Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sandy Feet

There is a lot of material in the Bible that makes me uncomfortable.  Like most people I know, I don't want anything to do with, say, the literal words of psalms that express exultation in the violent defeat of enemies. The narratives of military victories don't warm my heart or inspire me to action.

But I do find it possible to read and pray with many of those words in the context of the battles I fight in my own life, and the war I wage ~ sometimes, anyway ~ against depression, sadness, grief, and desolation.   And in the context of enemies such as poverty and disaster and warfare and hunger and homelessness.

This past week I've been thinking, for no particular reason that I can ascertain, about Jesus's advice to the disciples whom  he sends out on a journey to share the good news of the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven and to engage in some striking activity of care and healing.

"If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words," he says, "shake off the
dust from your feet as you leave that house or town."

I'm not at all convinced that Jesus wants us to walk away from others under any circumstances.

But I've been wondering whether this command might make more sense if applied to those personal or cultural demons we find so implacable.
Depression and sadness are enticing, but they are not welcoming.  They will drag you in the doorway and suffocate you.  Hunger and homelessness call for radical response, not accommodation.
"Shake the dust off" sounds like a quick solution, the kind that we know doesn't work.  The dust, or the sand, as I tend to think if it (hence the image) -- it sticks.  Even when you spray your feet thoroughly upon your return from a beach walk, you will track sand across the kitchen floor, and you'll find small grains buried in the upholstery and in your sheets.   You can't just shake it off.
But in the long term? 
Can we shake off the personal and worldwide conditions that torment us?
Maybe he's saying: Don't make peace with them.   Don't sit down and have a drink with them.  Do what it takes to move yourself, and everyone else, beyond them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Adirondacks


 Our campsite was right on Heart Lake, so the frogs were in danger from Ris.

And from Matt.

And Josh.

We went in July, assured that the black flies would be long gone.  But that year it had rained too much, or too little, and they were still around in full force.  We had to set a tent up inside the lean-to for Marissa; we were all covered in welts, but she was so small that I was afraid she would get sick.  So our home away from home included a tent within a lean-to.
I happen to have this set of pictures because I had a roll of black-and-white film in the camera when we arrived.  The rest of the photos, of all the hiking and canoeing, are in color and in another photo album.


After having chosen Serenity as my word for the year, I asked my friend Wayne to make a piece of stained glass for me.  He finished it yesterday, as anyone who's been to my FB page knows (!).  I'm so looking forward to hanging it in a window ~ and waiting for the sun to shine in Cleveland, sometime in 2015 or so.
Wayne's timing was excellent.  Last evening turned into a perfect storm of grief, but I awoke this morning reminded that serenity hardly matters if we cannot apply it to the difficult times. 
Living to an old age is not a goal of mine.  But should it happen in spite of me, I would like it if people could say, "She was serene in the face of it all." 
I suppose that makes this a word for the next couple of decades. Hardly something that one can accomplish in a year.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Family Vacation

I'm thinking that it was probably the summer of 1992 ~ the Lovely Daughter about to turn five and her brothers almost eight.  We headed for the Adirondacks to camp in a lean-to for a week.  Out first hike was up Mount Jo for a picnic:

Our view: Heart Lake, along which we were camping:

It's taking me a long time to deal with these photos (now on CD), so . . .  more another day.

Sunday, February 24, 2013



Finally! a day for a walk in the cemetery.

Friday, February 22, 2013

When The Terrible Takes Precedence

For unbloggable reasons, it's been a rough week.  One after another after another, those "not ever" and "never again" moments have hit me, relentlessly and repeatedly. 
I am surprised to discover that in many ways the fifth year is worse than the second, and the third, and the fourth.  I guess that each year another level of reality settles in, and in some ways the desire to live backwards rather than forward becomes increasingly intense.
What's the beautiful and the good?  That there are other mothers, that we can turn to one another and talk among ourselves.  Of course, that's neither beautiful nor good, since we have found one another because our children have died.
My friend Karen writes the following today:

"No one else can understand the landscape through which we walk - the vulnerability, the longing, the daily ache of missing our child, the frequent reminders, the life-long series of “no, not ever” and “never-again,” the unseen hazards that lie in wait for us like buried land mines. Panic attacks, PTSD, memory triggers,  the excruciating, debilitating pain of trauma-recall (like a punch to the gut) which we experience in the grocery store, on vacation, while driving a car, listening to the radio, surfing the internet – anytime, anywhere - these are not a part of the average person's daily life. You may work with us or socialize with us, but unless you are one of us, you cannot possibly truly know how we feel, and we hope that you never do, for your sake. 

