Friday, November 30, 2018

The Feast Day of Saint Andrew

Today is the feast day of Saint Andrew, remembered as the first disciple. He's the brother of Simon Peter, and Andrew is the one who told Peter about Jesus. 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.

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?

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Preparing the Worship Space for Advent

Last night, I went home to pick  up my spouse after work.  Then we headed to church, where he had choir rehearsal.  I helped decorate the sanctuary for Advent.

I feel fortunate to be part of a church that has no altar guild.  For those of you who grew up in different spiritual settings, your experience with the altar guild may be different--or non-existent.  Some spiritual gathering places don't allow for decorations at all or perhaps they don't change with the seasons.  In other spaces, the decorations are already chosen, perhaps kept for ages across generations.  Those spaces often have altar guilds that take care of all the objects and make sure that the changes happen in an orderly manner. 

Many stereotypes exist around altar guilds.  Many people see them as the way that older women claimed some power and ownership in churches that didn't let them lead in many ways.  Woe to those newcomers who wanted to help out or those who suggested change.  I've had some experience with all sorts of altar guilds, and I always see the members as good-hearted people who are trying to avert catastrophe, even if the catastrophes wouldn't be as dreadful as the fear.

Our church doesn't have an altar guild.  We have a set of paraments that used to hide the gorgeous white marble of the altar, but now we don't use those much.  If we have traditional banners, I'm not sure where they are.

We don't have an altar guild, and we have a pastor who is open to new ideas.  That's a powerful opening of opportunity for folks like me who have visions of a different sort of worship space.  When I was first at Mepkin Abbey in 2004, one of the things that most intrigued me was how the worship space changed on a daily basis, and how much more engaged I felt.

So I wasn't sure what to expect last night.  There might be a crew of people.  There might be just me, noodling around in the space while the pastor worked on a different project.  In the end, it was me and my pastor.  I worked on the tree, while he set up the altar.

We have fake trees for a variety of reasons.  We used to have 2 that flanked the altar.  Last night while I was setting up the second tree, the stand broke leaving us with no way to make the fake tree stand up.  So we thought about other possibilities for the tree, since the asymmetry wasn't working.  Eventually, we moved it to a spot to the side of the steps that lead to the chancel.  The asymmetry is fine, because the piano is on the other side of the steps.

We have two boxes of Chrismons, some of which are in good shape, and some of which should probably be thrown away.  I decorated the tree with blue and silver balls and some of the best of the Chrismons.  I didn't think to take a picture last night. 

My pastor came up with a very cool approach to the Advent wreath.  Here's the Advent wreath we used to use, which is much more traditional:

Our wreath has been on a stand next to the altar:

Last night, my pastor set up the manger scene on the altar and then began to develop something new, which then sparked his idea for this:

At first, the crucifix wasn't part of the scene.  My pastor added the gold ribbon to make clear that the crucifix was intentional.

I like that the crucifix reminds us that the story is much more stark than the Christmas Eve story that we usually hear.  That Christmas Eve story can be sentimental verging into cuteness. 

For me, the worship space gives us all sorts of opportunities to reinforce the message of the lectionary, the theme of the liturgical season.  Most churches have done a great job of using music in this way.  We don't always do as much as we could with the other aspects of the worship service or space.

Of course, most churches have more musicians than other types of artists.  And it takes a certain kind of approach to create a worship space that works for the majority of worshipers.  Something gruesome might make a point, but it may not be the most effective approach for the congregation.

I also try to be aware of the wide-ranging tastes of our congregation.  I know that most of us don't have a memory of Chrismons, for example.  I suspect that the members who made our Chrismons are long gone.  But they serve a purpose, and for some of our congregation, they have a much deeper meaning.

I've heard from at least one member that she finds our approach to the chancel to be too messy.  She would prefer the old paraments.  She thinks the altar should be clear of many of the items we put on it.

But I hear from many more members who like our approach to the chancel space.  And so I continue on, trying to involve more people who are interested in this approach, trying to keep the congregation engaged in new ways.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, December 2, 2018:

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 (famously, Mary; not so famously, the legions of people who have felt the yoke of oppression and yearned for a savior).

It's also important to remember that one of the main messages of the New Testament (as well as the Old Testament, according to some interpretations) are tales 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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Gratitude Lyrics

On Sunday during our interactive service, we had fun with writing new lyrics to old songs.  It's a great exercise for any age, and I mention it, because it doesn't require much prep time or materials.  The small children enjoyed it, as did the older members.  A bonus:  the small children got to write new lyrics to their favorite song by Fallout Boy, and they thought this church service was the coolest thing ever.

We were off lectionary, so we weren't writing lyrics to Christ the King Sunday themes.  We decided to stick with gratitude.  We read the story about the 10 healed lepers, and only one came back to thank Jesus.  Then we broke into three groups of 3-4 members and got to work rewriting songs with a gratitude theme.

We chose the Fallout Boy song, "This Little Light of Mine," and "Jesus Loves Me."  My team had "This Little Light of Mine."  Our assignment was to write one verse, but that didn't take us long, as our lyric repeated:  "Say thank you every day / in each and every way"--repeat 3 times and end with "Thank you God, Thank you God, Thank you God."  So, we wrote another verse:

In our house and in our school,
Say thank you every day.
At work and in our play,
Say thank you every day.
With family and with friends,
Say thank you every day.
Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God.

The team working on "Jesus Loves Me" didn't get very far, so we all wrote a lyric together.

