Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Last Poetry Thursday (Sob!)

This is the last week for Poetry Thursday, and I am looking forward to the big announcement to come. This week, I used the (completely and totally optional) writing prompt: an open window.

An Open Window
Your eyes are an open window -
clear blue,
like a lake nestled between two mountains -
and when I look into them
I see myself, but not as I usually do.
The me in your eyes
is more alive
more beautiful
more desirable
than I ever dreamed I could be.

Your hands are an open window -
nimble and free,
elegantly dancing through your work -
and when they touch me
I feel myself, but not as I usually do.
The me in your hands
is more alive
more sensitive
more sensual
than I ever imagined possible.

Your mouth is an open window -
kind and sweet,
wanting to give only tenderness, never pain -
and when it speaks to me
I hear myself, but not as I usually do.
The me on your lips
is more alive
more lovable
more loving
than I ever realised.

Your arms are an open window -
long and strong,
embracing everything you love -
and when they envelop me
I am myself, but not as I usually am.
The me in your arms
is more alive
more connected to the world
more completely myself
than ever I am when I am alone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I'm not doing so well this week. I'm having more pain than I've had since the week of my shoulder operation. I'm hitting the pain pills, and the cryo-packs are on my shoulder about 50% of my waking hours. And now, since God is a man, I have cramps and moodiness, too. In fact, I've got this big, deep, hot core of anger, and I walk around feeling like a volcano that is just waiting for the slightest trigger to erupt.

I have a to-do list a mile long and growing, and I just don't feel physically able to get a lot of the stuff done right now. I'm somewhat afraid to ask for help, though, because everything's been going so well, and I don't want to get lectures about overdoing things, when I really don't think I have. But it seems like a bajillion niggling little annoyances have been coming up lately, and they just don't end.

There are some things that make me happy. I've put pretty houseplants throughout my apartment, and they cheer me. On my patio, I keep a corncob and a little dish of peanuts for the squirrel who lives in the tree outside my door. I love to watch him come over for treats. He will eat one peanut, then take the next to his nest, then eat one, and then take the next to his nest. And every so often, he buries one in my patio plants. It's also fun to watch him with the corncobs. He picks off the kernels and just eats the little germ at the bottom of each, leaving most of each kernel behind. The next morning, a flock of ducks will sweep across my patio, cleaning up all of those corn kernels. Then, because they haven't eaten their fill just yet, the young ones spend about ten minutes pecking at the round corncob, trying to get the kernels off of it, and of course, failing dismally. I know I shouldn't laugh, but it's hilarious. I have a new birdfeeder hanging over my patio, with a big middle section for seed (hulless, so I don't have a mess to clean up), a side section for suet cakes, and another side section for suet or peanut nuggets. I haven't seen any customers yet, but I'm watching.

A few months ago, I found a cassette tape drive for the computer. It lets you play your old cassettes through your computer's sound system, and also lets you "rip" your old tapes to digital files (MP3s). I'm so excited about this, because some of my old tapes are not available in a digital format any more. And others are recordings of performances I was in, so I'll be able to listen to those again. I'm not sure exactly how long it's been since I've had anything that plays cassette tapes! So anyway, I got it all plugged in and set up last night, and tested it briefly. That tape sounded good. I was so pleased. I can't wait to play with it some more.

It looks like my separation agreement is almost finalized. This is very good, but I expect it to be very hard when we come together to sign it.

At today's program management review, my boss is going to announce a reorganization - oops, I mean - realignment. Some people will lose their jobs. I will be reporting to a different manager. Thankfully this is someone I've known and worked very well with for years, but the change does bring some uncertainty and anxiety for me. It looks like I'll be able to streamline what I do and to spend more time on the things I love. So we'll see how that goes.

It looks like I'm the newest member of the Department of Communications of our diocese, which desperately needs help in the communications area.

And on the ministry schedule that will come out later this week, I'm going to be scheduled in four different ministries - reading the lessons, leading the prayers of the people, offering laying on of hands for healing during eucharist, and taking communion to parishioners who can't come to the church on Sunday. I'm starting voice lessons in just over a week, with the same instructor who is teaching the munchkins' piano lessons, and really loving participating in the choir. And I have another big project at the church that I'm working on right now, but I'm keeping it quiet for the time being. So there is much at play in my life.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Looking at the Lectionary

The readings for this coming Sunday, according to the lectionary in the BCP are...

Ecclesiasticus 10:(7-11)12-18
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8
Luke 14:1,7-14

... and I thought I'd take an early look at them and do some pondering this morning. I'll have to admit that my first thought, on reading these, was Oh crap, it's all about humility this week! And then I have to confess - a little guiltily, I'll admit, knowing the proportion of my readers who are clergy - that my next reaction was I'm glad I don't have to preach on these! - because who honestly thinks they're going to be very popular in their congregation after telling everyone they're supposed to be humble and not love money and all that?

