Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Good News and, More Prayer, News...

The biopsy reports for the young boy I blogged about earlier came back "NORMAL" - no cancer has spread. Thanks Be To God. and thank you for all your prayers.

On another note: another former parishioner, a 50 something man, had a massive heart attack, is in a coma and the ICU. The doctors have said that he has suffered severe brain damage. His wife will probably remove the life support on Friday. I saw him today and prayed the prayers for those at the end of life. Beautiful prayers for such a sad occasion.

A day of joy. A day of sorrow. A day of life.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


In the early dawn, just before I woke up, I was thinking in my sleep. It wasn't really dreaming, it was more like thinking but not fully awake thought. I was thinking about the "Barbell" class I took at the gym last week. I wanted to take a barbell class but put it off for months before finding myself in that one. It was supposed to be a "Core" class, but it was changed without notice. So, barbell it was, with some core work too.

What I was thinking about this morning was the instruction given at the beginning of the class, on how to lift. I was reviewing in my mind the steps: bend knees, lift barbell (with a heavier set of weights than one would use say in dumbbells), up to knee level. Continue to life the barbell up, skimming close to the body with some speed and effort, make a quick pull of the arms- until the barbell is level with the collar bones. Stop, knees are still bent, hands and arms are over the bar having just pulled it up. Now, turn the wrists and hands from on top of the bar to under the bar, so that instead of lifting up the bar you will know push up the bar. Then with speed and exertion lift the bar over head while also straightening the knees. If you've ever watched weight lifting you'll be able to visualize these steps.

Admittedly I felt a little silly acting all tough and strong while at the same time only lifting a total of 15 pounds, 7.5 pounds of weight on each end of the barbell. Certainly I could have put more weight on, the instructor recommended two ten pound weights for starters. But I was not sure I could sustain that much weight and had no idea how many reps we were going to do. So I went a little light. Next time though I'll go up to 20 pounds.

I'm doing a number of things to try and strengthen my core - yoga, weight training, elliptical, swimming. I'm beginning to notice some changes in the tone of my muscles, arms, legs, torso. I feel like I have worked really hard but the change is minor. I feel like I was in a much worse shape than I thought. I mean I thought I was in OK shape! But now I realize I really wasn't. I'm getting there though.

For awhile, on my Facebook page, my caption in the profile said, "Getting into shape physically, spiritually, and emotionally." By that I mean that as hard as I am working physically to get into shape I am also doing the same spiritually and emotionally. Sometimes life asks us to work really hard in order to get into shape. It's like I've found myself in the middle of a triathlon, one that I thought I was prepared for, but I'm finding out that there is more work to do.

OK, wait, that sounds naive. Of course there is more work to do. There is always more work to do. We humans are always a work in progress. I guess I just thought I was in better shape to begin with but am finding out just how strong I need to be, can be, and will be, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It's core work. It's the work of life.

Bring it on! I'm ready for the work out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Morning Musings

It's Monday, a sunny, beautiful morning following a night when I almost got some sleep. I say almost because at my age I am sleep challenged. It happens. Ask any woman who is in her 50's, then again, don't, it's not very interesting, the reasons why. Trust me, it happens, though. But this morning I am drinking a great cup of coffee after almost sleeping all night. That's a good start.

My dogs are playing, and wondering why I haven't fed them, yet. I will soon. But I like to keep them on their toes, not too set on a pattern of must have's. They are creatures of habit though and won't let me get away with this too long. Besides, I will need a second cup of coffee soon and that will trigger me to feed them. As long as I'm up off the sofa anyway....

I don't have any big plans for this day. I'm going to go to the gym and work out. I'm going to do some grocery shopping. I've been dog sitting at my daughters place so I will pack up later and go home. I have to write a sermon for this Sunday. I'm preaching and supplying for the next three Sunday's. That's good. I need the work. Anyway, I won't write the sermon today, but I will begin to think about it. I have to follow up with some of the churches/dioceses I have submitted my materials too and see where they are in their search process.

More importantly, as I go through this day, I will be holding a prayer vigil. A young boy, a former parishioner, is having an MRI and several biopsies this morning. He has cancer and the doctors think it may be spreading even as he is receiving heavy doses of chemo. I will pray for him and his family.

