Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cotton and Dust

One year at Mepkin Abbey, my friend and I walked to the African-American cemetery.  To get there, you have to walk through fields of cotton.

My friend commented that she'd never actually seen cotton growing in a field.  I, on the other hand, grew up for part of my life in Alabama, where we learned about the importance of the cotton gin by going to a field, picking some cotton, and seeing how difficult it is to pull the seeds out of it.

I assumed that I would spend my life surrounded by fields of crops.  But then I moved to South Florida, where I'm surrounded by concrete.

Vizcaya with Miami in the Background

A few years ago, we drove through Georgia to get to my grandmother's funeral.  For part of the trip, we took some back roads.  I saw cotton fields and was struck by how seldom I see cotton growing anymore--or any agriculture.

North Carolina Apple Orchard

I will spend much of my life mourning all that is passing away, missing all the items from my past which once seemed so permanent.

It's a potent lesson, from the cotton field that ends in a cemetery--nothing is permanent.  All is passing away.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels

Today, the Church celebrates the role of angels in the divine plan, my prayer book tells me (The Divine Hours, written by Phyllis Tickle). Our Orthodox brothers and sisters handle the question of angels better than most Protestants. Most of the Lutheran churches that I've been a member of don't talk about angels much, and based on the ideas of some of my students, many Protestant churches do talk about angels, but with a very shaky theology.

I'll never forget one time teaching Paradise Lost to South Carolina students in my Brit Lit survey class at a community college. One woman seemed particularly confused about all the angels in the story. "How could there be angels," she asked, "when nobody has died?"

It took me a few attempts to understand her question. She knew about angels from church, but only in the sense that we become angels when we die--which is a very recent idea about angels. I explained the more ancient idea about angels, which is that they are a species completely separate from humans. We got into a bit of a theology lesson, but I could see that she wasn't happy with these ideas about angels. She was much more comfortable with the idea of the angels being Grandma and Grandpa who died when she was a child. The idea of angels as a separate kind of entity with no free will? No thanks.

In a way, I understand. Angels are scary. Death is scary. It's rather brilliant to come up with the idea that we become angels when we die--and yet, this shaky theology defangs several concepts which should, in fact, be scary. We will die--and before that, everything we love will die. How do we cope with that idea?

Some of us cope by clinging to the idea that there is a Divine God with a plan and a vision that's vaster than anything we could develop on our own. This God has more power than we can conceive of--including legions of angels, angels that are there for us too.

Let me confess that I don't do angels well either. They seem a bit too New Agey for me, especially with the spate of angel books that were published 20 years ago, books that promised me that I would get to know my angels, books in which getting to know my angels was very similar to enslaving my angels to do my will. Blcch. Giving the angels a mission is God's job, not mine.

I often joked that I should combine two publishing trends and publish a diet book: Your Angels Want You to Be Thin! The Know Your Angels Diet Book. I'm not that mercenary, though (and if you are, feel free to steal my title), not that willing to make money off the real troubles and gullibility of humans. To borrow words from Blake, I don't want to be the one that makes a Heaven off of misery.

But now, years later, I find myself a bit envious of those people who grew up in traditions that had theologically sound approaches to angels. Again and again, I find in the traditions of others something I feel lacking in mine.

Luckily, I'm part of a Lutheran tradition that doesn't insist that we remain closed off to traditions that might enrich us spiritually, even if Luther didn't sanction them. We've seen an explosion of exploration of labyrinths. Maybe angels will be next.

For those of you who want some special Scripture for this high feast day, here's what the Lutheran church (ELCA) recommends:

First Reading: Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
Psalm: Psalm 103:1-5, 20-22
Second Reading: Revelation 12:7-12
Gospel: Luke 10:17-20

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Software Bugs and Human Failings

I have spent my whole life working on improving myself.  I have ambitious plans and not just at the new year.  For every failing, I have even more ways to try to ensure that the failings will never manifest themselves again.  I do this with my physical body, with my spiritual practices, with my creative endeavors. 

But what if I tried being more accepting?  I saw this paragraph in this post by poet Dale Favier, who has spent a lifetime in the computer field:

"As I wander on through life, observing various human endeavors, I've come to realize that everything is like that. Nothing has really been built to specs. Nothing quite operates as advertised. The flaws are various and infinite. All you can do is fix a few of the most glaring problems. The rest will have to stand. You can see it in software, because software is uniquely observable: it does exactly the same thing, over and over again, and it breaks down readily into tiny discreet steps. But everything works that way."

