Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve (Friday Five)

Singing Owl posts the following at RevGals:

<I'm not a big fan of New Year's resolutions, but it does seem a good time for some reflection and planning. For the last few days I keep thinking of Psalm 90:12: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Among other things, that seems to say that reflection is in order if we want to learn and grow.

For some of us, this has been an incredibly difficult year; for others it has been a year of many joys. For all of us, there have been challenges and questions and there have been blessings and--maybe even an answer or two! As we say our goodbyes to 2010 and look towards 2011, share with us five blessings from 2010 along with five hopes or dreams for 2011.>>

From 2010:

1.  My seminary BFF, whose joyful expression of her gifts is a wonder to behold, and without whom I would not have made it through the second two sad and agonizing years of a program to which I had looked forward with such anticipation.  She is re-taking ords in a couple of weeks, so prayers are in order.

2.  The professor who struggled to get me through an impossible independent study (Freedom and Grace?  WHAT was I thinking?); taught a couple of courses that have had a huge impact on my thinking about the church, about theology, about Scripture, and about experience; and continues to challenge and assist me in articulating the impact of my son's death for call committees.  (Are you out there, call committees?)

3.  The fact that each of my two surviving children, two years after their brother's death, have made successful forays into graduate programs and seem to be thriving in them. Their health, their energy, their hopefulness.  Their alive-ness.  Their very lives.

4.  The compassion and wisdom of the three Jesuits who spent time,  in different contexts, helping me sort through the wreckage of grief and accompanying me toward what I now see as the frontier of the life I could never have expected.

5.  My week on retreat at Wernersville and our week right now on Cedar Key: times of sunlight and prayer and restoration and re-orientation.

 Great Egret, Cedar Key FL

6.  (Five is not quite enough) The amazing friends, online and in person and both, who have shared their own life horrors and struggles and listened to mine, who have shared their thoughts and their books and their writing and their own movements forward and backward and around, so that all over the place little pools of community have grown, reflecting hope and determination.

7. The astonishing gift of a multitude of opportunities to minister, in churches and in spiritual direction, and the welcoming hospitality of so many people whom I've had the privilege of serving, when I had thought that I was completely washed up, finished, and done for.

It seems that there have been a lot more than five blessings in this year that has been so impossibly difficult.  Who knew?

Five hopes or dreams for 2011:

1. That my children and husband will continue to move forward in their own lives, integrating loss and hope and finding paths toward the future.

2.  That a call to ordained ministry is percolating out there somewhere.

3.  That another week at Wernersville is waiting for me.

4.  That I will figure out what to do with the stack of writing on suicide and loss and spirituality that has been piling up and for which a vision is beginning to form.

5.  That all of us for whom loss is so omnipresent will begin or continue to find hope.

Two years ago I could not stand to listen to music.  Really, you cannot imagine what it means to me to write about hope as if it is a real thing in my own life.

Thanks, Singing Owl, for this nudge.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day is Done on Cedar Key (Tonight)

Walking and Reading and Ruminating

We are passionate about adult education in my home church.  It's no big secret that most Christians in the United States, of whatever stripe, possess about a fifth grade understanding of the Bible, and less of one when it comes to theology and other religions of the world.  In fact, in our Bible study courses last fall, it became clear that many adults lack a grasp of basic world history and are therefore unable to place the Biblical narrative in context.  But we are, as a congregation, very interested in remedying that situation, for ourselves and for our church community, and we work hard at it.

A couple of days ago, immersed in my cold weather reading, I came across a column by David Brooks on adult education which I immediately sent to one of our pastors.  She responded that she'd already received it from the current chair of our education ministry (my successor and yes, QG, another lawyer!) and that, like me, she thought it affirming of what we try to do.  Take a look:

". . . This [Erica] Brown woman was leading Torah study groups and teaching adult education classes in Jewish thought, and was somehow inspiring Justin Bieber-like enthusiasm. Eventually, I went to her Web site to figure out what all the fuss was about. 
. . . 

