Saturday, October 31, 2009

good food, good friends, good times, and then...

One of the fun things about holidays is the opportunity to entertain with a certain amount of flair. Halloween isn't generally a holiday that tempts me to entertain, but Clare's visit has inspired some thinking outside of my usual box. Saturday morning we hosted a Silpada jewelry party brunch, and I had great fun searching out recipes to underscore the occasion. Among them were the deviled eggs, already appropriately named, decorated with black olive spiders. Then there were the cheddar witches fingers, and the pumpkin cheese ball (click on photo to enlarge for a better look).

Rounding out the spread was baked curried fruit, pumpkin french toast with maple syrup (OMG, soooo good!), honey ham and some necessary chocolate. For libations: coffee, orange juice with or without enhancement by either vodka or champagne, and a special cocktail of a fruit juice blend, vodka and grenadine. The abundance of marigolds came from our garden, thriving in their boxes after all the rain. We had a lovely group of women who had an equally nice time perusing jewelry for purchase, and vittels for the soul. It was a great morning.

Alas, there isn't a picture of the adventure that started the morning: the lock to the bathroom got set accidentally, and since we close the bathroom door when not in use to get a certain puppy from grabbing hold of the toilet paper roll and rendering it useless, we were thus locked out! Not a pretty situation when the women in the house were in need of and desiring morning "refreshing." Ken tried a variety of lock-picking techniques to get us out of the jam, and just shy of busting the door down so that we could get in he decided to try to get the window open from the outside. He succeeded at that, but then there was the matter of someone climbing through the window to get to the door. Alas, yours truly was the candidate, and that was an interesting task (it is not a large window). I did, however, persevere, and we were able to breathe sighs of relief and generally proceed with the day.

In the afternoon we gathered up in costume to head to MJ and Cheryl's for the Florida-Georgia football game. In order to expose Clare to some regional feasting Ken prepared a low-country boil, and in keeping with that effort he adorned himself accordingly. I think he gets the award for originality. Look closely to note the "Skewered Cajun Chef." When I noted that he was sporting a vegetarian kebab he was quick to point out that a meatball was in the middle of the vegetables. Witty man.

We were all quite happy that the Gators won handily (though Ken and I felt some sympathy for Trisha, who is loyal to Georgia), and once we returned home Clare headed to facebook and joined the "Go Gators" group.

Before sharing the next bit of news let me just say how blessed I am to have such wonderful people in my life as those with whom I spent this day. Ken, Clare, the women who came for "juice and jewels," as one person alluded, and the Gator Gang. It was a joy-filled day that was soul-satisfying and nurturing, and reminds me of who I am.

Alas, once home we suffered a mortal blow to the heart when we opened an email from Ken's daughter announcing the birth of their second child (another boy)--ten days earlier. Our names were the last in the list of those to whom the email was addressed. There are no words to describe the pain of this gesture on her part, which is at the least intentional and cruel.

The timing of my getaway to Florida Sunday afternoon could not be better, though I am not happy that Ken will be alone to process and react to the latest action in this family's drama. He'll be okay, but it would be better for us to have the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings together as we experience them. I guess I can take down the sign over the kitchen door that reads, "Nana's kitchen: where memories are made and grandkids are spoiled. Open 24 hours." Prayers for wisdom and tenderness, and eventually for healing would be appreciated. I feel too torn within to pray myself.

It had been such a lovely day, and the good news is that those memories will stay with me and affirm what is so good in our life. I just wish that life didn't suck so much as to clobber them so unnecessarily.

Channeling Julian: all will be well...

Friday, October 30, 2009

friday five: lifesavers!

Kathryn at RevGals reminisces about a cruise experience and looks ahead to one with the Gals (I sooo wanna go!), and asks, “… dramatic or fairly common – what have been/are your lifesavers (If it helps, try the phrase 'life giving' instead.):

1) Your lifesaving food/beverage.
Morning coffee. Savoring that perfect blend of brew, sweetness (just a touch) and half and half (more than just a touch), brings me into the moment and draws me away from the lists forming in my head.

2) Your lifesaving article of clothing.

3) Your lifesaving movie/book/tv show/music.
The West Wing. Loved the characters, and the education in the politics of politics was outstanding (to quote Josh). For music, almost anything Celtic, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and a lot of baroque music.

4) Your lifesaving friend.
Different friends give life according to various needs. But two groups of friends stand out for distinct reasons. 1) My “castle-hopping” friends, made on a dancing tour of Scottish Castles 20 years ago. An amazing bond formed among several of us on that trip. Whether it was the dancing, the laughter, the sheep or the scotch, we became thick as thieves. I went through some very difficult times in the years that immediately followed that trip, and they kept me on my feet, even from a distance. Another group is the “Cabana Crew,” a group of scrapbooking friends met online. Being with them is tonic to my soul, full of laughter, fun, spontaneity, laughter, good food, laughter, shopping, laughter… you get the idea. Being with “the Crew” is good for whatever ails me. My friend Clare (who arrives tonight!!!) and I head to Florida tomorrow afternoon to be with some of them for a week. The contented sigh you will hear over the next several days will be coming from me.

