Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Happy Feast Day of St. Ignatius!

Posted today over at dotMagis:
At the heart of what can seem like frenetic activity was an intimate relationship with God, which Ignatius often found difficult to put into words. His private journals show minuscule notations crowded beside his entries for daily Mass. As scholars have concluded, these indicate, among other things, those times when he wept during Mass, overwhelmed by love for God.
Ignatius found God everywhere: in the poor, in prayer, in the Mass, in his fellow Jesuits, in his work, and, most touchingly, on a balcony of the Jesuit house in Rome, where he loved to gaze up silently at the stars at night. During these times he would shed tears in wonder and adoration. His emotional responses to the presence of God in his life gives the lie to the stereotype of the cold saint.
Ignatius was a mystic who loved God with an intensity rare even for saints. He wasn’t a renowned scholar like Augustine or Aquinas, not a martyr like Peter or Paul, not a great writer like Teresa or Benedict, and perhaps not a beloved personality like Francis or Therese. But he loved God and loved the world, and those two things he did quite well.
James Martin, SJMy Life with the Saints

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reading and Watching Mysteries

Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden in The Killing

I don't, actually, read or view mysteries on a regular basis.  Almost never, in fact.
The fact that I've just finished reading one, am almost through a second, and am even watching a third on television tells you that life is pressing in on me.  Two many decisions hanging in the summer wind, too many moments in which I'm thinking, "Just blew that one," and too much clutter in my household.  My response: Burrow in with something absorbing but entirely nondemanding.  I don't even attempt to keep track of most of the characters beyond the main protagonists.  Here's what I've been up to:
The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva.  Gabriel Allon, brilliant restoration artist, always up to his neck in religious Renaissance paintings and, by the way, also master Israeli spy and assassin, confidant of popes and secular government officials, happily married man whose psyche is marred by the murders (car bomb) of his first wife and son, is the hero of a series of Silva novels.  Since his work in both the artistic and surveillance arenas so often takes him to the Vatican, other main characters often include devastatingly handsome priests with tortured pasts and lovers with whom they are entangled for life, and Italian women of astonishing beauty and professional acumen, often the former lovers of said priests.  In this particular novel, the lady in question is married to the mastermind of a Vatican banking scandal (sound familiar?) unraveling at the hands of the priest hero with the assistance of his friend Allon.   These novels are great fun ~ although, having heard Daniel Silva interviewed in NPR a couple of weeks ago, I decided to purchase his new one and discovered that I can only take so much Gabriel Allon at a time.  Therefore, I'm now reading . . .
Faye Kellerman's Hangman.  In Kellerman's series, Peter Decker is the Los Angeles homicide detective and Rina Lazarus is his beautiful Orthodox Jewish wife.  I'd long since forgotten how the two of them got together ~ so I've just looked it up. There've been nineteen novels in the series, and the couple met in the first, when Decker was investigating a rape in a yeshiva community where Rina, a widowed mother, ran the mikvah.  The Ritual Bath gives her an opportunity to explain her religious customs and the two of them a window of time in which to fall madly in love.  Naturally, I enjoy the combination of religion, crime, and family as I do in the Silva novels.  Here, the added bonus is that, having spent those six years teaching in an Orthodox school, the small details of Jewish life jump out at me and ring entirely true, and having a complicated family of origin of my own, the Decker-Lazarus combination of adults and children is intriguing.
Finally, my son Matt and I have become obsessed with the third season of The Killing, an AMC drama.  The first two seasons focused on the murder of one teenaged girl in Seattle, reaching an entirely unsatisfactory conclusion.  I swore that I would not get involved again ~ this year's combination of the gray and rain of Seattle with the lives of homeless teenagers being picked off one-by-one at the hands of a serial killer, and Detective Sarah Linden's unsuccessful, as of last Sunday, attempt to save the life of the man condemned to death as the result of a previous investigation of hers, was more than I wanted to stomach.  However . . .  my son was watching and I found myself drawn in the again, by the utter brokenness of both Sarah and her partner Stephen Holder, and by their intertwined search for redemption as they seek to carve a modicum of justice out of impossibly brutal situations.  So far, with one episode left, Sarah is in some ways responsible for the execution of a man innocent of at least the particular crime for which he dies,  and Holder for the death of a homeless girl ~ and it is apparent that the man finally in custody, to the relief of the police department and the entire city of Seattle, is not, in fact, the killer.
All stories of mayhem and murder, all absorbing, and The Killing beautifully filmed and acted. If you need a break from the intensity of your own life,  immerse yourself in someone else's!

