Saturday, January 24, 2009

A place I know not yet....

Whispers: by Mary Oliver

Have you ever
tried to
slide into
the heaven of sensation and met

you know not what
resistance but it
held you back? have you ever
turned on your shoulder

helplessly, facing
the white moon, crying
let me in? have you dared to count
the months as they pass and the years

while you imagined pleasure,
shining like honey, locked in some
secret tree? have you dared to feel
the isolation gathering

intolerably and recognized
what kinds of expressions can follow
from an intolerable condition? have
you walked out in the mornings

wherever you are in the world to consider
all those gleaming and reasonless lives
that flow outward and outward, easily, to the last
moment the bulbs of their lungs,

their bones and their appetites,
can carry them? oh have you
looked wistfully into
the flushed bodies of the flowers? have you stood,

staring out over the swamps. the swirling rivers
where the birds like tossing fires
flash through the trees, their bodies
exchanging a certain happiness

in the sleek, amazing
humdrum of nature's design -
blood's heaven, spirit's haven, to which
you cannot belong?
(Dream Work: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1986)

When I need a break from the desert I can drive up the long canyon road and enter the mountains. I see them from my backyard, mystical, and beckoning, as in the photo at the header of this blog. The mountain has a familiar terrain for me - rocks, trees, steep inclines, water, as in the photo at the beginning of this post. It isn't the desert at all.

The desert is not yet a place I feel I belong. It remains foreign in so many ways. It speaks a language I do not understand. It reflects light in ways I cannot recognize. It has a rhythm unfamiliar to me, warm when it should be cold.

On a winter day, when much of the world as I used to know it is experiencing single digit temperatures and deep snow, I sit here, barefoot, a bit warm in my jeans and long sleeved tee shirt. The sliding glass door is open the screen is closed, fresh air blows in. And birds are raising a sacred riot in the trees.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Epiphany 2

A reflection on 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

The rectory at my former parish in the Chicago area had a wooden deck outside the kitchen that over looked 2-1/2 acres of land, bordered by a small section of woods. At one time this deck had surely been the site for family cookouts and fun, but, because the house had been empty for three years, the deck was practically unusable due to a tilt from end to the other. Underneath the deck various animals had built dens and so it had also become a wild life habitat.

One day, as we were moving in, my dog stated barking wildly at the sliding glass door that led to the deck. And, there outside, standing on its hind legs, was a woodchuck, baring its big buck teeth. Eventually the woodchuck moved on, finding a better home somewhere in the neighborhood.

Over the next few years the various underground dens that resided under the deck, became home to rabbits and an occasional possum. The rabbits we enjoyed, but the possum we evicted, immediately with vinegar and moth balls.
One year we were startled to discover that a red fox had moved in under our deck. Later we realized that it was a couple, a male and a female red fox. Then, by late winter, the baby foxes made an appearance. Thankfully the red fox is a timid creature, mostly vegetarian, and more afraid of humans than we are of them.
As spring unfolded we were delighted to see the fox family, usually late at night, out in the yard, playing. In this case one fox would place himself way out on the perimeter of the yard while the other brought the babies out of the den and taught them to follow, and play, and become fox. At first we thought there were only one or two babies, but in time we saw them all, 8 in total. And very cute. For the next few months the fox family and the Pilarski family learned to live side by side, two very different families, different species, living in harmony.

Easter came early that year. I remember it was a long day, three services followed by a family gathering at my mother in laws. Instead of the usual relaxing and feasting, we ordered Chinese food and began the long process of packing her house. We spent hours going through her belongings, organizing, packing, and preparing to move her from her home of 50 years to a nearby condo.

After all that work was done my family and I headed home, exhausted. But no sooner had we arrived home than we discovered that something was horribly wrong. Our animals knew it first – the dogs were pacing and pacing and grumbling, the cats running here and there from window to window, yowling. Dan and I began the process of investigating the situation. After some effort we realized that one of the baby fox had fallen down the window well and was stuck at the basement level of our house. It appears that in their nocturnal playing the baby had wandered off and fell into this open chasm. The momma fox was beside her self trying to look out for the others and call her baby back to her. But the baby was unable to climb up a four foot drop lined in sheet metal.

