“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lectio of Longing

The other day Jan Richardson's online Lenten retreat pondered this:

If you're familiar with the practice of lectio divina (a Greek term that means "sacred reading"), you know that it is an ancient form of prayer, a way of entering the scriptures in a meditative fashion....

Traditionally done with passages from the Bible, lectio can also be used with visual art and with any text, including the sacred text of our own life -- the story that God is creating within each of us. 

If our longings are a gift from God and a place of connection with God in the unfolding story of our life, then spending time in prayer with them can help reveal how God lives within our longings and may speak to us through them.

As you linger with your list, here are a few questions for your lectio on longing. Feel free to contemplate any or all of these questions, and notice what other questions may come up for you as you reflect.

- Which desire has the most energy for you and keeps drawing your attention? I have this curious paradoxical desire for both deep peace and profound energy. I wish to have enough peace to be aware, reflective, perceptive, thoughtful. AND - I wish to have energy to do all that I have and want to do.

I have always wanted to be a person who was quiet, thoughtful,  and engaged in active listening. I tend to be someone whose mind is active jumping from thing to the next, especially when I am excited about something. I practice daily meditation with the hope that it will create in me the quietness I yearn for. I'm thinking of that kind of deep quiet that is almost palpable when one encounters a person of prayer, their inner calm exudes out, is evident to all around them. And, with that quiet calm, a sense of wisdom and peace. 

I think I manage only a tiny piece of this...and that after 37 years of meditating. I sometimes wonder what I'd be like if I did not meditate...ack, I'd be a lot more forgetful and scatterbrained and more of the chaos inside would be reflected on the outside...so, at least meditating serves to keep a modicum of peacefulness inside and out.
- What emotion do you associate with this longing? Hope. I can continue to hope for greater peace, more wisdom, better active listening.
- Where do you hold this longing; how do you experience it in your body? I suspect this emotion is being held in my heart because I am experiencing heart palpitations...and I trust the symbiotic relationship between how one feels and how one's body responds.
- What threads of connection does this desire hold: to your memories, experiences, dreams? I think I have had a life long desire for balance between peace and energy. It is why I meditate. It is why I do yoga and exercise. It is why I pray. It is why I write - to process the connection between desire, memories, experiences, dreams, and hope.
- Is there a longing that lies beneath this longing? Yes - longing for rest, deep, deep rest. And then from that rest, to gain insight and wisdom. And to have energy even as I have peace. 
- Where do you notice the presence of God in this longing? God is calling to me in the longing and in the opportunities that come, encouraging me to rest and find hope which will bring both peace and energy.

- What invitation might this desire hold? An invitation to trust. I think it is really difficult to find inner peace and quietness of spirit when one does not trust - the spirit, God, ones self, others. Trust is crucial.

 Jan concludes with this:
As you end this time of reflection, I invite you to simply rest in your longing, mindful of the presence of the One who longs for you.
There are many questions we could ask in this lectio on longing. The primary invitation is to sit with your wanting, and notice what you notice. This bears doing more than once; as with any kind of lectio, what we notice changes over time, and our longings -- as with our lives -- may have many layers, which are not revealed all at once. 

One thing I notice, the more I meditate, the better I sleep and better I feel. The challenge is to accept my meditation however it is - sometimes deep and silent, almost like sleeping while other times I seem to be more conscious of every little thing around me. Such is the nature of a meditation practice, which is just another way of lectio divina of the self. 

Top of the Rocky Mountains, southern Utah, a metaphor for longing, what is just around the bend?
 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Landscape Trust

Recently, in Jan Richardson's Lenten retreat she offered this:



"Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don't speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth from the inside."
                                                               --Audre Lorde's daughter, speaking to Audre
   
and then this poem:


She Untames Her Tongue

For years her tongue was trained
in soothing tastes:
chamomile and chocolate,
peppermint and rosemary.

She specialized in pleasant words
that eased from her lips,
murmuring apologies and niceties,
consolations and lullabies

till the day her tongue
went suddenly numb.

Saying the comfortable words 
more loudly
didn't help,
and neither did saying them
more often.

So she stopped.

These days
she is nursing her tongue
back to life.
On Mondays and Tuesdays
she wraps her tongue in
cilantro and chiles,
lemongrass and leeks.

Wednesdays and Thursdays
she dusts it with
curry and tarragon,
pepper and saffron.

Weekends she sits around
squeezing into her mouth
drops of
lemon and lime,
whiskey and gin.

