Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday Thoughts

Ok so it's Thursday....halfway through in fact.  I'm back from clergy conference...a challenging time in which we tried to have honest conversation with each other about a number of things, look the future of the church in the face (and how we all might fit in it)....and not be too anxious about any of that.   In my free time this morning I've been wrestling none-too-successfully with Sunday's Gospel as I'm preaching Sunday and I have pretty much nothing at this point that feels worth saying. Can I say I'm tired?  So of course I am taking the avoidance route! Always a strategy when I can't find a way through....just ignore the whole business.

I really am feeling very "waffly" these days about a number of things....running kind of hot and cold.  I find I can get kind of momentarily enthused about things...workwise, churchwise, home and self-improvemement wise...but then, without too much ado, I seem to fizzle before action.  I'm not sure what that's about.  The waning of heat and light? Burnout? Early onset of the annual seasonal funk? I'm feeling "with" the apostles, needing an infusion of something..."increase my..... faith." Sure, that would be good! And yes, I guess I take comfort in what I've been reading in a lot of the increase is not the answer...what you have is enough, what you are is enough.  Can I extrapolate?  Dare I?  That maybe I can just be for now?  That maybe what might constitute faith in this case also might include faith in "it will be ok" even without my doing it, willing it, fixing it, changing it or making it happen least for right now.  That I might rely for bit on God and grace to simply carry me along without too much efforting on my part?  That there might even, who knows, be something I could learn here....remember here? 

At any rate, the day is moving along, even if I am not, and the tasks are back to it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Monk in the World Day 7 Conversion

 "Conversion for me means to always allow myself to be surprised by God. It invites me to a sense of wonder and awe and recognizing that God's imagination is far wider than my own." Christine Valters Paintner

I have a relationship with conversion that goes back into my past as far as I can remember.  God and I have been playing hide and seek with my soul since I was old enough to know there was  God....and I have often been surprised.  I have often been surprised by God's tenacity with me, with the creativity and gusto with which pursuit was waged over this one soul who often, for years at a stretch gave no signs of even being remotely interested in relating back, and at other times fell into love with this same God with a passion that would please even the most ardent of suitors.

I have, at times longed for an altar call....wished  for the chance to make public proclamation of a commitment of my converted self, as if somehow that would, once and for all seal this thing, end this chase, stop this run round and round that we do, God and I.  We do it still, and still I am amazed at the will to pursue this soul, this willful child....gone again a-wandering.  Not so far, not so long it's true....but somehow lost to God and Self again. somehow strayed. Strayed to place where it's easy to forget, to lose sight of the wideness, the expanse of God. To get mired in the minutia of human trivia and forget that this is not all, this is not it.

Christine cites the line from Benedict's Rule "always we begin again." I am it seems never really converted but always in that process somewhere, always converting, again and again at the point of beginning.... and God it seems takes this chance to always be doing something new. Because I am frequently caught off guard by God.  Awe and wonder?  Perhaps.  And sometimes just plain stark shock. God of the Universe...calling me back...yet again to be surprised by love.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Friday Five: We Who Sing Pray Twice"

Mary Beth says: "Music is a part of the human experience, and part of religious traditions the world over. It is evocative and stirring, and many forms of worship are incomplete without it.

Our title comes from a quote popularly attributed to St. Augustine: "He who sings prays twice." A little Googling, however, indicates that Augustine didn't say exactly that. In fact, what he said just doesn't fit well onto a t-shirt. So we'll stick with what we have. "Singing reduces stress and increases healthy breathing and emotional expression. Singing taps into a deep, age-old power available to all of us. When we find our voice, we find ourselves. Today, sing like you mean it." And let's talk about the role music plays in your life and worship."
1) Do you like to sing/listen to others sing? In worship, or on your own (or not at all?) I LOVE music in al forms and find worship without it to be...well a little quiet for my taste.  There is nothing better than singing beautiful music with others in praise and worship.   It's especially good when it is done well, but enthusiasm counts, too. And I sing everywhere.  In church, at home, in the car, in the shower....yep. I'm a singer.

2) Did you grow up with music in worship, or come to it later in life? Tell us about it, and how that has changed in your experience. I grew up RC. We sang. There was no choir in the church of my childhood except at funerals (when it was the seventh and eight graders) and some years at Christmas.  Otherwise it was congregation all the way. Some of my best memories of church are singing beside my mother.

3) Some people find worship incomplete without music; others would just as soon not have it. Where do you fall?  I like me a little music with my church I do.