The rest will have to stand!  That's such a radical idea in so many ways.

And here's an even more radical idea:  sometimes the flaw is the very thing that the world needs.

And of course, my inner theologian wonders if the bugs are really part of the design.  Perhaps God, who is infinitely wise, put the bugs there intentionally, for some reason that is only apparent in a vista that is larger than I can see.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

"Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw"*

I know so many people who say that they feel closest to God in nature.  I always assume that they mean the kind of nature that we find in places further away from human-made civilization:  mountain tops, deep woods, volcanoes--places like that.

I assume that they don't mean the kind of nature when a hurricane swirls or a tornado sweeps down.  They don't mean the kind of nature when one animal eats another.

I have this on the brain because of a backyard drama that I witnessed the other day.  My spouse was at the back window.  He called for me to come quickly but quietly.

We spent the next 15 minutes watching an owl eat a creature.  From the picked-clean skeleton we found later, we think it was a smaller bird.  There was no struggle.  The owl had already made the kill.

We watched as the owl picked and pulled with its beak.  It was both fascinating and slightly nauseating.

We have at least 2 owls in our neighborhood.  We've spent several nights watching them swoop in the palm trees.

Yes, in the palm trees.  I think of owls as residents of distant woodlands.  My neighborhood is half a mile from the Atlantic ocean and half a mile away from one densely populated urban center, which is only one of many densely populated urban centers in South Florida.

In short, I don't think of it as owl habitat.

I asked my spouse why owls would live here, and he said, "Why not? There's plenty of food and little competition."  Plus, no one shoots at them, like might happen in a distant woodland.

It's easy to feel close to God in the twilight, as I watch the owls fly through the dark and call to each other.  When I watch one bird eat a smaller bird, my thoughts don't first go to the glory of God and the creation God has made.

And it's even harder when I think about the cancer cell.  In my human-centric way, I want to see the cancer cell as an aberration.  What if it represents the future in terms of evolution?

My religious tradition tells me that God loves the sparrow, so therefore, I should rest assured that God loves me.  We've often interpreted those passages to mean that God loves us even more than the lowly sparrow, since we're obviously the more highly developed creatures.  Others read those passages as reassurance that God loves us all the same.  Both views are troubling.

My friend sees the presence of the owls as celestial message.  I worry about habitat loss.  My spouse sees the presence of the owls as evidence of their smart migration to an easier place to live.  Perhaps we are all correct.

How does God see it?

*Tennyson's words, not mine.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Other People's Religious Holidays

Yesterday, one of my Jewish colleagues brought a traditional Rosh Hashanah dessert for another Jewish colleague.  The dessert was easily shared:  bits of things (cherries, crisp things,) coated in a dark honey glaze, some with sesame seeds.

We talked about holiday foods.  One colleague is what is often called a cultural Jew:  she likes the foods, she observes the holidays to a certain extent, but she rarely goes to services.  She's not part of a temple.

The other colleague is much more hard-core.  When I asked if it was appropriate for a Lutheran to wish them a happy new year, she gave me a withering look and said, "I've been in intense study for a month to prepare for the holy days.  If you think it's just about the new year, you are sadly mistaken."

I wanted to protest that I'm fairly ecumenical as far as Christians go.  I wanted to defend myself.  Or alternately, I wanted a low-key conversation (not a diatribe, not a lecture) where we compared traditions.

But I know that religious conversations can make surrounding colleagues uneasy, so I backed away.  I said, "I know.  I have a rabbi friend who has been writing a poem a day during the time that leads up to the high holy days.  She's been posting them on her blog, and it's been a fascinating discipline to watch."  Thanks, Rachel!

It made me think about our various religions, of how many Jews I know and how many different ways they are celebrating these days of awe.  I suspect that it will be easier to get parking places at work today, as many folks will be taking today off.  Our public schools give the day as an official holiday, so even some non-Jews will be taking the day off  to take care of children.

It also made me think about how we talk to each other about our religious traditions, especially in places like the office, where we're all thrown together.  It's one thing to have a conversation about religion in a quilting group or over lunch.  But it feels much more risky in an office.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way.  I was brought up not to talk about religion, sex, or politics, not even at the dinner table.  I was brought up that it was rude to talk about those topics at school (unless in a class where we study and discuss the subject from a safe academic distance) or at work.  To look at my workplace, though, I'd say those rules have changed.  Maybe that's not the case in the nation's heartland, but it seems true here.