Then I invited her to coffee, and it all became clear. Brown has what many people are looking for these days. In the first place, she has conviction. For her, Judaism isn’t a punch line or a source of neuroticism; it’s a path to self-confident and superior living. She didn’t seem hostile to the things that make up most coffee-table chatter — status, celebrity, policy, pop culture — she just didn’t show much interest. As one of her students e-mailed me: “Erica embodies Judaism’s stand against idol worship. It is actually true that she worships nothing other than God, which is particularly unusual in Washington.” 
 . . . 

In her classes and groups, she tries to create arduous countercultural communities. “We live in a relativistic culture,” she told me. Many people have no firm categories to organize their thinking. They find it hard to give a straight yes-or-no answer to tough moral questions. When they go in search of answers, they generally find people who offer them comfort and ways to ease their anxiety.

Brown tries to do the opposite. Jewish learning, she says, isn’t about achieving tranquility. It’s about the struggle. “I try to make people uncomfortable.”
. . . 

She writes about the fear adults bring into the classroom: the fear of looking stupid; the fear of confessing how little they know about their religion; the fear teachers have of being unmasked in front of students. With prodding and love, she tries to exploit those fears and turn them into moments of insufficiency and learning. 

Her classes are dialogues structured by ancient texts. She may begin with a topic: “When Jews Do Bad Things” or “Boredom Is So Interesting.” She will present a biblical text or a Talmudic teaching, and mix it with modern quotations. She may ask students to write down some initial reflections, then try to foment a fierce discussion. 
. . . 

All of this sounds hard, but Brown thinks as much about her students as her subject matter. “You can’t be Jewish alone” she told me. So learning is a way to create communities and relationships. 

I concluded that Brown’s impact stems from her ability to undermine the egos of the successful at the same time that she lovingly helps them build better lives. She offers a path out of the tyranny of the perpetually open mind by presenting authoritative traditions and teachings. Most educational institutions emphasize individual advancement. Brown nurtures the community and the group. 

It’s interesting that her work happens in the world of adult education. Americans obsess about K-12 education. The country has plenty of religious institutions. But adult education is an orphan, an amorphous space in-between. This is a shame, but it also gives Brown the space to develop her method.

This nation is probably full of people who’d be great adult educators, but there are few avenues to bring those teachers into contact with mature and hungry minds. Now you hear about such people by word of mouth."

Or, I might add, on blogs.  Read the whole piece here.

Ready for another image of Cedar Key?

I've finished reading a novel (see tab above), and drafted the basic outline of a syllabus for next semester and of two sermons for January.  I was able to do five miles of walking yesterday, and I'm doing a lot of stretching, and finding a lot of quiet time.

And best of all, I glanced up from my writing this morning to see about ten great egrets fly over our deck.  Look at this one and imagine ten!

I wish that I had one of those massive telescopic camera lenses.  I leave you with a more pedestrian (pun intended, I suppose) view:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Birds So Far (Updated 010111)

In no particular order, in St. Augustine and/or Cedar Key:

Laughing gulls
Ring-billed gulls
Bonaparte's gulls
Herring gulls
Ruddy turnstones
Semi-palmated plover 
Brown pelicans
Boat-tailed grackles
Yellow-crowned kinglets
Palm warblers
Yellow-rumped warblers
Great blue herons
Great egrets
Little blue herons
Snowy egrets
Magnificent frigatebird !!!!!!!!!!
Turkey vultures
Double-crested cormorants 
Brown-headed cowbirds
Red-bellied woodpeckers
White ibis
Hooded mergansers
Red-tailed hawk
Red-shouldered hawk
Glossy ibis
Scrub jays
Spotted sandpiper
Ring-necked ducks
Red-breasted mergansers
Common loons - New Year's Eve surprise!
Black-bellied plover 
Reddish egret - New Year's Day surprise!
Royal tern
Marsh wren

In pursuit of:
White pelicans ~ On Wednesday, a platoon of 20 or so flew overhead!
Eagles - 12//31.10
Yellow-crowned night herons
Tri-colored herons - 1/1/11 (Stratoz!)