Because of this, please consider us and our idiosyncrasies with a bit of extra compassion, for you do not know what we are seeing and experiencing. We may be standing right in front of you, yet not present with you at all. Though looking at you, we may have dropped through an invisible trap-door to the past, and be re-living the moment of our child’s diagnosis, or his death in our arms, handling her ashes, or that telephone call – the one which gave us the news which ended our life as we knew it. That phone call which started us on our journey, down the path which no parent wants to take."
Sometimes these friends of mine, these extraordinarily gifted and gracious women  who do so much for so many, come across in their blogs as if they are on top of the world, healed and energetic and productive and happy.  And then I remember the seventies-something couple in my intern church, their son lost to suicide seven years previous, who were such lovely people and so engaged in the life of the church and the community, and how I asked them one day, "Are you really ok?" -- and I recall the tone in which they said, in unison, "Oh, no . . . no, we're not ok . . . we're not ok at all."  And so I am not surprised when my friends reflect on the feelings underlying the public faces.
One of my friends says that it takes skill, to live in the world as we do, and that we are learning.  I suppose, as Mary Oliver says, we go "practicing."

Thursday, February 21, 2013


I used to be such a morning person -- up and out for a three-mile walk at 6:00, focused and hard at work by 8:00.  Since Josh's death, no longer the case.  I sleep so poorly and erratically that I have to make new accommodations every morning to compensate for the night before.
This morning, as so often happens, I was awake at 4:00, four or five consecutive hours of sleep being the most I can usually manage.  I fell asleep again within a reasonable time period ~ some mornings I don't, at all ~ and awoke and fell asleep and awoke again for good at around 8:00. 
I had been having a wonderful dream about Josh, Josh among dozens of teammates marching delightedly through an underground tunnel and onto a soccer field for the state championship soccer game.  We parents were behind a glass window and suddenly Josh broke out from the crowd of boys, dancing and leaping in the air and thoroughly enjoying himself.  Just as suddenly he was no longer a high schooler, but an exuberant fourth or fifth grader, with his bowl-cut of white blond hair flying through the air.  "Look!" he yelled.  "One way glass!  Our parents can see us, but we can't see them!"  And he continued to jump around and then ran back toward his group.
I placed my hand on the glass, trying to reach him, to touch him.  "Come back to me, Josh," I whispered.  "Come back, come back, come back . . . ".  Through a glass darkly, that's how we see now.
The tunnel, the state finals, the exuberant soccer player from elementary through high school ~ those all happened in real life.  The glass window; that happened, too, in another place, a terrible place.  A crematorium.  The words ~ I say them every day.
I lay in bed, realizing I was too awake to go back to my dream.  That occurs sometimes; sometimes he is so alive, so real, in my dreams, that I try desperately to fall asleep again.  Once in awhile I succeed, but it's never the same.

