vacation."

He leaves on Thursday, but with the time difference that might be sometime today or tonight in our time zone. He will arrive here sometime on Monday. The first few days he will travel by convey through some dangerous terrain and territory. Then he will fly to Germany, then to Atlanta, then to Chicago.

That's assuming he gets off his base without getting hurt... Last night the building where he "works" on the base in Afghanistan was bombed and completely demolished. Thankfully he and all the other workers had just left for the night. No one was injured. But, had any one been in the building...oh my.

Please pray for Ryan and my family as he travels home.

Please continue to pray for all the men and women serving in the military...and all those affected by war and discord around this broken world.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Vanessa Hudgens - Dancing With The Stars Promo - Lets Dance

Dancing....(with the stars)...oh, to dream!

Most of you do not know that I was a dance major. Yes, my BA is from Columbia College, Chicago, a special major in Dance, 1978...

Once again I am watching "Dancing with the Stars." I can't help myself. I love it.

Our Diocesan Convention, held in Nov. meets over a Friday and Sat. Friday night always ends with a rock and roll band and dancing. Clergy and Bishops dancing like there is no tomorrow - and our parishioners being reminded that their clergy are also human beings....

It's a good thing.

Now the lead singer of the band that plays at our convention has put his name is to be Bishop of this Diocese...

I don't know what I think about that....(it seems a bit peculiar)...(but maybe that's just me).

(I mean, would he still sing in the band if he were elected Bishop?)

(and would that be really really weird?)...

I'm just thinkin'.....

Monday, September 24, 2007

I Spent My Day Reading...

I spent my day reading the forty-four page PDF file of the eight nominees for Bishop of Chicago. Our initial slate was five following the search process, three more were added today following the open nomination process and background checks. You can read about them here...and more if you wish to download that 44 page file linked to that page.

I am trying to remain unbiased, but I must admit I know 6 of the nominees. (OK not well, but I know them). Of the eight, four seem like really good candidates. (Of the four I think are good candidates, I only know two...)...

It's going to be an interesting couple of months.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Oh The World We Live In....

I have been, thankfully, too busy this last week to get too invested in what is happening at the House of Bishops for the ECUSA or the visit of Akinola to Wheaton, IL. The House of Bishops meeting took place in New Orleans. It meets twice a year and is comprise of all the active Diocesan Bishops in the Episcopal Church. These meetings are an opportunity for the bishops to build community, pray, study scripture, and form a consensus (or not) on the various issues facing the church.

This last week the HOB has meet in New Orleans with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Basically what this means is: the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) grew out of the Church of England after the American Revolution in the late 1700's (approximately related to the Revolutionary War). The reasons for this may be obvious, the USA broke away from England ergo the Church of England in this country had to break away as well. In a few years the church in this country was able to be established with a Bishop of its own. We are called the Episcopal Church because of our structure of Bishop (Episcopate), Priests, and Deacons and Laity, with the Bishop being the leader of the pack, ergo Episcopal (which means Bishop). Over time our strained relations with England were resolved and we recognized ourselves, the ECUSA, as connected to the Church of England and its primary leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury is an ancient position formed in the 4th century by the Roman Pope. It has traditionally been a position of great influence but little real authority. That remains, I think it is fair to say, true today.

Nonetheless many of us were really excited when Rowan Williams was assigned, by Queen Elizabeth and PM Tony Blair, to the position of Archbishop. Williams is known by his profound theological and spiritual writings. It was certain that he would be a great influence over these difficult times. As a world-wide Christian denomination we have faced great obstacles over our understanding of homosexuality and scripture. These were compounded by the ECUSA's election of a Bishop who is openly gay and living in a partnered relationship. Some viewed this election as prophetic, others as a gross submission of orthodox Christian faith to culture; a complete misunderstanding of scripture.

The lines of understanding continue to break down along these lines of what is "Orthodox", and what is the right understanding of scripture. It is a "battle" that cannot be won. It is a battle, I suspect, that will simply die. It will die with this generation, or the next. It will die as people grow up knowing homosexuality to be a normal expression of human sexuality, one of several ways one can be a normally sexual human.

Archbishop Williams, while he has no authority over any of the various Anglican entities (ECUSA and Anglican churches around the world), does have influence. For the last four years he has been guided by the understanding that the ECUSA is greatly divided. That our church is divided 50/50 over the issue of homosexuality and ordained ministry. The reality is, the division is closer to 10/80/10. By this I mean, 10% who are adamantly opposed to the election of partnered gays or lesbians, 10% who are excited and believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit, and 80% who are real tired of being fractured over human sexuality and just want to get on with life and ministry.

Archbishop Williams just spent two days at the ECUSA House of Bishops meeting. The Episcopal News Service describes this a productive time. I hope so. You can read more about it here.

In addition I have worked for the last 6 years at small church. This church, comprised of faithful Christians, has really struggled with homosexuality. Between deaths (14) and losses over the sexuality (12) our small church has lost a lot of members.

We remain a vibrant and growing group of 55 on an average Sunday. Today we had 70. But at least 20 of those were family members here for a baptism. And, in a odd set of synchronicity, the grandparents are members who left over the ordained gay issue. The mother of the baby grew up in this church and still has an affinity for it, and for me, even though I was not her priest when she was growing up. I worked really hard with her parents and feel a great loss that they left. Having them here today for the baptism was very sad and difficult. It brought up so many sad feelings and yet I had to preside and preach at the baptism of the child/grandchild. It wouldn't hurt so much if I didn't like them, but I really like this family. I like the grown children and I like the parents (or grandparents) and was heartbroken when they left. I tried so hard to keep them here and help them feel like vital members. But in the end it became apparent that if I was not going to embrace and uphold their view (ie homosexuality is a sin, love the sinner but hate the sin, let's leave the ECUSA and join the conservative break-away group, etc) - unless I was willing to go that far they could not stay. So. They left. But I baptized their grand baby today. And they thanked me. I went to the reception. I was crying inside and eating finger sandwiches and cake on the outside.

