Monday, August 24, 2020

It's been awhile, and I'm back because...

Periodically I get to musing about things that deserve a little more space and reflection than I want to squeeze onto a Facebook post, where most online interaction takes place these days, at least for me. Today's blog post is just such an occasion!

Background: I've been helping Ken put together the brochure for this year's Jerusalem Mite campaign for our Order of Knights Templar. In his role as Grand Aumonier--overseer of charitable giving--he is responsible for creating the brochure and sending the mailing to all our members to solicit support for organizations in the Holy Land that serve Christians at risk there. There is a standard group of organizations that receive support, though one or two might be added, or disappear, from one year to the next. Standard recipients are the Christian Patriarchs of Jerusalem. Other organizations are schools and groups that minister to and support marginalized populations. Additionally there is a foundation created to provide scholarships for students in Christian secondary schools, and for college students in particular disciplines that will help them find employment, and therefore remain resident, in the Holy Land. These tend to be in health care, information technology, and the hospitality industry. The foundation operates separately from the work in which Ken is engaged, but I mention it to indicate the scope of philanthropy undertaken by the Order. (Pictured at left, a meal being plated by culinary students at the Episcopal Technical and Vocational Training Center, or ETVTC, in Ramallah, Palestine, which receives both scholarship and other financial support from the Templars.)

Back to the brochure, part one (still part of the backstory). The coronavirus pandemic has hit tourism in the Holy Land particularly hard. Without tourists hotels and restaurants are close to empty, tour group leaders and bus companies have no work, and there are no pilgrims to visit the holy sites or spend money in shops in the various communities visited by them. To help grasp the scope of this impact, tourism is Israel's fourth largest source of revenue. 

The brochure, part two (backstory). Among the organizations that receive regular financial support from the Templars is the Custodia Terrae Sanctae (CTS). This is the arm of the Franciscan Order that maintains and develops (think archaeological) the holy sites visited by pilgrims. Among those sites is the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth that commemorates the occasion when Mary received the news via the angel Gabriel that she would conceive and bear the son of God. There are fifty-five sanctuaries in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan under the care of the CTS. That's a lot of maintenance. The Franciscan communities at these sites also support the needs of the local worshiping communities through prayer and acts of charity. Because of the impact of the pandemic on these holy sites, this year's Jerusalem Mite campaign is featuring the work of the CTS.

Presenting a check to the Custos, the head of the CTS, December 2018
L-R Grand Prior Clay Kemmerer, the Custos, Grand Chaplain Jay Magness, Grand Aumonier Ken Fraley

The brochure, part three (nearing the end of the backstory) I began to do a little research on these sites in order to determine if there were photographs of my own that could be used in the brochure. (It's been so long since I wrote an entry on this blog that a trip to the Holy Land in December, 2018, has gone unreported! But I digress.) One of the sites on which work has been interrupted because of the pandemic is located at a section of the Jordan River where it is believed that Jesus was baptized. There are two points of access to this site, one in Israel, and one in Jordan. When we were on pilgrimage we visited the Jordanian site, which is not maintained by the CTS. 


The Jordan River baptismal site, looking across the river from Jordan
toward the site maintained by the CTS in Israel.

I began reading the entry on the CTS web site about the site at the Jordan River, which brings me to the whole reason I am writing this blog post. From the web site: 

The river valley, 10 to 25 kilometers wide, is the deepest groove carved into the Earth’s crust, among those not completely filled with water. In the Ice Age (100,000 years ago) the entire depression constituted a basin that connected with the Mediterranean to Bet Shean. Today two lakes remain of that basin: that of Gennesaret (212 meters below sea level) and the Dead Sea (at -426 meters). In any case, the Jordan pit is only a segment of a much larger fracture in the Earth's crust, which begins in the Oronte valley in Syria and extends to Africa via the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea.

What caught my attention was the description of the Jordan River Valley as "the deepest groove carved into the Earth's crust," part of a still larger fracture. So the place of Jesus' baptism, an event tied theologically to the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of the world, is situated geologically in the deepest groove carved into the earth's crust. Does that strike anyone else as profound? It hit me like a ton of bricks, and is so completely in character for the way that God uses paradox to reveal the significance of holy action. Kind of like the way The Book of Common Prayer describes the sacrament of baptism as being led with Christ "through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life." (p. 306) 

I'm going to go on faith that John the Baptist didn't choose the Jordan River as the place to cleanse people from sin because he knew this little tidbit. There are definitely places in the Christian story, woven through scripture, that highlight the juxtaposition of opposites to underscore the underlying theme or point of the narrative: humble stable/cave birth for the savior of the world, for instance. And yet, in this particular case there's no denying that the location of Jesus' baptism points to a greater theological truth: the deepest groove in the crust of the earth yields the elevation of humanity, through baptism, to restoration with God. Boy, howdy!

