Friday, September 30, 2011

Well, This Sucks

That denial thing works so well.  I was sure (not really) that I would go to the surgeon today and hear: Total screw-up; no cancer.  Because, really?  I could have cancer?

I have not missed the reality that no one is exempt from what life serves up.

But really?

I mean, cancer is not the loss of a child.  So in some ways it is not a big deal, comparatively speaking.  But then it is, after all, cancer.
So: two malignant (such an ugly word) sites in one breast = mastectomy.  And many decisions before that happens, which will probably be in November.

Which means that I start at Small Church on Monday and continue to plan for an October 30 ordination.

I've started a Caring Bridge site for updating the cancer stuff; I'm not doing it here after this post. Except maybe occasionally some of the spiritual part.  If you want the CB link, email me (see sidebar) or post your own email in the comments.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shana Tova!

In a perfectly wonderful confluence of events, the Jewish New Year started Wednesday night and today is the Feast of the Archangels in the Roman Catholic Church.

When I taught in the Jewish school, I had students named Gabe, Gabriella, Michael and Rafi.  

The Lakeview Cemetery images above are of Michael the Archangel (two details) and, I presume, due to the trumpet, Gabriel.

Since this whole cancer thing began, I have had emails and calls from Jesuit friends telling me that they are praying for me when they celebrate Mass, and a FB  message from my friend Carol that she remembered me in her Rosh Hashanah mishebeirach (healing) prayer.  (You should see the photo of her beautiful dinner table.)

Last night I went to the session/council meeting of my new church and came home assured of many Presby-Methodist prayers (and feeling like a pastor!).

And I know that there are other Jewish-Catholic-Protestant-of-all-flavors prayers floating around out there, because people keep writing and telling me so.

There was also Rosh Hashanah chicken soup on my back porch when I got home awhile ago.   And Ignatian tea and jam and chocolate in the mail.

Thank you all so very much. You make cancer a small thing and friendship a great one.

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Do You Want?

As I skimmed my sidebar this morning, three links (and I went looking for a fourth) caught my attention.

The title of today's Abbey of the Arts post is The Curves of My Longing. The topic does not, of course, concern the curves of my longing.  I am now in possession of  two recent incision scars  that follow the contours of my body's curves, and my immediate longing is for the pain to subside.  My longer-term wish, the desire of which I am reminded by the heavy tenderness accompanying my every movement, is that I not have to continue the journey represented by those scars.  That wish has not been granted, and so I wonder: With what do I replace it?

Second link: People for Others today references another post by another writer, who asks: 

"What does my faith give me? It gives me a love story. Not a story that explains love, but a story that gives birth to—and directs my heart, mind, and very being to—the fullest expression and fulfillment of love."

and then responds:

"Am I, because of my faith, better at love than those with no faith? Difficult to say, but I’m going to guess the answer is “No.” Am I, because of my faith, better at love than I would be without my faith? Also difficult to say. I hope the answer is “Yes,” but then I cannot answer with certainty. At the end of the day, I walk in darkness like everyone else, and I hope that this sacred story, the story of my life, and the stories all around me in what I see and hear are all one in the same, even while they are many and different."

And I wonder the same thing: Am I better at love because of my faith?  Probably not.  (Just ask anyone who lives with me.)  Perhaps I am merely better at longing to be better at love.

Some years ago as I was walking along the Little Lakes, I stopped to watch a pair of young green herons learning to balance in the small trees overhanging Lower Lake.  They were quite comical, with both their pin feathers and their legs sticking out in all directions.

This morning, the following image, of a graceful adult green heron, appears in Picturing God:

My comment was that it's inspiring to see what can be appropriated with a season of practice.

What do you want?  That's the perennial question posed by Ignatian spirituality, inhabiting every crevice of life with its assertion that God speaks to us through our desires.  I recall my astonishment at the insistence with which my spiritual director posed that question as we made our way through the Spiritual Exercises, as if what I wanted was of some import ~ not just to me, but to God.  What do you want what do you want what do you want?

What is the curve of your longing?  What does your faith give you?  Are you better at love because you have been drawn into the most all-encompassing narrative of love?  Have you been transformed from the awkward beginner struggling to maintain her balance on the slim branch in the wind to the seasoned,  grace-filled adult who knows that just below the surface of the water lie nourishment and life?

The verses of John 4:13-14 constitute the theme for my ordination service.  The words have been speaking to me since somewhere deep in Week 2 of the Exercises, and today they seem more appropriate than ever, resonating through literal scars and green herons and the narrative of all of our lives.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

You Must Do The Thing You Think You Cannot Do

The words in the title belong to Eleanor Roosevelt.