I'd like a deeper connection with my colleagues by talking about our different religious beliefs, but I also know that religion has been used as a weapon.  And even if not used as a weapon, it's too easy for people to feel trounced by religious conversations.

Today, I will not be at work either.  My sister and nephew come today!  His school district in Maryland also gives this day as a day off.

Happy Rosh Hashanah to us all, whether we be cultural Jews, Orthodox Jews, ecumenically minded folks, or that large group of people who have no religious practice.  May the coming year be sweet!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 28, 2014:

First Reading: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 25:1-8 (Psalm 25:1-9 NRSV)

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Second Reading: Philippians 2:1-13

Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32

This Sunday's Gospel continues to explore the notion of fidelity and fairness. People ask about Jesus--who grants him authority?  Jesus gives them a question they're afraid to answer, for fear of getting the wrong answer, and Jesus refuses to answer the question. 

Instead, he gives a parable about two sons, neither of which is true to his word.  One says that he'll go work in the vineyard, and he doesn't.  One says he won't work, but then he does.  Which son represents you?

The lesson of this Gospel is clear: we get credit for our actions, not for our speech. This idea may fly in the face of what we believe to be good Lutheran theology. What about the idea of grace? Many of us were taught that we're such dreadful humans that there's nothing we could do to justify the gift of salvation. God swoops in and redeems us, even though we're fairly hopeless people. That was the message I got from many a church event, Lutheran and otherwise.

But as a grown up, going back to revisit these passages, I'm amazed at how often God requires more of us than just saying we believe in Christ, more than just accepting Christ as our saviour, more than just having faith. In the words of Luther, faith should move our feet. In the words of James, faith without works is dead.  We don't confess belief in Christ so that we can relax on the sofa.  We confess our faith and go to work in the vineyard.

Our goal each and every day is to be the light of the world, the yeast that makes the bread rise, the radiance that allows people to see God at work in the world.  Notice how small our actions can be.  The yeast is tiny, but from its small actions, flour and water transform into bread.

Ideally we're yeast and light, but the good news of today's Gospel, and many of the others that we read throughout our 3 year lectionary cycle, is that even when we fall short, God will still love us. If we've said we'd do the work, and we fail to do it, we have other days when we can show up. God will still welcome us. The world is full of darkness, waiting for our light.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What Have We to Offer?

Through the years, I've become aware of the various ways that people leave anonymous offerings around the grounds of Mepkin Abbey.  The first instance I noticed was at this statue, carved out of a fallen tree:

Inside the begging bowl, people leave coins, crosses, all sorts of things:

People leave flowers at the base of statues:

Some flowers find themselves tucked into the hands and arms of marble Mary:

There are several graveyards around the Mepkin grounds and not surprisingly, people leave offerings at the gravestones.

Was this an offering or did these husks find their way naturally?

What do these offerings mean?  Are they a larger statement?  Do people want to simply leave something in return and they have only coins and found items from nature?

I see these as reminders that even when we think we have nothing to offer, we do.

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.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Visit to the Gilded Age

My parents are in town for a long week-end.  What a treat!  I feel fortunate in that they are fairly easy company to host.  We like similar activities, and our food preferences are similar.  When parents are coming--anyone's parents--I do tend to clean more vigorously in advance, but it's good to tend to those tasks.

I've said it before:  one reason I like having out of town guests is that we tend to get out of the house and explore our surroundings.  Ever since we moved down here in 1998, I've had the historic mansion Vizcaya on my list of places to get to, but we haven't yet.
My mom saw it listed in a book of 1000 places to visit before you die, so we decided to go yesterday, on their first full day of the visit.  There's too much that might disrupt the plan if we wait until Monday.  And since we have a week day free, we wanted to avoid the week-end.  For more on the trip, see this post on my creativity blog.

At first, I enjoyed seeing the house, with each room decorated ever more lavishly and in some cases outrageously.  And I loved the gardens, which were extensive and amazing.

And then I started to think about the excesses of the Gilded Age, which came just before Vizcaya was built in 1915.  I started thinking of the lower classes who must have seen mansions like Vizcaya as all that was wrong with their lives.  I thought of the huge numbers of workers that it took to build the house and the huge staff it must have taken to run the place.  I wondered how the staff dusted the elaborately carved ceilings.  Or was the lighting dim and no one noticed?