A day of light and dark, of peace and some worry. A rather ordinary day. But I hope the news ends up being extraordinary for that boy and his family.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Year After Year

The drive use to feel long. In the summer heat, traffic, and seemingly constant road construction it could take us two hours to drive there. I realize that a two hour drive is not long, especially if one is going on a respite. But the drive should have taken us, oh, 45 minutes, an hour maybe? That is if there had been no traffic or construction.

The first seven years or so of our marriage my husband and I would make this trek out to my in-laws summer home. It was just a little place, near a lake and a small town west of Chicago. We took an exit of off Interstate 55, which, if you stayed on it would take you to Springfield and then St. Louis. This last year I have travelled I55 multiple times as I drove from Chicago to Arizona and back. I've driven right by the exit to the place my in laws used to have. In the context of that longer 36 hour drive, the two hour drive now feels like nothing. But that's now, years later when everything has changed. Then it felt like a long drive.

I'm pretty certain that at least one of our first cars as newlyweds did not have air conditioning. Or maybe it  was just sweltering hot anyway? My husband thought is was faster t take a short cut down Cicero Avenue. We debated this idea and sometimes altered our route. I didn't like the shortcut, and wasn't sure it really was shorter anyway. True it saved us from going east on one highway then south and then west, so maybe it was shorter. But Cicero took us through some of the poorest sections of town, areas that are infamous in this area for street corner heroine sales. In the hot daylightt sun all we could see were worn out buildings and trash. I always hoped, though, that our car would not decide to break down, for some unknown reason, on that stretch of Cicero Avenue. I was sure it would not have been pretty for the two of us. Then again, maybe I've watched too many cop shows.

Our annual drive out to the summer home always took place around the Fourth of July. We would have a long weekend off from work, load up the car, and head off, usually on a Saturday morning. Wending our way through streets and highways, over rivers, and into the little town. Arriving, usually around lunch time. We'd grab a quick bite and then head off for the lake and an afternoon of sand and lake water. Later we'd watch Wimbledon or go into town for the fireworks, or go to a local county fair. And then we'd watch some more Wimbledon, usually late at night just before falling asleep. Sometimes other family members joined us. Always, though, my mother and father in law were there. Many times my father in law, a WWII vet with Multiple Sclerosis,  had a project or two that he needed help with. My husband, the youngest of three sons and a daughter, would spend some time helping his father with this or that. I'd help my mother in law prepare dinner. At that time my mother in law was only about 10 years older than I am now. It's hard to believe. Her body today is ravaged by the tremors of Parkinson's as she continues to outlive everyone she knows of her generation. My father in law, dead some 13 years, and that summer home sold long ago.

But every year for the 25 years of our married life, whenever the Fourth of July rolls around and Wimbledon is on, we stop and watch it. I don't even play tennis. But I love to watch the games. I am grateful for the memories of early marriage and family life, of hot summers, beach sand, and lake water. Of grilling steaks, fireworks, and watermelon. Memories of family then, and now, year after year.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Focus of Our Lives..(edited with a slightly different ending...)

a reflection on Luke 8:25-39

Ok. So, I have these dogs. Some of you know this because you’ve met them. On any one day I will have two, three, or four dogs, depending on whether I have just my two and or the dogs that belong to our son or daughter.

One of the dogs, the oldest of them, is prone to dreaming in her sleep. All of them will do this on occasion, but my oldest dog does it often. There she will be, day or night, sound asleep, when all of a sudden her legs will start twitching and her feet will move frenetically, like she’s running. Her voice will whimper and whine and you can tell that something is going on. Of course she can’t tell me her dream but I imagine it’s something to do with chasing rabbits or squirrels through a wide open field, something delightful.

