Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Five: Whatcha Reading?

MaryBeth, over at RevGals invites to write about what we are reading for this week's Friday Five meme:

1. Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
2. Women and Redemption by Rosemary Radford Ruether (only about 25% through this book, will take awhile to finish it; very good).
3. Radical Wisdom by Beverly J. Lanzetta (I've finished this one, but still thinking about it, excellent book!)
4. Real Simple, April edition
5. Absence of Mind by Marilynn Robinson (I finished this, but still thinking about it. Very thought provoking.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Five: Signs of Spring

Jan, over at the RevGals blog invites us to name five signs of spring:

Baby bunnies in green grass

Dogwoods in bloom

Planting the garden

Spring flowers in bloom

Easter egg hunt

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Of snakes and vulnerability

A reflection on Lent 4B  - Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21.

When I was a little girl I used to visit my great-grandmother who lived outside Pocatello, Idaho, in a big yellow house on a family farm. My great-grandfather, and his parents before him, farmed the land. The front of the house was on a dirt road with a deep ditch that ran between the house and the road. I remember playing in the front yard of this house where my brothers and I would find frogs and garter snakes near the ditch. I had no fear of snakes and would readily pick up a  baby garter snake like I’d pick up a kitten. 

Years later, as a college student, I lived near several beautiful national parks in southern Illinois. These parks were prime hiking areas through rugged terrain, the remnants of glaciers which left huge rocky bluffs, dark forests, and deep freezing cold lakes. This was a natural habitat for venomous snakes; rattlers and black water moccasins, among others. The distinctive noise of a rattle snake always gave me fair warning, but water moccasins were more subtle, one had be attentive to avoid them. 

Now I rarely encounter snakes, but when I do I am extremely cautious around them because I can’t identify them, and I never know if a snake is poisonous or not. 

Some people are terrified of snakes, and for good reason. Statistics list a fear of snakes as one of the greatest fears people have. Certainly the Hebrew people were afraid, as we heard in our reading this morning from Numbers. The people were weary of walking and eating badly and never having enough water and they were really afraid of snakes. God heard their complaints and grief and responded by turning the very object of their fear, snakes, into a source of healing. Moses’ snake on a stick became a symbol of God’s healing grace to the Hebrew people. 

Many times in life, that which causes our greatest grief and sorrow is also the stimuli for our deepest spiritual growth. Looking back, we might consider Moses’ snake stick to be a metaphor for spiritual growth and maturity. The paradox of illness that brings healing, of vulnerability that brings security, of death and new life, is a theme in our chapter this week in our Lenten book, “The Restoration Project” as we consider what it means to be stripped. 

In “The Restoration Project” the author aligns being stripped with deterioration, with the process of reversing the deterioration of DaVinci’s famous painting of The Last Supper by stripping away years of dirt as well as paint from previous attempts at restoration. We humans deteriorate too from unhealthy behaviors such as feelings of entitlement, prejudice, and judging. Jesus reminds us that we are not behave this way; we are not strip others of their basic human right for dignity and integrity. 

And yet people are stripped all the time. People are stripped of life - think of those murdered or under the threat of terrorism and war. Stripped of hope, think of those in poverty or war torn regions or deeply depressed. One can be stripped of integrity, think of those who are raped, abused or belittled, those who have suffered decades of racism or sexism or genderism. One can be stripped of responsibility if one is fired or laid off or in other ways deprived of meaningful work. One can be stripped of one’s identity by abuse or oppression or imprisonment. One might be stripped of one’s name, sold into marriage or kidnapped or trapped into sex trafficking or human slave labor. One might be stripped of one’s knowledge by disease or an accident. There are countless ways that one can be stripped. 

On the other hand, stripping can be paradoxical. When one is intentional, one can  be stripped of the behaviors that limit our ability to grow in relationship with God. Stripped of envy, greed, gossip, complaining, or a failure to embrace our true self-worth as God sees us. These may be unconscious; learned behaviors from our family system, or socially reenforced values that emphasize the individual at the expense of everyone else.  No doubt there are behaviors and values from modern society that we need to be stripped of. Stripped of these so that we can recognize the ways that God is active in our lives. When we are able to truly embrace the depth of God’s love for us we find we have no need for envy, for greed, for self-aggrandizement, for belittling others, for belittling self. As one develops a sense of self grounded in God, one also forms with in one’s self a deeper level of self-awareness and other awareness, of compassion and acceptance of others for being who they are.

