Monday, December 31, 2007

The Sound of Music

Lasst night I watch, while I knit, The Sound of Music. Everytime I see this movie it reminds me of the first time. I've probably seen it 30 times over the 50 years I've lived. The first time I saw it I was 7 or 8. It was playing in a movie theater in SLC. It was, I think, the first time I had been to a movie theater. At least it's the first time I remember. Going to see this movie was my reward for getting good grades in school. At least, that too, is what I remember.

I remember it was night, Christmas time, and the street was glittering with white lights. There was a festive feel to the air and much excitement. Oddly enough, that is what I remember, waiting to go into the theater. I don't actually remember sitting in the theater and watching it. Did we have popcorn? I have no idea. Still, when I see this movie, I recall the sense of excitment, of Christmas, of possibility.

Watching it last night was a very different experience. I think in some ways this movie has shaped my life...not always in the best of ways. I wanted to be Liesl singing "I am sixteen going on seventeen." But the world really changed in the years between 1965, when I first saw the movie as a 7 year old, and 1973 when I was sixteen. The world has changed even more between then and now.

Last night I found myself wondering why I didn't latch onto the words Julie Andrews sings in one of the early scenes, as she is going to the Von Trapp home: "I have confidence in me...." Pretty good lyrics it seems. Or maybe that's just where I am struggling these days. Having confidence in me.

Last night I heard all the ways the movie is dated. Here's an example....

[Rolf:]
You wait, little girl, on an empty stage
For fate to turn the light on
Your life, little girl, is an empty page
That men will want to write on

[Liesl:]
To write on

[Rolf:]
You are sixteen going on seventeen
Baby, it's time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
Baby, you're on the brink

You are sixteen going on seventeen
Fellows will fall in line
Eager young lads and rogues and cads
Will offer you food and wine

Totally unprepared are you
To face a world of men
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of things beyond your ken

You need someone older an wiser
Telling you what to do
I am seventeen going on eighteen
I'll take care of you

[Liesl:]
I am sixteen going on seventeen
I know that I'm naive
Fellows I meet may tell me I'm sweet
And willingly I believe

I am sixteen going on seventeen
Innocent as a rose
Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies
What do I know of those

Totally unprepared am I
To face a world of men
Timid and shy and scared am I
Of things beyond my ken

I need someone older and wiser
Telling me what to do
You are seventeen going on eighteen
I'll depend on you

Then, after watching the movie I read "Boom" in bed, (Tom Brokaw's latest book). The chapters on women in the 1960's and their struggles to be heard, understood, build careers, and live a different life.

It makes me think just how much the world has changed. How much different my life is than what I imagined it would be when I was 7. Then I never imagined moving away from SLC. I never imagined being in the middle of a race riot in Chicago, the night my family took a wrong turn and we literally drove through it. Somehow unharmed...I never imagined having a real career, let alone being an Episcopal priest. I never imagined being the family bread winner. I never imagined that my life would continue to hold the same pain and struggles that I knew even at 7. Somehow I thought life would "get better." I never imagined internet or cell phones or computers.

Looking back over 2007, and the years past, there is a lot I never imagined. And yet, here I am. This is the life I have. Somethings are really different. And yet somethings are very much the same.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

What a Winter...Gratitude Reflection Day 21

It's only December 23 and winter is in full swing...wild and crazy full swing, January like. We have had a major storm every weekend in December. Yesterday's 40 degree thaw and rain has washed away all the snow, and we had about 9 inches of sonow to wash away...(so much for a "white Christmas"). Then last night about 2:00am the cold front hit. I mean literally hit, BAM, with 40 mile per hour wind gusts, maybe more. The whole house shook, mine, my neighbors, members of the parish. And the temperature dropped 30 degrees. It is bitterly cold outside and branches are blowing off the trees.

Today I am grateful for a warm house, for heat and electricity and lights. I hope you all are staying warm and safe...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 20

It has been a busy morning already. I was up early to help my daughter. I ran to the grocery store at 7am to get the things she needed for a Christmas party this afternoon at the barn. A flurry of early morning activity that has settled into stillness. Now, on this early morning I sit peacefully in my study. One cat curled up and purring on my lap, the other in the chair next to me. Soft Christmas music playing. Outside the window, fog and mist which will turn to snow before the day is over. There is a surreal quality to the day.

I continue my morning meditation reading Jan Richardson's book. I have heard it is out of print. Sigh. I'm finding it to very provocative this Advent. Here is what she has to say for yesterday, Week Four, Day six. (Because yesterday I reflected on another day later in the season)...

The Virgin (to Mary)

"She told me that virgin really means a woman unto herself, a whole woman, a soul mother. What a shift from thinking that a virgin is what you are until you are made complete by a man....And so they can dicker over the question (of whether Mary is a virgin) until the second coming, but what I really want to know is, do we want to be whole? Do we want to be healed? Because that is what Advent is asking us. Are we ready to be born?"

Then she offers this poem:

In the center of ourselves
you placed the power of
choosing.
Forgive us the time
we have given that power
away,
when we have sold
our birthright
for that which
does not
satisfy
our souls.
And so
in your wisdom
may our yes
be truly yes
and our no
be truly no,
that we may
touch with dignity
and love with integrity
and know the freedom
of our own choosing
all our days.

