Wednesday, August 27, 2008

More Poetry from Mechtild of Magdeburg

How God speaks to the Soul
And God said to the soul:
I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And where the desires of two come together
There love is perfected.

How the soul speaks to God
Lord, you are my lover,
My longing,
My flowing streams,
My sun,
And I am your reflection.

How God answers the soul
It is my nature that makes me love you often,
For I am love itself.

It is my longing that makes me love you intensely,
For I yearn to be loved from the heart.

It is my eternity that makes me love you long,
For I have no end.

How God comes to the soul
I descend to my love
as dew on a flower.

(From Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, edited by Jane Hirshfield. These poems translated by Oliver Davies)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Poem by Mechtild of Magdeburg

A fish cannot drown in water
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of its making,
Gold doesn't vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
Must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Seeing the Signature of God

A reflection on Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Matthew 16:13-20, Proper 16A

A colleague tells this story about one of the first computer games his family ever got. He says:

“Atari became all the rage. As I recall Atari initially had four different games. My favorite was called Adventure. It was your basic dungeons and dragons genre, with different castles and rooms, a key, hidden doorways, a bat that could steal the key, even whole areas where obstacles were invisible.”

He goes on to say, “Our whole family got into it. The kids, of course, quickly surpassed their parents. They would come home from school with new tips and tricks. Some of them were…maneuvers not written down in any manual. One of the most amazing came home from junior high with my daughter: In a particular place inside the “black castle,” the diligent searcher could find a small white dot that was too small to be noticeable as a normal game object. Indeed, if you did find it you would think it was only a glitch in your video monitor.”

“By taking this dot back to the starting screen however, you could enter a hidden, an otherwise inaccessible, room. Entering the room had absolutely nothing to do with playing the game. All you would find in the room was a rainbow and the name of the person who invented the game. For all I know, every computer programmer does something like this. Somewhere, behind some hidden wall, available to only the initiated, there is another room. And in that room is the name of the artist.” (“Invisible Lines of Connection,” Rabbi Lawrence Kuschner)

The same might be said for us, for all of creation. Somewhere in each of us is the signature of God, our creator, the artist of our lives. The problem is that we are rarely able to see that signature of God. It seems, for whatever reason, the signature of God appears to be hidden from us.

There once was a man whose dental work made it possible for him to actually hear radio broadcasts. Somehow the combination of fillings in his teeth accidentally turned his mouth into a primitive receiver. But he found the sounds so distracting that he had the fillings replaced. The radio signals were still there, in the air, all around him, he just chose not to hear them any more.

This idea points us to the possibility of God being in and around and among us but we are unable to know how or where. God is not hidden from us, we just lack the ability to “see” God. Why? Do we need some sort of anomaly, like weird fillings in our teeth, to know the presence of God?

Shiprah and Puah are two midwives living in ancient Egypt attending to the births of children to the Hebrew slaves. The Pharaoh, anxious over the large number of Hebrew people, and fearful that in their large numbers they may choose to revolt, decides to reduce their numbers through selective genocide – the midwives are to kill all newborn baby boys. But the midwives disobey the Pharaoh allowing the babies to live. In their act of disobedience we see the signature of God…two people disobeying the human authority in order to do the right thing.

A mother, hoping to save her newborn son, puts him in a basket and sends it off on the river. Another woman, the Pharaoh’s daughter finds the basket and brings the baby to safety. And the baby’s sister, who has been sent off to follow the basket, suddenly appears before the Pharaoh’s daughter and suggests that she find a nurse maid for the baby, a nursemaid who turns out to be the baby’s own mother. Three more people, a mother, a sister, and woman of power, all doing the right thing and in their actions we see the signature of God.

All around us, all the time, are people bringing forth the signature of God. A man wakes his neighbors and saves them from their burning house. A child dials 911 and saves her grandfather. A woman teaches her students to believe in themselves and changes the course of their lives from drugs, poverty, and failure, to hope, education, and a future. We hear stories like this all the time. Stories of people who reach out to others, confronting adversity, challenges, or struggle, and offer themselves as the hands and heart of Christ in a broken world.

You’ve heard this joke: A huge flood was about to wash away a town. A local man, fearful for his life stood on the front porch. Just as the flood waters were rising another man drove by in his Hummer and offered him a ride. Oh no, said the man. God will save me. As the flood waters rose another man came by in a row boat and offered the man a ride. Oh no, he said, God will save me. Finally the man had to climb up on his roof to avoid the flood waters. Soon a helicopter came by and offered the man a ride. Oh no, he said, God will save me.

Well before long the flood waters collapsed his house and the man drowned. In heaven the man said to God, I was so sure you were going to save me from the flood. Well, said God, first I sent a man in a truck, then I sent a man in row boat, and then I sent someone in a helicopter…..

Yes, God chooses to work in and through humans.

As Christians we come to know the signature of God most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Knowing Christ in our hearts can help us to find the signature of God in us. Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say I am.” And Peter gets it right, “You are the messiah,” he exclaims. “Yes,” says Jesus…”but do you really know what this means?”

Jesus thinks that Peter does not really understand and so he tells him to keep silent. The impression is that Peter has said more than he actually knows and understands. Realizing something is only part of the issue - understanding it, integrating it into our beings – is a very different matter.

Realizing something is “getting it right.” Integrating something is allowing it to live in us and change us, to impact the decisions we make and what we do.

