Monday, July 28, 2014
Twenty years later I was an active member of the Episcopal Church, having found my way back to the institution in 1989. My husband and I bought our first house in a little neighborhood on the Northwest side of Chicago. Nearby was a little stucco church with red doors and a lovely rose garden. My desire to return to church was strong enough that I had considered joining the Roman Catholic church, in which my husband had been raised. But I simply could not abide by their practices, beliefs, and requirements to join. After some conversation my husband and I decided to consider the Episcopal Church, recommended to us by the United Church of Christ minister who had married us a few years prior. That this lovely little neighborhood church was an Episcopal Church seemed fortuitous to me. I called and left a message for the priest, letting him know that we’d be coming on Sunday. My husband, one year old daughter, and I were embraced by the church. To this day it remains our “home church,” even though we have long since moved away.
My experience of church in this congregation was formative in ways I never anticipated. I found friends and community and good priests who answered my questions and helped me feel welcome. Before long my husband was on the Vestry and I was a reader and served on the altar guild. In time I began to discern a call to ordained ministry, but not to parish ministry. It was clear to me that being a female priest working in parish ministry was a path I did not want to travel. My beloved home parish had rejected a highly competent female candidate for rector, stating that she did not have enough experience. They spoke poorly of their experience with a female seminary student, calling her “strident.” I was not interested in trail blazing a dominant male domain. I wanted a simple path. I thought hospital ministry was my calling and had solid female mentors already in hospital ministry to guide me along the way.
Then, my very first day at seminary a woman priest presided at the service and preached. She was the first woman I had ever seen in this role, the chaplain at Northwestern University in Evanston, affiliated with Seabury-Western Seminary. I remember her confidence and presence and the power of her sermon. I wondered if I could ever be like her?
The last year of seminary I worked at an internship in a large urban church. Paradoxically the Rector was the same female priest my home parish had “rejected” for her “lack of experience.” She and her male associate treated me like an equal part of a leadership team. I began to feel the pull of parish ministry, the gift of being with people through all stages of life and the rhythm of congregational leadership. The Rector was smart, mentored me well. She wore lipstick and had regular manicures, and loved to have a glass of wine with dinner, she was a woman, a wife, a mother, and a priest. A new vision of ministry opened up for me, and I began to see the potential for me to be a parish priest as well. Ten years after we joined that little neighborhood church I became the first person, in its 150 year history, to be ordained in the building.
I’d like to say that these fourteen years of serving as a parish priest have all been fabulous. (Don’t laugh). We all know that when one works in ministry one works with real people and that means there will be times when work is messy. I have experienced the challenges of being a woman priest, challenges that come in many forms, subtle and sometimes blatant. I have also experienced the blessings of being a woman in ministry, an affirmation of what is possible for all women and girls.
My ordination came twenty-five years after the first eleven were ordained in the Episcopal Church. Due in part to the risk they took, I have been able to serve three congregations as the first woman Rector. Each call has been a gift in its own right, teaching me about myself and deepening my relationship with God as I strive to be the kind of priest God is calling me to be.
Now, on this 40th anniversary of the ordination of the Philadelphia 11, as the first women priests are remembered, I give thanks for the true trailblazers. Their courage and conviction and willingness to take this gigantic risk paved the way for so many of us who followed. I wish, all those years ago, in the summer when I was seventeen, that I had known of this event and that I could have celebrated it. Nonetheless I am grateful for their witness and for the women who followed, especially those who mentored me - Mollie Williams, Linda Packard, Jacqueline Schmitt, and Ruth Meyers - and offered me a vision of a life I could not have imagined when I was seventeen.
[caption id="attachment_2859" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preaching at the 40th anniversary celebration in Philadelphia, Sat. July 26, 2014.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2860" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The congregation gathered to celebrate the 40th anniversary.[/caption]
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Jacob, grandson of Abraham, son of Isaac, brother of Esau, falls in love with a woman at a well, a typical place for love to begin in the Bible. The woman’s name is Rachel. Jacob wants to marry Rachel, but her father, Laban, insists that Jacob work for him for seven years and then he can marry Rachel. So Jacob does.
Life is hard.
After seven years Jacob prepares to marry Rachel, but Laban tricks Jacob and sends his older daughter, Leah, to the marriage bed. Rachel learns of the deceit, but rather than disgrace her older sister, she conspires with Leah to let this happen. Jacob decides to work seven more years for Rachel.
Life is hard.
