Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's Wednesday Again...


And it's the end of another month, one in which we reflect particularly on life and death. All Hallows, All Saints, Day of the Dead, the waning of the light, the waning of the year. And for me the waning of a school semester that I will not be sorry to see go. Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I find I'm spending a fair of time urging time forward as far as school is concerned, and that has been a little hard on my consciousness. Especially in this part of the year, as we are moving toward winter, the season that is not my favorite. The whole school business continues to be a little disconnect in my life, a jarring note, but then on the other hand it's not, as it has been a significant learning experience for the teacher that merits and will have it's own post....later....as soon as life slows down.


We will celebrate our All Hallows Eve Service tonight, a tradition in our small church. We carved the pumpkins that will grace the steps and altar. The church will be lit only by candles, we will read the The Witches of Endor andThe Valley of the Dry Bones and sing "Dem Bones" and other songs and hymns. We will pray psalms and remember the dead and our own mortality on this thin night. Then we will retire to the undercroft and celebrate our current incarnated selves with cider and cookies.


I am so aware of how quickly time is passing. On the one hand there is that good thing about school being done and having more time (or so I tell myself). But sometimes there is this little frission of panic that rises up about that time...it is just so....gone....and there is so much life yet to be done. My life is so abundant, so much more and better now than it has ever been. I feel like I came late to the party, and sometimes I have a sense of sadness about that mixed with the great gratitude that I got to come at all.


All Saints’ Day November 1
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one
communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son
Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those
ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love
you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy
Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

BCP p.245

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Being the church

There are times when I am tired and disillusioned and frustrated by all that goes on in the church. There are times when I get discouraged by all the time we spend on budgets and policy decisions and canon law and parliamentary procedure and I wonder what the heck this all has to do with spreading the gospel and doing God's work and being the church. And then I spend a very long Saturday with a few hundred of my fellow church folk having some intense discussions on budgets and policy decisions and canon law and parliamentary procedures and I see that indeed this too is how we are church with one another, and that indeed this has everything to do with it. People who were in radical disagreement about some very important things came together first to pray and worship, then to speak and listen, then to vote. It was the most respectful debate I've ever heard. Some things turned out as expected, some surprised us. Some decisions made me happy and some did not. And that was true for probably every single person there. The most important thing we agreed on was that our focus is mission and that we are willing to go forth together into an unknown future and try some new and radical ways of being church in order to meet the needs of the world in the 21st century. The first goal of this strategy is a focus on spiritual transformation and theological renewal within the diocese in order to start on solid ground.

It's our 150th birthday as a diocese this year and our motto is "Our Hope for Years to Come" from the hymn....we sang it several times this weekend. I found myself meaning it from the heart. Fed on word and sacrament and hope, I do believe we are going forth together to be the church!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Mid-week Report

Wednesday again. The week in full-bloom. Life is about to get peripatetic again. Tomorrow I am heading off across the state to attend a workshop on Power and Boundaries sponsored by our state Council of Churches. Topics include things like: The Theological, Sociological and Psychological Context of Power and Boundaries in Churches. Power and Gender in the Pastoral Role. Appropriate boundaries in the Pastoral Role. Abuse Prevention. Pastoral Self-care. It sounds interesting and like something that has "multivocational" applications. What I didn't notice when I registered is that it is the day before Diocesan Convention starts. Also way over there on the other side of the state. This means that tomorrow evening I will trek two hours back home only to get back in the car on Friday and retrace some of the same roads to get to the Big City where convention is being held this year. Sigh. The downside of my lovely small town life.

Last year was my first convention. It was very powerful for me. I expected to reconnect with old friends, meet some new people, do some work, but I did not expect that it would have the amazing spiritual impact on me that it had. It came right on the heels of ordination and I was emotionally and spiritually wide-open to such things. Our keynote speaker was Bishop Steven Charleston, who was moving and inspiring. The first night of convention I had a dream. In the dream, I met a man. He was dressed as a shepherd. It was very vivid, I can still see his rough linen tunic, leather belt with a knife in a scabbard, his sandals, the dirt on his feet and under his nails. He spoke to me in the dream. He said, "my plan is for you to have more abundant life" and I must have looked blank, because he put his hands on his hips and said it again more forcefully. And again, apparently I still did not look like I was registering because he stomped his foot and said it again with feeling! I woke up at that point and found myself in tears. That dream has never left me. At various times I have wondered what it meant, or thought I knew, and every now and again I go read John 10:10 and think about that shepherd.

This convention is shaping up to be somewhat controversial. For the past two years we have been in an intense process of self-assessment and evaluation as a diocese. A group of very visionary people has proposed some ideas that could reshape the way we "do church" in some very important ways. We will be asked to say yes or no to this plan. If it goes forward it will require some significant change at many levels. You all know what that means! Additionally, our Bishop has begun planning his retirement and is asking us to approve a plan to elect our new Bishop early enough to allow that person to serve in tandem with him for a time. This idea too has raised strong feelings on both sides of the equation. Other proposals and resolutions before us are equally intense. In times such as these it is easy to lose focus. To forget who and Whose we are. To get all reactive and choose sides and get lost in the battle. I would so appreciate your prayers for all of us as we meet together this weekend. For wisdom and clarity. For gentleness with one another. For quiet to be able to hear the movement of the Spirit in our midst.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gratitude

I am feeling tired but grateful this morning. Yesterday was a long, full, and ultimately grace-filled day. But it got off to a rocky start. The sermon hit the printer at 8 a.m. After several abortive attempts on Saturday, I finally gave up and went to bed, setting the alarm for six, hoping that sleep would bring inspiration. Night did not bring rest but tossing, turning and a headache, and an alarm that came all too soon. But six a.m. did find me dutifully ensconced at the laptop putting together something that I hoped spoke to someone besides me. At eight it printed. By eight-ten I was in tears, completely overwhelmed by the thought of the day before me. But some nurturing from the Dear One, a cup of strong coffee and a gentle but firm talk with myself headed off the incipient panic and got me dressed and to church. I had a sense that once there it would be ok. Routine, role and God’s good grace would take me where I needed to go. And it was true. I was able to slip into the stream of celebrating and preaching and let it carry me as it always does, to be fully present, joyful and at peace in a way that only happens in that space and time.

