Monday, November 30, 2015

The Feast Day of Saint Andrew

It’s important to remember that we wouldn’t even know about Simon Peter if not for Andrew. Andrew followed John the Baptist, and John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the true Messiah. Andrew believed, and Andrew brought his brother to see what he had seen. Andrew is remembered as the first disciple.

Tradition has it that the brothers didn’t give up their family fishing business at first, but eventually, Christ requested full commitment. I’ve always wondered about the family relationships that simmer in the background of the Gospels.

I remember one Gospel reading that mentioned Jesus healing the mother-in-law of Simon Peter. I thought, mother-in-law? That means there must have been a wife. What did the mothers and wives and mother-in-laws think of the men abandoning their fishing business to follow Jesus?

I also think about the sibling relationships here. What does Andrew think about Simon Peter, who quickly moves into the spotlight? Is Andrew content to stay in the background?

We know from the passage in Matthew that begins with Matthew 20:20, that there is competition to be Christ’s favorite. We see the mother of James and John who argues for her sons’ importance. We see the other disciples who become angry at the actions of this mother. I extrapolate to imagine that there’s much jockeying for position amongst the disciples.

Christ never loses an opportunity to remind us that he’s come to give us a different model of success. Again and again, he dismisses the importance that the world attaches to riches, to status, to a good reputation. Again and again, Jesus instructs us that the last will be first. Jesus tells us that the way to gain prestige with God is to serve.

We see stories that show that Andrew is the kind of disciple who is working for the glory of Christ, not for other reasons. In John’s Gospel, Andrew is the one who tells Jesus about the boy with five barley loaves and two fish, and thus helps make possible the miraculous feeding.

Andrew was the kind of disciple we could use more of in this world. Andrew so believes in the Good News that he brings his family members to Christ, and he continued in this path, bringing the Gospel to people far and wide. We see him beginning this mission in John’s Gospel, where he tells Christ of the Greeks that want to see him.

Andrew gets credit for bringing Christianity into parts of eastern Europe and western Asia: Kiev, Ukraine, Romania, Russia. He’s the first bishop of the Church of Byzantium and patron saint of all sorts of places, from Scotland to Cyprus to Russia.

On this day when we celebrate the life of the first disciple, let us consider our own discipleship. Are we focused on the right tasks or are we hoping that our Christian faith brings us non-Christian glory? How can we help usher in the miracles that come with the presence of Christ? Who needs to hear the Good News as only we can tell it?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The First Sunday: Happy New Year, Happy Advent

Today is the first Sunday of a new liturgical year.  What will this new year bring?

I am ready for more light.  The past year has seen more than its share of heartbreak:  death of friends, relationships that aren't mine spiraling apart, lay-offs and then more lay-offs and cuts of every sort at work, and my body feels more pain than seems normal.

Of course, my fear is that this past year is the new normal.

And then there's the international news which seems increasingly bleak:  terrorist attacks and rumors of more to come, war planes shot out of the sky and rumors of more to come.

It will be good to light the Advent candle this morning.  My church will be making Advent wreaths.  I will make a new one too.  This year, as with every year, I will resolve to light one more candle each week as we watch for the Messiah.

I think I will also be doing some art projects.  I have a yearning to get back to fiber and paint.  It's a constant yearning, and I felt a spike this morning as I went to this site, The Advent Door.  I have a few more batches of papers to grade, but I see some vistas of time on the near horizon.

All too soon, we will be here, Christmas, with all the Advent candles lit:

Let us look for ways to slow time down--our Advent traditions can be those tools to slow down this hectic season and to make us more aware.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Poetry Saturday: "Advent Calendars"

In my thinking about a saner Advent and holiday season, I never give up on the idea of holiday baking.  I may not do much of it, but it's been an important part of my holidays since I was old enough to mix sugar into butter.

In the spirit of holiday baking, here's an unpublished poem, which I'd give a different title if I revisit it ever:

Advent Calendar

Orion, that winter visitor, reminds us of our frosty
obligations. Now is the time to prepare.
We dig in the cupboards for the cookie cutters,
creatures enough to create a healthy genetic
mix for the holiday planet we will create.

We remember anew the joy of the well-seasoned
skillet, so versatile as we fry the meat
and cook a well-crusted cornbread.
We strive for abundance, to be prepared
for the unexpected visitor, the waylaid
traveler who might arrive without gifts.

We rediscover the joy of bread baked
fresh in the morning. We afford
the extra splurges that festivity demands:
exotic nuts, dense pastes, sweet icings,
breads heavy with butter and spices.

We could not maintain this pace
all year, but for a month, we pretend
we can handle the additional load.
We try to ignore the yearnings from the stomach’s
pit, the one that wonders why every day
can’t be filled with goodies cooling on the hearth,
a household bathed in the fragrance of baking bread,
the comfort of cake.

For a recipe for a great and fairly easy holiday bread, see this blog post.

For my favorite holiday cookie recipe, go here--the cookies can be made thinner, like sugar cookies, or thicker, like a tea cake.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Remembering the True Christmas Gifts on Black Friday

Today many people in the U.S. will be celebrating Black Friday by shopping. And they likely won't be supporting their local monasteries:

Before we join the frenzy, let's remember the true purpose of the Advent season.  It's not about shopping, decorating, entertaining, and all those other frantic activities that can keep us distracted.

 For today, let's keep our attention on the true gift, the God who so yearns to be with us, the God who will take on human form and become incarnate in the form of a tiny, vulnerable baby.

It's also good to remember that it's really not about Christmas at all.  That baby in the manger, he's cute.  But he's got a larger purpose:

And if we leave Christ on the cross, we've lost the even larger story.

No, it's not about Heaven. 

It's about all the gifts and talents that we are given so that we can be co-creators of the better Creation that God envisions.

We have a mission--and it's not to get the best bargains.  How can we transform the world?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Gratitude

I have always said that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  I love that there's no gift giving tradition to leave us all in some variation of anxious and/or disappointed.  I love that the food can be towards the healthy edge of the spectrum.

But most of all, I love a holiday that revolves around gratitude.

Let me now make a list of all the things for which I am most grateful in the past year:

--At my midlife point of losing friends and not just because they move to a new town, I am grateful for the family and friends who are still here.

--I am grateful that my family continues to enjoy spending time together.  I had wondered if we might drift away from each other after the death of my grandmother, but we have not.

--I am grateful for the publishing successes of the past year, particularly my chapbook acceptance and my inclusion in this book that celebrates the Annunciation.  But more than that, I am profoundly grateful for my various creative communities.

--I am grateful for my various jobs and volunteer work--how wonderful to be fed in so many ways.

