Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pre-Call Musings

How strangely life unfolds . . .

I grew up in the country, a couple of miles outside a town of 2,000.  Since the county line ran down the middle of our road, I went to elementary school seven miles further into the country, outside another little town of a few hundred.

(The school's FB page says something about a playground surrounded by fields and cows.)

My Catholic boarding school for grades 7-9 was also in the country, WAY out.

My boarding school for grades 10-12, in the Connecticut Valley, was located on the edge of a town of a couple of thousand. 

I have spent a LOT of time in my life walking down roads lined by cornfields and beanfields. 

Eventually I made my way to cities for college and law school and adulthood.  It's no secret that I love the diversity and energy, the arts and conversations and coffee shops, of the city.  I love my particular city, in which the older houses are all architecturally intriguing and different from one another and in which I can walk to pretty much anything.

And so . . .  of course . . .  I've been called to a Small Church in a Tiny Town.

Much discussion has ensued, there and here.  And will continue, as there is still time and there are still processes in which things can fall apart.  But I don't think that they are going to. There is too much excitement on all parts.

Much of the discussion in this household and in my head has focused on matters rural and urban.

My field ed church was downtown; the immediate issues at stake there have to do with the crises of the city: homelessness and unemployment and education.  The senior pastor refers to himself as an urban theologian.

As far as I have been able to glean from my conversations with SC, the immediate issues at stake in the country are homelessness, unemployment, and education.  

A deep sense of community and cohesion arches over it all, however.  A deep longing to love and be loved.

These are folks who are interested in home visits, not in twitter.

They are impressed that I can identify a soybean field.

I have George Herbert poetry by my bedside.

I think that I am about to become a rural theologian!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spiritual Direction: Musings

Three years ago, a group of would-be spiritual directors sat outside late into the evening of our end-of summer retreat.  We had completed our first year of mostly academic preparation and were about to commence our intern year; we were happy to have survived our introduction to Karl Rahner and apprehensive about the real life "directees" who would soon walk into our lives.

Here's what I wrote that August 24:

We sat around in Adirondack chairs on the patio of the retreat house late last night. Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist. A little wine and a LOT of laughter. One of the first year students had been heard to say that she had not imagined a retreat like this one. Well, no; the silent retreats are NOT like this one. This one was for learning about each other and worshiping together and exploring the spirituality that has brought us together to form an unlikely but passionately engaged group.

The first year of our Ignatian spirituality program is largely academic: classes every other week, all day workshops scattered through the year, SEVENTEEN papers on the theology, practice, and challenges of spiritual direction. Those of us laughing so freely on the patio have weathered that year, and not without rather vigorous debate. We have affectionately nicknamed ourelves The Fractile Fifteen. I haven't read The Shack, but I'm told that if you have, you'll get it.

Now we begin our practicum year, sharing the journey of attentiveness to God with our own directees. Classes are down to once a month, but we still have papers, as well as verbatims (shades of CPE), meetings with directees, meetings with supervisors, meetings with our own directors. Plus whatever else it is we do in life -- work, school, ministries, caring for kids and spouses, caring for elderly parents.

It's a good thing that we're all well versed in humor.

That late August, my life was full and I was EXCITED.  I had just finished my summer unit of CPE and was about to return to seminary for my second year. 

And then, ten days later, eights days after I wrote the above, our Josh died.  Of suicide.


Last Saturday night, a smaller group of the same people sat together outside the retreat house.  Six of us have been meeting more or less monthly for the past couple of years, and we decided to get together out there this past week-end, so that we could party afterward  with the current classes in the program.

It was another beautiful late summer evening, clear and just warm enough to be outdoors until dark.  Our conversation this time was a serious one; the challenges we face as somewhat experienced spiritual directors differ substantially from those we imagined as jittery newbies.  

As we talked, I thought about that evening on which we had all laughed so much three years earlier.  I thought about how, a few months later, people, including most emphatically people connected to that program, urged me to pick up the shattered pieces of my life.  I thought about the first person I saw in spiritual direction, around Thanksgiving, to whom I listened as carefully as I could before going home to crawl into bed to cry myself back to sleep.  

I thought about each of us in the little group of six.  Five of us have encountered in the past three years the kinds of life challenges that threaten to flatten one as surely as a steamroller would.  

