Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Family Photos

My parents, about six weeks after I was born, at the Baton Rouge wedding of friends (who are, by the way, still married ).  
Don't they look glamorous?  And young? They were only about 21 years old.

Christmas 1958 is my guess.

This is, as far as I know, the only photo ever snapped of my entire original family.  I love two things about this photo:  My pink plastic hair rollers, evidence of my mother's indefatigable  optimism with respect to my absolutely straight hair, and the fact that the only member of the family fully dressed and ready for action is the lady of the house.  Well, I love a third thing.  We are all in it.

I think that the slightly different tree means that the picture I formerly identified as Christmas 1959 must be from the previous year.  Transfer the New Year's Eve story to this one!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Religious Literacy

From my (and probably your) internet front page this morning:

"A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn't know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

More than half of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation. And about four in 10 Jews did not know that Maimonides, one of the greatest rabbis and intellectuals in history, was Jewish." 

(By RACHEL ZOLL, AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll, Ap Religion Writer Tue Sep 28, 12:02 am ET)

I am pondering the above sympathetically.   I went to a Catholic boarding school (total immersion!) for three years and studied spiritual direction in a Catholic context, so I'm good on the Catholic stuff.  I was an active member of the United Methodist Church and now the Presbyterian Church for many years and I've taught world history, so I'm good on Martin Luther.  And I taught that history in an Orthodox Jewish school, so I know who Maimonides was.

But you know, you could write a similar assessment about me where science is concerned.  I have no concept of even the most fundamental basics. like how electricity works, and popular articles about chemistry and astronomy might as well be written in Sanskrit for all that I get out of them.

So I'm sympathetic.  But concerned, nevertheless.

I'm going to a meeting later today in which I expect to make the point that we Presbyterians are failing in our recognition, understanding, and expression of our identity as Presbyterian, Reformed, Protestant Christians.  On all counts.

I'm one of the facilitators for the Kerygma Scriptural educational program we are beginning at my home church this fall.  We usually have about 250 folks in worship on Sunday mornings; at least 70 have signed up for this class.  I'd say people are hungry -- not only for religious knowledge but for paths into such knowledge.

I'm preaching at a nearby church on October 31, Reformation Sunday and All Saints' Eve.  The regular lectionary gospel text for that day is the story of Zacchaeus, and I've been reading that wonderful Tomáš Halík book, Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing In Us, which I keep quoting at the top of my blog.  I'm trying to figure out how to pull all that together, remembering a Reformation Sunday a few years ago in which the history and theology of the day never came up except in the singing of A Mighty Fortress (a hymn written by Martin Luther and set to the tune of a popular drinking song ~ which I learned in an adult education class taught in my home church by a Jewish college professor of liturgical music!).  I was pretty sure that most people in the congregation had no idea why that particular song had been selected for that morning, and I'm pretty sure that a lot of people have no idea that the day on which we enjoy childish goblins and witches has serious religious significance.

To be honest, I have my Jewish students to thank for most of what I know myself.  Endlessly curious about other expressions of faith, they prodded me constantly to learn and teach them.  It's thanks to them that I spent hours researching both  Martin Luther's pamphlets (and sadly horrific anti-Semitism) and the history of pumpkin carving.

So . . . what are you wondering about these days?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hands and a Foot (Daily Photos 26-30)

I don't have much to say these days.  Or rather, I'm saying it in images, old and new, rather than words.  As I was walking through the cemetery a couple of days ago, I became almost completely focused on hands ~ and then, a few feet.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Our Mom and Us

One of the things I love about old snapshots is the cultural history that lurks in even the most casual image.  I'm not sure when this one was taken, but I'm guessing 1959 -- my brother David would have been almost three and I, six, and our baby brother three months and apparently asleep.  NB: the many bookshelves in what was a modest home; the many Christmas cards, representing friends whose greetings were joyously displayed; and the young mother of whom someone thought enough to gift with a blouse embroidered with her initials.  And look at the smiles!

If it is 1959, then one of my earliest memories is of an event that took place a week later, on the afternoon of New Year's Eve.  I was wearing a yellow cotton turtleneck of which I was quite fond, and leaning against the living room picture window, looking down at the hill and bare woods and creek behind our house.  My mother was explaining that the next day a new decade would begin.  "I don't want it to be 1960," I declared firmly.  "I like the 1950s."