5) Your lifesaving moment.
When I realized that marrying my first betrothed would be a huge mistake. Even though the decision to break the engagement had very difficult consequences for me (homeless and unemployed!), picking my way through the debris of that decision yielded a better result than going through with the marriage would have. I came upon a quote shortly after making that decision, and though it doesn’t yet apply to my life, it calls me forward into what I hope my life will one day reflect: “I have woven a parachute out of everything broken.” (William Stafford).

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

food for fun

My friend Clare arrives on Friday night, and she will be plunged immediately into a full day of festivity the following day, which by chance is Halloween. Urged on by her enthusiasm for experiencing a "'home party," I have scheduled a Silpada jewelry party for Halloween morning. Entertaining on that day offers up a host of fun options when it comes to menu, although brunch, our time of day, seems to have fewer variations on either recipes or Halloween themes to make a real splash. No matter, we shall persevere.

I am not planning on making those charming chocolate vittles pictured here, though spiders will make an appearance in some form. And there is some truly disgusting looking food out there if I really wanted to indulge in the opportunity to blend the occasion with a spread of dishes authentic to the day. The idea, however, is for my guests to eat what I prepare, not just keep their distance from it!

So I've been having a blast searching for recipes that will suit a brunch and lend some holiday flair to the occasion. I have to admit that, much as I am not a fan of the personality, Martha Stewart reigns when it comes to entertaining and social occasions (like weddings). I will be leaning on her for the majority of my menu for Saturday, and I have already saved at least a dozen articles related to wedding ideas (think rehearsal dinner) that spring from her pages. Good old Martha. The best part about all this is that everything can be prepared ahead (which menas I will have a full day in my nice, clean kitchen on Friday!).

Today I will continue to clean: guest room and bath; and work: newsletter and spaghetti dinner. Yes, I think I can manage that. In the meantime if you have any really cool halloween recipes, let me know. I may just need to alter my menu!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

jumping back into the fray

morning mist at Melrose

There are certain advantages to being without the use of my own computer. My time is being diverted to other things! Yesterday I did a very thorough cleaning of the kitchen (sans floor), scrubbing counters, items that sit out on counters, washing up dishes that have lingered, relocating seldom-used things from the countertops to storage, etc. The only remaining task is to clean the top of the refrigerator! I also moved a teacart from the dining area out to the pantry, in the process putting away the things that had, by default, landed on it "temporarily." It's a great feeling to declutter the house room by room and get it clean at the same time. Just don't look at baseboards!

Had an absolutely lovely time at Melrose with Mom last week. We had some gorgeous fall days and a few overly warm ones, but sweaty weather notwithstanding, it was wonderful. How can one not enjoy time that involves sitting out on a porch looking at this view? I finally got some reading done, and am now halfway through Diana Galbadon's Outlander. I did some further reading on it yesterday after my due diligence in the kitchen! And in the patting-oneself-on-the-back department, I finished the NYT Sunday crossword puzzle without benefit of Google! I have concluded that I will print out future puzzles instead of doing them on the computer--my little gray cells seem to know that help is a mere set of keystrokes away when I work it online, and I actually do better when my brain has to draw on its own resouces (and occasionally, the dictionary).

In addition to these leisurely pursuits we enjoyed several meals with our friends Jimmy and Barbara (they are the best people in the world!), and we also did some research on rehearsal dinner options and venues, selecting and securing a wonderful location on a bluff overlooking the Savannah River (see picture below). In April the view will be a bit less obstructed, and will also feature that lovely shade of new-growth-green. Now to work out the catering!

In the meantime there's lots of events coming up back here at home. Friday night my friend Clare arrives. She hails from New Zealand and will be half way through her "North American Tour" when she lands in Music City. Saturday morning we have a Halloween brunch and jewelry party (if anyone wants to order some Silpada, let me know!), then head to some friends' for the Gator-Georgia game and more halloween fun. Sunday we'll board a plane for Florida for shenanigans with other friends. At Church we're planning a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for one of our outreach projects, and holiday activities begin to warrant attention. Phew! So much fun I can hardly stand it! LOL!

And now it's time to relinquish the computer to Ken and get on with the work of the day. Hope it's a lovely Tuesday for one and all!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

just a note

Mom and I hit the library for a quick email check, and while she is busy sorting through the thousands of pieces in her inbox, I thought I'd try to work in a blog entry.