Thank you God who's full of grace
Who holds us in a warm embrace.
With a smile on our face
We worship God in this place.

We had some sort of thank you refrain.

The Fallout Boy song I can't tell you much about, except that the team pulled up the song on their phone and sang along.  Our pastor recorded each performance, and we had a brief discussion about copyright and performances, along with a daydream about the band hearing about our cover of their song and showing up for a surprise performance.

After church, in the butterfly garden, the mother of the two boys searched for the one Fallout Boy song that I know, from spin class, where I find all modern music.  We (the mom, the two boys, and me) jammed out to "Centuries," and the lyrics we remembered seem somewhat appropriate for church:  "Some legends are told / Some turn to dust or to gold / But you will remember me / Remember me for centuries."  The two small boys seemed impressed that I knew the lyrics.  The older women arriving for the traditional 11:00 service smiled at us.

It was a good Sunday.

Monday, November 26, 2018

In Harmony with the Gifts that Are Already Given

This is the reading that has most spoken to me this far in my online journaling class.

I LOVE the idea of already having the gifts. I tend to approach from a different direction--I have gifts, but I have to improve upon them, and how can I best improve. And always, my inner guidance counselor voice is telling me in how many ways I'm not living up to my full potential. How peaceful it is, this idea that the gifts are already there ready for me to be in harmony with them.

Yesterday morning, I heard one of my favorite episodes of Krista Tippett's On Being, an interview with Rachel Naomi Remen.  She tells a story of how light came into the world, about an accident with the container that held the world, and the breaking of the container is how the light gets scattered everywhere.

And then she reflects on the meaning for us in the present day: "It's a very old story, comes from the 14th century, and it's a different way of looking at our power. And I suspect it has a key for us in our present situation, a very important key. I'm not a person who is a political person in the usual sense of that word, but I think that we all feel that we're not enough to make a difference, that we need to be more somehow, either wealthier or more educated or somehow or other different than the people we are. And according to this story, we are exactly what's needed. And to just wonder about that a little, what if we were exactly what's needed? What then? How would I live if I was exactly what's needed to heal the world?"

What if God doesn't need me to change? What if God has created me to be exactly what's needed, right here, right now? For me, it's a powerful thought.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

One Last Look Back at Thanksgiving

Yesterday, we waited a bit before leaving the North Carolina mountains.  There had been wintry weather overnight, and we wanted to give the system more time to clear out.  By 9:30, we were on the road, descending from the North Carolina mountains.

At the eastern continental divide, the landscape took on a different sort of beauty than I see regularly.  The trees were coated with ice and snow, but the roads were only wet with rain.  My spouse was driving, so I could marvel in the wintry wonderland mixed with final autumn colors.  The sky looked like the clouds had come to down to lend the trees some additional ghostly sparkle.  Some of the trees still had their autumn leaves.  Some of the trees were frosted, while others had been sheltered from the wintry mix.  It was beautiful.  Alas, my camera was packed away.

We drove and drove and drove.  It was a 12 hour drive, which was long, but fairly easy, by which I mean that the traffic wasn't onerous and kept moving.  We saw an electric sign around Savannah that warned of high tides and flooding near the coast--not the usual warning message that one sees on those Highway Department signs.

We got to see the moon rise somewhere on the spine of Florida.  Like the wintry trees, it, too, was ghostly and lovely.  By evening, we enjoyed a glass of wine while watching that moon through the palm trees in 80 degree temperatures.  What a difference a day of travel can make.  The significance of that process as metaphor is not lost on me.

Today comes the great unpacking.  But first, church.  It's the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we are needed to count the money.  It's a spiritual gift that most people don't consider.  Today will also mark the sadness of the fact that one of my favorite times is over.  Sigh.

So, before I get too far away from this holiday, let me recount the joys:

--I made time for daily journaling and poetry writing.

--I saw grad school friends along the way.  It's been a strange autumn, in that I've seen them twice in 4 weeks; usually, I only see them once a year or less.  What a treat!  I feel lucky to have friends where we reconnect immediately, like no time has passed at all.

--We had a vacation before the vacation.  A week ago, I made my way to Black Mountain, North Carolina.  My mom, dad, and sister had a time apart before the family celebration started on Tuesday.  We had great food, wonderful shopping, and most important:  deep conversation.

--It's always fun being with my larger family.  On Tuesday, my nuclear family joined my aunt and uncle, my cousin and his wife and three children.  My brother-in-law and nephew arrived on Wednesday, and very late Wednesday, my spouse flew in.

--We met at Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp.  It was my 3rd time at Lutheridge this autumn--a treat of a different kind.

--We rent one of the biggest houses--it's hard to find a house that can hold us all, so I'm grateful to Lutheridge for this house.  We've been gathering at this house so regularly since 1993 that it feels like coming home.  It's a house where we can have a meal around a single table (12+), cook a meal, have space to be away if necessary, be in the bathroom knowing that there are 3 other bathrooms, and relax in a space that's so familiar.

--Unlike past years, we stayed at camp more than venturing out.  Sure, there were the occasional Wal-Mart trips.  But we didn't go to a regional park or to see the gingerbread displays or go to a brewery or do any of the wonderful things we might have done.   We took lots of hikes around camp, which was good, since it was so cold that the less hearty amongst us could have a shorter experience.  We played Ga Ga Ball.  We had a great football game.