I think restlessness, even more than the commercials we see for “restless leg syndrome,” is a real symptom of the world we live in. There’s a pervasive restlessness in people young and old. As young people we are restless to grow up. I remember the summer of 1974 when my mother and I went to visit the University I would attend in the fall. These were the days before computers and internet and online registrations. We had to take care of registration and look at housing and do what-ever else had to be done in person. One afternoon during that visit I was on my own, I can’t remember why or what my mother was doing. Anyway, I remember walking the campus and day dreaming about what my life would soon be like. Free of parents, free of home, starting a life of adventure. During that walk I bumped into a young guy who talked to me about campus life and how much he enjoyed the area. He offered to show me around and I got in his car for a tour.

Looking back now I gasp at that thought. I got into the car of a total stranger for a tour of an area I didn’t know at all. At the time, for a brief moment when we were out in the middle of the National Park that bordered this campus area I remember thinking that maybe I had made an unwise decision. But the guy my age, young and friendly, returned me safely to campus with no cause for alarm. Still. When I read about the tragedies that can happen I understand the restless excitement that would propel a young woman into dangerous decisions, even if they seem perfectly innocent at the time. Restlessness can motivate us forward but it can also have tragic consequences. More often though restlessness is subtle and covert, masked as something other than what it really is.

Our Gospel reading this morning describes some of the tragic consequences of a restless spirit manifested in the man possessed by a demon. He can’t keep his clothes on. He is driven to wander and cannot be restrained even by chains. This restless spirit is destructive to him and to those around him. He can’t focus and get his life on course. I think we can all relate to feeling this way at one time or another – unable to focus and find a direction for our lives. The man in our reading today is an extreme, but this restlessness can be more subtle, and yet still destructive.

As human beings we feel restless to get our career going, restless to buy a house, restless to marry, restless to have kids, restless to go on vacation, restless to retire and then restless to know what to do with ourselves in retirement. Lately many of us are restless with anxiety over health, oil spills, bad weather and a struggling economy. We are restless with worry over our lives and or the lives of those who know and love. There is something in the air that seems almost demonic about the times we live in.

Jesus helps us understand a bit about demonic times. There are several stories in our scripture readings about Jesus casting out demons and freeing people who have come under their control. Demons come in many forms, we all have our own demon, so to speak.

Maybe your demon is a propensity to slothfulness, you just like to go slow and do very little. Maybe your demon is self criticism and poor self esteem. Maybe your demon is working too hard and not knowing how to relax. Maybe your demon is anger or bitterness over something that has happened. Maybe your demon is greed or selfishness. Who knows? Whatever the case, we all have demons that make us restless and keep us from being who God fully desires us to be.

The demon in our reading this morning consumes the man and defocuses him from anything and everything he tries to do. The man possessed with this demon wanders constantly distracted first by one thing and then another and as a result his life is a shambles.

Carl Jung, a depth psychologist who was a student of Freud before he moved in a different direction and formed his own branch of psychology, says that each of us is born with an innate desire for God. He says It’s as if we each have within us this empty hole that yearns to be filled over the course of our lives. We don’t know this, at least not consciously, but the “hole” desires to be filled with God. Often though we humans, conscious of an emptiness but not sure what to do with it, try to fill that hole with other things – food, alcohol, work...This hole, this empty place inside manifests as cravings and yearning and, well, like a demon can pull us away from God and toward the temptations of this world. Ultimately that empty place will not be satisfied no matter how much we fill it with stuff until we learn to fill it with God.

The man possessed with demons shows us this. He is endlessly unsatisfied. That is until he meets Jesus.

When Jesus becomes the focus of our lives, when Jesus lives within us, in a truly deep way, the emptiness that Jung speaks about is filled and there is less room for our demons to take hold or keep hold of our lives. I don’t know exactly how this works. It’s something like we hear in scripture reading this morning; Jesus sees our torment and acts to relieve us of it. It’s an act of compassion, of love, of grace. It’s offered to us but it also requires us to accept it when offered. And it’s not just a gift of compassion, it’s an invitation into a relationship. This relationship, like any other asks both parties to participate in growing the relationship. We have a responsibility to nurture our relationship with Jesus.

So, accepting this gift of love and compassion, offered by Christ, and entering into a relationship with Christ, can change our lives even when it doesn’t change the circumstances of our lives. Like the man in our Gospel reading, everything in his life was the same: he still lived in the same town, knew the same people, everything was the same except his inner sense of self. When he focused on Jesus and nurtured that relationship he was changed on the inside, filled with a sense of peace and a renewed sense of self.