Shihpah and Puah knew what the Pharaoh asked them to do was wrong. So, in that regard “they get it right.” They could have left it at that and done his bidding anyway. But they did not. Scripture tells us they “feared God.” When scripture uses the phrase, “Fear of God” it doesn’t mean to be afraid, it means awe – to be in awe of God. The midwives were in awe of God and as a result they were aware of the fingerprint of God in their lives. They have integrated God into their lives and taken action, by not doing what the Pharaoh wants.

Who knows what has happened to enable them to have this awareness and ability to respond accordingly? Maybe it is the act of helping so many women give birth, of holding the fragility of life in their hands. If you’ve ever given birth, or witnessed a birth, you know something about this, the awesomeness of God in creation.

Another thing we know from scripture is that it takes the disciples awhile to move from knowing who Christ is to integrating Christ into their lives. It takes them awhile to move from getting it right, from understanding - “You are the Messiah” - without running away when difficulty arises. It is not until after the resurrection, on the feast of Pentecost, that the disciples really begin to understand and act from that deep place of understanding. Until then all they do is run away and hide behind locked doors.

Imagine if Shipah and Puah had done that, locked their hearts away and done the Pharaoh’s bidding? Imagine if Moses’ mother had allowed her newborn baby boy to be killed? Imagine if the Pharaoh’s daughter had turned her heart on the baby instead of opening her heart? Imagine if there were no Moses?

Imagine if Peter had decided not to lead the church in Jerusalem. Imagine if Paul had not gone out into the world and brought the Good News of Christ to those Gentiles. Imagine if the communities of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had not written down the stories of Jesus? Somewhere along the way people, who knew God, knew Christ, took action. They risked their own sense of comfort and well being in order to allow the fingerprint, the signature of God, to be made visible in the world.

All around us today are Christians living just like the early disciples. Christians who want to hide away, preserve their security and comfort, and as a result lock God up. They know who the messiah is, but they won’t act on it. God calls us to act, not in ways that limit God, but in ways that reflect the expansiveness of God. A poem called, You are Christ’s Hands, by Theresa of Avila, a 16th century mystic says it well:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless (us) now.

How does the signature of our creator live in you?
In us?

How are we being named,called, in expansive, generous ways, to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reflections on my Chrysalis: Epilogue

Throughout the last 10 days, as I've reflected on my chrysalis a few people have wondered why I did this, why I wrote this. As is typical of me I didn't set out to write a multi-part reflection of such length and detail - that evolved as I started. I think the genesis for this reflection was the culmination of several things.

For a number of weeks lately I have been thinking of chrysalis. It's come up in my comments on blogs, as a read about various blog friends who are going through what looks like their chrysalis. And it came up in a sermon I preached just before I started my "stay-cation." So, the first reason is that chrysalis has been on my mind.

I suppose another reason is that I have been home these last two weeks and have had the luxury of time to rest, reflect, and write. Since I have taken this new call I don't have as much time for this as I did at small church. So, it's been good to slow down and be reflective.

A third reason is that I began this time off reading (finally) Barbara Brown Taylor's, "Leaving Church." Actually I read most of the book, there were some parts I just had to skip. As usual I really loved BBT's writing. She has such an amazing gift for words. But I was really saddened by her experience of church, of the priesthood, as a ministry that demands the priest to pour out his or her self completely for the care of others. I think this book is a reflection on BBT's chrysalis, but it includes some tragic lack of self-care. It got me thinking, what were seminaries teaching their students in the early 1980's and how had that changed by the mid 1990's? I remembered seminary placing a lot of emphasis on clergy well-being and self-care. I also remembered that self-care was a huge emphasis in my training for massage therapy. At that time I was profoundly affected by a book, "How Can I Help" by Ram Dass. Looking at the lives and reflections of people in helping positions Ram Dass articulates the importance of helping without a need to satisfy the ego - you know, oh, if I do this I will be so wonderful and I will be "liked." People found out that through helping others so much more really happened - life changing, self awareness, changes. Anyway, I think the idea of appropriate self-care, and how that was a component of my "training" was another motivator for this reflection.

The last reason was the result of reading the RevGals August bookclub book: "Friendship of Women" by Joan Chittister. As I've read this book I have found myself thinking about the various women who have been friends and mentors for me, the "Lydias," "Prescas," "Martha's" etc in my life. So, while it was a subtle component, this reflection was also a tribute to those women.

To JS the first woman priest I experienced and now blog with; to JH my therapist who helped us through the recovery;

to KW my seminary friend who helped us through the recovery time and attended the discernment weekend and has been a fabulous friend for over 10 years;

to LP the rector/priest at my internship church who was so formative in my priesthood and has become a friend;

to MM my spiritual director;

to Joan Chittister who wrote, "Scarred by struggle, transformed by hope - the nine gifts of suffering;" and to all the RevGals who helped me through the darkest of days.

There are, of course many other women and men who were instrumental in my formation, and I am grateful for them, too.

As I suggested yesterday, chrysalis may be at the heart of life. Even though its true, no one wants to think, that it is the challenges and dark nights that cause us to grow and change. I think that it is the "moving through" those challenges, and doing so sustained by faith, that causes the deep transformation. There is so much potential for us to come out of it all feeling bitter and as if "life owes us." But moving through chrysalis with the idea that God is walking with us, even and especially, when we cannot see God any where, is an act of faith. And, coming out the other side, back to a place of wholeness and light again, I can see that God was with me in that darkness. I don't believe that God has a "plan" nor do I believe that we are puppets just playing out God's plan. I believe that God has a desire for us and nudges us but goes with us where we go. Freewill is after all the second gift from God, life being the first. So, God goes with us. And in this reflection I give thanks to God.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reflections on Chrysalis: Part 10

Shortly after ordination I accepted a job back in the diocese. We moved back to the city we had lived in before the exile and put our kids back in the same schools - it was as if we had taken an extended vacation to a winter wonderland and now returned to life as usual.