After service and a sustaining soup and bread lunch we had an afternoon of training for lay ministries in which we gained an acolyte, lectors, worship leaders, Eucharistic ministers and people for altar guild. Some of the people who are taking on lay ministries are new to our congregation, others are long-time members who are discerning new roles for themselves in this community. It feels like another way the Spirit is at work among us. It feels like much-needed hope. It was a good afternoon together.

Then it was off to jail for me for our turn in the rotation for the ministerium. I had but one taker, but oh, how he needed to be there. We prayed and read a bit of scripture but mostly I sat and was present while he talked and cried. He is, I think, all of maybe twenty one or two, and he tells me he has been “locked up” fourteen years of his life. He tells me he has siblings whose names he does not know, a son he has not seen but loves and wants to be a father to, a mother he has been hurt by and a father he has only seen once but is not sure he can forgive. He’s not sure he can forgive himself either. Forgiveness. We talked about that. How God has already done that for him. How he might be able to forgive himself as well. I prayed for that for him. I will continue to do so.

Yoga class was the final destination of the day. Body prayer on a mat. Peace and quiet, and the miracle that I did not fall asleep in savasana but rather was able to rest in gratitude for the grace of being here, in this place that God has called me, for God’s strength that carries me when I cannot do so for myself, for the love and prayers that bear me up from all of those who support me every day. So many blessings…….thanks be to God.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sermon for October 21, 2007

Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8

Have you ever felt like it was all just too much? That there was just too much too cope with, that you had gotten in too deep, cut it too close, hedged your bets just one too many times and now it was all collapsing around you, all options exhausted, all hope pretty much lost? Well that is where we find Jacob today. If you recall, Jacob’s entire family history had involved a lot of duplicity, hostility and dishonesty. Jacob had cheated his twin brother Esau out of his birthright. He colluded with his mother in lying to his dying father to gain a blessing from him by taking advantage of the fact that he was blind. As a result Esau had became enraged and threatened to murder Jacob, so Jacob left home and went to live with his uncle in Haran. There he continued his less than scrupulous ways, eventually marrying both of his cousins Rachel and Leah and fathering children by them, as well as by two slaves. He gets into conflict with Rachel and Leah’s father and flees Haran, getting Rachel to steal the some of the household goods in the mix. He is pursued by his father-in-law and finally does make peace with him, still engaging in some slightly dubious behavior, only to lean that Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men and, he fears, murder in his heart. As a last desperate attempt, he sends his servants ahead in groups with gifts for Esau, hoping this will placate Esau and save his life. Then he sends all of his wives, children and goods across the river Jabbok for their safety. Left alone, exhausted by all that had taken place in his life, Jacob comes face to face with, and wrestles with an unnamed man. Through the long night this struggle continues, and yet Jacob persists and will not allow himself to be defeated. The stranger strikes a blow and demands that Jacob let him go and what does Jacob do? He says to the man “I will not let you go until you bless me.” There are many interpretations about who the “man” was with whom Jacob wrestled. Some scholars would say it was an angel, some would say it was Jacob wrestling with the shadow side of himself, and many of course say that Jacob was wrestling with God. While we cannot know for sure, what we do know, was that in this encounter, something profound happened for Jacob. He was changed in some way. In Scripture when someone is given a new name, this is a sign that they have taken on a new identity, been converted or transformed. And this happens here, Jacob, which means “deceiver” in Hebrew, becomes “Israel” meaning, “he struggles with God.” Jacob, the greedy, cheating, lying, dishonest person that he was, had the temerity to “see God face to face,” have a deep, painful and wounding encounter and refuse to stop, demand blessing, and live. He lived and the sun rose on him, but he was forever changed, left with a limp, a reminder of the encounter that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Jacob had wrestled long before that night at the Jabbok. He wrestled with his twin brother, with his mother, with his father, with his father-in-law, with his wives. I can’t help wondering how Jacob felt about himself. Did he like the person he was or did he feel shameful and guilty? We don’t know what his self-image was like, how confident he felt about himself. But what we do know is that he had one important characteristic in relationship to the struggle with this stranger. He was persistent. He held to this battle, whatever it entailed all through the night. Through darkness, through the pain of his injury, maybe even through fear and despair, he continued to fight and struggle, and in the end he prevailed and demanded—and received--his blessing. Someone has even suggested that his blessing was his injury, that the limp he carried with him from that day forward kept him from running from himself, which up to this point had been one of his problems. We do know that in addition to having a limp as a remembrance of that long night’s struggle, Jacob also had other legacies. He and Esau were reconciled, and he did become “Israel” though it is interesting that he continues to be called “Jacob,” an indication perhaps that though converted and transformed, he also continued to be very human and fallible, and the rest of his story is far from happily ever after. It is rather a much more human story. Full of darkness and light, happiness and tragedy. And continued relationship with God.
If we were to go back a ways in the story, we would notice something else about Jacob. A bit before the story we read this morning Jacob had begun to pray, asking God for protection and deliverance from Esau’s wrath. He had begun to enter into relationship with the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac in a new way. Perhaps this had something to do with his ability to engage in the struggle later, to persist, to demand a blessing, to be transformed, converted and changed. Prior to his night of struggle, we had not heard much about Jacob being in direct communication with God. After his conversion experience, this changes along with his way of being. God speaks to Jacob and Jacob listens. Jacob lives his life in a different way than before because he is in conscious contact with God. He has become a man of prayer.
In the Gospel of Luke we have another example of someone who persists in prayer. We are told the parable of the widow presents herself over and over before the judge, pleading her case for justice against her opponent. Now widows were among the most powerless of people, dependent on the kindness of just about everyone. And judges were among the most powerful. And we are told that this judge of all of them was particularly unconcerned about the welfare of others. So for this widow, this nobody to persist in the face of not only a lack of encouragement, but likely outright discouragement, she must have had a great deal of inner fortitude and strength of will. Like Jacob, she won't let go; no matter how many times the judge dismisses her, she keeps coming back. She annoys this judge, turning up in his life everywhere until out of utter exasperation, he gives in. The Greek says, “out of the fear that she will blacken my eye” or ruin my reputation. She won't let the matter drop until she sees justice. Like Jacob, she in essence says to the judge, “I will not let you go until you bless me!” Like Jacob she too has been willing to hold on, to persist through struggle. And like in the Jacob story, here too is transformation. Only in this case it is not the woman who is converted, but the judge! The judge who in the parable may symbolize God, or simply the turning of a heart in response to prayer.
Remember Jesus’ was talking to the disciples about the need to pray always and not lose heart. In this story, the widow persisted in prayer, was able to remain faithful and again, transformation occurred.
Struggling. Persisting. Wrestling. Staying faithful in the face of discouragement. Crying out for justice. Demanding blessing. Powerful images. Images that resonate within us in many ways depending on where we are in our lives, in our own faith walk.
Like Jacob, we too struggle, with others, with ourselves and yes even with God. Sometimes life feels like is just one big wrestling match. We struggle and struggle. It feels as if the night and the battle will never end. Fresh from one battle with another looming just ahead, there in the dark of night, we wonder if there is any hope. It is easy at such times to lose heart. At such times there also exists opportunity. If we enter into that spiritual struggle, sometimes in the struggle we are wounded, and blessed, and sometimes they are one and the same, or it is hard to tell the difference. But we know when we have passed through such an encounter, when we have faced down something, it does change us. We might say what occurred for Jacob was an act of repenting, of stopping and turning around in a different direction. Repentance and conversion too are acts that require that one not lose heart, to pray always, to have faith.
Ultimately both of these scriptures have things to say to us about our relationship with God. The widow story is another of those great Luke stories that says that if you mere mortals can get to this better place, imagine what God does….This story says, if a poor widow with no standing can finally wrestle justice out of an uncaring, unscrupulous judge, how much more will you—the one who is beloved of the God who created you and longs to be in relationship with you—be able to find your justice by faith and persistence in prayer.The Jacob story too bears a message for us. Do not be afraid of the spiritual struggle. Of going into the darkness. Of facing whatever shadows are there to be faced. Of wrestling with God. Of demanding the blessing. But be aware that it may wound you. And it may transform you. And they may be one and the same.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday Five: Top Chef Edition

