Thursday, June 30, 2011


Every once in awhile I really get to wondering about who stops by this blog.  I look at the couple of tools I have for recording visits and I think:  Hmmmm.  

Some people, I know exactly who they are. We've become blogging friends and/or they've sent the occasional email.

Others are from places where I know lots of people IRL and I wonder who is quietly lurking ~ from nearby Cleveland suburbs, from my seminary town of Pittsburgh, from Boston and its environs, from Chicago and its.

Still others are from links from links from parents whose children have died.  THAT I get.  We all want to know how others are making it. 

And others are from places that just sound cool:  Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand, for instance.  I think that most of the overseas visitors come by accidentally in the course of a word or picture search , but still:  What's it like to live in Lower Hutt in New Zealand?

Oh, my.  Apparently it's something like this: 

(And I live where? In a midwestern American city?  I love where we live, but let's get real.)

I've become incredibly lazy about making myself known when I visit others, so I can hardly complain.  But I am curious.

I've added a link in the sidebar to Loyola Press's 31 Days with Ignatius. Unless I double up, I'll miss seven or eight of them while I'm on retreat, where technology is highly discouraged. But you might want to pay them a visit, as long as you're here anyway.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Josh: Michigan, Massachusetts, Prague

I had some photos scanned to a CD today, so some of them may show up here and on FB:

(1) Family trip to Lake Michigan at the end of summer, 2001. 

(2) Josh as a soccer player his senior year of high school, 2002.

(3) Josh mimicking the famous Prague clock on a trip he and his brother made in 2004, right before their sophomore year of college.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Now Have All the Answers

I just got home to discover two arrivals:

My long awaited copy of A Sunlit Absence (neither Amazon nor UPS came off well in this transaction, but I trust that Marty Laird will) and

a postcard inviting me to an event in the theater down the block sponsored by a heretofore unknown local church that promises CHRISTIANITY EXPLAINED.  Apparently with respect to politics sin heaven bible religion morals salvation the crusades evolution God sex Jesus gospel faith resurrection rules church hell cross right wing baptism.

Looks like I'm good to go.

More Places I'm Not - PEI

Monday, June 27, 2011

Places I'm Not

Just posting old pics, here and on FB, because other people are where I might like to be.  These are all from the Guelph (Ontario) Jesuit Center:  Bell Tower, Barn, Labyrinth, Speed (?) River, Path to River, Ignatius the Pilgrim.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Off to Russia!

I already posted this on FB, but that's Gregarious Son, headed for Novgorod for a week, via Newark, Frankfurt, and St. Petersburg, to which he'll return for another three weeks of his program in international law. And then he's going to visit a young lady in Edinburgh.   And that's me, who was headed home from the airport.  No overseas journeys for me this year.

The Lovely Daughter called from Asheville to report that the glory of being a camp  activities cluster leader instead of a cabin counselor is: Sundays off!  She called first from brunch, somewhere, and then later from the Chocolate Bar.  Apparently a day off means a progressive group feast on non-camp food.  I reminded her: No flip-flops on the Parkway!*

I don't know what warnings I should be issuing for Russia.

*The counselors like to drive up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway on their nights off to look at the stars strung out above the mountains.  Copperheads like to slither onto the Parkway on their nights off to warm up on the pavement, still hot from the sun.  Last summer there was an encounter that landed a counselor in the hospital for several days.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Five Faith and Culture Edition

 A terrific Friday Five from Terri today! She writes as follows:

This week the church I serve is a host site for the University of Michigan, Dearborn, Worldviews Seminar. It's a week long summer education course open to anyone, with continuing ed hours to be earned. It's a survey of the world religions with a morning lecture at the university, led by Lucinda Mosher. Then the group drives over to the church for lunch, a short lecture, and then they board a bus for a tour of local religious buildings. They tour Buddhist temples, an Antiochean Orthodox church, a synagogue, a mosque, and many other area houses of worship.This year is the tenth anniversary of the seminar.