I first found them scrawled on a piece of paper among some belongings of my grandmother.

My grandmother's mother suffered from bipolar disorder.  Her husband, my grandfather, had something they called "a breakdown" in his late twenties (and then went on to a successful family and business life).  When my mother and brother died, she and my grandfather lived next door to us and took on much of the burden of our family in a time of blinding pain.  By the time she reached her nineties, she was almost completely deaf and blind, with her brilliant and still clear mind thus unable to engage with others except in the most limited ways, and yet she lived for ten more years.

In other words, she spent nearly a century doing things she must have thought she could not do.  

And in the doing of most of them, she affected a great many people.

I am not afraid, as I told one of the newest people in my life, a breast cancer surgeon, of cancer.  I am not afraid of surgery or chemo or radiation. Three years  ago my husband and I had just spent a week overseeing the immediate consequences of our son's death and were planning a trip to Chicago to empty his apartment; I can't imagine that there is much left for me to be afraid of in this life.

But I am a little bewildered, you know?  This morning I am supposed to be preaching my very first sermon as the pastor of Small Church in Tiny Town and this week I am supposed to be meeting people in my congregation and working with them on the plans that will see us through Christmas.  And instead I am hanging out at home, still recovering from Surgery No. 1 and awaiting the end-of-week consultation that will provide a hint of the alternative framework that will control my life for the next several months.

There are so many unanswered questions which affect not only my immediate family and friends, but also so many unknown people who are suddenly in my life.

Oddly enough, the thing I do not know how to do has little to do with the nuts and bolts of contending with cancer.  Those I will most likely learn about pretty quickly.

What I have no idea about is how to serve a church community by providing it with a sense of positive and loving leadership and direction so that it continues to thrive while simultaneously creating a positive space in which its members can support me. 

I don't think there's a book out there about this one.

When I looked up the Eleanor Roosevelt quotation to be sure that I had it right, I found this one as well:

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

My dream is to tend and nurture SC so that it continues to thrive as a community of God.  

I guess that that means I will be doing some things I think I cannot do.

PS: Ordination Service is still scheduled for October 30.  We are going to try to work around that date, but I won't post the info here until it's for sure.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

We're Pretty Tough

Chris and I at the fundraiser this afternoon for the art therapy scholarship in her Sarah's memory. Four years since Sarah died; three since Josh.  (And for me, two days post surgery.)

Don't mess with us!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Upside . . .

. . . of biopsy surgery:

Part II of a continuing conversation with the lovely nurse, my companion now through two long procedures, who has departed the institutional Catholic church but has a serious prayer life, and who pressed a medal portraying Mary the Mother of Jesus into my hand before I left for my surgery, a medal she had had blessed for me the day before;

Part II of a continuing  conversation with my surgeon, who has departed the institutional Protestant church but has spent her life saving others, probably as a result of the same experience that sent her right out the church doorway;

Part I of a FB conversation with a former student, a now college-age Orthodox Jew with whom I have had no contact for four years, who caught me online during one of my "on" periods in this lengthy and otherwise boring and sleepy recovery day and wanted to talk about his own struggles toward adulthood.

My very first spiritual director always emphasizes "attention,  reverence, and devotion" as the most appropriate and desirable stance toward others. It seems that a couple of days' worth of the implacable snail's pace at which medical procedures and recovery therefrom proceed offers ample opportunity for practice.

It also seems that the Holy Spirit apparently spends her time arranging the most unexpected kinds of encounters.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Keep reading ~ this is not a pity party:

Biopsy surgery today. Nine hours at the hospital.  Lots of trouble tonight with nausea and headaches ~ but at the moment (midnight) the Percocet is working just fine and so I am wide awake and roaming the internet.

The following (HT to Meredith Gould) has made my day.  Enjoy, church musician and pastor friends!


"You is kind, you is smart, you is important."
~ Abilene to Mae Mobley in The Help

I don't usually go around repeating self-affirmations, but this is what popped into my mind this morning, as I get dressed to go down to the hospital for  . . .  well, the goals are clear but the outcome, not so much.

I know there are lots varying opinions about The Help, but I saw it (twice) as a film about female solidarity.  And I'm feeling plenty of that, and the male kind as well, this morning. 
We should really be thinking about Chris today, though.  The fourth anniversary of Sarah's death comes up in a few days, and some of us know what that means this week is like.  I met Chris because an article about Sarah appeared in our local paper a year after she died, which was only a few weeks after Josh's death ~ and we've become good friends.

Sarah was a graduate student in art therapy when she was swept out into the Mediterranean by a rogue wave.  This Saturday I'll put in an appearance at the benefit for her school's scholarship fund named in her honor, and perhaps return home with a Sarah poster for my new study.