That may not seem like a lot, that one changes inside. At first glance it may eem like my dog dreaming of chasing rabbits, an illusion. But actually it’s everything. Changing on the inside affects how we see ourselves and the world around us. Changing on the inside can mean the difference between being focused on hope or the death of hope; lost to our demons, lost to our illusions. Focused on Christ the gaping hole inside is filled, we find our direction and purpose of life itself.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Thought for This Day...

Don't lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone. Don't rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings, but only on God's help. Then rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you will, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say "gently" because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety...I recommend you to God's mercy. I beg him, through that same mercy, to fill you with his love. - Francis de Sales (found this on Tripp's blog...)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Power of Love

A reflection on 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a and Luke 7:36-8:3, the Propers for 6C - written for and crossposted on the Feminist Theology blog found on my links to the right

Over the last few weeks I found myself engrossed with hockey. (OK, I know...I can hear you now, wondering what the heck hockey has to do with Feminist Theology. Maybe nothing, we’ll see where this ends up going....). In particular I watched the Chicago Blackhawks in their efforts to win the Stanley Cup, the championship of hockey. Wednesday night, in a nail-biter finale, the series ended with a Blackhawks win in overtime. As a Chicagoan I was thrilled but not as emotional as one of the sports announcers who commented on the game and broke down in tears, post game. I don’t know this man’s name but I found myself thinking about him and the open tears he cried on live television. One of his co-announcers mentioned his emotion and the man replied something like this, “Yes, I am very emotional. In the years I played hockey I played in a Stanley Cup series with the Blackhawks, but we lost. This is a very moving and proud moment for me.” Spoken, I thought by a man who loves this team and loves this game. Then, I thought about how the world has changed, for a man to cry in such an open and public way. I don’t know, maybe it has always been culturally “ok” for a guy to cry over sports? But in the moment the emotion of this man struck me as touching, authentic, and a reflection of a changing world. The irony is that hockey is a violent sport, one where pushing, shoving, power and aggression are not only valued but allowed as part of the game. This aggressive power was contrasted by a Chicago announcer who described the Blackhawks players as humble, respectful, and gracious. When I think of all the post game commentary what comes to mind are images of love and power; the power inherent in the sport itself, the love of those who play the game, and the love of those who support their team.

Love and power are themes in our readings this week; one might say they offer us examples of the power of love and the love of power (see RevGalBlogPals Lectionary Readings comments, Tuesday, June 8 for a conversation on this idea).

The reading in 1 Kings continues the story from last week’s readings of Elijah, Jezebel and her husband, Ahab, the king of Samaria. Then we reflected on the impact of misguided faith in the worship of Baal and the punishing drought and famine. The roles of Jezebel and Ahab in the story are examples of the love of power propelling people to murder and theft, all done in order to gain more power. Elijah stands in contrast to Jezebel and Ahab, as one who brings the power of love. He brings the power of the love of God to a people who have been mislead and are suffering. This story shows us a woman, Jezebel, who is clearly smart and knows how to maneuver a powerplay and win the vineyard for her husband, the king. She’d be a valuable player if the game were hockey. Likewise she’d be a valuable leader in today’s politics or corporate world. That is, except that her love of power costs a man his life and leads the people down a hopeless path. As a woman she becomes an example of what people fear will happen when a woman gets power; that her “manipulative ways” will lead to misguided, self-serving, and conniving leadership. But more to the point I think she stands as an example of what can happen to any human being who places a greater value on power than on love. Team sports give us an example of people who understand the importance of strong leadership and yet value playing for the good of the whole and not the individual. (Of course there are problems comparing God’s love to team sports since there remain in sports, winners and losers. But the idea of team work striving for a the good of the whole is nonetheless exemplified in sports).