I thought about how astonishing it is that we should have all been brought together as strangers, persisted in our program and friendships, and were gathered once again as friends on a late summer evening.


I would, of course, trade absolutely all of the good that has come into my own life (excluding my surviving children); I would trade my life itself without a blink ~ to recover Josh's.

But, all of that being impossible, I am extremely grateful for the many good things and gifted people who have been my friends and companions in this journey.  And that little group of people, women and men, Protestant and Catholic, impassioned about spiritual direction and able to at least look for God in all things, is among the best.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Graduation" Speech: Radical Inefficiency

Today it was my privilege and delight to offer the address for the certification ceremony of the Ignatian Spirituality Institute, where I studied spiritual direction (and was "certified"~ there is no official governing body or certification for spiritual directors) two years ago.  

I'll have some reflections later upon the week-end itself, but for now I'm just going to post what I had to say and then I'm going to take a nap!

Most of you know that my first year of ISI was also my first year in seminary, studying for ordination in the Presbyterian Church. One day at lunch I was sitting with a group of people and one of my professors, upon hearing that I was about to head back to Cleveland for my ISI class, turned to me and said, “You know, I really don’t get this spiritual direction stuff.  It seems so inefficient to me.  You can reach so many more people ~ dozens, hundreds ~ in one 20-minute sermon.” 

Now that was a perspective that I hadn’t heard before.  But I’ve concluded that he was right.  You can at least speak to many more people in a shorter period of time by preaching a sermon ~ spiritual direction is a radically inefficient activity ~ and no, he didn’t get it.  Which is ok, because neither did I, not then.

So there’s some irony in the fact that this afternoon I’m here to speak as adeptly as possible about what is perhaps the most inefficient of the spiritual arts:  the companionship that we call spiritual direction.

Now, I don’t want to knock preaching.  I’m deeply invested in the value of the preached word.  And Jesus did some preaching himself!  But we know that he also spent a lot of time with individuals.  In fact, some of the most significant episodes in his life, some of those times in which he said things that resonate most meaningfully in our own hearts, are those in which he singled out one person, absorbed his or her story, and issued that most profound of invitations: 

Abide in me. 

The sentence itself he says to his disciples in the Gospel of John:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5). 

The invitation represented by those words ~ that’s an invitation he issues not just once, but over and over, throughout his life, in all kinds of ways: to Mary Magdalene, to Nicodemus, to Thomas, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the woman at the well. 

Abide in me. 

Abide ~ that’s a rich, deep word.  It means to stay, to reside, to persevere, to linger, to dwell.  

Do those verbs resound with a call to efficiency?  To linger ~ that’s my favorite from that list of synonyms  ~  to linger is to take time, to soak up every last drop of an experience, to delay.  

And there’s another synonym we all know from our friend Ignatius: to savor.  To luxuriate, to appreciate, to revel, to cherish.  How often are we told to savor our prayer, to repeat it and to cherish the unexpected, to roll around in it and sink into it, to taste and see that the Lord is good? 

When Jesus urges us to abide with him, he is not issuing a proclamation in favor of speed, of straight lines and right angles.   He is not insisting upon large crowds or grand sermons.  He is telling us that where two or three are gathered . . .  he is telling us that he longs for us to put aside our fears of wastefulness and untimeliness and ineffectiveness and to remember that one of the synonyms for inefficiency is: extravagance.  

Spiritual direction insists upon the value of extravagance: extravagance in time, in conversation, in relationship. 

I want to suggest three things today, three things upon which we might focus as spiritual directors, as those responding to Jesus’ invitation to abide in him by inviting others to do the same. 

First, we know people by name. 

That seems like such a little thing, but its importance was driven home to me when I was on retreat this past summer.  At the Wernersville Jesuit Center in eastern Pennsylvania, many of the spiritual directors' offices are in a corridor on the third floor, and the waiting area is a kind of sunroom in the middle of that corridor.  Every day when my director appeared in the sunroom, he greeted me with the words, "Good morning, Robin."  Someone knew me by name! ~ in that huge and silent retreat house, someone knew who I was.

And that's the first point ~ not just that we know the names of the people whom we accompany, but that we know who they are.  We are welcomed into places in their lives which they share with few other people, places in which they see God laboring with them, or places in which they long to see God, or places in which they believe that there is no hope of ever seeing God. 