When I was growing up my role in my family was to support my mother’s version of her self and the world around her. This was a subtle, unconscious process between my mother and me, as most interpersonal family dynamics are. As a young adult I wasn’t able to sort out what I really thought about anything, my sense of self and every opinion I had were wrapped up in my mother’s definition of the world. Confused and depressed, I sought help by going to therapy. It took a long time for me to reorganize my interior sense of self. I had to strip away the false identity I had acquired from my family system, and grow a new sense of identity as my own person within that family system. Therapy was the process that helped me look deep into myself. But I was able to be vulnerable and do that deep work because of my prayer life and relationship with God. God pushed and prodded me, whispered into my soul, and sustained me through all my struggles, into a truer sense of self. Becoming a mature Christian is a lifelong process. I have been blessed to grow in my faith and in my personhood because I have been a member of mature Christian communities and thus with other people who are on a similar journey. 

The Gospel of John reminds us that God’s love, expressed in and through the life of Jesus, is expansive. Jesus shows us how to be mature Christians. I lose sight of what Jesus teaches when I put limits on what God’s love is like. But I have tried to strip away those limitations I’ve placed on faith, placed on God, placed on love, placed on other human beings. No doubt doing so has left me vulnerable. But, much like the people who encountered Moses’ snake on a stick, God’s grace was able to work through the most vulnerable aspects of my life, transforming them into healing and wholeness.

What is your snake on a stick, your vulnerable place, that is longing to be healed? 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Five: some silliness and some seriousness....

Over at the RevGals, Karla offers this Friday Five:

1.  What have you got going on today? I hope to get my sermon written today, because my husband is off work tomorrow (he often works on Saturdays) and the church has a fundraiser for the youth pilgrimage this summer. Thus, there will be too many distractions tomorrow to write a sermon. So far I have already ridden the recumbent indoor bike for 60 minutes and read "Feasting on the Word" in preparation for writing the sermon. I have a few ideas.....
2.  What about a prayer request, how can we pray for you today? I am still on the mend from six weeks of viral/bacterial cold/bronchitis/sinus infection crud, prayers for ongoing healing are appreciated. 
3.  What makes you curious? After years of interior peacefulness, my inner life is being stirred up. I have no idea what this means or what will come of it. I don't particularly like it, especially at my age (58), when all I really want to do is settle in until retirement, do some good work, but not be STIRRED UP. Oh, God, what do you have in mind for me, now? So, I am curious to see how this unfolds and what comes from it. I'm not expecting anything too dramatic, but it may be transformative, regardless. 
4.  If you got stuck in an elevator for three hours, (if that is too scary, locked in a room or stuck in a traffic jam), and could magically have any book or activity appear in a pouf to you to while away the time, what would it be? If I were stuck some place for three hours (and it's happened to me in traffic jams...oh how I hate that), I hope for a couple of things: water and coffee, my kindle so I can read, my cell phone so I can call people or play solitaire. Of course if I were to drink that water and coffee I'd also need a bathroom...
5.  Use these words in a sentence.   Thirteen, lampshade, [a historical person, like Cotton Mather or Judy Garland} basket, hedgehog, and daffodils. I would love to take a thirteen day vacation Hilary Clinton wherein she could tell me stories about women around the world, and her work for justice, while we carried lampshade shaped baskets and gathered hedgehogs and daffodils. 

Monday, March 09, 2015

God, where are you?


Say it's this winter. It started off warmer than usual, and left me hopeful that winter would breeze by without much impact. November and most of December were easy, no snow, nothing extraordinary. I thought, I can do this. I can make it through winter. Then it all came tumbling down. Snow and bitter sub-zero temperatures that left one perpetually chilled. Cold and ice took hold of everything and forced me indoors, hibernating with a cup of hot tea. How long can it last? Surely not long, I thought. But it has lasted, relentlessly cold and snowy until I can barely stand the sight of the sun reflecting off the frozen surface of snow that lingers like a bad house guest.

Say it's the cold virus that struck me in late January. How bad could it be, I thought. A week, maybe two? I drank Airborne and consumed Zicam. Then I lost my voice to a bacterial infection from the chest gunk cold residue that made a home in my bronchial tubes and voice box. Ten days of antibiotics and I thought I was well. Two days later it all came back. Now three weeks later, a total of six weeks of this cyclical viral/bacterial crud, and maybe....just maybe, it's released its hold on me. We'll see. I'm on day three without antibiotics, there's still time for it trick me again.