Sarah was for sure good, and kind, and important.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Migrants Coming Through

I find that after three years of writing about suicide and grief, loss and disappointment, and physical spiritual emotional and mental pain, I have not the slightest interest in writing about cancer.  I think that I have covered enough of the territory in the prior context. 

Oh, except for insurance.  Because the PC(USA) REQUIRES pastors to accept its insurance, if I go to work, I will have a new primary insurance which will complicate my life immeasurably, and probably cost us money as well as time. (Time: The Cleveland Clinic LOST a $500 payment a couple of months ago.  When they found it, they wanted to send the $40 that it turned out we still owed on the account to collection.  Imagine what would happen if we had two insurance carriers. No, don't imagine it.  Imagining it will probably give you cancer.  Money: The PC(USA) co-pay is 10% higher than ours - a lot of money if you are looking at costs in the many tens of thousands of dollars.) 

In other words, despite the good intentions of the powers-that-be in insisting that pastors be provided with health insurance, it is probably better in this particular case for the pastor to postpone her call because the insurance is a detriment.  A rather impressive example of one-size-does-not-fit-all.

But who cares, really?  We are lucky to have insurance of any kind.  

So.  I am going to have one surgery and then probably another one.  A big one.  Perhaps I will still have a call when all is said and done.  Perhaps not.

End of story.

The fall bird migration has begun.  A much better topic.

I have no interest whatever in cancer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

It's All in Your Perspective

Jan posted this, and I immediately thought: the perfect metaphor for my new circumstances.  (You need to read the previous post.)  I am marooned in medical limbo (on an island, with friends).  But I am about to be ordained to ministry ( the waterfront property with the view).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Woman at the Well: Ordination

This afternoon I was approved for ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  (Yes, I know that we have new nomenclature.  But we also still have the old.  More on that another day.)  My ordination is scheduled for October 30 in my home church and my installation for the next Sunday in my new church, where I am supposed to start as pastor this next Sunday, a week from tomorrow.

Those "scheduled" and "supposed" words reflect the reality that nothing is ever remotely as straightforward as it seems. Over the past nine days I have had two mammograms, ultrasound imaging, a biopsy that worked, and a biopsy that didn't.  Now I await the scheduling of the surgical biopsy to replace the one that the radiologists and technician simply could not get done, despite a herculean three-hour effort.  And then, I wait some more.

One of the things that has become profoundly apparent to me in the past few months has been how present God has been to me since Josh's death ~ through other people.  Not that I noticed, not for a long time.  But now, having recovered some degree of consciousness, I see what I missed.  So as I headed to the Breast Center for the third time in eight days, I prayed that I would be aware of the people around me.

Before we started the procedure, I pulled out the stole that I had just received as a gift from my friend Maggie (she made it!), put it on over my hospital top, explained my circumstances, and offered a blessing for the room as a place of healing and for all the women in it ~ radiologists, technician, nurse, and me. In the end, the room and its technology left a great deal to be desired, but the women were great.

And then as the afternoon wore on and became six hours long, I developed quite an amazing relationship with the nurse assigned as my companion and source of information and comfort.  She lost a brother to suicide a decade ago.  And her counterpart at another of the hospital's breast imaging facilities is the mother of a young man who died of suicide a year after Josh did,  at the college at which I teach.  I didn't know him or his family, but I had known and experienced a great deal of anguish over his story.  We had a number of other connections as well . . .  and, how exactly do I know all this?  I have no idea.  But it was quite an extraordinary afternoon of conversation, interrupted by the endless frustrations and discomforts of the business at hand.

The Lovely Daughter, who went with me, reported as follows: "That was a really long day.  But Mom made a whole new group of friends!"

I am really excited, very quietly, about my ordination.  After the Presbytery meeting today, I told the folks from my new church about my news, news all of 22 hours old.  They could not have been more supportive, so whatever happens, I guess we're in it together. 

Not exactly the beginning I had imagined.  But then, what has been, these past three years?

Image credited here.

Presbytery Meeting

Albert Einstein famously said, "The way I see it, you have two ways to live your life: one, as if no miracles exist and the other, as though everything is a miracle." To be open to the miraculous is to be open to impossible things becoming possible. It is a stance toward life that is fundamentally hopeful, one that places confidence in God always, and is especially confident when all other sources have run out.

~ from today's Inward/Outward

Presbytery meeting today, the meeting at which I hope to be approved for ordination.

Some new and demanding life complications as of Wednesday became much more challenging yesterday.

So:  I'm thinking about Teresa of Avila saying to God: If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!