Had a beautiful day to drive down yesterday, and arrived with twenty minutes to spare until sunset. Fall sunsets are more deeply gratifying than those in the spring because the air is clearer, making the colors sharper. There were a few whisps of clouds above the horizon, but they were essentially inconsequential. But my, oh my the colors of the sky after the sun went down were extraordinary! I wish I had been able to capture them on my camera, but I'm not learned when it comes to such low-light images (yes, I need to learn for just this occasion). The hues were golden orange, pink and purple, and went from pale and striking to bold and commanding. Such glory!

It was a cold day, which at Melrose translates to indoor heaters, a fire in the fireplace, piles upon piles of blankets on the bed, flannel sheets, and tossing jammies into the dryer to warm up before diving into bed. It was 51 degrees when Mom went to bed, not sure how cold it got during the night. Remember there is no insulation in this house, and hear souces are as described above! Such an experience is old hat for long-time Melrosians. I fear that some who might have arrived to encounter this would have made all manner of unpleasant faces (duly warranted!) and thought grimly about it. We're just used to it and we joke about it regularly. I even told Mom not to be surprised if I decided to climb into bed with her, since she had the electric blanket!

Today is another beauty of a day, and we are here in town for an assortment of errands. It's a very tolerable 65 degrees and sunny. Perfect fall weather. After the library we're heading off to look at some venues for Junior and Trisha's rehearsal dinner (they're getting married in Augusta), then will dash home to throw together dinner for our friends Jimmy and Barbara, who will join us this evening.

I may get a chance to post again before the end of the week. This oppotunity was unexpected, so I thought I had better sieze it!

Love to all!

Monday, October 19, 2009

on a happier note

This past weekend a local bank sponsored its annual "Oktoberfest," at which the church had a booth. Some months ago a vestry member related hearing about an organization that had put together gift baskets by theme; baby boy/girl, afternoon tea, coffee lover's, and so on. The idea captured our imagination (or at least it captured mine and I was an enthusiastic endorser), so we decided to adopt the idea as a means of doing a little fund-raising while raising awareness of our existence in the community.

The baskets were tons of fun, and we ended up with 34 of them (a good showing for our small church!). We sold them by way of silent auction, where shoppers could place bids on the basket, or buy it outright for its full value. I have to tell you that there were some real steals, since we started the bidding anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of the value of the basket contents.

The weather on Saturday was dismal: COLD, with a high of 47 degrees, and windy. Attendance was extremely poor. But even so, by the end of the day we had sold several baskets and had bids on all but one. Sunday's weather was considerably better--sunny, ten degrees warmer, with little wind. Phew! I'm not sure what the total tally was, but in the end it was more important that we had fun, and the project was a success (and definitely worth repeating). I'd post pictures but I can't find my card reader!

The distraction of Oktoberfest was helpful to my spirits. And oddly enough, when I preached yesterday I got "convicted" and preached a whopper. I think there wasn't a dry eye among the women, and there may have been one or two moist eyes among the men. When I sat down at the conclusion of the sermon you could hear all sorts of nose-blowing, including mine. Yes, tears slipped down my cheeks as I preached (this happens sometimes, and fortunately, this gang is used to that).

Happier still is that this morning I will head to Melrose for the week. I will see the podiatrist first about my heel pain, which was horrible on Friday, and then I will get on the road and head southeast. Ken is staying home to tend to the dogs, work on the stewardship program for Sunday's big day, and look for a job. It will be girl time for Mom and me--the first time since 2004! It will be good for both of us.

Thank you all for your prayers and your kindness. I'm sorry I couldn't reply back to each of you to convey my appreciation for your words--I am still computerless and am trying very hard not to displace Ken from his chair too often! He's been generous during this last week in sharing his space with me.

I doubt I'll be able to report in until after my return next weekend. Know that I will miss being in touch, and pray for good days ahead for all of us.


Saturday, October 17, 2009


It has been a week swollen with activity. Two days, back to back, began at 6 AM and closed at AM. I am weary. But more than that (who isn't weary these days?) my heart is heavy with hurt. I wish I could pour it out here. The closest I can come to describing this is to offer an analogy.

On crime-related television, whether it's a version of CSI, Law and Order or some other representative drama, you learn all sorts of things about which you would have no other occasion to know unless your own life was somehow linked to that profession. A recent episode of one of these programs involved a woman who was injured by a bullet that went through one person and penetrated her own body.

My pain is something like that. A "weapon" penetrated another person's being and then because of my proximity to that person it entered my own soul. Colateral damage, I guess you could say. Only the weapon didn't just strike me, it struck a deep and still healing wound. Rotten enough. But the healing of this wound was woven with hope of a certain kind, and now that wound has been ruptured again. It only there was sufficient help to staunch the bleeding.

