Friday, November 29, 2013

friday five: advent confidential

At RevGals MaryBeth invites us to Advent Confidential. What are your favorite traditions, observances, hymns, or memories of Advent? Is there something you remember from childhood that you’d like to do again? A funny story you can share about the time the Advent wreath got a little over-lit? We are here and listening!

Growing up we were awash in traditions, some of which were distinctly Advent. I have so many great memories of that time, which makes this a particularly meaningful season for me in very personal, nostalgic ways.  As Quakers we had no liturgical traditions, but the season was full of wonderful, anticipatory activity.

1) The Advent Calendar. Hung on the back of our front door was a felt version made by my mother. My brothers and I took turns emptying the appropriate pocket each night to decorate a felt tree with tiny ornaments, culminating with a star at the top of the tree on Christmas Eve. 

2) Family shopping night. I don't know how many years we actually did this, but I think of it as a tradition. We headed downtown to the department store where my parents would help each of us kids shop for certain presents. Dinner at a nearby restaurant and a walk around Hartford's Constitution Plaza to view the holiday festival of lights was a part of the deal. I remember snippets of this activity, but the fact that it stands out in my memory must mean that there was some deep joy with much greater impact than the cold of a winter night.

3) Christmas themes. Every year my mom chose a theme that was the focus of decorating the house (and sometimes for our family Christmas card).  Among the themes were the Three Kings, the twelve days of Christmas, Noel, and Peace. She saved cards we received from year to year that depicted these themes, and there was usually a banner filled with several of them that was displayed hung on a doorway.  It is a tradition that I have only recently thought about putting into action myself.

4) The Advent candle. At times, rather than a wreath we had a single pillar candle with 24 marks down one side. Each night at dinner the candle was lit and allowed to burn down to the appropriate date before it was extinguished.

5) Baking and delivery of the goods. My mom had two consistent holiday kitchen specialties: homemade toffee and spiced tea mix.  There were several family friends who were regular recipients of this kitchen largesse, and as a family we would bundle into the car and go to the homes of these friends, standing outside the door and announcing ourselves by breaking into song--a carol, of course. The front door light would come on and the door would open with wonder and joy, and we would spend some time with our friends as we delivered our gifts. It is another treasured family memory.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

comfort, then and now

I don't suppose I thought to mention that, now that I don't have a regular altar gig on Sundays, I have joined the choir. Yep. We don't sing every Sunday. In fact, we've only sung on one Sunday so far since fall kicked in, but we're now preparing a couple of pieces for Advent Lessons and Carols. 

We're sort of a pick-up choir, since people who are part of the St. Augustine's family have schedules that demand their presence elsewhere with some regularity. Like a multitude of other volunteer organizations in the world, we work with what we've got. Let me just say that I'm glad it's a group that is willing to work with me. St. A's is littered with song-writers and musicians, and there are folks who show up once and are ready for their solo. I don't have any voice training. I can carry a tune, but learn best by ear rather than reading music (which I don't exactly know how to do). It doesn't hurt that I know how to play the piano and can play the recorder, which means that music is not a foreign language. It's just not my best language.

Anyway. Lessons and Carols. One of the pieces we're preparing is "Comfort, Comfort," arranged by John Ferguson. All good 'piscies reading this are no doubt humming the tune of that Advent hymn right about now. This is the same song, but written for four parts. I can't find a good video on you tube to share (oh, wait, I did find one, linked below), but maybe--when the time comes--I can get Ken to record it on his phone when we perform it. 

The hymn to which I refer is better know by the words of scripture that are set to this tune. "Comfort, comfort ye my people," hearkens from Isaiah. It has a special place in my life, a prelude, if you will, to my transition into the Episcopal Church. It is, as well, a sort of anchor memory for me of a time and place in my life. 

The first house I owned was just down the hill from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, in the neighborhood known as "behind the rocks." Trinity sits up on a bit of a precipice, a rocky crag, if you will, hence the name. The crown jewel of the campus' picturesque architecture is the college chapel, a neo-gothic beauty designed by the same architectural firm as The National Cathedral. Yes. Sigh. It is utterly lovely. Because of the geographic setting of the college the spire of the chapel can be seen from afar, a sort of beacon of the academic life that hums around it. (And to think I turned down an opportunity to serve there as seminarian!)