Then the Richardson meditation continues for this day, day seven of week four, and speaks of Mary waiting, not passively, but actively - of her "abiding in." I think that is accurate. As I strive to be a woman, a mother, a wife, a priest, I also strive to be a whole person. A woman of dignity and integrity, of prayer and hope, in an active way. I do think that my husband has contributed to my becoming wholeness, so have my children, so has my vocation as priest, and so have my friends and colleagues. But that does not mean that I would be less whole if I had no husband or chidren...

Engaged with the world around me I have choices and my decisions have influenced the course of my life. The fact that I do have choices and can make decisions reflects how truly blessed I am, we are, to live where we do, when we do. And for all of that I am grateful.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 19

This morning I opened Jan Richardson's book, "Night Visions" for my morning meditation. The page I opened too was not day six, week four, but day seven, week five, "After Birth." I don't want to rush the process of Advent, skip the birth altogether and end up here. But her opening words compelled me to read on, "The first time I ever saw a placenta was in middle school, during one of our health units. A nurse brought it to our classroom - a sloppy red thing, I thought, in a plastic basin." She continues saying that afterward it was probably thrown away along with other medical waste, rather than being buried in the earth as people do in other parts of the world. Burying the placenta in the earth, grounding the newborn child forever in the soil. Nourishing the soil which in turn nourishes us.

Then she speaks about the importance of birthing the placenta. How the woman is not safely out of the birth process until the placenta has been delivered. It pieces of it remain the woman will hemorrhage and die. She says, "The body cannot abide the unfinished business of birthing..." This leads to a reflection on labor and birthing as a metaphor for life...the desire for wholeness vexed by shreds of untamed memory.

I know something about this in both aspects, the urgency to deliver the placenta (only 30 minutes are allowed after the baby is born, and then the Dr. must do a D&C, go in and get it surgically). I also know something about the unfinished business of the soul vexed by shred of untamed memory. It is exactly what I was speaking about to the Jungian yesterday.

My reflection with the Jungian had to do with my internal response to those occasions in life when I have done something "wrong" or when I think someone perceives me as less than. I have a huge deep reaction.

After years of therapy and meditation I have learned to step back from my internal reactions. I step back and give them some time to breath. I look at them and know that while there is some truth in my reaction it is not the whole truth, it is often an over reaction based on emotion and not a response.

The Jungian suggested that wounds like this never completely heal. We carry them from childhood and they stay with us. But what is important is how able we are to observe them, to step back and let it inform us but not propel us. He also suggested that as we grow these experiences do not impact us as deeply nor last as long. He suggested that the next time I experience this I allow myself to pray into it. To have a conversation with the emotion and see what arises.

What I have come to understand in these two years I have worked with the Jungian is that I am able to have the observing mind, able to look out over my woundedness and let it be. I do not rush into the intensity, I sit with it. Later I am able to understand the situation in a fuller capacity and not just in the narrow emotionally explosive way my woundedness leads me. I no longer bleed out all over the place.

Richardson concludes her reflection with this poem:

When we are spent
from the labor
and longing to rest
in our deliverance,
when we hunger
to stay
in the celebration
and crave
a lasting sabbath,
you tell us
this is where
our work begins.

For the labor
that is never over,
give us strength;
for the healing
that is ever before us,
give us courage.

May our resting
be our renewal,
not forever;
and may we work
for nothing
save that
which makes
your people whole.


I am grateful for the healing I have experienced in my life. I am also grateful for the journey that has not ended. And, I am grateful for companions along the way who help me grow and become more fully who God is calling me to be.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 18

Today I have a headache. I imagine it is due to the pull inside of me. One part wants to be very busy doing doing doing. Getting the bulletin done, getting the sermon written, walking the dogs, and so on. The other part of me wants to close my eyes and be still. This part of me wants to enter into that quiet place with God, to pray. To hope. To wait.

I am in essence doing neither. I am not getting all worked up and busy. Nor am I really settling into a silent space. I work on my Christmas Eve sermon with a kind of half hearted effort. Then I set that aside to read a bit. Then I set that aside to answer the phone. And I set that aside to blog. And I set that aside to look through the Worship Booklet from Christmas Eve last year.

I think I am looking for inspiration, for a vision, for something to be excited about. But it's still Advent. Christmas is not yet here. So I remain in the season of waiting...

oh. And then I laid on the loveseat with my cat and closed my eyes. Now I no longer have a headache, and it's time to meet the piano tuner at church.

I guess on this day I am grateful for choices. Nothing is demanding that I live into a particular schedule, I can just follow where the Spirit is leading me, even

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 17

A week ago I was relishing in a time of quiet ease. The busyness of life, job interviews, Advent preparations, Bishop visit preparation, and Christmas stuff, had subsided and I was enjoying some peace and quie. I experienced a distinctive lack of "things to do." I allowed myself to enjoy that time. In fact, whenever I have these lulls in my life I make an intentional effort to settle into the peacefullness because I know that all too soon life will be full and intense.

Sure enough, a few days later life was moving at full speed. Much of that intensity revolved around the labor and birth of the babies. But it included the need to get some Christmas shopping done. In the midst of all that busyness I lost my glasses and my husband lost the gold cross I had given him years ago. I don't remember exactly when I gave it to him, years ago, and he was upset to have lost it, somewhere in the far SW while we were travelling. My glasses I figured were around somewhere, it was just a matter of finding where they had managed to fall or get placed.

I think it is really easy to get lost when life is moving at a fast pace. To lose ourselves in the busyness, to lose our time with God, our time to pray, our time to find that place of peace which grounds us. I know it is for me. Losing the cross and the glasses were just a symptom of the busyness and discontectedness of life. The difficulty really is finding the time and means to slow down and be present to the moment. To enter into a place of being grounded once more.