In contrast to Jezebel our Gospel reading offers us an unnamed woman, a sinner, a more classic role for a woman than one who has power, voice, and leadership. And yet this woman brings with her an amazing power. She is determined to do what she thinks is right for the good of the whole, for the love of God in this world. This love of God is known to us as Jesus, and she intends to anoint his feet regardless of the scrutiny and hostility of those around her. (Would it be pushing the example too far to suggest that she is the MVP and Jesus is the team captain? Probably...).Those around her accuse her of having selfish motives, of spending money poorly instead of on the poor. Simon, who thinks he has a place of power and position in his relationship with Jesus, is given a good dose of humble pie when he realizes that he has not shown Jesus some common love and courtesy. Perhaps full of his own sense of “pride of position” Simon thinks too much of himself and loses his compassion for others. This is a risk we all face when we begin to love power for its own sake more than the power of love.

In the news this week we have also learned of a record breaking number of women being lifted up in American politics. Five women won their state primaries for elected political positions that will be decided this fall. Women are gaining, ever so slowly, a more powerful voice. For me, the reality that in the same week a hockey player, now sports announcer, can cry openly on public television and five women win their state primaries points to the potential of interesting times. Even more interesting is the fact that two of these women candidates are affiliated with the new “Tea-Party,” a fact that may point to a more narrow understanding of love and power than one would otherwise assume with a woman candidate. I hope, though, that it means we are moving toward a more balanced world, one that recognizes the potency of power and the grace of love and combines them with compassion. That we are moving towards a world where both women and men have voice, name, and a role in working toward a just balance of power and love. If so, that’s a winning goal for all of us.

Friday, June 11, 2010

RevGals Friday Five: Work Out Edition

(Photo of a hiking trail at the Grand Canyon  from the files of mompriest)

Recently I started an assertive exercise regime thanks to my daughter who convinced me to join her gym. Truth be told I've been pretty good at working out most of my life. Usually these workouts include walking my dogs, bike riding, swimming, or a yoga DVD. I thought I was in good shape. That is until I started using the machines and taking classes at the gym with people half my age.

During this same time frame I have spent several nights a week watching hockey. As the oldest child with three younger brothers I grew up with hockey. Then it was played outside on rough ice and in freezing temperatures. Now I have been captivated by the Chicago Blackhawks and their quest for the Stanley Cup. Wednesday night I sat through a nail-biting game that culminated in the win Chicago's been waiting for.

Also going on this week is the NBA playoff and the World Cup Soccer games in South Africa. Lots of sports to distract us from the problems of the day.

As if that weren't enough I am recultivating my practice of silent prayer and meditation. This has been a long practice of mine but one that sometimes goes by the wayside of life's distractions. Sadly though I have also just moved far away from my Spiritual Director and will have to try and find a new one in the future.

There have also been occasions in my life when I have seen a therapist to help me work out one or more issues in my life. Sometimes these sessions have required more grueling intense internal work than any physical workout I've done.

For this Friday Five let's ponder the various ways we work out (or not), physically, spiritually, and/or psychologically. (Crossposted over at RevGalsBlogPals)

1. Do you work out physically, spiritually, or psychologically? (I'll let you define what that might mean to you) Yes....all three, I think. I definitely work out physically about 5 days a week for 75 minutes or more. I work out spiritually when I pray, attended or lead worship, ponder scripture and prepare a sermon, see my Spiritual Director and so forth. And psychologially, well, I've had a pretty brutal workout there in the last few years too...

2. Are you more inclined to join a gym, or a book club?  In the past I would have said a book club, hands down. But now I'd say both. I've fallen in love with this gym I've been going too but I also really like reading and book clubs.

3. Are you more inclined to read self-help books like Gail Sheehy's "Passages" or spiritual books like Richard Rohr or Theresa of Avila? And if so, what is your favorite? I read Sheehy's fist book when it came out a looooong time ago - but none of the others. I also read the Dance of Anger and Dance of Intimacy. But mostly I now read books on Congregational Development and leadership. I also love Richard Rohr and any number of spiritual books. Don't really have a favorite at the moment.

4. Are you a loyal fan of a sports team? Or do you join the bandwagon when the local team is winning? And, if so, which one?  I'm a fan of all the Chicago teams -which means I can go with either the Cubs or the White Sox, but if you asked me on any given day I'd say, da cubs.

