Thursday, July 31, 2008

The First Funeral

It was one of those moments for which God brought me to this place. They were surprised to find a service booklet, a sermon, and, in the daughter's words, "a whole real service." A the end of the sermon, when I invited people to share memories of G, she spoke, honestly and from her heart about her mom, about both struggle and love, tears were shed. Her brother spoke as well, and was more humorous and lighthearted. Two friends also shared, one a friend of the daughter about how G had "mothered" her too in her teen years, and another about simple good times he had shared with G. In all of it there was no doubt in my mind we were on holy ground. When we went downstairs for the reception the daughter spoke to me again about her surprise that this service was so "special" and how much she appreciated that. She seemed amazed that it all came from the BCP and said, "I guess it really has been a long time since I've been in an Episcopal church." The acolyte, who is a really lovely man, and I shared a moment after the service. I always tell him how much I appreciate it when he acolytes as I feel as if I am in good hands up there. He is a cradle Episcopalian and knows what I'm doing liturgically better than I do! He gave me the thumbs up after for a "first time well done" and I told him that from him that really meant a lot. He said we were a good team....I teared up.

I know your prayers once again carried me. As I float off to bed in my liturgical afterglow, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

...And now that it is morning of the next day and I am back at the is the sermon from the funeral based on Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39 John 11:21-27

Whenever someone dies, for those left behind there is a time of a kind of confusion and shock, a time of pain and grief as we adjust to life without the presence of our loved one in our lives. We miss their earthly presence. Not being able to see and speak with them, to share the daily ups and downs of life, to do the things we have always done together. We may also be left with feelings of things unfinished. Things we wished we had done or said, or things we did not get to bring to some conclusion in our often complicated relationships with our loved ones. They of course are now at peace and are beyond such concerns, though we may continue to struggle with such feelings, because such is way of our human selves.

Of course we will grieve and mourn. We all go through that process in all its parts however it may manifest itself for us when we lose a loved one. It is part of the way we honor our humanity and our connections with one another. Jesus the Incarnate One, fully human among us, himself wept at the news of the death of his friend Lazarus.

But while we go through this very human process of letting go of and missing G in her earthy life, we can also take some great comfort in the promises of our faith. As Jesus told Martha as she grieved the loss of her brother, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” As Christians we believe that by dying and rising again Jesus has conquered death and that it truly is not an end of life, but only as life as we know it. G, as all of those who have gone on before us, live on in a great community of saints. And we believe that we will all rise again in glory together.

And we can also take comfort in another promise that God has made us in Jesus. And that is the one we hear in Romans, the one that nothing can separate us from God’s love. While we are grieving, or suffering pain, or asking difficult questions, this God who loved us enough to become one of us and is close enough to be called “ abba, father” gathers us up, joins with us in our struggles to offer comfort to us and to let us know we are never, never alone. Our God is with us to carry us through and we can call on God to comfort us as we grieve the loss of G.

Another way that we take comfort as humans is through memory. As long as we carry the memories of our loved ones in our hearts they are never very far from us. While I did not know G personally here at St. James I have been told that she added so much to our dinners here through her wonderful cooking, and that both of your parents were vital members of this community through their love of music and involvement with church and community programs. Everyone I have talked to about her has emphasized her zest for life, and more than one person has use the word "character" to describe her. At this point I would like to offer you some time to come and share with us all some of your memories of G. To tell all of us how she touched your life, so that we all might share in those and find comfort in that this evening.

The Countdown

Well it's six hours until my first funeral. There is a part of me that thinks it is patently ridiculous that I am nervous! I have been a priest for almost two years, ordained in general for longer than that! I should be all cool with this! But, I don't generally like firsts and have never liked being the new kid of any sort. Our sweet little receptionist at the day job picked up my mood this morning and asked me what was up. When I told her what I was stressin' about, she gave me her Dove Promises message: Remember your first everything. I think that's a given with this one.

I was here at the office till about 9:15 last night making up the service booklet. I am a great believer in them. Especially when you don't know who you are going to have in the pews. I love the BCP, but let's face it, for the newcomer, it is not exactly user friendly. So I go to the online prayerbook and do a little cut and paste, take out the extraneous directions and things we are not using, add in the readings, and make up a little book and we are good to go.

Then I went over to church to copy, fold and staple. After I ran the first 35 copies, I realized that I had not quite cut and pasted it in the right order and had to go back and do a fix. Then the copy machine at church, which prints about 10 pages a minute on a good day, kept telling me it was going to run out of toner any minute! Fortunately it did not, but by the time everything was cut, pasted, collated, folded, stapled and tucked up at the back of the church it was well nigh on 11, and me with no sermon. And the dog with no dinner. Well me neither, but I was sort of beyond it at that point! So home I went to feed the dog, clean the cat boxes and, really, I was going to, write a sermon. I made two out of three and crashed!

Fortunately God is good, and I somehow got inspired in the shower this morning. So, hair dripping and ensconced in my robe, I wrote a quick outline sitting in the bathroom before I lost all those good thoughts, and finished it off as soon as I got to work. I may post it later, but this one feels like it needs to be preached first for some reason.

I know, as one of you said in the last comments, that every family has history. And of course we as clergy are in the position to know some of it that people have not necessarily shared with us. That makes it an interesting and delicate proposition to preach the word of God to them at a time when they are particularly fragile and in pain. For some reason, in the midst of all my oh-so-human first-timer fears, this feels like a great gift and at the same time an awesome responsibility. I am really counting on God not to let me get in God's way here! Pray for me that I can do that gracefully? Thanks!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What's Up on the Prairie

It's been pretty quiet in my little corner of the world. We are heading into the dog days of summer around here. High temps and high humidity, which is my kind of weather. Everyone else is whining and I am loving it. Probably because it reminds me of the rivertown summers of my childhood with hot, bright days and gauzy nights full of the sounds of cicadas and nightbirds' calls.