RevHRod brings us a foodie themed Friday five based on the hot show TopChef.

If you were a food, what would you be? Really good lasagne. Lots of layers, complex flavors, comforting but still interesting....sometimes cheesey....yep, that'd be me!

What is one of the most memorable meals you ever had? And where? I was on my first trip to Boston and strangely enough, it was not seafood. But it was the the next thing you think of there, Italian. But not in the North end. But it was the BEST Italian food I have ever eaten at a little place called La Groceria in Cambridge. Tucked off at the end of a block. Pasta to die for. Went back on my next trip and, yes, it was still as good!

What is your favorite comfort food from childhood? Macaroni and cheese. Baked.

When going to a church potluck, what one recipe from your kitchen is sure to be a hit? Krustees Pecan Bars. Everyone thinks they are homemade and wants my recipe.

What’s the strangest thing you ever willingly ate? Lutefisk. And everything they say is true.

Bonus question: What’s your favorite drink to order when looking forward to a great meal? Dpends on the food, I like to match...margaritas with mexican, sake or plum wine with chinese....good wine.....it's all relative!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
Robert Burns

As is often the case when I am working on something in my life, God, with wisdom and often no small amount of humor provides me with these lovely learning opportunities. I mentioned in the Yurt post that my retreat was themed around self-forgiveness. This links up with the letting-go of the critical voices and embracing of authentic self that I have been doing as soulwork over the last several months. Recently I have been given some interesting opportunities to see myself as others see me. The information has been surprising and enlightening, but what has been transforming has been the grace to accept it as truth.

I had my review at work this week. These are usually not too stressful as my supervisor and I get along fine, and I know that if there were problems I would already know about them as she does not believe in using reviews to surprise people in that way. But I was taken aback by the level of her regard and things she conveyed. She told me, among other things that she was “proud” I worked here and thought that my public presence in the community was an asset to our center. She also compared me, rather humorously to E.F. Hutton, saying, “When Kate speaks, people listen.” She said that my coworkers tell her that because I don’t rant and rave about the stuff that people often go on about (too busy to notice, frankly), that when I do have a strong opinion about something, everyone kind of sits up and pays attention. She tells me that I have a great deal of respect from them, and carry a lot of power here. Whew! Not anything I ever went striving for, I’ll tell you. I was amazed, and … it made sense. Later, when I thought about what she said, I found myself thinking that she might be right. Who knew!?!