Say it's the digestive crap I've been dealing with since last October. GERD? or not. Gall bladder? or not. I've seen my internist, see my chiropractor regularly and get massages twice a month, take yoga class and meditate. I've been to the ER for a migraine and a round of head and abdominal CT's, had an abdominal ultrasound, had blood work. It looks like something WAS going on back in December....but now everything is looking normal. A endoscopy is scheduled for the end of March. Maybe it's GERD after all, even though Prilosec made me feel worse. My mother had it. I'm not much like her, but maybe this is one thing I have inherited from the meantime, Zantac is working well, except I have to take it twice a day....

Say it's that I have not been able to keep up with my beloved yoga practice during these six weeks of viral crud. I am off my rhythm and out of sync. I feel disoriented and a little scattered. Yoga and meditation ground me and help me feel focused.

Say it's my childhood and my dysfunctional family system. It's my brother who isn't answering my phone calls or text messages. Is he too busy? Is something wrong? Is he mad at me (and if so, what did I do?). Say it's a history of grief and loss and cut-off and lack of family connection which have grown more intense as I try to reconnect, and endlessly hope that maybe I could have a family. I do have family - my husband and children - are wonderful. We have made some strides toward health! Still, I grieve that the family I grew up with, who have known since my birth, are distant, rarely communicate,  and are mostly unavailable to me. It leaves me a little untethered and requires me to work harder to feel centered and anchored to the world. Grief is the undercurrent of my reality. It always has been. Not that I am always sad. I'm not.

But melancholy. That is the tone and texture of my life, and more so now. Shades of gray with out the icky sexual abuses of that stupid book and movie, but with remnants of what it means to be a woman in the world today. Always less than. Struggles to be heard, valued, recognized.

Say its a propensity toward grandiosity. I know this is a reaction to really feeling insecure and not worthy. So I begin to think I am better than I am, but underneath I know I am really not good at all. I'm a lousy priest. I don't know how to lead. I can't preach. I sure as hell can't write, I hated that technical report writing class in college. I'm not as good as.....and so I work to just accept myself as I am, as good as I can be. But damn, it's hard work. Daily. And, at 58, this is probably as good as it get.  The bell curve is swinging in the other direction, the downward slope. Can I just retire and not be in the public eye and just read and write and take yoga class and be a wife, mother, and maybe, if I am lucky, a grandma? I'll knit and drink tea and have a garden. Can I just drop out of life as I've known it for the last 20 years? Say that would fix everything. Or, not.

Say it's my Saturn return. In astrology Saturn takes 29.5 years to travel around the solar system. 29.5 years to return to where it was when one was born - astrologically significant for one's maturity - the return of Saturn to it's place in the horizon when one was born. At 29.5 I had been married for over a year, and had just had a miscarriage. I was working in a job I hated and life was challenging. But by 31 everything was different. The course was set for the life I have ended up living - married with children and a member of the Episcopal Church. That Saturn return matured me and set me on a course for life. Now, at 58, I face my second Saturn return. Again, a time of maturity, where not as much will change. Or maybe it will. It all depends on how much work I have done and how much work I still need to do to mature and be the woman I am called to be. The degree of suffering and constriction one feels from one's Saturn return is correlated to the degree that one resists its pulls and pushes to grow. My Saturn return will not be fully felt until the middle of 2016. But really, astrology is just a system, an attempt to explain the varieties of life in some system of order. But it's only that, and it's always wrong, because life is filled with unpredictability.

In the meantime, melancholy grips tighter.

Knowing that it will not help to resist the inner unrest that I feel, I can only accept it and listen. Listen to what the Spirit is whispering to me. I hear a call to growth, but I also hear a warning. Not yet. Now it not the time. I still have things to learn and work to do. So waiting is also a component of the melancholy. And wondering. What will come of all of this?

Say it's the work I am doing as a Spiritual Direction intern. But perhaps it's really the need to find a Spiritual Director. I've had two in my lifetime, great ones, perfect for me. But I've gone two years now without one. And I am feeling the loss of that companionship. It's not easy finding someone with whom to do this inner work. I have some ideas of where to go for Spiritual Direction, but haven't yet acted on them. Soon. I feel that will happen soon.

Say it's the work I am doing with Family Systems and Congregational development. That is the most life-giving work I am doing right now. It feeds me and excites me. And, I have no idea what to do with it. Waiting.


Maybe this is the end of winter as the temperatures this week are forecasted to be in the 40's and 50's? Maybe the grip of grief, and sickness, and sorrow, and fatigue, and boredom, and yearning will ease if I can go outside and feel the warm sun on my face. At the very least perhaps it will make this lugubrious time feel less hopeless and endless.

And, honestly, I know that it is not endless. This too will pass. I just need to move through it, and learn the lessons it holds for me.

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 ...