So I stretched out in bed and began to think about the day.  A day inside, at home, with three major projects, each completely different from the others, to occupy me.  I have had to change the way in which I work as well; I have to prepare even short sets of materials over long weeks rather than over a few days at a time.  I remember the first paper I wrote after returning to seminary.  Ten pages; it should have taken a couple of afternoons, at most.  It took ten days, an hour each.  I had lost all powers of concentration.  I'm in much better shape now, but I still can't rely with any assurance on my ability to focus for very long when I'm alone. 
I think back to the meetings over the past couple of days at church.  There is so much for me to learn about pastoring a community. This community. Sometimes I am right on the mark; others, not at all.  I said something last night intended to convey enthusiasm and encouragement, which I genuinely felt, and it was immediately deflected into something else.  This morning I see my error, and I wonder at my inability to comprehend the culture of my church.  There were so many other moments during which I felt something quite the opposite of enthusiasm, and I was pleased when I was able to offer compliments and support.  Which didn't work as I intended at all.
I consider the rest of the day ahead.  This evening I will be meeting with someone who is making the Spiritual Exercises.  That will be a delight.  We are about half way through, and he is deeply engaged in his blend of prayer and work.  Like a Benedictine, I suppose ~ except not  at all. 
Well, I am up, and getting hungry, so I suppose I'd better prepare to engage in mine.  Ora et labora.  Here we go.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Boats, Poulsbo

I took this photograph in Poulsbo, Washington last summer, when we went to visit Karen and her husband, Gregg ~ and got to meet their son David, too!  They live in exactly the sort of place I have always imagined living, a house on the beach in an island community. 
When I started playing with the image, this appeared:

You can draw your own conclusions about the sort of place I'm in these days.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

The White Album

Yesterday I heard a song from Abbey Road on the radio, which got me thinking . . . .
Fall 1969.  I was a junior in boarding school, where a couple of friends and I had created a considerable amount of trouble for ourselves the preceding spring by taking a midnight walk to the campus of the boys' school, five miles away, across the Connecticut River.  Our arrival behind the science building unfortunately coincided with the late night (early morning?) departure of one of the physics teachers. 
We weren't expelled, but we were "campused" (boarding school-ese for "grounded) until the next Thanksgiving vacation.  A couple of us spent the summer working on Cape Cod and roaming between Falmouth and Provincetown on our days off, but when September rolled around, we were stuck.
Nearly everyone else departed for a long week-end in October.  The aforementioned physics teacher felt so bad about his timing that he invited to us dinner with his family one night.  The administration  also took pity on us and let us go out one night with the rest of the small group remaining on campus, to a Sly and the Family Stone concert at U Mass-Amherst.   And we spent a lot of time at the pool.  We took a record player (!) with us, plopped the White Album on the turntable,  turned the volume up as loud as it could go, and went swimming.
I was doing other things that fall.  I was taking English with Miss Palmer, who is responsible for my ability to write a literate paragraph and to quote Chaucer, T.S. Eliot, and Lady Macbeth in the same sentence.  I was failing Algebra II. 
But when I hear old Beatles' albums, I always think of those lonely afternoons, swimming to the White Album while everyone else in our known world was in Boston.

Seattle 01

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Nankin 01

I haven't done any serious photo work in sooooooooo long, and have I ever missed it.
Today, with a sermon finished, two ahead for next Sunday, and three major writing projects underway, I cannot produce another word.  So I downloaded a free 30-day photoshop trial.  I am much happier than I was an hour ago!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes III - Sermon

Turn to the Living God
There is but one way to turn to God on Ash Wednesday, and that way is to allow your heart to be broken open. 
Stand still, and silent, and watch as your heart breaks open into a thousand glistening pieces, the pieces marking a person who has turned entirely in the direction of God.

There are other ways, on other days, to encounter God.  There are paths of calm and repose, there are mountaintops of joy, there are rivers of energy.

But on Ash Wednesday, on this day on which we recognize and reverence the fragmentation of human life, there is but one way to approach God, and that is with a broken heart. 

For what is your heart broken tonight? 

For the world, God’s world?
in which warfare does not cease?
in which water and air fill with the oil and smoke of polluted waste?
in which animals go extinct every day as a consequence of human greed and destruction?

For what is your heart broken tonight?
For human society?
in which poverty and disease claim thousands of lives every day?
in which hunger and illness limit human potential
in which bright-eyed children are denied their basic educational and health needs?

For what is your heart broken tonight? 
For the human family?
n which divorce and conflict run rampant
in which strife and envy are more prevalent than love and compassion?
in which people repeatedly choose themselves over those they love? 