It was a good weekend. Saturday was sermon prep and a little extra church time as I did the bulletins for M who was on vacation, and filled in for the altar guild person who was also gone this week. There is something so sweet to me about Saturday night at church, just putzing around, getting ready for Sunday, making sure everything is all just so, primped and folded, neat and tidy.

Sunday after church I "Sabbathed" by finishing my painting project. I know technically it's work, but it's also creative and restful and satisfying. And it feels ever so good to have one big thing done. Well sort of. I am a messy painter! And now there is the part about getting it off the places it should not be. Even with tape I managed to get paint on the woodwork, the floor and the ceiling. So now that it's all nice and dry, it's time for the solvent and the razor blades. After the painting project I had a nice visit with XDO. We went for ice cream and talked about how things are going since the hospital stay. It feels good to be able to be a supportive friend.

Sunday night I listened to Speaking of Faith on MPR. I really wanted to catch this one, since it was about the importance of play. It was fascinating. People who never played as kids don't tend to turn out well. No surprise. The histories of violent criminals tend to show that they were people who never learned to play well with others. We are apparently wired for play and if we don't, it messes with us in all sorts of ways. So it makes me even happier that I am finally getting the hang of this playing thing at long last! Though I was happy to hear that some of the things I have always done, like reading and writing and daydreaming do count as play. Apparently the sense of timelessness that comes if one is having good play is the thing that really defines it rather than the activity itself. Although active play is good, too, and encouraged, and I do believe I have been far too sedentary in my life! So getting out there and Geocaching is a good thing!

Initially yesterday I thought I was looking at a very quiet week. Then at noon I got a call that a person who had formerly attended our church had died and her family was asking could we have a service for her. Since we rotate the "on-call" duties on our team and it is my turn, I am being tapped, at long last for my first funeral! We have actually kind of joked about this, ordained almost two years and still having not done this...well, now it's time. In a way I think it's kind of easier having this first one be someone I don't really know, but then on the other hand it's also harder. None of the family goes to our church, the parents had in the past and the kids did growing up. The daughter-in-law who called me used to attend but left several years ago....and there is of course some "history" there that I don't know I'm sure. So, Thursday is the day. And it will be fine, of course. This is the beauty of the BCP, one cannot go astray! There will be prayers and scripture, music and time to reflect together on all she meant to those who loved her and the God who loves her, too and welcomes her spirit home. And it will be my privilege to be part of this very intimate moment with strangers.

So that's what's happening in my life. What's up with you?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Romans 8:26-39 Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
I still remember the first time I heard that particular piece of scripture. It may not have been the first time it was read in my presence, but it was the first time I HEARD it. I was at a retreat and it was the text that the retreat master was using for that session. And the reason that I remember it was because of my reaction to those words, which was, I have to say, NOT positive. Because what went immediately through my mind were a whole lot of examples of things that I thought were certainly not working for good for some people I knew at that time whom I believed certainly did love the Lord. There was my friend whose dad was dying of cancer. There was my classmate whose family had lost their house and everything in it to a fire the year before. There was the girl in the class ahead of me whose beautiful and talented older sister had been killed by a drunk driver. How, I thought, could any of those things possibly work together for any kind of good! There were no happy endings here! But fortunately on that retreat day, as on many days since, through God’s amazing grace I have been helped to understand that our relationship with God is not about happy endings, it is not about only good things happening in a pretty world. That is not ever what anyone is ever promised. That would not be realistic. It would be a cheat. There is so much more to the story of our relationship with God than that. It is so much richer and deeper and greater. But it’s a struggle for us as humans to understand the love of God, and apparently it always has been. Jesus tried to explain it to the disciples. That is some of what we have going on in Matthew with the parables we hear today.

The language our translation uses is the “Kingdom of God.” I don’t know about you, but this term, the Kingdom of God, makes me think about the hereafter. Maybe it’s just my upbringing, but it distances it, and makes it even harder for me to think about as something I’m to be engaging with in the here and now. So I played with the language a little bit. What if instead of the Kingdom of God, we call it the way of God or even the love of God instead as we look at some of the parables and see where it takes us?

The way of God is like a mustard seed. Hmmm. Mustard seeds. What the folks in Jesus’ time knew about them that we don’t is that they really didn’t grow trees but big kind of bushy things. And that they went kind of rampant. They got sort of wild. In fact if you planted one in your field you could never be sure just how it was going to grow or where. And the mustard seed is very prolific. It germinates very easily, and once it takes root is very hard to get rid of. It might just take over. You could lose control of it once it begins to grow.

And yeast. If you will recall, in those time unleavened bread is the preferred kind, at least for religious ritual. Yeast or leavening was considered a common thing, even dirty, as it came from letting bread rot until it molded. It is suggested that it is even a metaphor for moral corruption. So Jesus’ listeners may well have been shocked to hear this comparison to God, but it certainly got their attention. The woman (and we know what their status was) “mixed in” the leaven with the flour. And yet we know that no matter what, when mixed into the flour and turned loose, whether it is acceptable or not, yeast will do what yeast will do, when mixed with the flour it will cause the bread to rise and there is no stopping it!

The treasure in the field, which someone found and then hid again. Why? Because it was not his field. It was common in those days for people to hide things by burying them simply because there were few other place to hide them, and the law said whoever owned the field owned what was buried in it. This lucky guy stumbles upon someone else’s treasure, and buys the field in order to have it. Somhow the treasure grasped and possessed him and his only concern in life became getting that treasure no matter what it might cost him. Like the merchant with the pearl in the next parable there was something so great about the treasure that it was worth risking all he had for it.

So what is it Jesus was trying to say here? How is it that the way of God, the love of is like these things? The mustard seed….Something that germinates easily, a small, small thing that once planted takes hold and grows and flourishes. And as it grows it becomes something big and powerful. Big enough to make a resting place. But never something that is entirely predictable, or in our control. In God’s way, expect the unexpected. God is always doing a new thing.
The leavening yeast…the way of God? Jesus seems to be saying that in God’s way, something we reject or turn away from as right, acceptable or good still has the power to transform. Perhaps the message here is, in God’s way, we must look beyond the surface of things because things are not as we see them but as God, who has a bigger picture, does.