In addition to the Worldviews Seminar the congregation I serve is planning to participate in Episcopal Faith Shared and Faith Shared. I am working to have members of local Jewish and Muslim congregations present and participating in our Sunday morning service.

So, in honor of a week of interfaith study and celebration:

1. Have you ever had an experience of a religion other than your own? And, if so, what was it like for you to experience something different? If you haven't, what religion might you like to study, experience, and learn more about?

I spent six years teaching in an Orthodox Jewish day school, which was like entering another culture each morning.  Since I taught literature and world history to intensely curious students who seldom encountered anyone outside their own community of faith, we had some wonderful conversations about belief, practice, and culture.  Typical ninth grade questions:  Why are Christians polytheistic?  Why does Mel Gibson hate us?  Do you really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?  And what's with those pumpkins on Halloween?  The whole experience was challenging, often disconcerting, and led to wonderful friendships with students and teachers.  As usual in such situations, I learned far more than I taught.  Probably the most important thing I learned is how much respect is generated when people adhere faithfully to their own beliefs while maintaining a stance of openness and generosity to others of different traditions

2. Have you ever studied, traveled, or explored other cultures? What and where, and when?

Most of my travel has been either in the United States or Europe, so I can't say that I've been far afield, culture-wise.  However, when our son Josh spent his 11th grade year in France, we  got a tiny taste of French life and culture through the time we spent with his family there.  I have maintained a warm relationship with his French mother and brother for the past almost-ten years, despite our infrequent communications and the tragedy we have all shared.  Gregarious Son leaves for a law student program in Novgorod and St. Petersburg day after tomorrow, so we're about to learn something about Russian culture ~ I hope!

3. Any stories you wish to share about a person (author, teacher, etc), or a friend or colleague, from another culture or religion, who has impacted you in some capacity?

The rabbi who was the principal of the aforementioned school had a big impact on me.  His own pre-college education had taken place entirely in the black hat yeshiva world; his high school friends considered him in danger of worldly influence when he decided to attend Yeshiva University in New York City -- a bastion of Orthodox Judaism from most points of view, but in theirs, a hazardous place in which people study law and medicine and secular  literature as well as Torah.  He explained once that his parents, while deeply religious, were also brilliant, alert, and attentive to the world around them.  The mix of worlds produced a quietly compassionate and effective man, one who could talk with authority on almost any subject, was genuinely curious about everything, and was universally respected by those he encountered across a wide spectrum, from teenagers in trouble to adults who had far-ranging educations and life experiences of their own.  He and I had a number of fascinating conversations over the years.


I started this entry early this mornng but ran out of time before I had to leave for a meeting.  One of the pastors from my field ed church of year before last recently invited me to join the board of a nonprofit that promotes interfaith dialogue.  That organization is one of a number co-operating on an interfaith commemoration on 9/11, which is how I found myself hosting a meeting of the publicity committee this morning at my home Presby church, a committee whose membership is Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Trying to Create Order Out of Chaos

Michelle is taunting me with her well-organized office and summer. 

Mine are chaotic, even for me. 

The sunroom, my soon-to-be space, is painted, but full of ladders and drop cloths and paint cans and dust.

The living room is full of things that belong in the sunroom.

My life is full of planning and meetings and attempts at sustained work: a downtown interfaith commemoration on 9/11, a discernment workshop for the UCC, a Disciple series for a group of Methodist women, an article I'm writing, a book I'm trying to compile, a sermon at the end of the month, a speech for a graduating class of spiritual directors at the end of the summer, retreat planning, the PC(USA) call process.  Down time on my own retreat in a couple of weeks and on a  family vacation in North Carolina in August.  My mother-in-law is having knee surgery next week, my daughter is already in North Carolina teaching small children how to tie-dye, my son is leaving for a law school program in Russia on Sunday.

And now that I can see one thing at a time, I want to get out and take some photos!