Monday, July 29, 2013

60 and Wistful

My 37th birthday cake and its creators at 5, 5, and 2.

Wistful.  I guess that would be the word.
It could have all been so different.
I think I subconsciously imagined that, after blogging self-indulgently for ten days, I would have some insight into where I've  been and where I'm going. 
But, alas, I do not.
I guess sixty is no different from any other day ~ LOL!  Some unbloggable stuff going on, which is clarifying, but hardly at a stage of resolution.  And the resolution will not necessarily be to my liking.  A wedding Saturday night ~ the daughter of friends ~ our first attempt in four years ~ in which the pain of all-that-will-never-be bored its relentless hole right through my fairly well-honed capacity for dissociation. (Just pretend this isn't happening and you aren't here.)  I'm still feeling the after-effects. 
On the plus side: My Lovely Daughter took me to see The Lion King on Friday night ~ such an incredibly creative show! ~ and my church celebrated after worship yesterday with a potluck.  More cakes at dinner last night and then at a gathering of friends. 
On the down side:  Having paid no attention to the combination of day and date, I am spending the evening with a family connected to a church in my Presbytery who lost a husband and father to suicide ten days ago. 
Here's what I wrote on our Day 10.  How well I remember those weeks and then months, curled up in bed with my dog and my computer, hoping that I would die soon.  That's why I'm going to see them tonight, even though I goofed on the date.
I looked up ~ of course! the etymology of wistful.  It seems to have something to do with silence and wishing. 
Wistful it is.


Sunday, July 28, 2013


It seems that there's little to say about the last six years ~ during which I've filled page after page online and in private journals.

Only two words, really.



The birds and the hikes are still out there.  I had breast cancer and that was pretty awful but, in the grand scheme of things, not all that important.  I became a spiritual director and I get to hear wonderful stories of longing and prayer and confusion and discernment. Our surviving children are doing well. 

A couple of weeks ago I became one of the founding board members of the Northern Ohio Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  During our largely organizational meeting, we talked briefly about the extent to which loss to suicide defines our lives.

I suppose that, at the five year mark, it doesn't really define my life anymore. It night seem that way more than is the case, because I read and write a lot about it, and I do some suicide prevention work and some with survivors.  But it's become a reality that I've sort of absorbed into my skin.  Enough so that now I need to become more alert to how surprised and shocked others can be when the topic comes up.

No, the thing that defines me is: I have three children and one of them is not here.  I miss him so much that I live each day, no matter how satisfying or productive or filled with love, around a crater of loss.    His death, the fact of it, the gone-ness of him, the mystery of where he is now, define almost everything I do in ministry, every way I think about theology, every twist and turn in my cycle of despair and hope.

I wish I could say that ordination to ministry defines my life.  At one time I thought that it would.  But my experience has been so different from others' and so overshadowed by the death of my son that I find myself mostly wondering  . . .     .  It would be preferable, I suppose, for a pastor to say that her Christian experience has overshadowed her experience of death.  But  I can't make that one up. 

Had you asked me, six years ago, as I was preparing to go to seminary, to imagine my life six years hence, I could not possibly have predicted the reality.  I'm in a reading group trying to get together to discuss Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss.  These words of his apply, I think:

"When I think of the years when I had no faith, what I am struck by, first of all, is how little this lack disrupted my conscious life.  I lived not with God, nor with his absence, but in a mild abeyance of belief, drifting through the days on a tide of tiny vanities -- a publication, a flirtation, a strong case made for some weak nihilism -- nights all adagios and alcohol as my mind tore luxuriously into itself.  I can see now how deeply God's absence affected my unconscious life, how under me always there was this long fall that pride and fear and self-love at once protected me from and subjected me to.  Was the fall into belief or into unbelief? Both. For if grace woke me to God’s presence in the world and in my heart, it also woke me to his absence. I never truly felt the pain of unbelief until I began to believe."
In some way, perhaps, it is a matter of grace that I have known so much of God's absence these past five years.  God's presence in the midst of so much suffering ~ my own and, so much more terrible, my child's ~ is, I think, not something I can comprehend.  Maybe that is the work of however many years are left to me. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013


2004 Thanksgiving in Chicago

Phew!  All three kids made it to college and stayed there until diplomas were in hand.  Those years meant trips to Chicago and New Orleans and Oregon for us, studies and travel in Europe for the boys, camp counseling in North Carolina for two of our three, and a trip to Iona and France for us.  Two days in Chartres a block from the Cathedral!