And: We are going for the seemingly impossible becoming entirely possible.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Statement of Faith

One of the many, many documents of self-disclosure which we are required to produce in the ordination process is a short statement of faith.  There are no rubrics; we have to pick up the guidelines via oral tradition among seminarians.  The final version goes onto the computerized forms that become the dossier sent to churches during the search process, so there is a limit on the number of characters, and that limit ultimately controls all.

The following is what's gone out to the Presbytery, and what I'll be reading aloud on Saturday:


I believe in our Trinitarian God: a loving Creator who seeks always to recreate us, the Son Jesus Christ who seeks to reconcile us to our Creator, and the Holy Spirit who through Creator and Son gathers us into the unfolding Reign of God, all united as three persons in one God of infinite relationship.

At the center of my faith is Jesus Christ, divine and human, present from before creation and into eternity as the Word of God, who was born as a human being into human history, died as the reconciler of our broken selves to our God, and was resurrected and ascended in victory over the power of sin and death. He stands as mediator between us and God, representing the divinity of God to us and representing our humanity to God. He is the constant companion and friend who serves as our guide and example, as the healer of our broken lives, and as “the pioneer of our faith” in demonstrating how to live in a manner faithful to God’s call and love.

Jesus knows the Creator God as his Father and invites us to the same shared life and intimacy. Always on the move, God creates and recreates, labors to bring the universe into reconciliation with God’s original plan of generosity and justice, and seeks us in all places, from our damaged and tattered garden into the depths of Sheol. God is a generous and loving parent who nourishes and tends us with unfailing grace. God is a God of infinite mercy who speaks to us through creation, through the prophets, and by the gift of the Son through whom God offers God’s complete self-donation to us and through whom we are returned as gift to God.

The Holy Spirit is a quiet, humble, and nurturing presence as well as a presence of powerful connection, through whom the Trinity is united in relationship among its three persons and to all of us. The Spirit is always at work, both when we are attentive to the self-communication of God and when we are preoccupied and in need of that supportive presence.

I believe that our Holy Scripture provides us with a narrative of God’s activity in history as we know it, and that the church is God’s creation, called into being by Jesus Christ and animated by the Holy Spirit. It is the body into which we are invited in order to be shaped into God’s community and from which we go forth to share God’s grace-filled message of hope and hospitality toward all. The church is the community through which God offers God’s sacramental gifts of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper, gifts which identify us as God’s own people, bring us into covenant with God and with one another, and nourish us for lives offered to God in love and in service.

I believe that God can be found in all things. God’s life, activity, creativity and grace is always present to us in Scripture, in creation, in our relationships and endeavors, and in our prayer. Our lives are a constant unfolding of God’s care for and relationship with us.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Immediate and Scattered Reactions to My Call from a Congregation

~ I was very, very moved by the many FB messages and emails from Catholic women friends offering prayer the night before my candidating sermon.  I am talking about women deeply faithful to the Catholic Church.  Some of them certainly experience major frustrations and disappointments in their church lives, but these are not women on the way out the door. I felt as if I were carrying something very precious in my hands.

~ I also felt very calm.  It was an exciting and joyful morning, but inside I felt very much at peace.

~ Not sure about the sermon.  The original version contained some humor, which in retrospect I think would have been appreciated and not out of place.  But as I made the hour-plus drive in the morning, listening to the memorial event in NYC, humor was the last thing on my mind.  

~ I loved having my family with me.  That doesn't happen too often, and it was a real lift for me.

~ Today, despite a humorous conversation on FB about ministerial titles and forms of address, I have been intensely aware of the one family member who was not with us.  And I have been thinking all day about those of my friends who, like me, are forging a path forward in the absence  of beloved and precious children.  I feel as if we ALL carry the memories of one another's children whom we never met, along with our communal hope for a future in which every tear will be wiped away ~ and for an immediate present in which each of us will find ways to give ourselves away despite all that we have lost.

As I look back over this post, what strikes me is that it begins and ends with communities of women ~ women who are beautiful and amazing and courageous in challenging circumstances.  Not a bad foundation and source of energy for ministry, I think.

In Brief

All went well.

The congregation voted "yes" and I accepted.

Presbytery meeting and vote on Saturday.

I haven't absorbed it at all.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Potential and Possibility - A Candidating Sermon for 9/11/11

This sermon has been through a multitude of permutations.  Had you asked me, even a month ago, what passages I might choose upon which to base a candidating sermon, I might have come up with a list of possible choices pretty quickly.  But I would not have guessed that I would be introducing myself and my hopes for church to a congregation, seeking its approval of my call as pastor, and reflecting on the tenth anniversary of September 11 all in the same twenty minute sermon.