--I am grateful that my spouse has returned to teaching and that he likes it.

Let me not get so lost in my luckiness that I forget to pray for those who can't be so grateful.  Let me offer a prayer for this Thanksgiving holiday: 

God of abundance, thank you for all the gifts that you have given us.  Forgive us for the times we complain and forget to notice how much we have.  Teach us to share.  Kindle in us the fierce desire for a world where we will all have enough.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 29, 2015:

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Psalm 25:1-10 (Ps. 25:1)

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Luke 21:25-36

Many of us begin to accelerate our holiday preparations about now. Perhaps you've already gotten all your shopping done. Maybe you put up your tree a week or two ago, so you could shift into full celebration mode when you returned from your Thanksgiving travels.

If you're in a festive mood, the readings for Advent must often seem jarring. They tend to be apocalyptic in nature. Take this week's reading from Luke, for example, with its mention of men fainting with fear and the heavens shaking and the return of Jesus--at least, that's a common interpretation of what this text means. Many of the Old Testament readings for Advent will focus on the prophets who foretell doom and offer comfort to the oppressed. If you're oppressed, perhaps you feel fine. Otherwise, you might sit there, wondering why we can't sing Christmas carols like the rest of the world.

It's important to remember that Advent is seen as a time of watching and waiting. We remember the stories of others who watched and waited.

It's also important to remember how often our Scriptures give us stories of the Kingdom of God breaking into our current reality. Many modern theologians talk about the Kingdom of God, and about the mission of Jesus, as both “now” and “not yet.” N. T. Wright says, “Jesus was telling his contemporaries that the kingdom was indeed breaking into history, but that it did not look like what they had expected “(emphasis Wright’s, The Meaning of Jesus, 35). He goes on to clarify that Jesus, like many Jewish mystics, “was bound to be speaking of the kingdom as both present and future” (37). Brian D. McLaren ponders the implications of the message of Jesus: “If Jesus was right, if the kingdom of God has come and is coming . . . if we do indeed have the choice today and every day to seek it, enter it, receive it, life as citizens of it, invest in it, even sacrifice and suffer for it . . . then today our future hangs in the balance no less than it did for Jesus’ original hearers in AD 30 or so” (The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything 180). In later pages, he ponders the kind of decisions that people who believe the impossible is possible might make—and the kind of decisions that people who believe that the Christian way is just too unrealistic and difficult will make (181-182).

One of the messages of Advent is that God breaks into our dreary world in all sorts of ways, some scary, some comforting, some magnificent, and some hardly noticed. The story of Jesus is one of the more spectacular stories, but God tries to get our attention all the time. We are called to watch and wait and always be on the alert.

The message of Advent is truly exciting. God wants us to participate in Kingdom living now, not just in some distant future when we go to Heaven. What good news for people who might find their nerves frazzled by all this celebrating, all this money being spent, all this once-a-year cheer which can seem so false.  What good news for us all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Creating an Advent Strategy

Soon, we will leave Thanksgiving behind.  Before we get too deeply into the coming Christmas season, let's take some time to plan for how we're going to have a meaningful Advent, how we're going to resist the consumerist, capitalist madness of a whirlwind that tends to sweep us all along.

Let's strategize. How can we avoid a hectic season? How can we invite more contemplation and quiet into December?

--Make a budget now. Just days from now, the Christmas shopping season begins for those of us brave enough to go into stores, if it hasn't already started. Before you go shopping, make sure you know how much you can spend. It's easy to get caught up in the shrill cycle of good deals and fierce desires. Don't buy so much that you'll still be paying off those credit cards in July. Nothing is worth that.

--Instead of buying stuff, buy experiences. Most of us have too much stuff. Why not give someone a meal out or a movie? Give the gift of your time.

--Instead of buying stuff, donate to charities. I'm lucky enough to be able to buy just about everything I need (and my needs are fairly simple). I am haunted by all the charities that are underfunded. I am haunted by the gaping needs in the world. I would prefer that people give money to the needy than to buy more stuff for me. Chances are good that lots of people on your gift list feel the same way.

--Plan your social calendar now. And keep it simple. Choose only one or two events per week-end. Declare that you won't go out on school nights. You can't do everything, and you'll only feel irritable if you try. What's most important to you and the ones you love?

--Purge the traditions that have ceased to have meaning. This one is tough. For example, I often find myself bored and irritable as I sit through The Nutcracker. I always think I'll love that ballet, probably because I loved it as a child. I don't love it as an adult. Why spend the money and time? Of course, if everyone else in the family adored it and wanted to go, it might be worth it. But now is a good time to have a frank discussion, before we're caught up in the sentimental sweep of December.

--Streamline some of the traditions. Do you really need to bake every kind of cookie that you remember from past holidays? Maybe you and your friends could have a cookie swap. Or get together to bake cookies together. Have a wonderful afternoon of cookie dough and wine and leave with enough cookies to get you through the holiday. For years, I did a cookie bake/swap with friends, which grew into a dinner swap, which we'd still be doing today, if I hadn't moved 700 miles away. Consider other ways to make the holiday meals simpler. Maybe this is the year to simplify the holiday card tradition. Ask yourself which church events mean something to you and which you're attending because you always have.

--Take time to help the needy, and bring your children along. Some of my favorite holiday memories involve helping others. My Girl Scout troop used to go caroling at nursing homes. The church of my adolescence assembled gift baskets for homeless women. The words of Isaiah are knitted into every fiber of my being: "learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1: 17). My parents, along with social institutions like church and school, modeled the good behavior of working for social justice. It's stuck with me. Advent is a great time to train the next generation in the habits of social justice and charitable work.

--Maybe today, as we begin to prepare for Thanksgiving, we can think about how we'll have some meditative time during the upcoming season of Advent.  Will we have an Advent wreath?  Will we start the day with a devotional time?  Will we listen to sacred music during our commute time?

It's important to remember that even with all the best plans, we may find ourselves overscheduled and cranky.  Plan now to forgive yourself for those times.  Plan now for how you'll get back on track.  Plan now to get yourself back to the waiting and watching state that should be our Advent mindset.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Report: Quilting for Refugees

Yesterday at church, we quilted for several hours.  People came and went and came back, and we got 2 quilt tops knotted to 2 quilt backs.  We started one and finished it during the morning, and we finished knotting the one that we started back in September.  I also sewed together 2 quilt backs for later quilts.

I tend to forget how much we get done when we do these events.  At the last event in September, we got much of a quilt top finished and about half of a quilt top knotted to a back.

But there are still so many quilts that we could make.  And on Saturday in the grocery store, I saw a woman from the church I used to attend.  She keeps track of me via blogs and Facebook, and she offered the quilting material that she can no longer use. 