One thing that shined through pretty clearly for me from the gospel lesson here was that this parable of Jesus is an important spiritual truth, but it's also excellent practical advice. When you're in a group of people, it's just not good tactics to seek out the top spot, unless you absolutely know you can cling to it. Because if you are unseated, it will be embarassing for you and for everyone else there. In fact, it will be humilating. What I tend to wonder, though, about those humiliating situations is this: do they really teach us to be humble? If someone is prideful enough to take that top spot, and is then humiliated in front of everyone, is she saying to herself, it's okay, I deserved that; I know I was being prideful? Or is she looking at the floor and clenching her fists and muttering under her breath and thinking, those idiots! They don't know who I am, or they would never treat me this way! Look at him over there - he's laughing at me - laughing! Well, I'll show him...? So it is good advice that Jesus gives here. It feels good to be recognized and called out and raised up.

The Hebrews reading is full of good advice, too. In fact, it's so easy to just gloss through it, but it would make an excellent list of bullets for somebody's mission statement. I mean, imagine it on a Powerpoint slide or a glossy brochure:
  • Let mutual love continue.
  • Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.
  • Remember those who are in prison, those who are being tortured.
  • Let marriage be held in honour by all.
  • Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.
  • Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
I find myself enamored with let mutual love continue. Of course, that's a bit less stringent than how Jesus ended his speech in the gospel lesson. Jesus said to show hospitality to the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind, because they can't reciprocate. Mutual love is good, and it can be hard sometimes. Loving people who can't or won't love us back... it's even harder to love them, and yet, it can be so rewarding.

It takes humility to love - to really, truly love someone. And I'm not just talking about romantic love, but love for children, love for parents, love for our fellow parishioners, love for co-workers, love for that crazy lady who is always outside the grocery store ranting at the pigeons. To love someone, we must set ourselves aside. We have to try to see the other person for who they are, and not for who we want them to be or expect them to be. We try to anticipate what they might want or need. We want to bring them happiness or delight or joy, because it brings us these things to see them happy. And I know I can't do any of these things when I'm full of myself, full of what I want and what I need and what I think reality should look like.

It's true in reverse, too. It takes just as much humility to receive love as to give it. And this may sound counter-intuitive, so give me a moment to explain. I'm going to tell it from my point of view, but I've seen enough to make me realize that this is probably a pretty universal thing. I can tend to get wrapped up in my low self-esteem stuff. I don't deserve love. I don't deserve happiness. I deserve to be sad and alone and lonely forever. And, of course, my personal favorite, I'm fundamentally unlovable. And the truth is that this stuff can all get turned upside-down into a bizarre and warped form of pride. If I'm fundamentally unlovable, then I can refuse love when it is offered to me, and I can act as hatefully and spitefully and bitchily (is that a word?) as I want - because all of this just serves to prove my point. So when someone - including God! - breaks through that and makes it clear that I am loved, it is hard to take this. I have to set aside all my prideful beliefs about my fundamental unworthiness in order to accept the gift of love that I am offered.

A question: how many times have you been paid a compliment that you didn't really believe? And how did you react? Did you try to deflect it? Guess what - that's not humility; that's pride. Humility is recognizing the gift you've just been given, whether you feel deserving or not, and expressing gratitude for it. You don't have to believe it, but denying or deflecting the gift is prideful. A truly humble person merely says, thank you, and continues on. I'm sure you can think of someone who has elevated this false humility into an art form. There's an absolutely hilarious song by Weird Al called Amish Paradise, with the line, Well, I know that I'm a million times as humble as thou art. Yeah. That's not humility.

I'm not quite ready to wrap all of this up into a neat little bundle for you. I'm not sure exactly what that bundle is. Hospitality is big. Humility is big. Love is big. These readings are full of really big, important stuff. I find myself thinking a great deal about the Rule of St. Benedict, and how the chapter on humility is the longest chapter in the Rule. But I think I've already gone on long enough here without bringing Benedict in, as well. :-)

So I think I'll end with my favorite sentence from these readings, and wish it for you as a blessing:
Let mutual love continue.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Cultural Friday Five

Goodness - I haven't played the Friday Five at RevGals in ages. This week's Friday Five looks to be one that could be casual and easy, or could be deep and fertile ground. I'm not sure yet what it will be for me, so we'll have to see how that happens as I write this post. :-)

I have spent the week at Summer School studying the Gospel and Western culture, we have looked at art, literature, music, film and popular culture in their myriad expressions. With that in mind I bring you the cultural Friday 5.

Name a
1. Book
2. Piece of music
3. Work of art
4. Film
5. Unusual engagement with popular culture
That have helped/ challenged you on your spiritual journey.

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?