Among other things Trinity's steeple includes a carillon, and during the summer carillon concerts are a popular weekly offering that many enjoy while picnicking on the broad lawn outside. Because of the proximity of my house to the college and chapel I didn't have to wander up for concerts (although I did). I enjoyed them from my home. 

I also enjoyed the practice sessions of the carilloneur during the week as he prepared for Sunday's prelude. One such practice session stands out. With leafless winter branches now framing a view of the chapel spire from an upstairs window of my house, I remember looking out to it, aglow from the floodlights at its base. The tune that rang out was "Comfort, comfort ye my people." It was unfamiliar to me then, but burrowed a place in my heart and memory as I listened to its distinctive rhythm drift across the night and behind the rocks. My spiritual journey was moving toward baptism, and the childhood rituals of my family's observance of Advent were about to take on new depth and meaning. Always a special season for me by virtue of those family traditions, the sight and sound now associated with this hymn formed a touchstone that has since been foundational for subsequent Advents. 

Now, as I learn my alto part for this arrangement our choir is preparing, that history returns with a poignant twist. My home parish was also in the "behind the rocks" neighborhood, just six blocks from my home. A couple who were an integral part of my formation there, and who became dear and valued friends, had their own connection with Trinity. A year or so after my ordination and relocation to Missouri, Al died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 51. Having worked at the college for many years his remains are in the chapel's memorial garden. Two weeks ago, Lynne, Al's widowed bride (as he always called her), died peacefully after too many years struggling with diabetes. She, too, will find her eternal rest there in the memorial garden. As her sons have dealt with the closing issues of their mother's life, pictures of Trinity have made appearances on facebook, escorting me back to another time and place, to a season of beginnings, the dark nights of Advent, and the anticipation of things to come.  It is a blessing for me, so many miles now removed from that place, to be able to reconnect to it and remember and honor Lynne (and Al) through these memories.

As we live through our own challenges approaching Advent this year I do take comfort in Isaiah's words, and in the music that has become part of my song:
For the glory of the Lord
now o'er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.
 (Can't remember how to embed video in the blog. Click the link with the "music" for a video of the tune.)

Friday, November 08, 2013

friday five: random is as random does, or something like that

Kathryn at RevGals gives us a random Friday Five. Here goes!

1.  What’s up?  How are you?
I'm rather well, thank you! I've got some good mojo going on with my fledgling business, have two clients (gotta start somewhere!), am connecting with some marvelous women in business who know their stuff and help other women without blinking, and it finally feels like a real fall here in middle Tennessee. All of this is good, but what is great is that my spirit is aligning in ways it hasn't felt aligned in a very long time. To quote Josh Lyman, "Outstanding!"
2.  You are moving to a new office.  You can only take five books with you (pretend there is no thing such as kindle, nook, etc.).  What would they be BESIDES teh Bible, which is already written on your hearts, yes?
  • A Thesaurus. I love words, and a thesaurus is one of those tools that adds verses of meaning to a single thought. Not to mention that it is useful when working crossword puzzles. 
  • Frederick Beuchner's Listening to Your Life daily meditations
  • A comprehensive book of puzzles that included crosswords and sudoku (for those times when a mental gear shift is helpful)
  • A coffee table book of photographs of  prayerful communities around the world, Talking to God, Listening to the World at Prayer. Wonderful book that inspires me consistently.
  • A blank journal as a space to ponder, reflect, draw, and ...
3.  If you had a superpower that could give you a five hour retreat, and you could go anywhere in the world to spend those five hours on retreat (because you have superpowers, ya’ know?), where would you go?
The Isle of Iona. It's got sacred space, a view of Mull, the sound of water lapping the beach, sheep, good walking and great memories.

4.  What piece of music, song, hymn, etc. are you diggin’ right now?
A tune written for the pipes, Highland Cathedral. Can't get it out of my head and I don't want to. I can't seem to recall how to embed a video, but if you love bagpipes, visit the link.
5.  Use the following words in a sentence (or two):  Tangle, dribble, hook, Panda, shark, smile, worry, island.
The Panda and shark tangled about who would be voted off the island, unable to come to terms about which competitor had the best hook shot and who was most guilty of dribbling during the basketball competition. The Panda did not worry, however, smiling with the knowledge that immunity would trump home-court advantage.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

a hedgehog went into a bar...

