Monday, May 31, 2010

From Provincetown to Truro

I'm planning on a lot of walking this summer, and 
to entertain myself, I'm taking
an imaginary trip across America.  

It looks to be about a five mile walk from the Provincetown dunes to Truro, and that's how far I walked today.

Long, long ago, a boyfriend and I spent the day hiking out across those dunes.  It was a very hot and wearying day.  I still remember the bikini I was wearing ~ which tells you that it was indeed eons ago!

Symmetry (Daily Photo 7)

I have photographed this mausoleum countless times.  Yesterday the play of light caught my eye, and today I had a little photoshop fun.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Still a Challenge

I went back to my home church today, for the first time in a very long time.

I realized how much I miss many, many things about it. 

But it's still so hard.

It's Trinity Sunday, and so we sang Holy, Holy, Holy.  

That was the opening hymn for Josh's funeral service, because it is the opening hymn every Sunday at Chautauqua.  When my kids got old enough to complain about accompanying us to the ampitheater service there ever summer, I told them that one day when they were old and still doing the same thing, they would look back with gratitude.

Guess I was wrong about that.

We've only been to Chautauqua once since Josh died, and that was to scatter some of his ashes into the lake on the first Thanksgiving.  I'd like to go back for at least a day of BBT's preaching this summer, but I'm not sure that I'm up to it.

I can't figure out where to sit in church.  No matter where I try, the memories of that service 21 months ago feel like a physical invasion.

When I skipped Pentecost last week, Gabriele wrote that by this time of year she is longing for the green of ordinary time.

Yes.  It seems to me that ordinary time is quite complicated enough.

Friday, May 28, 2010

This Is So Weird (plus Daily Photo 6: Cross)

I have cleaned out two dressers and hung some pictures and done four loads of laundry and played around online and .  .  .   there's no rush at all.  

I can plan to spend the entire week-end in the yard (which looks like the jungle) with lengthy breaks to hang out with my brother and his wife, who may come to visit  . . . and there's no rush at all.

However long it takes to do something is how long I have.

The Spiritual Task of Household Composition ~ 2

You thought I had forgotten all about it, didn't you?

The truth is: I am at a complete loss.

I am lying on the wicker loveseat in the library, looking at the shelves and shelves and shelves of books and realizing that I need to think, first, about what my priorities in reading, collecting, and saving are.  A lot of my photography materials are in here, along with a lot of but by no means all of our books.

I think one priority might be access.  Which means, God help me, organization.  I mean, it would be nice to go in search of a book and be able to find it within a couple of minutes.  As opposed to concluding that the only solution is to go to Borders and buy another copy.

Another might be a sense of space, peace, and beauty.  Which is to say that not every square inch needs to be jammed with printed material.  Some of these shelves should be reserved for pottery and photos.  Apparently some pillars and sculptures would be good as well.

A third priority might be a cat.  Actually, that would be my first, but it is a matter of some contention here.

Look at that!  Stained glass of a cat in a library!  And look at how magically things fall into place in the presence of feline oversight!

The fact that this is my third blog post in less than 12 hours should be some indication of just how overwhelmed and unmotivated I am by the messy material world I inhabit.

Other (Academic) Things I Learned in Seminary

  • That if you know something about the geography, the Hebrew Bible comes to life in a new way ~
  • That our task is to make the confessional bridge from ancient words to contemporary life ~ 
  • A few of those words in Greek and Hebrew ~ 
  • And quite a bit about how to explore the texts originally written in those languages ~ 
  • And to be grateful for commentaries written in English ~ 
  • That we should have all started with at least a basic philosophy course ~
  • That the memorization of sermons is not one of my things ~ 
  • A little about how to engage with theology ~
  • And a little about how to write a theological paper, thanks to a handout provided three weeks before graduation after three years of blundering around ~ 
  • That John Calvin and Ignatius of Loyola had both more and less in common than I had imagined ~ 
  • That both Roman Catholic and Reformation writing on sin, grace, and freedom are far beyond my capacity to comprehend ~
  • That Miroslav Volf might offer me a way back after intolerable loss ~ 
  • That, as I suspected, I am a pre-beginner wading in the shallow end.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Garden (Daily Photo 5)

This one is an attempt to give QG a watercolor subject from Pennsylvania.  Most days when I'm at seminary, I walk the three miles to, around, and back from the Highland Park reservoir; these are the gardens below it.