And then there were the sisters up at the yurt-farm. They asked me to be on the board of directors for the educational center they are developing. Reluctantly I declined due to the time thing. But to hear them describe the reasons they were asking me, the person they see in me…again, not the first attributes I would list in myself, but on reflection, again in the quiet of my soul a small affirming “yes, that too is me.”

Yesterday I was invited to coffee to meet the mother of one of the most conservative ministers in town. She is an Episcopal clergywoman, he is planting a Missionary Alliance church. He has been telling me that he wanted me to meet her when she came to town, and when we met, it became clear that he has been talking to her about me. With great respect. Oh my. Theologically we are on different planets. We have had conversations about this. In public. I laughingly told friends I witnessed to him in the coffee shop about the need to worry more about doing our co-creative work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth than we do how many people are going to hell today.
And yes, this too is me!

One that really hit home for me happened just before I left for the Yurt last week. I do a therapy group at our short-term intensive treatment program. One of my own clients is in the group right now. We were talking about trust and how you become a more trusting person, opening yourself to life, living with less fear. Suddenly out of the blue, J said, “Kate, I know I’m probably not supposed to ask this, you’re not supposed to talk about yourself and all, but what’s it like?” “Excuse me?” I said, madly peddling for time. “What is it like for you?" she persisted. "You are like that, one of those people who lives with your heart open in compassion? What is it like?” Oh. My. Goodness. I don’t really know quite what I said. I know what was going on inside was an audible thunk of truth falling into place, that yes, that too, is who I am, at least most of the time these days. And when my heart closes up, I know it, and I usually know it’s because there is danger present.

A few weeks ago I was looking for something in an old journal. I ran across an entry from about ten years ago in which I described myself in some extremely critical, self-deprecating adjectives. What was really sad was that the tone of that rather horrifying rhetoric was very matter-of-fact. Kind of, “Oh well, this is the mess I am, guess I have to live with it.” It is clear to me in retrospect that there were reasons in that place and time that I had come to believe and accept those things about myself, as well as the fact that, thanks be to God, grace and good therapy, I have come a long, long way in no longer holding that negative and self-destructive view.

But the residue has remained, and has continued to rear up at times, especially under stress, like with the student, and in some other interpersonal incidents this year that have been, at the least distressing, and had the potential to be more destructive. So my soulwork has been about this. To identify and release the last holdouts, to peel away the false self and release the authentic created self. To be converted. To repent of seeing myself through other than God’s eyes.

My SD and I have been talking about doing something liturgical to mark this transformation, the release of the critical voices, the turn toward a more compassionate way of living with myself. Every month as we meet, my plan, my hope is that by “next time” I will have completed this, found language for prayer and ritual that captures this important rite of passage. With the demands on my time and energy is just hasn’t quite gotten there. It’s in bits and pieces and I keep having to say again and again, somewhat disappointedly, “well, maybe next month.” Feeling somehow I think that here was something else vitally important to me that was Not Gettting Done.

But I had forgotten something I know to be important. In healing, change and transformation, it is not an event that happens but a process that transpires. As with my clients who make the decision to confront someone who has abused them. The healing takes place as they work to prepare to do this. Often by the time comes, there is no longer even a need to do so, they have so resolved things in themselves, done that redemptive act that Countryman talked about. Oh we will do this. But it will be different now than it might have been had it arrived earlier in the process. To be truthful, I’m not sure yet what, or when, it will be. I’m releasing that a little too. The pieces that are complete have come easily and spontaneously, written themselves, really. I trust that Source. And when it comes, I think it might be a great celebration, because as Temple said “To adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own…is the most joyful thing in the world because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Yurt Adventure II

The First Night
Coming back to a place you have been before is always different than coming the first time and this was no exception. It was dark as I arrived, despite the relatively early hour, but harvest was still going on. Lights were bouncing through the fields and trucks were leaving dust clouds all up and down the gravel roads leading to Earthrise. This time I was expected. I was recognized, greeted warmly, and invited to share dinner of roasted veggies (all grown here) and pork (I didn’t ask), followed by “Graham Cracker Cake” made for them by their 92 year old mother’s 88-year old caregiver for mom’s birthday the day before. We talked a while and then I came down to the yurt to settle in. It welcomed me as an old friend. Cozy, bright, warm. One of the cats invited herself in for the night and I welcomed her. I put my things in their already accustomed places, noticed that we have had a yurt-improvement in the addition of a ceiling fan to circulate the warm air from the heaters.

I spent some time reading a sweet little book the sisters loaned me called Praying with Katie. The author was an unemployed, (and very anxious) former Presbyterian minister who was adopted by a stray cat and learned from her some new things about his relationship with God. I especially liked the chapter on self-improvement and perfectionism. (Imagine that!) He points out that even though Katie the cat is not perfectly obedient, he loves her, and that part of his love for her is that she behaves in ways that are her nature, which means she does not always obey his wishes. “Her very disobedience is part of the perfection of her felinity. She is perfectly catlike, and being catlike includes indifference to our desires.” He goes on to wonder about God and us. “Might not God feel the same way about me? I have been told that the Lord accepts me as I am. Might it be more than mere acceptance? What if God enjoys me the way I am? … If God enjoys me being who I am, as we enjoy Katie being what she is, then praying for help to be better is a mistake. It is unfeline for Katie; it is inhuman for me. God is happy with me the way I am. Why should I try to improve? If God is happy why should I be discontent? When I think of how much of my prayer has been devoted to begging God for assistance in self-improvement, I am both appalled and amused.” (Pp. 40-43) I don’t know. I have trouble believing I should just settle in and be fine with my status quo (or that God would think that was a good plan either)…. I think the expectations might be a bit higher for humans, but on the other hand, the idea that God might enjoy us being human, as we were created, totally NOT perfect, is pretty liberating. And a nice start for a weekend in which the aim is to try to rest rather then improve myself. And that is the next item on the agenda. A futon with flannel sheets and a big comforter is luring me irresistibly, the cat is purring. It’s time for bed.