It's curious to me how I trip over these things, and it does cause me to wonder how it is that I haven't been aware that others may have made the same observation. I'm sure it's a matter of awareness, and that I'm simply not paying attention, that contributes to these later-in-life aha moments. Still, I thought I owed it to anyone who might stumble on this blog post and find this illuminating to offer up my rumination.

And just like that, I found my way back. Thank you, Jesus.  

Friday, March 02, 2018

where's reverent irreverence?

Um, so, I knew it had been a while since I had written a post here, but nine months? Sheesh... Let's rectify that!

A lot has happened since last June: new job, new location and place to live, reunited with hubby and puppies, loss of beloved Raisa (she's fine, she's just no longer with me/us)... it's a whole new life! Who knew that turning 60 would mean turning such a significant corner?

I'm writing this while the rain pours outside, and Ken is off to breakfast with a couple of the guys from the Friday morning men's bible study. Except for the sound of traffic on the road and rain hitting the window it's quiet, and a good time to reflect. There's so much to share! I'm not even going to attempt to plunge in to all of it in this post. Mostly I just want to reintroduce myself and lay claim, once again, to this space that so often has proved to be a balm for my soul. 

Since saying "yes!" to my new job as rector of a church activity has been at full throttle: we are still unpacking and settling from Ken's move from TN, and the relocation of all of our worldly goods, and February was absolutely packed with events at the church for which planning and execution was all-consuming. I feel like I'm just now emerging from the press of all that to catch my breath and survey the landscape of possibility on so many fronts. 

I can say this. My creative spirit is itchy. I started a writing project last summer to which I would like to return; there are two tabs open on my browser right now for 1) an opportunity to take a quilting class, and 2) participate in an online fabric collage course; I'm probably going to commit myself to an icon-writing opportunity in May; the need for window treatments here will likely prompt some domestic goddess-like activity... In short, lots to consider on that front.

I will bring this short "hello!" to a close with a brief description of the photo above. It was taken at the Celebration of New Ministry at the church last month, and features most of my family (we are missing nephew, Jesse, and sister-in-law Linda). Most significantly, it's the first time that Mom had been out from Seabury for an activity that wasn't related to health care since her stroke! Go, Mom! The bishop decided to photo bomb the family photo shoot, which was fun. Love her. 

Okay, more later, when I can focus on one thing to share. The time has been rich, so there's plenty into which to delve. Be blessed!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

the train has returned to the station

Can I just say... wow! I had no idea, when I began to collect ideas for ways to celebrate my birthday, that the effort (and frankly, it wasn't much effort) would prove to be so spectacularly satisfying. I had SO much fun as I came across various events taking place, considered attending, or making plans to set out and accomplish a particular thing. Acts of service were woven into the month as well (with a modest extension into June), which really rounded out the experience of engaging in and with things that gladdened my heart. The day of my birthday itself proved less celebratory than I would have liked, so the idea of expanding the festivity was the perfect way to turn sixty. One result of this month-long celebration is that I have shifted a substantial gear: I no longer see something and say, "I'd like to do that," but instead say, "I'm going to do that." It is making all the difference in how I am engaging with the world, and transforming myself in the process.

Highlights:
  • The trip to Maine to pick up Raisa was fabulous. I stayed in Ogunquit at the Bourne Bed and Breakfast (highly recommend!), walked the seaside "Marginal Way," had a great meal, and did a little fabric shopping (shhhh!). The stay with a friend and college classmate the next night in Winter Harbor was everything I hoped it would be, from absorbing the beauty of her art work (she's an artist), to meaningful conversations about creativity and life int he real world. Raisa is more beautiful in canine than I had imagined, and she has totally captured my heart (even if there's lots of behavioral work to be done). I also detoured to South Portland to visit Lulu Ceramics, a place I discovered somehow on facebook. Fun!