I hate this issue. I really hate it. And I don't understand how people can give up their friends, their faith community, their Church, just to make a point on what they think is "orthodoxy." But that is happening over and over again because of the vitriol of people like Akinola. People who spout off and meddle where they don't belong. People who are backed by big money (really BIG money - uh, you'd think today's scripture would stir up some guilt, but no...). I hate how they think that they have the only right understanding of the Gospel...

check this out here....

or this summary:

"Visiting Anglican Archbishop denounces homosexuality
By Margaret Ramirez
Chicago Tribune
September 23, 2007

In an impassioned sermon at Edman Memorial Chapel in Wheaton today, Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria spoke against sexual sin, saying unity must come from obedience to God.

"Those who are working for the unity of God's people lack one thing: the word of God," Akinola said. "Whoever loves God will obey God." "Fornication is fornication. Adultery is adultery. ... These are the areas of primary evangelism."

Akinola, who leads the largest church in the worldwide Anglican community, is the fiercest critic of the Episcopal church's liberal stance on homosexuality. His controversial visit comes at a time when Episcopal bishops are meeting in New Orleans to respond to a demand they stop consecrating gay bishops."

Well, enough said, for now. It's been a long day, and I'm tired.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Restoring wholeness in a fractured fractious world

A reflection on Luke 16:1-13, and baptism

She was nine years old, and after months of pleading with her non church-going parents they finally agreed to have her baptized. The girl was thrilled and could hardly wait for the big day, the day that would finally mark her as one of the community, a full member of the church.

On the day of her baptism many other people were also being baptized, in fact she had to wait in a long line until it was her turn at the pool. Her denomination baptized people by full immersion in a huge pool of water. As she watched she realized that the water was deep, probably up to her shoulders. And she began to be afraid.

She was only nine, and could not yet swim. Water made her nervous. Members of her family had recently teased her by throwing her in the deep end of a swimming pool thinking this would teach her to swim; the sink or swim theory. She never sank, but neither did she learn to swim, she just learned to be afraid of water.

Now she stood on the edge of the baptismal pool. It seemed deep and huge. She had to walk up a short flight of steps to the rim of the pool, and then down another flight of steps into the water.

In the middle of the pool stood her uncle, her mother’s brother. This beloved uncle had been there when she had her tonsils out. He came to the hospital and prayed over her. She remembers being two years old, comforted by the uncle laying his hands on her head and praying.

Perhaps it was the memory of this event that gave her the confidence to step into the water. But, as she walked through the shoulder deep water, struggling to get to the middle of the pool, she became terrified. What if she slipped out of the grasp of her uncle and drowned. It could happen. She couldn’t swim and she’d panic and drown in the waters of baptism.

Inch by inch she made her way to her uncle. He reached out for her and took her in his strong grasp and baptized her. Three times he submerged her and three times she arose, “In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

And suddenly she was baptized. She would live to tell the story of the day she almost died at her baptism.

In many ways the feelings of this young girl are exactly the feelings one ought to have at baptism, dying to one way of life and being born into another. Of course this concept is better when applied to adults who have life experience than to infants or even children. Still we are reminded of this at every baptism we attend and every time we renew our own baptismal covenant, as we will do a moment.

In the ancient church only adults where baptized and they went through two years of preparation. This training was intended to teach people about the importance of leaving behind their old way of living, their old way of worshipping some local god or goddess or the Emperor. It was intended to teach people about the love of God, made known to us in Jesus, and the salvation found through him by living a Christian life. A salvation of love grounded in grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Our Gospel reading today points us in that direction. This reading is best understood when it is read in conjunction with our readings from last week on the lost sheep and lost coin which are gathered back into the whole. Those parables are then followed by the parable of the prodigal son and then today’s readings. They are all connected to frame the point Luke wishes to make about the radical nature of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. As we read these parables we think, “No one would do that.” Well, no one except God.

Remember the Prodigal Son? It’s the story of a young man who demands his inheritance while his father is still living. The father gives it to him but the young man squanders it away. Soon he is living in extreme poverty and decides to swallow his pride and return home. He comes home willing to be a servant to his father but is instead welcomed back with open arms.

Our reading today tells the story of steward who has been embezzling funds from the land owner. It appears he has done this by skimming a portion of the rent monies from the servants who work the land for the owner. The owner figures it out and the steward realizes he is about to lose everything. So he takes some radical measures to ensure his future security. The steward forgives the servants a good portion of the debt they owe the land owner. The subtext, based on ancient farming practices, tells us that it is quite likely these servants think it is the master who has forgiven the debt. Thus, when the master comes to town the servants would be thrilled to see him. They’d rave about what a great master he is, how generous and kind. It seems from this reading that the master figures out, yet again, what the steward has done. This time his steward has brought him the loyalty of his servants, and so now the master forgives the steward.

The prodigal son and the unworthy steward are two sides of the same issue: squandering resources followed by exorbitant forgiveness. Basically pointing us to the idea that we humans are forever squandering what God has given us, and yet God continues to love us. God continues to pour forth grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

We lose sight of what this means if we focus too closely on “money;” to understand it we need to broaden our lens and pull back. Both the son in one parable and the steward in another are guilty of squandering. The same Greek verb for squander is used in both parables – so we get the connection.