I thought of our current time.  What would be the current version of Vizcaya?

I live in a part of the country where the distance between the upper class and the lower class is extreme. I see beautiful mansions on the water, modern Vizcayas.  And I see slums that have more than a bit of 3rd world element to them.

Many sociologists might predict class warfare in the not-too-distant future, but I don't.  We live in a country that preaches that we, too, could have a Vizcaya to call our own if we just worked hard enough.

But I do wonder about the excesses of good fortune.  What makes the difference between the super-rich who share and the super-rich who just build another mansion in another part of the world?

If I ever become part of the super-rich, I hereby swear that I will be happy with smaller living spaces, so that more people can have housing.  I will give money to groups like Habitat for Humanity so that more houses can be built for more people.

I also know that according to most of the world's standards, I am part of the super-rich.  And so I do give money to Habitat and to Lutheran World Relief, so that others can benefit from my good fortune.

It gives me a window into the mind of the super-rich.  Just as I don't feel super-rich, maybe they don't either.  Maybe that explains the hoarding, the saving of the money into ever bigger siloes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seeds, Sprouts, and Seasonal Shifts

We're trying an experiment in my church.  We're spending 2 weeks with each text.  Last week we read Matthew 13:1-9, the parable of the sower, with the seeds that fall on different types of ground. 

Last week's discussion of seeds took me back to a children's sermon that I preached in 2012.  That week's Gospel talked about mustard seeds, and I had found a jar of mustard seeds, which was so cheap that I should have bought several. 

I came up with the idea of sprouting them much too late--or so I thought.  But I wrapped them in some damp paper towels, which I kept damp.  Much to my surprise, in just 4 days, they looked like this:

It took nothing more:  not special food, not sunlight, no enriched soil.  Just cover and dampness.

I've been thinking about seeds, how tiny they are:

I've been thinking about how quickly seeds sprout with just the slightest encouragement.

But I'm also thinking about the potted plants on my porch.  At the beginning of summer, they were full and lush.  These days of heat have taken their toll, no matter how much water I give them.

The parable reminds us that the sprouting process is not the hard part.  No, as anyone who has tried a healthier approach to living knows, the hard part comes in later seasons.

As a church, maybe we should talk more about what to do when we're feeling our faith wilting.  Maybe we should talk about the season of wilting as a normal part of the faith cycle.

The ways to deal with a wilting faith are similar as the ways to enrich the soil to make sure that seedlings thrive.  The ways are as varied as humans.  The trick is to keep doing the practices that have worked in the past, even when we're not sure that they're presently working.

We keep reading our Bibles even when we'd like to be watching old movies.  We keep going to church, even though we might rather sleep.  We pray, even as we wonder if anyone hears us.   The list could go on and on.

Eventually, we will look up and realize that we have some new leaves on our brittle stems.  We will have left the time of rocky ground and thorns, and we will be ready for new shoots to take root.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Sept.14, 2014:

First Reading: Genesis 50:15-21

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 14:19-31

Psalm: Psalm 103:[1-7] 8-13

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 114

Psalm (Alt.): Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 (Semi-continuous)

Second Reading: Romans 14:1-12

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

The Gospel for today, at least the first part, is probably familiar to most of us. Peter is looking for the magic number of times that he must forgive--and you can tell he's annoyed, ready to cut off the person who has offended him, but he'll forgive seven times--and you know that he's probably already forgiven that person eight times. Jesus tells him he must forgive seventy times seven.

I remember in fifth grade Sunday school class where we studied this passage. We immediately got to work on the math. And if you were an obsessive child, like I had a tendency to be, you started keeping a list of how many times you had forgiven your sister.

I had unwittingly proven Jesus' point. Peter asks a stupid, juvenile question, and Jesus gives him an answer to let him know how petty he has been. By now, we should all know that Jesus didn't come to give us a new set of legalisms to follow.

Jesus then gives us a parable about the nature of forgiveness. Most of us will need more forgiveness throughout our lives than we really deserve. We are like indentured servants who can never hope to pay off our debt, but we're miraculously forgiven.

Most of us, happily, will never experience indentured servitude in the traditional sense. But in our past years of financial collapse, many of us have discovered a different kind of indebtedness. Many of us owe more on our houses than they will ever be worth again. Many of us owe more on our credit cards than we can ever repay, and we likely don’t even remember what we bought. Because of the lousy job situation throughout the country, many of us are chained to jobs that no longer satisfy. Think of how wonderful it would be if someone came in and relieved us of those debts. Think of forgiveness the same way.