The second point of this small first meditation is we invite people to see that God knows them by name.  We invite them into a deeper understanding- that the God in whose image they are made knows who they are and longs to mold them into even more of who they are created to be.

Perhaps the most telling incident of Jesus calling someone by name occurs in the scene in the Gospel of John in which he and Mary Magdalene encounter one another after the Resurrection.  "Mary," he says to her.  What a transformation takes place in her life in that moment!  She has not recognized him, but ~ he knows her by name and he knows exactly who she is.  He knows her as someone whose friendship for him is so strong - that she is wandering around all by herself in a cemetery at the break of day ~ trying to figure out what has happened ~ and he knows her as someone being re-created by his presence into the woman she is called to be, the woman called to share the good news of the Resurrection.

When we know people by name, when we know who they are in their unfolding relationship with God, then we share in this kind of profound growth in who they are as the friends of God.

That might be enough, right there, to satisfy us as spiritual directors, but there's more, a second small meditation:

First point: It is our great privilege to listen to the stories of our directees.  It is, indeed, holy ground, that place where a person shares with us the story of his or her life with God.  My own ISI classmates may recall that, during our first workshop on discernment with Brian McDermott, it really struck me what a powerful and terrifying responsibility we were undertaking as spiritual directors.  Everyone assured me that, despite my personal inclination to forget, the task is not mine alone ~ or even, mine at all ~ that the Holy Spirit is the one who is at work ~ but the reality remains: we are on holy ground in our listening.

How holy it is - may be more readily apparent to us when we pray with some of the most well-known and beloved stories in which Jesus can be understood as a spiritual director to individuals.  When Nicodemus slips put to meet with him under cover of darkness, Jesus listens carefully to his confusion and question: How can someone be born again?  When Thomas insists that he will not believe the report that the other disciples have made of Jesus' appearance until he sees and touches for himself, Jesus' response indicates that he has clearly heard and understood Thomas' anguish and need.  When he appears alongside the despondent couple on the road to Emmaus, Jesus again listens carefully to what they have to say, to their sense of abandonment and frustration ~ before he begins to guide them away from their misconceptions ~  and back toward the reality they do not yet comprehend.

None of these instances portrays Jesus as a model of efficient ministry.  Look at what he's doing: He is meeting individuals, at inopportune times and in unusual circumstances, and becoming completely present to who and where they are in the uniqueness of each individual journey in the spiritual life.

Abide in me, dwell with me, as I do in and with you ~ those are the terms that Jesus offers, in an extravagantly personal way

And I would be remiss if I did not recall for us that encounter in which Jesus is at his most extravagant in his capacity to take time with another: the story of the woman at the well.  He lingers, he listens, he appreciates the woman’s life and her dilemmas, he responds, he challenges, and he affirms.  If we want to be spiritual directors, we are well advised to spend some time with that story, in which a tired and lonely and disillusioned woman is awakened to courage and energy ~ and to life itself.

Of course, in our listening, we are not solely focused upon the stories of our directees, or limited to the context of their own lives.  We are inviting them into a much greater story, into participation in the life of Jesus ~ as he himself does in every situation that I've mentioned.

I had a conversation with one of my great friends in this Ignatian adventure a couple of months ago, and she and I agreed that two of the great gifts of Ignatian spirituality lie in its inherent challenge and in its optimism that challenge can be met.  

Ignatius always invites us to magis, to more ~ to a sense of this wide, wide world and its opportunities for becoming the people we are meant to become ~ by serving the God we are called to serve - with all the gifts God has so graciously bestowed upon us.  And throughout Ignatian spirituality there courses a relentless optimism that supports us in doing just that ~ becoming most fully who we are in the service of our God.  

That sense of challenge and optimism emerge in part from Ignatius' own narrative ~ the story of a man felled by a cannon ball ~ who went forth to set the world on fire ~ with a keen sense of the God who is present in all things.  But ultimately the sense of challenge and optimism which ground the spiritual direction relationship emerge from that greater story into which we are always seeking to help our directees find themselves.  

We see that orientation break into a human life every time that Jesus lingers with an individual ~ every time he welcomes their questions and dilemmas and reverences who they are. We see it ~ the challenge and optimism that constitute, ultimately, an orientation of hope ~ every time that we help someone abide in Jesus. 