The church of my first call was a very large highly structured place. In many ways it was the complete opposite of the church of my internship. There, at internship, I was on a collegial staff, invited into all levels of decision making and team leadership. Here, at first call, I was in a hierarchy of leadership that required a lot of learning how to do it the "right" way. I won't go into details but suffice it to say that it was stifling. I truly wanted to learn how to do ministry, I just wanted to be me in the, much of what I learned was what I did NOT want to do...overwork clergy as if the American corporate model was what we should be doing in church...emphasize perfection as if perfect is the same as offering God our best....things like that.

After about 18 months at first call church I accepted a call to be the rector of a small church about 45 minutes west of where we were living. It was the summer of 2000 and my first day at this church was August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration. I really hoped that that would bode well for our ministry together. I stayed with that church for 7 years and we did a lot of good ministry together. And, although the church gained a lot of new members (about 33% of the parish were new members) - it also experienced a lot of losses from death and those who left over church politics and the bishop thing of 2001. In other words the actual membership went down...My time there was marked by helping the parish and the people find their voices and embrace diversity while figuring out who they were and what their passion was. We did this in a number of ways, ultimately focusing on refugee ministry, which gave us a great way to look beyond ourselves. However the church was often on rocky financial ground and I never felt secure in my position. I felt that the church needed to rethink its leadership and its direction and could not do that as long as I was there. So, after a long two year search, I accepted another call.

This new call is a combination of my experience at the first call, the big highly structured church, and my previous one - a place in need of lots of pastoral care. I feel well qualified for this call, although I am still new and learning my way.

Over the years I have taken many workshops on Congregational Development, read numerous books on leadership, practiced self-care, made sure that I had support systems with clergy groups, spiritual director, found the Jungian priest/therapist (who helped me so much during that two year search), and now I've added the consultant....I've tried to keep learning and growing and modeling healthy ministry and church life. After nearly 9 years at this I think I am finally finding my preaching voice. I'm still learning how to manage my anxiety and be a non-anxious leader. Now I'm learning how to be a leader for a parish and a staff. The staff dynamics here are complex and a little messy...and it doesn't help that the staff are all 15-20 years older than me, and sometimes call me "dear." (sigh)

As I have grown into the priesthood I have learned a lot about myself. I have lived through many dark years of feeling abandoned by God and still hung in there and practiced a life of faith and leadership, priesthood. It was a life changing time of challenge, darkness, and then eventually, hope. It was also the same time I began to blog and met this on-line community.

I wonder if perhaps chrysalis is the heart of life? Surely it is the time of living through profound struggles which ultimately cause deep transformation. All this and, for me at least, doing it in the footsteps of Christ.

I began the journey as a person who tended to let life happen to her... As a person who felt incapable of activating real change and who lived more superficially than reflectively. I've become a very different person inside and out...I am aware of the wisdom that my life has embued me with...not that I am inately wise, but I can learn...Now, I'm not suggesting that my challenges are over, only that now I have a deeper well of resources to tap into...more confidence...and a structure in place to help me think through what I face...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Reflections on Chrysalis: part 9

The General Ordination Exams are a series of exams, timed essays, taken over four days in early January - usually Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri., with Wed. off. Some of the essays are all day questions, with 8 hours to write an essay of no more than so many words. Others are half day questions, two questions per day. The writers are assigned a number and the responses are sent all over the country to be read by "readers" - a panel of people who qualify by virtue of some criteria, to do this. Therefore the writers are anonymous eliminating the possibility that a reader may be biased for or against someone because they know the person, or how they feel about women priests, or how they feel about a particular seminary ie liberal or conservative. Nonetheless the GOE's are a bit controversial. Some dioceses exempt their candidates from taking them, some diocese put a lot of weight on them. At that time in my diocese the chair of the standing committee was of the opinion that if a person could not sustain in all seven areas then the person was not priest qualified. That was quite a statment to make considering that the GOE's are fairly subjective - whether or not a person sustains is up to a panel of readers who may or may not like what a person writes. For example if a person writes from liberationist theology perspective and the readers are not trained or familiar with (or even perhaps "agree with") that theological system then they could "fail" the essays. Sigh.

The results from the Goe's arrive in early March of a persons last term of seminary (or in my case the last year of my dual degree). I was stunned to learn that I had failed in 5 in the 7 areas. Stunned. I had my priest read them, he being an "official" reader - he thought my answers were fine. I had my theology professor read them. He too thought they were fine. So, I was confused. Then I found out that almost half the class who took the GOE's from this seminary had failed in four or more areas. Half of us!....seemed like something was amiss.

The typical response of the diocese to people who failed GOE's was to assign extra work. However this diocese had never experienced so many people who "needed" extra work, remedial work...and in the process it seems I feel through the cracks. March passed without anyone giving me extra work. So did April and May. I was told the Commission on Ministry would discuss my work in the June meeting. But after the June meeting I was told that the committee was going on vacation for the summer and they'd get back to me in Septemeber.