I settled on last week's epistle text, because I had thought that I might be candidating last week, had begun to consider it, and then concluded that it might work for September 11.  And I chose to include Micah 6:8 because, given the opportunity, I almost always would.


What a stirring and demanding day lies before us! September 11 is one of those days which stand out in our collective memory, one of those days on which we all remember what we were doing when we heard what was happening.  A day like the day on which Pearl Harbor was attacked, or the day on which President Kennedy was assassinated, or the day on which the space shuttle Challenger exploded.  A day which brought us together even as it took family and friends away from us , a day which required us to re-think some of our assumptions,  a day which changed much about how we see ourselves and our world.  And on this tenth anniversary, it remains a day which challenges us -- as a nation, as individuals, and as Christians – and it challenges us as people just getting to know one another! 

The apostle Paul, in writing to the Romans, faced circumstances somewhat similar to mine this morning in one or two respects:  He was writing to a church he had not yet visited, a church worshipping and exuding hopefulness in challenging times!  The Epistle to the Romans is the only one of Paul’s letters written to an existing Christian community which he had yet to encounter.  By the time he wrote to the church in Rome, Paul had been traveling the Mediterranean world for several years.  He had no doubt heard much about the city and church, but he had not preached or taught there in person.  I gave some thought to Paul’s situation as I was preparing this sermon.  I thought about him imagining the faces of the members of the Roman congregation, about him wondering about their relationships and their hopes and their concerns, and about him writing to them in the hope that together they would continue to build the church of Jesus Christ.  I thought about him imagining potential and possibility. Maybe a few similarities! – that’s what I thought. 

In our very short passage from Romans this morning, Paul makes three huge claims:  Love is the fulfilling of the law.  It is in loving our neighbor that we fulfill the law.  And it is living in the light of Jesus Christ that we awaken to God’s love and hope for us. 

What is this question of the law?  Well, the early church in Rome was, of course, made up of a mixture of people.  Some were Jews, those of Jesus’ own community of faith who had come to understand Jesus as God’s messiah, God’s anointed one.  Others were citizens and foreigners and slaves in the ancient but cosmopolitan city at the center of the vast Roman Empire.  The Jews themselves lived within a framework of law as established by God 1200 years earlier, when God had called the people of Israel into nationhood and community, and had delivered the law into the hands of Moses.  The others – some of them had worshipped the Roman gods, some respected the Jewish religion but were not Jews themselves, and some no doubt had been aligned with the gods of other cultures. 

The small Christian communities that grew up around the Mediterranean Sea didn’t know quite how to handle the matter of the Jewish law in the context of such diversity and in response to God as revealed in the person of Jesus.  Should they insist that all followers of Jesus also follow the religious laws under which he had lived?  Or should they not?  To the Jewish people those laws are God’s revelation, a sign of God’s love and care and interest in every aspect of life, but to us, and to those outside the Jewish faith at that time, those laws look pretty complicated. What to do?

  Paul is clear and to the point: Love is the fulfilling of the law.  You may remember that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the law; Jesus is love; love is the fulfillment of the law.

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  You’ve been hearing this all of your life.  Love one another.  Love your neighbor.  God is love.  How basic can we get?

But think about it.  The God of the Universe, the Lord of our lives can only be love, because God is complete and whole and perfect – and yet we sometimes speak and think and act as if God were otherwise.  We might view God as a God of a rigid set of rules, or as a God of vengeance without mercy, or as a God of power without compassion.   We might think of God as distant and perhaps even aloof, forgetting that God’s own son came to share in our lives as a human being who himself had to confront human limitations and suffering.    We might view God solely as the dispenser of the Ten Commandments, overlooking the most astonishing reality that God’s own Spirit nourishes and sustains us in all aspects of our lives.  And the God who supports us, God’s beloved people, with and through and in love, asks of us this one thing: that we recognize that love is the fulfillment of God’s law and conduct ourselves accordingly.

And how do we do that?  We do it by loving one another, and by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We do it by “putting on the armor of light.”

I have heard some stories about you all, of course, just as Paul had heard about the Romans, and I have heard that the people of N. Church love one another. I have heard about how you have cared for each other during times of loss, and how you celebrate together. I have seen the work you have done, in this sanctuary, in the fellowship and kitchen space below, and in the memorial area outside, all as signs of your love for one another and your eagerness to share that love with others.  I hope to learn much more about N. as a loving community.                    

But today, September 11, calls us to think more about our neighbors than about ourselves.  A great crisis, a great tragedy – those events always call us to think beyond ourselves.  Who are our neighbors? And how do we love them?  How do we respond to events of such magnitude with justice and kindness and humility?