Jacob works for Laban, and the years pass, but he finally gets to marry Rachel. Rachel has a difficult time with pregnancy and eventually dies in childbirth, but not before she gives birth to the child who becomes the ancestor of King David, and Jesus.
Life is so very hard.
Rachel is buried on the side of the road. It is said that her tears and prayers washed over the Jewish people on their way to exile.
Life. Is hard.
A plane disappears, thousands of miles off course, and months later, has yet to be found. A plane is shot down out of the sky, a mistake of war, killing hundreds of innocent people. Another plane goes missing over Africa.
Life is hard.
Violence escalates in lands torn apart by war, poverty, famine, prejudice, or the drug trade. Mothers and fathers send their children away, with just a glimmer of hope that they might find a better life in a strange country, assuming they survive the journey. But the children arrive in the foreign land, a place torn apart by its own struggles with politics, finances, poverty, and years of violent weather - tornados, landslides, earthquakes, wild fires, and draught. The children are caught in a tangled web of conflict.
Life is hard. Life is hard everywhere.
Illness strikes. An accident takes the life of a loved one. Innocent people are shot and killed for money or fear. A job is lost. The cost of living increases.
Life is fragile. Life is unpredictable. Life is hard.
Who among us has not suffered, has not experienced sighs too deep for words?
Paul’s letter to the Roman’s offers hope and assurance to a people who are suffering.
For into our suffering, the Spirit intercedes with sighs to deep for words.
I have leaned into this phrase countless times in my own prayer life, especially during times when I am suffocating in sadness - overwhelmed by the circumstances of my life or injustices in the world….
The Spirit interceding enables us to catch our breath and gather the strength to meet the day ahead, providing the stamina to carry on. Life is hard.
And, God does not prevent these things from happening— even Paul living in the first century knew this. God does not magically saves us from the tumult’s of life.
And yet, Paul reminds us that the “love of Christ” is working in us, whether we know it or not. Nothing can separate us from it—not “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” Not oil prices, climate change, nor economic collapse. Not violence or injury or illness. Not fear or hate.
God does not abandon us, no matter what we do or what gets thrown at us. God is present. God’s love is unwavering. God’s love is like yeast - seemingly small and yet it, somehow, through the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s love rises to the occasion, working to transform random ingredients into nourishment for body and soul.
Life is hard.
Eventually, life gets better.
Even still, life is hard.
And yet, somehow, God’s love in Christ, God’s love for us prevails. Subtle, simple. But, it’s the air that softens our sighs, the hand that wipes our tears, the grace that gives us breath, the strength that gives us stamina to face the day.
Monday, July 21, 2014
It was the first time in awhile that I have preached and presided at all three services, the Curate being on a much needed vacation. Fourteen years of doing this work, and still I was unbelievable tapped out Sunday afternoon. It amazes me to realize, from time to time, just how much energy is spent leading and preaching worship. Following the services I took the dogs for a walk and then went to two hours of yoga. One was a regular yoga class, the other was a "restorative" yoga class. I have done this many times in the past, but yesterday I was particularly struck by how hard it was to move. All I really wanted to do was go to sleep. So I went to bed early and slept for nine hours.
My seventeen year old cat seemed to be in distress last week. I called to make an appointment to put her down. The next day she rallied forth so I cancelled the appointment. She's not doing great, but she still seems to enjoy her life well enough. Maybe this is like hospice care for cats? There is definitely a change in her but for now she is not manifesting the signs or symptoms of a cat in pain.
Our garden is flourishing this year - it's really amazingly beautiful. I'm particularly enjoying the lettuce, kale, zucchini and cucumbers! I do hope we have some warm sunny days to push the green tomatoes and ripen them. Everything else is coming along.
Monday's are my day for washing bed linens and hanging them on the line to dry. It's so wonderful to climb into bed on Monday nights with fresh linens.
Recently I've managed to lose seven pounds, maybe a bit more. I don't have a scale so I don't really know. I did check my weight at my daughter's house a few weeks ago, indicating seven pounds lost. I don't think I've really lost any more since then, wedding festivities and all. Losing seven pounds though may be good enough. I did it by eliminating most of the sugar and refined carbs in my diet, which were making me feel fatigued and irritable. My clothes fit better and I feel better about myself. My hair is basically its natural color. I'm wearing it longer, loose and natural, allowing the curl to pop. I'm using some sunless tanner so my skin looks slightly healthier, less pasty white. I feel good.
Today, in addition to laundry, I'll do some work in the garden and clean the house. We'll walk the dogs. I plan to read, rest, and knit. It's Monday, my day off, and this is what I'm musing on.