Looking back, decades after the upheavals of the 60s, that seems an oddly prescient remark for a six-year-old girl. But  I think I was just happy ~ with my parents, my brothers, my school, our house, our yard, our grandparents, our animals (one Great Dane and one stray cat whose name was about to be changed from Tom to Tomasina), and our impending departure for five months in Florida.

Who knew that the Sally Draper years lay ahead?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Carol and Dudley ~ May 1960

 Vero Beach, Florida ~ May 1960

I think this might be my favorite of the few pictures I have of my mother and my youngest brother.  No posing for the photographer, no siren red lipstick.  Just a mother and her baby enjoying the Florida sunshine.  That is exactly what I've often thought I would do if I knew that I only had a few months to live.  
Of course, no one knew.

Music! (Friday Five)

Today's Friday Five is from Mary Beth:

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

Our title comes from a quote popularly attributed to St. Augustine: "He who sings prays twice." A little Googling, however, indicates that Augustine didn't say exactly that. In fact, what he said just doesn't fit well onto a t-shirt. So we'll stick with what we have.

"Singing reduces stress and increases healthy breathing and emotional expression. Singing taps into a deep, age-old power available to all of us. When we find our voice, we find ourselves. Today, sing like you mean it." And let's talk about the role music plays in your life and worship.

1) Do you like to sing/listen to others sing? In worship, or on your own (or not at all?)

 I can't sing a note, but I love to listen to others sing.  And sometimes I pretend that I am singing, too.

2) Did you grow up with music in worship, or come to it later in life? Tell us about it, and how that has changed in your experience.

In my six years of boarding school education, three Catholic and three Protestant, choral music was a mandatory part of the curriculum.  Weekly classes in both, even for those of us of modest (or no) ability, plus many worship services each week in which music was prominent

3) Some people find worship incomplete without music; others would just as soon not have it. Where do you fall?

I consider music to be an essential component of worship. (Yeah, I know, the Book of Order doesn't.  Whatever.)  Of course, the down side of that is that the evocative power of music is one of the things that kept me out of church in the months after my son died.

4) Do you prefer traditional music in worship, or contemporary? That can mean many different things!

I like what we do at my home church: one service with a blend of all kinds of music.  I love classical choral music, most of the stuff in the Methodist and Presby hymnals, John Bell music, and a lot of the international material our music director brings to us.  I love a lot of the Marty Haugen songs that many traditional Catholics diss.  I have little patience with contemporary praise music but I am . . .  teachable . . .   sort of.

I, I, I . . .  you would never guess from this response that music is an expression of community, would you? 

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

These days, I suppose it's this one, which I linked a few weeks ago:  Edgar Bainton's A New Heaven.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Five Things on My Mind

I don't, really, spend a lot of time on the way past.  But I do find myself, as October 5 approaches, musing about who that little girl of fifty years ago was, and who she was about to be turned into.  


I'm going on retreat in a couple of weeks.  Off to the silence at Wernersville.   I had to conclude earlier this summer that I couldn't do what I had planned in the way of a retreat in June, but a confluence of factors has made this new time and place irresistible.  


Abraham Joshua Heschel quotes have been popping up all over the place lately.  HT to Inward/Outward for this one:

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

Sort of a personal challenge for me this October. 


As are the words and art entitled Flare Up Like a Flame, from the Art Blog at Episcopal Cafe.  The whole post is too long to steal, but it's incredible.  I'll try to entice you with this bit:

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

I've had some correspondence lately ~ some of it answered, some not yet ~  which caused me to look up the definition of the word "courage" today.  Many of the definitions contain two parts: "doing something difficult" and "fearlessly." I don't know anyone who manages both, but I am finding that the opportunities for the former are as varied as there are human circumstances.  They usually being with "getting out of bed at some point during the day" as opposed to "fearlessness."


I suppose that these are all fodder for individual posts.

Maybe later in October.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thursday Night Suicide: Grey's Anatomy

I wrote the entry below last June 10, after a friend asked me about a FB post in which I said that I was finished with Grey's.  But I didn't post it, because I wondered whether I would feel differently a few months later.