There is, finally, a third aspect of our lives as spiritual directors, a tough one to talk about ~ because some of what we do as directors is that we share who we are.  Not where we are in our own lives -- preoccupied, agitated, confused, relaxed, triumphant, whatever -- but who we are: We are people who pray, people who listen, people with the capacity to absorb, people who are attentive to the movement of God through God's spirit.  We are very inefficient people.

I speak as someone who, like most of you, is a beginner in this enterprise.  That's not a bad thing to be ~ the great teachers of prayer remind us that we are all, always, beginners. 

Nevertheless -- despite our very real status as beginners, we are also people who take the time to savor the life of prayer, to linger with God and with others who long to do the same -- and we need to respect and honor those qualities in ourselves.  In his little book Crossing the Desert, Robert Wicks tells us that "[true] guides are people who teach us even more by who they are than by what they know." 

A little scary yes?  Even scarier than that initial recognition that we are stepping onto holy ground in our accompaniment of others.  Who we are, as we step onto that holy ground -- that matters, too.  Who we are ~ as we seek to abide in Jesus and to welcome him into his dwelling with us, who we are ~ as we devote ourselves to others who are furnishing a residence for Jesus in their own lives ~ who we are is a matter of significance.  It matters that we are people of integrity, of contemplation, of curiosity, of perseverance.  That we are people who meet challenges; people who harbor hope.  That we are people who wait upon the Lord.

We have been given great gifts toward becoming and always re-becoming women and men of prayer who accompany others, who know their names and their stories - and who invite them to settle into the most welcoming and hospitable of homes.  We have been given the gifts of our ISI education and training.  The gifts of our peers and our supervisors and our own directors. The gift of this extraordinary tradition of Ignatian spirituality, passed on for over 450 years from one person to another. (Now that’s radical inefficiency!)  And most of all ~ we have been given the gift of those who share the great treasure of their own lives with us.

We may feel inadequate to the task and yet ~ we have also been offered another extraordinarily great gift in that - in spite of our limitations ~ the Holy Spirit chooses to work with the most astonishing extravagance when we are present to others.

May the face of God shine upon you always as you respond to this call ~ to linger and to listen and to be present ~ both to the Spirit of God and to the individuals whose names and stories you come to know.  And may God always be gracious to you as you seek to help others who long to abide in Jesus.


Image: Ignatius the Pilgrim, Wernersville (PA) Jesuit Center ~ October 2010

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Family and Friends

When my great-grandmother, Lulu Oberlin, was a young girl and wanted to study piano, she drove her buggy the ten miles or so from her family farm to the Ursuline convent, and used her egg money to pay the nuns for her lessons.

Lulu grew up to become Lulu Craig, stalwart of the Methodist Church (the story goes that she sailed down the street every Monday morning to offer a sermon critique to the pastor),  who told her two sons about her love for the Ursulines. Her husband founded the family grain business in the early years of the 20th century.

My grandfather, Harold Craig, whom I've written about as the great storyteller he was, and my father and his brother always did business with the nuns, who ran a convent, boarding school, and farm.  Eventually they all became the greatest of friends.  When I appeared on the scene, I was the first girl in three generations, and I went to the Ursulines' school from grades seven through nine.  Those years, so formative in anyone's life and right on the cusp of Vatican II, gave me my familiarity and comfort level with Catholicism ~ and friends for a lifetime.

The family business is gone now, and so is the boarding school.  But the convent remains, albeit much reduced in number of sisters, and a small college thrives there, quite literally transforming lives of students on the edge of Appalachia, for most of whom a higher education would otherwise be completely out of reach. 

The Lovely Daughter and I stopped by for a visit the day after her birthday, and I sought some advice from one of my dearest friends, Sister Agatha, about ministry in the country -- advice I may need soon!  Agatha reminded us that she had first met LD exactly 24 years earlier, when she and her best friend, Sister Xavier, drove my 81-year-old grandmother to Cleveland for a day so that she could meet her brand new great-granddaughter.  And here they are now, two School of the Brown County Ursulines girls -- Sister Agatha, because she graduated some 60 years ago, and my daughter, who shares an Ursuline legacy as the great-great-granddaughter of Lulu:

Agatha also showed us the gardens that my father has given in memory of our Josh; here's the plaque, which you can probably read if you click to enlarge:

Some things in our lives have been pretty awful, but we have certainly been blessed with wonderful friends.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Back to the Four Questions!