Of course I will take it.  But I do wonder how we will ever get these quilts made.

The answer:  day by day, hour by hour.  At the end of the year, there will be more quilts going to refugees than there would have been if we did nothing.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Recipe for a Rainy Sunday Afternoon: Fruitcake!

My friends who live to the far north are getting some holiday snow.  It looks to be a very rainy day down here in South Florida, the way it was yesterday afternoon when we decided to make fruitcake.

I had bought a variety of dried fruit a few weeks ago when I thought I would make bread for All Saints Day.  I know that dried fruit will keep for a long time, but I also don't have much storage space.

My spouse loves fruitcake, and for years I've wanted to try making one in our kitchen.  In The Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, I found a recipe that I thought would work.  I wanted a cake that we could eat right away.  I didn't want to keep it in a cask for months while I watered it with brandy.  I don't have that kind of time.

Readers, it was delicious.  I would make it again.  I like to think it's slightly healthier than many desserts, with its fruit and lower fat (only three tablespoons of butter or oil in a dessert!).  And it's fragrant--the house smells like Christmas still.

I mention this recipe here, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, because I know we may spend part of the coming week with family to entertain, with children who need something to do when they're cooped up in the house, with making the transition from preparing for Thanksgiving to preparing for Christmas.


Italian Fruitcake (which tastes like U.S. fruitcake)

3 C. dried fruit (I used a combination of ginger, mango, cranberries, dates, and pineapple)
3/4 red wine (apple cider for those avoiding alcohol)
3T. butter or olive oil
1/2 C. honey
grated orange or lemon peel would be nice too, but I didn't feel like grating

Combine the above ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 3-4 minutes and then set aside, off the heat.

Preheat oven to 350.  As the oven preheats, toast the nuts (see below) and 2 slices of bread for breadcrumbs.

Combine the following in a big bowl:

1/2 C. almonds, toasted and chopped
1/2 C. walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 C. flour
1 C. toasted bread crumbs
1 C. brown sugar
the recipe calls for 1/2 C. chocolate chips, which I didn't use
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. baking soda (I am just realizing that I used baking powder--it worked fine)
2 eggs

Add the fruit mixture and combine until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.  I had to add a bit of water.

Put the batter into a greased springform pan or a bundt pan.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes.  Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then remove from bundt pan or release the side of the springform pan.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Quilting for Refugees

Today the JoAnn's fabric store nearest to me has its grand re-opening.  Ordinarily, I would stay away.  But I need supplies for church tomorrow.

Yes, it's another quilting day at my church, and I am the one who leads it all.  We need supplies:  batting, fabric for backing, embroidery floss for knotting the layers together.  We have many quilts in progress; hopefully tomorrow we can actually finish some of them.

There are days I beat back despair.  I love doing the quilting projects and the thought of helping refugees with these quilts.  But we complete so few of them a year.  How many refugees do we really help?

I don't indulge in that thinking for long.  We don't help as many refugees as larger churches with cadres of people who quilt in different teams.  No, that's not us.  But we do have a church with a wide variety of people who want to help.  We give them an outlet.  Even people who say that they cannot sew--those people can help knot the quilts together.

Along the way, we do old-fashioned consciousness raising.  Because of our periodic projects to help Lutheran World Relief, you won't hear a lot of anti-refugee rhetoric coming from our members.  We understand that many people have fled horrors that we can only barely understand and often they flee with very little resources.  We are happy to send them quilts and hygiene kits.

If you're in the South Florida area and would like to help, come to Trinity Lutheran Church, at the corner of 72nd and Pines in Pembroke Pines, across from the South Campus of Broward College, on the south side of Pines.  We'll be quilting from 9 to 1 or so, and we'd love to have your help.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Convincing Care in the Carrot Peels

Yesterday afternoon, after taking care of various teaching and administrative duties , my colleague friend and I headed over to a local, high-end barbecue place .  Since my spouse wouldn't be home until 10:15 after teaching his evening class, I decided to have an early dinner.  My friend had a coupon for a free appetizer, so we shared a smoked fish dip.

It comes with tortilla chips, but my friend is trying to watch her carb intake.  She asked if she could have celery or cucumber to go with it.

The bartender who was waiting on us said that she would see what she could do.  But the only vegetable they had was carrots.

She brought us a beautiful plate of carrots.  Later we found out that she had peeled and sliced them herself. 

She said her boss had said, "Why are you doing that?  Now they'll expect that the next time they come."

She replied, "And if I'm working, I'll peel carrots again."

Of course, one of the reasons that we return to the restaurant is because of the level of care shown by that particular bartender. 

I thought about her attitude, which she's displayed even before we got to know her.  She's always been warm and welcoming, like we're her best friends who just walked in the door.  She's always made sure the glasses are filled and that the food is good.  She goes the extra mile by peeling the carrots.

What would life be like if we all showed that level of care?

It would be much closer to the world that God desires for us all. 

The peeling of carrots is not traditionally thought of as a spiritual gift, but done with the right spirit, it can be an important one--an aspect of the all-important spiritual gift of hospitality.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Questions the Scriptures Ask

My pastor, Keith Spencer, wrote this and posted it on Facebook:  "As Christians, we are called to be a people of compassion. If this is seen by others as a sign of weakness, then it is precisely the weakness to which we have called in and through Christ Jesus. As Christians, we are called to be a people of humility. If this is seen by others as a sign of weakness, then it is precisely the weakness to which we have called in and through Christ Jesus. When we seek clarity in the scriptures in the midst of the debates before us concerning refu...gees by bringing to them our questions, we had better be prepared for the Scriptures to instead question us. Because I think the answers that are found in our hearts will unsettle us. The further those answers are from drawing us deeper into love of God and neighbor the further they are from being what is right and true for us as people of faith."

I love this sentence:  ". . . we had better be prepared for the Scriptures to instead question us."

What questions are the Scriptures asking you? 

I like this vision of the text as an interactive, living thing--but of course, I would.  I have a Ph.D. in English, and I spent my misspent youth engaging with texts in just this way.  What do I bring to the reading?  What does the author bring?  What questions emerge?

I have never seen the Scriptures as having the one and only truth.  I have read the whole book, and I can see the contradictions, as the truth shifts from book to book.  There are overarching themes, to be sure.  But even those themes are undercut in certain places.

What would happen if we viewed the Scriptures as an interesting collage, a collection of truths, instead of as The Truth?

But now I have strayed from the interesting thought of the Scriptures having a chance to ask us questions. 