Our task--and it sometimes seems more monumental than paying off a huge financial debt--is to extend that quality of forgiveness and mercy to others.

Who needs your forgiveness? Have you told those people that they're forgiven? Do they know it by your loving actions? To whom do you need to repent? What's keeping you from doing it?

And now, for the part that might be even harder for many of us—have you forgiven yourself? I've gotten fairly talented at forgiving my loved ones, but I'm still not good at forgiving myself. I'm still angry and annoyed when the struggles I thought were past me resurface. I'm still hard on myself for my shortcomings, even as I acknowledge that my shortcomings could be worse.

Fortunately, God has a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. God is willing to forgive me for my shortcomings--even as I fall short again and again.

Let us model ourselves after God's capacity for forgiveness.  And if our capacity to forgive isn’t at 70 times 7 yet, let’s pray for an expanded ability to forgive. Let us also remember to pray for our enemies, both the personal ones and the political ones, the inner voices that berate us, the outer voices that shrilly defeat all peace initiatives, all the enemies who would undo us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Poetry Tuesday: The Many Meanings of the Cell

Yesterday at work, I was talking to a colleague who is enduring treatment for cancer, on top of everything else we're doing at work.  He explained that a PET scan involves injecting the body with radioactive sugar, which finds the cancer.  On the scan, the cancer glows.  It was good to talk to him, in the early morning before the office suite got noisy.  It's scary to think of how many people I know who have cancer.

And then, more colleagues arrived and students--the phones began to ring, the phones on our desks, the phones in our pockets.

My life at work is so often noisy, and it makes me yearn for a vow of silence for us all--or some phone-free zones.  It also reminds me of a poem I wrote, "Lectio."  It first appeared in The Innisfree Poetry Journal, an online journal. 

I got the idea for this poem when I was at Mepkin Abbey. I read a brochure that asked us to consider turning our cell phones off--not just to vibrate, but completely off. The word cell leapt off the page, and I immediately thought of the biological definition. Since I was at an abbey, I also thought of the definition associated with monasteries and abbeys. This poem was one of those that came easily to me. Enjoy!

Some monk once said that we should return
to our cells, that our cells
would teach us everything we need to know. 
She thinks of that monk
every time a cell phone interrupts
her class, that jarring, reproduction
of a ring tone, the student's rush
to return to the hall to take a call,
leaving the class behind to try to gather
the fragments of their scattered attention
to return to the task at hand. 
She thinks of that monk
as she tries to declutter.
She chooses a different closet
each month.  She tries to be ruthless
as she sorts, but she lapses
into sentimentality and maudlin tears.  
She thinks of that monk
each month as she returns
to the doctor to do battle
against her own traitorous cells.
The doctor shows her scans of her invisible
insides.  She sees the clumps that will kill
her.  She thinks of terrorists plotting
their dark revenge, of a coven practicing
dark arts, of all the ways a cell
can go bad and destroy all it touches.  
She returns to the church lit by candles.
The smell of wax and chant
of Psalms sends her back to childhood,
that original cell, still so much to learn.

Monday, September 8, 2014

God's Work, Our Hands: The Pictures

We had a great turn out for our 2nd annual God's Work, Our Hands Day.  People had choices about what their hands would do.

I had a quilt set up for people to knot together.

We also had squares for people to sew, either by hand or on the machine, to make a top for a future quilt.

People could organize donations for our food pantry.

We had boxes that needed to be wrapped for our Christmas project for Seafarer's House, a local charity.

We had donations of cookies that needed to be packaged up to send to college students.

All in all, it was a great day.  The sewing machine was one of the main attractions.  My fearless spouse trained the pre-teen girls, and he even let them work the foot pedal!

God's work, our hands--the faith that moves our feet!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sparrows and Snappers and Sting Rays

Yesterday, we finally made it back to the reef.  I had begun to think we might never SCUBA dive again.  The last dive we took was in 2011 which I wrote about in this post.  In 2012, we had a dive scheduled, but my spouse had such severe back pain that we had to cancel--that was one of the events that let me know how bad his back had gotten.  In 2013, we were buying a house, moving, and selling a house, so we missed all sorts of opportunities.

But yesterday, we finally got back to the world below the surface.  For more on the trip itself, see this post on my creativity blog.