Last night, after a long day of Christmas shopping and a lot of driving around the metropolitan Chicagoland area, I arrived home at 10:00pm. I sat with my husband and had a bowl of peppermint ice cream and a cup of tea. I opened my email and to my great delight found one from a person I met in the SW. It appears that the cleaning person in the hotel we stayed in found the cross. She is mailing it to us. And then later I found my glasses, under the bed beside my nightstand.

So today I am grateful for things found. I am grateful the cross was found. Grateful for the honesty of the person who found it...that kind of thing never happens in Chicago, at least not in my experience. And grateful I found my glasses, which will save me a trip to the eye Dr and the cost of new glasses.

And I am grateful to once again look into a space of time with very little on my schedule. I have a few things to do at church to prepare for Christmas. And I have some gifts to wrap. Not much. It will be a simple Christmas, but I'm ok with that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 16

(taking a brief catnap while at the hospital waiting for the babies to be born)

This morning my husband and I both overslept. Which means our son also overslept, and was late for school. sigh. I guess we are both exhausted, he from working two jobs, me from the weekend of no sleep and birthing babies. But, at least now I do feel like I have caught up on my sleep, I do feel rested.

Yesterday I called my friend to see how she was doing. She burst into tears and let out a litany of frustration. I couldn't understand her, so great was her sobbing. But the gist of it is: "It's only been one day and I can't believe how it has changed my life...I can't get any sleep, I have to pump every 2 -3 hours....the nurses keep coming in and waking me or interuppting me or...and I've only seen the babies twice....and..."

sigh. Having babies rocks our world and it is never the same.

I told her that in time, once her milk is established, she won't have to pump or nurse as often and she will be able to get a longer stretch of time sleeping. She said the lactation nurse told her that too.

My husband and I plan to do some Christmas shopping today and then I think I will go to the hospital and try to run interferance for her so she can sleep.

Today I am grateful for sleep and rest. I pray that my friend gets some too.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Birth Day

After 29 hours of labor (10am Saturday morning until 3pm Sat. afternoon)...two little twin girls were born into this world. Zoe was born at 2:44 this afternoon, weighing 4lbs. 8.1 oz, 17 inches long...and Lily was born at 2:54, weighing 4lbs 9.5 oz, 17.5 inches long. Both girls, despite being 6 weeks pre-mature are breathing on their own. Next we need to see if they are able to eat on their own, eliminate what they eat, and gain weight. Once that is all happening, they go home.

What an amazing 36 hours it has been! I'm really tired. I am also really grateful the babies are born and all is well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Going to birth some babies...

In the midst of this snow storm, my friend is at the hospital in labor. The Bishop is visiting my church tomorrow and has released my from the services so I can be the birth coach. So. I'm off to birth some babies!!! Oh, and she's at 34 weeks, so all should be ok....

Prayers for all will be most appreciated.

Gratitude Reflection Day 13

I am anxious. Deep inside my being resides an anxiety that resonates with every heart beat and breath. It's a chittery kind of feeling. And, it's not really from anything. I mean nothing really stirred it into being on this particular day. Except maybe hormones...the one's I thought were finally choosing to rest...but alas, no.

I woke after a chance to sleep a little later. My husband and I had breakfast together (bacon, eggs, pancakes, coffee). And then I rushed over to my friend's house. The pregnant with twins friend. Today was the day we were to meet the doula. At the birth of these twins will be me, another of the mom's friends, and the doula. So we were to meet and do some preparation. Only the doula was an hour late. She had a birth that ended early this morning. She tried to get some sleep, but overslept. And, I had to leave on time. So 45 minutes after the doula arrived I had to leave. And during those 45 minutes she had us watch a DVD on the birth process. I have given birth to two babies. Watching the DVD reminded me that something we never forget. Might have been better to use our time doing something else other than watching a DVD about which I already know. To the very core of being...I wanted to know how she, the doula, anticipated all of us being helpful. What would we do? She didn't really talk about that....So I still don't know why there will be three of us and what we will all do during the birth except perhaps get in each other's way....??? I've already decided that I do not need to be in charge of this delivery. I will help, even if that means sitting in the hall or just holding her hand and reminding her to breath.

So, the morning was a little frustrating - to have taken the time, when I have so little with my husband these days, and then not accomplish what we intended. Sigh. But life is like that. No one is at fault. It just is. Soon I have to go to the office to do a review and rehearsal for the confirmation tomorrow. In the meantime I am sipping a cup of tea (Tazo "Awake"), sitting in my study, cat on lap, a lovely CD of Christmas Adagio's playing. Light snow falling.

I just purchased the CD of Christmas Adagios. So this is my first time listening to it. And I picked up another book of Mary Oliver poetry. An older book, "Dream Work" from 1986. I have already done a quick read-through. Wonderful poems. Poems I will go back and re-read and savor. Here is one:

"Coming Home"

When we're driving, in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we're weary,
when the buildings
and the wcrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car,
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place - the top
of one of the pale dunes
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea -
and what we see is the world
that cannot cherish us
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything - the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness -
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and to me.