For what is your heart broken tonight? 
For yourself?
for relationships ground to dust?
for deep desires abandoned by the wayside?
for losses and heartaches for which it seems no remedies exist

We don’t want to recognize, let alone reverence, these broken, fragmented slivers of heart. 

We don’t even want to look at them, strewn in the paths we hope we have left behind.

And yet, in order to receive the blessing of Ash Wednesday, as the pastor-poet Jan Richardson tells us,

all you have to do
is let your heart break.
Let it crack open.
Let it fall apart
so that you can see
its secret chambers,
the hidden spaces
where you have hesitated
to go. 
all you have to do
is let your heart break.

“All” you have to do? 

I have had times in my life – long, long times – when I have wondered how one would ever, could possibly, return to God with all of one’s heart.  Times when the broken pieces are so many, they would fill an entire desert.  Times when those pieces are so scattered that no one could gather them into a basket and they could not possibly be pieced together, not even by God.

So what could it mean, to return with your whole heart to God? 

To repent, to change your entire orientation,
 to spin in a complete circle and then to keep going,
until you were face to face with the living God? 

Isaiah tells us.  The prophet Isaiah tells us that it is when we are most broken, when we are a people in exile, when God seems far, far away: 

We are to share our bread with the hungry. 
We are not the only people starving for hope, for comfort, for peace. 
We are not the only people longing for shelter from the cold, from loneliness, from grief, from oppression. 
We are not the only people who feel that life is unfair, that we are unappreciated, that our gifts go to waste and our desires remain unnoticed.

We are to look toward others who share our brokenness, and to share our bread with them, 
 and then, as Isaiah says,

“God will satisfy [our] needs in parched places, and make [our] bones strong; and [we] shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

When we, each of us, return with all of our heart toward God, we do so by turning not solely to God, but to all in need of God’s justice, for God’s justice means food for the hungry, freedom for the enslaved, comfort for the hurting. 

We cannot sweep up our millions of broken pieces, we cannot paste and glue them back together, we cannot save the world from sin, or creation from destruction.

But God can.  And Ash Wednesday serves to remind us that,
into the ashes of human death,
Jesus Christ comes to restore a universe and a humanity
to the beauty of shining, beloved wholeness
which our God has always intended and toward which God continues to labor.

There is a beautiful song, the words of which go like this:
Turn, turn to the living God,
The God of healing and comfort,
And in delight, God will turn to you,
In delight God will turn to you.

Tonight, with the imposition of ashes and the reception into our bodies of the bread of life and the cup of salvation, we turn to the living God. 
We allow the pieces of our broken hearts to be gathered by the one who will mold and meld and solder them into new life. 

We allow ourselves to be reminded that the bread offered to us is given us for sharing. 

We affirm, gently but without reservation,
that in delight God turns to us
and that, with healing and comfort
Jesus brings resurrection life. 

Ashes - II

From 2009, written six months after Josh died.


Return to me with your whole heart. That was the line from Joel 2:12 that I heard early Wednesday morning.

Your whole heart, I thought? What can that mean, when your heart is not whole?

My heart is shattered.

It lies in tiny shards all over the ground.

Its jagged pieces spin into space, floating past Jupiter like lost little pilgrims.

Its dusty bits float on the oceans, bits of ash, sparkling grimly in the sunlight and filtering slowly downward, into the darkness where oddly luminescent sea creatures chart paths we can barely imagine.

One might want to turn to God again. The word metanoia slides off the tongue. It sounds graceful, and hopeful. But if God's desire is for a whole heart, if one can turn toward God only with an intact heart, then one is surely lost.

Late last night I turned to the passage in another version. Return to me with all your heart. Of course, I had known, in some small and isolated portion of my mind, that "whole" meant "all." I had known that in my own broken heart the response to what seemed a play on words but was really a conundrum of translation reflected my own longing for wholeness.

Your heart. In Biblical Judaism, the seat of your being. The essence of who you are.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. So end the readings for the day, with the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:21.