The first question, on August 7, got +/- 25 responses and was as follows:

Take a minute and write down your responses to the following.  No context ~ just whatever responses pop into your mind.  Be as general or specific as you want, using as few words as possible.

1. Five colors.

2. Five cities.

3.  Five landscapes.

4.  Five interiors.

5. Five things you might wear. 

The second question, posted on August 8, got about 15 responses:

Within each of your groups, do you seen commonalities?

The third question, on August 10 ~ about 13 responses:

What do you consider to be the big question or conundrum of your life?

The fourth question, posted on August 11, generated only four answers:
How do you connect your answers?
And then I went on vacation, and then Many Other Things Happened.  I'm eventually going to post my answer to the 4th ~ so here's your chance to catch up before I do!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Call Process

I am preaching a candidating sermon on September 11.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

FB Can Be SO Cool!

I grew up out in the country, and went to a small and very rural elementary school.  My boarding school career started in 7th grade but you know, you never forget the people with whom you were little.  There were two sets of twin boys in my elementary grade, and :

October 2010:


You have always been on my mind since 2nd grade. I remember the car accident you were in. I always wanted to know what happened to you. Now I know -God has been good to you.
Your friend

October 2010:
Tom, thank you for your kind note. I don't know whether you have managed to follow everything [in disjointed FB conversations], but we lost one of our 24yo twin sons to suicide 2 years ago, and now I've passed all the exams for ordination in the Presby Church. A good friend tells me that I know well the "harsh reality" of belief, and I suppose I do.

Hope you and YOUR twin are well.

August 2011:

Robin, We had our class party last night and you have a lot of friends who asked about you-Brenda B-Joyce H-Mark S [oh yeah ~ "went" to 6th grade dance with him!]. Hope things are good in your life. Everyone said Hi! 

As a result of that class reunion this past week-end, Tom has connected me with another classmate, a woman who lost one of her twin sons four years ago.  We were probably about 16 when we last saw one another.


Thursday, August 18, 2011


Hiking up a mountain . . .

Floating down a river . . .

Visiting a mansion . . .

Reading Doc: A Story, as recommended by QG . . .

Working on my first graduation speech (!) . . .

About to celebrate The Lovely Daughter's 24th birthday!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Imparting Wisdom

What little I have, anyway.

We are in western North Carolina for a few days.  Yesterday, as we made our way down one of the trails at Chimney Rock, I asked the Lovely Daughter whether she remembered scampering up the boulder-strewn trail at Mt. Jo when she was five and we were camping in the Adirondacks.

She said that she does has a couple of fragmented memories, mostly of the huge, flat rock on top on which we picnicked, but that the memories of many of the things we did a lot of, like hiking and camping, have blended together.  "I'm always amazed that you can recall specific years and places," she said.

"Our Town," I said.

"Huh?" she asked.

I reminded her that at the end of Thornton Wilder's play, Our Town,  the young Emily Gibbs asks for a chance to look back at those who have survived her death, a request which is reluctantly granted by the Stage Manager.  As she watches her family go about their ordinary tasks, she is deeply moved and filled with anguish, and cries out,

"Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it -- every, every minute?"

"That's sort of my theme," I said, meaning that I try to live that line out.

I am neither poet nor saint but I do, consciously, try to live my live as deeply as possible, a disposition which tends to intensify both joy and sorrow as well as what lies between.  I think that such is probably a propensity born out of early loss, out of a desire not to squander what is ~ the same quality that infuses actual poets and saints.

"No," the Stage Manager tells Emily.  "The saints and poets, maybe ~ they do some."

Top image: Chimney Rock, here.

Second image: Someone else's Mt. Jo photo, here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Back in a Week

(The music doesn't start until 45 seconds in.)

I'm putting together my thoughts about all my answers, but this will give you all a chance to catch up!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fourth Question

Yes, I see that the third question is a bit overwhelming.  Since I'm about to go on vacation, I'm going ahead with my answer.  I'll read the others over the course of the day.

My response to the third:

For me, the big question has to do with seeking/finding/encountering ~ being sought by, found, encountered by ~ God.

One of the hallmarks of Ignatian spirituality is that God is in all things. 