--We had lots of fun indoor activities too:  games of all sorts, and drawing, and making slime.  Here are some Facebook posts that I want to record more permanently:

"Give me one of your wheat, and I'll give you 3 sheep . . . I'm getting a settlement"--we're not playing Uno anymore! We're playing Catan, a card based, world building kind of game. Philosopher Carl says, "How are we supposed to get along if our communities aren't allowed to connect?"

And now my family has shifted to a different sort of Thanksgiving game: the Thanksgiving "bowl" is underway! We're playing with an underinflated football--the scandal! I believe that the Kentucky contingent is ahead, but I've never really understood this game called football.

Now the next generation is playing "Ark," a video game that's "educational." The seven year old says, "Yeah, you learn how to tame a dinosaur so you can ride it ." "It's a T-Rex. We're dead. We're definitely dead."

I am happy to report that science experiments are still attractive to our younger crowd. Fun with dry ice, beakers, candles, and a balloon.

--We had great food.  We always do.

--Most important, we were together, with very little discord.  Occasionally, chaos erupted, but it was the good kind, with the occasional incident of slime stuck on the ceiling, or everyone wanting the same toy at once.  That, too, seems an important metaphor for larger life.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Heart as Reluctant Prophet

I've been having quite a wonderful November, in terms of creativity.  I have been taking an online journaling class, which started Nov. 4, and I've also been writing a poem a day.  I didn't plan to make a sketch a day, but I've been doing that too.  The processes have been feeding each other in interesting ways.

As I've already written about, in this blog post, I made a sketch during a brief rest stop on my long drive Saturday:

I thought about the story of Jonah and the whale as I was sketching.  I continued to think about it as I continued my week's travels.

You may remember that Jonah is a reluctant prophet in the short Biblical book of the same name.  God wants Jonah to go to Nineveh, and Jonah doesn't want to.  So he heads out in a different direction, on a ship.  There's a storm, and Jonah feels that if the sailors toss him overboard, the storm will subside.  The sailors do this, and Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish and spends 3 days in the stomach of the giant fish.  He agrees to go to Nineveh, the fish vomits him up, and Nineveh proves to be receptive to his/God's message.  There's a surprise twist at the end:  Jonah gets in a snit of a mood because he's successful.

I spent time thinking about my image and the story.  Is my heart a reluctant prophet?  I've been intrigued with the idea of my heart as a prophet who grows tired of delivering messages from God and flees, only to find time for contemplation in the innards of a giant fish. I would likely never have had that poem idea without this image, which I hope to return to at some point.

Yesterday, I finally had time to write the poem down.  As with the story of Jonah, it went in interesting ways.  It's a poem I likely wouldn't have had without the sketch.  And I wouldn't have had either, probably, without the daily discipline that I've adopted for November.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Bring Your Holiday Awareness Back to God with Chrismons

Now that Black Friday has expanded to be a whole week, or maybe a whole month, of shopping/savings, there's really no reason to leave the house today.  Some of us have already started with our Christmas decorating, while others are disciplined and wait until after Thanksgiving.

How many of us use our decorating to bring our awareness back to God?  The Chrismon is one way to do that.

I've always loved Chrismons, which in the churches of my childhood were made from styrofoam which was ornamented with various baubles that were gold, silver, and white:

Of course, some could be more elaborate:

I wish I could give credit for this image, but my Google search did not reveal the names of the creators or those who posted the images.  It seems a fitting metaphor for this type of art/craft, many of which were made by women of the church who weren't recognized as artists.

I wonder how many churches still have these ornaments.  I wonder how old some of them are.  When I did a recent Google search, I found far more images of counted cross stitch Chrismons than traditional ones.

One of my most treasured sets of ornaments comes from the very early days of my marriage.  My stepmom-in-law made me a complete set that was just like the ones she had made for her tree.  As I've thought about hurricane evacuation, it's occured to me that I should put a collection of these types of ornaments that have special meaning for me in with the important papers.

This week, I discovered this blog post which gives a different twist:  a quilted Chrismon! 

Chrismons and Photo by Mitzi Spencer Schafer

Quilter extraordinaire Mitzi Spencer Schafer gives complete instructions, along with some background on the Chrismon.

For those of us looking for ways to resist the secularization/commercialization of Christmas, a discovery of Chrismons is a great way.  And for those of us looking for an arts or crafts project, making Chrismons could be a cool idea.

Maybe we'll do a project with our church's interactive service.  If so, I'll post about it here.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Gratitudes

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:

--One of the things for which I am most grateful is the steady pace of getting the home repaired from Hurricane Irma.  On January 1, 2018, I wrote:  "Right now, the cottage needs a new AC/heat system and flooring, at the minimum. The big house needs to have all the floors replaced, a new wrinkle to our plans. We still need to have a remodeled kitchen, and I'm wondering if it would be wise to rip out the walls in the small laundry room that got soaked from hurricane damage aftereffects. We need a new fence and gates."

Wow--I'm amazed at what needed to be done, and what we've gotten done:  the cottage foundation shored up, the cottage AC/heat replaced, the floors of the big house replaced, new interior walls in the  laundry room with the outer wall repaired too, and new fence and gates.  We are in the process of the kitchen remodel, with steady progress--slow progress, but steady.  We will think about the other issues of the cottage once we get the kitchen remodel done.

--With my old school, the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, closing this year, I am grateful that I made the move to a different job in 2016.  I continue to like my current job--another source of gratitude.