Barbara Brown Taylor has a wonderful sermon about the treasure in the field. (The Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew has a lot to say.) The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Why does he purchase the entire field; why doesn't he just dig up the one section? The treasure, she concludes, is scattered in plain sight, glittering all over the field.

Your heart accompanies your treasure and so there it is,

strewn across the field, scattered across the universe, mixed with the salt of the sea.

Return to me with your whole heart.

Return to me with the gift of a heart so cracked open that that in its wholeness it encounters brokenness everywhere.

Return to me with all of your heart.

You will find its pieces in places to which you would never have sought to journey on your own.

It is, indeed, an appalling thing, the strange mercy of God.

Ashes - I

I think I'll post three reflections today. 
This year's perspective.
One from four years ago.
Tonight's sermon.
Ash Wednesday presents a particular dilemma of dissociation for me. 
There is the public me, who will preside over an Ash Wednesday service tonight.  I have burned last year's palm branches in my fireplace and crushed what was left into fine ash, which now sits in a plastic bag on a kitchen shelf.  This doesn't sound very holy, does it?  But the ordinary and the sacred always blend in a life of faith.
I think of Forrest Church, preaching at Chautauqua many, many years ago, and proclaiming that "We have religion because we live, and then we die, and we need to make sense of that."  I didn't ponder that while I was burning the ashes last week, but today I do.
There is the pubic/private me, who will preach a short sermon tonight, a sermon which emerged from searing experience.  As time passes, you are indeed able to take that experience and give words to it that are more universal in scope. 
I don't consider that to be a particularly good thing.  I would prefer to have foregone the experience.
There's the private me.  The one who has an urn half-filled with ashes in her bedroom closet.  Jan Edmiston says today that most of us hide our ashes in the closet.  She is speaking metaphorically.  Those of us with tangible ones keep them in all sorts of places.  I keep some in the Pacific Ocean, some in the Atlantic, some in Lake Chautauqua, and some in the mountains of North Carolina.  Some in a locket. And some in the closet, because it takes a long time to scatter ashes across the globe.  Or at least across our small parts of it.
I don't much care for Ash Wednesday.  I used to love it, but now it's not exactly as if I need a reminder.


Wednesday Festival

Things always get worse before they get better, but for today I'm at RevGals with some great posts for Lenten practice.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I think I should return to the practice of law . . .


Monday, February 11, 2013

Lenten Practice: The Desert

Last year during Lent I preached a series of sermons on spiritual practices.  I think that they were well-received, but then: THUNK.
It wasn't for some weeks, maybe months, that I realized that I had introduced the unfamiliar concept of spiritual practice to my congregation without offering them any concrete, practical advice on how to implement any such thing in their own lives.
(I often find that matters that seem clear to me are . . . not so much to others.  This applies to all kinds of things, including where one should store the vacuum cleaner.)
So, this year: a reprise, with practical suggestions and a handout each week.
My first thought was to send them off with an idea for an hour's attentive solitude to try once during the week, but a pastor friend told me, No.  Too much. 
And then I remembered how often I suggest to people who are just embarking on a new life of contemplative prayer that they give it three minutes a day, while they're brushing their teeth in the morning.  Most of us complain, when we try to get serious about contemplation, that we don't have time, that we can't catch a break, that we are endlessly distracted ~ but we all have to brush our teeth, right?  So choose a topic ~ gratitude, say ~ and ponder that while you brush.  It's a start.
I'm trying something of the same approach with my congregation.  Every week, a handout inserted in the bulletin, with images and quotes and suggestions for three ten-minute periods of prayer, to do whenever they want during the following week.
This week's topic is Practicing the Desert.  The handout's finished; I'll include it here in bits and pieces over the next few days.
Image: Sossusvlei Dune, Namib Desert  ~ Wikipedia.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Into the Deep (Sermon - Luke and I Cor.)