Dan and I called the wildlife rescue company only be told that they could not do anything. We knew better than to try and fish the baby out or open the window from the basement and grab it. We knew we had to find a way to get the baby out, if for no other reason than the crying of the baby was upsetting all the animals in my house, both human and otherwise. Finally Dan, the ever resourceful one, decided that we needed to build a ladder to put into the well and hope the baby could and would climb out.

And so we did. Using a 1 x 6 board as the base, we nailed wooden strips cut from 1 x 2 board, creating a solid platform with steps. As we built the ladder, the crying escalated. The dogs got more anxious, the cats yowled louder, and our kids were beginning to panic. Then, as if the chaos wasn’t bad enough and the anxiety high enough, and our fatigue great enough, we realized that another baby had fallen into a second well, and so we now had to build two ladders. Awhile later, the ladders built, and, with me keeping a careful eye on momma fox, Dan slowly went outside and placed a ladder in each of the wells.

Back inside the house we watched as the momma fox called to the babies. To our amazement, one baby, and then the other, figured out how to climb the ladder. As they came to the surface of the ground the momma caught each baby by the scruff of its neck and hauled it to the safety of the den. Within thirty minutes, or so, of placing the ladders in the wells the babies were safe. And our house was quiet.
For me this story is like a parable - of a time of great anxiety when, somehow, two otherwise incompatible members of God’s creation, came together, worked together, and turned chaos into peace.

The reality of God’s love, of the peace of Christ, becomes a reality in our lives, in our world, when we are able to listen to God’s call to us, working together to turn the chaos of our lives, and our world, into the peace of Christ. Our scripture reading today reminds us that, listening and hearing God is a challenge. As human beings we put up lots of roadblocks to God. Thankfully God calls us over and over until our response becomes like Samuel’s, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Last week in his sermon Ed gave us a lesson on what it means to be a Christian, and to follow Christ. Appropriately so Ed grounded this teaching in the baptismal covenant, pointing out that being a Christian and following Christ, or in the language of our readings today, Listening to God, is done by living into the five points of the covenant – continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, seek and serve Christ in others, respect the dignity of others, share in the breaking of the bread, resist evil, whenever you sin, repent and return to the Lord, proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, love your neighbor as yourself, strive for peace – and, most importantly we can do this with God’s help.

God does not ask us to do these things, follow Christ and love as Christ loves, all on our own initiative. God asks us to do these things and then God helps us do it. And that is the foundation of trust. Working together toward the same objective of listening to God, and following God, ultimately enables us to live through all kinds of anxiety calmly and with a deep sense of hope, whether it’s building a ladder for a baby fox, or building a church community.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More thoughts about poetry

I am moving deeper and deeper into my love of reading poetry. I am a picky poetry reader - not all poems speak to me and I will breeze through many before I stop and ponder one. That, or I simply don't give some poems the time they need in order to ripen in me. In reality I think that I have acquired such a short attention span these days, filled as I am with other stuff that rattles around in my head, that I only have the energy to read a poem, and a short one at that.

It's true my attention span is very short. I haven't read an entire book in months, many many months. I read a bit here and there. I read a lot of blogs and stuff on the internet. I skim through the newspaper. I save sections of the NY Times for a week, even two, thinking I will actually read it. Sometimes I do. Like when I'm on vacation and sitting in a coffee shop with the intention of reading the NY Times. But other times I will allow a few weeks of the paper to accumulate on the coffee table before I dump the whole pile in the recycling bin. And then because its so old I don't even feel guilty.

Last week, or maybe it was the week before, I don't remember now, but regardless, recently, I bought several more books of poetry. One of them is "Good Poems for Hard Times, selected and arranged by Garrison Keillor." It's a wonderful book of poetry, and given its title, was bound to have one or two that would speak to where I am in my life right now.

And, I was right. Here is one that I read just a few minutes ago:

"The Cure" by Ginger Andrews

"Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress."


I think the word mulleygrubs is fabulously descriptive...and, will become a regular part of my I just need to go get a red dress.