Sometimes, it isn’t difficult to know who our neighbors are and to love them, even though we may be much challenged in our physical and emotional safety to do so.  The first responders on September 11 who ran into burning buildings when everyone else was running out -- they recognized their neighbors as people in trouble and loved them by risking and in many cases losing their own lives.

This past week, one of the news stories highlighted the young men – athletes all – who tried to stop the hijacking of Flight 93.  They succeeded in forcing the plane away from Washington, D.C.  and into a Pennsylvania field.  They lost their lives, but saved those of many neighbors  –  neighbors whom they would never see.  They loved in the most sacrificial way possible – civilian men, untrained for conflict, expecting an ordinary business day – they gave up everything they had to save others.

Sometimes we are surprised by who our neighbors are.  I remember walking into a Borders Bookstore a couple of weeks after 9/11 and seeing that the entire entryway display area was filled with book about Islam.  Sometimes we discover that our neighbors walk paths different from our own, and we realize that we need to love them by getting to know who they are.  We may have thought of them as “other,” but we all know that, when asked “Who my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, as someone who would have been excluded, viewed as “the other” by his followers.  The Samaritan, the outsider, was the one who conducted himself as a neighbor.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus’ followers to hear that their neighbor was someone whom they would have ignored, someone whom would even have avoided, in the usual course of events.

And sometimes – sometimes love, love as the law, calls us to something far more challenging.  Sometimes the evil perpetrated against us is so great that we cannot fathom what the response of a loving God might possibly be.  Sometimes we forget that we cannot toss all people of a certain religion or nationality or other group identity into a category defined by those whom justice requires be brought to accountability. And surely God does not expect us to be agents of reconciliation where such wrongdoing is concerned?  And yet God requires not only justice, but also kindness and humility.  

And remember, Paul is clear and to the point: Love is the fulfilling of the law.  Jesus says that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the law; Jesus is love; love is the fulfillment of the law.  Justice is essential, but love is fulfillment.

Who are we called to love by sacrificing something of ourselves – our time, our energy, our expertise, our very lives?  And who, I wonder, who constitutes the “other” here in N. – who are those to whom we are called to extend hospitality?  To get to know?  Whose lives are we called to share?  You already know some of the answers to that question – like the church to which Paul wrote in Rome, you are already here, already at work for God’s kingdom.  And I’m hoping that you will share what you know with me.

               And I’m hoping that together we will pursue the question of: How? How can we further God’s love – where we experience loss and hurt among ourselves, where we and our neighbors struggle against unemployment and homelessness and other problems, and also where terrible, almost unspeakable wrongdoing, leads to impasse, and  where its consequences cry out for justice?  How do we “put on the armor of light,” as Paul urges us to do?  What potential looms before us?  What possibilities might we explore?

                What is the work to which we are called as followers of Christ, as people who long for the coming of the Kingdom of God, as people called to love one another, to love our neighbors, and to live in the light of Christ?

               We get some clues from those commands relayed to us by the prophet Micah, who wrote hundreds of years before Paul lived and whose words Paul would have known as he formulated his clarion call to love: Do justice.  Love kindness.  Walk humbly with your God.  Love requires all three: justice, kindness, and humility.

We are called to be the people of God who dislodge barriers and who confront injustice -- people who know that behind the heartbreak in our lives and the horrors perpetrated in this world stands our God, whose only Son completely emptied himself that love might prevail over evil.

                We are called to be people who remember – but who remember in order to pursue victory for God’s justice, a justice that ultimately leads to the 
greatest of fulfillments:  love of neighbor and reconciliation with the “other.”
We are called to be people of kindness, people of chesedChesed is the Hebew word for the great loving-kindness of heart that serves as the foundation for all other virtues.  Chesed is the first of the virtues; it is without cause; it is creation itself.  The Psalms tell us that “the world is built with chesed.” As those who live out the virtue of chesed as Jesus modeled it,   we are called to be people of creativity: people who see something where there is nothing, people who see hope as a replacement for fear, people who imagine something beyond what is and act to further that vision.  We are called, in other words, to be people of reconciliation and peace.

We are called to humility, to the knowledge that God’s ways are not our ways.  We are called to be people who see with the eyes of Jesus: people who see the hope of rescue where disaster looms, people who see the potential for peace where there is conflict, people who see the possibility of reconciliation where differences seem to prevail, people who persist in the faith that love is the fulfillment of the law.