You? What does your day hold for you? Something pleasant, I hope.
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Suddenly, from the periphery of my eye I see a small branch, almost a twig, fall from the tree in the yard outside the sliding glass doors. Then, a second later, a squirrel falls to the ground. Apparently the small squirrel wandered out on a too small branch, small enough to break under the tiny weight of the squirrel, plunging both of them into a thirty foot drop. The squirrel landed with a loud thud on all four feet. It stood where it had landed for a couple of seconds. Then, as if testing its legs, it did that squirrel hop-run for about four steps, then stopped again. It stood still for a very long time.
I watched and waited, wondering if the squirrel was assessing the damage or catching its breath? I wondered if it would bound away or fall over. I could see its chest moving as it breathed deeply and looked straight ahead. It seemed to be monitoring itself. Legs, check. Bones, check. Muscles, check. Skin and fur, yup. Eyes still in head, yes. Breathing? Yup. Okay then, good to go, and off it scampered to a different tree which it promptly climbed as if nothing had happened at all.
The view outside the back of the Rectory offers us unlimited snapshots into the lives of the animals that live on or travel through this property. What we see is often hilarious, endlessly entertaining, sometimes sweet and precious, and occasionally violent - particularly when the hawks and falcons come looking for their meal among the birds, rabbits, and squirrels that inhabit the backyard. It’s a view into creation and the balance and order of life filled with hope and sometimes tragedy. Life is fragile and yet there is amazing strength in life as well. The lush green grass, trees, and multitude of wild animals, following this long harsh winter is a sign that hope and new life are inherent to creation itself.
All three of our scripture readings this morning reveal something about the nature of hope. In Genesis, Jacob is running for his life. He tricked his brother, Esau, into giving up his birthright as the first born son of Issac. Jacob and Esau have a complicated relationship typical of Biblical stories where the last becomes first and the order is turned upside down and backward. So Jacob is on the run, under the auspices of finding a wife in his father’s home country, but also, to save his life. And he has a wild dream about angels. A dream about hope. For in this dream God promises to be with Jacob where ever he goes. God gives Jacob the same promise God gave Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather. And Jacob responds that he will follow God’s desire. When Jacob wakes from the dream he is not the quite the same man, his intention is clearer, he has hope for his future even though he has no idea what his future holds.
Hope is our ability to hang on, refusing to give into despair, even though we have no idea how we are going to get through the day, the week, the year. This kind of hope is not simple, it’s not, “I hope it won’t rain” or “I hope I get that shirt, car, television, or whatever it is that I want.” This hope, grounded in faith and God, is a hope that prevails when everything seems to be stacked against us and by all indications, everything is going wrong. This concept of hope is also a theme in our reading from Romans and in the parable in the Matthew reading.
Paul’s letter to the Romans argues that even though life is filled with despair, God has other intentions for us, God instills in us a sense of hope, that God’s desire will prevail and life will somehow get better. Even when we feel that all is lost, if we can summon up patience and persistence, grounded in hope, we will get through it. And always, in time, life does get better.
When I was a little girl my mother use to call me Pollyanna. She thought I could be naively optimistic. However, hope has been my guiding principle. This is not simply because I want to be naive or optimistic. I think it’s something I tap into, something that is offered by God, something that affords me, you, all of us, the stamina to move through challenging times, trusting that life will get better, even when there is no evidence to support that hope. Our readings this morning offer some scriptural examples of this kind of hope - that we can trust in the spirit of God to be with us, sustaining us and leading us into new life.
Friday, July 18, 2014
1. How do you organize? Is there a difference with various objects? I have a variety of ways that I organize, usually based on usage. I like to be mostly clutter-free but I keep small piles of current projects on the corner of my desk. I file away everything else, but my filing system is pretty random. I sometime scoop up a too big pile from my desk and shove it into a cabinet and close the door - just so my office will look clean. At the end of every program year I have to clean out everything, reorganize, and file stuff away. It lasts all summer and then accumulates again as the year wears on....
I have fairly well organized kitchen drawers and cabinets and some that are chaos - like spices overflowing in a corner cabinet and cooking utensils crammed into a drawer.