After weeks of this
she can tell
something at the root
of her tongue
is loosening
and she means
to let it fly.

Adrenal fatigue is the exhaustion that comes from holding words inside, unspoken, until the words end up punching me in the mouth from the inside out....

It took me a long time to learn how to speak up and let the words out. My health at the moment is indicative of what can happen when one is forced to keep one's words to ones self. No doubt holding silence was a wise strategy at the time. But it comes with a price.

I love Jan's imagery in this poem, learning to speak for the first time, or learning how to speak again after a forced silence. The process of learning to speak is about awakening one's tongue, seasoning it with rich flavors, teaching it to fly.

The landscape of my inner self this morning is one learning to speak again after the strain of being devoiced and forced into silence. No doubt I accepted the forced silence as a strategy of survival. It had to be. But the consequences were severe.

Now I am relearning. Seasoning my tongue, my life, with rich flavors. Opening my life and loosening my spirit, and letting it fly.

The paradox is that in letting it fly I am also relearning how to be at peace, to fully relax, and truly rest.

This can only come because there is also trust. One cannot rest and find peace, restore and relax, when one is guarded, when adrenalin is high, when fear wraps around one like a cloud.

The landscape of my inner life is learning to trust again, which is fueled by hope and enables rest.






Monday, February 25, 2013

Landscape Rest

Top of the Rockies, highway 89 heading north toward Salt Lake City, view is looking northeast, altitude 9000+ feet


I've learned some interesting information about adrenal fatigue, such as the complexity of diagnosing it. In 2008 and 2009 I was having some health issues which eventually led to a hysterectomy. During that time I had blood work done (and in the years since), which indicated that my adrenal function was on the low side of normal. Adrenal function has a wide range of "normal" and medical doctors only diagnose adrenal issues when a person has gone into adrenal failure and developed Addison's disorder or Cushings syndrome. Prior to the onset of those, adrenal fatigue can set in and bring with it a host of complications which can also be associated with many other life conditions: unexplained weight gain, especially around the belly; sleep disturbances; muscle fatigue; heart palpitations; back pain; foggy-headedness; low blood pressure; a chronic sense of feeling tired and fatigued for no apparent reason (my biggest symptom);  the pesky symptoms that led to the hysterectomy; among other symptoms. In addition to feeling constantly tired, I have also noticed a general acheyness in my muscles and an inability to fully relax - it's as if I am always on hyper-alert. This makes sense as adrenal function is part of the flight or fight aspect of our autonomic nervous system.

Last week my chiropractor affirmed that adrenal fatigue is probably at play in the way I feel. In a couple of weeks I'll see my internist who will do blood work and a physical. In the meantime I am doing what I can to allow myself to rest, relax, restore. So, to that end in the last week I have had a facial, manicure, pedicure, massage, chiropractic adjustment, and took the restorative yoga class. I have done everything I can to meditate daily, practice slow deep breathing, consciously work to relax my muscles, eat more veggies and protein, and take my vitamins. I think there is a little bit of improvement. Fewer heart palpitations being the most obvious sign of improvement. Friday night, following the adjustment I had no palpitations, Saturday night a few hours of palpitations, and last night, following the restorative yoga class, only one hour of palpitations just before bed. I also woke up with more energy, more alert. So. We'll see.

Turns out my Lenten discipline this year is slowing down and resting. The landscape of my inner life is clearly calling me to this practice of prayer. Curiously enough I have been working with Robin and two clergy colleagues in Dearborn on an ecumenical women's retreat titled, "Resting in God." That has also become the title for our Lenten season...."From toil and work come away and Rest in God." I'm really excited about the retreat, looking forward to meeting Robin in real life, and having this time to just rest.

Funny how the Spirit works. She knows what we need before that awareness has filtered into full consciousness. Always good when we can take her cues, follow her lead, and live in the Spirit.

In Advent Jan Richardson spoke about living into the rhythm of her life. More than trying to bring balance, which is evasive, living into the rhythm enables one to go with the flow - embracing busyness and rest fully. Now in Lent she is looking at the interior landscape of our lives and examining what that state is like, and what it takes to live within it while seeking greater wholeness and connectedness to God. That, at least is what I am taking away from the Lenten retreat.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Landscape Hope



Following Jan Richardson and the on-line Lenten Retreat, I am struck by her words last week when she reflected on wilderness and landscape. Pondering Jesus' forty days in the wilderness she writes that the wilderness, while not desired, is nonetheless formative for without time spent in that landscape we can never have clarity.