This was huge. I graduated from the school of social work in June. I now had two masters degrees, but no ability to look for a job. I had to move out of the seminary, move my family, and figure out what I was going to do for work. I had no idea where to go or what to do. I was afraid to pursue anything in the social work field, given the scrutiny that degree was under. I felt that the COM just dropped me and my family, dismissed us, as unimportant - I was angry and sad and appalled.

I learned from a friend that there was an opening for a priest in a small church in a diocese north...and the church had an empty rectory that they might rent out. So, I put us in "exile" by moving to that other diocese, as far away as I could get. It was actually a very healthy thing to do. Part of me anticipated applying for the rector position of that church, if and when all was done....I mean I already lived there!

In the meantime I continued to work for the church where I had done my internship. The rector had become a friend and a mentor and a great supporter. She too had failed in areas of the GOE's....this extremely bright woman and priest! I couldn't believe it....She asked me to be the new part time Director of Christian Formation. So, twice a week I drove into that church and worked. Despite the exile this job kept me "canonically resident." It was a smart choice...and a source of healing and hope for me.

I finally had my meeting, in Sept.... with the COM - where I got my assignment for remediaton. Having read my GOE's the COM decided to pass me in some of the areas I had failed, but failed me in some of the areas I had was too weird...anyway, I had to read nine books (let's see, a theology book I had previously read, some liturgy books, church history, and something else?) and take three tests. I could spend Oct. reading and preparing and take the exams in early Nov. over three days. The long and short of it is I passed the next round of exams and was given an ordination date!

On Dec. 28, 1999 I was finally ordained to the transitional diaconate. I was ordained in my sponsoring parish, the first person ever in their 150 year history to be ordained from and in the church. I remember that I had no idea how to put the collar stays on, the posts that hold the clerical collar in place. I put them on backwards, which means the posts poked my throat all night long. The next day I had a bruise on my "adams apple."

"Huh," I thought, "that seems appropriate. I doubt it is the only time I will be bruised from wearing this collar."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Reflections on Chrysalis: Part 8

In the spring of 1998 I graduated from the seminary with the M.Div. degree. I still had one more year for the MSW and I was moving deeper into the process toward ordination. The process in my denomination takes several steps: in the initial stages of discerning one is called an "aspirant." After "the weekend" if one is given the go ahead the one becomes a "postulant." Each of the next steps must take a minimum of six months to move through and allow for "formation." I was made a postulant in Feb. so by August I found myself going to the diocesan center to meet with a committee who would determine my readiness for "candidacy." Usually this meeting is a simple check in, no big deal. But that was not to be the case for me.

First of all I was given only a few days notice of the meeting. Secondly when I arrived the group informed me that they had not received any of my paperwork from the diocese and therefore knew nothing about me. I was asked to tell them about myself. This I proceeded to do. Later they told me that I was not ready for candidacy because I had not answered that question adequately enough. Huh? It was like they asked a simple question that ended up being "loaded" and dropped me into a chasm. As the next few months unfolded I came to realize that one member of this committee was taking issue with two things regarding me: this person did not like that I was getting a social work degree - that was not appropriate for a priest; and in particular this person did not like that my sense of call was changing from hospital chaplaincy to parish ministry - it was really NOT appropriate to have a social work degree in parish ministry....or so this person thought. It took several months of meetings but eventually, but late fall, I was made a candidate. I remember in the final meeting I said something about the "joy of serving God as an ordained member of the church..." to which this person responded, "Yeah, where's the joy when you are the only one cleaning the leaves out of the gutter?"

Geeze, I hoped my ministry would never leave me that bitter! Yes, I have been in that place, the only one "cleaning out the gutter" and I was frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm of the congregants to care for the church...but I still loved my ministry.

Anyway I became a postulant and entered into the next stages of formation. This final year of school I worked as an intern at a community social work agency doing family therapy, couples therapy, one on one, and group therapy. I had some wonderfullly complex family dynamics. It was a great experience.

I also worked as an intern at a church. This church was a beacon of social justice ministry in the 1960's and '70's. It was a strong vibrant parish with a healthy ministry to children and young families. It was in the city, not the suburbs. And, it had a woman rector. It was a great experience for. It was during this year, as I went from the social work agency to the church that I really understood that I was being called to parish ministry. I loved the rhythm of parish life. It had all the complex dynamics that would tap into my social work degree but it also enabled me to work with people over a life time. Plus I loved liturgy and the opportunity to really explore how and where God was active in the complexity of individuals and the church. So, it was a good year in that regard.

Although I had already graduated from seminary I still had to take the GOE's, the General Ordination Exams. These are taken in early January and take a week to complete. During the previous three years I had offered free massages to the seniors taking the GOE's. I brought my massage table to the seminary and used an empty room. Each night after the GOE's and on the day off, I offered treatments. I loved doing it. But this year, since I was taking the GOE's I arranged for other massage therapists, students from the massage school to come and offer treatments.

This year it was clear that four years of graduate school was taking its toll on me. I was sick a lot, with horrible sinus infections and colds, which lingered for weeks. But my physical ailments were the least of my concerns for bigger issues arose when the results of the GOE's came back in March.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reflections on Chrysalis: Part 7

In February of 1998 I attended the required (and dreaded) "Discernment Weekend." This weekend begins Friday night and ends Sunday afternoon and is the "final" step in the discernment process toward postulancy and ordination. (well, almost final step). I was attending with my friend K, the one who lived down the hall and had become my good friend. She and I were so excited and anxious as we drive to the retreat center. I was certain they would hear a call in her, it was so apparent! But me, well, who knew?