The Second Day-Morning
Despite my intentions to sleep in, I woke at 5 a.m. This being a farm, there was already activity. The harvesters were at it. The dogs were barking. And I kept hearing…. gunshots. It’s the opening of some bird season or another, I recall hearing on the radio. Oh, good. And me with no blaze orange. Hopefully they will all get their limits early and go home before my walk later, or since it’s birds, they will be aiming up!

I have had some of the really good fair trade coffee the sisters provide. I’m thinking of the preacher party and wish I could share. Toasted a bagel, put the cat out at her request, read a bit and did some writing. At five the view through the skylight was a thousand stars, now at 7:30 it is gray sky. The prediction for the day is 50/50 for showers. I told the sisters when they need rain they should have me up, I seem to bring it.

I am feeling the anxiety of an unscheduled day. It is hard to go from 60 to full stop. I expect at some point today this anxiety will become unpleasant as all the “musts and shoulds and yet-to-be-dones” are sung at me in discordant a capella chorus by the well-meaning but still annoying voices of reproach who see no point in wasting a perfectly good weekend just sitting around when I could be Getting Things Done.

Mid-Afternoon
The day is moving by in a gentle rhythm. Prayer, yoga, a walk with the camera. The cats are keeping me good company. Sophia, the overnight cat came back for lunch and stayed on. She appreciated the remains of the three-egg omelet I made with the most gorgeous fresh brown eggs the sisters brought by. On my afternoon walk I made sure to thank the chickens.

Child’s pose brought tears as it sometimes does. I can allow that here. I have no place else to be, there is no hurry. The feelings can have their way with me, pass through. I have no need to judge them or even really to analyze them today. Observing and being with myself is enough.

I’ve been listening to a podcast of a Speaking of Faith interview with Sharon Brous, a young rabbi talking about the “Days of Awe,” the Jewish High Holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tandaina wrote about her a while back and I told myself this was something I needed to listen to as soon as I had time. It fits well with my “theme” for the weekend, as I am reflecting on repentance and conversion and she has some very profound things to say about that. I’ve also been reading Countryman’s Forgiving and Forgiven. It was nice enough to sit outside and read after lunch for a while, and then it clouded over. Now the sun is out again and it seems to be time for another walk to see what the light has to teach me.


Vespers
Now as we come to the setting of the sun and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises O God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. BCP p.139

The light is fading; Sophia has gone off on her cat errands. I have been immersed in Countryman again since my walk. I have been suspecting for some time that there is a link between my struggle with the critical voices and a certain lack of self-forgiveness on my part. This book has freed me of any lingering doubts on that score. His premise is that forgiveness, whether of self or others, is not a step by step process but rather one of personal transformation, or, as he says, “to give these concepts their more traditional names, repentance and conversion.” He goes on to quote William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during WWI, “’Repentance does not merely mean to give up a bad habit. What it is concerned with is the mind: To get a new mind. What mind?…To repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own. There need not be any sorrow about it. In itself, it is far from sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world because when you have done it you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God.” (William Temple, Christian Faith and Life, 67) (p.2).

Countryman says that if we participate in this repentance and conversion we will be putting on the mind of God, who has of course already forgiven us. He says that God does this because God loves us of course and wants to allow us room to grow and make mistakes, but also because God wishes to save us from our own self-righteousness! He says, “Forgiveness then gives us the space to love and learn, and frees us from the temptation to credit our own goodness for too much. God forgives us because that was the most liberating thing God could do for us. It is the starting place for everything else. “(P 18)
According to Countryman, if we refuse to forgive ourselves we are, in essence, not taking God seriously, not allowing ourselves to be converted. He says that embracing forgiveness is an act of repentance because it involves our giving up our way of seeing the world and beginning to see in God’s more generous way. (p. 24). He also talks about perfectionism in ways that reminded me a bit of what I read in the book last night. He echoes the idea that God created us to be human and the nature of that is to be in process, to learn by trial and error, and that by nature we will make mistakes and missteps that will require forgiveness. He says: “The wonderful thing is that through forgiveness, God is able to take even our failures and turn them into raw materials for future growth. Think of it as a kind of spiritual recycling. Nothing gets lost ultimately. Through the miracle of forgiveness, even our failures become the means of our spiritual maturation and the foundation of a priestly ministry to one another. They give us the understanding of one another’s sufferings and uncertainties. They enable us to stand alongside one another in the presence of God.” (p. 31)
He is not saying anything really radical or earthshaking. But he is saying what I need to hear in a way that it is sliding past my barriers. Maybe it’s his words. Or my readiness. Or simply grace. But I am feeling hopeful that a shift may be coming as I sink into the silence and night begins to fall on Earthrise Farm.

Evening
I am reminded that the emotional life is not always predictable. Duh. It’s been quiet inside. There has been none of the expected anxiety. The day has been peaceful and sweet. I am aware with a kind of wry compassion for myself just how many rules I have for myself. Even about my own retreat! For example, I took some time tonight to do some reading for school. In the larger scheme of things this was a sane and good thing. It makes me feel less pressured as I go back into the week, I even kind of enjoyed reading about Francis Galton and his ideas about creating a better world through eugenics. Ah yes, just another way we think we can “out-God” God. Silly, striving humans. Behaving, however, just as we were created. Does God smile on this? I am beginning to think so. But even with the bit of reflection it gave me, there was some niggling guilt that this was not what I was “supposed” to be doing on retreat. Same thing with the music I brought to listen to. There is this little stern voice that keeps saying “Silence is the point!” Well, it’s not like I am listening to hip-hop and rap. It’s Taize and J. Donald Walter’s Life is the Quest for Joy (which I highly recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard it). To go from the pace of my life to utter silence isn’t necessarily realistic, and music has always been an important part of my spiritual life. But why on earth do I feel like I have to defend this to myself! It’s not like the retreat master is going to come and confiscate my CDs! The “point” of this, if there is one, I guess is whatever it needs to be. Rest, solitude, time that is not the usual. And now, as the rain beats a gentle rhythm on the yurt, to sleep.