And the treasure in the field and the pearl? Both of the men in the parable were overwhelmed by their desire to possess these treasures to the point that the cost no longer mattered, and they would do whatever it took to have what they wanted. Both of them gave everything they had to get the prize. Jesus says imagine being so possessed by God that you would do this, because this is how God is for you. Remember, “for God so loved the world……”

So we have a picture painted by Jesus in parables of a prolific, tenacious, transforming and loving God. One who makes old things new, breaks rules and colors outside the lines. One who has a bigger picture than our little human minds could ever conceive, and who we are forever striving to capture in some way that we can make sense of.

Which leads us back to Romans. “What then are we to say about these things?” These things that happen…my girlfriend’s dad who did die of cancer, and the fire and the sister who was killed and all those other sad and painful things that happen in all of our lives? What we are to say, I think, is what Paul says in the rest of what he writes in Romans, and what Jesus said in the parables in today’s Gospel. “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?.... Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The way of God, this mysterious, transformative, sometimes overwhelming relationship with this prolific, tenacious, transforming and loving God who makes old things new, breaks rules and colors outside the lines and who has this big picture that is way bigger than we can grasp with our limited human vision. This God who “so loved the world” that He was willing to become one of us. This God is not a gumball-machine God who responds to requests like Santa Claus giving out happily ever afters. This is not what Paul had in mind. I get that now. It wasn’t ever about that. It’s not about what happens when, or what happens if. It’s about what happens now, in every single minute of God-with-us in the Kingdom that is here, God in the midst. God who grows great from small, transforms one thing into another, turns peoples lives upside down, even in the middle of what sometimes seem impossible circumstances. Our task, as Solomon in his wisdom knew, was to discern. To look for the signs of God at work in our lives and others, to carry on the conversation with God and do as much listening as we do talking to come to know how the stories of our lives are working together towards God’s dream of good for us.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Five:What You Absolutely, Positively Cannot leave Home Without

Singing Owl says: "We will be at a chaplain's convention when you all are answering the Friday Five Questions. I'll look forward to reading your answers next week when I get home. At the moment we are trying to get the car loaded so we can hit the road, so this will be a simple F.F. This running around madly in order to leave has me wondering: what are the five things you simply must have when you are away from home? And why? Any history or goofy things, or stories?"

1. Comfy shoes
2. SlicStick (the stuff you put on under the comfy shoes "just in case" so they don't give you blisters)
3. First aid kit containing all sorts of ointments, bandaids, unguents, creams, tapes, etc. etc. etc. (mostly used when the comfy shoes and the SlicStick fail and the blisters come we see the theme emrging here?)
4.CD player with my "night music" to deal with the insomnia of strange places and strange beds without waking the neighbors
5. (Slight twofer cheat here cuz they always travel together) My journal and my small Book of Common Prayer

Yes I am the person on the trip who has the bandaids and the aspirin and the Tums and the whatever. I carry two big ziplocs full of "stuff" related to whatever might befall us, as well as safety pins, a small sewing kit, glasses fixer, etc. I started doing this when I went on my annual yoga retreats to Mexico and it just became a travel habit. Every now and then a new "disaster" will befall us and I'll add a new thing, like when we had to fix someone's glasses with pipecleaners, I added the glasses kit. I guess there's something in me that likes being the go-to gal!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Catchup Post

I haven't had much to say this week it seems. It's not that there is nothing going on. There is always something going on. I've had a cold for what seems like forever and as a result my head feels like it's full of sawdust and cotton wool. That makes me feel less than articulate sometimes. It also makes me feel tired. Some of the time when I would normally be blogging, I have simply been sleeping.

I've also been having computer woes. About three months ago I had to have the plug-in whatsy welded on my lap-top as it was wobbling and not making contact properly. It's doing it again. The choice is to fix it again or get a new laptop. I'm thinking the latter as this one's almost seven years old, and they tell me that's like a hundred in computer years! My computer guy tells me that this wobbliness could at any point burn out my whole motherboard....eeeps. And I can't budget in a new computer til September. So the solution has been to bed down the laptop on the desk and Not. Move. It. in the hopes that I can gentle it along until I can get a new one. This too impacts my blogging behavior as I would often tuck myself up in bed at night all cozy and read blogs and comment until I got sleepy. Sitting at my desk is just not the same, so I find I'm not spending as much time with you all. Drat!

Life has also been having its fits and starts. L is having a rough time. The baby momma has been in town with the little guy D. That was good news last week when she was all sugar and charm. Today she has turned on L and is refusing all calls and contact, back to her previous games, I fear. He is devastated. He does not do devastated well. He no longer has the structure or support of CH to fall back on, he's not working, his roommate has not turned out to be a stabilizing influence. He's been hanging out with some folks from his past that are worrisome, not keeping appointments, and making some of those fatalistic statements again that scare me so. It's one day at a time, sometimes not even that.

XDO had a trip to the hospital for the depression that is an ongoing issue. I ended up being the transportation. It could have been weird, but it ended up being a gift. Sometimes we really do end up being exactly where we need to be. And sometimes we have grace enough to act how we ought to act, too! We ended up having a very amazing conversation in the car on the way to the hospital (which is an hour and a half away) about Jesus and forgiveness. I don't know, it just happened. Or not. But it was good.

And then there is my own stressor that is just kind of hanging around. Most of the time I manage not to think about it, except for the middle of the night and first thing in the morning and at random times during the day...and then I have to simply push it away because nothing can be done now except turn it over to God and trust that all will be well.

I've been going out to play as often as I can....geocaching with Soul Sister S and now with C. We have dubbed ourselves the Geo Trio. We have been out twice and have a pretty good time. I have something like ten caches found now and no broken bones yet. We have sent off a Travel bug and I found a GeoCoin! It's all good. They think I'm a little crazy because I get one coordinate and want to just plunge into the brush towards the other one, but hey, it worked last time, didn't it? I see that Speaking of Faith on MPR is doing a show on the importance of play on Sunday...I have to remember to podcast that one!