1. Book
Well, the Book of Common Prayer has most shaped my journey. Some others that have made a mark on me include Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and the Homecoming books of Orson Scott Card. You can see from this list that narrative is very powerful for me; I become more deeply engaged in story than I do in exposition. And I believe I've preached the point of view before that our stories - as individuals, as families, as congregations, as communities of whatever kind - shape us in very deep, very powerful, and very meaningful ways, more than perhaps anything else.

2. Piece of Music
Hmm... is it a copout to choose a specifically sacred piece of music? :-) It continues to amaze me how deeply Handel's Messiah speaks to me. And, of course, when one of the readings appointed for a Sunday is one of the texts in Messiah, I'm earwormed with the music for the rest of the day. Just about anything by Aaron Copland resonates for me on a deep level, as does Dvorak's Ninth Symphony, From the New World. Having listened to this one many times, and played it in the youth symphony, I find it deeply moving and compelling.

3. Work of Art
You know, I just don't know on this one. I have sadly not exposed myself to a whole lot of visual art. At first, I thought something was wrong with me, because so many of the "great" works didn't speak to me. But I came to learn that "great" works of whatever form don't speak to everybody. I'm terribly impressed by Rodin, and I'm fond of the beauty in Impressionistic work, though ironically I don't tend to enjoy Impressionistic music. Go figure.

4. Film
Well, duh! The Princess Bride, of course!

5. Unusual engagement with popular culture
This sounds a little naughty, and I'm not entirely sure how to answer it. :-) I don't know what unusual engagements I have with popular culture... I don't go to many movies, don't watch much TV. My magazine subscriptions are to New Scientist and Creative NonFiction - not terrifically mainstream. I do listen to a LOT of different music, though I generally eschew country, rap, and hip-hop. So am I unusual in that I'm not unusually engaged in pop culture? Or is there something else I'm missing because it's just so natural to me?

Bonus: Is engagement essential to your Christian faith, how and why?
Well, yeah! Duh! :-) Faith is a choice - a deliberate, intentional choice - and our engagement in our faith is our response to God. Now, that said, the level and depth of the engagement will necessarily vary over time. To be completely engaged in Christianity one-hundred-percent of the time would be exhausting... and we'd never eat, either. And it may feel as though we're completely disengaged for a time, though I rather doubt that any person of faith is ever as completely disengaged as he or she might feel. I think that at those times, there is still a very deep part of us that continues to reach out for God.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Yay! It's Poetry Thursday!

Good morning, friends!

I must apologize for not posting anything in so long. I've been very busy with a houseguest over the last week - we went to so many places and saw and did so many things. I'll blog more about those later, perhaps with pictures. 'Cause nothing is more fun than looking at someone else's vacation photos, right?

One of the things we did was to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at sunrise. We stopped at the Sea Gull Island to watch the sun come up over the bay, and then we continued to the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, where we walked the half-mile butterfly trail. It was absolutely beautiful in the early morning, and we didn't see another human the entire time. And that walk planted the seed for this little poesy (which didn't turn out a bit like I'd expected it to).

Happy Thursday!

Too Precious

Butterflies should never die
they are too precious
too beautiful
dancing and darting
around and over and under and through
soaring and diving
alighting so softly
the petals do not even quiver.

Little kids should never die
they are too precious
too innocent
playing and laughing
inside and outside and together and alone
singing and dancing
and finally sleeping
on their soft pillows like little angels.

Love should never die
it is too precious
too important
healing and comforting
our hearts and minds and souls and bodies
filling and giving
convincing us
that we have a purpose, if only to love one soul.

Dreams should never die
they are too precious
too significant
wanting and wishing
for the present or future we want to live
exhilarating, inspiring
giving us vision
to be who we choose to be.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Our service today was wonderful. We had a great sermon (as always), about which I may blog in another day or two. And the daughter of one of my fellow sopranos played a piano piece during communion, while we in the choir were receiving, until we could get back up in the loft for the communion hymns. It was a variation on All in All, and we all had a hard time not humming along. Even though my shoulder hurt bad, after receiving the bread and wine, I so wanted to dance my way back up the aisle to the stairs back up to the loft.

After the piano solo, three of our ladies sang a gorgeous a capella trio. I listened, and then waited at the bottom of the stairs because almost everyone had been fed. Today was my second mentored visit to a parishioner as a Lay Eucharistic Visitor - having the privilege of taking the consecrated elements to a lovely lady who is homebound.

My first visit was in early July, the week before my surgery, and I accompanied a retired Methodist minister to a lady in a nursing home. I remember how her face simply shone as soon as we walked through the door. She had been so thrilled to have visitors, and was even more thrilled to be fed in this way.

It reminded me of one lady at my former parish, where I'd served as a chalice bearer for years. When she would approach the rail, she would smile so broadly. She looked like the proverbial kid in a candy store. "Look! The body of Christ! The blood of Christ - shed for me!" It was such an honor to serve the chalice to her and to see grace flow into her.