I think of the Advent message of the angels, the admonition not to be afraid.  I think of the Scriptures asking me why I am still afraid.  How many angelic messages will it take before I get this central message?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Meditation for This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 22, 2015:

First Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Samuel 23:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 93

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 132:1-13 [14-19] (Psalm 132:1-12 [13-18] NRSV)

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

Gospel: John 18:33-37

Some of us may be thinking, what a strange text to lead us into Advent. Some of us may be thinking, what a non-kingly Gospel for Christ the King Sunday. The weeks to come will be full of strange juxtapositions.

This whipsawed feeling should help us feel sympathy for the Jews of Jesus' time. We know that the Jews had been on the lookout for the Messiah for many years, but they certainly weren't looking for someone like Jesus. They wanted a more traditional vision of a King. They wanted someone who would sweep in and clean up current life. Specifically, they wanted someone to kick the Romans and all the other outsiders out of their homeland. They wanted someone to restore their vision of life as it should be.

We're probably familiar with that feeling. We, too, probably want a God we can control.  Or maybe we want a God who makes us feel superior.

The Gospel readings for this week, and the Advent/Christmas texts remind us that we don't worship that kind of God. We worship a God who is willing to become one of the most vulnerable kinds of creatures in our world: a newborn baby, born to underclass parents, in an underclass minority, in an occupied land. We worship a God so radical that he is crucified as a political criminal. Yes, a political criminal--crucifixions were reserved for crimes against the state in the Roman system. It's interesting to reread the Gospels with that fact in mind and to ponder what Jesus said that made him seem so radical and subversive to the Romans.

We worship a God who wants nothing to do with our human visions of power. Our God turned away from wealth. Our God calls us to a radical generosity and invites us to share all that we have. Our God turned away from political power. Our experience of God, in Jesus, reminds us that if we behave in the way that God wants us to behave, we will come into direct conflict with the dominant power structures of our day.

Our God is one whom we will encounter in the oddest places, like a manger or in criminal court. Advent will remind us that we need to always be alert to the possibilities of this encounter, but that it likely won't happen in the way that we've prepared for or expected.

We come to the end of a liturgical year, the end of that long, green season, as my 5th grade Sunday School teacher called it. We begin a new year trembling with fear and hope. It is a good time, as all new years are, to make resolutions. In the next liturgical year, how will we prepare to meet God? To what strange places are we willing to go so that we may encounter God?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Refugees and Responsibility

And so it begins, as I knew it probably would.  But oh, how I had hoped we might avoid ugliness.

Now the chorus of governors who say, "Not in my state."  Now the Facebook posts of people who say, "No more refugees until we take care of homeless Americans."

We have enough for both refugees and for our homegrown homeless.  Look at your own garbage cans if you don't believe me.

We have enough room for everyone who might want to come here.  There are huge swaths of the U.S. that are empty.  Some are truly uninhabitable, but some were once inhabited.

I understand that these arguments are not based in rationality.  I understand the scarcity consciousness behind some of them.  I understand the fear of those who are different.

But I also understand the richness that we all bring to the pot of stew where we live.  One ingredient does not make for anything interesting.

The U.S. has traditionally done a good job of integrating refugees into our larger culture.  Sure, we could have done better, but our less-stratified society actually makes our country a better candidate for refugee resettlement than much of Europe.  And the U.S. still has a wide variety of social service groups that are dedicated to refugee resettlement--another argument for why it should be this country.

Of course, there are plenty of refugees to go around. 

We are close to Advent and Christmas, a time when many of us will be hearing the words of the ancient prophets who call upon us to bind up the broken.  The season of Christmas will be bring a story about another set of refugees, about an ancient family forced to travel and then forced to flee.  We will hear about ancient governments who bear more than a passing resemblance to our own.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be in countries that offer us stability--we have a duty to speak up for those who do not.  A variety of religions are very clear on that point of similarity.

Let us pray for the courage of those convictions.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Prayers and Actions for France in a Florida Church

I wonder if churches saw an increase in attendance yesterday.  I suspect that in Paris, the numbers were up.  Our church attendance seemed normal.

We did set up a display with candles for every soul killed in Paris. 

My pastor wrote on Saturday and asked if I had any red, white, and blue fabric that I could bring.  I responded that I did, but none were big enough for a table cloth.  I had strips and patches, which I thought made a good symbol too.

I was cleaning up from the middle service, so I missed the best camera shot.   But the skinny beeswax candles melted and set the tablecloth on fire, so they had to be extinguished.

Our pastor read a letter from a minister in charge of one of the cathedrals in France.  The letter thanked the world for the outpouring of concern and implored us to look for ways to translate prayers and concern into action--but to avoid actions rooted in hate, like anti-immigrant/refugee or anti-Muslim actions. 

I am glad to be part of a church where our prayers will be turned into actions.  We had already planned the quilting event for next Sunday, where we will continue our work on quilts for Lutheran World Relief.  On Saturday, I got the box that Thrivent sends for people who get a microgrant.  We will have sign in sheets and T-shirts--and I got a Visa card to buy supplies.

In this way, we will keep our flames of hope alive.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Poem for The Last Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we celebrate the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, the time after Pentecost.  What a long stretch it has been!

In my childhood years, this season was called the Trinity season, or as I thought of it, the long, green, boring season.  No interesting holidays.  Boring hymns.  Nothing to break up the monotony.

Now that I am older, I admit to often feeling the same way.  But I am also grateful for long seasons of time unpunctuated by drama.  It's an interesting contradiction.

Next week we have Christ the King Sunday and then it's on to Advent; I am ready for a season that reminds me of the importance of keeping watch.  After that, Christmas and Epiphany--in these dark times, it will be good to have a season of light.

These thoughts put me in mind of a poem that I wrote years ago, but I still think it holds up well.

Desert Dreams

We face midlife with Prufrock.
Midlife, that endless wait for Godot,
who might show up early or not at all.
Existentialism succors only the young.

And so, we, too, come to realize
what Eliot knew. At the last,
liturgy offers a consolation,
Compline a kind of comfort,
with its contrast to the sudden violence
of sunset. We remember the verses learned
by rote, repeat them to calm
our quaking, media-addled nerves.

Prophetic whispers surface from the sediment
of our days, a muddy
bit from Isaiah or the Psalms,
instructing us to comfort, comfort ye my people.
A voice crying in the wilderness
of our arid hearts, our desert dreams.  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hope in a Time of Terrorism

After events like those in Paris yesterday, we may wonder how any rays of hope can break through our dark clouds of despair.

How many more candlelight vigils do we need to hold?

How can we beat back the darkness?

Hopefully, we will find ways to prop up our flagging faith in humanity.  We may find support in the most unlikely places.  Let us accept that help.