The Third Day
Morning
I slept in! Much to my surprise it was 8:20 when I finally, reluctantly came fully awake. Had there not been pressing needs I think I could have slept longer, but once up, even here, I get busy about the tasks at hand. Here they are simple. Brew the coffee, say the prayers, do the yoga. I have slowed down. I feel it in my body, in my soul. I feel more in sync with myself somehow. My dreams have been vivid and interesting in the few moments I still have them to remember on awakening before they evaporate into the day. K has stopped by to ask about a time for the Eucharist I will be sharing with the small community here. It feels like a gift and privilege to be able to share this with these people who have offered me this refuge. She tells me we will then share a meal (another of the chickens sacrificed for us I fear). It is rainy and gray, cool but not unpleasant. It’s very cozy in the yurt. But now it is time to get myself ready for church.

Afternoon
We had a beautiful Eucharist, three of the religious sisters who form the nucleus of this community, the 92 year-old mother of the two bio-sisters and a cousin and niece of theirs who happened to stop by. Their mom is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s with all that entails. They were not sure how she would “be” for the service, but she was able, it seemed to be present. The words of the Creed flowed from her, as did the Lord’s Prayer. She was quiet through the rest but seemed to know that it was in some way “church” by a few comments she made here and there. Their dad, also in his nineties, suffering from even more advanced dementia and deafness joined us for dinner. I am struck by the complexity of the life these women live, the basic raw commitment it requires all day every day to be present for it. Running an organic farm, trying to start an educational center and caregiving for parents with high needs while managing their own commitment to community and spiritual life is no small task. It’s a good reminder as I start turning my mind once again to life outside this little cocoon. Because it is almost that time. Time to shift the focus again back to the bigger, faster and noisier world that is the rest of my life. I slowed down a little easier this time, and expected less of myself in terms of “perfect retreating.” That makes going home easier somehow. My first stop will be yoga class. That seems like a good transition. Then some time to catch up on home news, e-mails and blogs before moving into the week. I questioned on Friday if this was a good use of a weekend and told a friend I thought I’d rather be heading off to fancy hotel with a spa than a yurt with a biffy. But I was, in the end, as I usually am, if I go where I am led, exactly where I needed to be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Light in the Tunnel

There seems to be a rhythm developing to my life. Wednesday nights I take a deep breath and realize that yes there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and yes, it is, indeed another train. I simply need to accept reality. It is not going to get a lot better schedule- wise in my life until school is out. The students will be giving some presentations, this will occupy five class sessions out of the remaining seventeen, leaving me with twelve classes to come up with lectures, discussion questions or other activities. Because these students are not the self-starters I had hoped for. Discussion does not flow from them, it must be eked out, one thought at a time, and I am definitely in charge of eking!

In addition to school this month there is Diocesan Convention to get ready for and attend. I am “running” for Commission on Ministry and have to prepare some remarks for the candidate’s forums. We are also doing a ministry training day at church, an All Hallows Service complete with carved pumpkins on Halloween, I’m preaching at least one Sunday this month, I have a service at the jail, an article due for the newspaper, and there is, of course, the day job.

Looking ahead, November’s not looking a lot better. There’s Advent up there ahead, we are launching a new adult education curriculum in 08 and want to do a “sampler” to generate some interest sometime soon….Harvest Feast, Blessing of Ministries, my regular Sunday, the community Thanksgiving service….oh yeah, and the day job.

But I am going to the yurt on Friday. I’m taking my journal, a camera and a book on prayer and my yoga mat. I will probably sleep a lot. If the massage person is there I will let her have at me. My back went out last week. The body, as my yoga teacher tells me, does not lie. I have been pushing it. Twelve-hour days. Six-day weeks. I’d be shaking my head at any client that was doing this. My SD has made some interesting observations about all of this and given me lots of food for thought as usual. That too is on the yurt agenda.

The yurt of course is not internet connected (I guess that I would HOPE not!). So one thing I won’t be doing is catching up on blog reading, though that would be on my wish list for a quiet weekend. I feel like I am getting out of touch and miss the contact with everyone. I try to pop in as I can but it’s much less than I want!

My mantra is “this too shall pass.” And in the meantime there’s a yurt with my name on it!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Book Meme

Katherine E. tagged me for this great book meme. Since I have been a book-lover and reader of anything from cereal boxes to phone books from the age of three, it's no surprise that I couldn't answer the questions with just one book!

Total number of books?
In the crate beside the bed,
patiently waiting to be read,
On all my shelves at work and home,
here's the total of the tomes: 456

Last book read? Kind of cheating on this one as I am actually still reading, Creation Continues by Fritz Kunkel. It's for my Bible study group and the idea is a chapter a week but I keep running on ahead, I'm enjoying it so much. Before that it was Humble Leadership by Graham Standish.