Then, we need to understand that the Greek verb which means squander also means “to broadcast or scatter away.” Our entire understanding of this reading can hinge on this verb – squandering and broadcasting. The son and steward squander, but God broadcasts – God spreads forgiveness broadly. God forgives us all the time. Each Sunday we pray - in the body of Eucharistic prayer – Our Father who art in heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…. Pointedly we remember that Judas, who was about to betray Jesus, was forgiven and fed. We all live complicated messy lives. Sin is the word we use to articulate that messiness. Sin is broken relationship in all its forms – broken with ourselves, broken with one another, broken with God. We live lives filled with hurt and fear; hurt by others, and afraid to take the steps to make amends. Nonetheless, these words, “The gifts of God for the people of God” invites us to come just as we are, in all of our brokenness, hurt, pain, or sorrow. It is an invitation to come to the table to be healed, renewed, restored. The waters of baptism bring us into this community; the bread broken and given for us keeps us connected to the whole, the body of Christ the bread of heaven. Forgiving ourselves, forgiving others, even at times forgiving God, is the effort we make to participate in God’s grace and mercy. It’s not easy; no one can throw us into the pool of forgiveness and make us do it. We have to make the effort, and learn to learn to swim the rugged waters ourselves. Thinking about it can scare us to death. Doing God’s work is often like that. It frightens us because it means we will die in one way and live again in another. Our baptismal covenant guides us along the way and reminds us as we pray, “I will with God’s help.” With God’s help we can forgive. With God’s help we can strive to restore wholeness to a broken, fractured, fractious, world.

portions of this sermon were inspired by Sarah Dylan's blog

Friday, September 21, 2007

RevGals Friday Five: De-clutter Edition

1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist? a little of each...I keep things for awhile, and then I purge and throw away almost everything. In the past I have moved every few years and that is a great way to purge. (LOL)...Now that I am staying put longer I have to be intentional about cleaning out.

2. Name one important object (could be an heirloom) that you will never part with. My photo albums and pictures...

3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit???. I have some blouses and skirts I wore when I worked for the interior design firm 25 years ago... The blouses may fit but not the skirts - after having babies my waistline is forever changed

4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ? hate 'em...other people's junk is not my treasure...

5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into. I'd like to have a compost heap and add food items like the peelings from fruits and veggies...

And for a bonus- well anything you want to add....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The House of Bishops Meeting

I really want to write a post about the Episcopal Church House of Bishop Meeting. It begins today. All the Bishops (those with voice and vote in active ministry) will meet in New Orleans. The Archbishop of Canterbury is joining them (Rowan Williams). The hope and intent of this meeting to help Williams have a broader picture of what is really going on in the ECUSA. It seems Williams is functioning under some mis-understanding and mis-direction...He thinks the ECUSA is split 50/50 over the election of a partnered gay bishop. In reality it is more like 10% of the ECUSA is upset, 10% is thrilled, and the remaining 80% would like to stop talking about human sexuality and get on with doing ministry in the world.

But. I have another REALLY busy day. So. Maybe I can reflect on this later. In the meantime, prayers please. Prayers for a fruitful time over the next few days.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Drive-through church

Thanks to Endangeredspecieschurch for this link

From Endangeredspecieschurch

Beautiful Day

Here in the Midwest we are having a beautiful day. 70degrees, sunny, blue skies, gentle breeze blowing in the window. My oh my. Perhaps I am more aware of this glorious day because I am a little sleep deprived. I went to bed and to sleep at my usual time and, as is typical for me, fell into a deep sleep. But in the middle of the night I woke up. Wide awake and rested, as if it were time to get up. I lay there for awhile until I finally gave into it and got up. 2:15am. Can one survive on 3 hours and 45 minutes of sleep?

I drank a glass of water. I did some on-line banking. I read a few blogs. Then I went back to bed, and eventually to sleep. Nonetheless I am a bit tired today, like one who slept fitfully. Still, as I sit here in my study, with the breeze blowing in I think of this poem. Another Mary Oliver, of course.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety -

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light -
good morming, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

As I sit here, with every intention of working on my sermon, I hope for inspiration to blow in the breeze and guide me to what I need to say this week.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Strange Dream Vignettes

Lately I have had a series of very short dreams, I'll call them dream vignettes. The one I remember from last night: I was in the Bishop's Office. He and I were discussing a potential call to another parish. I was asking him his opinion on whether he thought that church was really viable. He was not too optimistic. (This is a fictional church, I am not in any searches at the moment). In the room with us were his two big dogs, German Shepherd like and a Rottweiler-like. One of my dogs was with us as well, the Viszla). The dogs were curled up sleeping, each ignoring or unaware of the others. My dog was offering her usual "fragrant" gas to the environment, an after effect of eating grass....(yes, in this dream I was conscious of odor, pungent odor)....

We then began to speak about the church I currently work for. Somehow we moved from sitting on chairs to sitting on the floor. This was less formal, the kind of casual sitting one does with friends....I asked him he thought my current church, which is growing modestly and slowly, were viable. He was not too optimistic about this one either. He's main comment, neither church is or will pay you enough. (Ok, that comes from a conversation I had with my accountant...but I digress)...

Then the dogs started to sniff each other and one of them, the Rottweiler-like started to get aggressive with my Viszla, who responded in kind. I try to be the "pack leader" ala "Dog Whisperer" and gain control. But I am too afraid to be strong. So, I pull the dog out of the office and we leave via an elevator.

Suddenly I am on on public transportation bus, heading home. My dog is with me, and so is my daughter, only she is about two, not 19. We are watching a mother with a young baby wrapped in a snugli like carrier. I say to my daughter, "I use to carry you around in something like that."