Yesterday I spent a stimulating day at a local event called Small Business Boot Camp. I was invited to attend as the guest of one of the women to whom I referred in an earlier post that has been encouraging to and supportive of the new venture in my life. In spite of the fact that our county is adjacent to Davidson County--aka Metropolitan Nashville, a savvy city in many respects--we can be a backward place, stuck in "old boy" thinking and decision making (don't get me started on our city council), with a business that proclaims "We'll trade for anything that don't eat!" (cringe), and women whose hairstyles have been stuck in the 80's far too long. This doesn't mean there aren't forward thinking, highly competent people in our midst, and yesterday's seminar proved it. 

Led by Amber Hurdle, an executive coach, a team of women presented on a variety of topics of concern to small business owners that ranged from strategic planning, to marketing, to time management (which has become far more than the concept of not handling a piece of paper more than once). Some of the information was a review of familiar concepts--repurposed, if you will--while other take aways were new and thought-provoking. 

One item for consideration was something called the Hedgehog Concept. Because I've been away from the world of business and its associated models for a long time now, I hadn't been aware of this particular item, its name derived from an ancient poem about a hedgehog and a fox, and the hedgehog's ability to survive an encounter with said fox because of its ability to do one critical thing very well (roll up into a spiny ball so that it can't be eaten by the fox). In short, for us modern types, the Hedgehog Concept concerns itself with identifying what thing a person (or company) does really well, and capitalizing on that ability to achieve success. It doesn't stop at identifying the skill, however, but incorporates three components that lead to success: the skill, one's passion, and the junction where the marketplace utilizes the skill and passion. The conjunction of those three is literally the core that leads to success.

As the presenter was sharing this portion of her talk I thought immediately of Frederick Beuchner's definition of vocation: the place where one's deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. This may not sound like a formula for business success, but I would suggest that its application undergirds the success of all sorts of people. One such individual is William Penn, about whom it is said that he came to the New World to do good and ended up doing well as a result. Okay, so that may only be a common adage in Quaker circles, but you get my drift.

I made an attempt to share Beuchner's definition as a means of understanding the hedgehog concept through a different lens--not all people who are in business would describe themselves as business people, after all, and allowing for different frameworks through which to experience an "a-ha!" might be helpful to fledgling entrepreneurs--but as soon as I invoked the word "theologian" the presenter didn't know what to make of me. Though I confess to being a little disappointed that she didn't immediately embrace my addition to the conversation, her response brought home an important truth about the entrepreneurial and business world where I now make my vocational bed, a truth reflected by the Hedgehog Concept: we are each individual and unique, and just as who we are and what we have to offer will have its distinctive place in the marketplace, so will our manner of connecting the necessary dots to be successful in that marketplace be distinctive and unique.  

I don't think of myself as a business person, but that doesn't mean that I'm not capable of applying the necessary concepts to my work to help me succeed in business. Yesterday's seminar was an important affirmation of that self-understanding, and reminded me that I already have many of the tools that I need. And those that I don't? There's a whole community of others in the same boat who are there to help, many of whom don't think of themselves as being a business person either.  And here's a little aside: Of the group yesterday, numbering roughly 25, only three were men.  That's an entirely different post.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

the mojo returns

Do you remember Shannon Faulkner? She was the woman who fought to be the first female cadet at the all-male bastion of southern military education, The Citadel. It's been a while--1995, to be exact--so I can't say that I blame you if the incident isn't right there at the edge of the memory pool ready for recollection. Shannon won a lawsuit filed against The Citadel for discrimination when they rejected her application for admission on the basis of her sex. She lasted a week once she was finally enrolled and attending classes, resigning voluntarily. She attributed her decision to extensive emotional and psychological abuse throughout the ordeal that led to illness and total exhaustion.

I remember this little piece of history because the timing of Shannon's very public effort to fight for her cause coincided with a more private battle going on in my own world. I wasn't trying to be the first at anything. What Shannon and I shared was a dedication of energy poured into something in which we believed (I was seeking ordination). In Shannon's case her energy tapped out. In my case, my energy was so singularly focused that there was nothing left for anything or anyone else in my world. Shannon was ridiculed for her departure from The Citadel, those eager to see her go (never having wanted her there in the first place) citing her decision as evidence of why she should never have been granted the privilege of attending. I never saw it that way. I understood that when you are engaged daily in an effort that requires every ounce of energy you have, every moment of every day, eventually that energy will be depleted if it is not renewed. The attacks against Shannon were relentless and public. She had little support, and threats against her required the protection of U.S. Marshals while she was on campus, and security cameras were an attempt at preventing bodily harm. I don't blame her one bit for saying, "enough."