4) Do you prefer traditional music in worship, or contemporary? That can mean many different things!  It can indeed! Generally I lean to the more traditional. However, I think there is a place in worship for many long as they are well-thought out, well- executed and are a good fit for the time and the place.  Last Easter for example, I had been getting a litte whiney about "blah" church music and was thinking aloud with R about this whole topic...I said I wondered what would happen if a "traditional" Epsicopal service had a praise band infusion.  Well...God having a sense of humor and all, it just so happened that we were visiting R's sister on the other side of the state for Easter...and guess what? Yep! PiscoPraise.  Oh. My. As I said... well-thought out, well- executed.... good fit for the time and the place....yeah not so much! Can you say the Easter Jesus Polka?  But then on the other hand, we did a Celtic Eucharist on St. Patrick's night.  We used both traditional and contemporary Celtic music, I played a bohdran...and we got great feedback...right time, right place, right stuff.

5) What's your go-to music ... when you need solace or want to express joy? A video/recording will garner bonus points! Taize, taize, taize!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Monk in the World Day 6 - Sabbath

My name is Kate and I am a recovering Energizer Bunny.  It's true.  I used to go non-stop from the time I got up in the wee small hours until I fell into bed exhausted at the end of the day.  I had three jobs and I usually spent upwards of twelve hours a day in my office...including Saturdays.  Sunday...after church...I'd spend another four or so.  I prided myself on being able to maintain this schedule.  I was tough, I was energetic, I was unstoppable.  And I was running full-tilt from my life.

Things are much slower these days.  I go to work at 7 and leave at the dot of 5, Monday through Friday.  I can't remember the last time I worked on a weekend.  I did give up the teaching job.  Three was one too many.But in the time alotted I manage to do my day job and also get sermons written. (I preach usually 1-2 times a month)  I have learned to work ahead and to write in "bits and pieces" rather than do marathon Saturdays.  Of course there are meetings, services, pastoral care visits, articles to write, and other things that do go on outside those hours...but overall life has gotten a lot saner.  I play a lot more and take time to do things like going to yoga class, hanging out with my husband and my friends and even watching TV (something I used to say, somewhat pridefully I'm afraid, I "didn't have time for.")  R and I go for bike rides, walk the dog, go geocaching, cook together and sometimes....just sit and do nothing!

When I was running my life at top speed, I was very very tightly wound. I had little patience for anything that messed with the schedule (or anything else for that matter, I think now!) All of that busyness served a purpose in that it kept me from having to take a very close look at some things that, at the time seemed pretty darn scary.  But it also took a toll.  My overfunctioning as I did kept some other people from stepping up and being responsible at times.  Sometimes I still grouse about "being the grown-up" but then I have to remember that I am still reaping the fruits of what was sown

Having more balance, more Sabbath in my life is really a good thing. I am having a lot more fun for one thing! Things do get done...well maybe not as perfectly as they once did...but then maybe perfection is not really the goal anyway! It's a really lovely world that God has created, full of joys and wonders.  It's hard to appreciate them fully when you are hurtling past at top speed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Monk in the World Day 5 - Work

Today's theme is (again) appropriate as I am back at work after having been out sick for two days. In today's reflection Christine talks about the importance of being present in our work. I'm struggling with that right now.  Today for the obvious reasons--I'm still under the weather and it's hard to focus on anything other than that.  But it's bigger than that.  I really love what I do, in both my vocations.  Both being a therapist and a priest are, as Christine says, meaningful and creative for me, both feed my soul and help me to feel that I am being co-creative with God as part of something so much bigger than myself.  In both I feel that I have the opportunity to use my own gifts as well as to bring something to others.  I know that this is a gift and blessing and not to be taken lightly.  Nonetheless, I have been struggling lately.  I have in my day job a touch of "compassion fatigue," I think.  This is the longest stretch in my career in which I have done therapy without a break and I think it may be taking a bit of a toll.  There are also some workplace factors that add stress.  Funding cuts that demand that we all do more...and more....and more, and some of the politics of the workplace that have never been my thing, but that I have to deal with nonetheless.  In my priest life too I have found that I have lost a bit of the excitement that characterized that first couple of years.  There too...a little bit of "just tired" and a bit of wrangle fatigue are taking a toll.  I'm really trying to identify some ways to inject some new life into both of my beloved vocations.  My solution in the past when things got kind of wane-y or stale was to "do something" which usually meant take something on, add a project, a group, volunteer for something.  I have no desire to do any such thing at this point. My actual inclination is to lie low and do little.  I'd love to be able to take a sabbatical....but alas, therapists and non-stipendiary clergy don't seem to be doing much of that.  We do have clergy conference next week.  And our new bishop is structuring it to be much more like a retreat.  So perhaps there will be some refreshment there.  And there will be change in the future....though we don't know just what shape that will take. But it will be a new and different way and place to do this work of mine.