Julian of Norwich wisely stated that "all will be well, ..." and in due time I believe the veracity of her wisdom will be borne out. Tonight I hurt, I weep--wail, actually--and I pray. Tomorrow I will attempt to preach about surrender and humility, trusting that I will emerge from the tenderness that is now with some portion of strength to help me appear, if not remain, intact.

It is time now for sleep, assuming that will come. Blessed dreams to one and all. Rest in love.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

here we go again...

A couple of days ago the fateful "blue screen" of disaster popped up on the computer. Although modestly concerned, I wasn't overly worried. Until yesterday, when it appeared twice in twenty minutes. Uh-oh. It appears in a flash, not long enough to read it. It would, however, reboot itself. Until the point when it would reboot itself long enough to tell me there was a problem and then shut down again. We repeated this cycle endlessly. Until I finally gave up and simply turned it off.

This is not a good time for this. I'd appreciate whatever prayers seem appropriate so that I may rise above and conquer this beast of burden. Thank God for Ken's computer in the meantime for things like posting this and checking email.

Monday, October 12, 2009

three cups of inspiration

I'm not good at carving out time for reading. I have the time, I simply get distracted or interrupted by other things, and I have not managed to make reading a priority. Thus it took me several months to read, and finally finish the amazing story that is Three Cups of Tea.

It would probably be an overstatement, at least at this point, to say that the book has changed my life, but it is NOT an overstatement to acknowledge that it has changed me. While reading Greg Mortenson's story of building hope, literally, for villages and families in Pakistan (and eventually, Afghanistan), I found myself at the computer using Google Earth to locate the places where schools were built and lives were transformed. I pay closer attention to the news about both countries, and yesterday I even sat through an online video documentary about a girl and her family whose lives were interrupted and altered when the Taliban closed her school. Not long ago the headline for the story wouldn't even have caught my eye. I have come to know and care about these faraway places and the people whose lives are anchored to them. I am learning about the core issues of those countries that mutate into political interests and battles. A desire has formed in me to learn more, to become better informed, and somehow, using whatever gifts I have to offer, to make a difference.

At the end of the book there is a brief section that suggests ways to help bring awareness to the story of Greg Mortenson's mission to bring peace to a brutalized place through education, especially for girls. Spreading the word is one such way, through emails, web sites or blogs. So here I am. If you have not already read Three Cups of Tea I encourage you to do so. It is an easy read, beautifully told, and utterly captivating. If you have read the book I am eager to hear how it affected you, and if it led you to some form of "action."

At the very least I encourage all of us to pray for the people of a harsh and beautiful land, and for those working to end oppression and bring enduring peace to that region.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

please stand

When it comes to human posture there are certain things that our culture has deemed important. Standing as a sign of respect is one of them. We stand when a judge enters a courtroom, we stand for the National Anthem, many of us were taught to stand when an older person entered a room, we offer a seat on the train or a bus, the list goes on.

There is a wonderful scene in an episode of The West Wing in which the White House hosts a reception for members of the media. One of them is a radio talk show host with a conservative bent. Although most of her colleagues are standing as they mingle, she is sitting enjoying her beverage when the president enters the room for a brief greeting. He recognizes her and baits her into a conversation that challenges some of the precepts on which she bases a rant on homosexuality. We watch the expression on her face move from smug confidence to discomfort, and then she receives the ultimate reprimand when the president reminds her, "when the President is standing, no one sits."

I go on about this because I am aghast at the response to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. I include myself among the number of people who were surprised when I heard the news, but I also listened to the rationale from the committee that led them to their unanimous choice. I don't think it's up to the rest of us to challenge in a split second what the committee considered and debated and concluded after a period of months.

And besides, this is Our Guy. The President. The one for whom bands strike up Hail to the Chief when he enters the room. Can we not show a little respect? When the Olympics are in play we tally up our medal wins, and we root for the American whose name we didn't know and probably won't remember two days later. We cheer him or her on, do the solo wave or happy dance, and hug the nearest cohort with great enthusiasm, if not reckless abandon. We know only what the media has shown us about the athlete's personal life and priorities, and yet we hail our athletes as heroes to be carried on shoulders and paraded around a victory lap. It's called National Pride.

So where's the Pride? This is the Nobel Peace Prize! He's Our Guy and we stand behind him, regardless of politics. The culture of "N'Obama" has unleashed a poison into our society that has hit a new low when it comes to the rhetoric of hate and disrespect, and translates into regrettable human behavior. It is not helpful to discourse, fails at persuasion, and worst of all is unhealthy human behavior. Unchecked it becomes modeled to our children and those who are ignorant by choice or circumstance. This is a wake up call to all of us, and if the false adage that silence implies consent is believed, then the bullies win the day.