Sunday, January 11, 2009



Proverbs of Hell: William Blake

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

Drive your cart and plow over the bones of the dead.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

She who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.

The cut worm forgives the plow.

She whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.

The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.

All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap.

Bring out number weight & measure in a year of dearth.

No bird soars too high, if she soars with her own wings.

The most sublime act is to set another before you
If the fool would persist in her folly she would become wise.

Folly is the cloke of knavery.

Shame is Pride’s cloke.

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.

Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.

The fox condemns the trap not himself.

Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.

The bird a nest, the spider a web, woman friendship.

What is now proved was once, only imagin’d.

Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.

Think in the morning, Act in the noon, Eat in the evening, Sleep in the night.

The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Expect poison from the standing water.

You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.

The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.

The weak in courage is strong in cunning.

If others had not been foolish, we should be so.

To create a little flower is the labour of ages.

The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion.

Exuberance is Beauty.

Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.

Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.

Where man is not nature is barren.

Enough! or Too much

Between two moments, bliss is ripe.

The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country. placing it under its mental deity.

Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realise or abstract the mental deities from their objects; thus began Priesthood.

Choosing forms of worship from Poetic tales.

And at length they announced that the Gods had ordered such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast.

- William Blake (1757-1827)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Receiving Our Challenges

Gunilla Norris in her book "Simple Ways" offers a number of reflections on life. One of her reflections is called, "Receiving Our Challenges." She writes this:

"Trusting God with all our life means also to be able to trust the difficulties that come our way. Challenges and bitter sufferings can be gifts as well. To open to them is a profound act of humility. When the door slams and our hopes are dashed, when our health fails, a loved one dies, when the world closes in and the air we breath is full of despair, it is hard to receive such experiences as gift.

Years after a dreadful difficulty or loss, many people will say that it was the difficulty that was somehow a profound turning point, a gift in disguise. But in the middle of the suffering we simply want it "not to be." To pray for endurance, reprieve, help of any kind, is only natural then. But when the challenge is the kind that will not go away, we have no choice but to be in it, and with it, and to learn whatever we must learn through it."

I think that this is true, often, but not always. For example, I do know people who have come to experience the loss of a job as both a turning point in one's life and a gift in disguise. But, I think it is perhaps impossible to ever understand the loss of a child or spouse as a "gift in disguise." I can imagine a loss of this magnitude as one that is a turning point. But never, never ever could that loss be a gift in disguise. I had a miscarriage 22 years ago. True, it was early in the pregnancy, and I later had two healthy children. So, I don't grieve as much as I might otherwise. But, I still wonder...? It remains, always, a loss. It remains, always a question of, "what if?" And never has it felt like a gift in disguise.

Gunilla then says,

"To let go when we must is not always easy. We want things to be the way they were. To pray for our resistance to pain and loss is a big prayer. It shows that we are willing to try to accept the suffering that has come to us."

As one who has done this very thing, prayed for my resistance, prayed for the source of my pain, prayed for my loss(es)....I understand how very hard it is to pray in this way, and under these circumstances. The only way I can pray through this kind of pain is to give it to God. "God, be God." "God, here it is, you know." This kind of praying has also taught me a lot about prayer and the reality that God will work in and through us. In mysterious ways, to be certain. But work in and through us none the less.

Gunilla concludes with this:

"Such suffering shatters our sense of self, breaks our hearts, and lets God in. Our resistance is transformed into communion with the suffering of others. We will then belong to something eternal - God's suffering in us and with us. Even as we are broken, we also break through."

Yeah. That I totally get, suffering that shatters the self, breaks the heart, and lets God in. I have been broken in that way in my life. I have known the kind of resistance in me that, through the grace of God, is transformed, eventually, into communion with the suffering of others. Here I think she speaks more deeply of the grace that can come from the loss of a child or spouse. It will never be a gift in disguise - but it can lead to a communion with the suffering of others, to something eternal, to an awareness of God suffering in us and with us. And, in that I think, our brokenness can become the means through which we break through.

There are some losses for which I know this to be true.

I've lived them.

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 ...