Friday, October 29, 2010

Hey, You RevGals and Guys Out There ~ Resources?

So . . . in less than two weeks, I spend an evening with our Committee on Preparation for Ministry, which I hope will end with my being certified ready to receive a call.  And I realize that I could use some help ~ well, duh ~  but I have a specific request: resource suggestions.

I am going to be (at least I hope I am going to be) a third career pastor.  I live in an inner-ring suburb of a midwestern city, but I could accept a call to any size church in any type of environment as long as it's within a reasonable driving distance. Most likely possibilities: solo pastor of a small congregation, or associate pastor focusing on education and pastoral care and spiritual formation. I would describe my theology as Christ-centered and progressive.  (Last week I said to a relatively new member of my home church, a woman with a conservative background, that I see us as pretty middle-of-the-road, and she responded, "WAY liberal.")  I would describe my ideal worship service as a cross between something found in the Book of Common Worship and Gregorian chant.  I have spent most of my time over the past several years with adults of my own age bracket and those a generation up, meaning that I am out-of-touch with teens, young adults, and even young middle-aged adults. 

So . . . what would your top three book or website or podcast or whatever suggestions be for someone like me?

Later clarification: I wasn't talking about the meeting (although the advice below is excellent; thank you, Betsy), but about moving from my seminary and this present life in limbo to the reality of first call, and about how many things I don't know ~ don't even know how to think about, or even that I should be thinking about them.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Congrats to the Quiet Husband! (It's Still Not All About Me!)

A couple of days ago I received a phone call from one of my husband's work colleagues, inviting me to a celebratory lunch.  My husband and two of his co-workers (bank website designers) were being honored for having obtained a patent for the company for their program for negotiating CD renewals online.  (The work was completed six or seven years ago ~ the U.S. Patent office moves slowly.)

The nice parts for me ~ meeting the folks who are a big part of my husband's life but whom I don't know at all, and hearing them praise his brilliance and modesty.  I said to our table, "That's how you know, isn't it?  I've encountered two people in my current line of work whom I consider to have spectacular, superstar intellects, but you would never hear that from either of them."

Oh, and one other nice part ~ one of the women has a sister whose business is matching people to vacation rentals in Mexico.  Here we go . . . ?

I suppose it would be better if we had a CD to renew so that we could pay for the beach house which no doubt is beckoning to us for New Year's!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Oddly Enough, It's Not All About Me

Many, I don't know how many, years ago, there was a website called Moms Online, and a group of moms began following one another' lives there, posting adventures and misadventures along with both considered and idiotic opinions.  (This was back in the age of the Cave Girl, when debates over breast vs. bottle, cloth vs. disposable,  and TWONTW could send otherwise intelligent and articulate women into paroxysms of self-righteousness.  I know this because I was, uh, there.)(My views, which matter oh so much: breast, disposable, work or not ~ whatever.) This was several years before blogging and FB offered other means of communicating and, when Moms Online folded, several of those moms just kept  communicating via an email loop. And we are still talking online, on an almost daily basis. 

Today my dear friend Bean, sophisticated New York businesswoman, wife of a musician, and mother of a high school girl I feel as if I've known since she was, I think, not yet in school at all, celebrates the beginning of Year Six since her breast cancer diagnosis.  She is one amazing woman, but she tells it much better than I ever could.  I'm very proud to have her in my life.  Here's to Six Times Six More and Then Some!

Twenty-Five Months and Twenty-Five Days

Yesterday morning was the first one on which I did not wake up thinking of Josh.  Well, I already had, at about 3:00 a.m per usual, but at 7:00 I was thinking that I needed to haul myself out of bed and take the dog to the vet and make sure that The Quiet Husband had not left the toilet lid up since Tip was not allowed to have water before her dental work.  I didn't think of Josh until about 20 minutes later, after I had gotten dressed and sat down to check my e-mail.

Let's just say that it's better to start the day with where you are than to be surprised by it.