When I was making the Spiritual Exercises six years ago, I once heard my spiritual director say, in a public talk, "Well, first you have to find God in some things."

I didn't see either statement as much of a problem.

And then Josh died and my experience was of God in no things.  My experience was of a silence and emptiness so vast that it seemed that I was falling endlessly into a great abyss, falling and falling and falling, and would continue to fall forever.

 I could see that God was plenty available to other people.

Eventually, I began to wander through the new territory in which I found myself in an experiential sense by listening to the spiritual journeys of others.  That's how I knew that God was still interested and involved.

I dove into it in an academic sense by continuing with seminary.  One of my ordination exam essays involved a hypothetical in which several people were engaged in a  discussion with their pastor about whether God is revealed only in Scripture (perhaps a Reformed position), only in Jesus (and, therefore, Scripture ~ a Barthian clarification of the Reformed take), or primarily in nature (certainly a view common among spiritual seekers). 

My Catholic friends may wonder why none of the hypothetical conversationalists took the position that God is revealed through tradition.  That would be because they were hypothetical Presbyterians.

My answer ~ and we had to address such questions with a theological exposition and then a practical response to the individuals in the scenario ~ covered all of the foregoing as well as Celtic Christianity, contemporary Calvin studies, and the Wesleyan quadrilateral, and was deemed, well, a good deal more than acceptable. 

How did I do that in an hour? How at all?   I suppose the response has something to do with the fact that I had just completed my second year in seminary over the course of the year and a half immediately subsequent to Josh's death, a year in which I read and discussed and wrote about everything I studied in the context of those questions:    Is God in all things?  Some things?  Any things?  How does God reveal God's own self? 

Over time and in surprising ways, God's presence ~ to me ~ became profoundly evident.  I think now that one of the basic symptoms of grief is Failure to Notice.  Kind of like failure to thrive in babies.  Not, I would think, a startling revelation. 

And now I am more passionately interested than ever in how the Spirit of God sustains and nourishes us, and how we come to recognize and celebrate that engagement of God with us.

Believe it or not, this all has something to do with colors, cities, landscapes, interiors, and clothes.

The fourth question: How do you connect your answers?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I'm off on a long drive to rescue my spiritual director.  He has recently accepted the post of spiritual director to the priests of a nearby diocese.  I figure that if he is spending his days with Catholic men in black, he needs a visit from a Protestant woman in (very!) bright colors.

Diane at Contemplative Photography depicts my journey more evocatively with this quote from Stephen Butterfield:

"By having to ask for help, I tune into that inexhaustible bank of kindness that is all-pervasive and unconditional, and feels so good when it comes through us to someone else.  Because of my need, his routine changed: maybe he took another step on the path."

I'll be back sometime tonight.  I'm hoping later rather than earlier, as a beach beckons. In the meantime, I notice that y'all are a bit intimidated by question 3!

Third Question

My answers to No. 2:

Colors ~ Those of the sea and sky.

Cities ~ The first thing I think of when I see these names together is art: visual ~ including architecture, musical, theater.  And lots and lots of people from just about everywhere there to soak it all up.

Landscapes ~ What I see that they have in common is that they are all edges, borders, places where different terrains or terrain and water merge into something new. Even canyons, formed as they are by water and rock, are created by the encounter of two distinct ingredients.

Interiors ~ With some exceptions, these are all places that blend inside and out: books and views.  The Wernersville library is more about cozy reading spots and stacks of books, and the "treehouse" was an octagonal room high in the trees at the edge of a deck with windows all around but no books at the moment ~ although if it were my personal treehouse it would be filled with books.  My grandmother's living room had two walls with books and looked out on gardens and birdfeeders and hills and fields.  Our condo last Christmas ended up wth books all over the place because we were there, and looked out over the Gulf of Mexico.  And I've never forgotten the living room of the folks whose children I cared for during two high school summers on Cape Cod, which opened onto a porch on three sides and from the porch to the water on one, and looked up to a second floor loft that served as the hallway for the bedrooms on three sides.  A cozy room for reading and listening to music, but wide open to the sea and sky.

Attire ~ I looked at my list and realized that these were all clothing items for the out-of-doors.  Even the sundress is for an afternoon of relaxed reading in an Adirondack chair or an evening meal al fresco.  I see that I did not include a single item that I would consider "professional" wear.  And I had to add a sixth, because I always wear earrings.