I find that, in fact, I feel more strongly than I did at the time.  Last night my children and I went to see The Town.  It's violent and disturbing, and it contains a suicide-by-cops.  

I find that I am looking for evidence of redemption, and that I remain unsure as to when I see it and when I do not.

The June post:

It's Thursday night and so, a bit earlier this evening, my thoughts turned to Grey's Anatomy, which I used to watch on Thursdays.  One of my friends asked me why I had sworn it off after the season finale. 

Oh . . .  that season finale.  In a nutshell: the quietly deranged husband of a deceased patient wanders the hospital, searching for the three doctors he sees as responsible for his wife's death.  The SWAT team is phenomenal only in its ineptitude (thus dragging the show out to two hours), and several people get shot dead before the man locates his final intended victim, the former Chief of Staff.  (The present Chief is by that time in surgery due to his own gunshot wound.)  To his dismay, the man with the gun has only one bullet left; his plan had been to shoot the three doctors in question and then himself.  The Chief, a model of calm and unintimidated presence, convinces the man that suicide is preferable to prison, and walks out alive.

It is a powerfully suspenseful show. Many of the characters rise to  great heights of courage.  And given the twists of plot, the chief's actions seem reasonable - heroic, even.

But a physician convincing another man to end his own life?  And the ruthless murder of several innocent people and the terrorization of an entire hospital?  This is entertainment?

Of course, it's the suicide that finished off Grey's for me.  I suppose the show might redeem itself if it makes genuine effort to address the mental, emotional, and spiritual fate of the Chief, a man sworn to save lives, in the wake of his having advocated death  by suicide to the killer.  Unlikely, given past Grey's responses to trauma ~ it is, after all, a television show, not real life, and so it doesn't linger as we do in real life. 

I can't say that I've spent a lot of time thinking about this Grey's episode.  I have enough real life thinking to do where it comes to suicide and the deaths of young people.  But I do wonder:  could not there have been some kind of redemption for the man with the gun? 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Not So Old?

It has recently (finally!) occurred to me that at 57 I might be a bit on the older side when it comes to making major life changes.  Most of my friends are starting to talk about retirement, whereas I'm thinking that if I can just make it past that exegesis exam, then I might be ordained to something somewhere sometime.

My paternal grandmother always longed to travel the world, but was temporarily stymied by my grandfather's refusal to board either a plane or a boat.  She was a resourceful woman, however, and when I was nine and in fourth grade, she took me to Williamsburg VA for a week, inaugurating 25 years of adventure around the globe with grandchildren in tow. 

The next summer, when I was ten, we headed for Yellowstone and the Tetons. I very much wanted to take one of the park ranger-led trail rides, and she didn't want to send me off alone, so she bought a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt and clambered into a horse for the first time in her life.

You might have thought, given the fuss that folks made of her adventure, that she was at least 90 years old.  Last week I realized that she was the age I am now!


In my efforts to sort through the massive files of papers in this house, I've just found a box of letters I removed from my grandmother's attic a few years ago.  If I have understood my family history correctly, in the space of about two years around 1960 my grandparents each lost a parent and my mother and brother were killed.  This particular box of letters documents that time in the form of condolence letters; those from the nearby Ursuline sisters and from my grandmother's college friends are particularly beautiful.

In one of the letters, one of her friends references a conversation she and my grandmother had had a year earlier.  My grandmother had apparently said, "Do you realize that we only have about 10 productive years of life left?" 

She would have been about 53 when she said that!


My grandmother lived to be 100.  I don't think she would have chosen the last decade of her life, during which she became almost entirely deaf and blind, but she never lost the use of her considerable intelligence, and she was deeply engaged in our lives into her 90s.


I suppose that for someone born shortly after 1900, when the average American life expectancy was fifty, the mid-60s did seem OLD.  I feel quite creaky sometimes ~ but not very old.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Patience with God?

I haven't paid much attention to the "new atheism" or to rebuttals thereof.  I should, I suppose; I am surrounded, in my household and in my circle of friends, by people who profess either no belief or no interest in God.  But I have, you know, my own rather large issues with God.  Mine are about who, rather than whether, God is, and they seem to take up a great deal of my time.  So I generally leave the whether to those who have the energy and inclination for it. 