Last night, Gregarious Son and I were watching Glee's Rocky Horror Picture Show episode and, remembering how the Lovely Daughter and her friends used to dress up and go to the midnight showing once in awhile when they were in high school, I thought, "I should call Josh and tell him to watch this."

Monday, October 25, 2010

Growing Into It

It goes on  endlessly, this bereavement business, but it changes.  You just keep moving around the contents of your backpack, looking for different ways to balance the weight.  Yesterday in church, a conversation with three other mothers in a room vacated by the rest of our class: we are all doing all of it simultaneously, grieving for children gone for 12, 8, 4, and 2 years, and living the other parts of our lives. 

This poem ~ never discussed, but a big part of my retreat:

Love Sorrow ~ by Mary Oliver

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand, 
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child. 
And amazing things can happen. And you may see, 

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Process

That's how we refer to it: the process.  In the Presbyterian Church, it's a long and involved one; at least one of the nearby Presbyteries has organized it into a spreadsheet, and I think there are 42 steps.  Maybe 47.  A lot of people have asked me what it means that I've passed the exams, or have presumed that that means that I'm ordained.  So, a little primer for my friends:

First, you need to know that our theology of authority and government is grounded in community and democratic process. (Don't worry; I'm not going to impose my 20-page polity exam on you!) It's quite distinct from the episcopal process in the Catholic and Methodist churches, in which certain decisions come down from on high.  Therefore, once we have satisfied all requirements, we are not ordained en masse by a bishop and then assigned a call.  In our system, we are ordained into a specific call -- usually a church, but sometimes a chaplaincy, or sometimes an academic or administrative position.  Once ordained, always ordained --  but that first call comes out of community ~ for instance: a church, a hospital, or a seminary.  A candidate is ordained by her presbytery (our version of a Catholic diocese or a Methodist conference), which has overseen her "process" ~  usually in her home church, which has sponsored her ~  and then installed in the church or other institution she will be serving ~ which may be in a different presbytery, in a different state.

The basic requirements in my presbytery: earn an M.Div. degree, complete a unit (400 hours) of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), complete a year-long field education experience of 10-15 hours a week in a church or other setting.  Show up each year for an assessment with the presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM). Pass a psychological evaluation, which takes two days here.  Pass the five ordination exams. Some presbyteries don't require CPE; some require two different field placements.  Most will give exceptions or offer alternatives for multiple exam disasters, particularly in the languages.  Of course, things can go wrong at various points along the way.  Oddly enough, despite the death of my son, my process has been a smooth one thus far. (An exam retake is not an unusual glitch.)

I'm now at the point at which I seek my CPM's certification to receive a call.  That means that in November I will go to the CPM meeting where I will preach a sermon, defend my Statement of Faith, and review with the committee the form of fill-in-the-blanks and short essay questions that is submitted to churches looking for pastors.  If all goes well (and sometimes it doesn't), I will be certified to contact churches and respond to their contacting me.

Let's assume that someday there's a match.  The contract of call is among the church, the pastor, and the presbytery, so a candidate called by a church appears before a presbytery meeting at which anyone can ask her pretty much anything.  It's up to the presbytery to approve the call, and then . . .and only then . . .

Ordination and Installation. 

There's still a long  way to go.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Silent But Not Alone

The rooms at Wernersville are VERY SMALL, as they are at most similar places.  And I am a very messy person, so there were challenges.  I had to pick up even my window sill every day, because things have a way of piling up.  The gremlins, you know ~ they, too, like silent retreats.

When it was cleaned up, my window looked like this:

Chocolate from Michelle, along with a note on the back of a card.

A portrait of St. Ignatius, with the Suscipe on the back.

One of my favorite pictures of my three kids, on the beach in St. Augustine.

My ipod.

A drawing which Wayne made during his own retreat at Wernersville.  It flames right up when the sun shines from the back.

A card with a quote from Julian of Norwich, a gift from a friend and colleague from home who was there the same week that I was, directing four retreatants.

The room was SO TINY that I had no choice but to be reminded each day that there were other people there with me.  And that was very good.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Best Response to Yesterday's News:

From my former spiritual director, an 80-year-old Jesuit safely ensconced in another city:

How much hush money did you have to pay?

