Monday, September 22, 2014

On the Cusp of a New Season

Here we are on the cusp of a new season.  For many of us, the weather will give no indication of the shift underway. 

Living in South Florida, one must be alert for the signs.  There won't be blazing leaves to announce autumn's presence.

When we first moved down here, we lived in a triplex, with our landlady at one end.  I remember one morning I walked out to find her sitting at her door.  She inhaled and said, "The weather is changing?  Can you feel it?"

I felt nothing different.  She assured me that eventually I would be able to see the weather shifting.

I usually notice a change in the quality of light, as the days get slightly shorter at the end of September.  I notice my friends' Facebook posts as they go to farmer's markets and autumn festivals.  This time of year, I miss the apple orchards in North Carolina:

I'd like to buy some pumpkins, but it's still too early, too hot here.  For now, I'll remember a place where the pumpkins are already piled high:

Now, as we move from one season to the next, it's a good time to take stock.  What was accomplished?  What is left to be done next season?  What tasks should fall away?

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has a great blog post that asks these very questions.  She concludes in this interesting way:

"For what do I need to say "I'm sorry" in order to enter the new season, the new year, with a clean slate? Where do I need to create repair in my relationships with other people, with my own soul, with the Earth, with my Source? What old resentments or frustrations do I need to shed in order to walk through this doorway with my spine straight and my shoulders unclenched?

Fall is coming. The new year is coming. Who do I want to become on the other side of this door?"

For years, I wasted time mourning that the shift in seasons was not some ideal I had in my mind, some ideal that I might have experienced precisely once:  a hayride, a cup of hot cider, cinnamon donuts,  a pumpkin patch where I could pick my own pumpkin, an orchard where I could get set up for pie.  For years I wanted to control the weather so that I could have crisp air when I went out to pick apples, so that I could shrug a sweater across my shoulders for the first time.

How much better to think about a threshold, a chance to step through he door into a season of new chances and opportunities.    How much better to think about the work that needs to be done so that I can unclench.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Richard Rodriguez on Identity and the Future

I am listening to Richard Rodriguez talk to Krista Tippett on the NPR show On Being.  What fascinating ideas.  He talks about ideas of separateness and identity and brownness as a metaphor for it all. 

We live in a threshold time, I think, where we're not quite sure where we're headed.  The mixing makes some people very nervous and some hopeful and some of us are both.

The interview is worth a listen (or a read--the transcript is available); go here for those options.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"I’m telling you — I’m telling you there are things going on religiously in America that our religious institutions are bewildered by, people who belong to more — more than one faith or Catholics who call themselves Zen Sufis. I mean, uh, it’s within the complexity of that, is the brownness that may envelop us. Now I warn you also that there are purifying movements in the world. Look at what’s going on in Iraq right now, where the nation divides over separations — ancient separations that we thought we had gotten over."

"It is in some places, there are deserts in Saudi Arabia that are as lunar as anything I expect to encounter in my life. This is a holy landscape. It is also a landscape that drives us crazy. Somehow the — in this landscape, we got the idea that there is a God who is as lonely for us as we are for Him. And there is in this landscape, also, a necessity for tribe. Not for — you do not live as an individual on the desert. You live in tribes. And that tribal allegiance, that tribal impulse, leads on the one hand, to great consolation, but also to the kind of havoc we are seeing now. "

"The three great ecologies of these religions are mountaintop. And finally, finally, and most profoundly, the cave. You have to acknowledge when you wander the desert, how bright and blinding is light. And how consoling is twilight and darkness. In these religions, oftentimes shade and darkness come as consolations, or gifts, so that Mohammed has his revelation in a cave, in the darkness. In Judaism, God puts Moses in the mouth of a cave so that he will not be blinded by the brightness of God. And in Christianity, the two most holy events of the — of Christ’s life, the birth of Christ, which happens in a cave, and the death of God — the death of Christ. And also the resurrection happened in a cave. We sometimes forget it because we are consumed by a kind of a Hellenistic dream of coming out of the cave with Plato, and into the sunlight, that we are people of dark."

"And she [Mother Theresa] — it was the most remarkable afternoon I’ve — I can remember, religiously. Uh, she was — there was a group of thugs and she was supposed to meet these guys from death row and they were all like schoolboys. And this tiny little woman, you know, four foot tall or something in her sari. And then listen to this. She tells them in that little tiny voice, she tells them, if you want to see the face of God, look at the prisoner standing next to you. These tattoos coming up over their necks, look at the man next to you. This man who has murdered and raped. That’s the face of God and I think, oh, I didn’t know that. I didn’t know. I’d been looking at the holy picture all this time when I should look more closely at the face of the sinner to find the face of God."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Writing as Prayer

I have written before about different practices, practices like writing or taking different types of exercise classes, have similarities to spiritual practices.  This morning, I came across this blog post that talks about writing as a type of secular prayer.