The other thing I'm doing is painting, though I seem to have stalled with the room 3/4 done. Soul Sister C helped pick the colors and they are luscious. Pictures to come when I'm done.
So there's the catchup post from my world. Life keeps on turning. Grace, even in the midst, does abound.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Passing the Torch

Mompriest has awarded me the Arte y Pico Award, and I thank her for the honor. This is a traveling award for creative blogging, and the rules stipulate that that honoree picks five new awardees as stipulated in the following rules:

1) Pick five blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also for contributing to the blogging community, in no matter what language.
2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.
3) Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.
4) The award-winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of Arte Y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award -- which is here So, though it was difficult to choose just five, there being so much creativity out there (as evidenced by the fact that so many of you are already sporting this lovely lady) I present this award to the following bloggers:

The Crimson Rambler
whose wit and use of the English language can put me in a swoon any day.

Diane who was one of my
first blogging buddies and one of my first IRL contacts. And who I am going to be
proud to say “I knew when” as her first book is published.

imingrace who is being
ordained this weekend and who has been writing of the journey to that place
(which has been precarious at times) with the grace that fits her name.

Eliza whom I admire for her
incredible courage and literal grace under fire. The future of TEC is here and it is

Ruth at Ruth’s Visions and
Revisions whose lovely pictures and words uplift me and thoughts about
those who are hurting take me out of myself. Thanks Ruth!

A Timely Reminder....

I am often inspired by the daily meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society. But some days it feels like it was written just for me, where I am in the moment and it stops me in my tracks. From reading blogs I know there are many of us right now who are dealing with some heavy emotional issues, and this seemed particularly appropriate this morning, so I thought I'd share it:

What We Feel Is Not Who We Are
Our emotional lives move up and down constantly. Sometimes we experience great mood swings from excitement to depression, from joy to sorrow, from inner harmony to inner chaos. A little event, a word from someone, a disappointment in work, many things can trigger such mood swings. Mostly we have little control over these changes. It seems that they happen to us rather than being created by us.Thus it is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God's beloved children. Henri Nouwen

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Musings in my Garden on Good and Evil

I have been thinking lately about good and evil. This is probably no coincidence as I have been dealing recently with putting to rest (I hope) the spiritual abuse that took place when I was in high school. While I do not wish to paint the perpetrator of that abuse herself as an evil person, certainly any act of abuse carries within it an element of that which is evil, that is something which is totally “not good,” not of God. We had talked about that part of it often, C and I, as we wrestled with how much of a hold G still had on me after all these years, how her words to me on the stairs still burned in my soul. How those feelings of shame and inadequacy were still so easily triggered in me by the slightest feeling that I was doing something others might perceive as unacceptable for some reason. How even the need to be a “good priest” could set me off on a downward spiral. C would say over and over as I struggled to break free of this, “Clearly this is not of God.” And I would agree, and remain trapped in its grip. No, G was not evil. She was, herself likely abused, and she was using us to get her own needs met in ways that were unhealthy and damaging to us. She was twisted and she was dangerous and it is very unfortunate that she was allowed to run riot in our young lives.

Because it is in such places that evil, or Evil, if you will, I think steps in and takes advantage of the moment. For if God has dreams for us, Evil too, has its own designs, nightmares perhaps, that can unfold if the circumstances are right and the humans are cooperative. And Evil, I think very much wants its way. And Evil, having no qualms of conscience to hinder its path, will use whatever is available in the moment to have those dark dreams and plans come to be in our lives.

Sometimes the timing is just so uncanny it’s hard to believe it’s all just circumstantial. A round was won on that Friday night for freedom, for good, and I think I can say for God, because I know God smiled on it. A great bondage in my soul, which Evil needs to flourish, was released. The dark whispers that held me captive were suddenly no longer powerful, no longer working to keep me enthralled. In a new and very powerful way I belonged solely and utterly and wholly to God. There were no parts left behind, caught in the web of shame and confusion spun those many years ago. Nothing to catch, nothing to trip on, nothing here now for Evil to take advantage of. And sometimes it’s very strange how things “just happen” in time. On that Friday, I became free and found new strength in myself. On Monday that freedom and strength faced an attack. A strike out towards me in those places where I am most vulnerable. It seems almost as if Evil is looking for its wedge, its way back in, or perhaps rattling at the gates to see if there are places where this new knowledge and freedom will not hold. A place where I might be convinced to retreat again to that stairway in defeat, convinced again that she was right after all, that I am irredeemable and bad and everything good in me is sham and artifice.

But surprisingly, while I am angry and frightened, I have not been extremely triggered. Oh, there have been moments when I have heard the Critical Voice saying the expected things, the “What did you expect?” the “Of course!” and the “So who will care for you now!” There have been a few minutes of a slimy voice in my head that said “this is what you get for thinking you could get away….” And one that tried to link these events up as punishment for every sin I have ever committed! But all of that has been the exception, not the rule and it has been mercifully short-lived. There have also been, I have to admit, a few moments of “OK, God, where are you in all of this?” on my part, a few moments of some anger at God about it all. I am not happy about that. I wish I had more faith, more trust, more acceptance that all will be well, no matter what comes.

But Evil doesn’t get its way here. No matter what. There is no going back. Love wins. Truth wins. And that is all there is to it. And I know that God is in this. God is in the clear and present witness of those who are standing with me, supporting me, loving me, praying with and for me here, and across the world for heaven’s sake! God is with me in what I read this morning in Romans: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (12:14-21). God is with me in the strength that I feel in being able to keep pulling myself back from the edge when I want to go to the dark place of worst-case scenarios and what-ifs. God is with me in the timing. If that particular Friday had not come before Monday….I shudder to think of how much worse this would be.