Sunset Sunrise

We're in Cedar Key, Florida ~ a small Gulf island pretty far north, at about the same latitude as Gainesville .  Record cold weather, they say ~ although I noticed in the condo guest book last night that folks here in late December and early January during the past two years had remarked upon the unusual cold -- 40s in the daytime and 20s at night.  I would say that three years in a row equals standard rather than unusual!

As a consequence of the cold, there is no kayaking, no hot tub, hardly even any walking.  (Maybe later today.)  And I am therefore doing a lot of reading, and writing, for myself, and for the class I'll be teaching next term, and for the two churches for whom I'll be preaching through January, and for my own imagined future.   I expect some of that writing will make its way to this blog, along with some completely unrelated photos.

To start with, last night's sunset:

I've decided to try and keep track of the books I'm reading, for whatever purpose, and I've added a tab for a page in which to do that.  But once in awhile, I might paste what I've written into my blog.  Or who knows, maybe more often than once in awhile.  For starters:

12/24/10 - Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.  

I'm teaching this book next semester, and so I read it in the car on the way down to Florida.  It's a book which I encountered for the first time as a high school senior, in my senior elective religion course entitled Church and Society.  (No doubt today it would be called something like Religion and Society.)  

I was stunned, as I re-read it, to realize what a profound influence that little book has had on my life, in its insistence that even when all else is taken from us, we retain the freedom to choose our response to our circumstances.   Dignity and responsibility, for instance, over hysteria and selfishness. 

"Really?" asked The Lovely Daughter over Christmas Dinner.  "You would trace that conviction back to a book you read when you were seventeen?"  

 "Absolutely,"  I responded.  "It was a fresh and compelling idea to me when I was so young, and I think that it has grounded much of my thinking about life since."  

The students whom I will be teaching are college freshmen, about the same age that I was during that long ago course ~ I wonder whether it will leave the same imprint upon any of them.

Ready for another image?  This is what I saw this morning, from the warmth of inside.  It was 19 degrees outside!

And finally, here's something I picked up yesterday at The Episcopal Cafe, pertinent (I hope!) to my future:

New pastors are most successful in the transition from seminary to their first congregation when they expect and accept imperfection as an essential ingredient in the art of ministry. While some congregations are clearly dysfunctional and may even fall into the category of clergy killers, most congregations are healthy enough to provide adequate support, challenge, and acceptance for pastors embarking on their first call. 
A good pastor needs to join appropriate boundaries with curiosity about the human condition. In Tending to the Holy, Kate Epperly and I noted that, in the spirit of North African monastics, the pastor should be "all eye" and "all sense" as she observes the physical, spiritual, and emotional environment that surrounds her. This curiosity and awareness is essential for good ministry as well.

One of my favorite detective shows is Columbo. In that series, the cagey Columbo appears to be clueless as he fumbles his way through murder investigations. He solves cases, so it appears, only by accident and good luck. While pastors may not wish to be viewed by their congregants as the dumbest person in the room, pastors as observers, spiritual ethnographers, and keepers of secrets always know more than they can tell. To keep confidentiality and promote healing within the congregation, pastors often have to play dumb in situations in which they know more than they can let on.
New pastors enter a multidimensional, nuanced, and confusing world when they begin their first call. Things are not always as they seem. They may intuit certain unspoken communal understandings, past experiences of misconduct and betrayal, feuds and alliances, and secrets that "everybody knows about." Successful pastors take time to listen well to the spoken and unspoken messages of their congregants in order to discern how best to minister. Observation enables pastors not only to be healers but also to avoid issues of triangulation and unintentional offense. Careful observation also forces pastors to listen before they speak and to speak to the real, rather than assumed, situations in their congregation's life.
So . . .  I have plenty to photograph, to read, and to think about.  

I did think, though, that I would be kayaking!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Different Kind of Christmas - Part 4

Early on Christmas morning, while it was still dark, I set out for the beach, about a ten-minute drive away.  The other members of my family have exhausted their resources when it comes to dealing with the ashes, and it probably seems odd that I would have decided that a Christmas sunrise on the beach at St. Augustine was a right time and place, but when I flipped open my phone and saw the reading that came up, I felt vindicated.