We should remember that from broken items can come great beauty.  For more on the making of the cross in the image below, see this blog post.

Patches of ragged cloth can be made into a creation of comfort.

And while we wait, we can offer our prayers, our hopes, our wishes, and let them rise to the larger world.

The woman in the picture above is kneeling on a Turkish prayer rug, probably Muslim, in the chapel at Lutheridge, a Christian camp.  I like the ecumenism of the picture, but I did have some qualms.  For more on this image and this rug, see this blog post.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Fate of the Musical Instruments

My spouse and I spent part of Veterans Day talking about the musical instruments.  What to do with them?

You might say, "Why, play them, of course."

Once we might have agreed.  Once we moved in and about communities that would have encouraged that:  weekly folk music group meetings, regular retreats, church groups, you know the possibilities.

But now we don't have as many opportunities to play the instruments.  We don't have a house where we can leave them sitting out on the off chance that we pick them up when we find ourselves with 15 minutes of free time.  We don't have much storage space.

And then, there's the larger issue of whether or not we might do good in the world by giving them away.  We've already given some of them to an urban Lutheran church which has a program to try to keep children from being attracted to gangs.

We might give them to that church or we might take them to a retreat center.

How did we come to have all these instruments?  The usual way:  we had some from childhood, some we adopted, some we bought because we saw a good deal or we had an idea that we would learn something new.  We picked up a few along the way because we got them free when we spent a certain amount of money at the big chain instrument store.

We accumulated many of them while my mother-in-law lay dying, a death by medical-industrial complex that took almost four months.  Along the way, I joked uneasily about the buying of instruments as being one of the stages of grief that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross never discussed.  We spent many an evening shopping for instruments, for sheet music, for a variety of supplies like picks, strings, and cases.

We've sent many of those instruments on to new homes.  It just wasn't practical to have a drum kit set up in the living room.  We didn't need several cheap guitars that we didn't have time to learn to play.

The instruments that are left are harder:  the pair of mandolins that we bought ourselves for a wedding anniversary, the interesting drums that we've picked up on our travels, and the extra violins.  I'm not sure what decisions we will make.

I realize that part of what makes it hard is the same dynamic involved in getting rid of books and getting rid of art/craft supplies:  it forces us to come face to face with past spending and with our hopes that never materialized.  I'm not sure which reckoning is harder.

That's why I like the idea of giving all of them to groups that work for peace and justice.  I want that transformative power.  I like the idea that just because the hopes and plans that I had for me didn't work out, that the musical instrument/books/arts and crafts supplies can help others.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 15, 2015:

First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 1 Samuel 1:4-20

Psalm: Psalm 16

Psalm (Semi-cont.): 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25

Gospel: Mark 13:1-8

Here we are, back to apocalyptic texts, a rather strange turn just before we launch into Advent (and just so you won't be surprised, those Advent texts can be on the apocalyptic side too). This week's Gospel is the type of text that many Christians use to support their assertion that we're living in the end times, that the rapture is near.

Keep in mind that the idea of rapture is fairly new; most scholars date it to the middle of the 19th century. But Christians have felt besieged since the beginning, and indeed, at certain times throughout the centuries, they have been severely threatened.

Most scholars believe that the book of Mark was written just after a particularly brutal suppression of a Jewish uprising and just before the destruction of the Temple, a time when the empire of Rome made it increasingly difficult to be an alien part of the empire. The Gospel of Mark is the most apocalyptic Gospel, perhaps because it was written when people really expected the end was near (and indeed, in many ways, the end was near). The whole of chapter 13 of Mark is grim indeed. Perhaps the Gospel writer uses such a chapter to launch into the Passion story, to set the mood.

Or maybe the Gospel writer wants to remind us of the cost of following Jesus. Maybe it's the larger cost of existing in the world. Even if we're lucky enough to be born into a stable time period, to be part of a country with a stable government, if we're conscious, it's hard to escape the conclusion that it could all vanish at any moment. And even if we don't suffer on the grand (genocidal) scale, most of us will endure more loss than our younger selves would have believed could be survived.

Before we sink too deeply into depression, we need to remember that Jesus came to give us Good News. And that Good News is that we have each other, and we have a God who loves us, no matter what. If we devote our lives to that love, then we can survive all sorts of betrayal, loss, and persecution.

It's also important to look at the last part of the last sentence of this week's Gospel: "this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs." Birth-pangs. What is being born exactly?

The most positive spin on this bit is to say that the Kingdom of God is being born. We tend to think of the Kingdom of God as referring to Heaven, but if you read all the references to the Kingdom of God, it appears that Jesus isn't talking about Heaven as we know it. In some places, Jesus seems to talk about the Kingdom as already existing, perhaps as Jesus walking amongst us. In other places, the Kingdom of God will come to earth later, in a kind of purifying, redeeming vision. Yet again, we see references to this process already beginning, both with Christ's efforts and with the efforts of his believers.

Those of us who have had children, or who have had relatives and friends who have had children, know that parents have to go through a fierce process to hold that little baby in their arms. Jesus reminds us that the process towards the Kingdom of God can be equally fierce. Jesus reminds us that we must stay alert and aware, but that we need not feel alarmed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Price of Freedom

What is worth defending?  Would you give your life for these documents?

Williamsburg Gift Shop

Today, let us give thanks for the years that don't require that sacrifice.  And let us give prayers of thanks to those who work to make those years possible.

Memorial Site in Tallapoosa, Georgia

Let us give thanks for the freedoms that have been kept safe.

Mepkin Abbey Shelves with Books that Would be Banned in Many Countries

Let us give thanks for the ones who offer daily prayers for peace, in monasteries and other sacred sites.

Mepkin Abbey Chapel

Let us pray for all the seedlings of peace that we see sprouting out of unlikely ground. 

First February Daffodil at Mepkin Abbey

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cheap Grace, Cheap Patriotism, and Prayers for Peace

Today at my school, we are encouraged to wear red, white, and blue to celebrate Veteran's Day (our school is closed tomorrow, in honor of the holiday).  I wish we were doing something a bit more solid, like collecting money for the groups that do so much to help both service members and veterans.  I wish we could make care kits.  I'd like to write some letters.
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his abhorrence of cheap grace, the concept found in The Cost of Discipleship:  “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Would this idea apply to cheap patriotism?  Let me ponder:

Cheap patriotism is the patriotism we bestow on ourselves.  Cheap patriotism is the wearing of red, white, and blue, without wanting our taxes to increase to support the military.  Cheap patriotism is the making of care packages while we lay off medical doctors in VA facilities, thank you notes without a jobs placement program to help veterans when their service is done, military advisors in war zones without a thought for how events might escalate, a commitment to our troops in foreign places without a commitment to protecting foreign civilians.