 
  • I spent a day volunteering at the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary (CVHAS)with Rescue/Rebuild, clearing out undergrowth to enhance the beauty and use of the grounds. Five hours of labor was all I could manage with my back, and considering the face that I don't really do much physical labor any more, I thought this was a pretty good effort, and very reminiscent of annual maintenance efforts at Melrose.
  • I enjoyed dinner in Litchfield with my friends Candy and Steve, visiting CT for a special event. I was so touched that they made the effort to carve out time, and drive some additional distance, to make that happen. The drive to Litchfield was beautiful, and I was reminded, again, that I live in a wonderful place.
  • On my birthday my friend Judy and I bundled up for the "Made in Connecticut" expo that featured products made in the state. Not quite a craft fair, there were lots of vendors with soaps and lotions, hot sauces, and flavored olive oils. I came away with a set of "wooly balls" to use in the dryer. They've been great! That night I had dinner with my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, and enjoyed time with family.
  • Another friend named Judy accompanied me to the Big Apple to see Allison Janney in the Broadway revival of Six Degrees of Separation. It was my first trip to NYC since 2005, and except for some changes at Times Square, it seemed like time hadn't passed. Well, there's more of a heavily-armed police presence, but that wasn't a shock.

  • I volunteered with the BeFreegle Foundation at a pet adoption event hosted by the CVHAS in early June, and a few days closed out the month of celebration by donating blood. Already a rare type, I also have other valuable stuff in my blood, but it had been so long since donating in CT that I was no longer in the database, and they weren't aware of what I brought to the table. :)

The best spontaneous thing to occur happened at dinner in New Haven, following the trip into New York to see the play. We found a small, family owned and operated Italian wine bar, named Skappo. They were celebrating the upcoming marriage of their daughter two days later, offering a free glass of wine to customers as a measure of sharing their joy. During dinner (which was fabulous) it occurred to me to offer to bless the bride on the occasion of her marriage. I asked the waitress if she thought that might be okay. Her face lit up! Moments later, Mama came to the table, throwing her arms around me and saying, "Thank you! Thank you!" I took that as a good sign. After our meal I sought out the bride, and told her I would like to offer a blessing for her marriage. The look of tender joy on her face was a treasure, and we took each other's hands and I prayed for her and her fiance, and for their marriage. She gave me a hug, and we were both teary with joy. I think this was the highlight of the entire month. Here she is with Cassie:
If you're ever in New Haven, visit Skappo!

So that about covers it! Thanks for singing along with me through this special month of unique joy and fulfillment. It really was the Best. Birthday. Ever.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

the birthday train has left the station!

This is truly a glorious month in which to be born. In this part of the world (southern New England) the tulips are at their peak, the lilacs are bursting forth, dogwood are stately as ever, azaleas are preening, and fruit trees are releasing their blossoms to float on the wind and land on our cars, and sometimes in our coffee. I shared this picture on Facebook, but here's some of the glory I witnessed today.


 
My birthday falls just shy of mid-month (13th), and most of what I've got on tap will happen prior to that date. But as new ideas dance in front of me like devil-may-care congo dancers, the list of stuff to do just keeps growing. I'm exercising my executive privilege to include an activity from April 30 in the mix of my birthday joy. Some may think this one isn't particularly joyful, but it was special to me, and that is the final--and only--criteria necessary.

After leaving Norfolk, VA Sunday morning following a Templar event, I headed up the road to Richmond, and the Hollywood Cemetery. A few years ago, thanks to cemetery and historical records becoming available online to aid genealogy research, I located the remains of my great-great-grandmother's brother. William Dowse Whitehead was a young man with a hope-filled horizon in front of him when he enlisted with the Second Georgia Infantry to serve the cause of the confederacy. Color-bearer for his regiment, he was killed in the Battle of Malvern Hill 1 July, 1862,at the tender age of 21. I know the details of this uncle five generations in the past because his portrait hung in our dining room while I was growing up. And we, like my mother before us, learned to recite these specifics about Uncle Willie. I also hold in my possession letters that he wrote home to his family from various encampments as part of his service, offering a tender, personal connection to this member of my family. This was a grievous loss to my great-great-grandmother, and it was really for her, to whom I also feel some attachment, that I made the pilgrimage to Richmond. 



Willie's grave is unmarked, though a modest, square stone indicates the stretch of earth into which he was laid.  For $100 a proper, identifying slab of granite can be erected at the relatively precise spot, but in the immediate term it was enough for me to estimate the location and spend some time there, letting whatever may linger of his spirit know that he was not forgotten. He's got a nice view, if that matters, with the triangular monument to confederate soldiers rising high above the ground just across the road a little way. This isn't the post to carry on about the war and its legacy. My goal was to bring some peace and closure to what had seemed, to me, a family restlessness born of the heartbreak that Willie never came home. In some small way I feel that this visit served to tuck him in where he lies at a distance from his youth.