As I drove through the dawning light and walked along the beach where we all ran and played and sunned and built sandcastles for so many years, I thought about those words:

Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  ~Luke 2:10-11. 

God's son, my son, incarnation, cross, life, death, light overcoming the dark.  It seemed to me exactly the right thing to do, to wade into the gentle ocean and scatter ashes as the sun rose.  

The next day, I found this poem stashed away in my email, and it seemed appropriate and compelling, given how I had celebrated Christmas:

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
we launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,

whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

from "AD" by R.S. Thomas

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Different Kind of Christmas - Part 3

We are hunkered down in a very cold Cedar Key, which is giving me ample time to reflect upon Christmas while everyone else watches football.

And so we went back to St. Augustine, one of our family's special places, for Christmas Eve.  We stayed in town, rather than out on the beach, but even there we were surrounded by the memories of twenty spring vacations as a family.  We took a long walk through the Old City, had dinner at The Colombia Restaurant, and went to the late service at Memorial Presbyterian Church.  

I was exhausted after two days of driving and most of the sermon went right by me, but I did spend a lot of time thinking about Christmases past.  And I gave some thought to oil and railroad magnate Henry Flagler who built the church in memory of his daughter, who perished in childbirth.  One website says that it's the only example of  Venetian Renaissance architecture in the United States.  It's beautiful  (although not remotely Presbyterian in form or name in any traditional sense), and looks to be a wonderfully active congregation.  Organ fans may listen here for a taste of the music:

(They're looking for an associate pastor, too ~ wish we were ready to move to St. Augustine permanently!)  

We've worshiped there on occasional Palm Sundays and Easter Sundays in past years, but never before have I had cause to think about the heartbreak that led the man determined to blaze a railroad through the wilds of Florida to build such an incredible house of worship in his adopted community.   It's odd, the ways in which we are all connected in this world, one way or another.  My husband once worked for Standard Oil and I was an attorney for Chessie Railroads ~ and Henry Flagler's determination to open Florida to commerce and tourism probably accounts in no small way for my family's presence there through four generations.  

And yet in the end, perhaps the deepest connections lie in lost children and the effort to respond with creativity and hope for others.

A Different Kind of Christmas - Part 2

It's hard to believe that our Blue Christmas service was less than a week ago. It wasn't something I would have been up to in the previous two years, but this year it felt just right ~ to suggest, to help plan, and to lead. 

We created a simple service, based upon a liturgy we found online:  Isaiah Advent readings alternating with the O Antiphons in the form of the verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, with a candle-lighting in which everyone was invited to participate.  There were other prayers and readings and music, but I think that people were most moved by the quiet candle-lighting and the haunting verses cantored in a beautiful soprano voice.

Simple though it was, it was also a tremendous amount of work, and as we put it all together, I observed the process from the point of view of a hoping-to-be-called-pastor. I hope as well that someday I will be capable of exercising the kind of leadership that the pastors of my home church have, leadership that calls forth and supports the gifts of so many others in the congregation.  Music director as organist, choir member as cantor, chair of worship ministry as co-planner and with another member that committee, designer of beautiful space, several other members as readers ~ and we all worked seamlessly together. 

Insofar as the service itself was concerned, I had little sense of it from a participant's standpoint, but the emails that came afterward tell me that it was a great success.  One of the readers said that she had been skeptical of a service devoted to sadness, but that afterward she felt freed up to engage in the remainder of the week.  I realized that I felt much the same way.  Something of a transformation for those of us for whom the Christmas season has been something to endure rather than to celebrate!  Many others seemed relieved and even grateful for a place in which all those emotions which are generally deemed unacceptable, especially at this time of year, were articulated aloud.

I opened the service with some very brief remarks about the lunar eclipse that would take place a few hours later, saying that all of us there were like the moon: living in a circle of darkness and yet, whether we could see it or not, surrounded by a rim of light, a light that the darkness does not overcome.