5. Or do you lean more toward having a favorite theologian/Spiritual writer or self help author  and if so, who? And, why. John MacQuarrie, Anglican theologian.

Bonus: What was the last play-off series you watched and did your team win? Hockey, Stanley Cup and yes, the Blackhawks won!!!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Some Questions You Might Ask

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn't?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
Our question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

(Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Hoping for Hope

A reflection 1 Kings 17:8-24, for Proper 5C

In the early evening, as the temperatures were cooling from a hot June day, the family arrived. Clamoring out of the van was the mother, young and very tall with a beautiful face. Following her were five children, four boys and a girl, ranging in age from 17 to 4, and the grandmother, an elderly Islamic woman. This elderly woman was the mother of one of the three different men who had fathered the five children. They made an odd, rag tag group of international travelers if there ever was one. But more than what comprised them as a family, what I remember most is the look in their eyes.

These fourteen pair of eyes were tired, worn weary by too much despair, loss, and probably violence.. The eyes told me of a pain so deep that to survive these people had shut down all feeling. They were simply going through the motions of unloading the few pieces of luggage; all that remained of their material lives. And most likely the suitcases, and what was in them, had been given to them by the refugee resettlement agency, whatever they once owned was long lost or stolen. All they really had was each other.

Originally from Rwanda, over the last 48 hours or so the family had travelled from a refugee camp in Cameroon, to the Sudan where they flew to Paris and then to Chicago. The house they were to live in on the south side of Chicago was not yet ready and so they ended up, at the last minute, at my church. Because it was summer all of our Sunday School classes had ended, we had an entire upper level of our church building available for them. From these we created bedrooms and a living room, a television, bathrooms with showers, and downstairs, a full kitchen stocked with food. But before our tour of the space was over most of the family had crawled into bed and gone to sleep. Only the eldest daughter and mother walked the tour as the translator explained how to use the stove and oven – my biggest fear being that they’d blow themselves up in the process of trying to make dinner. After all they’d been through that was the last thing I wanted.

It appears the family slept straight through until late the next day when I heard the kids out playing on the playground and parking lot. I remembered the translator telling them to not go in the street, that cars move fast and will kill them and also to not eat the bunnies or birds that live on the property. Obviously they were not in Africa anymore and an understanding of cultural norms could not be assumed.

A little while later I got a phone call from the refugee agency. The 11 year old boy had an injury, an infected finger, could I take them to the local urgent care center? Of course, and so I gathered the mom and the boy and my husband, and off we went.

The urgent care center, despite the fact that the family had not been here long enough to get their medical papers, took them in immediately. The boys’ finger was badly infected and the doctor had to lance it. The doctor was fabulous, talking the boy, who understood a little English, through the process. Nonetheless the boy screamed out in pain as the doctor lanced and cleaned the wound. I held his other hand and comforted him.

The mother sat motionless on the other side of the room, her eyes turned away, listless. I didn’t know what to make of it. Was it a cultural norm for her that her son was supposed to be strong, to suck it up and deal with this on his own?

Or, was she so overwhelmed by despair and pain and suffering that she had nothing left, not even a word of comfort or a caring hand for her son? I don’t know the answer – we didn’t speak the samelanguage; I do know that I have never seen anything as empty as the look in her eyes.

I imagine Elijah encountered this same empty look in the eyes of the widow of Sidon and her son. Worn down by endless challenges with no prospect for relief, the widow was preparing to die. Really, what difference would it make if she shared the last little bit of flour and oil with this stranger, there wasn’t enough food to go around anyway. This last meal wasn’t going to provide substance or sustenance for anyone anyway. It hardly mattered, feed one, feed three, who cares, they were all going to die anyway. And even dying no longer mattered. So what. The bottom of the barrel, the bottom of the ditch, the end of the rope, the end of the line. This was it. There was nothing. Nothing more.

We used to think, those of us in this country who were born after the depression, that this level of despair belonged to other people in other countries. But that’s not so true anymore. For some of us, it’s never been true. Farmers facing the loss of crop and land. Factory workers facing loss of job. Oil riggs that sink. Oil spills that ruin fishing waters. Teachers being laid off. All around us foreclosures, empty retirement funds, bankruptcy. You and me, and all around us, people with that look in their eyes, a look that says I can’t take anymore. I’ve shut down. I’m deplete of even the ability to feel despair. I’m empty.