Today, despite the unpredicable nature of life - hormones, birthing babies, snow - I am grateful for those things I can count on...a cup of tea, a book, good music, and a cat, which calm my spirit and restore my soul.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 12

Yesterday I reflected on desire, spurred by my daily reading of Jan Richardson's book, "Night Vision." It is a beautiful reflection book for the season. But since then I have been thinking about desire. What does my heart desire? What does my soul desire? Are they the same things? Yesterday's reflection included a quote from Janet Morley who spoke about integrating our desires, that ultimately they all come fromo one source.

I've often preached on that same idea. I've gone at it from a slightly different perspective, the idea that we all have this big empty hole in us. Born that way. And in our lives we work to fill that emptiness. Sometimes we try to fill it with stuff. Sometimes we try to fill it with work. Sometimes we try to fill it with food, alcohol, or sex. Trying to fill it with all those things is ok, except that these things are not what the emptiness desires. Because these are not what the emptiness desires we are left feeling hungry, craving to be satisfied. An unhealthy cycle can be put in place, of craving, filling, being unsatisfied, and ultimately feeling depressed and worn. Like eating a life time of an unhealthy diet.

I first began thinking about this after reading Carl Jung. He speaks about the emptiness as a yearning for God. I believe he says we are born with an inate desire for God. We just don't always recognize it. Sometimes people push God away and stuff even more of those other things into the emptiness, a gluttony of stuffing that leaves one empty. Jung's research determined that half the people fell "ill" (neurosis or psychosis) because they lost the meaning of life. This is particularly true in our world that has lost the potency and meaning of religious language and lack the power of religious doctrine to inform our lives. This means that we do not have a language to articulate our experiences of God, God's desire for us, and our desire for God. Eventually, hopefully, we finally realize that what we really desire is God. (Cambridge Companion to Jung, Chap. 15, Jung and Religion: the opposing self, by Ann Ulanov).

I need to read Ulanov's chapter again, it's interesting. In part she says the role of religion is to help us integrate our individual experiences of God into a collective experience of God. Community is where we are able to really digest our experiences of God. And the process of bringing our individual experiences into community then serves to build new community. Healing comes when people are able to connect the yearning with that which really satisfies - a life whose meaning is grounded in God's desire for us, our desire for God, and our ability to process that through a shared life in community.

I think this one reason why I suffered so deeply last year and why I feel so much better this year. I suffered from lack of community in which to process my experiences of God. My parish really seems disinterested in any kind of real depth. They live their lives in, at least by my desires, a superficial realm. I can't seem to inspire them to go deeper. They are content enough. But I was not. I wanted more.

Blogging has opened up to me a community of people who are also seeking to know God and to share that knowledge with others or to process the experiences in order to know God more fully. Sigh. I sometimes feel like I am very repetitive with this. But today I am once again grateful for this blogging community. A place where my (our) desires for God can be

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day (what day is it?)...

I've lost track of what day it is. I know it's Thursday, but how many days I have been reflecting on gratitude? I think it's day 11, although I missed a few days in between...

Jan Richardson in her wonderful book, "Night Vision" reflects on this season, from Advent to Epiphany. She begins week two speaking about desire. She says, "Each year in the fall, the voices being clamoring to tell us what we want. We cannot go shopping, read the newspaper, listen to the radio, or watch television without being told what will make our holidays complete...We rail at the commercialism of Christmas even as we sometimes get caught up in it."

"But the voices will never tell us about what we really want, what we really long for, what we desire with heart and soul. Those who have sat in the darkness know how the shadows give way to desire. Without sight, without our heads swimming with the images of what others tell us we want, we can turn our gaze inward and search our souls. What speaks to us? What calls to us? What dreams have we buried? What wounds cry out for healing? What longs to be born in us in this season? What is the yearning which we have not dared to name? Or desires reveal to us what we think about God, about ourselves, and about the world."

She then goes on to quote Janet Morley from her book of prayers, All Desires Known. Morley writes, "I understand the Christian life to be about the integration of desire; our personal desires, our political vision, and our longing for God. So far from being seperate or in competition with one another. I believe that our deepest desires ultimately spring from the same source."

This Advent season is for me a time of reflecting on desire. What does my heart hope for, what does my soul desire? Today I am really grateful that my life is slow. It seems I worked really hard for a few weeks, and now I find myself at a lull. It's only temporary. But I am grateful for the time to stop. To be. To watch the snow fall. To drink a cup of tea. To read. To wait...and in the waiting to, perhaps, find my heart's desire and a prayer answered.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gratitude Reflection, the back on line edition


Wow, what a couple of days it has been. Ice storms and travel and discernment and javlina's and no access to the internet....

Despite the ice storms headed our way, and the freezing rain, our flight out on Sunday was scheduled on time. We had a bit of a delay at the last minute when a cherry picker deicing planes got stuck in the gate next to ours and the fire engines and ambulances came roaring over. Our plane was unable to get to the gate until to commotion was resolved. No one was hurt. Then our plane had to be deiced, that took another 25 minutes. So. We left about an hour late but arrived only 45 minutes late. Not too bad, all things considered. Especially since another 400+ flights were cancelled later that evening.

Our trip was lovely. I felt comfortable in the place and with the people. They were very gracious and welcoming and excited. My husband was embraced and welcomed and made to feel comfortable. The terrain is very different. Mountains, desert, cacti...rattle snakes, cougar's, and javelina's. flickerfoto. The javelina's look like pigs but are really peccary, hooved mammels from South America. They are omnivores, but generally prefer roots and vegetables. They have thick straight tusks to root around. Scary looking, we actually saw a herd of them yesterday morning.....but apparently they leave humans alone unless they feel threatened...I wonder if big barking dogs would feel like a threat?...(I think so)...