Angel (Daily Photo 4) and Confluences

This morning I went for  a walk in the cemetery, which is filled with statues and sculptures of angels.

Then I had a conversation with someone in which the Annunciation came up.

And for a day now, I've been thinking about this exquisite poem, which I found here, thanks to Mary Beth.   While ordination for women is a given in my denomination, I spend a lot of time with women for whom it is not.

Woman's Body
by Frances Croake Frank

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the first time in the dark of a stable,
After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
'This is my body, this is my blood?'

Did the woman say,
When she held him for the last time in the dark rain on a hill-top,
After the pain and the bleeding and the dying,
'This is my body, this is my blood?'

Well that she said it to him then,
For dry old men,
Brocaded robes belying barrenness,
Ordain that she not say it to him now.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

So, What Did You Learn in Seminary?

Mostly, that I know ~ nothing.

But I think that this was my favorite, and I hope that I am doing Famous Matthew Scholar justice when I quote his ruminations on what we do and don't know about Jesus, after 2000 years of Scriptural writing, commentary, the Jesus Seminar, and whatever:

"I was up in Maine, sitting on the beach one day and looking at a huge barnacle-encrusted rock.  And I thought, you know ~ I can't see a single portion of the original rock; it is completely covered in layer upon layer of barnacles.  But if you asked me, I could tell you the general shape of the rock."

                                                                                                 ~ Dr. Dale Allison

He also pointed out in each of the classes I took from him that "Jesus is and does what he says, more consistently and authentically than anyone else.  Take a look at the Sermon on the Mount."

I might have learned a few other things.  But I think that those are the big ones.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hope (Daily Photo 3)

This one, too, is from Church of the Saviour.

Thanks to the focused attentiveness brought on by my picture taking, I checked out the words over one of the side doors.  I don't think that I had any idea that there were any words there at all, which only goes to show how completely oblivious one can be ~  walking in and out of a door over a period of 25 years and having NO IDEA that its designers or builders wanted you to understand its significance in a particular way.

Which, today, is twofold.  First, the verse itself (and I had to go home and look  it up, because I'm not one of those people who knows those kinds of things), from Isaiah 56:7:

"My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people."

As a spiritual director and future pastor, I'm thinking that that's a very nice sense of mission for a church indeed.

And second:  As I was trying to work my way around the steps and railing, to take the picture the words that came into focus are those above, from the very center.  Now we in the PC(USA) today struggle to understand what we mean by "all."  Or we struggle to be in a church that doesn't mean the same thing by "all" that we do.

So when I saw those words over the very center of the door, I thought:


Monday, May 24, 2010


Wow ~  thank you all for all the ideas!

Already I am looking more attentively and contemplatively.  I took this photo this morning en route home from the gym.  It's the front entryway to my previous church, Church of the Saviour (United Methodist).

A couple of years ago in my spiritual direction  class, we were sitting around talking one night about the burning bushes in our lives ~ the ways in which God has sought to capture our attention.  I was listening to a variety of comments and suddenly I realized ~ Church of the Saviour!  It's located on a main street in our city, in a residential area up from a retail section which hosts some of our favorite stores and restaurants, the theater where you can see all the films which never make it to the mainstream mall movies, and the bakery where we all hang out all the time. Our first house was a few blocks away, within walking distance (on Canterbury, Mumpastor), and I must have driven by Church of the Saviour hundreds of times before I suddenly announced to my husband one morning that I thought we should go to church.

My husband was the one who chose the church in question.  It's Methodist, which we had both been (he for real and me in the vaguest sort of way); it's designed on the model of a medieval French Cathedral (always helpful, from my point of view); and the services were televised on local Cable, so we could check it out before setting foot inside!  Having not been church attenders since high school, we were extremely leery of what we might be getting into more than a decade later.

We spent many happy years there, our children were all baptized there, and most of our closest friendships were formed there.  We've all taken various journeys since, but those doors definitely represent a burning bush in my life.

(Michelle suggested Doors as a subject.  Stratoz suggested Door, which is for another day.  I notice that there were a lot of suggestions of Hope!)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Early Morning Walk ~ and a Request

It was a beautiful morning here!