This morning, however, I read a review of a book that makes me want to investigate a bit.  The book is Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing in Us by Czeck theologian Tomáš Halík, about which Ben Myers says:

"His argument is that the real difference between faith and atheism is patience. Atheists are not wrong, only impatient. They want to resolve doubt instead of enduring it. Their insistence that the natural world doesn't point to God (or to any necessary meaning) is correct. Their experience of God's absence is a truthful experience, shared also by believers. Faith is not a denial of all this: it is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God's absence. Faith is patience with God. Or as Adel Bestavros puts it (in the book's epigraph): patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith."

Read the whole review here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bad Habits

I am hoping to break a bad habit I've recently developed by posting about it here.  Exposure = The End.

A lot of my friends on FB post little aphorisms that are usually followed by several "likes."  Harmless fun.

But me, I immediately see numerous exceptions to these little affirmations.  (QG can confirm, but I think such a response is an occupational hazard for attorneys.)  And then I post my brilliant responses -- which probably really disturbs folks who just want to skip along thinking happy thoughts.

This morning's example:

Seminary Friend: To receive a gift or blessing before you are ready to appreciate it is like not receiving it at all.

Me: Hmmmm......but you may appreciate it days or months or decades later, yes? And then it would have been most unfortunate not to have had it offered in the first place.

The story of my life.

Seminary Friend: That is true, too. 

Me (Unspoken):  They can't both be true.  Well, maybe sometimes.  Have to think about that one. 

Now I could bore you with a lengthy post about all the blessings in my life that I have appreciated eons after the fact.  And I could write about how unfortunate it would be if all the blessings offered us when we are incapable of receiving them graciously were to be subtracted from our lives, because then we would have close to none.

But I'm sure you have your own examples.

So the blessing I have to offer today is my plan to cease and desist from churlish growling on FB.

No matter how right I am.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Best Things From Your Mother?

I have suddenly started to think about something I've never really considered before:  What would it have been like to have had the companionship and guidance, the shelter and enthusiasm, of a mother, when . . .

I started high school, had my first date, struggled with geometry, looked for my first job, went to prom, wondered what to do next . . . 

Chose a college, transferred between colleges, started thinking about marriage, decided to go to law school, got married, went to law school, had my first encounter with sexism in the workplace, passed the bar exam, got my first legal job, bought a house, changed jobs, wondered what to do next . . . 

Found a church, couldn't get pregnant, got pregnant, bought a new house, threw up all day all night for seven months, had three babies in three years, quit working as a lawyer, had a husband who traveled for days  and weeks at a time, decided about schooling for children, went back to work, helped lots of people get divorced, changed churches, wondered and wondered and wondered what to do next . . .

Helped each of three beloved children through major life challenges, went to seminary, became a spiritual director, graduated from seminary . . .

Lost a child.

I'm pretty sure, because I know what I would be doing for my daughter if she were in my circumstances, what it would look like.  

But what does it feel like?

In three weeks it will be fifty years since my mother and brother died, in an era and a family in which people picked themselves up and brushed themselves off and didn't ask how it might have been different.

So now I'm asking.

What is it like, to be  15 or 25 or 50, to be starting a new thing or burying a child, and have a mother?  What has been the best thing for you about being the daughter or son of a mother?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Morning Prayer

Prayer: the Soul's Residence
Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Prayer is not a stratagem for occasional use, a refuge to resort to now and then. It is rather like an established residence for the innermost self. All things have a home: the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive. A soul without prayer is a soul without a home."
Source: The Wisdom of Heschel

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fall Bests - Friday Five

The real one is here, with one of the most wonderful photos I've ever seen!  This is the pretend one, from earlier today:

Well, the Friday Five isn't up yet, but there's some discussion about it, so I'm sure it will be soon.  However, I have to go out,  and I'm in the mood to post, so . . .

Best church opening event in which you've participated?

My Methodist church had a Festival of Opportunities early in September for several years running, in which every class, group, activity, etc. associated with the church presented themselves as a table in the Fellowship Hall.  Lots of conversation, lots of color and sparkle, and a few goats (Heifer Project).  

Best school opening event?