“Put out into the deep water,” says Jesus.  “Put out into the deep water, and let your nets down for a catch.”
We talk a lot in the church about the outward journey
                The journey of mission
                The journey of caring for others
                The journey of sharing the good news
And especially when we’re exploring the Gospel of Luke, we talk about the outward journey.
Last week, we watched Jesus preaching in the synagogue, and reminding his people that God had chosen through the prophets Elijah and Elisha to heal the woman from Zarephath and Naaman from Syria – gentiles, outsiders, people other than the Jews themselves – and thus we, 2,000 years later, were reminded that God goes to all people.  That God is not reserved for us.

You may recall that I mentioned that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were probably written by the same author, a gentile author, who was tremendously interested in the movement of God outward, and in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ around the whole world known to him.  In fact, one way of looking at these books is to take note of their structure: The entire Gospel of Luke represents a movement from Bethlehem toward Jerusalem, and the entire Book of Acts represents the movement of the fledgling Christian church from Jerusalem toward the world.  Very much an outward journey kind of framework.

But Luke does not neglect the inward journey, the inward journey of the individual toward God, the journey initiated by God and pulling us ever deeper into relationship with God’s son.  How many times in Luke does Jesus go aside, go apart, to pray?  Always beleaguered by the crowds who seek his teaching and his healing, he nevertheless finds time to meet with God, his father, in solitude. 
Today’s gospel passage is often taught as the epitome of the outward journey.

There will be many sermons preached today on

The call of the disciples – Jesus approaching the fishermen cleaning their nets

The call of Simon Peter – Jesus interacting directly with Peter, and Peter responding  directly to Jesus

 “Catching people” – signaled by the unexpected catch of the many fish, so many that the nets begin to break and the boats begin to sink

Your Bible may even be marked with the caption, “Jesus calls the first disciples”

And so we are accustomed to hearing this as an extrovert’s story, as a call to become a disciple and move outward into the world
And that common and frequently discussed interpretation is an entirely legitimate one

 A meaningful interpretation – it’s so moving to see Jesus institute a relationship with the first disciples, and to ponder the ways in which he reaches out to us

An exciting one – how inspiring it is for us to understand that we, too, are called into the service of Jesus, to leave behind that which holds us back and to follow him
But today I want to propose to you, as we prepare to move into Lent, that there’s an impetus toward the inward journey in this narrative as well.

“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus.  “Put out into the deep water, and let your nets down for a catch.” 
Think about what’s in the deep, the literal deep.

I’m always drawn to the ocean and I’m fascinated, when I’m there, by the thought that the sandy beach along which I walk at low tide will be covered by several feet of water only six hours later, and that the water will churn with fish, and small sharks, and a few rays, and jellyfish, and maybe even a few turtles and eels – most of which will be invisible. 

A pastor friend of mine is travelling right now, and posting Facebook messages about the deep sea diving she’s doing.  A couple of days ago, her page read: Three dives. Tons of turtles, morays, a whale shark, and a manta.  The deep conceals a whole universe about which most of us know little.
We learn something of the deep in The Life of Pi.  How many of you have read the book or seen the recent movie?  (I’ve seen it twice so far; I am completely entranced.)

The basic story goes something like this.  Pi is a young man who lives with his family in India.  His family owns a small zoo, and as the political climate changes in India, his parents decide that they need to sell the zoo and emigrate to Canada, taking the animals with them to deliver to their new owner.  They all set out on a freighter voyage, a terrible storm comes up, and the ship and most of its passengers are lost at sea.  Pi, however, survives, and awakes in the calm to find himself in a lifeboat in the company of a zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger.  Within a few hours, the zebra and the orangutan have been dispatched, and it’s just Pi and Richard Parker, the tiger, alone somewhere in a small boat on the Pacific Ocean. 
The story unfolds into the tale of their mutual survival.  Pi, as he says later, survives thanks to Richard Parker, in part because he needs to find and catch food in order to keep Richard Parker alive, and in part because he has to keep his wits about him in order to stay alive himself, in the face of the danger posed by a very large and powerful carnivore.

As the movie draws to a close, the question becomes apparent: Was there really a tiger?  A literal, actual  tiger?  Or does Richard Parker represent something else, something about the depths of Pi’s character and the ways in which Pi has to grow and change in order to survive?  Does Richard Parker tell us something about the depths of all human nature, both its lighter and its darker sides?
“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus.  For the disciples, those words serve to invite, to offer hope, to command, to challenge.  For Pi, something of the same.  Pi, out in the middle of the ocean, has few options, but every day he does have decide, yet again, to persevere.