In the meantime, I like the suggestion about having "...gratitude for the chance to do work which supports you."  Gratitude has been a powerful and helpful focus for me in the past when I needed to get myself to a better place.  And I am grateful that I found, late in life, as it turned out, two vocations to love, two things that I actually would do for love not money, two things that support me in so many ways.  Looking ahead I see that the next topic (since I am now a day behind myself) is "Sabbath."  Maybe if I get a little better at finding the balance there, along with remembering to be grateful I will be more open again to how much I really am blessed by work.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Monk in the World Day 4 (on the fifth day)

It's five days in to Monk in the World, and yes, I am posting on day four...  I missed what feels pretty much like an entire day of my life yesterday to some very hard-hitting crud.  I didn't even wake up until almost three and never really did feel like I was totally functional.  At some point I turned the computer on, but never made it to the e-mails or the blog.  Today is a little better.  It's only slightly past noon and I am up and have taken nourishment....that seems to be staying put!
The day 4 theme is Nature, and in the practice section, Christine says, "Claiming our inner monk means remembering that we are the children of the earth, and the earth is in our bodies.  Allow the trees and birds to offer you their own wisdom about living a monastic life." She reminds us to slow down and notice the natural world, the trees, the beauty of the earth and all of creation.  R and I went on another of our road trips this weekend.  This was a quick motor "up North" and back to attend a family wedding.  He is particularly good at noticing things about the countryside as we drive through....which of the crops are ready to harvest, who is plowing rather than just letting a harvested field lie.  He also sees the birds I miss, and he knows things about why things happen as they do in the fields we pass.  Because of this, and because we are spending more time in the car, I am more aware of all that is out much color and texture and variety in just one passing scene, how the light falls differently on the golden corn than it did just a few short weeks ago when the sun was higher and the crops it shone on green.

Who thought taking a road trip could be part of a monastic practice? But of course it can...any moment can.  It's all about remembering to pay attention, and being more intentional about really seeing what is there.  That is my "aha" moment for today.  Today my body is forcing me to be slowed down, to take things easy.  It's a luxury to have time to sit, to read, to just be.  The sun is shining on a tree that is starting to turn and the colors of the leaves are amazing.  Maggie the Peke is resting happily in the sun with her friend MomCat, and it's very sweet and peaceful just to be here, hanging out, getting well.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Monk in the World Day 3

Today's topic is "community.  This is" a subject near and dear to my heart, and the questions spoke to me.

Where in your life do you experience a genuine sense of community or soul friendship already?

I have gone seeking community it in many places....religious life, traditional and non-traditional church groups and in friendships.  In the past few years I have been very blessed to find "soul friends" those people who are with us on the spiritual journey in an especially deep way.  I found this kind of friendship with my Soul Sisters, the study group I have been with for going on now five years.  We began as a Bible study group but have really become family to one another sharing all sorts of joys and sorrows and growing pains over time.  C is also an anam cara to me who literally has carried my through some of the most challenging times on my spiritual and personal journey as well as being there for some of the greatest times of joy as I met and fell in love with my beloved R.  And he too is a soul friend.  Deeply spiritual and gifted in himself he brings yet another perspective to this journey as we share our lives on this deep level.  I really have been richly blessed

When you slow down and listen to your longings for spiritual companionship, what are some of the qualities which rise up as essential? What is true of all of these people is that they are authentic.  Each of them has a unique spitual life of their own....not one of them has the same belief system or the exact same understanding of God as the other, or for that matter as I do.  And this makes for true richness in our relationships as we explore how it is we understand and relate to the God of our own unique understanding. Another quality is the willingness to seek and be open to the numinous, to be willing to accept that we cannot understand, will never really know in this life what it's all about, how it all comes together....and that is really all right.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Monk in the World Day 2

The theme today is "hospitality." Christine says of this, that we are "...meant to extend this hospitality within ourselves and seek out the stranger who knocks within on our hearts - that part of ourselves that has been neglected or shut out.  This inner and outer act of hospitality are intimately connected.  As we grow in compassion for the places within which challenge us, we are able to extend that compassion toward others."

This is very apt for today.  XDO is getting married today in my little church. And yes, I am one of the clergy who will be extending the words of blessing upon their happy little heads.  It is a good thing this wedding.  Not only for the obvious reasons, but because it brings us full circle, XDO and I.  To a new and good place in this journey of these lives that have run in courses that have twined and intersected and now gone their (sort of) separate ways.  I have learned much from these last fifteen years.  For one thing, clearly XDO and I should be with the people we are with now, and NOT with each other! But I also learned so much about myself being in and leaving that relationship.  One of the biggest lessons was just what the quote above talks about....accepting that part of myself that has been shut out and neglected. In saying goodbye to XDO and that relationship I said hello to Kate in a whole new way.  It was scary and it was new and it was radical.  But as I began to develop compassion for myself, it was so clear that there was no way that my true self could ever survive and thrive in what was so clearly not working...really for either of us.