I've considered not wearing red, white, and blue, in protest of the cheap patriotism that it inspires.  But in the end, I'll wear my red skirt and blue top.  I will not be that preachy scold who lectures people.

I could be the person who feels irritable when I see the sea of red, white, and blue clothes.  But let me use that visual reminder as a bell to toll me back to my more mindful self.  I will remember to pray for peace in our time.

And I will pray in more depth.  Here's a prayer that I wrote for Veteran's Day several years ago:

God of Peace, on this Veteran's Day, we beseech you to renew in us the determination to be peacemakers. On this day, we pray for all who are damaged by wars big and small. We offer a prayer of thanks for our veterans, and we offer a prayer of vision that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our hopeful prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Monday, November 9, 2015

To Quilt a Sunday

--Yesterday my quilting group met, and I made some headway on getting the quilts ready to assemble for our next church quilting for Lutheran World Relief.  We've been working on these quilts since June, when we made the tops as part of a Vacation Bible School project.

--I may go to the only Lutheran church in the U.S. that has no group of little old ladies who quilt.  At a retreat, we heard about a group that has made hundreds of quilts in the past year, which has been a typical year for them.  I remind myself that we're a quilting group made of people with families and jobs and other responsibilities which keep us from quilting.

--I think of a folk music friend I knew years ago.  He had COPD, so he tired easily and couldn't do much.  But he could knit and crochet.  He made dozens of prayer shawls every month--almost more than his small church could use.

--Even though I expect to be able to buy supplies with money from a microgrant that I applied for, I'm still looking at the fabric at my house in different ways.  Last year I bought a piece of fleece for a tablecloth.  I was hoping for a butterscotch color, but it's really more of a bright orange than I want.  I only use it a month or two a year, and it's just not the color that I want.  So, it's on its way to becoming part of a quilt.

--At the end of a productive day, I spent some time floating in the pool.  Yes, on Nov. 8, in my unheated pool--and we were fairly comfortable.  It wasn't August, bathwater warm, but it wasn't the usual cold we'd have by now.

--There are days when I think about my love of quilting in a time of global warming.  But Lutheran World Relief would point out that even if no one needed a quilt to keep them warm, they'd still use them for floor coverings and other ways.

--As with much of the work we do, we send the quilts off and hope for the best.  I hope that they stay stitched together.  I hope they are useful.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Repurposing Fabric for Lutheran World Relief Quilts

Last week, I applied for a Thrivent Action Group microgrant (for lack of a better word) for our next quilting Sunday at church on Nov. 22.  If it comes through, I'll have a Visa card to buy supplies, like fabric and thread and batting--which can all be surprisingly expensive.  I suspect our grant will be awarded because it's the kind of project that they like to fund.

That hasn't stopped me from thinking about the big pieces of fabric that I have on hand that might be repurposed for LWR quilts.  Last year I bought a piece of fleece for a tablecloth.  I was hoping for a butterscotch color, but it's really more of a bright orange than I want.  I only use it a month or two a year, and it's just not the color that I want.  So, it's on its way to becoming part of a quilt.

I have a set of sheets that I almost never use, but I keep the set, just in case I need to change sheets without having time to launder the set that's on the bed.  Perhaps I should use those too.  If the day comes when I regularly find myself wishing that we had an extra set, I can buy an extra set then.

I like the idea of using the fabric while it's still in decent shape.  I like the idea of having less to store.  I will still have plenty of supplies to buy when the Visa card comes--the batting alone can use up much of the grant.

I also think of my younger self who was so proud of creating quilts and placemats and art that would have a use. I want to use the fabric while it's still in one piece, before it decays.

Once I bought a lot of fabric.  I haunted the fabric stores and bought all sorts of remnants, along with fabric that I bought through projects.  Through the years, I've used the fabric, but I've given far more of it away.  I don't want to stockpile too much--but I also want to look at other stockpiles, which aren't as obvious to the first glance:  the extra sheets, the tablecloths, the cloth napkins that I so rarely use these days.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

My Favorite Writer at My Favorite Monastery

If your favorite writer was going to be at your favorite monastery for a 4 day retreat with workshops, what would you do?  Let's assume that you could be gone from work--how much would you pay to be part of this retreat?

I asked my friends this very question, and they would be willing to pay $1500 or more.  Suddenly the $350 fee looked good--it includes food and lodging after all, and one friend pointed out that 3 nights in a hotel could easily cost $350 or more.

But I've never paid this much for a retreat or a writer's workshop, so my view is skewed--and yes, I realize how lucky I am.  My grad school studies cost $159 a semester because I had assistantships.  So that means my whole degree cost less than $1600 in tuition.  Actually that's the cost for 2 degrees, my MA and my PhD at a state university.

I've passed on many an opportunity because it cost too much.  But maybe I've been depriving myself.  Maybe I should spend some money along the way, especially since I've earned some money through my writing.

The retreat at Mepkin Abbey with Kathleen Norris takes place March 28, a week where I'd have been headed north for the Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge on that Thursday--when the Mepkin Abbey retreat ends!  Usually dates do not align that neatly for me.  Usually, when I see 2 or 3 events I'd like to attend, it would mean a month of travelling up and down the same highway.

I saw it as a sign, along with the fact that it would be the week between Winter quarter and Spring quarter, and not the first week of a quarter, which is a tough time to get away.  I also thought of some of the big trips I've taken in the past, and I'm so glad I did now, because it would be so much harder these days, or impossible, to coordinate schedules.

And so, I registered last week.  I am so thrilled.  I will be able to work with one of my writing heroes.  I will be able to spend time at Mepkin Abbey.  I will end that time by going to my other favorite retreat place, Lutheridge.

It will be hard to return to regular life after that week.  But I'll worry about that issue later.

Friday, November 6, 2015

What the Dead Teach Us

Earlier this year, my best friend from high school who was also my former housemate died.  I say best friend from high school--but best friend doesn't really convey the bond we had.  I came to the school in the 10th grade, and we weren't friends until my Senior year.  It's because of that Senior year that I remember high school fondly.  We had been lonely, and then a group of us found each other.  If you have spent time hiding out in the library because you can't face eating your lunch alone and then you found yourself having several best friends in your last year of school--then perhaps you can understand how "best friend from high school" doesn't really do justice to the relationship.

She was also a housemate for 4 years--but that phrase, too, doesn't really do justice to what we created.  We were an odd family, but a family nonetheless, my spouse, my high school best friend, our undergrad friend, and me.  We ate dinner together most nights. We remodeled houses together.  We took vacations together.  We did the tough work of figuring out how to live in community, and we reaped many benefits.