Also, while we were there, rain, fog, and snow in the mountains. They laughed and said, this is our winter, these three days you are here. Then it will be gone. We said, the weather makes us feel right at home. The church is beautiful. I could see myself there. But they have two more to interview and a few more weeks before a call is made.

I'm not sure I like being the first one. I hope they don't forget me by the time they have done this with two others...

Our trip home was more tenuous than the flight out. For two days my husband was getting storm warnings on his blackberry. We thought it would be really bad. At the airport we found out that one flight from there to Chicago had been cancelled, but two others had gone out, and ours was only a 20 minute delay. In the end we left about 35 minutes late, but we made up the time, again, in the air, and arrived early. Without incident.

I feel truly blessed by the ease of our travel. I think we were embraced by prayer and the Holy Spirit. Considering what might have been, and what was...I also feel truly blessed to have met these people. We were hosted and toasted in gracious hospitality. We were fed delicious meals and cared for by some fine people. It was a wonderful experience!

Today I am grateful for safe travel, for opportunities to discern and ponder God's call. I am grateful for the mystery of it all and the wonder. I am grateful to be home with my dogs, who missed us terribly, apparently. And with our children, who managed well enough without their parents. And I am grateful to sit in my study, blogging with you all again, and for the cat on my lap. I'm also grateful that I have a bishops visit this Sunday and do not need to prepare a sermon.

Now I pray. I won't know anything until the second week of January....

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Redemptive Media, a grateful reflection on the Gospel for Advent 2

When I was in college, in the 1970’s, I had a very difficult time figuring out what I wanted to major in. At 17 I really had no idea what I wanted do with the rest of my life. I’ve told you before about my brief time as an Agriculture major…well, another major I considered, was anthropology. For some reason, which I no longer recall, I decided not to pursue it, but if I had majored in anthropology I would have known this term, “redemptive media,” before preparing today’s sermon.

Redemptive media is a term used by anthropologists to describe the things in a culture that decide what makes a person good, successful, and respectable. What are some of the things we say describe a good, successful, and respectable person? What university one goes too? What profession one is in? Does it matter if they worship in a church, synagogue or mosque? What about where one lives? How well behaved the kids are? What kind of clothes are worn?

On the television show M*A*S*H, Dr. Charles Emerson Winchester III made it clear about what defined him; "I'm a Winchester," he was heard to say more than once. For him, it was his family name that determined who he was, and in his mind it made him superior to everyone else. Even today a family name can bring respect. Think of Kennedy or Rockefeller, Clinton or Bush. The people in John the Baptist's community banked their inheritance as a people of God on their direct lineage with Abraham. The people of Israel all descended from Abraham, and that meant, by tradition, that they were God’s chosen people.

There’s a comfort in knowing who we are. Especially if we easily fit into the categories our culture deems as good, respectable, and successful; which surely includes everyone here. We live in the comfort of suburban America with our warm homes, cars, schools, jobs, plenty of food and friends. It’s nice. I think that’s a good thing. But John reminds us that it is not enough. In fact resting too comfortably in our own sense of security can really undermine us.

Anyone here ever hear of a Floogie bird? Apparently Harry Truman, another respected name in our society, once described a Floogie Bird as a wooden bird that had a small label around its neck that read, "I fly backwards, I do not care where I'm going. I just want to see where I've been."

Resting too comfortably can keep us stuck. As John the Baptist, and then later Jesus, would say, "That’s when we become like the Pharisees and Sadducees." Do not presume that all is well just because of who we are and how we kow the world at this point in time.

John the Baptist is pointing the people, and therefore us, in another direction. He says they cannot presume that all is well, just because they are descendants of Abraham. No, God has come to do a new thing. Now, in Christ, the new thing will happen. And what is this new thing....Anyone can be a member of the family. Anyone can be found by God to be respectful, good, and successful. All God asks is that the person repent - turn and return to God.

In John Steinbeck's story "The Wayward Bus" a dilapidated old bus takes a cross country shortcut on its journey to Los Angeles, and gets stuck in the mud. While the drivers go for assistance, the passengers take refuge in a cave. It is a curious company of people and it is obvious that the author is attempting to get across the point that these people are lost spiritually as well as literally. Which, you may remember is an Advent theme – the darkness that is both spiritual and literal. Spiritual because we are invited into the mystery of God, literal because it is winter and night comes early.

As the people enter into this cave the author calls the readers attention to the fact that as they enter they must pass a word that has been scrawled with paint over the entrance. The word is repent. Although Steinbeck calls that to the reader’s attention it is interesting that none of the passengers pay any attention to it whatsoever.Isn't that just like people: we fail to see the obvious even when it is right in front of us. "Can't see the forest for the trees..." Repentance is key to this reading.

But what does repentance mean?

In Matthew, John the Baptist thinks repentance means all kinds of things. For one, he thinks that, based on some criteria, the nature of our repentance will determine whether we become chaff or wheat. John gets this idea from Isaiah, it is part of the tradition of John’s faith. Some will become chaff and some will become wheat. And this new thing God is doing, this new thing that will be done through Jesus will determine which is which. John is certain that Jesus will take a shovel, for the word here, winnowing fork, is actually better translated as winnowing shovel. John says Jesus will take a shovel and dig into the pile, scooping out large portions of chaff to be burned and large portions of wheat to be saved.