I will be preaching on another passage from Romans a week from Sunday. About how all things work for good for those who love God. That has always been a hard one for me, because clearly that is not about happy endings. We don’t always get happy endings. I may not get one now. But I have something new to say about that passage now I think. It’s not about the ending….it’s about what happens in the midst, God in the midst, with us as we walk and hold that line against the places where Evil would like to seep back into our lives, or maybe create places where none were, or take advantage of natural occurrences and vulnerabilities. God is with us, and Evil ultimately has been defeated, and because of that we can hold the line and in the end, that really is all that matters. Thanks be to God.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Five: What's in a Name

RevHRod says:If you are a regular reader of Songbird's blog, you know that "The Princess" has requested a new name. Her older brother changed his "secret identity" a while back and now this lovely young lady is searching for a new name on her mother's blog. This got me to thinking. How do we come up with all of these names? There must be at least a few good stories out there.In honor of the Princess I have posted a picture of one of my favorite members of fictional royalty, Robert Munch's "Paperback Princess." She is a brave young woman who doesn't need anyone else to fight her battles. And she knows that what is most important isn't tiaras and finery but what's on the inside. If you haven't read this little fairy tale, I highly recommend it. But I digress.

1.So how did you come up with your blogging name? And/or the name of your blog? I had a name for my blog before I had a blog. When I moved out here to the prairie, I fell in love with the light. I moved in October, and there was just this quality to it that drew me in. I photographed it, I wrote about it, I obsessed about it. So when I was noodling around with the idea of a blog....well of course PrairieLight just had to be it! And my name evolved from my vanity plates which are "drkate" coupled with ordination as it seemed to capture my many hatted identity.

2.Are there any code names or secret identities in your blog? Any stories there? I seem for the most part to keep it simple, using just initials for people. The only complicated one has been since my separation trying to figure out what to call the person who formerly was my Dear One or DO and now my XDO! Yeah. And I did have to giggle at one point when I was feeling a little less than warm towards said blog sisters were right in there with me in solidarilty if not exactly Christian charity, tying to come up with some names!

3.What are some blog titles that you just love? For their cleverness, drama, or sheer, crazy fun? Oh way way too many to list, and kind of like the academy awards, afraid I'd miss someone...let's just say I am constantly amazed by cleverness and plays on words that people can come up with related to the church, scripture, etc. And of course there is the "parental pride" we all feel towards the blog we helped name while on the BE!

4.What three blogs are you devoted to? Other than the RevGalBlogPals of course! By the time I have read all my blogroll blogs I don't have a lot of time to go roaming elsewhere. I try to check on the Episcopal blogs with some regularity to keep up with church news, and lately that has been about it. My Bishop is blogging as he goes to Lambeth and that has been great to hear from him "on the ground" there.

5.Who introduced you to the world of blogging and why? I first heard of blogging on Textweek and followed a link to Blogger. I set it up, did one post and forgot about it for over a year. Then about the time of the 2007 FoH, C told me about the RevGals preacher party. I checked it out on the Saturday that everyone left behind was partying and I was shocked and appalled! Truly. (Y'all have to remember that I was newly minted and still pretty uptight at that point.) But I mean! Preachers and pastors talking about teh Clooney and massages and pedicures and such! Well fortunately for the state of my soul I got over my little self and gave RevGals another chance, dipped my toe in the blogging waters....and the rest has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me! I have written at length on my blog about the transformational aspects of blogging, as least as it happens here, so won't go there now....but, yeah, it's a good thing, as Martha would say.

Bonus question: Have you ever met any of your blogging friends? Where are some of the places you've met these fun folks? Oh heavens yes! I met my first RevGal in person, Diane back in the Fall last year up in the Big City when I was tooling around the state for some church stuff. We had brunch with her lovely husband, and had a great meetup. I got to see her again at the FoH this Spring, too! I also got to meet a whole bunch of all y'all at the BE, and see some of you again at the Festival and then meet new RevGals there too! It is sooooo cool to meet people in person. I still have the BE picture on my computer as my screen saver and all of those lovely smiling faces greet me each morning as I start my day and bring back memories of our time together. I am hoping for more personal meetings in the future at RevGal events and in other ways.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

To My Beloved RevGals

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:3-6

For all of your comments and prayers and encouragement and love, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I feel cherished and held and supported and cared for. You cannot imagine what this means to me. You are all just the best!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Trust and Faith

The tender shoots of new born freedom are bravely holding forth. This is a good and kind of an amazing thing. I am being faced with a pretty big challenge to that fragile faith in myself and my trust in being a beloved child of God. I cannot blog about the details but suffice it to say, a lot hangs on it, and it's one of those things that will taken an excruciatingly long time to reveal itself. In the meantime life will go on, and I must trust in God's unfailing love and the truth of the Scripture I will preach on the 27th from Romans, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose....What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" That and the power of having faith the size of mustard seeds...which I've gotta say is about how big mine feels right now. I guess I would just be asking you to kind of put me on the "special intentions" prayer list for the next few months and I'll keep you posted when I can.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Chapter in Which Kate Gets Free at Last

A while back I wrote a post about someone who was significant to me when I was in high school. In that post I talked a bit about how much G was able to hurt me with her cold words and her treatment of me. In the months since I wrote that, I have come to understand that what she did was much more than that. What she did was spiritual abuse, it was soul stealing and it was profoundly damaging to me. For over forty years I have carried not only the pain of the words she said to me, but a part of me has remained absolutely stuck and rooted on the stairway where I collapsed when she said them, stopped in my tracks in part of my growth in a sense. Because what she told me was that I was "not lovable", that I was "not worthy" of any one's love and care. She of course, being the wonderful person that she was, could go above and beyond that and would care for me anyway....she would fly in the face of all the "others" who told her she was "wasting her time" on me, on my "phony, fakey" self whom "everyone knew" would "never amount to anything."

Those words became a part of me, she became a part of me. In psychological terms, she was an introject in my personality. Whenever I was stressed, or something happened that reminded me in any way of her, or my back was against the wall (like any time I felt guilty about anything...which for me is pretty much any time I am less than perfect!), it would trigger stuff about this. She of course was the lead the critical voice in my head, always ready to shame me, to remind me that I am indeed not really ok, not really loveable, despite much evidence to the contrary. I have been working away at this whole thing for years in various ways, in therapy, in body work, and most recently in spritual direction, knowing that many of my issues were connected with G and my relationship with her, that she stood in the way of true authenticity and freedom for me, and getting more and clear of late that what she did was abusive.