Third Question:  What do you consider to be the big question or conundrum of your life?

I should probably warn you at this point that there is absolutely nothing behind these questions other than my own imagination.  I dreamed them up a couple of days ago when I was trying to work something out for myself, and they produced what seemed to me an intriguing insight.

You might just find them fun.  I'm going back to look at all of your answers again.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Second Question

Here are mine (which I wrote before I read anyone else's):

colors: teal, purple, cobalt blue, blue gray, turquoise
cities: Santa Fe, Washington, D.C., Paris, Florence, London

landscape:  canyons, Oregon coast, marshes, Maine islands, Lake Michigan coastline

indoor spaces: Wernersville library, my grandmother's living room, treehouse at retreat center I just visited, main room in our Cedar Key condo, living room of Cape Cod employers
clothing: boots, jeans, t-shirts,  sweaters, sundresses, earrings

Next question: Within each of your groups, do you see commonalities?  

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Try This

Take a minute and write down your responses to the following.  No context ~ just whatever responses pop into your mind.  Be as general or specific as you want, using as few words as possible.

1. Five colors.

2. Five cities.

3.  Five landscapes.

4.  Five interiors.

5. Five things you might wear.

When at least  ten people have responded, either in their comments or in their own blogs, I'll tell you the next step.  There are four steps in all.

O Energy, Energy, Where Art Thou?

I used to be a person of tremendous energy.  

With Josh's death, all of that energy, that sense of vitality and propulsion forward, evaporated.  How I returned to my work at seminary and in spiritual direction three months later I will never know.

These days, I would say that I'm about halfway back.  

Yesterday it was my tremendous privilege to lead a workshop on discernment for a small group of UCC pastors being trained in a new process for helping individuals explore calls to ministry.  I had a co-leader who opened and closed with information about the UCC framework, but I designed and led the five hours on discernment.  Bases upon the evaluation comments, I would call the day an almost unqualified success.  (The participants enjoyed the role-play experiences so much that we had to dispense with an entire topic. No one else minded, but I did. Next time: a firmer grip on the schedule!)

And today ~ I'm drained ~  immobilized.


When I was on retreat a couple of weeks ago, I often began my mornings with a walk down a big hill to a cemetery, and sometimes a bit further.  When I walked back up to the house, very slowly as the sun rose higher and the oppressive  heat descended again, I could hear a wood thrush in the still-darkened woods as I savored the black raspberries growing along the path. 

I often begin my days at home with a walk.  But at home I have to go from walk to tasks related to house and work, and I have already given my best time and energy to the walk itself.  If I have to accomplish something urgent that day, I get started on my computer before I even get up, and postpone the walk.


Three years and I am still struggling with the matter of how to organize my life so that I can accomplish work I love without being completely depleted of energy.

I suppose there's progress to savor in the fact that I want to solve this problem.

The heat is not helping!

Friday, August 5, 2011

It Started with a Desk

During my first year of seminary, I had a favorite place in the library, a desk at which I spent a great deal of time ~ because I spent a great deal of time on Greek.  I loved that desk.  It was at the far end of the reference room on the main floor, which meant that it was in a fairly private but not entirely isolated place ~ friends would occasionally stop by.  It was one room away from the display of current periodicals, which meant that I could grab a few magazines when I came in and reward myself for every every hour or so of Greek paradigms with a relaxing read about something else.  And best of all, it was right next to a window that looked out over the walk between the library and the main classroom and administration building, so that I could entertain myself by observing everyone else's travels.

Greek took over my life that first year.  It was so difficult for me that I spent about 35 hours a week on it (yes ~ in desperation I counted them up one night) and crammed everything else into what was left over.  I did well, but the cost was high.  And I hated it. I was not destined to become a person who found meaning or beauty in the Greek language.  But I loved "my" desk.

After Josh died at the end of the summer, I doubted that I would ever go back to seminary.  But I did, in December, and when I returned to the library, seeking out my secure little space in the world, a new student ~ someone who had arrived while I was at home staring at the ceiling and wondering about my future ~ had settled into my chair at my desk.  Within a few days, it became apparent that she had done what I had done the previous year; she had staked them out as her territory.