Then we are home and somehow the Bishop's dog is at my door, but not the Bishop. His dog is after my dog, but this time I manage to gain some control and be the pack leader. No one is hurt, although it was very tense for awhile there...

I once witnessed a vicious dog attack. A Rottweiler lunged after a small poodle and locked it in his teeth. This was at seminary and involved two students. My kids played with the Rot, regularly. I was just returning from walking my dog when it happened. I put dog inside. We were able, eventually, to extract the poodle but the damage had been done. It was awful. Now, I have to work really hard when ever threatening dogs come around my dogs. I do not want a dog fight.

But, this dream is about more than dogs...I'll have to ponder it a bit and see what surfaces. I see the Jungian on Thursday, we will have three of these vignettes to discuss...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Called to Wholeness

Called to gather, Called together… a reflection on Luke 15:1-10

Hildegard was the tenth child born to a family in Germany. The year was 1098, and in those days the 10th child was considered a tithe. We think of tithing as that portion of our income that we give to the church. So, what this meant was that the tenth child of a family was given to the Church as a tithe. Hildegard was raised by a woman named Jutta. The two of them lived in seclusion, in a cottage near a local Benedictine monastery.

Jutta and Hildegard lived a life of silence and prayer eventually gaining a reputation for their profound spirituality. Soon other women joined them. Before long they had started their own religious community focused on developing intellectual gifts. Later Hildegard started two religious communities for women, one in Bingen and one in Eibingen. Hildegard ran these on her own and was able to function with a tremendous amount of autonomy and authority for a woman in the medieval era.

Hildegard describes having these dazzling visions, common to many mystics. Modern medicine believes that these visions were migraines, but at that time they were understood as a spiritual gift. At the age of 43 Hildegard’s visions became more intense and from them she began to create music, art, literature, and drama. Her work was filled with images of God as mother and woman many centering on creation stories.

Bernard of Clairvaux, another well known saint from this era, read one of her books and recommended it to Pope Eugenius III. The Pope read it, a book written by a woman, not at all common in the 12th century, and from this Hildegard became famous. She was sought after for counsel on all matters by kings and queens, archbishops, and several popes. Imagine being a woman, who in any period of time was an advisor to, not one, but several popes.

Hildegard went on four preaching missions through out Northern Europe. Again, such a thing was completely unheard of. And, in addition to her spiritual and religious work she also practiced medicine and published treatises on natural science and philosophy.

But for Hildegard, music was the most essential element. This was especially true for worship where she wrote her own liturgical compositions. Her music is filled with unusual structure and tonality. We listened to her music and chanting during our meditation time this morning. In the Episcopal Church we celebrate her feast day on Sept. 17.

Hildegard of Bingen gives us a wonderful introduction to our worship life this year. Her innovative approach to faith changed the world she lived in and continues to inform ours. Her creativity enabled her to face challenges with the spirit of an artist, of one who is not afraid of failure. Artists, anyone of any depth and experience in faith, understands that we grow the most when we encounter challenges. It is through facing challenges straight on and moving through them that we grow in depth and breadth. Building on the theme, “Deepening Our Faith” I hope we too can engage many creative avenues in the year ahead. Here are some of the ways we try to do this.

First we have our Sunday morning meditation time. We offer this every Sunday for 15 minutes before the service begins. This means that all of our work preparing for and setting up for worship needs to be completed by 7:45 or 9:45, depending on the service. The choir rehearsal needs to be finished, the altar set and candles lit, the books readied, the lights dimmed, and the music turned on.

Into this quiet meditation space we are invited, if we are so inclined, to come and sit. It affords ua a few moments to shift from the busyness of our lives and make time for God. This is really an invitation into private, personal worship. As the quiet meditation time ends we are invited to gather as whole into corporate worship. Our corporate worship time is an invitation to be together. After 15 minutes of meditation the lights go on and we begin to worship as a community. Combined, this personal quiet meditation time and the corporate worship time holds the potential to deepen our faith. Which is the point of our gospel, Jesus calls us to gather and to be together. When we hear Jesus speak about gathering the one lost sheep, or the one lost coin, and bringing it back together with the rest, it is a call to unity, to wholeness.

In October we will enter into a month long celebration of our ministries. We kick it off with a blessing of the animals on Sat. night, Sept. 29, at a 4pm service. During October we will celebrate the work, or ministries, we do in our personal lives and the ministries we do here together. This month of reflection will culminate in our Celebration Sunday on Oct. 28. As we prepare for the 28th we will be blessed by three parishioners who are going to preach. Each one has taken a Sunday in Oct. and will offer a reflection on their faith and how their faith may have been challenged, and how faith forms and informs their lives. Those sermons will take place on the 7th, 14th, and 21st of Oct. I’m not going to tell you who is preaching, you’ll have to come and find out for yourselves.

The celebration on the 28th will include our annual brunch and the blessing of individual ministries of this parish. This is when we will make an offering, a pledge for the year ahead. This is when we tithe to the church, not our 10th child, but our time, talent, and resources.

During the rest of the year we will have the opportunity to read, in the newsletter, a variety of essays written by parishioners on the theme, “This I Believe.” This process is part of NPR’s revival of Edward Morrow’s show in the 1950’s, of the same name. Several parishioners are gathering already to ponder, discuss, and draft essays. If you would like to join us please let me know.