Still using the Old Camera, but in a few days I'll be home with my work complete, my library books turned in, and my nonschool life beginning.

I haven't gotten much use out of the New Camera, since I was just starting to learn it when The Quiet Husband landed in the hospital in the Keys over New Year's and that was the last of any sustained time for myself.  Things are out to change, and I need help.

I want to compile of list of photo topics/challenges/whatever for the summer.  I need 100 of them -- one for each day through August counting today.  I guess I have today's: Morning Walk.  I'm hoping to be a but more imaginative, though.  I have some in mind, and I hope you'll add yours.  General, specific, space, time, abstract, people,whatever.  Please!  In the comments!

1. Morning Walk
2. Graduation
3. Noon
4. Shore
5. Boat
6. Early
7. ???? . . . .

Friday, May 21, 2010

Winding Down

I'm trying to finish my Last Paper Ever. I can't say that I'm exactly overwhelmed by motivation.  If I didn't admire the professor so much and want him to feel that his efforts have been worthwhile, I'm not sure that I'd be up to it.

In between . . . lunch today with my former department chair at my former teaching job, so lots of news about my former students.  (Lots of "formers" in my life!) My final class of ninth graders are about to graduate, heading off to Israel for a year and then to some wonderful colleges.

Tomorrow, breakfast with a friend I haven't really talked with in ages, and then a late afternoon RevGal meet-up.

Sunday - Nope, I am not going to church for Pentecost. I am quite worn out with celebratory Sundays.  They've been very difficult for me all year.  But I am going to a concert in the evening, as The Lovely Daughter sings with a local choral group, and then I am going to try to put in a last minute appearance at the party celebrating the 80th birthday of Wonderful and Wise Former Spiritual Director.  (Another former!  But not former in friendship.)

Monday, back to Pittsburgh to put the final touches on my paper and pack up and then - home again!  A stack of thank you notes await my effort, as does my new and arduous life of unemployment.

I seem to have decided to attend both our graduation and the baccalaureate service the night before, egged on mostly by friends who want to celebrate together.  I suppose that's a good thing?

Thursday, May 20, 2010


This (HT to Contemplative Photography) is for Karen, who is focused on a sad anniversary this week-end.  Oddly or, I suppose not, in the midst of final assignments and packing boxes and the graduation dilemma, I, too, have been thinking about ashes all day, every day.

Love to you, Karen.

Crying out loud and weeping
are great resources.

A nursing mother, all she does

is wait to hear her child.

Just a little beginning-whimper

and she's there.

Cry out.

Do not be stolid and silent with your pain.


and let the milk of loving

flow into you.

The hard rain and the wind

are ways the cloud has

to take care of us.

-- Rumi,
A Year with Rumi (May 5) 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Scattered Wednesday Thoughts

Taking a page from QG:
  • My day started with a trip to a Pittsburgh Toyota dealer, brought on by a scraping squealing crunching noise in the brake system last night.  Nothing major wrong, but all the minors will add up to major bucks. Have to take care of it; don't want to drive the 135 miles home tomorrow night feeling like the car is on the brink of collapse.
  • Spent the rest of the morning working on my final very last ever paper on Miroslav Volf's views on memory and forgetting.  Personally meaningful due to encounters and dialogue with my Jewish students of years past and my own recent history.  I have now reached the happy point where you realize somewhere in the middle of a project that you have absolutely no idea what you're doing.  Except that I think I have come around to his theory that we will in the new life ahead forget all the bad stuff and that that will be a good thing. Our loss of memory will not destroy our identities but will create us as new beings.  What do you think?
  • Brightened up at seeing a friend at lunch but the presence of other not-well-known folks at the table constrained conversation considerably.
  • Went to my last Hauerwas class, which I am auditing, so got to listen to other people present their ongoing papers.  The professor passed around Hauerwas' new autobiography and noted a couple of hours later that I had become completely absorbed in it.  Oops.  Well, Hauerwas is an engaging writer and I appreciate very much his ecclesial promiscuity.
  • Now I am going for a long walk in what has become a gorgeous day, and then I guess it will be Volf till midnight.  Look for me taking FB breaks!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Glinda and Elphie

This morning I served as the liturgist for the seminary chapel service in which my Best Seminary Friend was the preacher.  Two weeks ago, we were in reverse roles.  It's beginning to dawn on us that this is it ~ after three years and a couple of major life transitions, we are about to graduate and will most likely land in separate states.