We arrived early Friday evening and checked into our rooms. The weekend basically looks like this: Friday night group gathering, introductions, and group activity. This is followed by evening worship and "social time." Saturday begins with morning prayer, breakfast, and a group activity (role playing as the aspirants are observed by the psych listeners - ours was a clergy support group is discussing what to do with a couple who want to marry in the church, the bride to be is a prominent member but her fiance does not come to church - what do you do?). Then we begin our one on one listening sessions. These entail four sessions, an hour each, with an academic listener to determine if we could handle seminary; a priest listener to determine if the call sounds priestly, a a psych listener to help determine if we were healthy (this on top of a battery of previously taken psych exams, personality tests, and a screening with a psychiatrist); and a lay listener who was listening for a lay ministry call. In between we broke for lunch and then ended the afternoon with another a group activity observed by the psych listeners (this one was a personalized question for each of us, mine was, "What does the 'peace' of Christ mean to you?" oy vey)... Saturday night we each met with the entire team of listeners for final questions and a chance to clarify anything we may have said or not said. Sunday morning was breakfast, a few hours off (we all went to the local zoo), a "community" Eucharist, and then our one on one sessions with the listeners to get the results.

My team of listeners were really great. They asked questions and listened and after each session I walked out of the room thinking, "I have no idea what they heard or what they think." Which told me they were really listening, discerning, and not coming to any conclusions. However, by the end of the evening, given their line of questioning, I was certain they were hearing a call to lay ministry.

Ny team of listeners were great, the other team was having serious issues. On this weekend we had two teams: each team was comprised of 4 aspirants (those being discerned) and 4 listeners plus a group facilitator (who helped the listeners with their questions and concerns) and a chaplain (who helped the aspirants).

But, by Saturday night it was evident that something was wrong with the other team. I took a late night walk with my friend and another woman on that other seems that one of the listeners was "putting words in their mouths" and "coming to conclusions that were the listeners's and not the aspirants." It was a horrible case of "projection" - this one listener was projecting their own issues onto several of the aspirants on that team.

The chaplain for weekend tried to intervene. But by Sunday afternoon, when we each got our results back from the listening team - "yes we hear a call" or "no we don't", or "we hear a call but you aren't ready yet....come back in two years" - I felt as if we were in a vortex of disaster. Three of four on that other team were told no, or not yet. And in two of the cases it was clearly a bad call...even we knew that!

Now, as I said, my team of listeners were great. Of the four aspirants on my team I think two of us were told yes, one was told come back in two years, and one was told no. The one who was told no (not me), agreed that they were correct and was relieved. Myself and one other person were told yes. I was stunned, of course, certain as I was, that they were discerning a call to lay ministry - when instead they were asking questions to rule it out. So, I was elated.

But my friend K was not. She was on that disastrous team. That weekend ended up being historic in the diocese. The fall out was huge, three hurt people, unjustifiably hurt. The end result was ultimately good - the entire process was re-vamped. I have served as the facilitator on three of those weekends and think that now the listeners are well trained and prepared to do a good job. The facilitator is usually a priest/social worker, who is skilled at hearing issues of projection etc. So, a much better process came out of it.

But also, thanks be to God, two of the people from that other team eventually healed, went on a second weekend, and were told yes. Both are great priests now. I don't know what happened to the rest.

This was my first experience of the Church as an agent of first experience of the Church as a very human entity, deeply flawed. But it was not my last experience...for soon I would come to know that first hand - as the projection of others impacted my process. That would come about 6 months later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reflections on Chrysalis: part 6

When I started this reflection I did not intend to write so many parts. But as I have thought back to those days a lot of memories have risen up.

My first year of seminary went fairly well, academically. I learned a lot although I continued to struggle with words like: "Justification" and "righteousness" - it seemed like the different theologians I read all used these words (and others) in a slightly different way. By Ash Wed. of that first year my church had called a new priest and so I was able to begin the process of working with him. He was a wonderful priest, very calming, gentle, smart. After about a year of knowing each other he received permission from the diocese to begin a discernment committee for me. It seems after much reflection and work with my SD I had decided that I thought God was calling me to ordination. I was in my second year of the dual degree program, my first year at the social work school. I was doing an internship at a local hospital, for my social work degree. I was working as a chaplain in the rehab unit, working with addicts of all sorts. My internship involved several areas: I was in charge of teaching them about the importance of spirituality in a successful recovery. It was distinctively NOT about religion, but about faith in a higher power, what ever they wanted to call that. I was uniquely qualified, given my background as a fallen away Christian who had explored all other faith traditions, and then come back to Christianity, with a very open heart and mind. The fact that I found myself working on this rehab unit would proved providential for my personal life.

In addition to the spiritual end I was also learning the social work end of rehab - how to do group therapy and one on one therapy, how to write up reports and do SOAP (which I can't recall what that means, but it's an acronym for charting in medical records). My social work supervisor was great as were all the other staff people. It was a wonderful internship for me.

So, things were moving along academically and in my discernment, but life at home was not going so well. My husband and I had been married about 11 years, our kids were 8 and 4. The commute to the seminary was grueling - I'd leave home at 7am and return about 6pm. But in addition to that I was trying to get my husband into a recovery program. We had been working on it for years...but denial is steep and pervasive and he relapsed often. I was able to get us, during this very low time, to sell our house and move to the seminary. My thinking was that it would relieve some of our financial concerns, seminary is expensive. It would give me more time with the kids and as a family, and it would put my husband closer to work. I also knew that I could push harder for recovery and or the end of my marriage, if I didn't have to worry about house payments.