Clarity like this doesn't come cheap. It takes a wilderness. Perhaps not a literal one. But a space where we can shed something of the familiar, the habitual, the comfortable and known; the routines and rhythms that we have shaped our lives around -- or perhaps bent and broken our lives upon. And in that space, we begin to see and to know: who we are, what we have been formed and fashioned to be in this world.

I'm thinking about the landscape of my interior life, the thoughts in my head and how it feels for me to be living in this body right now. It's an odd time. I have much to be grateful for. I ought to feel at ease, peaceful and content. Instead I have heart palpitations, anxiety, perpetually tight muscles (even after a massage), a restlessness, headaches and tight jaw from clenching my teeth. Weight gain, particularly belly region -  which cannot be lost, or is near impossible lose. A lingering sense of agitation and irritation despite exercise and meditation. And an almost constant feeling of fatigue. Yesterday my chiropractor affirmed my symptoms and my suspicion that I am suffering from adrenal fatigue, post stress. The years of strain I experienced from 2008-2011 have left my adrenal glands worn out from too much exertion, too much adrenaline. The treatment - long hours of sleep, multiple vitamins and a B-complex supplement, extra  calcium and magnesium, more protein, less carbs, lots of vegetables. This all makes sense as I have noticed that I feel better when I eat a diet high in protein and low in carbs. And, I need a lot of sleep, which I have been resisting, thinking I should get up early and exercise! Of course exercise is crucial for this recovery time too. And it could take upwards of two years to repair the damage done to my adrenal glands.

The landscape of this wilderness time, this late winter of snow and freezing temperatures, is changing. I need to shed some of the routines of pushing myself to do more and try harder. I need to spend more time relaxing, eating a little better, doing more yoga, making sure I meditate every day, and take those vitamins daily....

 Trauma is like this - the aftermath lingers long after the episode has passed.

Then the trauma was a spiritual crisis, a virtual meltdown of everything I knew, leaving me bent and broken.

 It's no wonder I feel it in my heart - for it was shattered. Now, like someone with Post Traumatic Stress disorder, for which the symptoms of adrenal fatigue is similar, I am mending, slowly.

Perhaps one day the interior landscape of my being will feel like my normal self again. Perhaps one day both my mind and my body will be relaxed, at ease, and calm? I hope that one day my ongoing fatigue will be replaced with energy, my mind alert with a clarity of thought?

One can hope.

Hope is the one consistent quality of my interior landscape which survives all else.





Friday, February 22, 2013

RevGals Friday Five: Good in this World

Deb, over at the RevGals blog offers this timely Friday Five: 

 
 Frodo: I can't do this, Sam. 
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. 

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam? 

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.

===oOo===
In these last few weeks there's been all kinds of bad news. Tornadoes and a blizzard. Gun violence and a legislative body squabbling like toddlers over budgets, health care and who knows what else. For those of us in the US, it's tax season. Yuck.

We're only in the second week of Lent. Easter's a long way off. And here in the Mid-Atlantic region, the weather can't seem to make up its mind. Is it winter? Is it spring? Will it snow? Will it rain? Are my daffodils doomed if they actually BLOOM next week like they are threatening to?

So this week's Friday Five is courtesy of my good friends Frodo and Sam. Name 5 things that are good in our world. Or your world. Photos are a bonus.

1.  The church community I serve has discerned a call to work with a church in Liberia to build a school. It is very exciting, a bit overwhelming, and somewhat daunting - must be of the Holy Spirit!  This photo is of our delegation on their trip to Liberia in January 2013 to meet the people and learn more about the project.


 


 2. The church community I serve is growing in numbers with young families and children, defying the statistics....


 

 3. We have an organic community garden - I LOVE to plant, tend too, and harvest in this garden. This year I intend to grow: tomatoes, green beans, lots of lettuce, broccoli, brussel sprouts, herbs, cucumbers, zucchini, and probably something else, a new crop...






4.  Our animals - who consistently amuse us and remind us of unconditional love. 






5. Sunrise....and a Mary Oliver poem (somehow, all is right with a day that begins with a sunrise and Mary Oliver...and a cup of coffee).


Sunrise
 
You can
Die for it –
An idea,
Or the world. People
Have done so, brilliantly,
Letting
Their small bodies be bound
To the stake,
Creating
An unforgettable
Fury of light…
I thought
How the sun
Blazes
For everyone just
So joyfully
As it rises
Under the lashes
Of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?
What is the name
Of the deep breath I would take
Over and over
For all of us? Call it
Whatever you want, it is
Happiness, it is another one
Of the ways to enter fire.
 