And I think that we were indeed a little circle of insistent light, creative and hopeful in the face of the darkness of loss.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Different Kind of Christmas - Part I

For years we did pretty much the same thing each Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, expanding the traditions as our circle of friends expanded:

Christmas Eve church service(s) and a party at a friend's before and/or after, depending upon which service(s) we attended.  Last night at church in St. Augustine I found myself thinking of some of the best memories of those years, but I'll include only two here, both of Josh and me:

When he was one and one-half, he simply could not settle down during the Christmas Eve service, and so I found myself walking the halls with him, me all dressed up and Josh wearing a fuzzy footed sleeper.  "Come here," waved one of the older men of the church, who was out in the hallway himself as the candle-lighting began.  He escorted me into the back of the chancel, behind the lectern, so that we could watch the candles being lit from the front to the back of the cavernous sanctuary from the best vantage point in the house.  Josh was spellbound (finally!).

Many years later, a teen-aged Josh agreed to go with me to a midnight service.  Everyone else thought that the one we had attended earlier was enough.  After church we drove around for a bit, looking at the streets lined with luminarias in the snow, and as we headed home, we passed a Baptist church, still alight and with its parking lot full at nearly 1:00 a.m.  "Well, Mom, we've been to the Methodists and the Presbies; do you think we should try the Baptists?" he joked.

Back to our traditions, the same year after year:

Christmas morning at home opening our presents.

Christmas afternoon cleaning and cooking.

Christmas evening hosting friends and occasionally family ~ over 40 people some years. There were years in which there were eight or nine children ~ two of them our boys ~ the same age (plus all the others) and two trees and Hanukkah lighting and other lights and candles all over the place.

After Josh died, we decided to go for completely different.  

In 2008 we went to Key West.  We tried the Episcopal Church midnight service and ended up in tears outside the front entrance.  We grilled seafood kabobs and ate an evening Christmas Dinner on our deck, just the four of us, and that was peaceful and quiet and about what we could bear.

Last year we went to Marathon, also in the Keys.  Christmas Eve found The Quiet Husband and The Lovely Daughter driving south, me participating numbly in worship leadership in my field ed church,  and The Gregarious Son and I heading for the airport at 3:30 a.m.  On New Year's Eve the Quiet Husband landed in the hospital overnight and two days later we all drove home, abandoning two return plane tickets, because he couldn't.  Not an auspicious year for family healing.

This year we may have found some balance.

To be continued . . . and in the meantime, I hope that you are all recalling wonderful times past today.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Word for the New Year: Frontier

Some days ago, Christine over at Abbey of the Arts suggested that we adopt the ancient spiritual practice of seeking a word as a source of life for the next year.    It's Advent, which marks the beginning of the new year for me, and so I immediately responded with what I thought would be my word: confluence.  

It seemed to me that the wriggly tributaries of my life were beginning to merge into what might be a varied and surprising whole: seminary and ordination exams complete, and call process approved and underway; a little bit of a spiritual direction practice coming to life; the opportunity to teach a college religion class during the spring semester; the waves of terrible grief that had overwhelmed me for months beginning to soften into gentle swells that roll gently in, over, and around my life so that it has become possible to accompany and care for others, and to organize and teach and preach, within this context of unfathomable loss.

And so the word confluence made some sense to me.  I thought of the merging Willamette and Columbia Rivers, over which I have flown en route to visit The Lovely Daughter in college in Oregon.  I thought of the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, which I have observed from a ledge on a hike high above Harpers Ferry, West Virgina.  And later I thought about Pittsburgh, where I attended seminary, and the Monongahela, Ohio, and Allegheny Rivers. Perhaps the recent geographic confluences in my life might serve as a model for the year ahead.

And yet, I was a little dissatisfied with that word, and couldn't seem to get around to writing about it.

Yesterday, as I said below, I spent some time visiting with First Spiritual Director, in town for the holidays, and he mentioned a homily he'd preached at a celebratory mass for a young man who's facing down a major life challenge.  He said that in his homily he'd talked about the gospel as frontier rather than boundary, as an invitation to the liberty to explore and discover rather than as a series of border checkpoints.

I hadn't even asked and there it was:

Frontier.  I have my word.

It isn't that I've felt trapped, but I have felt lost in the wilderness, as if I've been traipsing across an endless  windswept desert, hemmed in by boulders and mountains, unsure even of where to look, let alone walk.  Where were the hidden passes through the mountains; where were the shaded streams of running water?  