Stand up. Be respectful. This is Our Guy.
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Saturday, October 10, 2009

essence, and I'm not talking about emeril

The wife of a colleague is developing a business as a photographer. She posts her work on facebook, so I get to see what she's up to and watch her style become increasingly honed. The other day she posted that she was looking for people to do a collaborative photo essay project, so I shot her an email to learn more. As she describes it, her goal "is to show each person either in settings that portray their life story, or settings that tell the essence of who they are... The final shots will comprise a triptych, so it can either be a 3 part story, or 3 essential characteristics."

So I've been thinking. The idea of portraying my life story doesn't hold a lot of appeal. There have been so many difficulties, heartbreaks, disappointments and struggles, that even the good and cherished portions of my life feel outweighed by the former. A photograph of me that might reflect my work as a priest, though representative of 20 years of my vocational life and journey, would likely convey to me that portion of my life that still seeks fullness and purpose. And my marriage, as grateful as I am for its gifts, has been challenged from the beginning by stresses and misfortune that bear down with boulder-like weight. Life story? I think not.

Which leaves essence. As I have considered what that might look like, literally, images of Scotland come to mind. As a landscape, a geography, it is the place where my soul feels most at home. I don't suppose Anna and I will be able to pop over to Scotland for our photoshoot, but that is where I would like it to be. I plucked the images in the collage above from photos on my computer. They were culled from the Internet, and either are or evoke places that I have been and love. As I reflect on them now, they may well capture three aspects of my essence better than I could have intended.

The vertical photo is on the Isle of Skye, and is very suggestive of highland topography. It says "endurance" to me, withstanding the ravages of weather and isolation to flourish in its season, to glow under the light of the northern sun and to offer itself in all its ruggedness to any who would seek its companionship.

The heather is beautiful, soft and gentle with its tiny blooms, a composite of color that is rich without being overbearing on one extreme, or insignificant on the other. It, too, has its season of beauty. In the off-season, hardly discernible against the land on which it grows, it draws strength even in dormancy for that period in which it shines.

And then there is the abbey ruin. Constructed with care and crafted to reflect the glory of God, it invites the spirit to soar with a freedom loosed by the divine. Though damaged, it remains a bulwark for the seeking heart, the weeping soul, the life that reaches through long-gone rafters to the promise of heaven.

These aren't the totality of me or my essence, but they do speak to the truth of who I am. It is a place to start a collaboration of two artistic souls. It will be interesting to watch where this effort leads.

Friday, October 09, 2009

friday five: moments of our lives

At RevGals Sophia ruminates about a pending event, and writes: "This has me thinking of the special rites of passage in our lives which we participate for ourselves or in which we support and bless others: baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, graduation, funerals, etc. Such important days, so exciting and joyous, but also sometimes anxiety provoking or deeply painful....So, this week, please share five memories of such sacred moments with God and her holy people from your life and the lives of those you love."

I'm going to do this in chronological order, just because

1) One of the most profound privileges of a sacramental ministry occurs during periods of vulnerability in a person's or family's life. The death of a loved one, particularly, invites poignant sharing and the opportunity for extraordinary ministry. I have come to treasure these moments spent with the dying and members of their families, and in compassionate tending while others have grieved. These are sacred times of deep love, and an opportunity to offer, according to God's mercy, that divine peace that passes all understanding. This columbarium holds the remains of some for whom I cared, who from their labors rest.
2) One day my dearest friend called me with great excitement in her voice. "We're going to be grandmothers!" she burst out with the news of her daughter's pregnancy. My relationship with Kathy and her family was wonderfully integrated, and I was folded into her clan with generous hospitality by all of them. I enjoyed easy relationships with her mother, brothers and extended family, and had an especially close relationship with her daughter, Carrie. And so a grandmother (with a small g) was born.

A year after Katie was born I baptized her. It was a joyous time, and offered the opportunity for a technological first: one set of godparents were in Virginia, but we put them on speaker phone via a cell phone and they participated in the promises and vows by voice. I can't put my hands on the pictures from that day, but I did put together a hastily assembled scrapbook page of the event. I love the picture of Katie reaching/pointing toward the flame of the altar candle, and saw in that gesture what became the title of the page: reaching for the light.

3) Ken's son, Kenneth, Jr., is like a son to me. His father is retired army, 82nd Airborne and then some. Growing up Junior was eager to follow in his father's footsteps, kicked up a notch. Four summers ago he graduated from Ranger school and became a full-fledge Army Ranger. It was a dream fulfilled for him, and a moment of pride for those of us who love him. Junior is now in the National Guard after completing six tours to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Ranger.

4) Our wedding! I waited a long time to be married (I was 48!). We actually had two weddings: a civil ceremony (conducted by the state's supreme court justice, and an Episcopalian!), and then a blessing of our marriage several months later where we could do the church thing and have everyone there (except Junior, dang it all, who was off learning how to escape and evade). This is my favorite picture of us from that day.