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he was hoping that the congregation would support him in his next planned venture, a missionary trip to Spain.  He never made that voyage, but his words to the Romans, his insistence that we love one another, that we love our neighbors, and that we live in the light of Christ, have travelled much further. They are words that speak to us, twenty centuries later, in a time of turmoil and on a day of remembrance, on a day on which we first meet one another here in N. They are words which tell us that:   

               We are called to be the church, that community which lives out the love of Jesus, the love that fulfills the law. We are called to be the church, the community to which all might look when it seems that human inadequacies have impeded us.  We are called to be the church, the community to which all might turn when it seems that evil has the upper hand.  We are called to be the church, the community of Jesus Christ, the community in which our limitations are always trumped by the love and the creativity and the generosity of God.  We are called to be the humble home and the lively springboard for potential and possibility, for God’s work of love and justice among us.

               Thanks be to our God, and Amen.

Our Small 9/11 Story

 Josh (17)  and Moi at JFK, mid-September 2001

Josh spent his 11th grade year in Rennes, France.  He and his 40 new classmates from all over the U.S. were supposed to fly from Boston's Logan Airport to Paris on September 12, 2001.

He and his dad left late on September 10, planning to stay somewhere in upstate New York that night and head for Providence on the 11th, via New York City.  Their goal was a college visit to Brown University, our alma mater,  and an overnight with my husband's sister and her husband before driving up to Boston on the 12th.


About ten days later, all of the kids and their faculty chaperones gathered at JFK.  That time, I was one of the drivers, along with the dad of one of Josh's classmates who was also going to France.  It was difficult, saying good-bye in an airport in which new security measures prevented us from going to the gate and hanging around, saying good-bye and knowing that we would not see Josh until Christmas at best, saying good-bye and knowing that airplanes had become weapons.  When we did fly to France in December, the four of us left at home would decide to divide into two pairs, taking different flights . . . just in case.


I think that the group that gathered at JFK that afternoon was a remarkable constituency of hope.  Each family had made the decision to send a child overseas for a year, despite what had just happened.  We wanted to honor our children and their eagerness to engage the world by spending a year living in an unfamiliar culture with unknown families, speaking a second language. We refused to be cowed by the fear that the 9/11 terrorists sought to instill.


For our family, that hope was crushed seven years later.  But I am still awfully proud of that boy and his willingness to take on a great challenge.

Welcome Home! ~ June 2002

Sunday, September 4, 2011


This morning as I sat in my home church, listening to a wonderful sermon preached by one of our elders (because we have this cool tradition in which three or four members of the congregation preach each summer), it suddenly occurred to me that, oddly enough:  I am flourishing.

I have begun to recognize that new reality in part because, despite the horrific reality of Josh's death, there's a lot going on right that feels as if I am caught up in a wave leading to an ordination that might really happen.  Last night I wrote most of the sermon I'll preach next Sunday for the congregation which will vote on whether to call me, and I'm beginning to think about the Presbytery meeting the following week, at which I hope to be the subject of the last vote ever in this process.  (There have been session votes, committee on preparation for ministry votes, presbytery votes, and ordination exam "votes" ~ I'm a bit worn out by the democratic processes employed by the Holy Spirit in our church!)

This morning I read a 9/11 article about parents who lost their daughter, their only child, on that day, and about the lethargy and sense of hopelessness that have marked their lives for the past ten years.  No kidding.  Those things mark my life as well ~ but so do a lot of other things.

Another reason for my newfound recognition came up in a recent conversation with Gregarious Son. "Mom, I think we've made it," he said to me.  "I think we're going to be ok.  Dad is back to Ten Thousand Villages and soccer, I've stayed in law school and done fine and hung onto my scholarship, LD is halfway to her master's in social work, and you're going to be a minister.  We've come through this."

We've spent the week-end very quietly. The weather is much the same as it was three years ago: intense and humid heat, with a cool spell predicted to arrive almost any minute.  (The night after Josh died, the house was sweltering; for the funeral a week later, we all needed jackets and sweaters.)  Our home is much emptier, and not just metaphorically so.  (That year, we had to take a carload of food to a homeless shelter after everyone finally left.)  The words and images so unfathomable and unbearable during that awful week have become manageable; they are simply the backdrop of my life.  Unwelcome, but tolerable.

And I find that, as I begin to plan for the ordination that three years ago seemed all but impossible, and survey the family that might have disintegrated as well as survived, I have much to be grateful for.  Ten things, in  no particular order:

This family of mine, all of whom keep trying and keep moving forward and keep supporting one another as a family and in our individual endeavors. And our extended families, most especially my brother and his wife, who have offered unwavering support and love.

The friends who took care of every single thing that week.  From toilet paper to music and eulogies. And who are still here, still trying to figure it all out, too.

The seminary friends who hung in there with me, who offered friendship and suggestions about how to navigate a much changed landscape, and the one in particular who was always right there next to me, especially when an offhand remark or painful topic sent me fleeing a classroom in tears.