After Richmond I traveled on to Great Falls, VA, to visit with dear friends from St. Louis days. Their easy and comfortable hospitality is always a joy into which to sink and put my feet up, and I left there the following morning renewed and reconnected. That night, back on home turf, I ventured out to Tom Ryan's book signing at a nearby library, having listened to the newly released Will's Red Coat in audio form on my way north from Virginia. It was a delightful evening, and though I took Cassie with me she was road-weary and shy.

The days have been full, and they feed my spirit. Tomorrow I head to Maine to fetch Raisa, and I am working in a few little delights along the way as additional parts of my celebration. I only turn 60 once, and I plan to make it count. Try to keep up! ;)

Friday, April 21, 2017

happies on the horizon

I have a Big Birthday coming up. Three weeks from tomorrow to be exact, so I've been doing a little prep in anticipation. This is the first birthday in a long time that I have had to rely on myself for pulling off a celebration. When I turned 30 I threw a big party in my back yard, inviting friends to come for a potluck with an international cuisine theme. It was great fun, in spite of being on crutches at the time.

I haven't figured out party plans for the day itself, but in thinking about how to fashion a celebration it turns out that there will be fun things happening all month long. Why limit the festivity to a single day? An interesting discovery is unfolding as a result--I'm planning things that I should be planning and doing anyway as a part of living. Well, dang! What a great by-product of having to fend for myself!

Here's what's on tap so far:
  • Attending a book-launch event to celebrate the publication of Tom Ryan's second work, Will's Red Coat. Tom is the author of the inspiring and life-giving work Following Atticus. Both feature dogs as the hero, and the stories themselves are beautifully written testaments to what we can discover about ourselves, and life, when we pay attention. 
  • A new dog is on the horizon! She's in Maine at the moment, and I will travel northward to pick her up, combining that trip with an overnight with an old college friend, a visit to a pottery studio I discovered via Facebook, a first-time "in real life" meeting with a Facebook friend, and a stop (I hope) at a botanical garden (photo). The latter is contingent upon working in a visit with a cousin in Boothbay Harbor.
  • Volunteering to support the work of the Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation and Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, CT. Catherine was one of the victims of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, and her family has established the sanctuary as a living memorial to her. There is a week of opportunity to help restore an old barn on the property that will be used to house rescued and recovering animals.I'll be rolling up my sleeves to pitch in one day during that effort.
  • Theater! With a former colleague from my IT days, I'm heading to the Big Apple to see the limited-run revival of Six Degrees of Separation, starring Allison Janney (and others, but she's the reason I wanted to see it). This started out as a reasonable splurge through an organization that provides discounted tickets to qualifying members. Thanks to the outstanding production of the show, however, award nominations are now attached and there are no more discounts. We decided to take the plunge and go broke. Tickets are ordered. Yes!
  • Creating a fairy house. This will happen on the actual day at a local library. Shouldn't we all build fairy houses on our birthdays? Why did I wait so long?
Somewhere along the way I expect a proper party will fall into place--complete with cake (chocolate, of course). In the meantime I am excited about all the fun stuff on the horizon, and look forward to these myriad ways of experiencing delight. I need to make that a habit, birthdays notwithstanding.


Saturday, April 08, 2017

jed's journal: epilogue

It didn't last.Yesterday I reached the difficult and sad decision to relinquish Jed back to the Foundation from which I adopted him. I am heartbroken, and grieving the possible life that might have been ours together under different circumstances.

It was a combination of factors. The neighborhood in which I live contains so many sounds and  "moving parts" that continually spooked him. After a garbage truck ground its various gears into action last week Jed was so freaked out that I practically had to carry him back to the house. This happened so close to home that what may have seemed like a safe place (around the house) ceased to be that. It took him three days to leave the safety of the front porch to walk after that. The wind battering loose siding made him jumpy, and garbage cans that lined the sidewalk were impediments. It became harder and harder to walk him without resistance, and my efforts to tug him along did not encourage trust. At home he began to avoid me, and any earlier bonding moments were obliterated.

I might have been able to work through the above challenge if I wasn't so out of my depth addressing his issues. His needs, in terms of understanding what he is going through and responding to his behavior adequately, were great. Although I had access to some help with this, the support wasn't timely or sufficient, and with every passing day it felt like I lost ground and faced an additional hurdle. I was drowning.