5) The birth of Luke, our first grandchild. Luke was eight days when we first met him. This picture of Ken kissing Luke's forehead is one of my favorites of those few days we spent getting acquainted. We saw Luke again when he was six weeks old and haven't seen him since. He will be two in November. A difficult relationship between father and daughter took a painful twist after that last time with Luke, and it remains to be seen, still, how it will be resolved, if it will be resolved. Grandchild number two is about to enter the world and we don't even know if we'll learn of his or her arrival.

Even without any real relationship with Luke, his arrival in the world tagged me as Nana. In spite of the pain of not being able to live into that role, it is a role nonetheless. It is agonizing to fall in love with a child and then be parted from him and all news of him. But I hold him in my heart and remember the few precious days of holding him and cooing over him and falling in love with him.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

listen (doo wa doo), do you wanna know a secret (doo wa doo)...

You know how one thought leads to another?

While writing a comment on some one's blog the other day I paused to consider what word I wanted to use in what I wrote. My hands were hovering over the keyboard while my mind debated using the word "evoke." I wasn't certain that this was the best word to express what I wanted to say, and ultimately I took a different track, but "evoke" got me thinking.

There's evoke, provoke and invoke, all of which include the root vocare, from the Latin, "to call," which itself comes from vox: voice. And then of course there is vocation, which many people use to refer to a religious calling. Translating loosely from Webster's dictionary, evoke is to call forth, provoke is to call out (more precisely to stir to action), and invoke is to call on. There are subtleties to these words and definitions, of course, and each of them can be tweaked within a context. And then there is vocation.

Part of the journey into my life as a priest included a fair amount of time dancing with the notion of vocation. To what, precisely, was I being called? And how did I understand that call to manifest itself through my particular being? There are more variations on that theme. The Church takes seriously discerning "calls" of persons into ordained ministry, and these questions, and others like them, linger in the air through periods of discernment, and they cling to the lips of committees. What is less well understood within the body of the Church is that we all have callings. Vocation is not simply about a religious bent in life, it is about life itself. Frederick Beuchner has honed the most frequently quoted definition of the word. Vocation, he writes, is "the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." One of the things I love about this definition is that it consists of two parts: my deep gladness, and the word's deep hunger. In other words it isn't possible to have a vocation, a la Beuchner, without interacting in some way with and serving the needs of others.

But vocation is more than work or livelihood. It emerges from a deep place within us that connects our inner being with the outer world. While cruising the web for an image to use with this post I came upon the one above, from a web site called Seeds of Unfolding, and an article with the heading, "Our relationship with vocation," by Jorge Waxemberg. Within that site these words are highlighted: “Vocation is not one more choice among an array of possible activities: it is what gives meaning.” Waxemberg further relates the notion that vocation, while it may, and should, be applied to secular views of work, is nonetheless grounded in the world of the spirit. “Our spiritual life and the task of living are one and the same thing.”

On those days when I feel out of sorts with the work I do it generally stems from the reality that some portion of the work doesn't touch or emanate from the place of my deep gladness. It is my perpetual prayer that I might serve God according to Beuchner's definition of vocation, that the joy of my deep gladness will spill out and flow over the deep hunger it is meant to feed. I get hints, here and there, of ways to find that place. Until I do I listen for that still small voice, the peace of my center and the hunger of the world. It isn't just about me. It's about where I fit in the world.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

a meme for the day

Thanks to The Bug, who pointed me to Lidna's blog, for bailing me out on this I-have-no-inspiration-to-write day.

1.) On average, how often do you splurge and buy something for yourself?
Since we haven't had any discretionary money for so long, I would say rarely. Every now and then, in the summer, I go to Dairy Queen, does that count?

2.) Are you more like Hall or Oates? Just kidding. Real question: What is the last creative project you began/finished? Feel free to post a pic of it.
Sad to say that my last creative effort was last March. Eeek! I really need to fix that aspect of my life. It is the icon of The Virgin of the Passion from an icon-writing workshop. Heeeeeeeeere's Mary!

3.) OK, Goldie Locks, do you consider your house too big, too little or juuust right?
This is sort of funny, since I have nicknamed the sheds in our backyard Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Ken thinks I'm peculiar for doing so, but it helps me keep them straight when he refers simply to "the shed." But I digress. Our house isn't really any of the above. The bedrooms are too small, especially the room that I use as an office/creative space; the living room is big but not layed out in a manner that utilizes the square footage well, and the kitchen/dining area are probably adequate.

4.) What is your favorite outdoor chore?
Oddly enough, shoveling snow, although I've only had to do that once in the last ten years. And as long as it's not too hot and there's no humidity and the bugs leave me alone, I enjoy weeding.

5) If you knew that cigarett smoking was not bad for your health but would be a weight loss tool, would you use it? Why or why not?
Nicotene aside, there's the smell factor. Now if we're pretending that there is nothing bad about smoking, then I truly might use it as a weight-loss aid. Lord knows I need something to help me shed these mid-life pounds!