Last night I think I got free. I have known all along I was not the only girl she befriended. I knew there were a group of us, and I knew we were all kind of fringey girls. Loners, kids whose family lives were not the best, or who did not fit in socially, or who had "issues" of one kind or another. I also knew she did not want us to know one another, and actively discouraged friendships between us. As we talked in spiritual direction last night, the light bulb finally went on! C had mentioned the possibility of trying to look up the other girls and see how she had treated them, if she had done something similar to them. My first reaction had been fear that if I found them they would say I was the only one she said those things to, behaved that way with, but then suddenly, I knew! I knew as if it were written clearly on the wall before me. It was her perp rap! She said it to all of us in some form or was not about me....We we all her victims. I did nothing to deserve this any more than any client of mine does anything to deserve any of the abuse they incur. None of it was the truth about me. Though it was directed at me personally it was not about me personally. All of the things she said to me were designed to give and keep her in power over me. And it worked. Oh did it work. She has been gone from my life physically for over fifteen years now...and only now does she NO LONGER have power over me. Because today it is done. For the first time since I was sixteen she is not in my head. I am free of her. I expect that there will be backsliding moments. I know this is not a miracle cure. But just for today, I am enjoying life without her and thanking God for endurance, patience and really good SDs!

In the moment when I knew, that fifteen year old part of me that has been stuck on the stairway rose and began walking. She walked away from G down the stairs and out of that school. She started dropping books and shedding things until she was as light as air. She walked and then she ran and she picked up speed until she was flying. She flew into God and she flew into my heart where at least at this moment she safely remains.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Little Good News

Thank you all for your prayers. He is hanging in. Yesterday his nineteen month old son's mother showed up with his little guy in tow. L has been wanting to see D forever. B had been playing games with him about this the whole time he was in CH, making and breaking promises to him to the point that he had just given up on ever seeing him. Earlier this week L had gotten a Father's Day card with some pictures of little D. He showed them to me and again said how much he hoped some day B would let him see his son. Well, suddenly out of the blue, there she was at his door. He said had no idea how she found out where he lived, nor does he care. They stayed for several hours. He took them out for a burger and to the park. He got to actually play with his kid for the first time in D's life. It was a ray of light in an otherwise dark week.

While B and D were there, the leaders from L's treatment group paid a call. He says they told him they were concerned about him. "Yeah." he says. They asked him who B was and the child was. They asked for IDs all around. He says he thinks they seemed satisfied with the results of the visit. They asked if he was doing "anything bad, like drinking or drugs" and he said, "This is my son, I don't even smoke in front of him." He says he asked if they would like to see his place, and he showed them everything, the closets, the fridge, the bathroom..."I have nothing to hide." He says they seemed cool with him by the time they left. Let us hope that this is so. He says it was a good day. A good day is a good thing. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

And then......

there was the Wednesday after Baptism day. It all started out pretty good. We talked last night and finally got his voice mail to work on his phone. We went over the schedule for today and put it on his calendar. It was a big one. The first day back in the all important group, the one that so much hinges on. Work in the morning, a meeting at 1:45 and group at 4. How would he get there? A good question as CH had always taken him. Well, he said, he could bike, but he didn't know the way. So we mapped it out. He called me around 1 for a refresher on the directions and I cautioned him to allow plenty of time to get there as we both know the group folks don't allow tardiness.

At 4:15 my cell buzzed. I was in session with a client, but I just knew....And after work when I called him back, yes the dreaded news, he had been late and kicked out. But not for the reason I thought, because he got lost, or left too late, or messed around on the way. No, this one is no-fault on him, and it makes me so angry it's unbloggable! Seems someone (have yet to know who) set up a ride. He was told not to bike but to wait for it, and the ride showed up at 4:05! The group leaders don't are late, it's your fault, no excuses, you should have thought about your ride being late earlier....yeah, that's how they think. He's mad. I'm way beyond there. And we are both pretty scared about what's next. The test and now this. Not looking good for life on the outside continuing.....

I can talk all I want about the grace of God supporting him, but until the good sense of humans catches up....I just don't know!

Monday, July 07, 2008


The body of Christ has grown by at least one member as of yesterday. L's Baptism service was very, very wonderful. There is really something to be said for baptising someone who can actually look you in the eye and answer those "Do you renounce..." questions with a heartfelt "I do renounce them." I know he had really thought about the questions and meant those answers deeply.

When I baptized my first (and only) baby, I said that baptising was very high on my favorite things to do as a priest. This is something I could get used to doing more of given the chance, little people, big people....born again in water and the spirit, welcoming people into this communion....and reminding us all that we are called to be part of something large and wonderful with God....yep, I could do this more often.

Yesterday was festive and solemn, joyous and grave...the way the best sacramental liturgy is, I think. We had some regular hymns on the organ and praise music that L selected from DC Talk and New Song on the CD player. Some of the readings were from traditional translations, but we read the Gospel from The Message (a departure for my place on a Sunday morning!) The blessing was adapted from a prayer of Chief Seattle. It was eclectic, it was focused on L, and it was full of wonder and blessing.

We don't know what is coming next for him. But whatever it is, he carries into it with him something more than the last time he faced these dark times. He's holding fast to that, and so am I.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Sermon for July 6, 2008 L’s Baptism

Romans 8:14-17, John 3:1-6

Well it is clear that something special is happening here today. We have the font up in front, we have special bulletins, we have experienced something different with our music. We are celebrating! Today we are baptizing L and baptism is always a cause for celebration. Most often in our church of course, we baptize babies, tiny little ones whose moms and dads bring them to us for baptism because it is part of the parents’ faith tradition to do so. And that is a wonderful thing. Because baptism is the sacrament that carries the lineage of the faith. It makes us one with Christ, and as it says in the Baptismal liturgy, “marks us as Christ’s own forever.” But it also makes us part of the family of Christ, makes us part of the body, of the community of believers. It gives us our directives as what it means to be followers of Jesus, too, in the promises we make as part of the baptismal covenant. So it’s a wonderful thing when parents want this for their child.

