Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Breath of God

We won't be dealing with a tropical storm today, but we do have some remnants.  We've had thunderstorms sweep through in waves through the night.  It's unusual for us to have these kinds of storms, with lots of lightning, in overnight hours.

Luckily, there's been space between the bands of storms, so our streets aren't flooded; we'll be able to make it to church.  There was even a moment of eerie, beautiful light.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a different kind of sunrise picture:



With the flash on, the pictures take on an apocalyptic quality:



Yesterday I wrote about going through old files and finding poems that I thought might be lost forever.  Let me post one here.  I think I wrote it in 1998, when we had a hurricane pass nearby.  My spouse and I went to Hollywood Beach, and I was impressed by the power of the ocean and the wind, even with the storm passing through the space between the Florida Keys and Cuba, some 5 hours to our south.

I wrote the following poem, which I still like.  I look at my current poems and see how much I've grown as a poet.  But I'm glad that poems like these still make me happy.

I think there's a Pentecost/Holy Spirit quality to this poem too, although I wouldn't have articulated it quite this way at the time I wrote it.  In the intervening years, I've become much more aware of the wind imagery in the Bible, in the idea of God breathing and creating things, in the idea of "ruack," that wonderful, Old Testament word for wind and used to describe God's creative process in the creation stories of Genesis.


Clean Sweep


While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hurricanes Present and Past

It looks like today may be more of a normal Saturday than I was expecting.  I checked the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, and we are no longer in the cone of possibility.  Hurrah!

Of course, we may still get some heavy rain.  We will now be on the dirty side of the storm, if there's a storm moving north.   If we get enough rain for flooding, which often happens during heavy thunderstorms that last over an hour, we have sandbags.
Ten years ago, life would have been different.  We'd have been in the condo that we still owned after the death of my spouse's mom in April, returning to our house to do hurricane clean up from Hurricane Katrina.  Ten years ago today, Hurricane Katrina would have been coming ashore at New Orleans.  And then, the levees broke, which did the true damage.

Happily, this week will be different for me.  My hurricane prep is done, and does not require a lot of undoing--the sandbags can be stored as sandbags.  Hopefully the storm will fall into tiny shreds that bring rain but not much destruction.  Hopefully the island of Domenica, so far the worst hit, can recover quickly.

But let us also use this time to remember the lives lost with every storm.  Let us remember those who will never return to their homes.  Let us remember the homes that are gone forever.

Here's a prayer that I wrote for those preparing for storms and those recovering:

Creator God, who fashioned this astonishing planet of atmospheric swirls, help us remember the abundance that our habitat usually offers us.  Be with those who work to protect their homes.  Be with those who can never return.  Be with those who suffer from fear and anxiety each time a storm gathers intensity.  Remind us that you are with us, and help calm our fears.

Friday, August 28, 2015

An Illuminated Prayer for Those in the Path of the Storm

As storm clouds gather, let us remember God's power:




Let the batteries not die.  Let us remember the true source of our light:





As we fill up the water bottles, we can remember our baptism:




Let us take time to savor the sweetness, especially when storms approach:




As we shutter the windows, we can also protect the fragile and the breakable:



We must cling to the ultimate promise:  the sun will come out, and order will be restored:



(with the exception of the sunrise beach picture, the other pictures were taken in August of 2012, as we prepared for Hurricane Isaac, which stayed to our south)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stay Alert: Watching for Hurricanes, Watching for God

I've spent an inordinate amount of time tracking Tropical Storm Erika.  At work yesterday, productivity plummeted as we kept a wary eye on Tropical Storm Erika.  It's not like we waited for the update at 11 a.m. and then went back to work.  We analyzed the cone of probability.  We looked at possible rain amounts.  We tried to remember which side of the storm is the more destructive side.

I have a vision of God saying, "You know, if you spent half the time that you've spent on this storm on the look-out for me--why think of how your life would be different!"

I always try to be mindful of how I spend my time, but I'm not always successful.  Often I say, "Hey, I've spent a lot of time on Internet sites that don't nourish me"--but it's after I've spent more time than I would like on those sites.  Sigh.

As I do an inventory of my days, I realize how much more I could work writing opportunities into my day.  I would like to remember to stretch every time I get up from my chair.  I'd like to pray more.

There's so much to distract us.  Again and again, I lose patience with myself and say, "Why is this so hard for you?"

As I analyze my frazzled, fractured attention span during approaching tropical systems, I realize that this state of mind is becoming more common.  It's not just during hurricane season. 

I think about my spin class experiences--it's easy for me to lose focus.  But my spin class instructor always calls us back.

A friend of mine talks about her frustration living in the center of a German town (Heidelberg?).  She talks about the church bells going off every 15 minutes and how that frustrated her.  I know that many people likely tune out the bells.  I like to think that I would use them to center my attention.