6.) On a road trip, would you rather drive or ride?
That might depend on who else was with me! I can do either, and enjoy either. Trading off really works well.

7.) What do you consider a trivial pursuit?
Hoping that the right wing would get a clue.

8.) This weekend we downloaded the movie "Duplicity" with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. Within 5 minutes I was bored and annoyed, but I kept watching 5-10 minutes at a time hoping it would get better between small chores. I finally gave up and Jorge watched it alone, and then regretted wasting that time because he disliked it intensely, too. So... how long do you watch a movie or read a book before giving up on it?
A movie, about 20 minutes. A book? That sort of depends on the book, but probably 50-70 pages.

9.) Is there a song that you really love but are embarrassed to admit because it's not cool or it's racy or because it's by Hall and Oates?
Ah, that would be Confederate Railroad's "I like women a little on the trashy side," but don't tell anyone.

10.) On a scale of 1-10 (10-extremely) how spontaneous are you?
Maybe a 2? But that doesn't mean I'm boring. Really, it doesn't.

11.) Are you a food and/or beverage snob?
Hmm. I don't think so, but can we ever be objective about our own snobbery?

12.) Who/What are you trying to control in your life? (I hear people gulping and see them sweating in anticipation of how to answer this one).
I don't try to control people--now THAT is a trivial pursuit! I am trying to learn to control McKinlee in order to save our furniture from total destruction. The carpet is beyond salvation.
On the what aspect, I am trying to control the impulses that make me speak before I think. The really hard thing, though, is trying to let go of desiring certain outcomes in other people's lives. Even though my notion of those outcomes would be truly beneficial for all concerned!

Anyone else want to play?
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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

holy cats and kittens batman!

We often talk about finding the holy in the ordinary,
but how about the ordinary in the holy?

Enjoy your day!

Monday, October 05, 2009

blessings continue

These are my favorite pictures from the blessing service we did down at the campground. That's Scooter on the left, and Sandy on the right. We didn't have a big turnout, which wasn't a huge surprise, especially considering that it was raining. Once we were there I was also reminded that life without walls, so to speak, also means that time and punctuality are all relative. It was still a wonderful hour with people who loved their pets and felt honored to have their pets recognized as vital parts of their lives. Today I will print out their blessing certificates and some of these pictures to take to them.

There's lots coming up on our calendar, and it's time for me to hunker down and get organized. I need to work on publicity for the breast cancer service as well as locate an organist and soloist. Our own organist has a regular commitment on the night of the week in question, and her usual substitute is, well, let's just say inadequate and leave it at that. Unfortunately I think the other musicians I know also practice that same night, so this may prove to be a challenge. In any event my work is cut out for me. Now to get to it!

Rain or shine, may your day be filled with light and blessings!
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Sunday, October 04, 2009

and they were blessed

That's Princess Lilly in my arms, looking back toward her mama. And in her mama's arms is Lady Sarah, a chicken. Both of these beloved pets received blessings yesterday at our blessing of animals event. I loved blessing the chicken! It was such a beautiful day, and it truly felt like God was smiling on all creation.

And then, out of nowhere, an idea popped into my head. A campground a few miles down the road from the church is home to a lot of families that have been displaced for various reasons: Hurricanes, floods, foreclosures--you name it. Today I will go there after church and offer blessings to their pets, too. It isn't much to offer, but it is something. And I picked up dog biscuits and some cat treats to distribute, too.

As a church we have talked about ways to minister to these families, but have felt "outmissioned" by the larger churches with resources that trample what we have. But today I will invite members of my parish to join me, and perhaps there will be some spark of outreach that will result. I can only pray for that. In the meantime we will bless the four-legged loved ones, and ask God to bless the hopes and dreams of the families who call the campground home.
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Saturday, October 03, 2009

blessed art thou

Companions of my heart, laughter of my soul, kindlers of love and breath of acceptance.

Today we celebrate the blessing that pets bring to our lives.
These are two of mine, The Lady Juliet and the late Dooley.

I have shared before the joy these friends and beloveds have brought to my life (and Juliet still brings). Dogs continue to do so, even when she is feasting on expensive furniture, destroying the carpets, and ramping up the chaos with her boundless energy. At nine months old I confess I love her best when she sleeps, but she DOES make me laugh a lot. And to her advantage I also recall that Dooley was a bit of a terror in his early years. He also created the biggest hole in my heart when I lost him.