But when a full-grown adult person steps forward and asks to be baptized as L did – that to me is quite a wonderful and amazing thing. Something that might make us stop and think for a moment, might make us ask, why? Why would this person who has been going along unbaptized up until this point makes this decision, and why now?
So I asked L this question. And he had what I thought was a very good answer. He said, “Because I want to follow Jesus.” As we talked more about what that meant he talked about wanting a new way of being, a new life, in a sense being born again.

As we looked at the readings we could choose from for today, the Gospel from John we heard this morning seemed very fitting to both L and I. When I initially met L he was in a very dark place. But in that dark place he had already encountered Jesus. He, like Nicodemus had belief and faith, and a desire to know more about God. Like Nicodemus, he was, and is, searching for answers to some very big questions about the truth of God and the ways God would have us live our lives. Nicodemus had a sense that Jesus was someone who could give him some answers. L has a sense that belonging to this faith community will help him continue to grow in his own faith journey. That by making this commitment to a faith tradition, he becomes part of something larger than himself, a community of believers who will both sustain him in his own faith and who he will give to in turn. That to follow this Jesus, he needs to know him better, and that this is a safe and good place in which to do that, that this is a place where we study and learn and practice the ways that Jesus taught us to live and can support him in doing that, too.

Because baptism is a two-way street. In baptism we say that we are “born-again” of water and the Spirit. What does that mean? To be born of the water of course references the cleansing of our sins and imperfections in the baptismal waters. It reminds us that we truly do begin anew, putting on a new person in Christ, making a new beginning from today forward. What does it mean to born of the Spirit? It means to have the peace and love of Jesus living inside in us. It is having the Spirit of Jesus taking up residence in us and living within us. It means we can be strengthened to do the things that alone we could not do, to face the things we could not face, because we are doing them not on our own strength alone, but on the strength of that indwelling Spirit of God.

But it also means that expectations are placed on us. At baptism we make a covenant. As we are “born-again of water and spirit” we are given some directives and make some promises as Christians…these are “to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves and striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.” L has promised this today as he commits himself to Christ. And we have promised to help him and to help each other do this as we renewed these promises. It’s a tall order, isn’t it? But the good news, as it says in Romans, is that we have received the Holy Spirit and by this power we call God “Abba,” Father. This God is closer to us than our very breath and loves us more than we could ever imagine. As L will be in a few moments, we are all baptized by water and Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever, beloved and called. May we all, like L, follow Jesus.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Word of the Day

When we went on the BE, we all picked a word the first night to be "our word" for the duration of our time together. A word to meditate on, to walk, to pray with, to live with. Since the cruise, the lovely Ruby has gifted all of us with our very own complete set of the words we selected from to use in our own lives back here in the dry land world. It has become my practice to select a word on Monday with morning prayer to set the tone for the week. And once in a while, when things get rough, I will go to my little Guatemalan bag that my sweet word cards live in and draw one, just as a way of connecting with Spirit, getting an extra focus, seeing what God might be having to say in the midst. Yesterday, I felt the need to do that when I came home from all that had gone on in the day. The word? Trust.

Trust indeed. A mighty challenge in these times. Trust in what precisely? The system? Doubtful. That any of this makes sense? Hardly! That there is a bigger picture here that I cannot see? Well I am supposed to be able to trust that, right? And I am trying. Trust L and his ability to survive yet one more blow? Yes to that. We talked last night, and of course he gets it. Duh. He was, we must remember, the one who had to tell me about the facts of life when it came to "real jail" and "real court." He knows without a PO or me or anyone else telling him exactly what the implications of this are. And he also really knows what it means to be Christ's own in this, and that it changes things, even, or maybe especially, should jail be a future (only temporary!) destination. There is trust, (or at least I'm working on it) that no matter what, all will be well, that I am with him and God is with us and grace abounds and love is unconditional and endures all things. I could pin some hope on that.

I am still incredibly sad for him today. And angry and upset about some things that are unbloggable. But so proud of him for being resilient and just going on. Going to work and hanging out with his friends today and continuing to furnish his place and acting as if it's all just going to be ok. Because that too, is trust. Maybe he knows something I don't, or gets this all at a level I can't seem to grasp. Or maybe he is just more fatalistic about life than I am. Things. Just. Happen. Expect it. Trust that you can't expect solid ground and be prepared for whatever comes. Live therefore in this moment. It is the one you have.

So I'm walking that word, sitting in the light of that word, praying on that word. Trust. Thinking lots about those two sermons I preached....don't be anxious because it wastes so much time that Jesus needs from us to be doing other living in the only time we have, like baptising and celebrating and hoping and healing and remembering that we are those little sparrows that God cares for.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The postscript....sad side

L is back from the testing....the news is not so good. He flunked. The "test" was a polygraph required by the program he is in, mandated by the courts. His "flunking" it theoretically demonstrates to them that he is not progressing in said program, not learning the error of his ways. Their answer to this is to dismiss him. If this occurs it is a probation violation. We all know what happens when your probation gets violated. You sure don't get to stay in your sweet new apartment, or go to your great new job, or worship with your faith community. No, you go to jail. Never mind that he still says he never did do the crime and that he only pled to it because the PD told him it was his best shot of getting out, that not to do so was to court more jail time after he had already been sitting there for five months, that there was "information from his past that might be used against him." I pled too today. I pled with the PO not to tell him all this until after Sunday. To let him just enjoy a few days laboring under the delusion that life is ok, to let him just get baptized and become part of this church family, to just let him bask in that a little first. He's thinking about it, the PO is. Pray for L. Pray for that PO too, if you would. He has some hard thinking to do.