I feel like a spider trying to oversee a web that has moved beyond control.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Thirty-Seven Years

The weather looked about as promising on that day as it does today: dark clouds in a largely overcast sky.  The outdoor wedding and reception planned for months were hastily moved to indoor locations as the rain poured down and a tornado nearby wiped out the electricity in relatives' homes where out-of-town guests were staying.

Should we have viewed the weather as an ominous portent of what "for better, for worse" might mean?

In those 37 years we . . . finished (not really, as it turned out) our graduate educations and embarked upon our (first) careers . . . thought we would be unable to have children and then produced three in three years . . .  made our way through the usual joys and trials of family life, with some of each far more extreme than it seems that most people experience . . . managed some things very well and others very poorly . . . endured the death of our beloved son Josh . . . came to understand that human control over life is basically not something that exists . . .   got me through seminary and through the ensuing disappointments of this year of waiting  . .  .  did everything we could to support one another and our surviving children in making our way down the path that constitutes our response to the question, "How shall we then live?"  (The answer, as it turns out, is "Who knows?")

And after all of that, we find that this morning we are still standing and able to say "Happy Anniversary" to one another.  If you had seen us on our 35th, you would have known that we were unlikely to make it to the next day.    But . . . two more years have passed, and here we are.

On our wedding day, all of the family and guests threw themselves into creating a celebratory atmosphere.  As if a downpour that dashed the carefully-laid plans of a bride was a matter of some  great significance. Even then, I knew such to be hardly the case. Perhaps the weather that day was indeed a portent, telling us that to count on sunshine is a risky business and that the next decades would demand resilience, fortitude, a dash of courage, and a will to survive.

We have, apparently, met those demands, at least enough,  in a stumbling and erratic kind of way. And so ~ Happy Anniversary to Us!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer, Miscellaneous

Overheard conversation between two young women walking through Target: "I think that happened the summer before I got interested in boys.  The last summer that I was truly happy."


"Excuse me; what are you doing?"  Question from woman across street, standing in her doorway, as I attempt to use my keys to open her car.  A red car parked across the street; that's what I see.  My son, standing in our doorway: "Mom, didn't you notice a difference between your red Corolla and her red Mercedes?"

They looked the same to me.


Waiting waiting waiting for the new Marty Laird book to arrive.  At least two friends have theirs; mine hasn't even shipped.  Amazon could not have made a worse choice for a delay ~  in the sense that I won't forget this one.


I have had a brief email exchange with a couple of seminary professors about expanding my call search.  From one of them: "Seriously consider a bold move."  I'm not sure whether sending my stuff to Florida was bold or reckless.  But summer has suddenly gotten more interesting!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Matters of Call: Hmmmph!

Last night at dinner, The Quiet Husband and The Gregarious Son urged me to start looking beyond my home presbytery for a church.  Think about where we might like to live in the future, they said.  Go for it.  Words like Oregon and North Carolina and Florida  and New England came up.  Michigan and Virginia.  Pennsylvania.  I felt energized and somewhat freed, and scrolled through every opening posted online by the  PC(USA) after I got home.

This morning I woke up and thought, How ridiculous.  What a prospective practical, emotional, familial, marital, and financial disaster we are contemplating.  Not to mention that I have a life here:  house, friends, spiritual direction, teaching.  I can't possibly Start All Over.

Before going out, I flipped through the material I will be covering with the Methodist women's discussion group tonight.  Go, says God to Abraham and Sarah.  Go to a completely new placeHmmm, I thought, in a most unserious kind of way.

I went out for my early morning walk and stopped, as I often do, halfway around, to sit on a bench overlooking Lower Lake and listen to Pray As You Go.  Some music, a reading, some questions and time for prayer.  I didn't like today's music at all, but I was too lazy to switch to yesterday's or tomorrow's.  And so I made it to the reading, and there they were, the three of them again, with God telling Abraham and Sarah to get going.  To a new place.

You are NOT serious, I said to God.