There’s just one problem with John's expectation, and scripture reveals this later in the story of the Gospels. Sure. Jesus comes and well, he isn’t always this nice guy. No, Jesus can have a bit of a temper. He yells at people. He turns over tables in the temple. He gets mad and impatient. But. He never actually burns anyone. In fact, Jesus, despite his temper tantrums, ends up offering love to all. All are welcome. Even those who make him mad.

And that’s a really big deal. Jesus' love for us is not dependent on who we know, or what our last name is, or how much respect we have, or how successful we are. Jesus loves us for being exactly who we are right now. Knowing that we are loved for being exactly who are: flawewd and imperfect, and not coming from the right family, but loved anyway, will change us completely. Actually, it is an amazing process that happens inside. And it begins when we recognize the need to seek forgiveness; when we recognize that there are things known and unknown for which we need to repent. Repentance means turning and returning to God. Turning away from the things in our lives that cause broken relationships and hurt in this world. There are things we know we have done that break God’s heart. Things we know cause broken relationships with people we know, like, care about…we know they are hurtful, but sometimes we do them anyway. And then are things we do in the course of our everyday lives for which we have no idea how those actions affect the lives of others. How is it that the food we eat or the clothes we wear may influence poverty around the world? Poverty through extremely low wage sweat shops where young people work 14 hour days in ruthless brutal conditions for a fraction of the daily cost of living. IPoverty through an inability to earn a living wage for work done, like the plight of coffee growers around the world, that is unless the grower is in a fair trade market. It’s one thing to work long hours under decent conditions, it’s a tragedy when the conditions are inhumane. John the Baptist reminds us that we cannot rest comfortably in our ignorance. There are many different kinds of vipers that poison our lives and our world. What vipers live in our culture masked under the guise perhaps of the very thing we deem worth and respectful, like making a profit.

Even as we rest, easy, comfortable in our homes, words from Martin Luther King Jr. remind us that: We shall have to repent, not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked , but for the appalling silence of the good people. In other words, we are not to rest comfortable, quiet toward the injustices in this world. We need to take responsibility for our selves, our actions, and our ability to influence the world around us.

A friend tells of the Saturdays he spent going to football games with his father. The boy and his dad sat in sunshine and rain, wind and snow, and cheered for their favorite team. There was nothing like it. On the way home from the ball games, prior to the era of drive-through windows, they often stopped to get a bite to eat. The boy would stand at the counter and listen to his father give the order for their food. Sometimes the restaurant person would turn to the boy and ask, "And what for you today?"

It was very comforting for the boy to point to his father and say, "I'm with him." Those were the days. The boy's father took care of everything and all the boy had to do was stand there and wait on his food. If anybody happened to ask, he could always say, "I'm with him."

William B. Kincaid, III, And Then Came the Angel, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.

At some point, we start taking responsiblity for ourselves. It’s the steps we take from infancy to childhood to maturity. Yes, frightening at first,…in fact it sometimes is still frightening years later. But when we take responsibility we turn from a life focused inward, safe, and secure, to a life focused outward. An outward focused life is more challenging and vulnerable, like a voice carrying out in the wilderness - but it’s what God calls us to do. To turn and return to God, to repent, and focus our lives on what God desires. To love God, love neighbor, love self.

Just like when I was in college, turning to God does not always assure us of the future – and what we will be doing. But it does assure us that God will be with us, filling us with fire and Holy Spirit…

and, since I fly off tomorrow, and will be gone for a few days, I am grateful this sermon is done and the bags are packed. Now I just hope the weather is good to us...

The theme of this sermon was influenced by dylans blog

Gratitude Reflection Day 6

It has been years since I spent a lot of time alone. For 19 years I have been raising children. For 22 years I have been living in a marriage where my husband came home from work and we had supper together. I have been surrounded by people. I chose a profession that places me intimately in the lives of other people. I know things about people that most others do not. Over the years I have actively sought out time to be alone. I need a certain amount of alone time to feel balanced. For many years it has been difficult to claim even a few short hours a week.

But now there is a huge shift in my life. My husband has taken on a second job, which he works three or four nights a week and a long portion of Saturday and Sunday. My daughter, at 19, has a life of her own, and can be out late at night. My son, at 15, has an active social life and is busy with activities. My parish is not particularly needy right now. No one has been sick, hospitalized, or dying for a while. The intense care taking I did for actively dying parishioners, which continued for three years at an unrelenting pace, has subsided. All is quiet.

Suddenly I find myself with vast amounts of space and time to myself. I relish this time. Mostly I really love it. But, sometimes, at night, the aloness gets to me. I eat dinner by myself. I work on some project or a sermon or I blog. But sometimes it gets to be a little too much.

Harry James Cargas says this about being alone: "Lonely is not a synonym for alone. The word lonely connotes isolation and dejection, a missed absence of companions when it is applied to persons. The root of alone, however, is in two words: all one. This means the opposite of isolation and dejection. The emphasis is not on the one but on the wholly one. It means complete by oneself. How many of us can actually feel that way? It is not easy to be fully in oneself, to respect oneself, and to self-develop to such a degree that a person looks forward to long periods of being alone. For some who enjoy this oneness, they realize that because of their relationship with Christ they are never lonely. They cultivate the chances to be alone so that they can actually savour the moments with God alone, the moments when their unity with the creator can be both enjoyed and developed. This implies quite a special human being. Too often we are frantic for companionship - for the team or the club or the class or the party or the movie or the TV. Immersion in such activities will free us from having to face the basic issues of existence. Such trivial busyness will keep us from intimate contact with ourselves. The kingdom of heaven is within each of us, yet how seriously do we try to make contact with it? Not only is there no need to 'go out there' in most instances, but rather it is spiritually harmful to look outside ourselves while ignoring what is by nature within us. The woman or man who can be aloe - can be together in the self - is the kind of person we can admire, can hold as a model. The quest for wholeness for individual unity is one of the great journeys a life can make, indeed should make. There is no easy route to being properly alone. But making the trip is learning to find what the meaning of life is." (Encountering Myself, pg. 108)