--I am grateful that my spouse still loves teaching Philosophy; it's wonderful to see him so engaged with a subject that we both still find so important.

--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 my Fitbit which has helped me lose some weight.  More important, I'm getting more movement into my days.

--I am profoundly grateful that I can still fit creativity into my days.

Let me not get so lost in my gratitude that I forget those who haven't been as lucky this past year. Let me continue to yearn for and to work for a world where we all have enough to inspire gratitude.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 25, 2018:

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 in 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 20, 2018

Poems to Prepare for Thanksgiving

I have not always been a person who travels with her laptop.  I often traveled to get away from my laptop and all the demands of the regular world that a laptop symbolizes.  But as I've traveled with a laptop, I've realized that there are some benefits.

One is that I can announce poetry publications.  And my latest one is in TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poeticsan online journal, so everyone who is reading this blog post (which means you have internet access, right?) can read it.

Go here to read my poems "Gratitude Journal" and "When I Run Away to Theology School."  Go here to see the complete table of contents, where you can choose to hear me read "When I Run Away to Theology School"--and then you can read the wonderful work of everyone else too.

I am so fond of these poems, and I'm so glad they've found a good home.  And in remarkable serendipity, one of them has a theme that fits right in with Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Spiritual Journaling while Traveling

I have really been enjoying the daily discipline of spiritual journaling each day so I hope to continue doing it this holiday week.  Saturday was my longest drive day, but I was running early, so I had time to stop at the South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro, SC:

I loved walking through the center and seeing the art.

They have sparkling clean bathrooms. The people are very friendly. As I left, I saw this picnic table and decided to do a bit of journaling.

I'm trying to create a sketch every day:

In the sketch above, I was thinking of Jonah and the whale--but is my heart Jonah? Is the fish the delivery vehicle of my reluctant heart?

The heart as reluctant prophet--hmm.  I will keep thinking about this idea.

Here's the sketch that I made on Friday.  If I had had more time on Saturday, I'd have done more to make the hearts similar:

And this sketch speaks to an earlier sketch with anchors.  I like how I am using some traditional Christian symbols but in a different way:

And here's yet another image of an anchor from an earlier sketch:

Yesterday was another travel day for me, so my sketching time was limited. I'm near the 7 Sisters Mountain range in North Carolina, near Asheville, a place that has all sorts of personal and spiritual meaning for me. Here's my sketch from last night:

I am now realizing that I put the sunset at the wrong place. But since it doesn't look like a sunset, maybe that's O.K.

I know that my time to get ideas on paper will be somewhat limited this week--or perhaps, not any more than any other time, but limited by different elements.  But I can feel my brain bubbling in ways that aren't as available in normal times.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

On the Road Again

Let me first start by saying that our house is not unattended.  I'm always amazed at what people publish and what they let the whole world know.  I say this knowing that people can level that charge right back at me.

I went to bed very early on Friday night, as I often do.  I was up by 2 a.m. on Saturday, on the road by 2:20.  I was surprised by how many people were still out driving at that hour, but perhaps I shouldn't be; it's just after closing time for many venues of entertainment, after all.

As I drive, I find the hour just before sunrise to be hardest.  It's not because I get tired, but because I'm tired of the dark.  It seems there's a metaphor/symbol there, beyond, "The darkest hour is just before the dawn."

I was planning to arrive at my grad school friend's house in the early afternoon, but I was making such good time that I was early.  I yearned for a cozy bakery where I might settle in and journal for an hour, but I would have been happy to see a Panera.  It became clear that I wasn't going to find either, so I came up with an even better plan.

I went to the South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro, SC:

I loved walking through the center and seeing the art. 

They have sparkling clean bathrooms.  The people are very friendly.  As I left, I saw this picnic table and decided to do a bit of journaling.

I'm trying to create a sketch every day:

I didn't feel like I had time to linger so I made a very simple sketch and got back on the road again.  But it was a very refreshing stop, even though it's a bit further away from the highway than I usually go.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Notes on a Time of Visual Journaling

Last night, my spouse watched mindless TV, and I decided to experiment with the 4 colored markers that we are using for the online journaling class I'm part of.  Some of my fellow participants are posting pictures that show amazing color saturation.  I decided to try:

My spouse went to bed early, and I decided to keep working.  I wrote a bit in an old-fashioned way--by hand.  For this online journaling class, I've been doing some writing in the sketch book, in addition to the writing that I include as part of the sketches. 

When I was done, I wanted to so more playing with my markers.  But I didn't want to do more with the above sketch.  So I turned the page over.

The colored markers that we're using will bleed through the paper. For reasons I don't understand, the black markers don't bleed through.  I made the sketch below, and the other side still looks the same:

I decided to add these words:  "I wish I believed in guardian angels."  It seems like a line that should be in a poem, so I wanted to record it here.

At some point, I'll go back through my sketches to see if I see themes emerging.  I have been drawing eyes, which makes sense in the context of this course which asks us to see what we might be trying to ignore.  I've also been creating a lot of winged creatures.  Are they angels?  Doves?  Butterflies?  Yes, some of all of it.  In the sketch above, I was going for a descending dove shape.

I'm intrigued by how some of my sketches are very different from each other.  Here is my image from Tuesday. I finished the initial image in the late afternoon and then started experimenting with black marks. Then I went to teach my Composition class. While my students worked on writing an essay, I added the lighter black marks; I was trying to make the image seem fragmented, like a glass that's shattered:

When I signed up for the class, I didn't realize I'd be inspired to make a sketch a day.  It's been amazing.  Even when I think I have nothing to say/write/sketch, something has bubbled up and often multiple times a day.