Last book bought? I actually bought two at once:The Heartsong of Charging Elk by James Welch. Bought because it was recommended by the mayor of Minneapolis on MPR on a feature in which public figures recommend a recent favorite book. Not yet read. And in the same shipment, Forgiving and Forgiven by William Countryman....halfway through and loving it

Five meaningful books?
Markings by Dag Hammerskjold I first encountered this book when I was in high school. His thinking changed mine forever. I still have that copy of the book complete with the comments written in my high school hand.
The Book of Common Prayer What can I say? It's just kind of all right there. Everything a liturgy and book and language geek could ever desire in one place!
Amazing Grace (or pretty much anything) by Kathleen Norris.
WomanPriest by AllaRene Bozarth I read this a long time ago, or it seems so, and it made possible the idea of priesthood.
Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Steven Cope. Read it every five years or so whether I need to or not.

How about favorite children's books?
A Wrinkle in Time, The Little Prince, Hope for the Flowers, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables

Parade Wave


Being in the parade turned out to be more fun than I’ve had in a long time. I got to drive a big ol’ diesel pickup, in my dog collar and my T-shirt while bopping to really loud Rwandan music on the CD player. I waved to lots of people I knew. We all had our lovely CafĂ© Press designer shirts on, the Wild Wheelie Rider passed out bubble gum for the kids, and our Possible Discerning Deacon handed out literature about our project and evangelized mission all the way down the parade route. We installed another of the priests in the truck bed where she perfected the parade wave from her lawn chair. It was generally a small town good time and good for our visibility. And who knows, maybe got some folks wondering if maybe those Episcopalians are not so stuffy after all!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Five: Thankfulness List

Mary Beth writes: This one is going to be veeeery simple: List at least five things (people, places, graces, miracles...) for which you are thankful. You may elaborate as you wish, or keep it simple. Hat tip to Princess Mindy for the idea. Oh...and if you know The Veggie Tales' hit "Thankfulness Song," please hum it as you post.

I think I might be the wrong generation for the VT song, so I'm humming "All Good Gifts" from Godspell instead as I think about those things for which I am thankful today:

1. That five years ago, when I said "I have to go where for how long?" I was willing to do it, I thought, for a practical reason, turning my life upside down, trusting that all would be well, when it was not about that practical reason at all, and was the beginning of a great life transformation leading me to the life and place God, I am convinced, wanted me to be.

2. For the wonderful people who remind me that I am a beloved and forgiven daughter of God and manifest God's healing love to me in so many ways.

3. For the wonderful people who also frequently remind me when I am overfunctioning, off-course or otherwise missing the point. Also manifesting God's love to me.

4. For the fact that even though it took a while, I did finally find my calling(s), that place where my gifts meet needs in my little corner of the world. I love what I do most of the time. I have been told (and on good days believe) that I'm good at it, and I am thankful.

5. That there is a yurt, and that one week from tonight I will be there for forty hours of peace and quiet.

6. And...... I just have one more that wants to be said:
I am so very thankful that even though I am on serious overload, and am tired and know it is a long long way till December, I am absolutely certain of God's presence with me in all of this. And that at least in part is due to God's love in community manifest in those who care for me, including those in this community. I am thankful for YOU!!!!!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Fab Four -- A Meme

It's Thurday after school. I managed to be where I was supposed to be with everything I was supposed to have. The lecture was long but they all stayed awake. The "stuff" to decorate the truck is all downloaded and enlarged and only needs some laminating to assure waterproofing. Tonight after Tai Chi I will go fetch the truck. Tomorrow is just the day job and decorating. I might even squeeze in a haircut. So since I've been tagged by Diane for this meme, I thought I'd take a few minutes for something entirely different.

Four jobs I've held: Not counting the THREE I'm holding simutaneously right now!
Bill collector,Hardware store manager, Pre-school teacher, Nun (Is that a job? It sure was full-time!)


Four films I could watch over and over: Used to be Sound of Music (not sure I still could....maybe) Green Mile, Mr. Holland's Opus, Dangerous Minds

Four TV shows I watch: Not much of a TV watcher....it's that attention span thing, or that three jobs thing....tend to watch HGTV, Food channel, MSNBC before bed....so it's stuff like, Good Eats, Unwrapped, Curb Appeal, Lockup, ....um, yeah, really edifying, but hey, it puts my brain to bed!

Four places I've lived:Dubuque, IA, Silver Spring, MD, St. Paul, MN, Milroy, MN

Four favorite foods: Green thai chicken curry, Pasta with really good tomato sauce (fresh is best!), Chicken Mole, Chicken Tajine over cous-cous

Four websites I visit every day: RevGals blog (and many individual ones as well), My bank, My several e-mail accounts, EpiscopalLife Online

Four favorite colors: Purple Dark Green Chocolate Brown Periwinkle Blue

Four places I would love to be right now: In a time machine set for December 13. (School's out!), At the yurt (Eight more days and I WILL be, At Casa Lalita, the yoga retreat in Mexico where I have gone for four years (missed last year) and hope to go again someday, Having a nap.

Four names I love but would/could not use for my children: (don't have children either, but if I did....) Katherine. Love it but woudn't want a "junior." Maggie....love it too, but already gave it away to my dog, Lots of the "old-fashioned" names I think are beautiful but not sure my child would appreciate....although many are now "in" again, so maybe I would use one like......Susannah, Same for boys.......Tobias.

I now tag anyone who wants to play, have at'er ladies!

Running the Race

On Sunday I really thought I was holding up quite well. On Wednesday I am not so sure. I am running out of steam before the end is in sight. I am weepy, cranky and whiny. I am wondering why I am doing all this. Wondering too, where they all went, these other people who all thought this homecoming parade was such a good idea. Wondering if anyone is going to care that St. J's is there, get curious about the MDG's, support our project. Wondering why I am overfunctioning again.

