Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fever Dreams

I am not quite back to normal yet, but I'm feeling a bit better.  It's been a strange few days of feeling off--a headache that doesn't respond to meds, sinus pressure resulting in a face that hurts, and lots of sleeping.

Despite my feeling off, we did get a bit done yesterday, mainly in the form of errands.  We also got our automatic pool vacuum cleaner repaired.  I had planned to do more, of course.  I have always planned to do more.

Today I am in charge at church, and then this afternoon, we have a South Florida family gathering:  my spouse's brother, his wife, and his sister's grown daughter.  In short, once again, I don't have much writing time.

But let me record a dream from my fevered sleep last night:  I was walking around a campus and saying, "I didn't realize we had a Lutheran college down here."  It looked like a more modernized version of my undergraduate Lutheran School, Newberry College in Newberry, South Carolina.  People told me about the exciting programs happening there--and then I realized it was a Missouri Synod school, which means it would be a lot more conservative than my Lutheran ELCA tradition.  I woke up as I was puzzling what to do.  In my dream, I was talking to my Admissions-colleague-in-real-life saying, "It's really not as bad as it might be."

Hmm.  This dream could have so many meanings.  If I think that God speaks to us in dreams, and I do, what is God saying?

But now, I must get ready for church.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

To sleep, perchance . . .

Last night, instead of going to an after-work happy hour, I came home and tucked myself into bed.  Last night, while a dear friend's daughter took part in law school graduation activities, I slept.  While Facebook friends went to concerts, I slept.  I watched no news shows while I slept.  My spouse came home from his Friday evening teaching class, and still I slept.  I often wake up in the wee small hours of the morning, but last night, I slept.  I slept about 12 hours when it was all done.

I had no firm plans to go to any of these events, so it's not like I let anyone down.  But it's strange nonetheless.  I usually function on 6-8 hours of sleep, and last night I got double that.  I had felt off all day--with a headache that aspirin didn't touch.  I still have the headache.  I also have lots of drainage and my sinuses ache.  I have some sinus medication that I'll take later this morning when I'm done running errands .  It's got a message about drowsiness and driving.  I suspect I would be fine, but why take chances.

I had thought about running those errands last night, but I wanted to take it easy.  I thought I'd take a nap and wake up when my spouse came back from teaching, but I didn't.  It's strange to feel rested but still kind of off (headache, slight dizziness, face ache, lots of gunkiness in my throat).

Let me see if I can hook up the printer to this laptop, which will be new to the printer.  Let me print the coupons I need.  Let me run my errands so that I can get started on getting rid of this sinus pain and pressure.

Let me also acknowledge what my body is telling me--let me take it a bit eaiser today.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Friday Fears and a Prayer

Another week of adjustments in many ways, which has led to disrupted sleep.  My spouse began his classes this week, and I began the online classes that I teach--that's been an adjustment.  I've been trying to get back to making sure I get 10,000 steps in a day, so two nights this week, I've done a short walk when I've gotten home from work.

I am feeling that frustration with myself for not getting more done, while also feeling overwhelmed at the thought of making any progress.  The remaining projects still seem huge.  I am feeling sorrow at my lack of publishing progress, especially with bigger projects.  I have made the mistake of looking at past blog posts and wondering what happened to the bigger projects I was writing about years ago.

I am feeling distress about the health of my friends.  Two weeks ago, one of my friends went to the hospital with an obstructed bowel, and even though she didn't have to have surgery, her recovery has been slower than expected.  Another friend has decided not to go forward with radiation for her latest brain tumor.

And of course, that leads me to my fears about my own health.  This week I've been trying to return to healthier habits, like making sure to get my 10,000 steps in a day.  While I'm happy about this return, I also feel a bit of sorrow:  why do I always let my good habits slip away?  I know I should rejoice in my ability to come back to good habits after a slip, but why is permanent change not possible for me?

Maybe my expectations are out of whack.  Maybe most people make progress in just this way:  chug towards the change we want to be, slide back, chug some more, experience a serious set back, regroup, chug again, slide some more . . . and on and on we go.

It's also an unsettling time in politics, as it has been for years now.  This has been a week of ghastly news about new state laws around abortion.  I'm more queasy about abortions than I once was, but I am still a firm believer in choice.  I don't think that women have abortions casually.  I've known a lot of women, and I've never met any woman who was using abortion as birth control.