Which I am pretty sure is exactly what Sarah said.  Many times, and the moving was the least of it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Silence of God - 2

I am teaching a class on the parables of treasure in the Gospel of Matthew this morning.  Parable: from the Greek verb; from nouns in Old French and Latin: to throw beside, to cast alongside; a comparison.

I have been thinking about some of my own:

The compassion of God is like a  mountaintop above the treeline: devoid of green, buffeted by wind, steady, still, silent, its surface aglow in the moonlight.

The compassion of God is like a lake at dawn: still, silent, deep, with its mysteries submerged below the surface.

The compassion of God is a like a house early in the morning: a still, silent, receptacle of memories and repository of hope.

Image, here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Silence of God - 1

What suddenly occurred to me today, out of nowhere:

I think that the silence of God = the compassion of God.

What do you think?

I feel a multiplicity of posts coming on, but not quite yet.

Retreat Anticipation

I came across this post yesterday and thought I'd share a bit of it here. (Read the whole thing; it's excellent.)  It reminded me of my efforts to explain my eight days of silence to my friends when I stopped by my seminary for some visiting and dinner on my long drive home across the state of Pennsylvania.  And it gave me a boost of hope for my next retreat, the one coming up in a few weeks.  Three point five, to be exact.

The following is from the post, part of the closing homily for a similar retreat at a place well known to at least one good friend (and of which I myself have been known to dream on occasion):

Though your stories of chaos and suffering are different from Paul’s, they are equal in dignity and worthiness. In other words, your pain and suffering are as real and as important as his, and thanks be to God that you came on this retreat to be with Jesus Christ. It takes real courage to do that and to let yourselves be vulnerable to the one who heals and saves. I don’t know what happened with each of you this week. God may have done numerous things with you. Perhaps Christ has saved you from something; perhaps he has saved you for something. All I know is you are here and you sought to be with the God who continues to create, to save, and to sustain you. I pray that you treasure this time with the Lord as you move forward into your summer season.

When I scheduled this retreat last winter, it was with the hope that I'd be pastoring a church by now and with the thought that midsummer would be the easiest  time to drop out of sight for several days.  

Guess I'll be contemplating some things I hadn't exactly planned on.

So what else is new?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stairway of Surprise (Friday Five)

Today at RevGals, Jan writes:

I am currently reading a book entitled Stairway of Surprise: Six Steps to a Creative Life by Michael Lipson. His premise is a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "I shall mount to paradise by the stairway of surprise." Lipson's book is about practicing or developing six inner functions--thinking, doing, feeling, loving, opening, and thanking.

So these categories of attention are a jumping off point for today's Friday Five:

Pick five of the six actions and write about how you are practicing them today or recently. For a bonus, write about the sixth one you originally didn't choose!

What or how are you

1. thinking?

I'm thinking a lot about some recent revelations, the kind that clarify a few things as you realize that much of what has grounded you is . . .  built upon truths that others have concealed.  How's that for a big one?

2. doing?

I'm doing many scattered things; in the absence of a call taking shape as I had imagined it would (one church, one place, one set of related challenges), I have said yes to too many bits and pieces of opportunity and, therefore . . .

3. feeling?

I'm feeling fragmented (number 2) and disoriented (number 1).

4. loving?

I'm loving doing spiritual direction, and writing about it, and learning more about it, and planning retreats, and hanging out with other people who are doing the same things.

5. opening?

I've been focusing on two things in my prayer life recently, and seeking to become more available to God's desires is one of them.  Since my own are not exactly working out. 

6. thanking?

And this is the other one.  It would be an understatement to describe as challenging the process of exploring and living in gratitude for things that are all a consequence of something horrific and sorrowful.

I think I'll leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nutrition and Vision

Since y'all asked . . .

The explanation for my double vision: a miniscule and and momentary arterial blockage that damaged the nerve that, unfortunately, controls FOUR eye muscles and the eyelid and pupil.

The immediate consequences: a pupil that remained completely dilated and an eyelid that could not be opened for about 10 days, and a world that looked entirely and diagonally x2 for about six weeks.  I would see, for instance, a building that I was confident was located on the left side of the street lying on its side on the right side.  Two of them.