Some people think it is strange that I am marrying my someone else of course!  But to me it feels like the good thing, the right thing...yes the hospitable thing to do. It is clear that C and J are as good a fit for each other as R and I are to each other. They are able to enhance each other and bring things out in each other that we could not do.  I have an acceptance of C now that I could not have when we were together, and truly do celebrate and bless this union.  So off we go to the wedding wishing much joy to the DO who now belongs to another....with my blessings.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Monk in the World - Day 1 of 7

So here we are again. As I have said a time or two, I'm a little frustrated with myself and my having become a very occasional blogger in the last year or so.  I am not stopping be here as often, either to visit my friends or to do my own reflections. This is indicative of the state of my life at this point.  Very full, undoubtedly wonderful, but a bit lacking at times in moments of quiet reflection, of pausing to connect my absolutely amazing and joyful life either to my own center or to those I've become close to in this space.  I've made plans a time or two to "just get here and blog" but that has been about as effective as some of my other plans to get myself into some kind of reflective when I saw what Christine was offering at Abbey of the Arts with the "Monk in the World" series I thought, "aha, just the thing to get me thinking and reflecting....and blogging again!"  So I'm on day one, and thinking about the two questions posed as starters.....
What is one thing in your life you could let go of for the next few days to make space for the grace of silence?  We are talking initially just a little time. Christine calls it a "window" of time....and I'm thinking of the morning when I practice my yoga and sit....maybe trying to be just a little more quiet for just a little longer before I go rushing headlong into the day.  I know that sometimes on the mat even though my body is doing asana my mind is more engaged in mental gymnastics....thinking ahead into the day, running through my schedule, having those "rehearsal conversations" in advance for the skirmishes to come.  Maybe I could let go of that and practice presence in the practice, actually be there while I'm there for that time, mind and body all of a peace.

In what ways do you experience silence as a presence and fullness in your life rather than the mere absence of noise?  This question filled me with sadness and longing for a time when this was the truth and reality of my life.  It was, I recall, a journey to get to that place, begun in a hard year of solitude that pruned away a lot of what I thought I knew and thought I required but that left me with a clear and distilled sense of who I was and what might be important to me.  It has slid away a little again,  my life is in a different season yet again than either the solitary journey or the one that followed.  I do not know how to balance silence and joy, though I have a sense that it is possible.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Five: Insomnia Edition

Mompriest says: "Last night was a restless night in my home. We are dog and cat sitting for our daughter, which means we have a combined household of three adult humans, four large dogs, two cats, and one kitten. And for some reason the dogs, cats, and kitten, all wanted to sleep in OUR bed. Did I mention that it's just a double bed? Did I mention that it was warm in our room - too cool to turn the air conditioning on but no breeze to blow the cool night air in....add to that my general age-related tendency toward insomnia, and it was a difficult night for sleeping. A number of my facebook friends seem to have similar challenges sleeping....So, on that note our Friday Five today will focus on sleep, or the lack there of. "

1. Are you prone to sleep challenges? Insomnia, snoring, allergies? Other sleep challenges? I have intermittent insomnia.  It tends to show up, logically enough I guess when I am more stressed and when I have something the next day that is weighing on me.  I seem to get to sleep ok, but then wake up at about three or so and then just can't seem to get back into good sleep.  I also am "of an age" where I have that "hot and cold" thing going some nights I play cover toss a lot. R loves that!

2. When you can't sleep what do you do? Toss and turn? Get up and read? Play computer games? When I was single I used to listen to the BBC on MPR in the middle of the night ( and learned a lot of interesting things that way!) But now I don't want to wake my sweetie, so I turn the waves on the white noise machine back on cuz he can sleep right through those, imagine myself on the beach and breathe and pray myself back to sleep.

3. When you do sleep do you remember your dreams? Or just snipets of them? Usually just bits that make no sense and make me shake my head and ask, "Now what on earth was THAT about?!?"

4. Can you share a funny or confusing dream you've had? Or a dream you have over and over? When I am really anxious about something I will have the "phone dream."  I am in some situation where I desperately need to call someone and either the phone has no numberpad, I can remember the number or there is some other issue that keeps me from reaching out and touching whomever.

5. When you don't sleep how do you get through the day? Lots of coffee? or a nap later in the day? My life does not generally allow for naps, so I am endlessly grateful for the presence of strong black coffee on those days.