I'm not sure I agree completely with this. I think life is a balance between alone time and community, whatever community is to each person - family, friends, church. We can no more live our lives fully alone than we can live our lives avoiding alone time and always merging into community, even if that community is the TV. I do like the idea that alone time is about being all one. That is a spiritual way of entering into time alone and wondering what will come of it. How will I come to know myself more fully in this time alone? How will I come to know God more fully in this time alone? And what can my alone time offer that I can then bring into community?

This morning I am grateful for the silence of my house. For the rising sun, the cats sleeping around me. The time to pray and reflect on God. Time to work on my sermon and get ready for tomorrow. Time to be all one.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 5

A few nights ago I had a dream that I was homeless. I was living in my car with two children, a young boy and a young girl. The girl was my brother's child, the boy was mine. My brother had disappeared, left us, left the girl in my care. And we were homeless. I ended up at a friend's house, someone a knew a long time ago and haven't seen in 25 years. I asked this person if we could stay with him for a short while, just until I found a place to live. I knew the person would say yes, even if reluctant to do so, our presence would be very disruptive to his life.

I shared this dream with the Jungian. We talked about the obvious, what it means to be homeless. I spoke about feeling unanchored in my priesthood. I know who I am as a priest but the unanchored piece has to do with community - who I am priest to and with. This dream speaks volumes about my current parish and how I experience them in that dark place of my inner self. Homeless.

We also spoke about who this friend represents in my dream life. I am still working that out. He appears occasionally in my dreams, and has over these 25 years. Always in a similar capacity. I think he represents being cared for. I think he represents a simpler time in my life. A kind of anchor and stability. Which is odd, because in many ways this friendship was very destabilizing.

My life at this time is filled with uncertainty. I do not know what the future holds. At times I am fear-filled. Afraid of upsetting my family. Afraid of change. Afraid of the unknown.

Last night, before falling asleep, I read this reflection by Leslie D. Weatherhead, Prescriptions for Anxiety:

"When I was once passing through a very dark phase, due largely to physical illness - and of course when we are physically ill we all suffer both from a degree of anxiety and from regression to a more infantile level - I did not know whether to accept an onerous and very demanding position or withdraw from it. One day my wife said she thought the darkness could be part of God's training for the job. I came to accept that view. Fear itself can be used by God to equip us for our tasks, so long as we take the right attitude to it and do not let it cow us into surrender or into any of the many avenues of escape which the frightened mind suggests to us. I can only write down this simple testimony. Like everybody, I love and refer the sunny uplands of experience, when health, happiness and success abound, but I have learned far more about God and life and myself in the darkness of fear and failure than I have ever learned in the sunshine. There are such things as treasures in the darkness. The darkness, thank God, passes. But what one learns in the darkness, one possesses for ever. 'The trying things,' says Bishop Fenelon, 'which you fancy come between God and you, will prove the means of unity with him, if you bear them humbly. Those things that overwhelm us and upset our pride, do more good than all that which excites and inspirits us."

I am drawn to the thought that the darkness could be God's training for the job. My fear may be the very thing being used by God to equip me, but only if I do not give into the fear and turn away, or as Weatherhead says, "surrender" to the fear. God is leading me in a direction. Of course I have choices. Any change will destabilize me. But now I'm thinking that may be a Godly thing.

Today I am grateful for the Jungian. I am grateful for the various catalysts that help me navigate the waters of life. I am grateful for a space and a place, this blog, where I can journal and process. I put my fear on "paper" and brought it out of the dark hidden place of my being. Now I will journey through it and see what comes. I'm grateful that I believe in God and trust that God anchors my life. And, I'm grateful that sometimes life pulls the anchor, as I perceive it, and lets me drift into unknown waters, eventually coming to a place where I will know God more fully.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day 4

Another day. I rose early, I have an appointment about an hour away. The rest of household is sleeping. Except the dogs, who wanted to be fed, and let outside, and loved. It's quiet here.

I love the quiet early morning. The first light of the sun glistening on the snow. Deep red and pink hues spraying across the pale blue sky. And then, in a matter of moments, the color changes to a pale yellow, the sun has risen.

It is a very cold morning here with temperatures in the teens. And then in a few days they are predicting rain. The rain and sleet may come on Sunday, and if so, may hamper my flight out. I am scheduled to leave at 2:30 in the afternoon. And, if all goes well I will be in 70 degree weather a few hours later. I pray for calm weather and easy flying.

I am excited about this trip and the potential it holds. If I am offered the position it will be very different from what I have been doing for the last seven years...