And what does Pi learn, out there in the ocean, from its depths?  What do the depths – of the water, of human life – have to teach us, about ourselves, about God, about faith?  And what difference does any of that make for others?
“Know thyself,” urged Socrates in ancient Greece, centuries before the birth of Jesus.  “Know thy God," the writer of the Book of First Chronicles in the Old Testament tells us.  Both exhortations echoed through the Christian world as well as the Greek and Jewish worlds; 1500 years after Jesus walked the earth, the great church reformer, John Calvin, told us that “[n]early all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves (Institutes, 1.1.1). Calvin asserted that we cannot know God without knowing ourselves, and that we cannot know ourselves without knowing God. “[W]hich one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern” (Institutes, 1.1.1).

The ocean and its depths become the place in which Pi learns something about who he is.  He learns to survive – he learns to survive physically by meeting daily challenges and developing new skills, and he learns to survive spiritually by resisting the temptation to let his darker, instinctual, tiger side prevail.  Or is it his fearful human side that is the darker, and his survivalist tiger side that is the brighter? Put out into the deep and learn who you really are – so The Life of Pi seems to tell us.
He learns something of the mystery of God in the depths as well.  There’s a marvelous, eerily beautiful scene in the movie in which Pi, out on his little boat, is surrounded by luminescent jellyfish, glowing white just under the water.  And then a spectacular whale breaches, arching into the night sky, it too seeming to glow against the darkness.  How many times does the Bible refer to the knowledge of God as being “too wonderful for me” – and yet, in the depths, in the deep, some of that knowledge – the beauty, the magnificence of the earth and its creatures -- is revealed to Pi.

And so he learns something of himself, and something of God – and something of faith.  In the vast ocean, Pi learns the sustaining nature of gratitude.  His family gone, his life threatened daily by the elements as well as by the tiger, Pi over and over again expresses his gratitude to God for saving him, for providing for him -- for providing him with knowledge, with food, with rest, with what he needs, day by day, to survive.  

“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus.  Put out into the depths of your life, into that place in which you will come face to face with yourself, with God, with the power of faith.
“Put out into the deep,” says Jesus, into the depths of self-knowledge and God knowledge, into that place in which God calls you to be most authentically yourself – so that you can call others to meet Jesus.

“Catch” is the word Jesus uses here – “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  Put out into the deep of growth, of encounter with God, of wisdom – put out into the deep first, because in exploring the depths of faith,  in growing in knowledge of self and God, you will find yourself catching, capable of catching others – of reaching out to others, of serving others, of revealing the generous and loving presence of God to others. 
“Put out into the deep” – and Lent is the time for doing precisely that.  When we next gather as a congregation, it will be Ash Wednesday, the first night of the season of Lent, and we will be putting out into the deep of a season of repentance, of practice and discipline, of heightened awareness – of ourselves and of our God.

Paul tells us that it is by the grace of God that we are what we are, and Lent is a season particularly designated for becoming more fully who we are:  disciples of Jesus Christ, self-aware and capable, inwardly focused people of faith, preparing to be propelled outward by Resurrection life. 

And so: Go deep, this coming season.  Put out into the depths, submerge yourself in an encounter with God, and prepare to pull in a great catch of faith in Jesus and love for others from the waters.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

I Loved My Ordination Service!

This post emerged from a conversation on the RevGals FB page, where someone asked a few days ago about ordination service ideas.  As I added some memories to the discussion, I said that I felt a blog post coming on, and here it is.