So when I got to CH yesterday, L's counselor said, "Great news! L can move into his place today!" It seems the funders, realizing that he had challenges in the housing department, and, I think, being more than a little impressed that he had gone and found himself a place that would accept him, decided to overlook the inspection and give him the go-ahead to take the place. And since it was ready, due to L's hard work on it....well, why not! So last night, instead of moving him to my place, I moved the airbed to his for a temporary fix until a real bed comes along. I also took over a few of life's little necessities that I figured a nineteen year old on his own for the first time might overlook (TP for instance) and helped him get his room set up. It's a pretty cute place, upstairs over a retail store on our main commercial drag through town. It's next to the Chinese buffet and walking distance to at least four fast food works! I also decided that L needed to be able to "reach out and touch" so I had gotten him a TracPhone and put some minutes on it to be used to reach me or others in his support network as needed. After we were done getting his place together, we went out to a neighborhood grill to have a burger and try to get the phone set up. I wanted to get a sense of how he was really doing with all of this. He has never been on his own, and in the afternoon at his "graduation" from CH he had made the comment that this was the longest he'd been "out of an institution" since he was nine. Interesting that he did not think of CH as "an institution." High praise for them, I'd say. But OMG....I knew this about him in a sort of abstract way, but to hear it like that....well, it knocked me over. So I wanted to feel him out, see if he was really ok with this "on my own thing." Yes the Reverend Mother is hovering! And as we talked he admitted he was pretty freaked. This week especially is hard as he is alone there. His roommate is being discharged from CH next week and will join him. At that point, things, I think will feel easier. My guy is a pack animal! He also had to go for his testing today and he was nervous about that. His ride was picking him up at 6 a.m. and both of us were a little worried that he might not get up in time. So I offered to get him an alarm clock from my place before I took him home, and he looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, "Could I just sleep on your floor tonight, please?" This from the guy who does not ask for anything. Ever. Who is afraid to be a burden. Who has, as he says, "adapted" to life with little. He is, I think, kind of an ascetic. When we were talking with his new support team about his material needs at his meeting, they kept asking him if he needed this or that and he kept turning it down. He says he doesn't mind sitting in the dark, and taking his showers short and cold because that it how he grew up. "You can adapt," he says. So I'm trying to plant the seed of the idea that you can also "adapt" to joy, to love, to abundance.

He did not want to have the traditional medallion ceremony that CH gives the graduates. All the house comes together and passes around a token with a butterfly on one side and the Serenity Prayer on the other. Each person holds it and says what the graduate has meant to him or her or what he or she wishes for this person in their new life. L did not want this ceremony, he cannot tolerate that much good stuff at one time. But we sort of forced the issue and he came through beautifully, actually reading a poem he had a written to the group at the end. I cried, of course.

He and I reminisced at dinner last night. How he thought the jailers had the wrong guy when they came and told him he had a visitor the first time I came. And how worried he was when they transferred him to the other county because I wouldn't know where he went, and how totally amazed he was that I tracked him down. And how funny he thought it was that I didn't know anything about "real life" when it came to court and jail and he had to tell me the facts. Yeah. And I told him how absolutely weird it was that God kept telling me I had to go back to the jail and visit this guy after the Bible study, and when I didn't do it right away the first week, there was some serious insisting going on, and how that has never happened in my life before, where I have heard so clearly a direction from God to "Go, do." And he said, "Yeah, that's pretty cool I guess." And we talked about his Baptism on Sunday and that he might as well get used to the idea that I am going to cry because I have never baptised someone I love before and it ain't gonna be easy to read the prayers through the tears, but I have a feeling it's going to be the best thing ever!

So of course he spent the night. I "made" him sleep on the couch and not the floor. He had Maggie and cats for company. We got him to his ride on time, fortified with a cup of coffee and a peanut butter sandwich. He will be at this testing all day. Much, much hinges on all of this. I will be praying he can be calm and strong and true to the beautiful soul he is, and not get scared into....well just not get scared. I wonder where he will be sleeping tonight? Wherever it is, it's fine with me as long as he is safe.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Today's the Day!

L arrives this evening. After Soul Sisters Bible study I will go to CH and get him and his stuff. I have to admit I am a little nervous. A lot nervous actually. Lose sleep nervous. I feel about him on a grander human scale the way I do about all my little transplants in my garden. What if this doesn't "take" so well and he withers in my care? I certainly cannot keep the close eye on him that the CH staff could 24-7. Oh, it's not that he will do anything untoward. He is not that kind of person at all. But he loses focus easily, forgets to go places and do things. And he has places to go and things to do that have lots riding on them if he forgets. Like jail! I have never been a parent, what if I mess up! My various selves are all have something to say about this. There is my hostess self that wants this to be good and pleasant for him who is going on about sheets and towels, rugs and dressers, and my mother self that wants it to be nurturing and memory building who is coming up with all sorts of things to do to give him a piece of the childhood that is missing in his life. Then there is my priest self that is concerned about Sunday and his Baptism and all the stuff I still have to get done for that, as well as the prepping and rehearsing of him and his cast of characters so we can all be relaxed and easy for the big event itself. Then there is my selfish self that is whining about the whole thing! Oh I burn with shame to admit that, but it's true. I have gotten spoiled in these last weeks of solitiude. I like my space, my freedom, and something in me is a wee bit cranky about having to consider another in all things again, even for awhile. I guess there is a message there for sure! Maybe more than one, now that I think about it. And clearly I should think about it. More. And I will, but not today. Today I have other things to think about. Or not. Everything is pretty much ready. The bed's made, space has been made in the closet in his room and the bathroom. We will go to the grocery store tonight. As I have no clue what he eats, there was no point to doing that ahead. I have thought a bit about the "house rules" and the quirks in the plumbing I must remember to tell him about so we don't have a flood. I will get a house key made for him today. The staff at CH will give me a copy of his upcoming appointments and we will post them on the fridge and check them daily. The rest, I guess, is up to the God who brought us together in the first place. So off we go on the next chapter of L's story. I know I can count on you all to pray on!