Deepening our faith is a theme that points us to look at how our lives are being lived and in what ways we are striving to find wholeness. Wholeness in how we treat one another and ourselves. Wholeness in how we strive to open ourselves to God. Wholeness as we gather to worship together, a whole community, not just a bunch of individuals in a room together. Our Gospel reading this morning also points to this wholeness. Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are stories that call us to a reconciled unity. The emphasis is on the community and not on the individual. They are parables of love, of the depth of love God has for us. God loves for being who we are and calls us to bring ourselves into community. To share, to learn, to receive. How can we be part of this community? What will we, in the midst of the our busy lives, give of our time, talent, and resources? How can being a part of this community help to deepen our faith?

We will engage in worship as the primary means to deepening our faith. Let us ponder ways we can translate what happens here into action, something we are able to express more fully in our lives. And, strive to become living examples of God’s love; the love that is known to us in Jesus and kept alive in us through the Holy Spirit.

Hildegard wrote a poem on just this very thing. It goes like this:

Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart
From its ancient sleep.

In this year ahead, as we seek to “Deepen Our Faith,” may we strive to look at our lives with a clear unwavering eye. May we make time for God in personal and corporate worship. May we make glad music to the Lord in the spirit of Hildegard. May we rejoice with others in this church and celebrate our ministries. In doing so, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will wash us clean, heal our wounds, and awaken our hearts. Healed and whole within ourselves may we bring that same wholeness, the love of God, into the world around us.

Friday, September 14, 2007

RevGals Friday Five: Meetings, Meetings, Meetings....

1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own:
a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal.
b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life.
c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting.

Depending on the meeting, I am usually happy if it gets cancelled - it's like "found" time. I can suddenly do something else I really need to do, even if that something else is sit and have a cup of tea. However it is an important meeting from which I hope to gain direction for some next step then I feel frustrated if it is cancelled. Otherwise I view meetings as a necessary fact of life. They are a means to an end, whether that end is community building (ie the MOMs group meeting) or discernment/decision making. But I try not to have more than one or two night time meetings a week. And usually I can manage this. So, in that regard I don't seek them out.

2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business? I always have some amount of fellowship, beverages and light food, time for conversation and checking in, and prayer. I always like to start my meetings with prayer. My vestry meetings (the governing board) always begin with snacks, since some folks come straight from work, then Bible study, check in (a short, how was your day) and prayer, then business. We eat and talk at the same time. I like the check in - how the day has gone for everyone - because it gives me a snippet of where the emotions are. This is especially important for our prayer time, we can hold them in prayer, but also for decisions we may need to make. Someone who is exhausted from a difficult day may be challenged by some of the decisions we have to make. Years ago I had a vestry member for whom this was true and understanding where she was emotionally helped make meetings flow more smoothly.

3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area. I am generally fine leading meeting, especially if I have planned them. I work pretty well with groups and have a lot of experience with group dynamics. Of course some dynamics can catch me off guard, so to speak, and then I have to do extra work to keep us on track. I've had some nasty meetings in the past, with one person deciding to argue against anything I proposed, mostly for the sake of arguing. (Same person as above). She had major authority issues with women...once I realized that I began to have the male "wardens" make the important proposals, the ones the were really vital to the life of the congregation. The wardens and I would meet a week before the meeting, plan the meeting and who would say what and create a strategy where we were cohesive team. Then these men would make the proposals in the meeting. With this process the woman was far less reactive and the work got done.

4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format? Lots of them. They are helpful, a lot of people can meet and talk and get things done. But, if you have never met the people it is odd to speak to "faceless" people. It is a challenge to read emotions and responses when you can't see folks.

5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended. Oh, geez. One was my first "annual parish meeting." My husband and I were new to church life, we'd been attending for about 10 months. The annual meeting is where churches review the year just past, make decisions for the year ahead (pass the budget, etc) and elect the governing officers for the year. This particular meeting was fraught with anxiety. People were really upset with the priest. He was part time and many felt he was not doing his job well. True, it seems he had made some poor choices in what he would do with his time and what he would not. For instance one man was livid that the priest had not visited his dying wife while she was in the hospital ten years ago. At various points in time quite a few people were screaming. They wanted this priest to resign. Now my experience of this priest was very different. He "brought" me into the church, taught me the ways of the Episcopal Church, accepted me in all my oddities of new age thought and fear of fundamentalist Christianity. Still, I understand the hurt being expressed by parishioners and the priest's struggle to meet full time needs in a part time position. He had made some bad decisions. So. that was my introduction to business life in the church.

I have also been in some large meetings, thousand some odd people, for our Diocesan Convention. Before us were several potentially contentious resolutions. I was braced for an all out fight. But somehow the Holy Spirit took over, the debates were heart-felt, sincere, honest, but not vitriol. It was amazing. And some great work got done.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Amazing Grace?

In my sleep last night I got an ear-worm.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost, but now I'm found..."

It came out of "now-where," because I've neither sung it nor heard it ages...

*** also occurs to me that I have heard this sung at every funeral I have ever done, to the point that I am really tired of this hymn and never use it in worship on Sunday...

But, what might it mean that I relate it to funeral liturgies...maybe, really, that that part of my life has died away and a new part can now come forth? Just wondering...regardless, I do find it to be grace-filled in an amazing way!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 2001

Six years ago:
* I had been ordained one year
* I had just left large wealthy resource parish to become solo pastor of small fractious church
* I had been solo pastor for exactly six weeks
* My daughter left early for school (8th grade)
* My husband called me from work to see if I was watching the news (no)
* Our son was just about to get on the bus, literally. So, off he went. Had it been a few minutes later I would have kept him home.
* The schools went on lock-down. The kids knew little or nothing.
* I began a phone tree to every member of the parish inviting them to a prayer vigil that night.
* We gathered. We prayed. We celebrate the Eucharist. We wept. We felt gleamed hope from being together. My homily that night reflected on the randomness of evil and the hopefulness of God's faithfulness - God always comes into the midst of chaos and seeks to restore life, order, new life, hope....
* It was an auspicious start to a challenging call.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Blogging Birthday One Year Old

On Tuesday, Sept. 11 I will celebrate one year of blogging, Seeking Authentic Voice, will be a year old. To commemorate this I am offering a photo montage of the year, some of my favorite images attached to posts.