The healing: It has indeed  taken about ten weeks, as predicted.  The doctor said that a bruised nerve is like a sprained ankle: the damage is not permanent, but it takes a long time for the swelling to subside.

The cause: After about a zillion tests (no tumor, no stroke, no aneurysm, no diabetes, no this, no that, no, no, no), the only one with a significant number was for a marker called C-reactive protein, which indicates arterial inflammation.  And arterial inflammation, I have learned, is now believed to be a possible major culprit behind heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's.

The test: A simple blood test that should probably be done routinely, as it scopes out this issue in individuals who otherwise seem pretty healthy.  My number wasn't particularly exciting but, as the doc said, "You've had an incident.  View it as a warning sign of something that could do major damage, but for now is reversible."

The solution: Omega 3, reduced fat, lots of colorful veggies, and good-bye to the white stuff.

The personal challenge:  I don't take any vitamins or meds regularly, and I'm finding it to be a difficult habit to develop.  I like, of course, all the foods that are terrible for me.  And while I have nothing against veggies, the fact that I can't smell means that they all taste the same to me -they taste  like crunchy water.  (Imagine my surprise one day when my husband mentioned that the peppers in the spaghetti sauce were too strong.  I use them for texture; I had no idea that peppers have a taste!)  Sugar and salt and  fat , however, taste good even to me.  Oh well.

I am trying to come to come to terms with the idea of eating as being solely about fuel, preferably healthy fuel.  And, perhaps, community and conversation.  I think that my days of  enjoying what little taste I find in food are pretty much over.

I'm sure that if you're a creative vegetarian cook, this is probably not the sad kind of news for you that it is for me.  But if you're someone who could not distinguish one vegetable from another with your eyes closed, someone for whom salad dressing and dark chocolate (that delectable combination of sweet and bitter) are  major food groups ~ it's pretty depressing.

On the up side: I can see!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Update on Double Vision: Literal Stuff

I think that tomorrow marks 10 weeks since the fateful day on which my vision went ker-plop!  I've been driving for two-plus weeks now, though I'm still afraid of the dark and the interstate.  A glance to the far left is still a little problematic; my left eye is the tiniest fraction of a second slower than my right.  I'm thinking another week. And my eyes get tired quickly, but the excruciating pain of trying to force nerves to do things they cannot is gone.

Why I like my opthamologist-neurologist:   When she called one evening to explain what happened, she spent nearly half an hour on the phone explaining the nutritional causes behind my little crisis.  She could so easily have referred me to any of half a dozen other people. 

Now if only one could revise one's eating habits as quickly and completely as one's vision can go haywire.  Also, if a contacts person could keep track of the two pairs of glasses she now needs!  Both would be major achievements.

My son has kindly offered me his notebook computer for the next several weeks while I save for my own.  Once I install Kindle and a photoshop program, I'm good to go.  Between the vision thing and the laptop thing, my reading and photo frustrations have been  . . . um, frustrating.

Maybe I'll get to the metaphorical stuff tomorrow.

Image here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sacramental Moments: Unexpectedly Dismal and Unexpectedly Renewing

The dismal moment came in the most outwardly ordinary of circumstances in which longed-for grace is anticipated.  The simple offering of bread and cup during a morning communion service in my home church, marred by the expression on the face of the man holding the bread, ridiculing what he erroneously perceived to be my lack of attentiveness.  I left almost immediately, and spent several hours struggling against my most unhappy reaction to his gaffe.

The renewal came late at night.  My high school class had been celebrating its 40th reunion on our campuses in Massachusetts this past week-end.  Although a friend and I had made mutual promises five years ago to be meet there this year, I found, when the time to make plans arrived last winter, that I could not even consider the idea.  Josh is a graduate of the same boarding school, and my most recent and vivid memories of western Massachusetts now involve the times I spent with him there.