This morning I am grateful for the seasons. I love just a little bit of winter. I am grateful for opportunities for change. Life has it's seasons too, and I am grateful for that. Some of life's seasons are very difficult, others are not. But within the changing of the seasons lies hope. And, I live in hope. If I had to define one quality of my life it would be hope. Which, is also, grace. Last night I read this quote from Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, pg. 25:

"Hope alone is to be called 'realistic', because it alone takes seriously the possibilities with which all reality is fraught. It does not take things as they happen to stand or lie, but as progressing, moving things with possibilities of change. Only as long as the world and the people in it are in a fragmented and experimental state which is not yet resolved, is there any sense in earthly hopes. The latter anticipate what is possible to realisty, historic aand moving as it is, and use their influence to decide the processess of history. Thus hopes and anticipations of the future are not a trasnfiguring glow superimposed on a darkened exisitience, but are realistic ways of perceiving the scope of our real possibilities, and as such they set everything in motion and keep it in a state of change."

Life is, I think, fragmented and experimental, unresolved, and full of hope for all things possible. That is what I am most grateful for today.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gratitude Day 3

This morning has not been easy. My husband was in a terrible mood. Because of the snow. Or so it seemed. It may be that he was just in bad mood. He often is these days. I understand. I spent two years in a bad mood. Now, it seems it's his turn. And, it's my turn to be patient. He has his reasons. Working two jobs and still facing a mound of debt is reason enough. Being 50 and feeling like a failure, is another, for him. It is difficult to be a man in our society. So much pressure to "succeed." I gently try to remind him that his life is full of success: a good marriage, two good children...just for starters...that's something, I think.

Anyway, the start to this day is not what I anticipated. Life is like that sometimes....So. Now to spend some time reflecting on what I am grateful for today.

I am grateful for the snow. It's beautiful. I always love snow this time of year. It adds flavor to Advent, enhances the desire to hibernate and ponder my life. And, with this interview coming up next week, I have a lot to ponder.

I am grateful for a good cup of coffee. Really, it's delightful to sit in my study, with the big windows that look out over my backyard, the trees layered in fresh snow, and sip this cup of coffee.

I am grateful for this kitten that curls up in my lap every morning. She makes it a little challenging to blog on my laptop, but I can stretch out in a recliner chair and manage to hold both in my lap. She is the sweetest cat.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gratitude Reflection Day Two

I wonder how these reflections will play out? As I anticpate writing them in the morning I imagine I will reflect on the day before, or maybe the night. Perhaps I will wonder about the day ahead? Right now, on this second morning of active attentiveness to gratitude I find myself stuck. Isn't that way it always is? I start out excited and raring to go but lose steam quickly. It's because discipline is difficult. Some years of my life I am really good at it, I have my practices and do them faithfully. But lately that is not the case. So, I will just offer up my thoughts and see where they take me.

Yesterday, my day off I did a lot of blogging. And I spoke about my gratitude for the blogging communities I participate in. Then I exercised. I went into the office to help the Mondady volunteer wrap boxes of candy for our college students. We send them off these care packages every year around the time of finals. I am grateful for our office volunteers. They take their responsibilities seriously and do a great job. Makes my life easier.

Afterwards I went to the Dr's office to pick up my friend, the one who is (still, thank God) pregnant with twins, the single mom who is 45 and pregnant with twins...sigh. I am grateful that she has been able, through the wonder of modern medicine, to stay off the pre-term labor that hospitalized her twice and has limited her to complete bed rest for the last two months. She's made some tough choices in her life, including acknowledging that she may never find the right partner for her. But she really wanted to birth her own baby. She worked hard to conceive and retain a pregnancy, many failed attempts. And here she is, 32 weeks along. If the timing works out I will be with her at the babies birth. Two little girls. I'm grateful she will have her own little family.

Then I came home and decorated a Christmas Tree with my daughter. Someone gave us an artificial tree which we put up in the picture window in our living room. We never use that room, and usually put up a real tree in the family room. But we liked the idea of a tree in that window. My daughter went to Target and bought red and gold ornaments, white lights, gold garland, gold sheer ribbon as garland, and gold stars. It's our "grown up" tree. I am grateful for m daughter who has grown into a fine young woman. Creative, intelligent, strong, self-willed, and learning to mold her strength with a bit of diplomacy. It's not the tree I would have created, but it was fun to follow her whim and see where it took us.

In a week or so we will get a live tree and set it up in the family room. It will be our eclectic tree with the ornaments we've handed down over the years. I look forward to that as well.

So today I am grateful for ordinary every day things in my life. The ordinary day in and day out of life. For children, for friends, for family, for church, for life.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Reflections on Gratitude

One of the most precious gifts I have been given in this last year is the community of Revgals. I am so grateful to have read an article in The Christian Century and then followed up on it. I have appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my life and ministry with a semi-public on-line journal. I appreciate the people who supported me in the those early days as I learned how to blog and link and add pictures....and those who stop by regularly now. I appreciate those who leave comments and those who read but never speak.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to read the blogs of others. I have learned so much. I have been invited into lives of joy, confusions, pain, sorrow, hope. Lives that mirror back to me the grace of a living God.

During the month of November one Revgal pal decided to take on the discipline of posting about gratitude. I found myself drawn to her blog, to her reflections, and to the idea of intentionally reflecting on gratitude. I decided I would do it. Not only for my personal blog. But also for the blog I manage for small church. The posts I write for each blog will not be the same. I will have certain things I am grateful for in my personal life, which will not appear on the church blog. And on the church blog I hope to speak about gratitude in the spirit of that faith community, in a way that will (hopefully) stir the people up as well...

So today I begin a spiritual exercise, I invite you to journey with me and share what you are grateful for as we travel this season of Advent.

The Aim of Life

Like most people, when I was in my twenties,  I was focused on trying to figure out my life. I struggled to figure out what I was going to...