Now, after nearly twenty-eight months, I can look back and see where some of those markers stood, obscured by the blowing sands of grief and darkened by thunderclouds clouds of anguish.  

Most of them came in the form of people who opened their doors and their emails and their hearts.  Some came in the form of assignments: read this and write that.  Some in the form of professors and friends, who hung in there with me and refused to let me sink when the academic material became entirely personal, or who shared their own devastating losses.  Some in the form of invitations:  Will you preach next Sunday?  Will you teach a confirmation class?  Will you accompany me through the Exercises?  Some in the form of the courage of a husband and surviving children, stepping gingerly onto the shaky ground of the future.  Some in forms I'm sure I have yet to recognize.

And so here I am, for the new year, standing at the frontier of the good news ~ of exploration and discovery of all to which God might still be inviting me.

My son is still gone, and I still have to face the heartache of his death and his absence every day.  I don't see any of that changing. But somehow the capacity to integrate that terrible reality into a life of hopeful ministry is emerging, and the only possible word for it is: Frontier.

Image: Columbia River Gorge, May 2009

Silence and Noise as Spiritual Practices

And one more (added to those below) , on silence:
"The most basic spiritual practice is learning silence.  Practicing silence is an act of faith precisely because one cannot know for certain that anything is to be gained from it.  It might be a waste of that most precious commodity: time.   . . . "

Continue reading here.

Not the final word, though.

A couple of days ago I visited with First Spiritual Director (more on that later), in town for the holidays, and last night went to mass with the Carmelites, which he was celebrating.  He preached on Mary and Elizabeth, on God's activity in the midst of activity and noise. (Those women are NOT silent in that particular episode!)

Activity and noise have been hard things for me since Josh died; it's as if my inner shell is made of transparent and flimsy paper, easily battered and crumpled.   (My outer shell is apparently as solid as armor.)  And so I've been working on silence.  I've needed a lot of silence in order to make it through the activity and noise.

It was good to be reminded, in one twelve-hour period, that God is in all things, including both the practice of silence and the practice of noise.

Cross-posted in Advent blog.

Advent Favorites

 My Advent blog turned into sort of a scrapbook this year, some of it my own reflections and some of it things I've found helpful.  Some of my favorites, worth the listen or read:

Amahl's mother's lament entertwined with the hope of the magi ~

The angel Gabriel's surprise ~

A fresh look at Joseph ~

Vinita Wright's Mary poems ~

Another  poem along with some commentary.

It's been a lovely, albeit strange, Advent season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

New Smart Phone - Setting Alarm for Lunar Eclipse

Lovely Daughter:  Mom.  It's a phone.  It knows where it is and what time it is.

Me:  It knows a lot more than I do.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas, Mrs. M.

(Background:  I grew up in a rural area in southwestern Ohio, a Republican enclave if ever there was one.  My brother was four when we were in the car accident that killed our mother and younger brother.  The school I attended at the time and at which he joined me when he was ready for first grade was out in the country and had about 200 students in grades 1-6.  Its FB page says that  "we may have had a field of cows around our playground.....what of it?!")

My brother is an investment broker and ~ ahem ~ a Republican precinct captain.  It was in that latter capacity that he attended a dinner a week or so ago at which he was given an award for his work in the last election.  (Ahem again.)  Afterward, a woman came up to him and said, "Are you one of the Cs from B?"

"Yes," he said, "I'm DC."  

"Do you know who I am?" she asked.

Her peered into her face and said, "You look familiar but no, I'm afraid I don't."

"I'm CM," she said.  

"OH!" he exclaimed,  "Mrs. M!  My second-grade teacher!"

"You made it!" she went on.  "I am so thrilled so see you here ~ you've really made it!."

"Because of you and the other teachers there," he said.  "Do you know that my memories begin in about the middle of first grade?  The accident wiped out everything before that."

He said that her eyes filled with tears, and she crossed the room several times during the remainder of the evening to latch onto him.