Last night I received a FB message from her, this woman with whom I have had  only the most sporadic communication over the past four decades:

Today I went to Northfield and walked to the back of Wilson [our dorm, and Josh's as well] and stood by the end of the little garden wall (where others from our class had left flowers yesterday), looking over the campus and the valley. I prayed for your son and you. May God bless you and keep you, may His Countenance shine upon you and give you peace. 

We know her final words as Aaron's blessing from Numbers 6 in the Hebrew Bible.  Those of us who are Northfield girls also know them as the Northfield Benediction, which we sang in chapel (daily attendance required in those years before the girls' and boys' schools merged and other matters were given precedence over religious education and observance).  We sang them at Josh's funeral, and they are now sung to the same music on occasion by by home church choir.

And so.  The hoped-for moment of peace in church on Sunday morning was not realized, but it turned up on Facebook late at night.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Tree of Life: Mixed Feelings (Movie Review)

It was with great anticipation that I went to see this movie last night.  I'd only read one review, but Jim Martin, S.J. is one of my favorite writers on the intersection of religion and contemporary culture, and I trusted his recommendation.   More than a recommendation; his reflection on the film as "like living inside a prayer" was an invitation to a vision of life.

Only a few minutes in and I was sitting in a state of horrified shock, wondering why he hadn't mentioned that a young adult son dies in the first few minutes.  And that it's a death about which we learn as his mother learns about it ~ alone, opening a telegram, looking about for a few stunned moments before the animal sound of a sob breaks out of her body.  


(And later (or earlier, actually, in chronology, although not in the film itself), there is another death, when another young boy drowns, despite the father's efforts to revive him and the wails of that boy's mother in the background.)

A few more minutes and I leaned over to my surviving son and asked whether this was too hard to watch.  "No -- but it might be too boring," he responded.

He hated it, seeing in it an unsatisfactory imitation of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

I saw some other things.  Yes,  the coming-of-age aspect of the narrative: the three boys growing up in Waco in the 1950s; the gently passionate mother; the father, who alternates affection with harshness, driven by his genuine love for his boys and his music and by his desire to prepare his sons for lives that supersede the disappointment he has found in his.

I saw also the endless and often challenging symbolism: the wide branches of the tree overhead, the stairs and ladders and windows and doors, the mother's frequent baptisms of her legs and feet in water from hoses and sprinklers, the water - everywhere, the skyscrapers that ambiguously soar and yet constrain the adult life of one of the surviving sons.  I'm sure that there is something more akin to a master's thesis than to a blog post in all of that.

But mostly, I heard the questions, some the mother's and some her grown son's.  The questions which haunt bereaved parents and siblings and young friends (all of which I am), whether we are pacing through our own backyard woods or through our imagined vision of the exploding fire and water through which the universe came into being, trying to understand life and death as we experience them in our particular tragedies in relation to the God who laid the foundations of the universe:

Who are you?

Who are we to you?

Where were you?

You let a boy die.

You let anything happen.

Why should we be good, if you aren't?

I wonder if the film seems different to those who do not live these questions every day with the intensity of a mother whose son God let die.

I find that I have no idea at all whether I would recommend it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Holy Spirit

This morning I stopped by Josh's memorial bench in the cemetery.  I've planted impatiens and coleus around its base and, once again, it offers a splash of surprise color to anyone who steps away from the main roads and wanders into the woods.

A persistent scold of a call alerted me to the possibility that a bird had taken up residence nearby and might be agitated by my presence.

Sure enough, a house wren is nesting in the dilapidated bird house that sits atop a pole behind the bench.

Unobtrusive, nondescript, almost invisible. But insistently present and full of life.


If you'd appreciate a more extravagant approach to Pentecost, this is a portion of the arrangement in the local Jesuit church this afternoon:

(The wren is a Fish and Wildlife Service photo.  The floral arrangement is from my phone.)

Not the Same

Yesterday morning one of my neighbors came by, frantically searching for her lost cat.