We also heard the news yesterday that 500 immigrants (here illegally?) will be shipped to South Florida each month, Palm Beach and Broward county.  I heard a newscaster talk about how this will strain the social safety net--news flash--we don't have much of a social safety net down here.

I have had more headaches this week than I usually do.  As I write this blog post, I think about all the headache inducing events of the week.

Let me think about the self-care that I want to include this week-end.  Let me write a poem so that I focus on the joy of creation, not the difficulties of publication.  Let me make some healthy food--that's something I can control.  Let me take a walk or two so that I remember we live in a beautiful place.  Let me pray, so that I remember that I am not the Messiah--not the savior of the world or even of my little patch of world.

Creator God, I come to you this morning as a whimpering, tired, stressed out creature in need of restoration.  Let me remember our commitment to resurrection, both your commitment and mine.  Let me remember that I am loved.  Let me love others the way that you love your creation.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Julian of Norwich: A Photo Essay Appreciation

In May, my thoughts turn to Julian of Norwich on her feast day.  I think of Julian of Norwich and her tiny cell:

I think of my own spaces, all of them likely larger than hers.  I think of all the surfaces which have held my writing:

I think of her writing, her mystical, radical views of God:

“Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

I think of her assurance that all will be well:

I repeat her assurances throughout the day, a monastic prayer to call me back to my better self:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, May 19, 2019:

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Psalm: Psalm 148

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Gospel: John 13:31-35

When I was a child, I wished that my family was part of a more rigorous religion. I wanted to go to Confession every week. I wanted to do more penance than just saying I was sorry. I thought it would be neat to be a kosher Jew, with lots of laws to keep. The Lutheran concept of grace didn't thrill me very much. It just seemed so easy.

Ah, youth, when everything seems easy!

In today's Gospel, we get our marching orders, the most important commandment, the one that now seems not as easy as I once thought: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (verses 34-35). When I was a child, I would have rolled my eyes and asked for a harder assignment. 

Now that I am older, I think that loving each other is plenty hard enough. As a grown up, I think that following dietary laws would be an easier command. I think of all the other things Jesus could have required of us, and some part of me wishes for one of those.

Why is it so hard to love each other? Why are we so unlike Thomas, so unable to thrust our hands into each other's wounds? We don't want to get involved. We don't know what to say. We don't know how to act. So, we take the easier route and lose ourselves in our busy routines. We get so frantic with our schedules that we don't have time for ourselves, much less each other, much less God.

But Jesus tells us firmly that we are to love each other. He doesn't tell us how, but he shows us. This Gospel lesson comes after the washing of the disciples' feet and a leisurely dinner.

If we don't know how to love each other, we might start by sharing meals together. We have to eat, no matter how fast-paced our lives. Why not take some time to slow down as we nourish ourselves? Why not take some time to nourish ourselves in other ways? By sharing meals, we open up the door to love.

We might engage in other behaviors that open our hearts to love. We might try not saying negative things about each other. It's so easy to gossip. It's so easy to make ourselves feel good by pointing out the faults of others. But why do that? Why not focus on the good of our fellow travelers with us on our journeys?

Refusing to bash others verbally could be our modern equivalent of foot washing. We could show our care not by lavishing attention on physical bodies, but by lavishing our attention on the good qualities of others.

We live in a culture that prefers to argue, to fight, to tear down. Focusing on the good qualities of others seems as intimate in our current climate as foot washing must have seemed in the time of Jesus.

Of course, to focus on those good qualities, we have to get to know each other well enough to know what those good qualities are. Back to the dinner table!

I've only focused on two ways of loving each other; the ways to love are infinite. Choose the one that calls to you and decide that this will be your ministry. Know that you will have to gently refocus your efforts time and time again, as you move along. Fortify your efforts by asking God to help you, so that you can glorify God, so that everyone will know the God you serve by the efforts you make to serve others.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sermon Notes: Tabitha

My pastor is away at the Festival of Homiletics, so he asked me to preach.  I always say yes if I'm going to be in town.  This past Sunday, we looked at the story in Acts about Peter raising Tabitha from the dead.

I don't write out my sermons before the service.  I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to say, and I rehearse it in my mind.  Part of it is laziness.  Part of it is me wanting to give the Holy Spirit room to speak.

I didn't expect the ending that I delivered on Sunday.  I knew I would talk about asking for what we want and need--that God needs us to speak, that in a universe built on the principals of free will, God can't intervene unless we ask.