I plan to celebrate this friendship forever. It is, I think, one of the greatest gifts seminary has offered me.  We're very different ~ this morning we concluded that she is Glinda and I am Elphaba.  She is the summery Christian and I am the wintery one.    She arrives in a bubble, and I ride a broomstick.  (OK, the analogy isn't perfect.  She's not blonde and I'm not green.)

If you know about my obsession with Wicked from from my old blog, you know that the first time I saw it, I concluded from one of the first lines that it's a Calvinist musical:  "Are some people born wicked, or is wickedness thrust upon them?"   So it's appropriate, I think, that we have adopted those characters.  We are a perfect match, two best friends in the Emerald City.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Different Sources - Big Things to Keep in Mind

As it happens, they are both men.  One is an African-American Presbyterian pastor and professor of urban ministry in a PC(USA) seminary; the other, a Caucasian Jesuit priest, an editor at America magazine who makes appearances on The Colbert Report.

As he ended the last class he would spend with us, our professor urged us last week to bear in mind the great privileges which are ours. Most people in the world, he pointed out, do not have the luxury of sitting in air-conditioned and well-lit classrooms to study theology or the Bible.  Most people lead very different lives indeed.

I thanked him afterward and told him that he had reminded me of something the last twenty months have blotted out.  And had brought back a particular memory:  At the end of our first year winter quarter, I had taken a break during our Prophets and Psalms exam ~ three hours of nonstop writing ~ to walk up and down the hall a couple of times.  As I stood at the window at the end of the hallway, looking out over the snow-covered campus and trying to unclench my hand so that it could write for another hour, I thought: I am so incredibly graced.  Here I am, writing on the prophets and the psalms for three hours because ~ because I can!  Because it has been my privilege to study them for three months, long enough to have at least a little something to say. 

I did not know that six months later, the only Scriptural writing I would be able to tolerate would be Psalm 88 ~ that it would be another six months before I could read even Job.  I didn't know how bleak my world would become or that I would lose sight of any purpose or meaning.  And so I was grateful for his reminder of another astonishing grace: that even with all that has happened, it has still been my privilege to complete (assuming I finish that last paper looming ahead) the course of study for my M.Div. and to become at least minimally prepared for ~ well, I'm not sure what, exactly.  But for something.

Which leads me to one of the books I'm reading on my brand new laptop Kindle, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, S.J.  It's not news to any of my readers that I am enamored of Jesuit spirituality, and this book is an easy and fun introduction for anyone else who might be interested as well.  (Readers of My Life With The Saints will know that Jim Martin is a terrifically engaging writer.)

Most of the material in The Jesuit Guide is familiar to me, but last night I came across something I'd never read before.  He's discussing the "spiritual but not religious" identity so many people claim today, and arguing astutely for both, on the basis of spirituality transferred via religion.  The specific example he uses concerns the idea of our God of Surprises, the God who both surprises and who waits for surprises, which he has encountered through four individuals writing in religious contexts, and he quotes novelist Ron Hansen, whose character Mariette says:

"We try to be formed and held and kept by him, but instead he offers us freedom.  And now when I try to know his will, his kindness floods me, his great love overwhelms me, and I hear him whisper, 'Surprise me,' "

Now, depending on your theology, you might be more or less comfortable with the God who not only surprises but is surprised.  I'd say, Let that one go for now, and imagine the potential for surprise, any surprise at all, in the context of all-encompassing loss and darkness.

I have been working on survival, not surprise.  And yet, as I look back over the past few months, I have found both.  I don't always want them, but there they are.  

And so, I wonder:  if I manage to survive this loss, and if I remain cognizant of the great privilege of study and preparation that I've been afforded, how will God surprise me?  How might I end up surprising God?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Poached Eggs

I love poached eggs, so that is what I am eating. I was going to write this post while I waited for them, but the computer went haywire for just the wrong amount of time.

Today: Seeing someone for spiritual direction, getting my hair cut, maybe going to mass. Maybe not, as it has been something of a distraction lately that I cannot receive communion there. OK, more than a distraction. Last week I left in the middle. It's been a haven for me for nearly two years, but not right now.

Tomorrow: two church services, at one of which I am preaching. That means I have a sermon to finish.