Zorba was a sleek, elegant, powerhouse of a black cat.  He became the neighbors' cat about a decade ago only because he deigned to consume the meals they left out for him. Most of the time he prowled the block, streaking into the underbrush if a human being came too close.  

When our Kitty, a much older and less physically impressive feline, was alive, Zorba exhibited the only humility we ever observed him demonstrate, by sitting respectfully in our drive while Kitty ruled from his perch on the top of our car.

Alas, Zorba is in the final stages of bone cancer.  He now sleeps indoors, and comes out only for a hobble on a leash.  But yesterday he zipped out of sight.  He was eventually discovered freed of his leash and crouched under his back porch, as I had thought he might be.

But not before the tearful scene on my front porch, during which my neighbor wailed that she was going to kill herself ~ and then glanced away to recover for a moment before looking at me and saying, "I'm so sorry.  I'm not myself at all."

She called a little later, to say that Zorba was asleep at home and to apologize profusely, several times.  "I know it's not the same," she said.  "But we don't have any children, and that cat . . ".

I assured her that it was all right.  "He's a lovely cat," I said, "and I know this is breaking your heart."

Our Tipper the Dog is fifteen, and enduring many ailments of her own.  Not cancer, yet, although we thought that might be the case a few weeks ago.  I will miss her terribly when she's gone, but I know that such is inevitable, and much sooner rather than later.

However, I find that I am very clear that it. is. not. the. same.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Conversion Takes a Lifetime

A few months ago, The Lovely Daughter, midway through graduate school, advised me as follows:

"I think it's hopeless, Mom.  If people don't believe in God by the time they reach adulthood, it's not gonna happen."

"Not so," I responded.  "I was well into adulthood before I thought there might be a God. "

"Really?" She looked at me skeptically.

"When I was your age, I never gave any thought to God.  And if anyone had asked, I would have described myself as an atheist."

I'm not sure that she believed me.  But our conversation came to mind as I drove down a street in a neighboring suburb last night and saw a law school classmate walking home from Shavuot services with a friend.

In law school we knew one another well -- our last names start with the same letter and so we were placed in the same section of our course in legal research, writing, and advocacy, thus becoming members of a small group destined to spend many of our waking hours together for our first year.  As far as I know we both lived lives that were basically secular:  culturally identifiable as Jew and Christian around our respective holiday times, but otherwise indistinguishable in our lives from others who had no religious affiliation of any kind.

Today she is an observant Orthodox Jew.  Her husband is one of the city's most successful businessmen, and they are major supporters of many major Jewish projects and institutions (including the Orthodox day school in which I used to teach).  She looked great last evening, her long skirt swinging well below her knees and a boyish cap topping her blonde curls.

And today I'm a spiritual director and a candidate for ordination in my denomination.  I have a lot more flexibility in my attire than she does, but the invisible changes in the religious landscapes of our lives are remarkably similar.  And from our conversations over the years I taught school, I'd say we are both engaged in a lifetime experience of growth toward God.

Nope, LD, there is no timetable for religious conversion.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Spiritual Journey

A couple of days ago, I longed for my camera as I walked down the woodland cemetery path. It lingers along the stream carved through the hillside center of the grounds.  The sunlight sparkled across the clear water, which rippled gently across the rocky creek bed.  The stream practically sang aloud.

The next day, an early-morning deluge had altered the entire scene.  The water, thick and murky, rushed down its channel; it was so much deeper than it had been only twenty-four hours earlier that only the slightest hint of rapids was visible.  Nothing called for a camera; it appeared, in fact, as if survival were at stake.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Oh well . . .

It will be awhile before I can afford another one.  Until then, all online activity limited.  :(

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Environmental Dimension of Spirituality

A couple of days ago a Jesuit blogger whom I follow wrote about having just completed his annual eight-day retreat in Chicago.  I immediately wanted to know how that worked: silence in the city?  Not exactly summer in the city as I imagine it. He responded that his spirituality is very urban, and that he's made retreats in several cities, including Montreal and Jerusalem.