A major life transition for me, as I switched from law to teaching history and literature in a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school.  Immersion into an entirely new-to-me culture. There are several Orthodox neighborhoods in the Cleveland area, including some close to ours, but I knew nothing of life there ~ the religious observances, the focus on Torah, the food and celebrations, the academic expectations, the family lives.  Six years in and out of a different world on a daily basis.

Several worlds, in fact.  This was also the period in which I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I've written about that year so often here that I won't elaborate further today, except to say this:

I was 52 that year.  I can't put my finger on any explanation for my being so open to new experience and deep prayer in that particular year, but in retrospect the whole experience was a powerful confirmation of how profoundly one's approach to life can change, or be changed, at any time.  As I sit here writing on my laptop in my comfortable living room in Ohio in 2013, I think of Ignatius in Spain in the early 1520s, beginning to formulate what would become his little guide to prayer for those who would accompany others as he was beginning to do.  Had he not been slammed by that cannonball and had I not bumped into a wise elder of his Jesuit order nearly 500 years later, would I have become a spiritual director?  become a pastor?  survived Josh's death? 
Probably not.
Here's what I think about life from the vantage point of sixty:
Very strange.

Friday, July 26, 2013


All three kids are actually in this photo, along with my last stepmother.  Josh is in the foreground ~ canoe trip in the backcountry of Algonquin (Ontario).  (I had told my dad after a couple of trips that we needed to schedule in days off for relaxation!)
Getting closer to that birthday . . .

Like all families, we had our difficulties.  During my forties, as my kids moved through elementary and middle school and into high school, there were some bumps in the road.  OK, more like craters and mountains.  We had some triumphs with our careers and our children's lives ~ Josh was able to live in France for a year, for instance ~ and we also experienced some real disasters.

I have no idea why some kids glide into adulthood and others careen forward and backward and sideways.  No idea at all.  I do know that the latter path is  hard on parents and siblings.

A friend of mine spoke to me in desperation one day.  One of her children was in serious trouble; a colleague's son had just been admitted to an Ivy League University.  Another colleague, congratulating the other mother, had exclaimed, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!"

"What kind of tree does that make me?" my friend queried sadly.

"A gorgeous one,"  I said.  "There is no telling or predicting this s--t."

Here's what I finally concluded.  Some parents are luckier than others.

So profound.

Some parents get to engage in what on the surface seems to be a nonstop sequence of applause for prizes captured, championships won, scholarships granted.  (Even for those parents, the surface is often merely just that ~ a glimmering sheen concealing family traumas and dramas.)  Others are dealt the early morning calls from the police station, the unexpected pregnancies, the new jangle of acronymns ~  AA, NA, etc. ~ the afternoons in trauma centers or the mornings in chemo rooms, the string of failing grades, the endless sequence of 504 meetings.

We got a hefty dose of both sorts of categories.

Eventually I came to believe that sometimes we are offered opportunities to learn more ways of loving deeply than are usually available. 

I think my song for those years might be Hotel California ~ "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Camping trip in the Adirondack Mountains.

Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina:

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

I've been considering that statement as I've contemplated this time period in my life.  Is it true?  Perhaps so.  As I think about the families I have known, and try to imagine families the world over living in varying frameworks of wealth and poverty, peace and warfare, support and isolation, it seems that what happy families share is a conviction that all members are loved and supported and valued, in whatever ways culture moderates and circumstances permit.

My own family was a happy one in an unremarkable American suburban kind of way. I was at home with the kids until I turned forty and then, with all of them in elementary school, returned to the practice of law.   

The kids stayed in Montessori school and we continued to spend time in St. Augustine and Chautauqua.  We went camping, we went canoeing, and they did the usual kid things with the four children next door:  lemonade stands and original (!)  dramas and community soccer teams and afternoons at the park and the pool.  We were very active in the Methodist church and then we weren't, and I began my gradual migration toward the Presbyterian church down the road.  We had a group of close friends with whom we spent lots of time and celebrated holidays.

The one significant challenge ~ and one not handled well by me, I'm afraid ~ was the constant business travel demanded of my husband.  He was gone every month for at least a week and, as the children got older, twice a month for ten days at a time.  It was extremely hard on me to be a single parent so much of the time and part of a couple the rest.  If I had it to do over again, I would approach the whole situation more thoughtfully and generously, and would insist on improved communication.

I don't know what you do about back-up in times like that.  On one occasion a friend stopped by on a winter day when the kids and I were all sick.  She made a grocery run for me after discovering that we had run out of several things, and that taking everyone out seemed an insurmountable task to me.  Days like that were rough, and I didn't like to ask for help ~ all of my friends were also caring for rambunctious young families without benefit of nearby grandparents or siblings. 

But I was not a single parent in the sense of having to provide financially for our family, and I was very grateful for that.   On the whole, our days were very, very good.

Since Josh's death, it's difficult for me not to look back at our lives from under the shadow of that catastrophe and wonder what we missed, what we might have done differently.  I ponder all the choices we made and wonder, Should we have done it the other way instead?  Should we have done this and not that?  Public school instead of private?  Life in the country instead of life in the city?  Day camp instead of sleepover camp?    Was there something staring us in the face that we completely overlooked?  But when I look back at those times for what they were, I can only conclude that the answers to all of those questions is, No. We were attentive and engaged and loving parents, our kids were funny and lively and into all kinds of things, and there was nothing we enjoyed more than time as a family.

We might not have had quite so many pets at one time, though!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Deliriously . . .

Outrageously . . .

Sublimely . . .


Three absolutely perfect, beautiful, funny, delightful, blonde children.

Florida every winter.

Chautauqua every summer.
Other places, too.  (The photo was taken in Arizona.)

The pink tower (Montessori preschool).

Dogs, cats, guinea pig, and birds to come.
Really,  I didn't get very far along the road of having a mother.  But I got to be a mother.  The only outcome from early loss that might be termed a blessing:   you don't take much for granted when it comes your way again.  But it's a double-edged sword, because you are always so excruciatingly aware that life turns on a dime.


Last night I spent some time with an elementary school classmate.  We concluded that we have not seen one another in 43 years.  She got married while we were still in high school, became a hairdresser, and lives within a couple of miles of the house in which she grew up.  My life has taken a few more twists and turns.  But we have, each of us, lost a twin son in his twenties.  It took us about a second to agree that a close and loving family was the only  thing each of us had really wanted out of life. 


Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Halfway there!  What's left, today, of the end of my third decade?

Not my legal career, although it was my major focus during those years.

Birds, yes ~ although not with the intensity in which I invested most of my free time in those years in which I became completely enthralled with all things avian.  My husband and I did some backpacking in that time period, and became intent on birding as an alternative to endless groaning about sore muscles and blistered feet.  My friend Cindy, in Alaska this week, reported seeing a varied thrush, something I remember from our week in the backcountry of Glacier National Park.  We went to southwestern Arizona almost entirely for the birding,  we covered our own Great Lakes region extensively, and we had a lot of fun birding with my grandparents in Florida each spring. 

RELIGION ~ there it is.  I think I was 29 when I impulsively announced one morning that we should find a church, which we accomplished by watching a few services on local cable tv, so that we wouldn't have to visit in person without some sense of what we were getting into.  Within a couple of months I was baptized, confirmed, and attending church every Sunday.  I basically had no idea what any of the words I'd said to get there really meant, and I had no idea what belonging to a church community meant, either.  (Remember, almost all my experience of religion was in boarding schools, and more academic than anything else.)  Considering the developments of the next three decades, this little glitch in my history makes me extremely laid back about any kind of way someone wants to come into the church.  I am kind of obnoxiously traditional about certain aspects of church life, but as far as barriers to entrance or participation ~ no, I really can't promote any of those.