Lorianne DiSabato has been writing for many years, and she also has experience with a variety of spiritual disciplines.  What she says below resonates with me, both as a writer and as one who prays.

"It almost doesn’t matter what I write in my notebook; all that matters is that I do write, coming back to the page that reflects with such honest accuracy the contents of my wandering mind. It doesn’t matter what I write, in other words; it just matters that I have written.  In this regard, I see writing as my own secular kind of prayer, as I doubt God cares much about the words we use when we pray, only the fact that we show up and spend some time.

With writing as with prayer, I think you show up as you are, then words are provided for you, each one appearing of its own accord. Both writing and prayer involve great faith. Not only do you need to believe your wishes will be granted, you also need courage to even utter those wishes in the first place. Do you dare open your heart and share the unspoken desires you find there? Do you dare think you can address God without God laughing in your face? Both writing and prayer require faith that what you say is both true and worth saying. Both writing and prayer demand you have courage to continue even when (especially when) no one seems to be listening.

Both writing and prayer, in other words, require infinite faith in yourself: faith that what lies in your heart is true and worth sharing, and faith that you deserve to be heard. Before a child can ask her father for bread rather than a stone, that child must believe she is deserving of bread. Whether God is there reading my words or hearing my prayers is almost beside the point. I myself benefit from the courage it takes to write or pray, whether or not anyone is listening."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Poetry Friday: "Fixed Hour Prayers"

I don't have much writing time today.  So let me post a poem.  It's from the group of poems published at the wonderfully cool, online journal Escape Into Life.  Since it's an online journal, they can do neat things with images, and my poems are paired with wonderful fabric art.  Go here to see the feature.

Those of you who follow my poetry and/or my blogs know that monasticism often informs my writing and that I often find The Liturgy of the Hours seeping into my writing as image and symbol and unifying theme--and often in ways that surprise me.

How did I come to think of a monastic chapel in conjunction with a hospital?  I don't really remember.  But I do remember that the poem came out fairly easily once it percolated in my subconscious for awhile.

Fixed Hour Prayers

Her father’s inner life, closed
to her, and now, to him, a distant
monastery, a vow of silence
required for visitation.

Still, she makes her pilgrimage. She brings
baskets of goodies: the pistachio nuts
he loves, the puzzle books,
some warm socks. She leaves
her offering on his dresser.

She listens to the Gregorian chant
of her father’s wheezing lungs,
a language at once both familiar
and strange. The nurses, with their Psalmody
of medications, appear throughout the day,
a liturgy of the hours.

Before she leaves, she reads
the books of her childhood
out loud to him: the otter
making his journey home, the children
finding their way through a dark forest,
families forging a life on a prairie.

She reads these bedtime stories,
a compline of comfort
that asserts the possibility
of safe passage through the night.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Administrator Considers the Day after the Feast Day of St. Hildegard of Bingen

--I find it disconcerting that I was so wrapped up in my administrator/teacher duties yesterday that I forgot it was the Feast Day of St. Hildegard of Bingen.  For more on her life, go to this blog post that I wrote for the Living Lutheran site.

--Hildegard is one of those women who did so much, despite the constraints of the medieval age in which she lived, and I wonder why on earth I can't accomplish more.  Or let me be more accurate:  by last night, I was wondering why I seem destined to copy the same files again and again and again.

--At least I have them to copy.  One of the hard lessons I've  learned of administrator life:  don't let anything out of your control before you make a copy.  I make both paper copies and electronic copies.

--I think of Hildegard who must have faced similarly repetitive tasks as she kept her nunnery afloat.  Yet she managed to write so much music, music that has survived.  What's wrong with me?

--Let me stop to remind myself that I have written quite a lot--maybe not this week, but most weeks, I get a poem written and some other creative work too, in addition to blog posts, which for me, take some time to compose.

--Hildegard of Bingen wrote regularly to all the powerful men of the day to encourage them to pursue peace.  Like Hildegard, I've dedicated some of my time and energy to social justice matters.  That work is important, but it does explain why the time for my creative work ebbs and flows.