(New and Selected Poems, Volume I by Mary Oliver)

 



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A First to Last



 (published in The Monthly Caucus of the Episcopal Women's Caucus)

When I was a little girl my mother made certain I could accomplish two things: that I would be the first woman in my immediate family to go to college and I would have a career. Her primary goal was that I become financially self-sufficient and thus I would not be dependent upon a husband to “take care of me.”  A lot has changed since 1963 when my mother, influenced in part by Betty Friedan’s book the “Feminine Mystique,” instilled in me the dreams and fears she had for her only daughter.  Fifty years later I hold two master’s degrees and have a vocation as an Episcopal priest. I’ve been married to the same man for almost thirty years. And, for a time I was a stay-at-home mother tending to our two children while my husband worked outside the home and earned the money we lived on. Both my mother’s dreams and her fears became my reality, but not with the outcome she worried about. 

As a priest and a woman I have been the first female Rector at three different churches. It’s a peculiar reality to be the “first.” Two of the churches had little to no experience with women clergy. One church, which I currently serve, has had a woman priest on staff for thirty years. 

 Being the first woman priest brings with it an innate tension located in what it means to be an unintentional agent of change simply because of one’s gender. Other changes are more intentional such as what happens when a progressive, collaborative, female priest follows a father-knows-best autocratic male priest.  A number of female clergy wonder about appearance; several clergy blogs are devoted to discussing clerical concerns about length of hair, makeup, nail polish, and how to manage bra-strap slippage while praying at the altar. Being first may be profoundly life giving or tragically vocation ending for women clergy.  In my vocation it is has been both. Well, almost both. I have faced profound life altering challenges as a priest wherein I seriously wondered about my call. However, my vocation as a priest has survived. Now, for the first time in over thirteen years of ordained ministry I feel like I am thriving.  I suspect that the challenges women clergy face, like other working women, are shifting from being first to what it means to remain vibrant in the work force. A recent article in the New York Times suggests that:

“… the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.”[i]

Long work hours, lack of affordable childcare and lack of quality childcare have become impediments that add stress and strain in all women’s lives, clergy included. Some  clergy women have opted (by making the best of limited options) to stay home with kids and serve as “Pulpit supply” rather than take on full time or even part time roles in parish life. There are other reasons women priests give up their vocations ranging from the inability to find a satisfactory call to lack of Bishop support in finding a call that fits. Unlike most male clergy, women often face fewer options in the search process because they are limited by the need to find a call near where their spouse/partner works. 

At the congregation I now serve we led our children, ages eight to eleven, in a five week study session on women saints of the Middle Ages. We focused on five women: Margaret of Scotland, Elizabeth of Hungary, Hildegard von Bingen, Catherine of Siena, and Julian of Norwich. Each of these women was remarkable. They contributed significantly to the life of the church, guiding leaders to avoid war, advising Popes, bishops, and kings, wrote music and medical journals, fed the poor and tended to the needy. Two of these women were also wives and mothers, the other three lived their lives in convents.   

Our children shared their learning’s with the congregation as part of the sermon time on the first Sunday of Lent. My hope is these young boys and girls are being deeply formed in the reality of women’s leadership. I especially hope that the girls can fully envision themselves as the saints they are - change agents in the best of ways. I hope both the boys and the girls are able to recognize that when equality hits a brick wall we need to break down the wall and build something new. 

 Like the lives of these profound woman saints, the church can lead the way into full equality for all and set a lasting example of true Christian faith, forming and informing the future of all human kind.


[i] New York Times, “Why Gender Equality Stalled” by Jennifer Coontz, February 16, 2013: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/opinion/sunday/why-gender-equality-stalled.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chocolate Jesus, keepin' me satisfied....



Here we are, the first Sunday of Lent. As you can tell by looking at our worship space, the season of Lent has some distinctive features to it: the baptismal font filled with rocks reminding us that a life of faith is often rocky. But like this water fountain in the midst of the rocks, God is with us on the journey – sustaining us, nurturing us, and nourishing us. 




The dried plants remind us that our spiritual lives can be dry, dusty, and barren, wintery. 