I am happy to report that the reef looked healthy, as did the fish.  We don't always see that situation.  We have been diving when the coral has been banged up, either by careless divers or by careless boaters or by hurricanes, which take carelessness to a whole different level.

But yesterday, we saw lots of fish of all sizes and coral that looks whole.  Hurrah. 

Diving always puts me in a spiritual frame of mind.  I am amazed at our creator, who shows such care with such a variety of landscapes.   I thought of Bible passages that remind us that God keeps count of every sparrow.  I assume that God keeps track of every snapper, every sting ray, every creature of every sort.  And dives remind me of how many creatures there are.

At one point I looked out and there was a shimmering curtain of yellow fish, as far and wide as I could see.  I said a quick prayer of appreciation and gratitude. 

Diving also makes me aware of my own body, of every breath, of every ability of my muscles to move in ways that make swimming possible.  If God had made only one creature as complex as the human, I would be in awe.  But to make such a vast variety of creatures and habitats.  Wow.

It's hard to dive without realizing the damage that humans are inflicting on the planet.  Yesterday, as in 2011, at the surface we swam through huge swarms of jellyfish. In some ways, they were beautiful, translucently blue as they floated by.  They were HUGE.  I've never seen jellyfish this big.  They weren't the smaller jellyfish you find in the Chesapeake Bay this time of year.  No, these jellyfish were the size of dinner plates, large dinner plates.

Jellyfish are an ominous sign for many reasons.  One is that they've never been as numerous as they have been this season.   Now that fact could mean that the currents are different, which would not have to be a big deal.  But the increase in jellyfish points to a decrease in the health of the oceans.  Jellyfish thrive in warmer waters than most creatures like, and the ocean temperatures have been breaking all records here.  You may recall that five years ago when I was diving/snorkeling, the temperature at Molasses Reef broke the previous record when it climbed to 91 degrees (I wrote about the implications here and here).  Since then, those temps have become a new normal.

We can argue about what's causing the rise in global temperatures, which leads to a rise in ocean temperatures and acidification.  I don't understand people who argue that warming, either of the seas or the air, isn't happening at all.  We have records going back a long time--it's a warmer planet that inhabit today, warmer than it's been in thousands of years, if we go strictly by human-kept records.  It's warmer than it's been in a longer time than that, if we want to trust what scientists tell us about the time before humans.

My Christian faith has trained me to live in hope, not in fear.  My Christian faith has trained me to expect resurrection.  My human existence has shown me that bleak situations can be redeemed.

I will continue to pray for the planet, as I pray for all who are distressed and under threat.  I often focus on humans when I pray, but after swimming through seas enswamped with jellyfish, I'm reminded to pray for our habitats too.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tomorrow: Our Word, God's Hands, and a Quilt for Lutheran World Relief

Tomorrow, we will have the 2nd annual God's Work, Our Hands day at my church.  We will assemble cookie care packages for college students and restock the food pantry.  And we'll quilt!  Here's a picture from last year.

In the above picture from last year, that's me in the middle, and my spouse who's not afraid to be in touch with his inner quilter on my right.

The other woman in the picture had pieced the front, and we put it together with batting and a sheet for the back.  She stitched the edges by machine, and then we knotted it.  This year, I'm the woman getting everything ready.  We'll have a quilt ready to be knotted, and squares that people can sew together either by hand or machine.  If people want to cut fabric, we've got a box of donated fabric.

These quilts will eventually go to Lutheran World Relief and then around the world.  They'll be used as quilts and floor mats and doors and barriers to keep out the weather.  It's such a simple object, a quilt.  May it be an instrument of grace and good fortune.

If you're interested, you don't have to be a member of our church or attend services.  You can show up at 10:45, and we'll put you to work.  I imagine that we'll be quilting until 1:30 or so.  The church is Trinity Lutheran, at the southeast corner of Pines Blvd. and 72nd, just before you get to Broward College.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Mepkin State of Mind

At work, we are finishing all sorts of assessment and accreditation documents.  It's a process that leaves me stranded in front of my computer screen for long hours each day.  How I long to walk through tall grasses.

Yesterday, the stress of it all began to take its toll.  One of my coworkers burst out into a song from the disco era.  She said we'd know she'd gone over the edge when she chose a show tune.  I said, "You could sing in Gregorian Chant, and I could imagine I'm at a monastery where I get my best work done."

As a meditative, calming practice, I have tried to return to sacred places in my head.  I am not skilled at this practice.  Pictures help.