I'm enjoying the class beyond just the motivation. I really like seeing what others are sketching. We're making interesting comments, even though we don't know each other. I'm loving seeing the sketching/drawing techniques that others are using--and it's not like any of us are trained artists (at least, I don't think we are). We're all women, although the class was open to everyone. I'm not sure why it all interests me so much--well, actually, I am--because we all seem to be wrestling with similar questions (albeit in different arenas): what next?

I've been taking the Rupp book, my small sketchbook (8 x 6), and my markers with me everywhere I go, and I've been doing a bit of sketching that way. It really helps to have it all with me.

I've also been writing a poem a day since November started (the class started Nov. 4). I haven't been this prolific in ages.

What does any of this mean for the future? I don't know yet. But it's good to feel some creative juices flowing.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Various Bounties

A week from today will be Thanksgiving.  I am so ready for a holiday--and this is my second favorite holiday.  Christmas is my favorite, but Thanksgiving is close behind.  If Thanksgiving had a tradition of sparkly lights, it might take the lead.

Yesterday, we had our annual Thanksgiving potluck at work.  As with almost every potluck, I am amazed at how much food we had.  Our school bought the turkey:  we had a tray of sliced, smoked turkey, and we bought another roasted whole turkey, which our Director of Admissions sliced--she's a pro.

It was a wonderful spread.  The cool thing about a Thanksgiving potluck is that we have plenty to talk about:  what's our favorite food, what are our Thanksgiving traditions, what's our cooking approach.

I began the day by walking our social media coordinator around campus asking people to share what they're grateful for.  She's creating a gratitude video.  By the end of my work day, it felt like a bonus Thanksgiving.

I am grateful to be in a place where we get along well enough to eat together regularly.  We're a big group, but we still fit in a single room, so we can all eat the same meal.  We still have the problem of people who already know each other sitting together, but we know each other well enough that most people are welcome at most tables.

I'm also grateful that I'm continuing with my poem-a-day practice for the month of November.  I'm also doing my visual journaling on a daily basis.  It's a bonus that I didn't expect when I signed up for the class.

Part of my success with a poem-a-day process is that I'm writing more haiku than usual.  Writing haiku always feels a bit like cheating, perhaps because I'm only writing haiku in the sense that I'm following the syllabics for each line. I'm not following the Japanese conventions any further than that.

Still, I find them useful. It's good to think in such compressed form, even though I don't particularly like the haiku I write. I like the process.

I've written before (here and here) about gratitude haiku--a variation on the gratitude journal.  Here's one about yesterday's work:

Gratitude videos
A meal shared with colleagues
Various bounties

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 18, 2018:

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 the holiday season (both the secular one and the sacred). 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. 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.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Looking Back on the First Week of Journaling Class

Here is the drawing that I made on Saturday:

It was the 7th day of my online journaling class, the day when the book we're using asked us to reflect back on the first week. We'd been writing/thinking/drawing a lot about dreams and doors. I began with the image of a road that breaks into 2 paths, one of dreams deferred and one of new dreams.

Later, as I reflected on the image, I realized that if I look at it a different way, it could be the merging of 2 paths, if the traveler was going towards the bottom of the page.

When I created the sketch, I wasn't sure what I would put in the space of the Y of the paths. I thought about some kind of field. I reread the chapter, which encouraged us to think of doors. So, I drew a door like a door I'd drawn earlier in the week:

But the door in Saturday's sketch has a Gothic arch, not a Roman arch. The door in Saturday's sketch has a stained glass window, which the first door I drew did not:

Back to Saturday's sketch. Do you see the winged creatures? I think of them as butterflies. I find the colors in their wings to be regal--it suggests vestments to me. Do I see them as angels? No. But they do suggest robes. In other words, it's churchy, but not angelic.

It's been a good first week of this online journaling class. I've drawn more in the past week than I ever have in a week. And I've been writing lots of poems. I'm very intrigued to see what happens as we go into the various holiday times that will come in the remaining 5 weeks of the course.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Sermon Notes: Bigger Barns and Gratitude

Yesterday at church, we had one worship service followed by a funeral service for a choir member who died unexpectedly 2 weeks ago in a car accident.  A week ago, my pastor asked if I wanted to preach the sermon for the worship service.  I'm almost always interested in doing that, so I said yes.

I had chosen the passage for today.  My pastor envisioned the month of November as a month of preaching about gratitude.  When he wrote to me in October to ask what my favorite Bible passages about gratitude were, I could only come up with pop culture stuff.  I suggested the parable of the man who was so prosperous that he had to build extra barns (Luke 12:13-34).

I suggested that one because it was one of the texts that we used during the Lutheridge retreat about simplifying, so it was in my brain.  I had been thinking about how much stuff I had brought with me to a retreat on simplifying.  I was thinking about my younger self, who just needed the right music on a cassette tape for a road trip.  I have often traveled with just a credit card and a lipstick in my pocket.  I am no longer that woman.

I know that the tie to gratitude isn't immediately apparent in the parable with the man who built the bigger barns only to die the night that it's all done, and he plans to spend time relaxing and enjoying it all.  It works much more obviously for a stewardship Sunday, where we're reminded of how important it is to share.