We moved into the seminary in August of 1996. Down the hall another woman also moved in. She and I became fast friends. It turns out her husband was also in recovery, many years of sobriety, after many failed attempts. She, along with my work at the rehab unit, gave me hope and support and courage. I lined up a family therapist for my kids and us, my husband and I were in marital counseling, I told the dean of the seminary and the person in charge of student housing, in case my finances collapsed. I told my friends and asked for their prayers. I told my discernment committee and priest.

Once everything was in place I took all of our financial stuff, debit cards, etc. and locked them away. Then I gave my husband an ultimatum, it was the Friday before Palm Sunday. I remember standing in our bedroom that morning, telling him - sobriety or we're through. It was the only time I have ever been afraid of my sweet gentle husband. He was panicked and angry. But our kids were sleeping in the next room, and he would do nothing to upset them. Off he went to do whatever it was he was going to do.

Later that week, after I gave him the ultimatum, I had a profound experience. It was Thursday night, Maundy Thursday, I signed up to spend time in the chapel at 1:00am. This was my first experience of sitting, praying, at an "altar of repose." The chapel was dimly lit, candles and some green plants around the table with the reserved bread and wine. I sat there for an hour and prayed. and cried. In the midst of it all these words, this hymn, floated into my consciousness, "I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Him there is no darkness at all, the day and the night are both alike..." Yes, I stayed awake with Jesus in that dark night, and he came into my life in new way.

In that moment I understood that I was on the right course, that God was with me. The experience of being enveloped by a loving God in the midst of that darkness showed me how to love as well. I had no idea what the outcome would be, but I knew it had to include loving in darkness. And so I worked at loving my husband through that dark time. A tough love, but love nonetheless, filled with support and reconcilation, and hope. He got sober that time, and has stayed so for 12 years.

This was the first time in my life that I had really stood up for something, stood strong, and caused a significant change. Up to this point I had always been passive, feeling incapable of affecting any real change in my life. Now I knew otherwise. Thanks to the rehab work, the various counselors, my friends, my faith, I was able to stay strong, push hard, insist on certain things, and still love my husband. It was a tough love that included a lot of love, healthy love.

Life sailed along pretty smooth after that point until the next major hurdle came in February of 1998 when I attended the "Discernment Weekend."....

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reflections on Chrysalis: part 5

Chrysalis is the process in which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Murry Stein, a Jungian analyst, wrote a book titled: "Transformation: The Emergence of the Self" based on a long process in which humans reach a kind of "fulfillment." It is this process in my life that I am reflecting on.

I started seminary in the fall of 1995. To say it was intimidating is probably an understatement. Luckily I am a risk taker, a bit of a pollyanna, and really able to just dig in and do something while being a little naive.

And, I had seminary professors who were willing to grade on a wide curve accepting me along with the other students who were recent graduates of Ivy League Universities (Oh, you know, Princeton, Yale...) who were also religion majors. It's no wonder that I never opened my mouth in class. I just took copious notes and read as much as possible. I do think it was a bit much when our church history professor went through something like 60,000 years of human history in our first class....the same professor who would put in questions on our quizzes from the FOOTNOTES in our books...sigh...

Anyway, I was really blessed to meet some wonderful women, my age. We quickly formed a study group and helped each other along. They remain two of my best friends. The first semester was my biggest learning how to do research in the library (I did not know how to do that using a computer). And how to write an academic paper (I had NEVER done that in my dance major course work). Once I had the basic understanding that an academic paper is never first person I was on pretty good footing. Understanding the theology, history, liturgy, and church life courses were all challenging but manageable...and after the first semester (all B's) I started getting a combination of A's and B's....not bad, I thought. The main way I worked was: rise early, get the kids ready and off to school or day care, drive an hour to school, finish classes, pick up kids, get home around 6pm, make dinner, put kids to bed, study, sometimes pulling all nighters...The funniest part is, for that first semester I only had a computer....which means my papers were a mess of white outs. By the second semester I had a computer.

The other major thing I did that first semester, aside from learning how to be a student, was find a spiritual director. I saw that SD for 9 years, until she retired and moved away from Chicago.

Now, here's the weird part. My new home is in a small town just south of where my SD retired too. She is still doing SD and... has become my SD again! Being in a new place it is really great to have someone who knows me really well and vice versa.

Now, all I had left to do was determine if I wanted to consider ordination, and if so, to begin discerning with a parish committee. The problem was my rector, the one who said to me, "Oh go ahead and go to seminary, ordination is not crucial for hospital chaplaincy, so you can decide later if you want to discern a call to ordination" -this priest had left and my parish was searching for a new priest. In that regard I was "Orphaned" to the process.

Thankfully, what happened next was a real blessing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reflections on Chrysallis: Part 4

I had the opportunity to stay on campus at the seminary between Friday night and Saturday but I chose to commute. I lived about an hour away and had small children so it was really good to be home with my family in the evening. On Saturday I returned early in the morning. I really don't remember much about that day, with the exception one primary event. But before that happened I somehow ended up in a classroom in a small group discussion about ordained ministry to the priesthood. I was clearly thinking seriously about this. Not that I was certain about it, but I was giving it a lot of thought. In retrospect I can easily see that I was being led toward ordination, it was really me, not God, who was hesitant.