When we question the value of retreat, we should remember that their calming and centering effects can last long after our visit.

We say we can't afford the time to go on retreat.  How can we NOT afford it?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014:

First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-11

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm: Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 149

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-14

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel readings from the last several weeks have shown us Jesus trying to prepare his disciples to take over his mission, once he's no longer physically there to lead them. Here we see him address issues of conflict management, and his advice seems to hold true, even centuries later: try to work out the conflict privately and go through increasingly public discourse.

The last verse is one of the more famous Gospel verses, the one that tells us that we only need two or three to gather in the name of Christ, and he'll be there. But what does this verse mean for the larger church?

This morning, I'm thinking of the modern church, which seems focused on numbers and growing large.  This morning, I'm thinking of this passage and wondering if Christ calls us to be small.

I think of all the articles I've read that talk about the declining numbers of people who affiliate with a church.  I think of all the people who remember the glory days of the U.S. church, back in the middle of the 20th century, back when stores were closed on Sundays, and it seemed that everyone went to church.  When church leaders talked, communities listened.

Of course, the sociologist and historian in me also knows that many vulnerable members of the community were not heard in those days.  I would not go back to 1959, even if more people went to church on Sundays. Too many people led restricted lives--no thanks.

Still, those of us who have inherited the churches that were built during those glory days might be spending a lot of time wondering how to support those buildings with our smaller memberships.  We look for ways that the building can be a blessing to many groups, not just ours.

I understand the attraction of the big church--but we know that megachurches also look for ways to create the small groups that we found in the earliest church.  Some modern groups have decided to simplify, to emulate the early church, which was often small enough to meet in people's houses and to share a real meal, not a symbol of a meal. Some modern groups go even further and actually pool their resources, and some even go so far as to live together. There's an exciting stream of the Emergent church which finds inspiration in earlier monastic movements and other intentional Christian communities.

Although here in the U.S., the modern mainstream churches face challenges, we also live in a very exciting time of reformation.  Churches are experimenting with all sorts of worship:  cross-generational, worship plus a meal, contemplative groups that meet on times outside of Sundays, and all sorts of worship that involves the arts.  We see groups of Christians experimenting with all sorts of ways of living our faith more fully. 

Reformation brings challenges, but also opportunities that we might not have explored during times of comfort and ease.  As we face those challenges, we should take comfort in the fact that we don't have to be huge to be effective.  Although our church buildings were designed to hold 500 worshippers, we don't have to expend all our energies in seeking new ways to fill those pews.  Instead, we can look for ways to knit together our smaller groups; we've got opportunities for connection in small groups that larger groups work very hard to replicate.

And it's good to remember that church doesn't mean the building.  Jesus promises that the presence of God will be with us when only two or three gather.  And we've seen from the lives of the earliest Christians, the transforming power of what happens when groups of two or three go out into the world together in the company of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Poetry and the Unendurable, the Every Day

As I write, I am listening to the poet Marie Howe on the NPR show On Being.  It's a rebroadcast, and I've already written about it here.  But today, different parts leap out at me.

"The church was a very important aspect of life to me — the part we can't see — the world inside the world. I was bored by the parish church we went to and I could tell that it was, uh, all too human. But I was lucky enough to go to a school — I was dragged there actually, I didn't want to go in seventh grade to the Academy of the Sacred Heart, where the nuns were so forward thinking. And it was the '60s and they were way ahead of us in terms of understanding what theology had to do with social justice, service, questioning authority. And it was there that I began to appreciate that spirituality could be rigorous. It could be imaginative. And it was an essential part of living in the physical world to through those women, really. But mostly, I love the stories of the Old Testament or what the Torah and the New Testament. And the stories are still extremely compelling to me."

"But I remember hours of on being in the bathtub reading Lives of the Saints and just be riveted by these lives. I've actually been trying to write an essay about this. And because for me, it was the only example I knew of women who were subjects of their own life, not objects, but subjects — who were choosing their own life, or looking out from their own faces who were deciding how they would live moment to moment. And there were very few examples of this around me."

"Thich Nhat Hanh, you know, whom I know you've talked to, says, you know, when you wash the dishes, wash it as if it were the baby Buddha, or the baby Jesus, you know. And, uh, well, that's what the church used to be. I mean, it used to be that we would attend these things every week that would remind us of these, you know, the sacredness of the everyday. And it's harder to find it now."