Later he told me a number of stories about those years that I had never heard.  "I remember all those teachers," he said.   "And do you know when I knew I was going to be all right?  It was in third grade with Mrs. W.  She had put me in the corner, and the principal came in and commented on it, and she said, 'Yes, DC is in the corner.  I think that he's just fine and that we all can stop coddling him.'  I knew then that I was a regular person and that I was going to be ok."

 It was a small school in a farming community with no material resources whatever.  But it was rich in those overworked and underpaid teachers who, without benefit of psychological or bereavement resources, with nothing to go on beyond their own common sense, kept two little kids from falling into the abyss.

So Merry Christmas, Mrs. M and Colleagues, from fifty years forward.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Literally LOL

We're going to Cedar Key FL for Christmas.  We've been before ~ it's basically a little fishing/kayaking/birding/artsy place.  Very quiet; what our family needs for these oh-so-difficult holidays.

But I did quite literally chortle when I started looking around a little while ago and found "Thomas Guest Cottage."  I hope this link works:,+Levy,+Florida&gl=us&layer=xc&g=cedar+key&sll=29.138578,-83.035121&sspn=0.038987,0.06403&ll=29.134062,-83.03403&spn=0.077671,0.154324&z=13&cbll=29.134062,-83.03403&cbp=12,0,,0,5&photoid=po-11065568

It does work ~ but you have to paste it in yourself and then wait for the photo to appear.  Believe me, it's worth the wait.

Christmases Past ~ Friday Five

Jan at RevGals invites us to post five Christmas memories:

1. I'm pretty sure that it was the first year of our first blended family, so my stepbrother Kevin and I were ten and our younger brothers were seven and five.  We were incapable of sleep, and incredibly excited when we got up around 5:00 (earlier?) and saw the four sleds and four saucers and around the tree.  My dad was incredibly unhappy to be awakened, and the four of us kids ended up outside, sledding the hillside on which we lived out in the country, before it was even light out.

2.  I went to boarding school in Massachusetts and we had an incredible music program.  After our senior year Christmas Vespers, we burst out of the chapel to discover a major snowfall underway.  I remember one of my best friends, who is from Arizona, throwing her arms wide and shouting, "I am SO GLAD that I go to boarding school in New England!"

3.  I am guessing that the Lovely Daughter was about seven for this one, which means our boys were ten.  We had all come home from Christmas Eve services and Josh and I went back out for midnight services. In between I laid the presents under the tree.  When Josh and I finally got home, well after 1:00 because we'd been driving around looking at neighborhood luminarias, I realized that we were locked out.  Not to worry:  The Lovely Daughter, radiant in her little nightgown with her blonde hair fanning out like a halo, swung the front door open.  "What are you doing up ?!" I asked.  "He came! He came!" was the response.

4.  The first Christmas after Josh died, 2008, we decided to dispense with the traditions we had built up over 24 years and to head for Key West.  It was one of the best decisions we made during that most awful of times, and the Christmas Eve dinner of seafood kabobs and rice that the four of us shared out on our deck was a time of quiet peace in the midst of terrible turmoil.

5.  My best memory,  I think:  When our own kids were small, Josh inaugurated the tradition of a children's tree.  I imagine the two trees placed strategically in the living room for maximum House Beautiful decorative effect.  "No, no, " said my five-year-old designer.  "The little tree needs to be next to its mom!"  And so it was.

Bonus: One of the readings we always shared during those long winter nights when our children were small; we had an entire picture book devoted to it.  It was probably the source for Josh's little tree ideas.

little tree

by: e.e. cummings (1894-1962)
ITTLE tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower
who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly
i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid
look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,
put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy
then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud
and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good News for Me!

Assuming enrollment remains steady, I have a gig teaching a section of a college freshmen Intro to Religion course next semester!

I told the department chair that in my fantasy life, I pastor a church, do a little spiritual direction, and teach a college course once or twice a year.  Well . . . he said.

We're waiting for the church part to fall into place, I responded.  The big piece.

But I'm very excited about this.  Right up my alley, to usher college students into what for most of them will be their first experience with an academic approach to religion.