Just a beautiful picture. I've used it a couple of times.

Hands praying. I love the openness of these praying hands.

This image of the Lion is just hilarious.

I was not the one called. Time stopped.

My image of hope, the chrysalis of transformation.

Hanging from a cliff, just a little anxiety in my life.

Love this photo of a baby covered in chocolate, reminds me of my daughter (now 19) on her first birthday. She looked a lot like this.

Last Spring, on a warm Sunday afternoon, the barn where my daughter works caught on fire. She happened to be there, and along with one other person, saved all the horses.

I turned 50 years old...

The consecration of Katharine Jefforts Schori, the first woman Presiding Bishop in the Anglican Communion. I watched this on webcam on Nov. 4. On Nov. 5 I came down with the first symptoms of my major illness (a fractured tooth that was pulled and then abscessed...).

My first post, on 9/11/2006, reflected on my son. He was home for lunch with a group of his friends, freshmen in High School. We talked about their memories of Sept. 11, 2001, when they were in fourth grade, and how life has changed in the subsequent years.

A year ago I was reading Parker Palmer's book, "A Hidden Wholeness."

A year ago I had just found out that I was the runner up for a great job, Dean of a Cathedral. I really wanted the job, it was (is) a great congregation interested in art and social justice. I was really sad to be the second choice, to not be the one called...

A year ago I had just buried my colleague, the deacon of our parish. He died from prostate cancer after a long summer of being in the hospital. I spent many hours in that hospital last summer. And then again, ironically, the same hospital when I got sick....

A year ago I had yet to get sick and spend 11 days in the hospital. I had not yet faced 9 weeks of antibiotic therapy. Nine weeks of IV, most of which I had to self administer from a pic-line in my right arm. All of this to clear up a face and mouth infection that landed me in the hospital.

And during this time I was still trying to discern if I was staying at small church or entering more searches and considering a call elsewhere.

A year later. I'm beginning to think I may stay at small church. I don't know yet, but we have some BIG plans, BHAG plans! It seems to be the best decision for my family, for me, and for the parish. But who would have thought? Of course, it remains to be seen if we can afford to keep me...But, I think, if this is of God, it will all work out. Don't you think?

A year later and I am coming out of one the darkest periods of my life. Much of the darkness directly related to Sept. 11, 2001. The events of that day so deeply impacted the economy that the company my husband had worked for for 17 years, closed, went out of business in the Spring of 2002. My husband has spent the last five years trying to rebuild a career. It has not been pretty. But, things may be getting a little better. Slowly.

So. Here's to blogging. This blog, and the friends I have made from this blog, has, have, been my source of hope, my comfort, a source of humor, and companionship. It's been amazing!

I thank Songbird who stopped by my blog everyday for the first nine months, always leaving a word of support. Along the way many others have joined her, and I am grateful to each of you.

A true blessing in a challenging year.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Prayer, What One Can Hope For As Light Returns...

To all my pals at Revgals - Thank you. You are a blessing to me....

"The Odes of Solomon" (1st of 2nd Century)

My heart was split, and a flower
appeared; and grace sprang up;
and it bore fruit for my God.

You split me, tore my heart
open, filled me with love.

You poured your spirit into me;
I knew you as I know myself.

Speaking waters touched me
from your fountain, the source of life.

I swallowed them and was drunk
with the water that never dies.

And my drunkenness was insight,
intimacy with your spirit.

And you have made all things new;
you have showed me all things shining.

You have granted me perfect ease;
I have become like Paradise,
a garden whose fruit is joy;
and you are the sun upon me.

My eyes are radiant with your spirit;
my nostrils fill with your fragrance.
My ears delight in your music,
and my face is covered with your dew.

Blessed are the men and women
who are planted on your earth, your garden,
who grow as your trees and flowers grow,
who transform their darkness into light.
Their roots plunge into darkness;
their faces turn toward the light.

All those who love you are beautiful;
they overflow with your presence
so that they can do nothing but good.

There is infinite space in your garden;
all men, all women are welcome here;
all they need do is enter.

Friday, September 07, 2007

RevGals Friday Five: Dark Night of the Soul, and I'll Lighten Up, soon, (really) (no really)

1.Have you experienced God's faithfulness at a difficult time? Tell as much or as little as you like... My childhood was difficult, an unstable mother, an alcoholic father, and a series of long distance moves that took me further away from my extended family. (No one to turn too)...All my life I have been a prayerful person. As a little girl I had on-going conversations with God about my life. And a real sense of God's abiding presence. A presence that calmed me, assured me, helped me to feel safe when my parents fought or finally divorced. I feel that God has been along side me guiding me to a better life. So, yes, often.

2. Have you experienced a dark night of the soul, if so what brought you through? My answer to question 1 begins to unpack why these last few years have been so difficult. After a life time of certainty of God I have found God to be very absent in my life. No. It is not that I can't see God, God has not been present. I have had to face that reality. Argue as you may that I have been blind, but that is not it. I have been doing some very deep intentional work, discerning where God is calling me, what God wants me to do, where my ministry is being called. And there is no sign of God in any of this. It's as if God has said, "Do what ever." And no sign of God working in my husband's life as he tries to rebuild a broken career. He is fed up, tired, discouraged. The church I serve has lost 25% of its members to death between 2003 and 2006, we literally were dying. My finances have tanked. After four years of one income (ah, mine) while trying to raise teenagers. This is a lament, indeed. 'cuz my life has sucked and where is God in all of this? How am I supposed to get up and preach the Good News?