2. Do you have any cluttered spots in your office or home? Describe. see above
3. What do you organize well? And not? see above
4. What do you wish to de-clutter? I recently de-cluttered most of my house so it would be acceptable to having a dog sitter live in my house for a week... (without embarrassing me...) And I also cleaned my office - so for awhile, I'm in pretty good shape. :-)
5. Accomplishments in organizing or de-cluttering: see above.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
In the summer months, Jane Redmont, an Episcopal laywoman and educator, offers on-line retreats that she calls "Novena's" - nine day short reflections. She posts quotes from the author's written material along with reflections and questions of her own, to guide the retreat. I ' joined her for the recent William Stringfellow Novena, and learned a lot about this twentieth century author and leader in the Church.
Here is an excerpt from William Stringfellow “The Mythology of a Justified Nation” (1984) posted yesterday:
The problem of America as a nation, in biblical perspective, remains the elementary issue of repentance. The United States is, as all nations are, called in the Word of God to repentance. That, in truth, is what the church calls for, whether knowingly or not, every time the church prays “Thy Kingdom come.”
America needs to repent. Every episode in the common experience of America as a nation betells that need. If such be manifest in times of trauma and trouble --such as now-- it is as much the need in triumphal or grandiose circumstances.
The nation needs to repent. If I put the matter so baldly, I hope no one will mistake my meaning for the rhetoric of those electronic celebrity preachers who sometimes use similar language to deplore the mundane lusts of the streets or the ordinary vices of people or to berate the constitutional bar to prayer, so-called, in public schools while practicing quietism about the genocidal implications of the Pentagon's war commerce or extolling indifference toward the plight of the swelling urban underclasses. Topically, repentance is not about forswearing wickedness as such; repentance concerns the confession of vanity. For America--for any nation at any time--repentance means confessing blasphemy. Blasphemy occurs in the existence and conduct of a nation whenever there is such profound and sustained confusion as to the nation's character, place, capabilities, and destiny that the vocation of the Word of God is preempted or usurped. Thus the very presumption of the righteousness of the American cause as a nation is blasphemy. …
Much the same must, of course, be said of the nation's society and culture, which has become, as I have earlier remarked, overdependent upon the consumption ethic, with its doctrines of indiscriminate growth, gross development, greedy exploitation of basic resources, uncritical and often stupid reliance upon technological capabilities and incredible naivety about technological competence, and crude, relentless manipulation of human beings as consumers. Increasingly, now, people can glimpse that this is no progress, no enhancement of human life, but wanton plunder of creation itself. People begin to apprehend that the penultimate implementation of the American consumption ethic is, bluntly, self-consumption. In the process, it has become evident as well that the commerce engendered by the American consumption ethic, together with the commerce of weapons proliferation, relates consequentially to virtually every injustice of which human beings are victims in this nation and in much of the rest of the world.
And so I say the United States needs to repent; the nation needs to be freed of blasphemy. These are, admittedly, theological statements. Yet I think they are also truly practical statements. America will remain frustrated, literally demoralized, incapable of coping with its concrete problems as a nation and society until it knows that realism concerning the nation's vocation that only repentance can bring.
One hopes repentance will be forthcoming. If not, it will happen: in the good time of the judgment of the Word of God.
As I despair over the news, especially the reactivity of Americans to children arriving on our borders seeking refuge, I find Stringfellow's words to be particularly relevant. Thirty years later and we are declining into a crevasse, ever deepening from our sinful behavior as Americans. These children are at our borders because of our behavior - our corporate greed and the massive drug trade - have made living conditions in the home countries of these children, intolerable. It's a paradox that they arrive at our borders seeking asylum from the very society that contributed mightily to the impoverishment of their society. That we fail to recognize our role in their despair is the greatest of sins. That we fail to be willing to help reconcile their plight, is sin upon sin.
God help us all.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Suddenly, out of the periphery of my eye I see a small branch, almost a twig fall from the tree in the yard outside the kitchen sliding glass doors. Then, a second later, a squirrel falls to the ground. Apparently the small squirrel wandered out on a too small branch, small enough to break under the tiny weight of the squirrel, plunging both of them into a thirty foot drop. The squirrel landed with a loud thump on all four feet. It stood where it had landed for a couple of seconds. Then, as if testing it's legs, it did that squirrel hop-run for about four steps, then stopped again. It stood still for a very long time.
I watched and waited, wondering if the squirrel was assessing the damage or catching it's breath? I wondered if it would bound away or fall over. I could see it's chest moving as it breathed deeply and looked straight ahead. It seemed to be monitoring itself. Legs, check. Bones, check. Muscles, check. Skin and fur, yup. Eyes still in head, yes. Breathing? Yup. Okay then, good to go, and off it scampered to a different tree which it promptly climbed as if nothing had happened at all.