The seminary professors and administrators who tried to make things a little easier, and those in particular who listened to some of my anger and despair and general insanity, and offered me work to do that provided pathways through the morass of bewildered confusion that had become my life.

New RevGal friends and old MomsOnline friends and other journaling and blogging friends, women (and men) who read and commented and embraced me without criticism or judgment across the realm of cyberspace.

Carmelite sisters who welcomed me to their masses at a time when I needed to be among people who were sure to be in prayer when prayer was beyond me.  Pastors and friends at my own church, who welcomed me back when I was ready to be there again, and invited and expected me to participate, apparently believing that I was still capable of doing so.

The same for teachers and friends and colleagues in spiritual direction.  And for those who have shared their own lives with me.  Some know about Josh; some don't.  Most astonishing to me have been people who have known  about my struggle and have nevertheless approached me to ask whether they might meet with me for spiritual direction.  I am so grateful for their confidence in what was my very shaky self.

My own spiritual directors, three Jesuits who, at different times and in different places and for reasons inexplicable to me, have been my companions and guides and counselors and friends, from the joys of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises six years ago through the beginnings of seminary, into the darkest months of grief and turmoil, and then along the erratic path of renewal, and now toward this brink of new beginnings.

The mothers I have met along the way who have endured similar losses, who are all, every one of them, models of grace and courage, and who all welcome one another so graciously into the community we would prefer did not exist. They are also the ones who best understand the dichotomy revealed by this week's blogging posts: the unpredictable lurching between the anguish of grief and the optimism of hope.

And: the God who supports and sustains all of this. I don't pretend to know why Josh, who was himself showered with a lifetime of generous gifts, became so ill that he lost the capacity for grateful response and let it all slip away.  I don't know why I should have retained it, the capacity that has  enabled me, even in the bleakest of times, to move toward God by reaching out to others.  It is surely a literally amazing grace in my life, that when I have needed help, I have been able to look around, to see that someone is there, and to ask.  The grace of the ability to see and to as has brought me the most wonderful of experiences and relationships.  It  has surely been solely a gift from God.

"Could we join your neighborhood church group?"  A question asked 24 years ago which brought us into community with friends for a lifetime.

"Will you help me do the Spiritual Exercises?"  A question asked six years ago which changed almost everything about my life.

There have been a lot of such questions, but those two are the big ones.

And now there is another question, this one posed to me.  Now a church is saying to me, "Will you be our pastor?"  

I hope that, somehow, I can pass it all on, it all being the conviction that, in spite of everything, God is there . . .  here . . . laboring on our behalf and drawing us ever closer, even in the pitch black of utter darkness.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Memory, Grief, and Suscipe

One of the most daunting conundrums with which grieving individuals wrestle is that of memory.  What do we do with it?  Where do we put it?  Do we wrap it carefully, seal the edges of the package, and place on it on a shelf in the attic?  Do we bundle it up in an old blanket and toss it into the nearest lake?  Do we set it in a place of honor on the mantle, surround it with candles, and breathe it into our souls every day?

When we make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, toward the end we pray the Suscipe, and some, perhaps most, of us, continue to pray it regularly, perhaps for the rest of our lives.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me. 

Awhile back, someone whose heart is filled with joyful memories asked me what that would mean, to release them to God.  The same question bubbles up in those plagued by memories of other kinds.

As I wrote last year in my exploration of Miroslav Volf's book The End of Memory, God offers us a vision of a future in which we will forget the wrongs we have perpetrated and suffered.  But most of us, me included, have a great deal invested in our memories, including the most tortuous ones, as foundational to identity.

This is a particularly difficult day for me.  Three years ago this morning, I was on retreat, and woke up anticipating a day of silence and prayer.  I did not know that my son had died during the night, and that horror upon horror was about to unfold.

I have made a commitment about releasing the terrible grief associated with the memories that at times knock me down but, you know, it's a learning process.

Yesterday a friend whose very beautiful teen-aged daughter died of cancer in 2009 posted this offering:

Open your hands. Hear the whisper.

It sounds so easy. 

It's so not.

In the meantime, enjoy the incomparable Elaine Paige, who originated the role of Grizabella in Cats

Friday, September 2, 2011



  When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add Up,
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.
- And if there is no lining to the world?
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign,
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day
Make no sense following each other?
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth?
- Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that perish,
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests, screams.

~ Czeslaw Milosz; found here ~ HT to People for Others


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Happy Birthday to My Boys

Born 9/1/84 at 2:29 and 2:31 pm
Here, high school students on a canoe trip in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario