Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reflections on our Rule

Sometimes I think it would be interesting to have some apparent distinguishing physical characteristic or set of practices connected to my spirituality: Eastern Orthodox fast days; Hasidic side-curls; a Sikh turban; Muslim prayers said toward Mecca. Of course, that's only a passing fantasy, but I wonder to myself what sort of formal commitment I have to anything besides trying to get my papers done on time. But then I remember that I do have such an opportunity for commitment in the living stones community rule. I admit I haven't been exactly fastidious in keeping it. I know, I know--no guilt. And of all the groups in the world, living stones seems to be the least likely to kick me out for not doing enough lectio. But this mental process got me thinking about our rule and my own relationship with it.

I read this story recently, which seems relevant: When William Penn became a Quaker, many of his fellow Friends wanted him to give up wearing the sword on his belt that was a distinguishing mark of his status as an aristocrat. Quakers are pacifists, they reasoned, and William couldn't carry the sword, even if he never used it. But Penn was upset that he would have to give up this marker of identity. He sought out George Fox, the leader of the Friends, to settle the issue. After some consideration, Fox told the young man, “Wear it as long as thee can.” Fox realized that the way to change someone wasn't by issuing commandments (“Take off your sword immediately”). Instead, the immersion into the Friends' shared community of silence and an increased awareness of God's presence would lead Penn to cast aside the things that stood in his way to divine union, not least his own false self as embodied in his sword. Likewise, I think committing to this rule, being part of this online community, is less about “getting it right” all the time and more about about commitment to a gradual process of spiritual transformation as we share in life together. I hope to be open to this type of direction from the Spirit, from this community, and from the rule to which we are committed.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Eucharist Reflections

Sorry it has been so long since I dropped by to reflect. I was talking with Rickey and Anna today and they both encouraged me to make a brief reflection on the Thanksgiving Eucharist that I held for my two churches.

This year, I've been wrestling to get through Pastoral Care at divinity school (a class with which I have a strong love/hate relationship). I remembered a line from one of the books I read for this class about reclaiming holidays for the Church. One of the holidays the author suggested we reclaim was Thanksgiving. She or he suggested we rename Thanksgiving as “Immigrant Appreciation Day” in honor of the Native American's who welcomed the European settlers to their land. As I began to think about this image in preparation for the homily, I found myself in an uncomfortable space. Were it not for the Native American's generosity, would we be here? And to think of how we have treated this race of God's children is unsettling. My Methodist History teacher mentioned in one of his lectures just a few weeks ago that Tennessee’s mythic hero Andrew Jackson was responsible for this country’s shameful act of "Ethnic Cleansing"--The Trail of Tears. How could I "celebrate" in light of this injustice? Had I not read that book nor heard this lecture, Thanksgiving this year would have been another mindless participation in national egoism, but this year, I found it much harder to enjoy.

I managed to find solace in Christ's invitation to His Table, and in the Epistle Reading that went along with the service:

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (NRSV)
6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I challenged myself and my parishioners to envision what Thanksgiving would look like if we were the generous host of immigrants today. What would our tables look like? Who would be seated around them? The inclusive language of verse 13 created a spiritual image of a Great Thanksgiving Dinner of which we soon partook! Placing myself as the needy alien in front of the bountiful table of the Lord was a humbling image. Holding out my hands to receive my daily bread was moving. I emphasized that we have received seed and as we put that seed to good use, the supplier of our seed will cause our supply of seed to multiply.

How do we play this out? One small way we are doing it is by bringing canned food items with us to each communion service which we then donate to the local food bank. Hanging from the arms of the cross in front of our sanctuary are plastic grocery bags filled with food for the poor: a powerful icon with the heart of Thanksgiving in front of our corporate face! May our celebrations in lieu of justice form us into prophetic extensions and voices against injustice.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Instances of Grace

For most of us, there is only the unattended moment . . .
--T. S. Eliot
As with many of you, I'm sure, I'm lurching forward with no relief in sight until a few weeks into December. I want to say that I really appreciate the posts our community has added to the blog this past week or so. I'm posting now (postponing designing an assignment for Monday and revising my paper on George Herbert's prophetic voice and learning to translate Spanish to English) to share some (spiritual) images from the past month, instances of grace in pressure:

  • It snowed a few inches yesterday. Okay, a few centimeters.
  • Two weeks ago I visited a monastery and went on a day trip with two old monks and one young monk to the mountains to see the leaves and on the way back we stopped at Wendy's and ate frosties together. "I think God wanted you to come with us today," the younger monk told me.
  • This morning, I got to stop my work for a few minutes to do laundry, and there was also an crotchety-looking man at the laundromat doing laundry. He told me, "I don't like doing laundry. This is two weeks worth. Have a good day." I bet he was an angel God sent to remind me how much I do like doing laundry.
  • Yesterday, I visited a literature class a friend of mine is teaching at baptist seminary to talk about Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and "Footnote to Howl." "Everything is holy. The bum is as holy as the seraphim," Ginsberg told them. "All truth is God's truth," I told them.
  • We're expecting another baby in April. Some of you already knew this. Two days ago, Christine and I went to the doctor's for an ultrasound. It's another little girl. But before he told us that, the doctor got caught up looking at the her little beating heart. "Sorry," he told us, "I'm obsessed with hearts."
Paul Corrigan

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reflections on Confirmation

John and I were confirmed yesterday. We're officially Episcopalian. It's funny--even just four years ago I wouldn't have imagined myself in a denominational church, much less the Episcopal Church. But we change, life changes us, and so it is. I have certainly found a home there, a stabilizing connection. I find it hard to believe how whole I feel these days.

The confirmation ceremony was not quite as daunting as I'd imagined; I had been a bit nervous about the bishop and his hat. Even though I appreciate high church and have no problem with the ceremonial garments, that hat just gets to me. But I saw a kind and smiling face underneath the hat, which I think I've decided I like after all, if only for its amusing qualities.

John and I attended a month-long Inquirers' Course prior to being received. Throughout the whole class I thought that Father Rick was referring to all of us who were to be confirmed as "contrabands" and secretly wondered what the meaning of this strange term might be. I didn't realize until yesterday morning when I looked at the order of service that Rick had actually been saying "confirmands." I'm glad I didn't ask why I was illegal.

So I've been thinking about the process of confirmation, what it means to be received into a body of people. I think I've always thought of church in social terms, as a family, which it is; but it is also, somehow, mystically Christ's own body. Every time we celebrate Holy Eucharist we are reminded of this: that Christ is present with us in our own bodies, and in those we share communion with. We who are many are one because we all share one bread, one cup.

I don't know why, but these words of Mary Oliver come to me now:

Of course I have always known you
are present in the clouds, and the
black oak I especially adore, and the
wings of birds. But you are present
too in the body, listening to the body,
teaching it to live, instead of all
that touching, with disembodied joy.

My reception into the Episcopal Church was an event and a commitment, but more than that it is a reminder to me of my life that is hidden with Christ, where God is; of my true self; of Christ dwelling in me, loving me, teaching me, and helping me to live a life that is truly reconciled to God and aligned with the core message of the gospel.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Of Stress, Sunsets, and Kathleen Norris

Today ends my rather extended (and unintentional) sabbatical from this blog. I've been wanting so much to write on here for something like three weeks or so, but it has always been something--report card comments, wedding plans, delinquent lesson plans...the list goes on!

This week has been one of the worst, stress-wise, for a variety of reasons, many of them work-related. Let's just say working with a group of people who are minimally technologically inclined trying to convert all grade reporting work into a highly technological format does not come easily. On top of that I might cite extra social engagements and a continuing saga of a rather disrespectful decision on the part of an administrator at my school (I won't go into detail). I had no hope that I would be writing this today....

Even though I looked at the week and saw nothing but potential for harried and hurried days, God surprised me with so many gifts of His presence this week.

I was amazed as I left work each day, exhausted and sometimes discouraged, by a sunset of blazing beauty. They were each different, some with bold colors, some with dramatic clouds, some with subtle outlinings of light. Somehow I knew that these were a gift.

My before-bed habit is reading a little prior to turning out the light. Recently I began Kathleen Norris's Dakota, and I have fallen deep into the wild beauty of her writing about this land that she loves. This, too, I know is a gift.

Unexpectedly, I turned to see my fiancee weeping in church this morning. I knew it was serious as he is not much of a crier, typically. The beautiful reason for his tears was the presence of God speaking to him in a deep way...he was so moved by it. And this was a gift.

Despite the busy-ness of the week, I was thrilled that my lesson plans, which usually drag on into Sunday afternoon were completed and ready by last night. So this afternoon, I've had the rare freedom of reading and writing, cooking and dreaming. Another gift.

I think this is contemplation--even when life and work and friends and family are busy, crazy, stress-filled...finding the gifts that are there, letting your heart rest in the Spirit in the midst of life with all its loose ends and mixed-up strands.
--Sarah Price

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Two Hounds of the Baskervilles, and one Shih Tzu

Tuesday night I arrived home around 9:30 p.m. and let our three Shiz Tzu dogs out into our front yard to, erm, water the lawn. We don't have a fence around the yard, so we are vigilant, and one dog with a vice for chasing varmints of all sorts isn't allowed out without a leash on any terms.

I was shepherding the dogs back toward the house when the two hounds from Hades showed up at the edge of our yard. They belong to our neighbors, but have found an escape route from their fenced-in lot (much to their people's despair). When you look up at night, and see two large black dogs, which share a mixed heritage of rotweiler, pit bull, and black lab, (even without glowing eyes) it may cause the most intrepid to shiver. At best, I was alarmed. I dragged the leashed dog and encouraged the loose dogs in the direction of the front door. Unfortunately Wu, my Shih Tzu, (who often knows what I am going to do next even before I know it) heard the panic in my voice . He went into vigilante mode.

Before I even realized that Wu was going to take care of business, he lit out after those dogs that probably weigh five times what he does with the energy and fury of a Florida lightning strike. My understanding of doglish is somewhat rusty, but it sure sounded like he was telling them in no uncertain terms (using some language he undoubtedly picked up from our cats somewhere along the line) to remove their sorry selves from the premises. Or else. Then, still breathing out threatenings, he proceeded to escort them home.

The harrassed hounds took their cue and moved with great velocity and accuracy through their secret exit (now an entrance) before the fury caught up with them. Fortunately, they got there before Wu discovered their secret. He did hang out around the fence doing what sounded like some sort of trash talking for awhile--but what can you expect? He's still a dog. Wu then trotted back home, head held high, bedazzled by his own brilliance. He still won't get out again soon without a leash.


I just missed two days of school due to a raging sinus infection. I went to the doctor, and she was horrified by how elevated my blood pressure was. This school year, for various reasons, has been stressful beyond what I could have expected. There have been pressures in other areas as well. I've been playing and replaying issues like videos in my mind, trying to solve problems that won't need to be solved for months yet. Fretting over things over which I have no control.

This morning I sat in my favorite chair with Wu snuggled beside me while I drank my coffee. I smiled as I reflected on how one small companion dog chased off two big dogs with aggressive heritages. Then the Lord reminded me of how I've been letting my aggressive anxieties to inform my walk rather than abiding in Him as He invites me to do.

Susan Price

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zen and the Art of Driving a Fifteen Passenger Van

At 4am in the morning last Thursday we loaded all our luggage and bodies into a fifteen passenger van to drive to North Carolina to be with Daniel and Melissa for there wedding. The van was full of people with different attachments to the couple and with different roles for the weekend. We had in the van a portion of the wedding party, the wedding musicians, and the hair and makup artists. There were girls who have worked with Melissa for some time and through that have grown to love the person she is and who she would become as Daniel's wife. There were girls who have gotten to know Melissa through our Sunday night group and the many other nights of fellowship we share together. They have no doubt loved her for her commitment to her friends in that setting. As for the Guys, there were also a number of ways that we have become close to Daniel. Some of the guys have played music with Daniel and have witnessed first hand the passion with which he approaches art. Some of us have gotten close to Daniel through our shared practice in different spiritual disciplines. We have been able to witness his dedication to God and his desire to see us be closer to God as well. 
While driving I got a real sense of all of these different motives. The girls were talking about how they couldn't wait to see the decorations or the plans they had for Melissa's bachelorette party, with each one singling out the thing they knew Melissa would love to do. The guys also had all the little things in mind as we drove. Some of us were thinking about our roles in the wedding, while others were reflecting on the weekends plans. Throughout the whole trip I was struck by the excitement and dedication that I was surrounded by. It came easily for all of us but there was also something special about it. Our occasion this time was the wedding of our close friends, but this was not a new feeling for me. I have felt this love exude from my friends many times before. I realized how blessed I have been to be surrounded by God's love with my friends as the vessels. I am so grateful for opportunities like this to witness this love. I couldn't be happier for Daniel and Melissa and I hope I am around to see them grow with this new dynamic. I know that they will continue to strengthen and love each other as they have done with each other and with their friends.  

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