Which reminds me:  there's been an article making the rounds the past week or so about how churches desiring to attract young people shouldn't go out of their way to become all cool and hip.  Indeed.  I know that everyone finds his or her own way in but: at 29, a person divided between high heels in a  downtown legal office and muddy boots out in the birding field,  a person whose musical tastes were also evenly divided between rock 'n roll and the Cleveland Orchestra, there was no way I would have walked into a church unless it looked like this, with music and preaching to match:

This is in fact, an old photo of our UMC Church of the Savior in Cleveland Heights. 
I wasn't looking for a cozy, intimate family church.  I wasn't looking for potluck dinners ~ I didn't actually know about potluck dinners (although it turned out that we were to go to plenty of them). I did want to find some people interested in the same social justice issues that I was interested in, and my personal history told me that they might be found in a church. 
But mostly, I was on the trail of the mystery of God.  I just didn't know it yet.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Let me spare us all the boredom of a lengthy recitation of my very young adult adventures.

College.  Law school.  Marriage.  Not in that order.
On the home front: My first stepmother died in a bizarre accident the summer before I started college, and my father re-married the next summer, adding two more stepsisters and eventually a half-brother to the mix.  I've never really known any of them.  My first set of step-siblings quickly made their way back to Florida and Georgia, and we've only seen one another a couple of times in the last forty years.
I had incredible summer internships.  Not.  Let's see . . . I cleaned hotel rooms in Cincinnati, waited tables at Chautauqua, made G.I. Joe flashlights in Pawtucket, worked as a drugstore cashier in Providence, and waited on some more tables in Cleveland.  When I was ready to leave for school, the hotel housekeeping manager told me she'd make me a floor manager if I stayed, and the drugstore manager told me she'd put me in charge of the cosmetics department.  I'm serious.  No one EVER asked me if I wanted to manage a restaurant or a toy factory.  I guess we see where my innate gifts lie.

I really have only one comment.  When I see the effort that goes into the college decision process and the planning of a wedding today, I often think: The real milestones in life come when you least expect them.  Wherever you go to college, it will be fine.  Whether you get married in a Plaza Hotel extravaganza or in a small chapel in the woods will have virtually no bearing on whether you are still married thirty or sixty years later.  Or whether you want to be.  And while it's cool to have a flashy volunteer internship, it's also cool to pay your own rent, at least for the summer.

It's good to earn those diplomas.  It's good to make commitments even when you have no idea what you're doing.  It's good to work hard and it's good to celebrate.  But those things are barely the beginning.  At least in my case. 
Young people today are often so accomplished and sophisticated. 
I so wasn't.

Northfield Addendum

I was doing a little research after yesterday's post, talking with someone at Northfield Mount Hermon on FB and trying to find a video from a short time ago.  First the someone came up with this one:
It's a promotional piece for a book, and it gives you a great sense of the campus and of the importance of music to our lives.  In fact, if you make it to about 3:32, there are our 1970 voices singing Once to Every Man and Nation!  Who knew?
The next video was produced last Thanksgiving, and is the one I was seeking.  Our "school song" is Jerusalem, and this much shorter piece includes campus scenes set to another Sacred Concert rendition of the music.  As I recall, it was sent to the NMH community as a holiday gift.  I hope it's ok to link to it
The last time I heard Jerusalem sung "live" was at Josh's graduation from NMH in 2003, in the same D.L. Moody-era auditorium in which I had graduated 38 years previous ~ with the seniors enthusiastically stomping their feet and shouting, "Bring! Me! My! Arrows! of! Desire!" When the video popped up last fall, I thought that I would not be able to bear it.  I have found that it is not so impossible, however, to recollect bits and pieces of the lives we shared there all those decades apart when those memories come in the form of music and New England fall colors.
So . . . take ten minutes and watch and listen to New England boarding school life!

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Eight days to go . . .

The basics: These were the girls' boarding school years.  Grades 7-9 with the Ursuline nuns in Ohio and grades 10-12 at Northfield, one of the schools founded by evangelist D.L. Moody in Massachusetts.  No stereotyping allowed! Those were the places in which I gained a grounding in religion that was open-minded, progressive, and scholarly.  The Catholics were just blossoming forth from Vatican II and the Protestants were heavily influenced by Tillich and the social justice movement.  Once I got to Northfield, I seldom went home anymore; I spent my spring breaks in Florida with my grandparents and my summers doing a mother's helper gig for a family on Cape Cod.  Those were influential but impressively unproductive years; I was a terrible student and my extra-curricular activities were unbloggable.