I took a different approach.  I talked about how many of us have too much stuff.  I talked about all of the books who give us various approaches to getting rid of stuff.  But what do we do when we've gotten rid of all the stuff that doesn't spark joy, and we've still got too much stuff?

It's an interesting needle to thread with this group at church, because I'm not sure we all have too much stuff.  In fact, I know that some of our members have a struggle making ends meet.

In the end, I tied all the discussion of our stuff to gratitude.  With all the time and energy and money that our stuff takes, we may feel resentment, not gratitude.  And we're likely not tending to what's important, our relationship with God and with the ones we love most.

Several people came up to me afterwards and told me how much the message of my sermon spoke to them.  I resisted the urge to quiz them--I'm always intensely interested to know what people actually heard.  Was it what I meant to say?

I do trust the Holy Spirit though, and so I resist the urge to ask further questions.  After all, we had a funeral in the offing--an undergirding of what I hoped would be the lesson of my sermon.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Praying for Peace on Veterans Day

Dawn of another Veteran's Day, cloudy and with heavy rain having just swept through. Before today was Veteran's Day, it was Armistice Day, the day that celebrated the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. In some ways, it's not a hard holiday to celebrate. Any event that restores peace in our time is worth some meditation.

However, those of us who know our history may be chastened by the knowledge of what was to come. The end of World War I planted the seeds that would blossom into World War II. World War I brought carnage on a level never before seen--but World War II would be even worse.

Why is it so hard for humans to remain at peace? There are whole series of books that address this question, so I won't attempt it here. Still, today is a good day to offer extra prayers for sustained peace in our time. World War I and all the other wars of the 20th century offer us vivid examples of the horrible consequences of the lack of peace.

Veteran's Day is also a good day to offer prayers of thanks for the military people who have been willing to fight. I want desperately to be a pacifist, but I will admit that sometimes tyrants must be dealt with forcefully. My pessimistic side believes that violence is the only language that tyrants understand, but the 20th century has given us many examples of the peaceful overturning of despots, so I don't fully believe my pessimistic side. Still, we often don't use the forces of non-violence in enough time, and so, force may be our only option (witness the example of Hitler).

Some of us will have a day off tomorrow. Some of us will go to our jobs. Some of those jobs will be military jobs. We all have our part to play.

But for today, let's take a minute to appreciate how few of us in many nations have had to experience war first hand.  Let us pray for the nations at war and the humans caught in those conflicts.  Let us celebrate a world that can move toward peace. Let us pray for a time when war will come no more.

Here's a prayer I wrote for Veteran's Day:

God of Peace, on this Veteran's Day, please 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 hope that military people across the world will find themselves with no warmaking jobs to do. We offer our pleading prayers that you would plant in our leaders the seeds that will sprout into saplings of peace.

Friday, November 9, 2018

What the Heart Hides

Last night before an evening meeting, I took out my sketchbook, markers and book for my online journaling class.  I decided to stay in the car, where I knew I wouldn't be disturbed.  I reread the chapter in Joyce Rupp's Open the Door that talked about walls of illusions--we push on them and they seem solid, but they're really not.  Here's the quote that leapt out at me last night:  "Illusions are 'pretend doors.'  The counterfeit self is filled with these masquerades" (p. 32).

I was going to draw a wall and a hand, with a garden behind the wall and a desert on the side of the wall with the hand.  I couldn't get the perspective just right, so I traced my hand.  I thought about writing all my illusions about the future I assume I cannot have on the wall, but since I had to go to a meeting, I wasn't sure I wanted to dive deeply that way. So instead, I wrote questions on the fingers.

Yesterday I had been playing with haiku.  I came up with this one on my walk in the morning:

A monastery,
my heart shelters orphaned dreams.
Safe harbor, fierce storm.

I thought about creating some sort of collage, about the heart not as monastery but as homeless shelter and needing to find a few more beds.  I thought about that illustration about Madeline who lived in an orphanage with Miss Clavell:

But this morning, I went in a different direction:

At some point in the near future, I plan to journal about those abandoned dreams. I was going to use the word orphaned, but I needed the extra syllable for my haiku.

I like the hopefulness of this image.  I like the stars that represent the dreams in the heart.  I like the rays of light around the heart that also look like wheat.  I've had bread on the brain all week.  I'm intrigued by how these swirls come together.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Notes from the First Week of an Online Journaling Class

I'm at the the beginning of an interesting online experience which started on Sunday. It's sort of like a cross between a retreat and a class. The subject matter is journaling, but we're using a book, and we're journaling with markers, not just with words. In fact at this point, from what I can tell from what's being shared, we're journaling only with our markers We're also meeting once a week as a group, but if we can't be there, the session is recorded. There's also a Facebook group that's private--that's where we share our images and thoughts and view the recorded sessions and some art lessons from our organizer.

We are using Joyce Rupp's Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self. It's organized as daily readings and meditations. We were a list of what we would need for the class, which included just 4 colors of Copic Sketch markers. I have sketched so much this week that I ordered refill ink so that I could sketch without worrying about how much ink I was using.

I am surprised by how much I am sketching. Last night I came home with the kind of exhaustion that might have made me collapse in front of the TV for a few hours before going to bed. But I had a vision of a sketch, so I sat down to attempt it. I ended up with 3 sketches--I was still tired at the end, but my exhaustion had morphed into a less onerous fatigue.