I could do something similar with alerts on my computer or a chime on my watch.  But my ultimate goal is to be mindful without the reminder.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 30, 2015:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Psalm: Psalm 15

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 45:1-2, 6-10 (Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9 NRSV)

Second Reading: James 1:17-27

Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

You don't need me to tell you that humans are a rule-bound people. I've often wondered why this would be. I suspect people get to Heaven and try to create new rules. Many of us are committed to rules that make us unhappy. I have a friend who irons rather obsessively, for example. She complains bitterly about her family's ironing expectations. Why doesn't she just buy clothes that don't need such care? Why doesn't she pull clothes out of the dryer after about 10 minutes and hang them up? Why doesn't she accept wrinkles?

My favorite science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, had a theory that humans are both excessively intelligent and excessively hierarchical, and these two traits are often in opposition. It is our tendency towards hierarchy that so often gets us into trouble. We divide the world into the pressed and the wrinkled, between the vegetarians and the meat eaters, the drinkers and the A.A. folks: essentially between the people who live right (which means according to the rules we accept) and those who don't.

We often think that the Pharisees in Jesus' time were rule-bound people who couldn't see that God walked among them, even as Jesus was right there before them. While that is true, it's also important to realize that the Pharisees thought that following the rules to the letter was the trait that would save the Jews. We must not forget that the Jews of Jesus' time were under threat from many sides. We forget that Rome was a brutal dictatorship in so many ways, and that the peace that the Jews had found could have been (and eventually was) easily overturned.

We fail to realize how similar we are to the Pharisees. How much time do we consume wondering why people live the lives they do? I'm driven to mad frustration by the actions (and inactions) of some of my colleagues. What I'm really saying is "Why won't they act right? If they'd just act the way we all should act, life would be so much easier!" Of course, they probably say the same thing about me.

We look back to past periods of humanity, and we shake our heads over the things with which they were obsessed. We can't imagine the ritual purity laws that were in place in Jesus' time. We can't imagine the rigidly stratified societies that most humans have created. We can't imagine a time when women couldn't get credit in their own name or a time when blacks and whites had separate bathrooms, but those days aren't that far away from our own.

Jesus reminds us that so many of our rules come from humans, not from God. We think that God ordained the rules that we embrace, rules which so often tell us what not to do, but Jesus reminds us that there's one essential rule: love each other. God will judge us on the quality of our relationships. I've seen all sorts of relationships. I suspect that God would prefer the lesbian couple who still genuinely loves each other to the heterosexual relationship where the couple is cold and condescending to each other.

But more to the point, I suspect God is baffled by our constant desire to rank these things. God probably wonders why we can't just get it together and help each other to become more loving people. God probably wonders why we are so judgmental, even as we engage in all sorts of harmful behaviors.

Jesus reminds us again and again that love is our highest nature and that the actions that move us towards being loving humans are the ones that we should take. We can operate from a place of love or we can act from a place of fear. As we act out of love, we will find ourselves in company with God.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Market Tumbles and Where We Store Our Treasures

All day yesterday, as I watched the world's stock markets tumble, I thought about various Bible passages that talk about wealth and where we place our trust. 

Money--and the power and status that it brings--is a powerfully seductive thing. Once, when facing reduced circumstances as my husband left his job, my Charismatic Catholic AA friend acted as if I'd had a death in the family.

I shrugged and said, "I think having too much money is spiritually dangerous."

You wouldn't think I'd have to explain that to her, but I did.

If we have too much money, we tend to think of ourselves as capable and smart and able to go about our lives on our own. We think we don't need God. And soon, we begin to worry that we don't have enough money, and we lash ourselves to our jobs, jobs that require ever more of us, so that we can ensure we have enough money. But we'll never have enough money.

We will never have enough money. We will never be safe and protected by having enough money.

The only way to win that game (to paraphrase books and movies about other subjects, like female beauty and nuclear war) is not to play.
When markets tumble, I'm reminded of how much faith I've put in my money, of how I've stored up for myself treasures on earth, where moths and rust and thieves and worldwide economic downturns can take it.

Most spiritual traditions warn us not to rely on our monetary wealth.  Yesterday's market tumble was a good reminder.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Longing for Other Liturgical Seasons

When I was a child, I thought of this liturgical time as the long, green season.  I still do.  How I long for different colored paraments.



I'd like a festival Sunday to come along to interrupt the late summer malaise.




I'm ready for autumnal bouquets.



I look forward to Advent:  four special Sundays ending in Christmas:



The drama of Good Friday would be a welcome interruption:




But the late summer malaise may yet have much to teach us.  Let us listen for those lessons.