Key phrase: "You are wasting your potential."

Best memories:  Oh, most of those are unbloggable, too.  But there was the music at Northfield, which had an incredible choral program.  Even those of us who otherwise did little more than tunelessly hum Beatles' and Joni Mitchell songs had to participate. 
Spring 1970 Sacred Concert, dedicated to Kent State.  Many of us would probably agree that singing the David Stanley York arrangement of "Once to Every Man and Nation" was one of the defining moments of our lives.  It's completely different from the jaunty version found in most hymnals and was powerfully appropriate to that period in our national history.

And, amazingly, I've finally found a recording online ~ from a Presbyterian church in Dayton, of all places.  You have to scroll about two-thirds of the way down the page to 9.5.10 and then click on the title.  I would suggest turning the volume way up and imagining the young voices of 1200 idealistic high school students accompanied by an orchestra on a sunny spring day in western Massachusetts at the height of the Vietnam War.

A little reflection: One of the things one asks at 60 is how on earth she got to be who and where she is.  I did not, at the age of sixteen that afternoon at Northfield, believe for one minute that there was a God standing within the shadow keeping watch above anyone at all. 
But everything was in place, wasn't it?  Immersion in the beauty of creation, from rural Ohio to the Atlantic coastline to the foothills of the Berkshires;  a family's terrible suffering; a demanding religious and musical education ~ and a relentlessly skeptical but still hopeful mind and heart. 
One could possibly even believe that God engineered all of this.

Here are the James Russell Lowell lyrics as adapted if you want to listen and read what you're hearing:

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;

By the light of burning martyrs, Jesus' bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Truth forever on the scaffold, and forever on the throne;

Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Horses in the pasture at camp ~ looks the same 50 years later.

Nine days till 60!  Looking back at ages 6-12:

The basics:  Stark realities:  My mother and baby brother were killed in a car accident when I was seven and my surviving brother was four; the two of us were badly injured.   Two and one-half years later we acquired our first step-mother, who brought two of her children from Florida and left two there with their father. (When I speak of my brothers, I mean the stepbrother who was my age, my biological brother 2.5 years younger, and the stepbrother 2.5 years younger than my own brother.) 

One word:  Bewildered.
Best memories:  Gwynn Valley Camp in NC, where I spent the summers I turned ten and eleven.  (All of my children would eventually become campers there, and two of them staffers.)  It was a long 500 miles from home and in those days, camp sessions were four and eight weeks long.  It separated me from my stepmother, gave me back some childhood and some sense of accomplishment, and saved my life in many ways.  Other best memories:  The trips my grandmother and I made to Williamsburg and out west: Salt Lake, Yellowstone, the Tetons.  The beginnings of my passion for travel.  And the monarch butterflies my grandmother "raised" on her back porch.
Biggest fears:  Other than the deep end of the pool, a fear which I conquered when I finally learned to swim at camp, I don't recall being afraid of much.  (My brothers and I really did spend long hours in fields and creeks hunting down innocent snakes, some of which we killed and some of which we saved for awhile in jars before letting them go.  And we spent a lot of time high in trees and riding our bikes a considerable distance from home.)  As I look back on those years, I realize that I was a little survivor.  It's a trait that would serve me well fifty years later.  I've never lost the sense that the universe is as treacherous and chaotic a place as it is mystifyingly lovely,  and that survival skills are good ones to keep handy.  I learned most of mine when I was seven and eight and nine.
Best book:  TKM, which I read for the first time under the covers with a flashlight in fifth grade.  Although our ages differed, the three of us older kids were remarkably like Scout, Jem, and Dill, and my father remarkably like Atticus.  
Music:  The Beatles, the beginning of the major soundtrack of  my life.
Quote:  Mary Oliver's entire "Love Sorrow" poem from her book Red Bird. This has become one of my favorites in the past few years, but I see now that it serves as a narrative for my childhood.

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.


Friday, July 19, 2013


My mom and me.

I've realized this morning that it's ten days until the big 6-0.  I had hoped to host a big bash in our newly restored back yard but, alas, the promised six-week garage-deck-patio project is now at 14 weeks  and counting.  I'm guessing at least six to go, so maybe we'll party next year instead.   Therefore, in a burst of total narcissism, I'm going to celebrate here, six years at a time.  Don't apologize if you get bored!  Actually, just don't read.