Here's what I find odd.  This week was her birthday.  For most of the years that she was alive, her birthday came and went, and I seldom thought of it.  This year, I was keenly aware.

Would I have been aware if her birthday hadn't fallen so close to All Saints and All Souls?  I think so.  I find myself thinking of her often.  Just this morning, I put my raspberries and yogurt in a plastic container to take to work.  I thought of the time that we were at Sam's Club and bought the containers for the communal household.  I felt a tinge of sadness as I spooned the yogurt over the berries.

Would I have remembered buying those containers had she not died?  Yes, I would.  But the tinge of sadness is what makes me take note.  Before she died, it would have just been a thought that flitted through my head, and I wouldn't have taken much notice.

My friend is the first of my contemporaries who has died.  Maybe as more of my friends die, I'll spend even more time remembering all sorts of minutes from my past, earlier life. 

But I am similarly haunted by my grandmother.  For the two weeks before Halloween, I kept catching whiffs of her.  I don't know how to say it any other way.  I'm sure that someone around me was using her soap.  At least that's what the rational part of my brain says.

The irrational part of my brain worries that it's a signal of something wrong with me, that I'm hallucinating smell.  The part of my brain that thinks that I don't really understand death and time and Physics thinks that my grandmother has come back to visit me, that no one else would have that unique smell of Dial soap and a morning of baking tinged by sweat.

I think of the religious traditions, like Buddhism, that encourage us to be fully present.  I think of those bells and gongs that are designed to call us back.  I wonder if there are less-talked-about aspects of religious traditions that talk about our memories of our dead that encourage us to be present.

But it's an odd kind of being present--I'm more aware of packing my berries and yogurt in the current moment while I'm also plunged back into the past, the hot August day in a warehouse with a cement floor where we made a decision about the best set of storage containers.

Is this a phase of grieving?  I don't remember studying it in Psych or Religion classes.  Of course, back then I'd have been very young.  What did I know of death and grieving?

I also realize how lucky I am to have made it to this solid ground of midlife before having to think about these issues of how grief affects us and what the dead teach us.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Perfect Book for Advent

I always look for ways to inject some spiritual elements into Advent, that season before Christmas that can be hectic and draining.  This year I plan to delve into this book, Annunciation, a collection of poems and illustrations.

I am one of the sixteen poets included, but even if I wasn't, I would still want this book.  I'm interested in how the writing and art respond to the purpose of the book:

"The annunciation story is a complicated foundational story in western culture. Patriarchies have used Mary as a model for ideal female acceptance, faith, and submission to authority, while at the same time millions of people have identified with her courage, suffering, and patience, and accorded her their personal devotion and deep respect.

I suspect that if we look closely, most of us may have been touched by her story in some way
. I want to encourage you to look at the annunciation from a modern point of view, as contemporary poets of different cultural backgrounds. Your work can be religious or secular, traditional or decidedly not, written in  a feminist light, a current-events light, a personal light. I'm not looking for any particular type of thrust or interpretation, but rather a broad range of responses to this story and this person we know as Mary.  I want to encourage you to think deeply and fearlessly, and to write from your hearts."

My purple legal pad where I write poems shows me that I was playing with the Gabriel idea before I saw this post of Beth Adam's art that she posted in January.  I had the idea during Advent, the mingling of the thought of John the Baptist as that homeless guy under the overpass, the idea of God coming where we least expect to find the Divine, and the godlessness of South Florida. 

Then in January, Beth posted this picture:

When I saw her post on a day when I saw other images that spoke to me of Gabriel, I wrote a blog post about the poem I was trying to write.  That blog post led to an electronic conversation with Beth, which has led to my poem being included in the book.

The book is reasonably priced, especially for a book that includes art.  And if you order now, you can get a discount.  Even better, 10% of the proceeds from this book will be donated directly to refugee relief for women.

Like I said, it's the perfect book for Advent, that season where we will hear Mary's story, that rare time in the Bible where a woman takes center stage--two if you count Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, also improbably pregnant.

I also like that purchases of this book support old-fashioned book publishing, a small press that has done much to support poetry.  The book is 72 pages, which is a larger book than I was expecting, but not so large as to be a daunting reading for Advent.

In an early e-mail to participants, Beth Adams wrote:    "Religion is never simple, how it affects our own identities is never simple, and neither is the role of women within society, no matter how far we think we've come. I think this story has been a foundational one for western societies, and worth a closer look in our own time."

This book provides a perfect starting point.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 8, 2015:

First Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Psalm: Psalm 146

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 127

Second Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28

Gospel: Mark 12:38-44

In some churches this Sunday, congregations will hear the story of Ruth, and then hear about the poor widow in the Gospel. Some pastors will tell their congregations that the lesson to be learned is to be nice to your mother-in-law, and some will wrap the poor widow into a stewardship Gospel as they ask congregations to give until it hurts. What is Jesus really trying to say?

I've often had trouble with the historical church's approach to women, but rarely has the message of Jesus seemed anti-female. With Gospels like this one, at first I'm pleased to see that Jesus uses a female as a model of good behavior. The Gospel seems to fit with the story of the rich young man who is told to give away all that he has to the poor and with the message of Jesus about the yoke we must wear.

But then I stop and think. She's not just any woman. If Jesus just wanted a model of good behavior, he might have stopped there. No, she's not just any woman. She's a widow. Women didn't have much status in the days of Jesus, and widows had even less. Why would Jesus make her a widow?

I suspect that Jesus, as always, has something to tell us about the power structures of his day--power structures that look a lot like power structures of our day. The poor widow is poor not because she couldn't manage her money. No, she was poor because of the class structures put in place to keep her destitute. She is surrounded by men who have no trouble making their financial commitments to the Temple, while she gives all that she has.

Jesus calls us to always--always--help the poor, the destitute, and the outcast. But that is not enough. Jesus also calls us to participate in Kingdom building. We are to work to transform the world so that nobody will be poor and outcast. We are to work towards a world where everyone has enough so that no one has to donate their last coins to the Temple to help the poor.

Helping the poor is charity work, and it's important. We're called to do it. Transforming our society so that we have no poor people in need of charity work is social justice work, and we are also called to do that.

You might think about your own life. Where do you see poor widows in need of help? How can you help transform our society so that at some point there will be no poor widows?

Jesus also has a message that we shouldn't ignore about holding on too closely to our coins. Those of us who are successful have an increasingly easy time believing that we're successful because we're worthy and smart. We have an increasingly easy time believing that we're successful solely because of our own efforts.