But. I have plodded through. Kept going. The memory of God's presence is all I have. Occasionally that is enough. And now a little glimmer of hope is returning. I will be forever changed. I will never have that same safe sense of God's presence. I have been abandoned. I guess it happens. I guess I will eventually reflect back on this time and find something useful in it. A way to tap into it and help another. A way to say, God does leave, ask the mystics. Ask anyone who has traversed this faith journey long enough. God does leave.

but perhaps God is never really gone? Just very different. the mystery of it all. So. Those of you who read my blog know my reflections on this.

What is bringing me through? Boot-strap stamina. Get up each day and take that first step. And, I suspect, the prayers of others. And, certainly, the Revgals. No doubt.

3. Share a Bible verse, song, poem that has brought you comfort? I love Mozart's sonatas. And I love Indigo Girls and the Dixie Chicks, Long Way Home. I have found comfort and strength in the struggle these women sing about, and in their persistence and strength. Yeah. Music has given me hope.

4. Is "why suffering" a valid question? Sure. But there isn't always a sufficient answer. When I was going through the ordination process I had to read, twice, John McQuarrie's systematic theology, I think it's called, "Principles of Theology" or something like that. (It was 10 years ago). One of the things he says, in my words: "In the beginning there was God and there was this big swirling mass of chaos. God scooped into the chaos and brought forth order. Light and dark, night and day, heavens and earth, land and water, etc. But even as God brought forth order a random bit of that chaos come through as well. God named this chaos "free-will." It exists in nature and in humans, in all creation. It continues to have a randomness to it - hurricanes, tornado's, disease, etc. Chaos is "evil" because it goes against God's desire for created order. But it exists. And whenever chaos rears its ugliness God scoops in and brings forth order again. Somehow, someway.

Not a perfect answer. But then no systematic theology is able to completely answer the mystery of God, life, suffering. Systematic theology is just an attempt to give us something to hang on to.

One of the "ways" God uses chaos in our lives, the way God restores order, is to work through other humans who come to our aid. Another way of grace is for God to help us see with new eyes. TO gain perspective, wisdom, to grow and be transformed through our suffering. From suffering and death came the resurrection. It happens all the time. It just might take longer than "three days..."

5. And on a lighter note- you have reached the end of a dark and difficult time- how are you going to celebrate? No, not yet. But I think I am moving in that direction. Slowly. I don't have any plans to celebrate. Although I suppose I will rejoice in the day I feel hopeful and at peace. I will be grateful when my debt is paid down and I can breath again. I will be content when my family can have some fun and be less burdened by every day stuff. Life will just feel better, I imagine.

In the meantime. I get up everyday, exercise, go to work, care for my congregation, care for my family, walk my dogs, clean my house, and pretend that life is fine. Sooner or later it will be!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Interview Questions from Mary Beth...another meme

1) How did you become an Episcopalian? I found the Episcopal Church through the woman minister who married my husband and me. She was a UCC minister at the time, 1985. I went to her church for the wedding of a friend of mine and really liked the service. So, when we decided to get married we went to see that minister. My husband was a divorced Roman Catholic and did not want to go through the hassle of an annulment. I thought the whole annulment stuff was silly, so was happy to go to the UCC church. Anyway, over the course of 6 months of premarital counseling (she was also a social worker)she got to know us well. In the end she suggested that if we ever wanted to become members of a church we ought to consider the Episcopal Church. She had been raised in that church (and is now an Episcopal Priest having left the UCC church, actually having been wooed back to the ECUSA by the Bishop of this diocese). So, the short story is, the woman minister who married us recommended the Episcopal Church and before long we were active members...I laugh when I see that minister now, I say, "Molly, look what you did! Not only did you marry me but you brought me into the church which ultimately lead me to ordained ministry...who would have thought!" She laughs and says, "it wasn't me, it was the Holy Spirit..." Years later I tended to her mother as she lay dying in a nursing home. This home was close to me while Molly had moved a few hours away. They called me and I was able to stay with the mother for quite awhile, until Molly came. I felt honored to return the favor, if you will.

2) What was the most important thing you learned from your refugee visitors? This family of five from Rwanda came with barely a suitcase per person, their entire life in a few bags. They were shell shocked and unable to speak the language, tired. But on their last day with us we exchanged gifts. I gave them scooters and soccer balls left over from my kids. They gave me a small hand made picture of multi-colored wheat glued to a small wood board. The bread of life. They came with nothing but they came bearing gifts of gratitude. It taught me to grateful and that the smallest thing can be a gift of joy. It was a lesson in humility - of mutual sharing and giving. They were a strong family with much to share despite the little they had. We should do as much with all that we have!

3) What book or movie has changed or shaped your life most profoundly (besides The Bible) This is a difficult question. I read a lot and I watch a lot of movies....and many good ones. A book I read a long time ago began a process of change in me: Gloria Steinhem's "Revolution from Within"... it's a book about finding one's self, one's voice. I have also been deeply shaped by Elaine Pagels "The Origin of Satan" which takes a good hard look at how Christianity has shaped the sad tendency to demonize the "other". And I think movies like, "As Good as it Gets" and "Freedom Writers" have influenced me. One because it speaks to the desperation we feel and our inability to connect with what we want and finally our ability to realize that this is as good as it gets, and that's ok. The other because it speaks about sticking with a passion and seeing it through.