That was in January -- Tulane's opening week-end after having been closed all the Katrina fall.

Best fall activity:

Two of them: Backpacking Isle Royale in October long, long ago, and taking our kids out of elementary school for a trip to Baltimore and then to Chincoteague not quite so long ago.

Best fall color:

Williamstown MA.  

Best fall poem:

Mary Oliver's Wild Geese.

Bonus: A fall photo or painting. 

Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland OH

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Posture in Prayer: Into the Silent Land

 You may recall that early in the summer Michelle and I began a conversation on Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird, O.S.A.  As it continues, I'm over at her place, writing about posture in prayer

What do you do with your body when you pray?

(Image here.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blogging Questions . . .

People frequently visit this blog from nearby suburbs of Cleveland and from my seminary city of Pittsburgh.  Who ARE they (you) ?   Just curious.

My friend Lisa sometimes writes about her frustration and sadness when blogging buddies simply disappear ~ no warning, no forwarding address.  Its happened to me in the past couple of weeks; one of my favorite bloggers has disappeared completely. Blog gone and visits ended.  I miss her!  What gives?

I used to comment a lot more than I used to, and so did other folks.  I'm afraid that the rise of various programs for quick accessibility to blogs, programs like Google Reader and Bloglines, has diminished the community aspect of blogging.  Now that we can simply scroll through our list, we seldom pause to engage in conversation.  Why is it that every advance in technology seems to pair increased efficiency with increased isolation?

And hey, is it  a gender thing? I have noticed that almost every time I post a comment on a woman's blog, she comes over for a visit at least once or twice and generally posts something in response, either at her place or mine.  Men on the whole (with a few wonderful exceptions, one of which I encountered this morning) seem to ignore their visitors.  Or at least they ignore me!

Just my musings this morning.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Julian of Norwich: A Contemplative Biography (Book Review)

My knowledge of Julian, a 14th-15th century anchorite,* was scant.  Although a friend of mine did her doctoral work some forty years ago on Julian, I have not read her material nor discussed it with her.  My information was limited to those couple of quotes from Julian's mystical visions which people like to bandy about:

"And in this the Lord showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand .  . .  In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it"


"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Some time ago, I began to wonder about Julian, mostly because I was aware that she had  lived during a time of plagues, and yet the most famous Julian quote is the second.  What might that mean, I wondered?  Much of the time I feel as if I am living my own small version of the plague, but she lived through the real thing, the bodies of those she loved stacked and burned all around her, and yet she retained her confidence in her vision of God's love in all things and in God's words to her that "all shall be well."

So when I discovered the existence of this new little book, I delved into it as if I were an investigative scientist, searching for sometime to bolster my strength for the rest of my life.

In writing a "contemplative biography," Amy Frykholm has made use of what very little is known about the times and life of the historical Julian to imagine her story. We do know something of Norwich, England of the 14th and 15th centuries ~ its vibrant life of commerce and trade, its experience of the political chaos in both England and in the papacy, and the havoc wreaked upon it by the plague. We know almost nothing of Julian's biography ~ not her name (the one by which we know her comes from the parish church to which her cell was attached), her marital or mothering experience, her education, or her life and work before she became an anchorite at about the age of fifty.  Her visions when she became deathly ill at thirty formed the basis of a lifetime of contemplation and study and, ultimately, the first book written in English by a woman, a book which remains in existence thanks to only a few copies which surfaced in the early 17th century.  Frykholm puts all of this together to create a possible version of a life which is remarkable in its reach across the centuries to the contemporary reader.

It's difficult to condense into a few sentences all that has held my attention in this evocative and beautifully written little book.  Let me aim for three:

The emphasis on Julian as the first woman to have written a book in English is fascinating to this English major who began her college career at a Seven Sisters school that to this day remains a proud celebrant of women's education. Having the required semester course in Chaucer under my belt means that I have read a great deal of that contemporary of Julian's in its original middle English, and have studied the cultural and literary context in which he wrote.  I am, as my readers know, fascinated by cathedral architecture.  I've been to England. And yet not until maybe ten years ago did I even hear of Julian of Norwich, medieval writer in a cathedral city in England.  (Norwich is now on my list, thanks to some of the cathedral carvings depicted ~ not well, unfortunately ~  in the book.)