Seriously, thank you all for the kind words, here and on FB and via email.  It was quite an amazing experience, after these two grueling years, to discover so many people had my back.  And welcome, SuzieQ!

I am relieved by the result, but so much more grateful for friends.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Eight Days of Silence: A Little Reflection

How would I describe eight days in and out of prayer?  I suppose that I wouldn't. You might make a similar retreat, but it would be completely different, and you would wonder what on earth I had been talking about.
But I can offer a bit of the feel of it, with some help from others and from a couple of poems I'll post later.
Since my Josh died while I was on retreat two years ago, I am the last person in the world to assure anyone of finding, for instance, God ~ or rest, or reassurance, or understanding, or answers, or peace, while on retreat.  You might find some of those things, or you might find the opposite.  Or something else entirely.
I've read two posts this past week that have some bearing on my experience, this past week and in the past two years. I recommend them both.  One is by Catholic writer Tim Muldoon, describing something I'd read awhile back, the idea of "God's project" as voiced by Joseph Tetlow, S.J.  I don't mean to imply that Tetlow's thoughts played any conscious part in my prayer while I was on retreat, but when I returned home and read the post, it seemed to reflect on much of what I've found.

The other is a sermon on Jacob's encounter by Presbyterian pastor Mags of Magdalene's Musings, exploring what it's like to wrestle with God and with truth, and to emerge, finally, both damaged and victorious, in God's forgiveness and love.  There's been a bit of all that in my life as well.

I guess that one of the reasons I love making a retreat in the silence and in the company of a skilled and sensitive director is that the whole experience is undergirded by a powerful and gentle openness to God's project, whatever that may be and however it may be making itself manifest at a particular time in your life, and that you are embraced by both challenge and support in bringing your own honest response to God.

There's no program, there's no requirement to get from here to there, there's no expectation that your prayer be aligned with someone else's standard or pattern.

There's God, and you, and God's reach for you, and someone to help you begin to make sense of what is happening.  And then there are the months ahead, in which whatever was said and experienced and found in prayer begins to unfold.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wernersville Chapel

I just want to post this because, as we all know, I am a sucker for church architecture and artistry of pretty much any kind at all.  This is the main chapel at Wernersville ~ seldom used for worship, but always available for prayer. I've lightened the photo considerably because it is usually VERY DARK IN THERE, and I want you to see its beauty.  My own camera is inadequate to the task. Enjoy!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Eight Days of Silence: Nuts and Bolts

Afternoon Prayer Chair

Funny thing: when I stopped by the seminary to see friends on my drive home from retreat and folks learned where I'd been, the most common immediate first reaction was, "I could never be silent for eight days ~ not even for eight hours!"  And then when the shock wore off, they'd ask me what it's like.

This is only the second time I've made it through a scheduled retreat where 40 other people are doing the same thing. (A year ago, overwhelmed by grief, I left in the middle.)  Both times we've arrived late in the day and there's been a group orientation meeting, and both times I've met with my director that evening as silence falls upon the house. 

The rest of the days go like this:  You meet with your director at some point; he or she listens to what you have to say about your prayer/contemplation/meditation/attentiveness to God or lack thereof since your last meeting, and suggests something for the next 24 hours.  Usually your director is assigned to you, or is perhaps a person you've met with in years past.  This year, I sought out someone in particular, writing to him in July after learning that he has a lot of experience with the issue that pervades my life: surviving the suicide of a child and going forward (and often backward) to rediscover God in a place of exile and sadness.

You can go to Mass if you are so inclined.  The  worship is informal but beautiful, and the homilies are more or less directed at the retreat process.

There are three scheduled meals and a kitchen that's always open with drinks and snacks available.  Wernersville wasn't quite as silent as Guelph, where even the kitchen staff works in silence -- but it was close enough.