(And yes, Karen West, a Jesuit University.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On This Night On This Very Christmas Night

I think that Tran - Siberian Orchestra first came to my attention around three or four years ago, with that video of the house with the wild Christmas lights playing to the music that made the rounds for awhile. 

We discovered that they come here for a couple of concerts every year, but we postponed buying tickets in 2007 because Josh was spending the holidays with his girlfriend and her family and I wanted us all to go together.  Maybe the next year in Chicago, I thought.

I think now that I will never be able to go.  

But this is the one contemporary Christmas song playing on the radio that I really like, and tonight I decided to try and find it and discovered that it's TSO music.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food Issues

Oh, it's a struggle.  

The Lovely Daughter and I are talking about trying to lose some weight together.  For her, it's a matter of a few post-college pounds.   For me, it's a good many more.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who also struggles with weight, as well as with some unhappiness and dissatisfaction with her life, told me that food "gives life a little sparkle" ~ and she wasn't much inclined to give up that little bit of glitz.  

Like most emotional eaters, that "sparkle" for me helps to deal with just about every kind of negative emotion.

I also have an unusual pragmatic issue around food:   No sense of smell so little sense of taste.  All those recipes that promise intriguing flavors are lost on me.  Food for me is about texture and addictions to the tastes of sugar and salt and   ~ ahem ~ fat.  Lean meat and diet foods -- nothing whatever appealing about them.  Fish with lemon? ~ I might as well consume a piece of notebook paper.

I think that mindful eating might be something of a solution.  But honestly, the whole idea depresses me.  I have so many things about which I have no choice but to be mindful.  Food is the one thing which I completely let slide.  It feels like a punishment to have to be mindful about eating as well as everything else. 

I've gained about five pounds in the last three weeks or so because I injured something   ~ or a combination of many somethings  ~ in my leg at the gym.  So in place of walking there's been all that RICE folks suggested, which means more boredom, more food, more depression about my appearance.  And fewer clothes that fit.

I'm guessing that I've just got to bite the bullet and become a mindful eater of small  portions and get my butt out there and move through the pain.

Suggestions?  Has anyone managed the leap from mindless cramming of unhealthy junk into mouth to calm and appreciative eating of cupfuls of, say, broccoli?

The North Pole

Would you rather shovel snow or study for law school exams?
Could we please go in, NOW?

I'm sure there's a reason why we don't live in Key West, but I can't imagine what it might be.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Snow Day: ReverbNo

This is what comes of a snow day ~ I've been reading all kinds of things (and yes, cleaning and vacuuming and organizing photos, and I've even been to the grocery so we can have a nice dinner tonight).

I'm not sure that I should even write this.  I hope no one will be put off or feel guilty or anything.  It's just a reflection on life 25.5 Months After.
I've been aware for several days that a number of my blogging buddies are engaged in the ReVerb10 Intitiative, which describes itself as follows:

"Reverb 10 is an annual event and online initiative to reflect on your year and manifest what’s next. Use the end of your year as an opportunity to reflect on what's happened, and to send out reverberations for the year ahead. With Reverb 10 - and the 31 prompts our authors have created for you - you'll have support on your journey."

Here are the prompts so far. (I was going to paste them into this post, but they're not in a format in which I can do that easily.)  They're mostly very interesting, and the responses are, too,  but . . .

Wow.  I just do not think in ways that would fit within these parameters any more.  I wonder whether someday I will again.  I am so struck by how powerfully  these prompts do not fit my life that it's almost scary.

Most of my days seem pretty normal now.  The grief is usually "under control," whatever that means.  I am increasingly productive and aware of my surroundings and of other people, all of which represents huge steps forward.

But it also inhabits every bone, every muscle and tendon, every cell  in my body.  It has moved in and made a nest and settled into every nook and cranny.

When a friend of mine who also lost a 24-year-old son to suicide, eight years ago on Christmas Day, said that it changes you at a cellular level, she was completely right on.  

I have been on a spiritual journey that three years ago I could never have fathomed.  I have plowed back into my life in ways that, looking back, seem impossible.  I live with a daily awareness of horror and sorrow that has altered my perspective on everything.

And those prompts just don't make any sense at all to me.