But maybe that’s the point our reading from 1 Kings is leading us toward. Desolation, despair, emptiness – these times, these feelings, are part of human life. None of us is exempt from feeling these feelings. So pervasive and profound are these feelings that Christian mystics have written countless books calling times such as these “the desert” – a lonely empty time when even God seems to have abandoned us.

The refugee mother, by the end of the procedure on her sons’ finger, was a little better. She came to life, a bit, as we tried to explain the need to clean and apply antibiotic cream, and rebandage the wound. As if she finally had a purpose and something she could do. Like the widow making bread, a purpose, something to do.

Slowly, over the next week as this refugee family lived in our church and spent time with us the mom came to life. She began to smile, she became engaged with her kids, she relaxed. Maybe, I thought, she finally found a sense of hope.

Somehow, no matter how desperate, how desolate, how much despair, there rises within us something else. Hope. Where does it come from? Who knows? Grace, probably. Grace from the God who loves us constantly. Grace from a God was broken too, broken on the cross, broken open, despair becoming love, flowing out in blood and water. Grace from a God who abides with us through our darkest moment and knows that our deepest fear is the loss of all hope.

For the widow, Elijah becomes her hope. Elijah says simply, do not be afraid. One way God makes God’s self present in the world is to come to us through another person – someone who shows us hope. Someone who, for whatever reason and in whatever way, shows us how to put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps this person is for us just a hope for hope. But in that hope for hope, God is present. In that hope for hope, comes the God who is broken with us, the God within whose very being is the will to sustain us.

And so, sometimes it’s just the hope for hope that keeps a person going. A hope that somehow there will appear a way through this. A way, like endless flour and oil, to make bread, or a wound to clean and bandage, a way to keep going, to be sustained, until hope really is hope. And life is made new again, and wholeness comes.

Friday, June 04, 2010

RevGals Friday Five: Patience or Pigheadedness

(Photo of a tree on the rim of the Grand Canyon, from the files of Mompriest, a true sign of tenacity or maybe patience)

Sally over at RevGals is growing a vegetable garden and celebrating the graduation of three of her children from college, both of which she thinks have required a certain amount of patience and some pigheadedness for the school completion. She offers this Friday Five Meme as a result:

1. Is patience a virtue you possess? If it is then does it come naturally, if not how do you/ did you work at it? I remember a friend of mine talking about her young children and their efforts to get their way - dawdling, distracted, temper tantrums, etc. She said, I can always wait them out and outlast them, they won't wear me down just to get their way....or something like that. I do not have that kind of patience. After a time I'd just scoop my kids up and say, "Off we go!" or get angry, or sometimes give in (not my best parenting response). I do practice having patience and waiting and being mindful. I think I go in spurts of action and then non-action, of impatience and then patience. Almost always though this is an internal process for me, what I am actually doing might look very different.

2. Being patient with ourselves can be a huge challenge, we are often our own worst critics; is there anything you need to be patient with yourself with at the moment? Yes. I am trying to lose a little weight, which seems to be a huge effort for the first time ever. I watch my intake and exercise a lot and increase my metabolism, but with very little response. I am however getting into shape even if I'm not losing much weight. I look better even if I'm not "smaller". At 53 it's a tough process. I am also in a job search and that definitely requires significant patience, reflection, and self examination.

3. Are you the kind of person who can/ will persist with a difficult task? How much of this is personality related? I can be tenacious and stick to it. I can also let it go when it seems to be a lost cause. Sometimes I may let things go pre-emtively if it feels like there is too much resistance, but that depends. Mostly I have a high degree of perseverance under challenge and work hard to move through it.

4. Can you spot when persistence turns into pig-headed-ness, or do you never get there? On occasion I have indeed become pig-headed, it's what helped me earn a dual-degree with two young kids. Some think I was pig-headed in my desire to do some healthy things at a place that did not want to look at the unhealthiness and make better choices. That was a place where I eventually had to let go.