And then there is school. Yesterday ten minutes before class started I realized with horror that I had no lecture notes. I had left them at my office. Now the office is only a five minute drive, but the car was parked another five minute walk across campus. I went. There was no choice, really. So it was another rocky start. I was less than stellar. The class before that one, I forgot to print the student handouts until the last minute. And before that there was the library debacle. I am not usually like this! I'm really organized and on top of things. It's the stress, the overload. Or maybe it is those incessant reminders from God! And I want to say, OK, God, I GET it, I can't do this, I won't do this, message received, loud and clear, so stop already! I surrender. Again.

I need a big nap.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Five Years Ago Today

Five years ago today my life changed when I left behind everything I had known for over twenty years to relocate across the state. I left my house, Dear One, my friends....all of it, behind. At the time I thought it was for five years or so. God had another plan that I was not aware of at the time. This was written in late November of 2002, about two months into my “new life” on the prairie, while I was still living in the tiny town where I first landed. I later moved to the "metropolis" of 14,000 or so where I am still happily residing. I thought I'd share this today...

On a gray day in October I loaded the cat and the last of my necessities into my aging Ford Escort and set off across the state for the beginning of what I have come to think of as my “great adventure.” I am a mid-life psychologist who came late to my career, and the driving force behind my move was to liberate myself from the crushing burden of my student loan debt by joining the National Health Service and practicing psychology in an under served rural area.

In addition to the lure of the other opportunities, I was propelled by a need for change, an opportunity to experience solitude and self-sufficiency in a way that my life, till now, had not supported.

On that cloudy afternoon, I completed the first step in my transformation from urban dweller to rural solitary. The three hour drive took me from a mid west urban metro area of over 500,000 souls to a tiny town of less than three hundred.

My town has a grain elevator, where most of the action is, a post office, a VFW, three churches and a convenience store that closes early. The day I arrived to pick up my key at the post office, the clerk’s first words to me were, “Oh you must be PO Box...” It’s hard to hide in a town of 270.

I have learned a few things since arriving. Allow more time to vote. The local folk will want to know who you are and why you are here and they will feel free to ask. There were direct questions as well as the craning over my shoulder to see my name and address in the book. Allow more time to pick up mail, too, especially on Saturdays when there is time to converse and ask the burning questions, “Who are you, where do you live, where you from and why did you move here?” I have heard about the lawn ornament thefts, the drug problem and the joys of retirement at the post office. And I would guess that about half the populace knows that I moved from the City, I live in the apartments and I work at the mental health center. There is no need to ask “which” of any of these.

Despite the simple categorization, don’t assume that small means close when it comes to neighbors. I live in the only apartments in town, a cute little mini-complex of twelve units. I have been here two months and I have yet to meet a neighbor. For that matter, I have barely seen a neighbor. The trash in the dumpster waxes and wanes, cars move from their spots; one Friday night there were clothes in the dryer in the laundry room. Other than that, I could be living all alone here. Once in awhile a door slams in the night or a shower runs loud enough to penetrate my walls. And it is not just the apartments, the town has an emptiness about it, too. I have seen the folks at the polls on election day, met a few at the post office and the c-store, but there are few souls on the streets. Despite a school, I think no children live here. It is solitude at its most basic. From Friday at the close of work till Sunday morning church I can easily keep silence.

There is a feeling of spaciousness that accompanies this isolation that makes it both easier and harder to bear. Somehow it seems right that in all this space, in the presence of all this sky, people too should not be encroaching on each other. At the same time, all the mythology of rural life, at least as it is passed to the urban beings, tells us that we in the country are friendlier, calling on each other with casseroles and brownies while minding each others’ business. For the transplant in the apartments, this has not been the case.

All in all I like this country life. I like the size of the sky, the scale of a land that goes on and on to the far horizon. There is a saying out here. I have head it a number of times, always in the same words, told in the same cadence, “There’s a place out west of town, you go there you can see Montana.” I have been there and it’s true you can see a long way. Is it Montana? How would I know? I will have to trust the native wisdom on that!

Other myths are slowly but surely being destroyed as I come to know the undercurrent of life here on the prairie. Distance from population centers bears no connection to the problems people experience. Drugs, gangs, domestic violence, they are all here. Disenfranchised kids and disillusioned adults are as easy to find here as on the busiest urban street corner. Poverty is just as devastating, oppression as hard to bear. Racism is alive and well , and family values are no protection against family dysfunction. Poverty and the loss of a whole way of life takes its toll as do natural disasters.

There is a fine line here between solitude and loneliness for the urban transplant. There are days when I ask myself just what I was thinking not only to make this move, but to choose to live in a town that has fewer people than the number of employees in my former job. But there is a sweetness here, a pace of life that allows for connection. A trip to Wal-mart in the “real town” next door yields a conversation with the election judge about what one should carry in the trunk for bad weather. Lunch at the Perkins there includes an inquiry about “where have you been?” from the cashier at the convenience store next to my office where I go for morning coffee. A quick run to the grocery store provides a lead on the best early morning aerobics class at the Wellness Center and encouragement to show up at 6 a.m. When I sing in church, my voice is heard, and, even in this short stay, almost everywhere I go, there is a familiar face.

I like being able to see the sky. I like the darkness of the nights, the brilliance of stars with no competing light and the eerie compelling blue moonlight that draws me to the field across the road to watch it journey across the cold, clear sky. There is obvious geography in a small place. It is not covered over by concrete and buildings and the contours and changes of the earth are there to see. Every morning’s commute includes a sunrise, and the wind is a constant companion, not blocked by buildings. I feel closer to life here. Maybe it is the zeal of the newly converted, but there is something in me that responds to this place. Despite loneliness and growing pains and the lack of community. Even with missing home and friends and the familiar ease of twenty-four hour a day anything I want, there is a draw here for me, a sense of place, a sense, dare I say it...newcomer though I am...of home.