At today's visit, the lady we visited was sweet and was also very happy to see us. She listened to the scripture reading, but then seemed to fade a bit when I offered her the wafer. A caregiver was there with her, and while we started the liturgy, the caregiver bustled about in the next room, but close by, cleaning this and straightening up that. I noticed that she was listening closely as she worked. And when we reached the prayer of general confession, she stopped what she was doing and closed her eyes in prayer, and then joined us in the Lord's Prayer. I invited her to join us in the communion, and she beamed at me. That's the only right word for it - her whole face just lit up from within, and her smile was beautiful and joyful, and she knew that this feast was for her every bit as much as it was for the rest of us.

It is easy to come to feel self-important and self-righteous in one's ministry. But moments like this, of such grace and beauty and light - they are so humbling. Because this ministry is not about me at all. My only job is to step out of the way, to allow my body and mind and heart and soul and entire self to become a vessel, a conduit for the Holy Spirit. And when I can do that, grace happens.

Peace be with you today. I hope that wherever you are, whether you are able to be in a worshipping community or not, that you can find the Feast around you. Because God wants you to be fed, and if you are willing, God will feed you. And when you are willing to step out of your own way, God will feed other people through you, which is a very powerful grace.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Today, August 6, marks the Feast of the Transfiguration, which is one of my favorite feasts of the year. We actually tend to mark this feast on two different Sundays. I remember when I taught Sunday school with tweens, this set of readings came up on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, which is the last Sunday before Lent begins. It took quite a bit of discussion before they came to realize that it was after the Transfiguration that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, which of course led to his arrest and crucifixion. Hearing the story of Transfiguration is a fitting end to the season of light that follows Christmas and the Epiphany, and a fitting opening to our own yearly journey to Jerusalem and Holy Week.

But this is not August. Christmas and Lent and Easter are faded memories now, and in the middle of our hot summer, we get this mountaintop experience - the mountaintop experience. We often get mountaintop experiences during the summer - when we take ourselves on grand vacations or pilgrimages or retreats - and then we face the inevitable let-down when we return to the everyday, the normal, the stressful, the tedious, the boring. This transition back to the mundane can be really tough, especially if we've let ourselves be exhausted by our journey up the mountain and back.

I'd wanted to say something really profound and thought-provoking here, but I don't really have anything. I am just thankful that I got to enjoy these readings today, to climb the mountain with Peter and James and John, and to wonder (as I do every year) what they must have been thinking on their way back down. Did they chatter? Were they silent? Was it a comfortable silence between friends? Or was it awkward, Peter feeling stupid and let down after his eagerness, and John and James afraid to say anything that might make them feel stupid as well?

And I'm thankful to have a questioning mind, and a soul that doesn't have to have all the answers, that is growing more comfortable living in mystery. Because we have a great deal of mystery in our stories, and this is one of the most beautiful and most mysterious of them.

Peace be with you. And when you journey to the mountaintop, I wish you a grand and glorious mountaintop experience. And as you journey back to the quotidian, I pray that you will find peace and harmony in that return, and that you will always carry a bit of glorious mountaintop in your heart.

P.S. On Tuesday, August 7, a Transfiguration story will be posted on The Taleswappers' Porch - hope you stop by there, and hope you enjoy it! There's a whole host of stories there for your reading pleasure.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Poetry Thursday

Being in kind of a goofy mood this morning, I thought I would relate a story through a series of haiku. Hope you enjoy some fun, silly play today - we all need a bit of that.

Stolen Dignity

snuggled with my mom
purring while she pets my fur
hey - ouch! - that spot pulls!

clouds of shed fur rise
mom shakes them from her hand, but
they just stay and cling

she tuts and clucks at
shed fur and flakes of dead skin
and that sticky spot

"cat, you need a bath!"
sounds like "blah blah blah blah blah"
to Empress's ears

she picks me up and
holds me tightly to her chest
takes me to the bath

she gathers towels,
reaches for the shampoo , and
turns on the water

ack! it is too cold!
my paws - they are getting wet!
i do not like this!

she holds me under
the stream of warm water and
wets me completely

bedraggled kitteh -
the Empress of Ev'rything's
stolen dignity

she rubs in shampoo
slippery, i try to run
i'm held too firmly

i fight and try to
climb out, up her chest, and then
try to climb her face

then she shows some nerve -
my mom, she laughs at me! at
my undignified

demeanor. she will
pay most grievously for this
assault on my pride

when she is all done
she wraps me up in towels
as if her snuggles

could make up to me
the injustice that has been
perpetrated here

you foolish human -
you've not heard the end of this
your shoes are right here

and i can sense that
i am going to have an
attack of furballs!