5. Post a song or a poem that chills you out and helps you to re-group, re-focus and carry on? For many years I would get a massage and use the music from American Indian Flutist, Carlos Nakai. His music definitely chills me in the best of ways. Now I take a yoga class or do one of my yoga CD's when I need to chill and focus. I also practice silent prayer/mediation for 40 minutes a day. I find my center in silence.

Bonus, a picture or a photo that speaks to you of patience or persistence....
These tress live on the top of the Rockies, 9,600 feet up. Although it was early May when I took this photo it was still 30 degrees, cold, windy, and snowing. The represent a great deal of patience and tenacity waiting for summer, for warmth, for sun. They also have a great deal of strength to survive the harsh elements at this altitude.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Twenty Questions

1. When you looked at yourself in the mirror today, what was the first thing you thought? Working out is making a difference. Followed by, should I color my hair or let it go gray (again). Followed by, I wish I had the patience to grow it out.

2. Do you miss anyone right now? I recently moved back to the area where all my family and friends live - so thankfully, no. But for the two years prior - I missed my daughter most of all.

3. If you could move anywhere else, would you? I moved far away some time ago and found out that if you can't find your hearts desire in your own backyard you won't find it any place else, either.

4. If you could choose, what would your last meal be? Grilled Filet Mignon, garlic smashed red potatoes, steamed asparagus, and a glass of really nice red wine. OR grilled salmon, rice, and a salad with a glass of really nice chardonnay. I'm really basic and happy with simple ordinary home cooked meals.

5. What famous person, dead or alive, would you want to have lunch with? Hillary Clinton, I think she is really smart, has a good heart, and cares deeply for this country, this world, and humanity. And, really, she must have some great stories to share about the people she has met around the world. I think she has the most awesome job ever.

6. what was the last book you read? A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks - a work of fiction about a plague stricken community in England in the 1500's and the strength of two women.

7. what was the last movie you watched? I haven't watched a movie in a long while. I am watching, much to my surprise, the Stanley Cup series and the Chicago Blackhawks. It's fun.

8. what was the last song you heard? Turned the radio off in the car yesterday to drive in silence and enjoy a sense of peace following a great yoga class and a beautiful sunny day. And I have no idea what I listened to before that, something from the shuffle setting on my iPod from Eric Clapton or Indigo Girls, I think.

9. what is your dream vacation? I'd love to be able to make it to Utah for two or three weeks every summer and just spend time enjoying the beautiful areas where my dad has homes. Again, I'm pretty basic.

10. what is the next trip you will take? I just returned from my fourth drive to and from Arizona in 7 months. I don't have any plans for another trip any time soon, except perhaps to move.

11. did you ever go to camp? Yes, a couple of times. We had 5th grade camp at the end of, uhm, 5th grade. And then Girl Scout camp. And then I was the chaplain for church camp one summer.

12. have you ever been in love? Yes, still am. Twenty-five years and counting....

13. what do you want to know about the future? OH my.....well, a number of things but I'm not saying here....

14. where is your best friend? I have a couple of BFF's and they all live in the Midwest.

15. how is your best friend? They are all well and fine.

16. who is the biggest gossiper you know? Oh, my....well that would be someone who lives where I used to live, not naming names....I don't like gossip in any form about I stay away from it. Although I have been known to say a snarky thing now and then, but it's always true, too...sigh

17. what does your last text message say? Yes. He works all day tomorrow and I have to a get a sermon written. preaching at St. J's in B. Friday. (word for word)

18. what are 3 things you've always wanted to do, that you still plan to accomplish? I'm just trying to get through the day, that's enough for now.

19. what is one thing you learned from your parents? Neither one of my parents were particularly great role models. It's complicated....not bad people just, well, not good parents....My work in therapy led me to understand that in many ways I raised myself. My mom did insist that I go to college, so there's that. But mostly I learned that I did not want to be my parents.

20. what is one thing you hope to teach to your own children? Respect yourself, respect other people too and treat everyone with kindness and dignity. I think they got it....

I got these from AltarEgo and I think the rules are that if you copy these from me and answer them on your blog you are supposed to let me off I go to let AltarEgo know...

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 ...