Those of us who have suffered misfortune realize that our station in life often has little to do with our efforts. We have the luck or misfortune of the family we're born into. We make decisions early in life about jobs, marriage, education--and those decisions have impacts decades later that we couldn't have realized at the time we made them. There are global forces at work that are much more powerful than our puny efforts in our own behalf.

We like the American Success Story, which tells us that anyone can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We like that story, although statistics don't bear out the truth of that story--quite the opposite.

Jesus has a different story to tell us, a story where we are truly free, and judged by a different rubric, one that is seldom valued by the world. Jesus values radical generosity, generosity that the world would regard as lunacy. Jesus invites us into the transformative grace of that story.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Feast of All Saints and All Souls

We write their names in the books we keep.

We carve their names on marble, which might last longer.

We trust the monks to keep the Book of the Dead, to remember our loved ones each November.

We keep their ashes close.

We light candles to beat back the darkness.

We scatter rose petals, both because we know the futility of our efforts

and because we commit to beauty.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Feast of All Souls

Today is the Feast of All Souls. You might be confused--didn't we just celebrate this holiday yesterday?

No, that was All Saints. All Saints was originally designed to honor the saints, those who had been beatified:  official saints, canonized by the Pope.  Some traditions would also include Christian martyrs.

All Souls Day, celebrated the day after All Saints, was designed to honor everyone else who had died.

In some traditions, All Saints Day honors all the Christian dead, and All Souls Day honors those who have died in the past year.  In the medieval Catholic theology, those souls would still be in Purgatory, and special prayers would be offered for them on the Feast of All Souls.

Those of you with excellent memories of your English major days may remember that Sir Gawain left for his adventure with the Green Knight on All Souls Day. Medieval audiences would have read a lot into that date of departure.  They would be expecting that next year, Gawain would be one of the souls prayed for on this feast day.

All Souls would develop into the kind of day that drove Martin Luther crazy. On All Souls Day, people would be encouraged to spend money so that their loved ones would get out of purgatory sooner. According to medieval theology, a soul wasn't ready to go to Heaven right away.

A few years ago, I came across a reference piece that talked about the triduum of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls.  Triduum means "three days," but I've only ever heard of it used as the time period between Good Friday and Easter.  It's so much easier to celebrate the Triduum of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls, when it occurs on a week-end.
For me, it will be strange to return to work today, where I expect that many of my co-workers will have put away the Halloween decorations and moved on to thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

I will spend an additional day with the dead, thinking about colleagues, so many of them, who have moved on.  I will think about my favorite English teacher who launched me on this path of being and English teacher and administrator.  I would likely not have gone to grad school had she not told me that I must.  She died of a stroke in February of 2014. 

I will think about the department head who first hired me at the school where I work now.  Like my favorite English teacher, she believed in me and let me create all sorts of Creative Writing classes.  When it was clear that she would be moving to Virginia, she helped me to discern whether or not a move to administration was for me.  And in 2012, after my job disappeared, and I successfully applied for my job in the new structure, she was the first to remind me that my brain had translated those events not just as success but as trauma, and she's the one who told me to rest awhile.  She died in July of 2014 of a reoccurrence of brain cancer.

I will pray for us all.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Feast of All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints. Traditionally, this day celebrates the saints who have gone on before us. Traditionalists would only celebrate the lives of the truly beatified and the lives of those martyred for the faith; we'd celebrate the more recently dead tomorrow, with the Feast of All Souls.  Many modern churches have expanded this feast day (or collapsed the 2 feast days) to become a day when we remember our dead.

I have recently become interested in the traditions of many Latin American cultures, which turn this day into something more festive, with sugar skulls and altars which celebrate our dear departed ones and picnics in the cemetery where stories about our loved ones are exchanged.

A few years ago, I came across a reference piece that talked about the triduum of Halloween, All Saints and All Souls.  Triduum means "three days," but I've only ever heard of it used as the time period between Good Friday and Easter.  It's so much easier to celebrate the Triduum of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls, when it occurs on a week-end.

On All Hallow's Eve, we celebrated the way that so many do, by putting candles in the Jack-o-lantern and handing out candy.  We also celebrated in less traditional ways, by sorting some of our books and our photos.  We looked through the old religious books that came to us from various family members.  Some we will keep; many others will go away.  My spouse looked at photos, while I looked at other books for one last time before sending them to new homes.

I have bought all the ingredients to make this delicious Day of the Dead bread*.  But will I do so this afternoon?

We grilled  a turkey breast yesterday afternoon, and this afternoon, we'll make a pot of turkey and dumplings.  It's the perfect way to remember my mother-in-law, gone from us 10 years.  If I had never known her, I'd have never made this kind of dish.  I suspect she made it as a way to stretch out food to feed her family--which included 2 teen-age boys--on a very limited budget.

I'll ask our backyard neighbor if she'd like some turkey and dumplings after I pick her up from the airport.  In this way, I'll honor my grandparents, both sets, who were always modeling this sort of hospitality.

Tomorrow I'll have to celebrate the Feast of All Souls more quietly as I head back to work.  I'll think about all the souls who no longer work where I do--but many of them are still alive, so I can be in touch with them.  I'll think of the friends I have who seem to have died rather suddenly in the past few years.

I like these holidays that remind us that life is short, and we need to get on with the work that we are here to do.  I am grateful that I come from many traditions (Christian, English major) that remind us that even if we can't get all the work done, that the work will go on, that death does not have the final answer.

*Pan de Muerto, “Bread of the Dead"

From Adapted by David Eck

BREAD: 1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
5 1/2 cups flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 T. whole anise seed
2 T grated orange zest
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs

In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the butter, milk and water until very warm but not boiling. [100-110 F degrees]

Meanwhile, measure out 1 1/2 cups flour and set the rest aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the 1 1/2 cups of flour, yeast, salt, anise seed, orange zest and sugar. Beat the warm liquid until well combined. Add the eggs and beat in another 1 cup of flour. Continue adding more flour until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead on lightly floured board for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a bowl and place dough in it, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch dough down and shape into 4 loaves resembling skulls, skeletons or round loaves with “bones” placed ornamentally around the top if desired. Let these loaves rise for 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350 F degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool and paint on glaze.

Bring 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup orange juice to a boil for 2 minutes, then apply to bread with a pastry brush. If desired, sprinkle on colored or regular sugar while glaze is still damp.

You can buy anise seed in the bulk spice section of many stores where it’s very reasonably priced. You can use rapid rise yeast in this recipe which may cut down on the rising time. Keep an eye on it. You can also make this recipe in a mixer with a dough hook.