After that small group conversation the seminary had a variety of tables set up in the hall. These tables offered materials on various ministries and people to talk about them. I found myself talking for a long while with PK (no, not my blogger friend, but a member of the seminary registration staff). Then I found myself talking to TS, a professor at the seminary, who was a proponent of lay ministries. In my conversation I told him my basic vision of ministry: hospital chaplaincy, dual degree, still pondering lay or ordained. Then I said, "I would really like to do the dual degree through this seminary but I've been told you can't do it. So, I think I'll enroll at the seminary across the street but take most of my classes here."

He said, "Really? We can't do this?" Then he turned to PB, the Dean of Students and said, "PB, we can organize a dual degree M.Div./MSW, can't we?" She said, "I don't see why not. Let me talk to the Dean."

And the rest is history.

I started seminary in the fall of 1995 enrolled at the seminary as a dual degree student. I was also accepted at the Jesuit school in their Graduate School of Social Work, which I would begin the following year. I would go to the seminary for one year, the social work school the next, and so on, for four years. My electives in each degree would be fulfilled by course work from the other degree. I was really excited to be attending the seminary of my choice, my denomination.

Anyone who has embarked on this journey knows that getting into school is only the beginning. Especially if you start seminary before you have discerned a call to ordination and received the blessing of the Bishop....

Monday, August 11, 2008

Reflections on Chrysallis: part 3

In the spring of 1994 I was deep into the process of discerning a return to school, graduate school. My research had led me to know what kind of degree I wanted, now all I had to do was figure out where to get the dual degree. One seminary in my area offered this dual degree in conjunction with a Jesuit University, but it was not the seminary of my denomination. Thankfully all the local seminaries had an agreement: students could enroll in one but take classes at other seminaries. My tentative plan was to enroll in the one offering the dual degree but take as many classes as possible at the seminary across the street, the Episcopal seminary.

Sometime in March or April I received an invitation from the Episcopal Seminary to attend a "Discerning Your Vocation" weekend. I signed up immediately. The weekend included a Friday afternoon tour, attend classes, and worship. Saturday offered a variety of small group discussions on the various kinds of ministry: lay, ordained, priest, deacon, etc. There was also a variety of tables with materials and questions and answer sessions for lay and ordained ministries.

I remember two things about this weekend. The first thing is the worship. The chapel at the seminary had pews that faced one another across a center aisle. At one end was the altar, high up on limestone steps. The other end, the entrance had a baptismal font, organ, and piano. We sat in between. It was gothic, dark, chilly, and awesome. I felt as if I could sense all the prayers that had been prayed in that space over the years. And now my prayers were being added. I knew no one. I was there on my own, alone. The preacher at our evening Eucharist was a woman. This was the very first time I had experienced a woman priest preaching and probably presiding over the Eucharist, although I don't remember that for certain. I don't remember what she said, what the scripture was, nor any points she made in her sermon. What I remember was her presence. I was thunderstruck. Wow, I thought. I could never be like that, but if I!

Later on I discussed this experience with my therapist. I told her how this woman priest had blown me away - her confidence....her assuredness...her down to earthiness...her strength....all conveyed in her poise, her long wild hair, her birkentocks, her voice, and the fact that she preached with out notes. She preached by pacing the chancel step unpacking the scripture for us. I think I was most taken by her keen intellect. Up to that point in time I had never met a woman who came across so intelligent. Oh, I though, I could never be like that...BUT if I could. If I could have that kind of strength and confidence and poise, and intellect. (True, I was forgetting about the woman minister who married me and D, but then, I had never seen her in worship, only presiding at our wedding and then my mind was elsewhere).

This was the first image I had of what it might be like to be ordained, and this time I was scared, but also captivated by something beyond myself, like gravity pulling me in a direction over which I had no control.

A year later, when I lived at the seminary, my daughter became friends with the daughter of this woman priest. And over the years I have come to know her a little. She and I now participate in a Feminist Theology blog and email occasionally....but I am getting ahead of myself.

So, now I had an image of a woman as priest...and I was awestruck by the possibility. But the next day, Saturday, would prove to be even more incredible.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Reflections on my chrysallis: part 2

Once I decided that I wanted to acquire a dual degree M.Div/MSW my next step was to determine which seminary I'd go too. The School of Social Work was a given, so no searching there. But the seminary was a concern for me, and to get at what that was all about I need to fill in a few pieces of my past.

When I was 15 my family and I were living in Ft. Worth, Texas. A freshman in high school, the year was 1971-72, a time of great transition in this country. It also became a time of great transition in my life. For one thing, my family decided to leave the church. Being the prodigy of pioneers who risked life and limb to travel west for their faith, this was a big deal. But at the time it didn't seem that way. It just seemed like the right thing to do, given who my immediate family had become.

As a result, I wandered for the next 16 years without a church. I still continued to believe in God and I still talked to God all the time. But I was quite convinced that being a Christian was not for me. My experience of Christians, from my childhood church, had led me to think that "they" were all narrow minded people who knew a very small, narrow, God. And to me my experience of God was clearly something other than that. Over time, after exploring a variety of religions and new age spirituality, I came to the conclusion that I was Christian. I mean, I was baptized and celebrated Christmas and Easter, with the same intentionality as a person of faith, not just as secular holidays. So. I had to admit - I was Christian. Now the task was to find a Christian church that I could live with, and one that could live with me.