I am carrying the Rupp book, my sketchbook (a 24 page, spiral bound, 8 x 6 book), and the markers with me everywhere. That's one of the advantages of a small sketchbook and just a few markers. My whole sketch bag is much heavier because I now have so many markers, and thus, I rarely tote it with me.

I am both frustrated and intrigued by the restriction of just 4 colors. We have a shade of blue, a shade of dusty red (more like a dried out burgundy), a yellow, and a gold. Some of my compatriots are much better at blending than I am. The restriction reminds me a bit of writing poetry in form or in a specific meter. The challenge leads me to places I wouldn't otherwise go.

When I thought about signing up for the class, I thought I would sketch just once or twice a week, to augment the Sunday morning practice I have now. I am pleased that I am doing much more than that.

My poetry is benefiting too, which I didn't anticipate. The sketches give me ideas for a poem. This morning, I wrote a poem that began, "My heart, this homeless shelter . . ." As I was walking, I was thinking about a new poem, one that jumped off of that one: heart as homeless shelter, heart as monastery, heart as harbor. I plan to write that one tomorrow.

It's now time for me to go to work, so I'll leave you with last night's image. What do you see?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 11, 2018:

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 it's even more important than charity work.

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. We live in a world that often judges us by how successful we are, and money is often the rubric used to assess us.  Jesus has a different story to tell us, a story where we are truly free, and judged by a different set of metrics, 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 6, 2018

One Last Look at All Saints 2018

All Saints Sunday was one of great creativity for me.  I described part of it in yesterday's post.  I also took pictures during the day.  This one is technically a mistake, taken with the lens fogged up from the difference in temperature from inside to outside, but I like the ghostliness of it--appropriate for All Saints!

As I heard the Gospel story again and again, the lines that leapt out for me were the last ones, where Jesus orders Lazarus unbound. And so I made this image during our later service:

I was playing with the markers that we'll be using in the online journaling class that I'm taking. They're colors that I might not have chosen on my own. I used words from all of the lessons of the day:

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6a

Gospel: John 11:32-44

And then I came home and did some additional work with the markers and journaling--more on that as the journaling course continues.  So far, it's been a course that's been very inspiring, worth every penny.

Monday, November 5, 2018

All Saints Strips and Crosses

Yesterday, I was in charge of our interactive service.  I had known for awhile that I would be in charge, and I thought briefly about doing something with altars and the way that some of our Latin American neighbors celebrate the Day of the Dead.  But I couldn't quite pull that together, given my lack of a kitchen (no Day of the Dead bread) and the way we've been worshiping the last several weeks, so I couldn't remind people to bring things for the altar.

Then I saw an idea in this blog post and decided to adopt it.  I knew that I had a sheet I could tear into strips so that we could write the names of our loved ones and saints on them.

I had planned to make a cross that we could tie our strips to it, but I didn't find anything I really liked.

Then I remembered that we already have such a cross--we used it for Easter flowers, so I thought that tying strips half a year later had a nice resonance and symbolism.

After we tied our strips, we scattered some rose petals on the memorial stones in the butterfly garden.

Then we came inside and talked about our highs and lows and prayed and had Communion.  A note for next year:  strips like these could make a beautiful banner too.  Below is a picture from Katie Mathews Treadway's church:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Voting Lines and Church

This will not be the kind of post where I rail against pastors who are too political in the pulpit.  I will not be proposing that churches lose their tax exempt status.  I want to praise churches as one of the few places left where people of various backgrounds gather together.

There are other places, of course.  Certain grocery stores that straddle neighborhoods and urban wastelands might see the same kind of mix.  It's hard for me to think of many other diverse spaces in the stratified society in which we live.  Most of us aren't going to schools that introduce us to people not like our families.  Most of us work in places where we have more in common than more that separates us.

I am painfully aware that churches can be just as stratified.  I go to my Lutheran church every week, where I don't meet any Orthodox Jews or even many evangelical Christians.  But I've had more conversations with homeless people in the context of church than I have had in any other setting.  I have met people from a wide variety of backgrounds in church.  I sit in a space with both babies and people who are deeply old, which doesn't happen very often in any other context.

I thought about space and differences as I stood in the longest line to vote I've ever stood in, outside of presidential elections.  I stood between an Orthodox Jewish couple and a woman who works in a downtown Scandinavian bakery--downtown Hollywood--which is in South Florida.  People chatted in a variety of languages.  We were a variety of ages.  Even children were there, which made me happy.  Everyone was patient, again something that doesn't happen very often in South Florida.

As with church, many of us in that line had a yearning for something better.  Why else show up?  In our political lives, as in our spiritual lives, we participate in rituals that we don't fully understand, and many of us don't fully trust.  But what else can we do?

I realize that there are lots of answers:  building bombs or building houses for the less fortunate, and I could go on and on.  But with each answer I see a smaller sliver of humans participating.

Until this election, I might have said the same thing about midterm elections.  Usually, I show up to vote in midterm elections to find pollworkers happy to see me because the site has been so empty.  That was not the case this year.

I began the week-end by going to vote.  I will end the week-end as I usually do, by going to church.  I will be fed in ways that I expect and in ways I won't even realize until later.  These week-end bookends make me feel better about the future of the country.  If I spent the week-end inside, watching the various news shows and/or the unavoidable political commercials, which will be the lot of many of us this week-end, I'd have a very different view of the nation.