But then I talked about resurrection, and not the going-to-Heaven kind of resurrection.  I talked about the death-in-life feeling.  I talked about the promise of resurrection not just in the future, but about leaving all in life that makes us dead:  the losses, the grief, the addictions.

I talked about listening for the voice that says, "Get up!"  I talked about needing to hear that voice that calls us to leave our deadening behavior behind.

I said, "God is calling us to get up.  May we have ears to hear."

I heard a few amens, which is always a good sign to me.  I also got an e-mail from a member who had brought her grown daughter to church.  The daughter had never seen a woman preach before, and she was amazed.  Hurrah.

The line from my sermon that most struck the mother of the grown daughter was the need to ask God to be involved in our lives.

My spouse and I have spent some time since the sermon discussing other angles that might have been stressed.  We're both intrigued by the idea of Peter, a regular mortal, being able to resurrect the dead.  Does that mean we should be able to do that too?

Every time I preach I wonder what the congregation has heard. I was glad to get the e-mail and also to hear from my spouse.

I know mine was not the great sermon type that my pastor is hearing at the Festival of Homiletics.  But I'm happy to have had the opportunity.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The Feast Day of Julian of Norwich

May 8 is the feast day of Julian of Norwich in the Anglican and the Lutheran church; in the Catholic church, it's May 13.

Ah, Julian of Norwich! What an amazing woman she was. She was a 14th century anchoress, a woman who lived in a small cell attached to a cathedral, in almost complete isolation, spending her time in contemplation. She had a series of visions, which she wrote down, and spent her life elaborating upon. She is likely the first woman to write a book-length work in English.

And what a book it is, what visions she had. She wrote about Christ as a mother--what a bold move! After all, Christ is the only one of the Trinity with a definite gender. She also stressed God is both mother and father. Her visions showed her that God is love and compassion, an important message during the time of the Black Death.

She is probably most famous for this quote, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," which she claimed that God said to her. It certainly sounds like the God that I know too.

Although she was a medival mystic, her work seems fresh and current, even these many centuries later. How many writers can make such a claim?

I find myself thinking of her more and more frequently these days. In my 20’s, I saw her as bizarre and strange. Who would willingly shut herself away in a small cell?

Now I find the idea attractive: a small room in complete stillness with meals slid through a slot in the door, very little in the way of human interaction. My yearning probably speaks to the chaotic nature of life in my own cell.

My office is likely not much bigger than Julian’s cell, but it’s much more chaotic, people coming and going with a wide variety of problems, humans reacting to stress in a variety of agonizing ways. My office is certainly not connected to a cathedral, which would lend a sense of peace, especially these days when cathedrals aren’t community centers, the way they would have been in medieval times.

I also comfort myself by reminding myself that Julian of Norwich would be astonished if she came back today and saw the importance that people like me have accorded her. She likely had no idea that her writings would survive. She was certainly not writing and saying, "I will be one of the earliest female writers in English history. I will depict a feminine face of God. I will create a theology that will still be important centuries after I'm dead."

That's the frustration for people like me: we cannot know which work is going to be most important. That e-mail that seems unimportant today . . . will likely be unimportant hundreds of years from now, but who knows. The poem that seems strange and bizarre and something that must be hidden from one's grandmother may turn out to be the poem that touches the most readers. Being kind to one's coworkers who cluck and fuss and flutter about matters that seem so terribly unimportant is no small accomplishment either.

I think of Julian of Norwich’s most famous quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Would Julian of Norwich be pleased that so many of us derive comfort by repeating those words? Or would she shake her head and be annoyed that we have missed what she considered to be the most important ideas?

I remind myself that she would have such a different outlook than I do. She was a medieval woman who served God; she likely would not even view her ideas as her own, but as visitations from the Divine. If I could adopt more of that kind of attitude, it could serve me well on some of my more stressful days at work when divesting situations of my ego could be the most helpful thing that I could do.

And maybe I could do that by adopting more of the habits of the anchoress in my own modern cell. I can’t keep people from coming to my office, but when I don’t have people there, I could pray. Even when I do have people in my office, I could pray.

I don’t have cathedral bells nearby, but I could use the tools of the modern office to remind me to pray. I could use my calendar dings to remind me. I could even insert reminders into my electronic calendars to call me back to prayer and my better self.

Today, I shall try.  And tomorrow too.  And by this trying, I will embody the Julian of Norwich quote about all being well.