4) What was your favorite pastime as a child? I moved a lot so my past times changed from place to place. In Salt Lake City I had an apricot tree in the back yard. I loved to climb the tree with a good book, read the book and eat fresh apricots. In Idaho I loved to run in the alfalfa fields and play in the barns. In Wisconsin I wandered the small stretch of woods and tall grasses at the edge of my backyard.

5) Where would you go for your dream vacation? Money no object. I'd tour the Cathedrals of England, go to Iona, Ireland, and Scotland. Then I'd head down through France and into Italy. I'd also like to go to Egypt and tour the pyramids.

Have fun! :) Ok, this was fun!

1. If you are interested in being interviewed, leave me a comment saying “Interview me.”
2. I will respond by posting five questions for you. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

So, c'mon! Who's in!?

When one cannot pray at least read about prayer

Continuing to read, slowly, "Listening for God" by Renita Weems, she says something to the effect of, when on cannot pray, at least read about prayer. One of my laments over the last two years is my inability to pray. Oh sure, I've railed, lamented, yelled, cried - all forms of communication with God. some of my attempts have found their voice in poetry: More Praying. That is me attempting to communicate with God. On my end, God has been as silent as a hot summer night with no wind, when even the crickets are quiet. Weems likens these times when God is silent and when God is very present as "seasons." I have used that same imagery, aware that like all seasons this one will pass. What makes this book particularly helpful is how she voices what it is like to be a minister, called to bring the Good News to people, and be this one struggling in the silence. She says: "TO admit that in the spiritual journey, highs are brief, sporadic and rare and that the human heart experiences far longer periods of dullness, emptiness, and silence can be threatening....what is there to look forward to, if all we can expect is to stumble in the dark? To admit that it's all a stumble seems like an admission of failure - and Protestant ministers have a particularly difficult time admitting their defeats. Blame it on...our works-righteousness...being told that if prayers are met with silence, then the fault lay with...ourselves. Or blame it on the hardy dosage of homilies we've endured (and have given) that have insisted upon viewing God as readily available...When this is your spiritual legacy, it's difficult to admit aloud to feeling adrift. It's even more difficult to admit to the times when praying feels like a hollow ritual and the closest you can bring yourself to praying is to read about prayer."

"The truth is that this journey is best characterizes as periods of ecstasy and periods of melancholy; seasons when I can feel the presence of the sacred in my life and seasons when the perception and even the memory of the sacred have all but evaporated from the soul; moments of deep, abiding faith and moments of quiet despair; times of calm and times of clutter; moments when prayer is music and moments when I cannot abide the sound of prayer. Stumbling, staggering, slouching, and crawling forward is not the whole story, to be sure. But stumbling, staggering, slouching, and crawling feel as though they've been the largest part of my journey..."

Weems has such a wonderful way of describing how I have experienced these last few years of my life. I am grateful to have found someone so adept with language and imagery to help me articulate this season. She reminds me to continue doing what I am doing and have been doing. Get up every morning and keep doing. Go about my life preparing sermons and liturgy, caring for people in my family and my congregation, investing time in the refugee ministry I've begun, read books and poetry. In other words just keep going.

I have a card that reads: "When you're going through hell, just keep going." Somewhere in all of this I will see and know God again. Some day the season will change, the darkness will lift, and I will know God in a new way. I am living in the mean time. Not exactly the depth lost and darkness because at least now I have hope again.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Silence that is God

About a week ago I played a meme in which I spoke of God's silence and my loss of hope. Someone recommended this book. Well, the first page of the preface convinced me that it was the right book for me at this is and excerpt from "Listening for God" by Renita Weems.

"Some years ago when, as a minister, I was feeling that God had withdrawn from me and I was going through what I can only describe as a spiritual breakdown - questioning seriously my belief in God, prayer, religious texts, and rituals to such a degree that I couldn't bear to talk or read about anything to having to do with the sacred - it never dawned upon me to retire my clergy stole and leave the dawned on me that ministry was precisely where I needed to be because I no longer recognized the presence of God in my life..."

"Two things kept me afloat during that period of my life. One was my own honesty. I tried at first to lie about what was going on in my heart, acting as though everything was fine, pretending as a minister and writer that I had an active prayer life and enjoyed intimacy with God. That lie went on for far longer than it should have....Eventually I gave up pretending, however, and confessed to God - loudly, bitterly, sometimes in blasphemous tones - that it felt as though I have been seduced out into waters where God knew I couldn't swim, and been left abandoned, without a life jacket, to flail about and figure out for myself how not to drown..."

She goes on to speak about moving into a place where she accepted the silence of God as a new way of God being with her. That things weren't the same between she and God but nonetheless she began to perceive God in "new, amusing, laughable, glorious ways." She credits her ability to be and stay honest with getting her through from one place to the next.

My blog will be a year old in a week. I named it "Seeking Authentic Voice" because I have been this person, for whom God has gone silent. I no longer know myself in reflection to the God I have trusted all my life. The God whose presence assured me and led me to believe that all would be well. I have been sure of nothing these last few years. except that God is silent...and I'm trying not to drown. I do feel like God seduced me. Called me back when I was lost, gave me people to be my guides until I was securely anchored in the Church. I mean, can one be much more anchored than being ordained and the solo pastor of a church? And then, anchoring me into this life, God left, the wind and waves picked up and the chain attached to anchor, that which held me in place, snapped, and I've been tossed in heavy waves ever since.

I suspect the direction of the wind is changing and the tide is turning.....

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...