Monday: a long and challenging meeting.

Tuesday: a quiz, which means I have some studying to do.

And then: everything cleared with a week left in which to write my Volf paper, which is pretty well planned. If no one gets sick or hurt or dies, I am in pretty good shape.

I've been thinking a lot about what I've learned in seminary. Three years, lots of lectures and discussions and tests and papers. Here are a couple of the big things:

Professor in casual conversation: When I preach the gospels, I usually steer clear of contemporary illustrations. The stories pretty much tell themselves. When I preach the Epistles, then I use a lot of illustration.

Professor in class which I am secretly (and "illegally," as it turns out, auditing): The text itself is thin and underdetermined. What theologians do is fill in the blanks, of which there are many.

Notice the contexts in which I heard two of the main things I am taking with me.

Eggs consumed. Onward. Or downward, to the basement where laundry awaits.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Can't Do It

The graduation thing.

I still have a week to decide. But, really. The gap between the dream and the reality is so wide.

I don't think I have to do that to myself.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What My Mother Taught Me

I have very few memories of my mother, memories that I know are for real rather than someone else's story. I must have been six when this happened:

I grew up out in the country, in an area on the edge of Appalachia in which many people lived in extreme poverty. Although my own family owned a thriving business, I was aware of the conditions around me to the extent that a first-grader could have been, because I rode a bus every day and so saw the homes of many of my schoolmates.

This particular day was cold and dreary. I'm guessing it was November. Some of the local children came by, selling raffle tickets. Because they were on my bus route, I knew who they were, though they were all older than I and none of them were in my room at school. Their house was actually visible from ours in the winter, across a couple of corn fields, but they would have had to walk at least a mile down their road and up ours to reach our door. Not an unusual walk or bike ride in those days, although I was too young for it at the time.

My mom bought some tickets and turned back to her housework, and then she began to cry. "It's freezing out there," she said. "It's freezing, and those children are not wearing socks." She grabbed a box and began to stalk through our bedrooms and basement laundry in fury, grabbing socks and sweaters and whatever else looked useful. Then she got into her car and drove away, and came back and said nothing more.

I seldom think about my mother. When she died, which would have been just under a year later if my sense of time is at all accurate, there was little discussion and no encouragement whatever to hang on to memories. It was a different era and the adults in my family, I realize now, all went a little crazy. But I wondered, this past week-end, whether Josh might be alive if his grandmother had lived. Because maybe she was a person who knew how to see things and how to take care of them, and maybe she could have taught that to me if we had had more time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Church: Norway

I've been interested in church architecture and design for a long time. We've discussed it a bit at seminary; I wish it were the subject of an entire course. One of my (many, many) plans for this post-seminary summer is to begin work on a series of photos of churches.

In the meantime, in order to satisfy that particular urge, I thought I'd take a look at some churches which are, at least at present, outside my geographic range.

Image here.

From wikipedia:

<<A stave church is a medieval wooden church with a post and beam construction related to timber framing. The wall frames are filled with vertical planks. The load-bearing posts (stafr in Old Norse, stav in Norwegian) have lent their name to the building technique. Related church types are post churches and churches with palisade walls.All of the surviving stave churches except one are or were in Norway, but related church types were once common all over northwestern Europe.>>

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother's Day


~ by Mary Oliver

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among the lions),
"It's not the weight you carry

but how you carry it --
books, bricks, grief --
it's all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down."
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled --
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love to which there is no reply?

(Imagde here: Geese over Galway Bay by Monasette.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Yes, I am, I promise I am.

Karen -- days ago -- put a terrific video up about the value of camp for kids with cancer and their siblings.

The other Karen wrote about an amazing wedding: courage facing down challenge.

Cynthia wrote about her own courage, although it probably hasn't occurred to her to call it that.

Magdalene continues to post the most wonderful sermons, all of which I plan to print out and put into a binder and plagiarize. I can't see any reason to bother with my own when she does all the work so eloquently.

So yes, I am reading. There's a lot that I haven't mentioned in the way of wonderful blogging. But I am a bit overwhelmed. There is not much time left, with graduation looming there are no extensions, and I have unbloggables to deal with.

Evaluate this. Evaluate that. Please. I am still standing; I think that's plenty. You really don't want the details.

There will be lots of time in a few weeks. I'll be back.