Wernersville is a massive facility -- it once housed 150 young men in their first years of Jesuit formation -- and so there is a large and gorgeous chapel as well as several smaller chapels and parlors, two wonderful libraries, and lots of other indoor spaces for solitary quiet.  (Of course, for the directionally challenged among us, a huge building shaped like a H with a line down the middle can be quite a challenge -- especially  if our first tour guides are the extremely enthusiastic and equally disorganized Wayne and Michelle!)

Last week the weather was magnificent, so while I spent a lot of evening time in the chapel and main library, I spent most of my days in the sunshine, either sitting in an Adirondack chair in the cloister walk or roaming the grounds, wandering across vast expanses of lawn and down paths and roads leading through the woods and out to huge corn and grain fields.

I was hit with what must have been a terrible allergy attack the first day, so I went out to a drugstore to load up on remedies, and for several days I slept in late and went to bed early.  During the afternoons, I tried to remember how fortunate I was to feel lousy during a week which I had cleared of all responsibilities other than prayer, and to soak up the sun.  By the end of the week my head was much clearer and I was beginning to enjoy my explorations of the house.   I did continue to get lost repeatedly -- even to the point of having to go outside once in awhile to try to figure out what side of the building I was on.  But  I seem to have emerged intact.

Maybe that gives you an idea of the daily routine?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wernersville Photos


I'm not happy with Blogger's new photo uploader (see post below), and it's been such a hassle that I've lost interest in trying to post anything in any kind of order.  So, a kind of mishmash:

Cloud formations on my first full day of retreat.  It occurred to me that they accurately illustrated what seemed to be happening: thunder and darkness on my part and the light of God trying to break through.

Statue of Ignatius the Pilgrim.  A very nice welcome, as I had spent some of my drive listening to a set of recordings on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises just made by a Jesuit dear to me, and he makes extensive use of the pilgrimage metaphor.

View to the south.  The retreat center sits on 250-plus acres.

West cloister garden.  You can venture out on the roofs of the cloister walks, which is what I did most mornings with my cereal and juice and late most evenings with my hot chocolate.

Blogging Questions

I am stumped.  

Since Blogger changed its format for uploading photos a couple of weeks ago, whenever I upload a to Blogger a picture that I have uploaded to my computer from my camera and then switched from a horizontal to a vertical format, Blogger persists in flipping it back to the horizontal as soon as I try to publish it.  This is a problem for buildings and their interiors and statues that are then found lying on their sides.

Any ideas?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Back from Retreat

I'm back! ~ which I suppose means I'm about to start posting many days' worth of photos!

This retreat started and ended with a dramatic difference from most similar experiences of my life, which have been remarkably solitary endeavors.  I have been to two other Jesuit retreat houses, in Ontario and in Michigan, and both times I arrived knowing no one.  (In fact, when I went to Guelph the first time, the Canadian customs official at the border looked quite skeptical when my response to his question about whom I knew at my stated destination was "Nobody.")  And then I left knowing no one except the spiritual director with whom I'd been meeting.

This time I made a day of my journeys both ways, starting last Tuesday with breakfast at seminary with one of my professors and moving on toward a meeting and meal with Wayne of Stratoz and Michelle of Quantum Theology!  Wayne has visited us here so it was a little reunion for us, while for Michelle and me it was a first time meeting after many, many online exchanges!  The photo is stolen from her FB post.  Yesterday I made a reverse expedition, stopping again at the seminary to meet up with another professor and then talk with and have dinner with other friends.  I received a lot of questions about what eight days of silence is like, so I'll write a bit about that when I get around to it.

For now, let me just add as a footnote that it is extremely fun to have dinner at the seminary without an evening of study in the library looming ahead!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Back Sometime Next Week

Survivors of Suicide

Last night I went on this walk with some friends from church.  Two sons and one brother-in-law in our memories.

I was introduced, briefly, to a lovely and gentle woman, about a generation older than I, I think.  She lost one of her twin sons to suicide ten years ago, when her boys were about thirty years old, and his brother very recently in the same way.