Years 0 ~ 6

The basics:  Ohio country life with my parents, my two brothers (the second was born the year I turned six), and my extended family all nearby.  The second half of kindergarten and first grade in Florida, where my parents were planning to move.
One word:  Idyllic.
Best memories:  The ocean and the palm trees in Florida, and in Ohio the fields, the trees, the creek, the butterflies, my cat Tomasina and her kitten Butterball ~ whose designated role in life was to became My Cat ~ our great dane Jody, and my paternal grandmother next door, who would drop everything for us at any time of the day or night.
Biggest fears:  Snakes.  Big ole' long blacksnakes stretched across the road at home, and coral snakes in Florida.  Honestly, I am so scared of snakes (which my brothers and I later spent years catching), you'd think they were every last one of them cobras prepared to leap out of nowhere and kill me instantly.
Music:  Perry Como and also  the Lawrence Welk show, which we watched on Sunday evenings after dinner at my maternal grandparents' house in town.  My plan was to become a blond, curly-haired singer named Peggy on Lawrence Welk.  My hair is neither blond nor curly, I can't sing a note, and obviously I have the wrong name  ~ but that was nevertheless my fondest dream.   
Quote (This is kind of like a yearbook!): "My work is to love the world" ~ Mary Oliver.

Church Libraries - Friday Five

Jan posts today's Friday Five, which for obvious reasons I think is a fun one:
Church libraries seem to be diminishing and even disappearing in some churches. Our church is full of scholarly books that no one looks at, and how should it change, be developed, or continue? As the de-facto chairperson of the library, I need ideas and suggestions about church libraries in this day and age. Please help!
1. Does your church have a library? What is it like?
The church I pastor has a very small library.  The shelves are filled with the novels my folks like ~ think Mitford and stories of Amish heroines ~  and a number of cheery self-help "Christian" books.  There's very little in the way of scholarly material.  I've brought in a couple of stacks of back issues of periodicals, such as Weavings, but I don't think anyone looks at them.

2. Has this church library changed in recent years? 
I don't think so!
3. Does your church library serve as space for other activities, such as meetings or as a multi-purpose room?
It mostly serves as a space for small meetings and prayer groups.

4. Is a church library necessary? What does a library need?
A church library needs people who want to use it!

5. Imagine the library your church would use and describe it.
See below.

Bonus: Any suggestions or ideas about church libraries that you'd like to offer!
A few years ago my home church (I was still in seminary) re-designed our library into a Spirituality Center.  It was the last committee I chaired there, and we had so much fun!  It's a fairly large room, so it now includes a meeting space with a beautiful oak table and chairs, another meeting and reading and conversation space furnished like a living room, a huge stained glass window (donated by members whom I think found it in their basement) as the focus of another small seating space, and beautiful art work.  (We have a separate computer room and a separate children's library with books and seating and rugs appropriate for smaller people, so we didn't need to incorporate those.)
Oh, and . . .  books!  A recently deceased member who was a spiritual director donated his wonderful collection.  There is some good scholarly material, including  a set of commentaries.  And each year books are purchased to complement the educational, spiritual formation, and pilgrimage opportunities the church offers.
The library used to be an emphatically boring room in which session meetings were held and into which a few brave souls slipped to borrow an occasional book.  Now it's such a delightful space that groups enjoy meeting there and people are excited to find materials relevant to what they've been hearing about elsewhere in the building.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Loss to Suicide: Time, Time, Time