I made a little joke about it one night, mentioning that she had found the best spot in the library and that I had spent every day and night of the previous year there.  "Oh, yes, it is the best," she responded, glancing upward over her glasses, and returned to her reading.

I had been hoping that she might say, "Let's take turns!" 

For the next year and a half, every time I walked into that room and saw my desk already occupied, it was as if my heart were pierced again ~ not by the sight of the desk that was no longer mine, but by what it stood for, by the reminder of the reason that it was no longer mine.

And I had no choice: The reference materials for Greek and Hebrew and the Scriptural commentaries are in that room.  If I were going to complete my degree, I had to use the reference room almost every day.

When I returned to school at the end of the summer after I had graduated, to spend a week taking my last ordination exam ~ there she was, taking hers.  

And when the next year's seminary calendar arrived, with its many images of students doing the things that students do, all over the campus, one of the photos had captured her studying at that desk!

I tossed that calendar into the trash before I even looked at the next month's page.

It's difficult to acknowledge that I could feel so strongly about another person's use of a chair and a desk.  But, of course, neither the inanimate objects nor their perfect location are at issue.  It's what they symbolize: a new life begun with such anticipation and joy, that life literally ripped from my grasp, and the stark choices that remained.  

"I have set before you life and death.  Choose life . . ." ~ which meant choosing to go forward in a world in which no space was what it had once been, in which ordinary routines and tasks with which I had expected to continue vanished in smoke, in which other people occupied ~ in what seemed to me the military sense of a takeover ~ that territory of security and expectations which had once been mine.

This is what it is like, to lose a child.  

Your space is gone.  In the library.  In the world.

Find a new one, or you will not make it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Someone Else Got My Life

Do you ever feel as if someone else has absconded with your life?

This evening I heard some news about someone and I swear . . .  this person has haunted me for the last three years, with fruit from trees that I thought were mine for the picking falling right into her lap.

I don't mean that she isn't a gifted person who hasn't worked hard ~ she is and she has.

I just mean that ever since Josh's death, every time I turn around, there she is, standing where I thought I would be standing and doing what I thought I would be doing. 

I think I must have stumbled into yet another person's life by mistake.  But believe me, that person isn't  out there somewhere looking around for it.

Fashion Failure

Just so you know that my sense of humor remains intact, I would like to proclaim that with every recent reading of Beauty Tips for Ministers I discover that I have committed yet another fashion faux pas.

What can I say?

It's been really hot.
I hate capris, but you try to find an elegant pair of full length linen blend pants in a petite-length women's size for less than $150.

Do shorts that cover the knees count as shorts?

I seldom see any appeal in the shoes featured on BTFM.  I am close to becoming someone who would wear flip-flops to the White House.  (OK, not really.)

Last Sunday I violated my own last cardinal rule and preached in a (flowing, not tight) sleeveless top.   I had worn a jacket but ~ it was simply unbearable in that sanctuary.  I concluded that an upright preacher was better than one passed out in the pulpit.  (Besides, I saw on FB that one of my seminary classmates conducted an outdoor wedding while wearing a sleeveless, V-neck black dress, and looked quite elegant and pastoral.)

Anyway:  I just want to confirm that apparently I have no idea how to dress appropriately.  

I suppose that the earth will continue to spin on its axis.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Things on My Mind as Another Year Commences

I would assert that true discernment of vocation is really about this:
           "Those who love a cause are those who love the life which has to be led in order to serve it.
~ Simone Weil

"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors."

~ African proverb

(Quoted by Robert J. Wicks at the beginning of Crossing the Desert)

For three years people have urged me to see that there is wisdom to be gained from catastrophe.  I have resisted that suggestion, with its implication that the value of what is gained somehow compensates for what has been lost ~ resisted it with all my might.  But now I understand: there is no fair trade, no equitable exchange.  Small nuggets of wisdom come at great cost.  Among those nuggets: the knowledge that I would not choose to go panning for them. 


I shudder to think what might be on my mind another twenty birthdays from now.  But ~ perhaps that is how long it takes to make peace with the life one loves, the rough seas, and the imbalance of exchange.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Psychology of Timeliness

What do you think?

If someone is habitually late, is it because he is thoughtless?  resisting something?  in need of reassurance that someone will wait for him?

If someone is usually early, is it because she is considerate?  eager to please?  anxious that she will be abandoned?

Just wondering . . .      .