One of my friends and I talked about how we pretend that these are not our real lives.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Prayer: Preliminarily

Michelle recently wrote a piece entitled "Prayer tips from around the world," and, as I commented, I felt a post of my own coming on.  (I was determined not to appropriate her comment section as if it were my own.)  I thought I would wait until I returned from retreat, but at least a preliminary post has emerged despite my efforts to suppress it.


Last week a gentleman said to me, in those words people so often use, "There is nothing I can do, so I just pray for her."

Prayer as a last resort.

The thoughts I am about to share have already been said, so many times and so much more eloquently, that I wonder at my presumption in adding yet another piece to the pile of paper spent exploring them.  But the context in which the remark was made was not one in which I could say what was on my mind, so this is, I suppose, my substitute.

Why is prayer not first?

Perhaps because we are so accustomed to thinking of prayer as petition, and as petition alone, and almost as accustomed to the harsh reality that so many of our petitions seem to waft into the air, float briefly above us, and disappear into the sky, unanswered, unremembered, nothing more than yet another source of disappointment.  Perhaps it seems, at times, that responses form themselves into miracles, but for every loved one who pulls through the surgery, there is another down the hall, equally beloved, for whom the code team arrives moments too late.

If we understand prayer as a magical incantation which will convince God to handle matters according to our preferences, after we have done what we can to advance progress toward our desired goal, then it not surprisingly becomes the last resort, the final "just-in-case" tag to a master plan.

If we however understand prayer as attentiveness, as the opening of ourselves to the divine presence in all things, then it makes no sense whatever to say that "There's nothing left to do but pray."

Not that it is ever too late ~ surely we need to be alert to God's presence when things are crashing into unresolvable crisis.

But if our prayer is always, "Where is your love, where and how are we to encounter you in this?" then should it be not only our first prayer but also our first response?

And are those not, more or less, the words behind every genuine prayer, whether framed as a plea for help, a protest of pain, or an expression of grateful thanksgiving?  Whether made in the form of the repetition of familiar words or the of imaginative evocation of a scene from Scripture, whether in long-sought and wordless silence or in a complex blend of vocal and instrumental music?  Whether pursued in solitude or joined in community?

Always, I think, our prayer is God's invitation to us to look and listen for the love that is God's search for us.  It is not the leftover plea in which we engage when "there's nothing else to do."  It is how we live into the gift of our God wandering through the chaos we have made of our garden and calling, "Where are you?"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Inter Alia

Inter alia is Latin for "among other things, as I explained to my law student son the other night. Herewith, inter alia:

The plan for tomorrow night is to accompany a small group of friends to a suicide prevention walk.  At least two of us are not at all sure that we believe in suicide prevention, but apparently we are willing to consider it as a possibility.  ("What do you mean, 'believe in'?" asked the Lovely Daughter.  "I don't know," I said.)

On Tuesday, it will be 50 years since this day.  Unlike my friend Laurie, looking at the photos I've been posting does not make me ill.  They bring me a great deal of pleasure.  Life can be, at times, pervaded by joy; at others, filled with darkness. So be it; we do not get to choose.

This year, ironically, I am going to spend much of October 5 driving.  First, to Pittsburgh, for breakfast with one of my seminary professors, so that we can continue our discussion about, inter alia (!), whether God suffers.  Then, to eastern Pennsylvania, for a late lunch with Michelle and Wayne (!) ~ one of my little interfaith Ignatian groups of friends, this one forged via blogging.

And then, on to Wernersville for eight days of retreat. 

So, over the next few days: lots of walking and driving and conversation and then  . . . SILENCE.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Family Fun: Two Lawyers

My first birthday, with Yellow Kitty and my uncle, who was about sixteen.
Yellow Kitty is the one who did not become a lawyer.

Especially for My Protestant Readers

Some questions have come up in my various conversations this week, and I'd love to know your answers.  Anyone can respond of course; Protestant faith -- or any faith -- is not a requirement:

Do you believe in angels?

If so, do you invoke the assistance of angels?

Anything else you want to say on the subject?

The comment section is wide open.

(Image: Wings of the Archangel Michael, Lakeview Cemetery)