I mean there's this guy in New York. I say it's a guy. It could be a woman. Last Spring, there was somebody who was drawing on the sidewalk in blue chalk and all it said was happiness, a big happiness with a big blue arrow this way. And I would see these around and I thought this is terrific. This is really kind of wonderful. Like, happiness is this way, that way. And one day, I was waiting for my daughter and her friends to get off one bus and we were going to get on another. And there was the big blue chalk and it said happiness. And then there was a big circle drawn on the sidewalk and it said here. And everybody who walked by stood in the circle. We did too.   . . . And it was like—and you stood in the circle and you felt great. Here's where it is, the this-ness. Here it is. And we were like yay, you know. And people went by and they're like me next, you know. And, and there was a poem there. I mean that was a poem."

And here's that poem:

Hurry  (by Marie Howe)

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry —
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

"Can we ever really be seen? I think the thing of Jesus, I mean he must have been like this — and Buddha must have been and all these great enlightened ones, he must have been able to really see people, you know. And people didn't feel ashamed in front of him and in relationship to him. They didn't seem ashamed. And they're constantly screwing up. I mean all those guys were constantly screwing up."

"The unendurable happens. You know, people we love and we can't live without are going to die. We're going to die — one day are going to have to leave our children and die, you know, leave the plants, and the bunnies, and the sunlight, and the rain and all that. I mean it's unendurable. Poet — art knows that. Art holds that knowledge. All art holds the knowledge that we're both living and dying at the same time. It can hold it. And thank God it can because nothing out in the capitalistic corporate world is going to shine that back to us, but art holds it."

Go here to read the transcript and/or to hear the interview.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Church as Bad Boss and a Buddhist Teahouse Approach to Work and Life

--Labor Day dawns:  it's the earliest day that Labor Day can come, on this first day of September.  It will be a scorcher down here at the southern tip of the U.S.

--Will you spend today putting away your white clothes and your sandals?  I will not.  I wear sandals year round, and I have one white skirt that I'll wear until October or November.  But I am old enough to remember a time when we were not allowed to wear white to church after Labor Day.  It was just not done in the traditional states of the U.S. South where I spent my childhood--even though the hot weather would continue well into September and October.  Back to school meant that feet went back into closed shoes--no more sandals.

--Perhaps you will spend today thinking about labor relations.  No, probably you will not.  But if you are in the mood, this post offers interesting insights into how we think and behave as churches employing staff--which includes clergy.  Church-as-boss:  and what bad bosses we can be!

--The post details some of the reasons why churches can't always be as generous as we'd like as bosses.  But in the end, the Church often does not treat its workers fairly, even if there are strong rationalizations for behaving this way.  And we rely on volunteer labor, labor which just doesn't exist much anymore.

--The post ends with this good advice:  "In the meantime, I ask you in the parish to appreciate your church workers – from the person who vacuums the sanctuary to the person who preaches the sermon.  If we can’t pay them what they are worth, at least we can thank them for making it possible for us to gather as a community and grow in faith together."

--I will spend the day being grateful that my workplace in academia is generally safe and that my work is not too onerous.

--I will also spend some time wondering if I'm doing the work I was put on earth to do.  Of course, that presupposes a purpose of sorts.  Maybe it would be better to ponder the ways I could make life better for the workers around me.

----It's interesting to me that I feel that I only feel I'm doing meaningful work if I'm making an important difference each and every day.  And if I'm being honest, I want it to be an important difference like the kind that Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks made, the kind of difference where future generations will be better off because I walked the planet (and yes, I realize this could sound like monstrous ego, but it's also fueled by a fierce yearning for social justice).  Did Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King feel that they made a difference each and every day?  Probably not.  It's only in retrospect that it's clear.

--I'd like to move towards the Buddhist teahouse approach of meaningful work.  In an interview with Bill Moyers, Jane Hirshfield explains, "Teahouse practice means that you don't explicitly talk about Zen.  It refers to leading your life as if you were an old woman who has a teahouse by the side of the road.  Nobody knows why they like to go there, they just feel good drinking her tea.  She's not known as a Buddhist teacher, she doesn't say, "This is the Zen teahouse."  All she does is simply serve tea--but still, her decades of attentiveness are part of the way she does it.  No one knows about her faithful attention to the practice, it's just there, in the serving of the tea, and the way she cleans the counters and washes the cups" (Fooling with Words:  A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft, page 112).

--How can we infuse this Buddhist teahouse approach into every aspect of our lives?  What would change?