--I wonder if Hildegard thought that she wasn't writing much.  I wonder if she envisioned larger gardens.  I wonder if she chafed at the duties that kept her away from the creative work or social justice work that she wanted to be doing.

--My theory:  in the day to day, we feel we aren't doing much.  But when we take the full measure of a life, we see how much a life can encompass.

--Here's one of my favorite parts of the blog post that I wrote for Living Lutheran:  "We all face constraints of various kinds, and the life of Hildegard shows what could be accomplished, even during a time when women did not have full rights and agency. She was an abbess, and because being in charge of one cloistered community wasn’t enough, she founded another. She wrote music, and more of her music survives than almost any other medieval composer. She was an early naturalist, writing down her observations about the natural world and her theories about how the natural world heals us. She wrote to kings, emperors and popes to encourage them to pursue peace and justice. She wrote poems and a morality play and along the way, a multitude of theological meditations."

--Like Hildegard, we can compose our lives similarly.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 21, 2014:

First Reading: Jonah 3:10--4:11
First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm: Psalm 145:1-8
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Second Reading: Philippians 1:21-30
Gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

I've often thought that these parables that use work metaphors are less useful to those of us toiling in the 21st century--and I've wondered how the contemporaries of Jesus would hear this parable.

Outrage is the classic response to the idea that the workers who toiled all day getting the same wages as those who show up one hour before quitting time.  We howl, "But that's not fair."

Some preachers will use this Gospel as an excuse to preach on the classic idea that life isn't fair.  Maybe they'll remind us that we're fortunate that life isn't fair (how often do we pray for justice, when what we really long for is mercy?) or maybe they'll give us a real soul-sapper of a sermon about the grinding nature of life.  Or maybe congregations will hear about the idea of grace being extended to us all, no matter how long it takes us to acknowledge it.

But the poet in me immediately searches for a new way to frame this parable.  What if, instead of toiling in the vineyard, we're invited to a party?  Those of us who come early get to drink more wine, eat more goodies, and engage in more hours of intense conversation.  We get to spend more quality time with our host.  Those who come later will still get to drink wine, eat goodies, converse, and have quality time.  The wine won't have soured, the goodies won't have molded, the conversation won't have dwindled, the host won't be tired and wishing that everyone would just go home.  The party will still be intensely wonderful.  But those who come late won't have as much time to enjoy it.

God does call us to toil in the vineyard.  But toil is the wrong word, or at least, in our world, it has negative connotations that can't be easily overcome.

Don't think of it as the kind of work you had to do in that soul-deadening job with that boss who delighted in tormenting you.  It's not that kind of work.  It's also not the kind of work where it's OK to just show up and keep the seat warm, wondering when it will be time to return home, to the place you'd rather be (which would be Heaven, in this metaphor, I suppose).

Instead, God's work is like that enriching job, the one where you were challenged, but not overwhelmed.  God's work engages you on every level and you look up at the end of the work day, amazed at how time has passed and how involved you have become.  At the end of God's work day, you're amazed at all you've been able to accomplish.

God calls us to partnership in an amazing creative endeavour.  We're called to transform the world, to help reclaim the world for God's vision.  In Surprised by Hope, Bishop N. T. Wright reminds us, "But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom.  This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15;58 once more:  what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208).

The ways that we can do this Kingdom work are varied, from helping the poor, to enjoying a good meal, to writing a poem, to consoling a friend, to playing with your dog, to painting . . . the list is as long as there are humans in the world.  Wright assures us that "God gloriously honors all kinds of ways of announcing the good news" (226).

Do the kind of creating that involves you on many levels, that makes you lose your sense of time, that leaves you unmoored in your wonder at the beauty of creation.  That's the work that God calls us to do. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mary, Mother of Jesus, Pray for Us

I wrote a blog post in early September that ended with this image:

I started thinking about how many images of Mary one encounters at Mepkin Abbey.  The one below is my favorite, with the candles lit at Compline:

I accidentally found this one as I peered in the window of what seems to be a pottery studio:

There's this statue which is the top of the first image:

And then there's the painting on the wall behind the statue; I think Mary might be at the bottom, but I'm not sure:

There are paintings that change with the liturgical season/holiday.  The one below is for Candlemas, which celebrates the presentation of Jesus at the temple 40 days after his birth:

And here's the traditional image, Mary at the manger, done in non-traditional medium of found metals:

Are these images a comfort?  Is the idea of Mary praying for us a comfort?  These days, I find the idea of anyone praying for me a comfort:

In difficult weeks, I resolve to meditate on these images and to find peace in the idea of Mary praying for me.