Last month, a man whose sister had just lost a young adult child to suicide asked me, "How long?  How long will she be like this?  When will she be ok?"
"A long time, " I said.
"But how long until she's kind of normal?"
"Umm, I don't know," I said.   "Everyone is so different. For me, maybe three years until I could get through most days in some kind of fashion resembling normal."
"Oh my God," he said.
"She's going back to work," he said.
"Well, yes, you go back to work.  People don't necessarily know.  That you've stopped sleeping and that you cry in bathroom stalls.  Or that you don't.  Whatever."
It changes, doesn't it?  In the last year, I have realized that I often sleep through the night now.  I laugh for real.  I roll my eyes again.  I no longer feel murderous toward people who are living the lives we all expected to live.  I am finding genuine joy in the triumphs of my surviving children.
I've "met" a woman on FB who lost her son only a few weeks ago.  She is a marvel and I am in awe of her resiliency, her capacity for faith.  I myself still wonder where God went.  A couple of years ago, my friend Michelle sent me a book of Kilian McDonnell's poetry entitled God Drops and Loses Things.  Umm-hmm.
A few days ago, a friend sent me this essay.  The young woman who died of suicide was a twin, like my son.  I always wonder that, too;  why  wasn't it enough?  How could it not be enough that there was someone with whom you shared a womb?  It's been ten years and her father writes that "it's getting better now."
Time is a strange thing.  Not, I would say, a healing balm to all wounds.  But it creates space.  You take all of your pieces and lay them out, like shells laid out on a battered bench after a day on the beach, and you re-arrange them. 
Into new patterns.  That's all you can do, really.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

RevGals Birthday: Dreamtime

What's your dream for RevGals?

From the website, with a request for posts for this week's Blog Carnival:

"It's hard to believe it's been eight years since the comment-conversation that led to t-shirts and a website, then later a board and an annual event and now a staff person! We are growing almost as fast as an eight year old, and we love every minute! As many of the founders can be heard saying: 'we made a thing!' It's always said with an exclamation point, of course.

I have a friend who always wishes people happy birthday with the greeting "happy new year!" It's a reminder that a birthday both marks things past and looks forward to things to come. So may our birthday be an occasion for looking back (as we have done the last two weeks) and looking forward at what God has in store for us next!

Because eight year olds love things that are slightly complicated but not really, and because 8 year olds are some of the most imaginative people I know, we'll be doing a two-part carnival this week!

1. What's your birthday tradition?
2. If you were blowing out the RevGal birthday candles, what would you wish for us? What's your dream for RevGalBlogPals?"

Hmmm . . . my own birthdays are pretty much non-events.  I thought this year might be different, but reality has once again conspired against me.  But for RevGals . . .

I've been reflecting a lot about the topic of leadership of late.  I'm not sure I even know what it means.  On today's morning walk, I realized that I have a lot of questions about women in leadership in particular.  Then, remarkably, another website I frequent raised a question about leadership this morning: Are you a leader?

My response:  Beats me.  Officially, yes.  But I often find myself scratching my head . . .    .
And so for RevGals, I would love to see a big event, whether online or irl and not necessarily on a boat ( no pun intended), focused on women in leadership, construed as broadly and imaginatively as possible.  Or maybe a whole separate website or something, I don't know what, addressing leadership spirituality and skills.  I think I probably know a lot more about these topics than I realize, but I need a framework in which to explore and design and create and build.  I might even be willing to help create such a thing.
Something fun with which to start, from
before 900; Middle English leden, Old English lǣdan  (causative of līthan  to go, travel); cognate with Dutch leiden, German leiten, Old Norse leitha
Look at that!  Travel!  Maybe a boat will be involved after all.


Cooper's Hawk Day

Small Church Town is so small that my three-mile morning sojourn requires two figure-eights.  (I quickly gave up walking along the highway two years ago.  It's actually MUCH safer to walk in the suburbs and city than in the country!)  As I walk down one of the narrow roads, I almost always see bluebirds on a particular telephone wire, and red-headed woodpeckers in a particular yard.

This morning I almost missed the bird that zipped across a field and into a tree, as I was wiping the sweat from my glasses, but it kindly zipped back out so that I could get a look: a Cooper's hawk.  I suppose it could have been a large sharp-shinned hawk; what do I know?  But I'm going with Cooper's.

My friend Lisa frequently writes about the significance of birds in her life.  Mine are the gannet and the kingfisher; I have long histories of encounter and meaning with both of them.  I seldom see Coops, although the habitat around here is their kind of place, and so I wondered at one suddenly appearing.

I decided it might have some significance for me, with a big-zero birthday looming in the next couple of weeks, and so I googled "Cooper's hawk totem" and found:

"[O]vercoming/removal of obstacles, vision, rebirth, healing, spirituality, freedom, high-mindedness, speed, [and] grace."

I'm good with that.  Happy Birthday to Me!

Photo credit: colorob">colorob