Amy Frykholm's imaginative portrayal of a response to the horrors of the plague is extremely well done. Not extensive, it is nevertheless effective in conveying the experience of hopelessness and listless despair that follows devastating loss.  For someone whose own life has certain parallels to Julian's, this rendition of the path through and out which God offered her is deeply moving.

Julian's theology is grounded in God's deep love for all of God's creation.   Her focus on the suffering of Christ is not surprising, given her context of the theology and practice of the medieval church and the social effects of the plague and, as Frykholm points out, can be distancing to the contemporary reader who lives in a largely secular world in which we seek to diminish the long term effects of pain and sorrow as quickly as possible.  Her initial confusion about God's revelations and what she was to do with them is also unsurprising, as she lived in a time in which questions about and suggestions for reform of the church tended to lead to the stake and in which women in particular were vehemently discouraged from learning and writing.  Nevertheless, she found in God a deep presence in and love for all things.  She came to know, with a clarity that I'm not sure emerges again until Ignatius of Loyola discovers and articulates quite similar principles of discernment some 150 years later, how to distinguish God's understood voice from that of the enemy who seeks to contradict it.  And she found in that love of God and in that clarity of discernment the gifts of courage and skill which enabled her to write down her visions and reflections upon them and send them out into the world with no way of knowing how (or even if) they would be received.

This woman who lived a quiet life which affected many in her city and which was then forgotten is the subject of much commentary today. Here's a page with more context and detail if, like me, you find that an introduction is often followed by deep thirst and obsessive research. But before you head for Norwich, read Amy Frykholm's little book.  If I were an official book reviewer, it would have my highest recommendation.

*The life of an anchorite was one of the few choices available to women in medieval Europe.  It entailed the removal of oneself to a small residence attached to a church or cathedral for the purpose of living an isolated contemplative life.   Julian's contacts with the "outside world" after her enclosure consisted of her daily attendance at Mass, her relationship with the woman who served as her intermediary for provision of food and care for her bodily needs, and her interactions with those who wrote to her or came to speak with her through her small outside window, seeking prayer and counsel.

And . . . (later) just found this brand new interview with the author!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Year Three: A Space in Which to Watch and Listen

And so . . .

Late yesterday afternoon my son and I drove the few hours to my husband's hometown for his brother's retirement party.  We stopped at nearby Chautauqua on the way so that I could purchase a gift for another party today and  also the Barbara Brown Taylor CDs from the summer  - a Sunday morning service, a Sunday evening Vespers service which has become a traditional time in which the preachers of the week to share some of their personal stories, and five weekday services.  

BBT is one of the reasons I have just graduated from seminary.  She was "introduced" to me a couple of decades ago by one of my stepsisters who was a parishoner of hers in Clarksville GA, and I've heard her preach several times at Chautauqua.  I had planned to go for one of the week-day services in July, but found that that beautiful place, with its memories of summer after summer with our children and of the last time there, taking some ashes down to the lake on Thanksgiving night two years ago, was not yet possible for me.  I had hoped to make one drive around the grounds yesterday, but it turns out that Chautauqua is also too much for my son.

Car rides with kids, even 26-year-old kids, are great opportunities for conversation.  My son shared some of his feelings about this past week and his fears about the party toward which we were headed.  I told him that my brother had called to express apprehension about my attendance at this event on this particular week-end.  

As it turned out, Matt spent much of the evening settled into a couch with a cousin and some other young men he doesn't know, watching football on tv.  I spent most of it sitting around a table with my husband's sisters and their husbands and one of their daughters, who's just started college.  I watched the new babies and their families out of the corner of my eye, and here's what I saw:

The babies are beautiful and peaceful and never at a loss for arms in which to be held ~

The young mothers look very happy, a little tired, and at ease in their new roles ~

The grandmothers and great-grandmother are ecstatic ~

It looks (and I recall that it is) much easier to care for one newborn than two, especially when you are surrounded by extended family ~

No one shared birth stories with me, no one tried to hand babies to me, no one mentioned what it was like when there were two babies in the family 26 years ago.

Which caused me to wonder:

Do I exhibit a terrible stillness that renders me unapproachable?  Are they sensitive to my feelings?  Or are they just scared of the woman whose own baby grew up only to die?  