At about that same time I got engaged to the man who is now my husband. He and I went on a search for a church to marry us. He, being a divorced Roman Catholic, did not want to go through the process for an annulment. To make a long story a little shorter, we ended up at a UCC church, one I had gone to for friends weddings. They were very cool at this church, very. The male pastor I went there for was unavailable for our wedding date. But they had a woman pastor, would she do? D and I thought she would do just fine. We ended up having 6 months of intense pre-marital counseling with her. And she, although a UCC pastor, was raised in the Episcopal Church. She is the one who directed us to TEC. It took D and I a few years after the wedding to decide to go to church. But within a year after our daughter was born we began attending the near by Episcopal Church.

My journey, from our first Sunday at that church to pondering seminary, took almost 5 years. Not much time for some who was a newbie to organized church life, and for one who intended to represent the church in the world...deep inside I knew that I did not want to go to just any seminary. I wanted to go to the local Episcopal Seminary. But, when I inquired with the registrar about a dual degree M.Div. MSW I was flatly told, "No." Which left me with a dilemma...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Reflection on my chrysallis: part 1

Ten years ago this past June I graduated from seminary. The next year I graduated from the Jesuit University with a Masters in Social Work, thus completing a dual degree M.Div./MSW. It was a wild journey that took 4 years of intense education and a major learning curve. You see, my undergraduate degree was in dance. Which is a decidely non-academic field. And I also had a certificate, earned after 14 months of intense training (learning physiology, anatomy, and technique) in Massage Therapy. But none of my previous education had really prepared me for the high level of academia of an M.Div and or an MSW. But actually - I'm getting ahead of myself - and need to back up.

It all started when I had this gnawing inside that would not go away. I was working as a part-time massage therapist in a vital private practice. And I had begun a volunteer ministry in a local hospital giving massages to parents who had sick kids. I would go room to room and visit the parents and offer them a 10 minute massage. This was 1992-1994. Few people really understood what a massage was, it had a lot of negative connotations, then. So. I also did a lot of teaching about self-care as a way to enable us to more effectively care for others. Massage therapy training taught me a lot about that, which has proved to be a good foundation for ministry.

Anyway, I also had two small children at home, so I was busy doing a lot of care-giving. I loved it. I was good at it. I was content. Almost.

There was this "something" going on inside my being. I couldn't put my finger on it. No matter how satisfied I was, it still just wasn't enough....

So, I went to my parish priest and spoke to him about it. He began to wonder if I had a "call.' I'd like to say that the idea scared me. But it didn't. I went about discerning in a very practical fashion. I paid attention to the aspects of my daily life that really gave me joy and left me feeling fulfilled. Motherhood was one area, for certain (not that it is for everyone). But so was my volunteer work in the hospital. Actually it was both fulfilling and not quite. I wanted to do more. When working with people in the hospital I wanted to help them in a greater capacity than my work as a massage therapist. But I wasn't sure what that meant.

Back to the parish priest. He thought that maybe I was hearing a call to hospital chaplaincy. So he sent me on a task to interview hospital chaplains. I spoke to the three primary chaplains at three major hospitals in Chicago. They were incredibly gracious with their time. I returned to my parish priest thinking that maybe he was pointing me in the right direction. This time we spoke about training, education, degree requirements, and the possibility of ordination. He gave the Ministry Discernment Book for the Diocese and said, "If this doesn't scare you off, we can proceed with the next step."

I read the book and came away relieved that there was an intentional process to help people like me come to understand what God was doing in our lives. I was grateful that there would be others to help me. I of course didn't then realize how human the people could be and how their issues could cloud the process - projecting on to me (others) their issues and fears and limitations... It happens far too often. But, again, I am getting ahead of myself.

The next step was to consider education. At the time, 1993, ordination was not a critical component of hospital chaplaincy, many lay folk were in that field. But an M.Div. was needed. My priest suggested I go to the least expensive seminary in the area, and there was some wisdom in that. But first I got information on several seminaries. I remember sitting on my sofa each night reading through the materials and wondering about this one or that. One night, while looking through the information, I came across a seminary who worked with a local university to provide a dual degree, M.Div./MSW. I knew immediately that that was what I wanted. This dual degree, combined with my Massage training, would enable me to work with folks on all their concerns, mind, body, spirit.

So. Now I knew what degree I wanted, but I wasn't sure I wanted to get it through that particular seminary....I began to wonder if other seminaries offered this same dual degree....and that wondering lead me on a journey that changed the course of everything.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Garden View

Before I left Chicago one of my friends gave me this statue. It now resides in my backyard next to a blooming bush of some sort. Today while swimming my husband and I were astonished to see all the moths, butterfly's, and black wasps buzzing around the orange flowers of this bush...I need to figure out how to make and publish a video on blogger so you all can see is an amazing sight!

All afternoon it looked as if a monsoon was going to blow in....but instead they just kept blowing around us. That means we were able to take a long walk with the dogs. On this walk we encounter a herd of caterpillers....yes...a herd of caterpillars, yellow and green striped...walking up a hill, dozens and dozens of them, looking for food and a place to build their was incredible, I have never seen so many at one time.

After the walk we were able to come home and take a swim...a very refreshing swim...and watch the buzzing bush...and some amazing lightening...but no rain.

The stage is set for my stay-cation...which will begin Friday afternoon...and somehow last for two weeks...

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 ...