The U.S. is a fibrous construction of humanity, and I have faith and hope that while we are a bit unraveled, we're far from ripped.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Nuggets of Happiness in a Gloomy Time

As the days move into November, many of us feel a bit gloomier.  The days are getting much shorter, and we are surrounded by reminders that our total time here on the planet is very short.  We do our best to make this idea festive with our Halloween decorations, our Day of the Dead celebrations. 

Let me add some nuggets of happiness to the festive days of this week:

--I went to early voting yesterday.  The lines were the longest I've ever stood in for a non-Presidential year election--a wide diversity of people all patiently waiting and chatting. It made me feel weepy with hope--a great feeling these days!  Everyone was civil and patient.  I loved all the children emerging from the voting area with "I Voted Early" stickers all over their clothes and faces.  One woman who works in the Danish bakery in downtown Hollywood brought 2 boxes of pastries for the workers.

--Voting makes me realize how much I love this giant experiment of a country.  Our democracy doesn't seem fragile when I stand in line with my fellow citizens, all of us sweating in the sun that's still intense in November in South Florida.  I stood in line with such a variety of people.  This country is so huge, both in terms of land mass, beliefs, and types of humans--it's hard to believe that we could go the way of Germany in the 1930's or the former Yugoslavia of the 1990's.

--Before we went to vote, we spent the evening reading the ballot, researching the various ammendments.  I made a joke about our romantic evening at home, doing political research, but I was partly serious.   It was a pleasant way to spend an evening, but we are odd that way as a liberal artsy couple.  We often we have similar evenings at home, at least several nights a week, talking about a variety of philosophical issues.

--After a time of not writing much poetry, I wrote 4 poems this week, and one of them came out fully formed.  I went to observe the Chemistry teacher yesterday, on the Feast of All Souls.  I came away with a poem about rust's slow will to conquer an oxidized nail--rust and oxidation and EMS compressions and people writing dissertations in geologic time and a dose of a feast day--I'm pleased with that poem.  I am less pleased with my poem about early voting, but it has potential.  I also wrote a poem rooted in home repairs, and a Halloween poem.  It's been a long, long time since I wrote 4 poems in one week.

--We had a good Halloween week at school.  Two years ago, on Halloween, I started my time here.  Many people this week wished me a happy anniversary.  I'm still happy at this campus.

It's strange to count up my happiness nuggets in a week where so many of us grieved the shooting at a synagogue and countless other losses.  But maybe in a week like this one, it's more important than ever.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Feast of All Souls: Celebrating in Traditional and Untraditional Ways

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.  On those years, I bake some bread and have some time to do some contemplation.

Today, I will spend an additional day with the dead.  So many of us are thinking of the people shot in the synagogue on Saturday.  I hear so many people bemoaning the fact that we aren't even safe where and when we worship--but frankly, it hasn't felt safe in years.  Anywhere a door is unlocked, that kind of evil can enter.

These days, I feel unsafe in so many ways.  I am most concerned about how vitriolic so many aspects of our common culture have become.  I worry about the way violence explodes these days.  I know that my white skin and my middle to upper class status buys me some protection.  I know that I am vulnerable as a woman, but my middle age and my height and weight also buy me protection--I do not present as a typical female victim.

But I also know that when one of us is unsafe in a culture, we're all unsafe.  Sooner or later, they're coming for you.

So today, I will also spend some time mourning what we've become.  And I'll try not to get mired in this autumnal gloom.  I'll light my metaphorical candles and think about the world I want to see, not the world that I do see.

And then I'll go vote.  My state allows early voting, but it will soon be over.  Voting--it's not a traditional way of celebrating the Feast Day of All Souls, but as I stand in the lines I expect to see, I'll pray the same kinds of prayers.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel and Today's Feast Day

The readings for Sunday, November 4, 2018:

First Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9

First Reading (Alt.): Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

Psalm: Psalm 24

Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-6a

Gospel: John 11:32-44

This Sunday and today, Nov. 1, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints', traditionally a time when we remember our dead loved ones and all the saints triumphant. Some of us are lucky--we have come through the past year without death coming close to us or those whom we love. Some of us have spent the past year grieving, and we can't imagine how we will ever leave the tomb of grief ourselves.

And along comes Jesus, who calls us to a new life.

Jesus constantly reminds us that the glory of God is all around us, if only we had eyes to see. Jesus invites us to a Resurrection Culture. Sometimes, it's a forceful invitation: the cancer that is caught in time, the loss of a relationship or job that leaves us open to something more nourishing, the addiction that loosens its hold, the return of the prodigal loved ones. Other times, we catch sight of God's Kingdom as a fleeting glimpse: the dance of butterflies, the bad mood that lifts, the perfect bottle of wine that we share with friends.

Still we must cope with the ultimate sorrow. As thinking creatures, we go through life aware that if we live long enough, we will lose all that we love. How do we square the Resurrection Culture of Jesus with this knowledge?

Jesus promises us that death is not the final answer. We may not fully understand how Jesus will fulfill that promise. Some will argue that we go directly to Heaven, and some will tell us that we'll wait in a safe place until the final coming of Christ. And in the meantime, Jesus invites us to participate in the creation of the Kingdom, right here, right now. We don't have to wait until we're dead.

Jesus stands at the door of our tombs and calls to us. How will we answer? Will we say, "Go away! I'm comfortable here in my coffin. Leave me alone." Or will we emerge, blinking, into the sunshine of new life? Will we let Jesus unwrap us from our death cloths?