Finally, the context of my life at the moment is also problematic. It's not all bloggable, but what I can say is that there are few places where I feel supported and loved. I am emotionally depleted, and without adequate support and relationships to fuel and feed me, I didn't have much to give to Jed. The hope in adopting him was that we would nurture each other, but he was nowhere near being able to offer love or affection. The sadness of that imbalance, though not unexpected, proved difficult. 

When I decided to adopt him I thought I was up for the challenge. I thought that love, patience, and compassion would undergird the process of helping him heal and recover from his trauma. I was naive, and let my desire to be his hero blind me to the reality I faced. I have no confidence in my decision to bring him home, although I do believe I gave him what I could. It just wasn't enough for him, and proved wounding, in the process, for both of us.

I can't know what will come next for him and what the future will hold. I hope for the best for him. On those few occasions when he seemed open and trusting I experienced a gentle spirit and a sweet soul. I hope someone can lead him to a place where he feels free to release the genuineness of who he is. I hope we both emerge from our wounds victorious.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

jed's journal: prologue

(published a day after writing)
So, I adopted a dog. I set out to adopt a senior dog, thinking that it would provide a home to a dog in need, and require a shorter duration commitment for us as a three-dog family again. Understandably, Ken would like to simplify our collective life, but I'm here and he's there for who-knows-how-long. So I decided to adopt a dog. My heart needs a dog.

The short version of the story is that I selected a senior at a local shelter via their web site. Put in my application, and made an appointment to go meet the ole' gal. We weren't a match. I visited with a total of four dogs that afternoon, and #4 turned out to be Jed, a Border Collie who had been abandoned, probably shot (he bears evidence of buckshot wounds), and left to fend for himself somewhere in North Carolina. I don't see myself as a special needs hero. Nope. But I have a soft spot for Border Collies, and Jed, well, instead of hiding under the table in the "meet and greet" room as he typically had with others before me, he backed himself up to sit on my legs where I had plopped on the floor. The shelter workers exchanged glances. "Looks like he's chosen you!" I brought Jed home.

He's skittish. Scared. Painfully shy. Happy to spend his day in his crate, safe from potentially threatening interaction. But once he emerges he follows me around and parks himself at my feet. Sometimes he takes sanctuary in a corner. He doesn't invite affection, but he accepts it without flinching. When we've gone for walks he alternates between convivial participation and active resistance. He won't take food from my hand, and his bowl has to placed in front of him--wherever he is--for him to eat. He's pooped and peed in his crate. In southern parlance, he's a mess.

Last night as I was offering my prayers after "lights out," I wondered if this was a good idea. I don't feel equipped for this kind of relationship, and I'm definitely not trained for it. In truth, with the long road of post-traumatic recovery he has ahead of him, Jed wasn't ready for adoption. He should have had more time for transition, healing, and training with a foster guardian. Under cover of darkness the option of returning him seemed viable. This is difficult work, and a new road for me. I was looking for comfort and love, and instead I bought in to a challenge. Am I making a poor choice, or rescuing both of us through this effort? In the dawning light of a snowy morning, it all seemed less daunting.

I've been reading about how to work with dogs in his circumstances, and the underlying criteria is patience. Patience is something I can do very well, but it helps to have realistic expectations as a framework in which to practice this virtue. Further, it is helpful to feel that progress is being made.

This morning I decided that a journal for Jed would be helpful. It can help me log his days, and make note of that cherished progress. It can help me feel reinforced in the decision to stick with him. It can be a way for his story to unfold on the record. So here we are. My goal isn't necessarily to publish this log, but it does help to write it through a means that is shared. Last night in the dark I felt very alone. Here, I feel companionship.

This is our second full day together. We are challenged by a blizzard, which makes getting outside exceedingly difficult (no cleared paths), and confounding for a dog that doesn't yet have established habits for using the great outdoors. In a way I was grateful that he'd relieved himself in the crate before dawn. Laundry is more manageable than hypervigilance over the course of the day as Jed adapts to freedom and a non-kennel structure. I am leaning into the wisdom of Tom Ryan, of Following Atticus fame, who practices the art of letting his dogs be who they are rather than asking them to conform to human notions of who a dog should be. With Jed I am endeavoring to do the same, letting him learn who he is, and sharing that with me as he is able, and willing. It will take a while, but of two things I am certain. I will do my best. And I will love him with everything I've got.

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