Probably no one even notices.  Perhaps it's only me ~ because I am so aware that if Josh were here, I wouldn't be able to get enough of those babies and their mothers.

And so . . . 

I am thinking that two years ago I would not have gone near that party.  A year ago I would have gone and been outside in tears within five minutes.  Last night I made it through three hours and managed, I think, to appear quite normal.  (Perhaps when my husband comes home tonight, he will offer a different impression.)

I see that this is a year in which to watch and listen, to absorb and reflect.  I wonder at the randomness of it all ~ how my sister-in-law has a happy marriage, a job she enjoys, a beautiful home, three grown children, and now two beautiful grandchildren, and how she smiles and laughs.  I wonder how many times I have been, in my own happiness, oblivious to the concealed pain of others. (I am not commenting on my sister-in-law or anyone else ~ only on myself.)

Matt and I spent a lot of our car time talking about how much you share, how much you don't.  What does he say to new acquaintances in law school?  I am still stunned, he says, that my brother is dead, and by suicide. What do I say to new people, some of whom might become good friends and some not?  How do I tell stories about my life? 

I tell him that I have no idea.  I tell him that one of my best friends is a woman I met on the first day of law school all those years ago, and that she became a person who immediately flew back from California when his brother died and accompanied me to the crematorium. But how would I have predicted any of that when we were young women studying law together?  I tell him that some years ago she told me that she remembers in great detail the moment when we were getting to know each other over our morning cookie snack, a few weeks into school, and I told her that my mother had died when I was a child.  It was a simple statement of fact for me,  a stunning revelation for her.  I don't remember the conversation at all; it is burned into her mind. What effect do our words have on people?  I am a preacher: I should know the answer to that one.  I find that I have no idea.

I tell him that I do not know what to tell, what not.

(This blog, form instance, is probably too much sharing.  But in truth it reveals little of the depth of this experience.)

And so . . . watching and listening, and trying to figure out how to live.  What to share because it helps me.  What to offer because it might help others.  What to keep to myself.

Year Three begins.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Thanks to all for the avalanche of prayers over the past week.  I felt very much supported through the four-plus days I spent researching and writing my exegesis exam.  As I said, I have no particular feelings or sense about the outcome, and I won't know until the end of October. In the meantime, I have just finished the cumbersome online application for substitute teaching in our local district.  It's incredibly frustrating to have completed seminary and find myself set back 20 years but that, apparently, is going to be part of the process for me.

I spent a chunk of September 2 by myself out at the beach.  It was a perfect day: really hot and sunny, warm lake water and gentle waves, and a vast and almost empty stretch of beach ~ kids back in school and concession stands closed.  There was a woman who had set up close to my spot who spent a lot of time playing at the edge of the water with her twin boys ~ they must have been about three ~ but I found that I could pretty much absorb the resulting sense of pain as I remembered when I was that mother with little boys at the beach.

In the evening we went down to the cemetery, and unexpectedly ran into some friends.  I've left various things down there ~ a shell from a family trip to Lake Michigan, a stone and some feathers from the beach here ~ and my friends had brought flowers and sea urchin shells. (I'm trying to add more photos, but am getting no co-operation from Blogger.  If I get a chance later, I'll supplement.)  I think makes it a nice surprise for the few folks who happen down the trail through the woods, and Josh would appreciate that.

This afternoon we are off to my husband's brother's retirement party.  I imagine that people will take due note of the newly retired mailman and will then move on to the real stars of the evening: his two brand new grand-children. That will be tough for me, to see those cousins who look so much like twins, but I am working on ways to both enjoy and protect myself ~ which include leaving early.

The Lovely Daughter has gone to D.C. for the week-end, to rendevous with Montessori middle school and camp counselor friends. We expect her back tomorrow, Australian gentleman in tow, to help celebrate friends' 40th wedding anniversary. I for one am looking forward to meeting the new fellow ~ any young man who makes his way from his own farm in Australia to work on a summer camp farm in North Carolina is well worth knowing, in my book.

The other news:  It's COLD! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Happy 26th Birthday!

Matt ~ Summer 2009 ~ Montessori Kids at College Graduation Party