So, McKinlee, it is my prayer that today's blessing penetrates your soul with a little bit of compassion for your poor mama, and that God implants in my heart more expansive tolerance.
I see potential, I really do. For both of us.
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Friday, October 02, 2009

friday five: holy, holy, holy

At RevGals Sally asks: where do you find God's peace and presence? Is there:

1. A place that holds a special memory?

That would be here, at Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, CT.
It is the place of spiritual awakening, renewal and conversion that changed my life. Following a profound experience of God while praying in these pews (about half way up on the right, if you want to know!), I was later baptized and confirmed. It was here that I was led to an encounter from which my call to ordination manifested itself. It was here that I was hired after seminary while the timing of my ordination was in question, and here that I was ordained priest.

2. A song that seems to usher you into the Holy of Holies?
There are any number of songs that do that for me, but two stand out. Whenever I hear them they send shivers down my spine and I totally enrapt.
This first is from Bizet's opera The Pearl Fishers. I'm not necessarily a fan of opera, but this piece...
Appropriately enough it is titled At the Foot of the Holy Temple.
This is the long version, but the best recording.

The second is the chorale section of Gustav Holst's Jupiter, from The Planets. An orchestral setting is most moving, but this young man does an oustanding job with it as well. It is a national hymn in Great Britain, and was sung at the wedding of Prince Charles to Diana. It is also the music I used as the bridal procession when I got married.

3.A book/ poem/ prayer that says what you cannot?
Again, there are several, but the following is what comes to mind (perhaps because it is short and easy to recall!):

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,
"Give me a light that I may find my way in the darkness."
And he said,
"Put your hand in the hand of God,
for it is better than light, and safer than a known way."
written by Minnis Louis Haskins, and English school teacher, and recited by King George VI during a Christmas broadcast to the people of England (I forget which year).

4. How do you remind yourself of these things at times when God seems far away?
Ah, the $65,000 question.
Whenever I feel distant from God I strive to remember the times when I felt divine grace, and experienced kairos. Christ Church Cathedral is one such place, but there are others. Scotland is where my soul feels most at home in a "place," so I imagine myself there. I also listen to music or try to manage a change of scenery.

5.Post a picture/ poem or song that speaks of where you are right now in your relationship with God...

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

unearthing the path

Let me begin by acknowledging that I don't have answers. Questions, plenty. But answers, not so much. Right now that isn't a big concern.

Some of the thoughts and ideas that began to stir during my drive the other day had some additional fodder. On my return drive home I listened to another interview recorded a year ago, this one wiith Forrest Church, a Unitarian pastor whose diagnosis with cancer inspired reflection on life and death and resulted in a book sharing those reflections. Church died last week. His conversation with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air helped me focus the earlier internal conversation toward ministry.

The framework is this. The congregation I serve consists of about 55 households and just over 100 people. For the most part that number consists of people who actually come to church on a regular, or semi-regular basis. But the bulk of the congregation, roughly 75%, is over the age of 50. More than half of that number is retired, and tired. Until an internal expression of the broader conflict raging in the Episcopal Church raised its ugly and untethered head a few years ago, this was a thriving church. With membership once able to support a full-time priest, this parish now struggles to keep its deficit down with part-time clergy leadership.

Much of the lay leadership, and members who have been part of this community for a long time, react to the financial devastation by seeking numerical membership growth in order to move from the frightening hues of red ink to the benign comfort of black. It's true that more people in the pews translates to more money in the plate. It's also true that more people in the pews translates ostensibly to more participation in parish activities and resources for leadership. Focusing on this is not a new phenomenon in the Church. And where I would once hunker down and seek to motivate members of the church to respond to and act on the desire to grow, my heart has experienced transformation and is being led more purposefully toward mission. The Field of Dreams tagline "build it and they will come," understood in the context of servant ministry, is what draws and drives me now.

When we address areas of need in the community there is a line of thinking among many that our mission/outreach efforts might result in recruiting membership. There's nothing wrong with the desire, but to me it is more important to serve without expectations. Meet the need. Let God respond.
  • I'm interested in working with the landowner whose property adjacent to ours sits unused. There are no community gardens here, and with the increased interest in and need to grow our own food, it is a natural collaboration.
  • A portion of our own property is well suited to the establishment of a labyrinth. Buffeted from street noise by plantings that could also serve as a meditation garden, the labyrinth environment would offer a contemplative respite to those whose spirits are in need of such rest.
  • An elementary school a block away is home to a large number of children from immigrant and struggling families. An after school reading program or partnership with the school to aid those students with reading and other academic areas would equip those children with improved skills for future learning and development.

This is the direction I would like us to head. It's not about numbers but about loving our neighbor and sharing our abundance. Those to whom such a life is appealing would find a home with us and enrich us. And perhaps, God willing, we might have something to offer their souls as well.

The graphic above is a form of sacred spiral. In sacred geometry (yes, there is such a thing) it reflects growth. My heart is there, somewhere, reaching out, seeking to serve, desiring to love. Wanting to make a difference. The challenge is to release my dream in hopes that my parish would find this an inviting path as well, and that they would seek to be part of its creation.

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