I wish I could say that the experience of energy maintenance was a memory on which to draw for ministerial purposes, or to remind myself that I came out on the other side of a difficult time, evidence of inner gumption and chutzpah. Instead the experience of channeling energy into maintaining an inner equilibrium while the chaos of my world threatens the very same is all too familiar. The gift of that time in 1995 taught me how to navigate this kind of season in life, and in subsequent years I have gotten better at that navigation. I know what things to dismiss and what things to take seriously. I covet the moments when the energy to do more than prepare a meal or do the laundry means that I have created memories or enjoyed something outside of myself. I have learned to hold on to a sense of competence, even if confidence lags.

Not long ago, during a cherished afternoon spent with a friend over coffee laced with conversation, I lamented the loss of my creative mojo. "I used to..." I mourned. Then she covered my hand with hers and assured me that I hadn't lost my creativity. Rather, the energy devoted to putting one foot in front of the other left none for anything else. The core of my being was intact, just obscured by the detritus of the daily grind.

She was right. Is right. And the good news is that there is evidence that my energy is being released from the stranglehold of survival-mode for other, more life-giving expression. Like searching out and deciding on patterns for mug rugs to make for a fellow RevGal. Like following through on Pampered Chef leads, resulting in four--count 'em, four!--shows scheduled for November (until a party I did last weekend, I hadn't had a show since February). Like putting on my extravert face to promote my massage business, and not being discouraged that my calendar isn't filling up with appointments. Like securing a twice-monthly massage gig with a dog! 

It has taken a lot of energy to keep my head above the proverbial water over the last few years as the parameters of how my life was understood and defined shifted or disappeared.  Now that I am in a groove that positions me to move forward with a new purpose, inner alignment is yielding outer results. I recognize the signs of transformation that I trusted to be at work, and my soul is sighing too deeply for words.  

It's not just mojo, it's life, but the two are inextricably related. I'm not so naive as to think it will all be smooth sailing now that there is wind in my sails.  After all, wind also churns the sea. But the shift is happening, and the momentum is forward. As Tom Ryan says, "Onward, by all means."

PS. By 2009, The Citadel had graduated 205 women from it ranks.  No matter how far we've come, we've still got a long way to go.

Friday, November 01, 2013

friday five: super stah!

As I transition from a vocation as a parish priest to a very different kind of ministry I have been astounded by the kindness and helpfulness of others. Their words have encouraged and affirmed me, and they have shared ideas and initiated actions to benefit my new venture.  All of these individuals are women, and I am blessed and a little overwhelmed by the genuineness of their support. It stands in contrast to too much of my experience serving in the Church, which is often plagued by pettiness toward and criticism of its clergy.

Because there is far too little of it, for clergy in general and clergy women in particular, today I want to focus on affirming what we do well. Let’s practice giving ourselves complements, and—gasp!—accepting them with grace! It may be challenging, but I promise it won’t hurt.

List five super powers that you use in your vocational life. This isn’t bragging. It’s naming the light that shines from your lamp stand.


1) Preaching is one area where I get good marks consistently.  I am so grateful to partner effectively with the Holy Spirit in this department!

2) Creative marketing: I may not have the most original idea out there, but I have been known to generate new ways of looking at old challenges and respond to them with a twist. After Hurricane Katrina a number of displaced families were settled at a campground not far from the church. I took the "Blessing of the Animals" service to them, and it was an entirely new experience for all of us. 

3) Listening is something I do really well. It will be interesting to see how my listening skills adapt as an animal massage practitioner where I use my hands more than my ears.

4) Compassion that cuts through the crap. When someone is hurting, frightened, or sad--I don't care if they're a butt-hole the rest of the week--I care about the human tie that binds.  This has helped me learn to love people I don't like.

5) Partly because I have the "efficiency" gene I'm a good facilitator. Not only do I hear between the lines to make sense of conversation and ideas being generated, I keep a group on track.  It doesn't hurt that as an INFJ I'm all about possibilities. 



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