That got me thinking: How does environment play a role in our spirituality? Is it something extremely personal?   I would call my own very outdoor, open-space oriented.  The evidence:

As an adult in my late 20s, the place in which it occurred to me that there might possibly be a God was at the top of Stoney Indian Pass overlooking Glacier National Park ~ on a backpacking trip.  Not in a church (actually, it had not occurred to me to go anywhere near a church for at least a decade at that point, despite all those years of Catholic and Protestant boarding schools), and most definitely not in the city in which I practiced law every day.

If you asked me to name a few places in which God has seemed especially present to me, off the top of my head they would probably include the beach (any beach) at sunrise, the North Carolina mountains, the soy bean fields of southern Ohio, the Rockies, and the starry sky above the Connecticut Valley and the Berkshires.  The exceptions to prove my rule: Gothic cathedrals.  They are usually located in cities (but they are interior environments of extraordinary open space - ha!).  And the Chapel of the Martyrs in Paris ~ a major exception.

Retreats?  Well, my first one was at Guelph in Ontario.  As I told Joe, my then-director responded to my plan to go there in a pejorative email tone of voice by saying, "It's very RURAL."  And it was -- it offered me a place in which I could walk across fields and through woods for miles each day, and spend much of my afternoon prayer time during that 90-degree week sitting on a rock in the middle of the river.  Then I tried Manresa outside of Detroit, which was way too small ~ although anyplace in the universe would have been too small for the day on which I learned that my son had died.  There's a retreat house here to which I've been with groups and occasionally to walk the grounds with friends -- where I've even co-led a retreat, actually ~ and it's a lovely respite from the city, but city is where it is.  And now there's Wernersville, a Pennsylvania version of Guelph.  On the outside anyway.  I guess interiors are a topic for another post.

At any rate, outdoors and remote is the way to go for me.  Here, I spend a lot of my prayer time walking, either to the Little Lakes a couple of miles away or to the cemetery a couple of blocks away.  Both provide enough in the way of woods and water and birds and other wildlife to at least seem spacious and even a little  remote.

And when I imagine my future in ministry, my fantasy life includes a late-in-life decade spent as a spiritual director and writer at someplace like Ghost Ranch.  (Oddly enough, that plan seems to be working out in reverse, sort of, as I have plenty of spiritual direction work to do here in the city.  Does this mean I'll be pastoring a church in the middle of nowhere in  my 70s?)

I suppose that I might make an exception for Montreal or Jerusalem, though!  (And seriously, this has got me wondering about my own limitations in terms of spiritual openness and availability in urban environments.  Or in small spaces, such as Michelle's been writing about in describing her adventures in exploring the contemplative life in Japan.)

What about you?  Where does God seem most present to you?

Summer in the Cemetery


Some years ago I was on the Personnel Committee for our church, which meant that I was involved in pastor and staff evaluations.

I expressed my frustration at the qualitative nature of the forms we used.  How many people went on this trip, how many attended those classes, how many participated in this book group?

Was even one of those great number of people changed?  I asked.  Was anyone's faith deepened, did anyone learn something new, has anyone made any new plans or commitments, as a consequence of anything that happened here?  Has anyone's life changed?
I'm hopeful that the answer to each of those questions was Yes, but we had no way of knowing for certain.  Others agreed with me about the limitations of our methodology, but had no more in the way of solutions than I did.

A few days ago, someone told me that making the Ignatian Exercises has "made my experience of prayer 3-D."

Now, I didn't have anything much to do with that.  I showed up for 35-40 weeks and provided materials and suggestions, but it was pretty much someone else's work.

I have now, however, discovered a standard for evaluation.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Just Sayin' (Interlude)

In the past 24 hours:

Methodist women asked me to lead a summer discussion group for them . . . 

Catholic directee brought me a couple of books she thinks I'll like . . . 

UCC guy called to ask me to co-lead a discernment retreat . . . 

Oh PC(USA), where art thou?????????