There are two basic ways in which one might make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (as well as many shorter variations or group experiences which offer a "taste" of the experience.)  One is to take a thirty-day period in relative seclusion, usually away at a retreat house, and devote one's entire life to the experience.  The other is to make the Exercises "in daily life," taking several months and extending each "day" of prayer over a week.  The former offers advantages of intensity and focus; the latter, of the mingling of the ordinary and extraordinary occurrences of life with an unusual depth of the prayer.
I had imagined, I suppose, that my ordination service (and in my Presbyterian tradition, we celebrate ordinations individually) would be more akin to the former.  A day set apart, a deep and focused attentiveness to that One Thing, several hours of unadulterated celebration.
How could I possibly have anticipated any such thing?  Wishful thinking; never happens.  No, it was much closer to the mingling of sacred and . . .  perhaps the less so, perhaps not . . .  in daily life.
My son had been dead for three years.  I had begun to serve as pastor to my first church a month previous.  I was in the midst of the arrangements and testing required for breast cancer surgery.  Our music director's father was dying (and I really did not expect her to show up ~ until she did).  The simple act of finding a day had been nearly impossible; my daughter had graduate classes nearly every Saturday and Sunday, the professor I hoped would preach was booked into a schedule that mirrored hers, and then out of nowhere, the surgical schedules of two doctors intruded.
And yet . . .  it was wonderful.  It was a joy-filled, celebratory, extraordinary day. 
We held it in my home church, a sanctuary that, as I told my own pastor, I was hoping we might redeem, it having become a kind of nightmare space for me after Josh's memorial service.  (And we did come close.  I still see that urn of ashes in the chancel every time I walk in, but those are no longer knife-in-the-gut moments, as they were during the years when I completely abandoned going to church there.  Years which happened to coincide with my last two years of seminary.)
Someone commented afterward about the Scriptural and music selections.  "That service was really all about Josh," I remarked.  "I know," she said quietly.
Some of my favorite moments, chosen randomly:
The rehearsal of communion the day before, with my own pastor trying so hard to help me remember the order ~ a hopeless task, given the condition of my short term memory.  A year and one-half later, I still struggle.  (And it was to turn out that I would mess up the easiest part of all.  The part we didn't practice.)
My daughter singing "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" as a prelude in memory of her brother.
The readings, done by friends who are Jewish, Catholic, and Presbyterian.
The sermon by my professor, which was really, honestly, a great sermon.  I've listened to it dozens of times, and each time I find something different to like, in the structure or in the theology or in an individual word here or there.  I've heard some other ordination sermons which have been primarily about the person being ordained.  This one was about Jesus.  Although perhaps about me, too, but you would have to have been listening carefully to what I had been saying for the past couple of years about death and loss and grief and hope to know that. 
Rilke making his way into the charge delivered by my own pastor.
The choir singing "These Alone Are Enough" as one of the communion hymns, and then the entire congregation joining in one of our church favorites, "Allelulia, Alleluia, Give Thanks to the Living God."  The sanctuary was filled with the sound; absolutely beautiful.
Celebrating communion and serving the bread to each and every person who wished to be served. There were a lot of tears and a lot of hugs.  It probably took awhile.  And there was Josh.  Later a friend said, "I saw you touch your hand to your heart when CH spoke to you as she received communion."  "Oh," I said, "I had called her frantically a couple of weeks before when I realized I had never had a pendant made for some ashes.  A friend had designed and made one for her after her son died, but there wasn't enough time for me to get something similar done, and she had some other ideas.  So she asked, and I was telling her that I had found a locket, which was under my robe.  So Josh was physically there, where I needed him to be."
Later, (another) Jewish friend said, "That was an incredible service.  I actually thought to myself, 'If I were ever going to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, this would be the night.' "
That moment of laying on of hands is pretty wonderful; a definite Moment.  But for me, the real joy lay in watching all those faces of beloved friends and family as they listened and prayed and sang and came forward for communion.  I kept gazing across the congregation, trying to solidify the memory of what I was seeing.  Friends from St. Louis and Philadelphia as well as from down the block.  Friends from seminary and spiritual direction classes. My spiritual director.  Nuns from my childhood.  Family members who probably haven't been inside a church for decades, other than for weddings and funerals. Members of my home church and members of my new church.
They were all so beautiful.  All part of a celebration in the midst of Everything Else.