The house I live in sits on the back half of five acres of church property. From the kitchen and my upstairs office I can see across three acres of this land, it's quite beautiful. Tall trees and lots of grass, a labyrinth, a pet memorial garden, and the community garden frame my view. It's peaceful and serene and teeming with wildlife. Birds of all varieties visit our bird feeders and serenade us, loud enough to be heard indoors with the windows opened. Three varieties of squirrels: tiny red, common brown tree, and ground clamor for territory to call their own. I've often wondered, seeing tree squirrels perched high up on a branch, if they ever fell. Now I know.
A woodchuck has recently moved in under the deck. This displeases the dogs who don't like this invasion of their territory. They sniff the the floor boards of the deck and follow it's scent below. One dog scans the yard, wary of the intruder and refusing to go out onto the lawn. Deer visit us all winter long, and sometimes late on a summer night. We must live on some ancient walkway between woods and the nearby river. For nature loving folk like us its a delightful place to be, amusing us and filling us with awe.
Although I don't feel it (most days, anyway) I am keenly aware that I am getting old. At fifty-seven I am beginning to tell myself, and others, that I am almost sixty. The texture of my skin, even with strong muscles underneath, is slack. My hair is gray, my chin sags and I've almost lost my bottom lip. It seems to have regressed with time and disappeared. No amount lipstick can bring it back, and sometimes only serves to enhance what is now missing. I hardly recognize myself in the mirror. In six or eight or ten years I could retire. I'm beginning to prepare for that time, whenever it comes. Contemplating what I will do with myself when I no longer work full time at a church.
Few things in my life have endured: my marriage of twenty-nine years; motherhood for the last twenty-six; and being a priest for fourteen. These are the longest lasting aspects of my life. Retirement could easily last as long as any of these.
So, I as I contemplate ideas of how I can supplement my pension when I retire and what I'd like to do with myself, I also wonder which of these ideas will grow strong, what will hold me up as days go on, and which ones I will give up on and let go of. Or worse, which ones will break under the weight of time and age or strain, dropping me to the ground with a thud.
Like the squirrel, I've fallen before, and gotten back up, caught my breath and continued on. I'm not afraid. I've built my life and rebuilt it several times. But I find myself thinking ahead and wondering, dreaming perhaps. Or maybe it's the call of the Spirit working within me, preparing me for what comes next, in some unknown distant future?
Friday, July 11, 2014
It’s Friday, and TBTG! Even when I work all weekend, I still love that “Friday feeling”, you know? PLUS~~it’s summer! So, for a summer Friday Five, here are a few thoughts to ponder upon:
1. What makes you happy in your happy hour? (kicking off shoes, reading a book, a cocktail, lemonade~~essentially, what do you do to relax at the end of your week…) My happy hour hits about 4pm. Shortly before, if my day has gone as planned, I will have spent thirty minutes meditating. This is followed by a glass of iced tea and a handful of almonds, a few dried apricots, and maybe some trail mix of nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate. I am working to reduce the amount of sugar I consume, satisfying my sugary needs with fruit. I like to drink and nibble while reading a book on my Kindle.
2. I have a pair of shorts that I jump into the minute I get home for the evening–every day in the summer. What’s your favorite summer “garment”? My latest favorite summer-wear are maxi-dresses with birkenstocks. I swear I feel like an old hippie - reminds me of the 1970's and being in college. But really, I just love the ease of summer - sandals, shorts and T-shirts, or dresses. Love it.
[caption id="attachment_2785" align="aligncenter" width="300"] I wore a maxi-dress to the rehearsal picnic for our daughter's wedding.[/caption]
3. I have discovered, after living here in New England for 7 years, Ipswich fried clams. Oh. my. OH MY! Do you have a summer food you might splurge on once or twice in the summer? We grill out every night we can - and compliment what ever we grill with pickings from our garden. Currently I am learning to love kale - sautéed with onions and garlic or steamed with a little butter and salt and pepper.
[caption id="attachment_2786" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Kale, from our garden[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2787" align="aligncenter" width="300"] An abundance of lettuce in our garden...[/caption]
4. Do you have a specific fond memory of summers of your childhood? I spent all day of every summer outside playing - swimming, bike riding, climbing trees, making up games. I still love to go outside in the summer to garden, walk dogs, walk to yoga, walk anywhere, bike ride, or sit on the deck and read.
5. Use these words in a sentence: snail, baby duck, camper, ice cream, surfboard, cherries. The baby duck and snail were fond of standing on the old surfboard under the camper nibbling on the spillage of cherry ice cream.