 Lent is a season that calls us to do three things:
1.       Remember who we are – a people of God, made in God’s image – made good to do good.
2.       Become intentional in our practice of faith
3.       Focus on gratitude

Our reading from Deuteronomy opens this season with a clear call to remembrance – the Hebrew people have finally come to the end of their forty years of wandering in the wilderness of a dry and barren desert  – their promised land is in sight. They spend time remembering and celebrating who they are – God’s people. Deuteronomy reminds us that when a people forget their past they lose sight of the present and future – you can’t live as a people of God now and in the future if you don’t remember what it meant to be a people of God in the past. 

Over the last five weeks the children in our Weaving God’s Promises class have spent time learning about five medieval women. Each of these saints offer us insight into what it means to be a people of God, to be intentional in one’s practice of faith, and to focus on gratitude. Here are our children offering a summary of what they learned: (each child will read a paragraph)....

1) For the last five Sundays, we’ve been learning about saints in the Weaving God’s
Promises educational program. We learn about saints because they are people who
serve as good examples of living a Christian life.

2) The saints we studied are all women who lived during the Middle Ages in Europe.
They helped many people: caring for them when they were ill; feeding them; helping
them to know God better by their writings, music, plays, and teachings; and helping
to bring peace and solve disagreements. Popes and kings sought their advice. They
built up the church by founding schools, churches, and hospitals.

3) Saint Margaret of Scotland was the queen of Scotland. She was very wise. Her
husband, the king, noticed her wisdom and used her advice to avoid wars and to
take care of the people. We know her as a peacemaker.

4) Saint Hildegard von Bingen lived in the church from the age of five. Although a
sickly person her entire life, she lived 81 years. She had visions of God that she
wrote down and shared. She composed music that is sung even today; she wrote
plays and sermons; she traveled to preach to others; she wrote medical texts. We
recognize her for her creativity and mysticism.

5) Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was betrothed at age 5 and married at age 14. During a
great famine, she opened up the castle stores of food to feed the hungry. She gave
away so much food that the royal household was in danger of starving. She was a
humanitarian.

6) Saint Catherine of Siena, Italy was the 24th of 25 children. Her parents wanted her
to marry and not join the church. But, she wanted a life in the church and was
persistent.

7) She is known for caring for very ill people. She was so loved that popes and bishops
listened to her. She helped avoid the breakup of the church. We recognize her
devotion to God.

8) Little is known of Saint Julian of Norwich before she became very ill and nearly
died. During her illness she had visions of Jesus that she wrote down. Her visions of
God are optimistic seeing God as joyful and compassionate.

9) Her views of a loving God, rather than an angry and vengeful God, were not well
accepted by the church powers in her day; but her writings and teachings were
appreciated by the people. She became a recluse, but gave advice to people who
visited at her home. Her teachings are popular today.

10) Each week when we learned about a saint, we also had a craft project, like making
red and white flowers that are associated with Saint Elizabeth. Today we brought
our God’s Eyes that we made the week we learned about Saint Hildegard. This
symbolizes seeing and understanding what is unknowable, which is what Hildegard
saw through her visions.

Sing hymn (Saints of God, with added verse by kids using their names)...

So – remembering, with gratitude, the saints who have come before us and embracing their lives will help guide us as we journey forth, with intentionality, into Lent this year.

Specifically we are going to consider Lent through a parallel process of learning about chocolate and learning about the life of Jesus. There is actually a rather irreverant blues song written by Tom Waits called Chocolate Jesus –  (play audio clip of Gino Matteo singing  Chocolate Jesus.

“Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Good enough for me….

Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied”

Well, enough of that… 

What I really want to talk about are the lessons the kids will be learning regarding chocolate and Jesus using a Lenten study called Know Chocolate.

Know Chocolate for Lent uses the growing and manufacturing process of chocolate as a metaphor for the growth of faith and discipleship in the Christian life. Using these lessons the kids will form connections between the growing process of chocolate and the growing process of being a Christian. In my sermons on Sunday morning I will, as is reasonable, provide us with similar connecting points so that all of us are on a Lenten journey. 

These Lenten journey reflections will help us con­nect God’s gift of the rainforest and God’s gift of the Church. In addition, we may come to under­stand that what we often take for granted—whether it is chocolate or faith—is much more satisfying when we know the story behind the traditions we celebrate.
I invite us to observe a holy Lent by:

1.       Remembering  who we are – a people of God, made in God’s image – made good to do good.
2.       Becoming intentional in our practice of faith – and -
3.       Focusing  on gratitude.

 And so, with all do respect, maybe it really is a "chocolate Jesus" - "consumed" with intentionality and gratitude, that keeps us satisfied.