Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Five

From those pals at RevGals, it's the Friday Five. This time, a call to describe the perfect church.

At first I thought this would be difficult. I was getting caught up in describing the building—natural, given the major program of renewal, restoration, and renovation that is happening at my parish. But, the more I thought about it the more simply and clearly the thinkin’ dust settled.

To me, the perfect church is a gathering of human beings who inclusively, lovingly, call one another to the full wonder and use of that gift. They do so in the interest of living authentically and communally the greatest commandment we have—to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. This living is born out by inclusively breaking open the common story, sharing sacramental ritual, and serving those in need. The perfect church does this in a spirit of humility and keen awareness that there is more to live, more to learn, more to be revealed than is ever known at a given moment. The perfect church says in the deeds done and spirit it generates together, “Welcome home, there is room for you here.”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Finding freedom

The closer I get to leaving the country for ten months, the more I find myself wanting or needing to spend time with friends who remind me by simple reassuring presence that they will still be here, that I will not be forgotten, that words will be read and responded to and thoughts/prayers sent forth, even when I am far away.

This is something I know...I know that friends will do this. I know things might not be the same when I return because of the passage of time and what happens in each of our lives between now and the next time we are together. But, I know in whatever way that I will not be forgotten and will not forget them. Friends do not bind one another to a fixed way of being, but rather celebrate the discovery of fullness, I think. Friends say "Go. Discover. Reveal. Stretch. I will be within reach when you return."

What I am rediscovering as I prepare for the journey is the import of the more tangible knowing that comes in conversation, time spent, emails exchanged, hugs given and received. A friend came to visit this past weekend and we had a grand time in this City simply doing things we both enjoyed doing--but doing them together. Thoughtful conversation, laughter, writing together, reading what the other had written, appreciating the colossal reading room of the New York Public Library, strolls in parks... The ease and familiarity of our adventures was itself a gift. In that is the freedom, somehow, to go. Part of the joy of going is knowing that there are people who will each in her/his own way, want to know of the discovery and revelation. Some will not want to know and that will be hard. Freedom has its expense.

It is the irony that gets me every time. It is in feeling the bonds that draw me to others that the freedom to go elsewhere and do likewise is born.

Pablo Neruda said, "it is the sacred obligation of the poet to leave and to return."

Jesus said, "Come. Follow."

I say, "Okay."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Glory Be

One of my favorite “rote” prayers is the Glory Be. I find its cyclical proclamation of praise to be reassuring whether in the midst of something I understand or in the midst of mystery. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be… History, present moment, future.

At times it calls to my mind and heart the promise of the loving, generative, fullness of God that infused life at the first creative Word. It was present then, is here to be found now, and will continue to be on into the future.

At other moments, the prayer is a reassurance of the reality of what is going on now, how ever messy, and that even in the difficulties of humans being who they are called to be, God is active and to be praised. It was messy then, is messy now, and will be messy, and that’s okay…because it is real…and all a part of the journey toward becoming what we have sought all along.

This prayer came to mind last week when I had a chance to see the restoration work happening in the church building where I attend Mass. The past is being revealed in the present moment while looking toward the years to come. What fascinated me was that the whole work seems to be geared toward the unification of these “planes.” The soot, the dirt, the gunk, being stripped away, is what has accumulated between them. With their washing away comes forth the renewed opportunity to appreciate the awe and wonder of the original artisans’ vision of honoring God in an edifice. The leveling of the floor smoothes the bridge so more may cross through “was and is” with safety and ease. And to watch the workers attend to the details with precision and obvious care, there is no doubt to me that the work being done now will last long into the stories of coming generations.

It felt rather medieval, this tour I had. There were workers everywhere! At least four different levels of scaffolding held countless people working on different parts of this act of revelation. There were the sounds of tools, the murmer of conversation, the dull steady thud of hammer and nail… As I noticed newly unveiled decorative details—flower buds no bigger than a large drawer pull on the walls of the balcony, the crisp IHS atop the confessional, the newly scrubbed marble prophetic line-up on the second floor—I could easily imagine church stonemasons of centuries past who spent time carving flourishes for reasons no greater or lesser than the glory of God. Details mattered then, as signs of honor for God as well as pride in craft. Watching the work being done in the church now, I can tell that that holds true in the present as well.

What I can’t yet tell is what it will feel like to be in the space as an active member of the congregation. I had grown accustomed to the space between the planes—being able to readily feel and imagine history into the present if not see it directly. I can imagine that it might take me a while to get used to the new feeling of more immediate convergence. That’s okay with me, though, and all part of the cycle.

And, actually, a gift. How often will it happen that at the same time I get to see more of what was in the beginning while living that vision in the “is now” and hoping it’s around for a fair portion of the “ever shall be?”

Glory be to the journey and adventure that is God which we celebrate as community in this sacred space.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thank you, R.G.

I had the best walk after Mass today. I set off across Union Square and headed down Broadway—there was a breeze, there was ample sunshine, there were wide sidewalks and fairly few people for it being such a perfect City day. It was great to feel so free, so relaxed and right with the world, taking an amble without intention and loving the doing of it.

I passed a “vest pocket” flea market converted from a small empty lot. I saw vendors of items from Jamaica, Africa, and places unknown, lost tourists, a guy conducting business in an entirely black outfit save one skinny white tie, and a kid with a tee-shirt proclaiming “I’m a keeper!” There was the usual assortment of boutiques and shops filled with someone’s dictation regarding modern fashion, a couple of places to grab a bite to eat, and one or two empty storefronts.

On my return toward Union Square, in want of a brief rest, I found the welcome of Grace Episcopal to be just what I needed—in more ways than one. While there I said a prayer of gratitude to R. G. Remisen, whoever she or he might have been. It was for that person that the pew I selected was named. At one point in time, the letters in the nameplate were raised but by the time I sought respite in his or her aisle, it was nearly smooth, edges softened and round. The plate is affixed to a pew-high door that opened to allow passage into the bench.

New to me, I found that this “compartment” approach to seating suited my state of being quite comfortably. It was in some way a welcoming demarcation of space—something that said without pretense or expectation, “Come. Take off your bag. Rest here without worry. Look for what you need. You are home here and will find it.”

The windows were tremendous. I am not able to recall what they depicted—only that they were filled, filled, filled with light and colors and that they were a magnificent contrast to the low-light and dark wood. The carvings on the pillars were graceful and simple.

The whole experience called to mind an un-attributed quotation used once by a friend--—“Center down,” cried the Quaker saints, “Center down.”

For me that is one of the gifts of sacred spaces of all kinds— a church, a friend’s couch, a prayer corner…—The gift of inviting to simultaneously ground ourselves enough and let go enough to feel the pull of the wonder and needs of our world, and our own lives, and the call of a creative, faithful, loving, God to engage, to live, to listen, to do, to appreciate, to challenge, to actively be.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Things seen, Things Heard

While out today...

1. A woman playing Simon and Garfunkel on a saw. Yes, really. It was a completely "other" sound and rather ethereal. Wavy... and actually kind of neat.

2. A caffeine hyped chess player who could power a riding mower with his bouncing leg (which knocked into his pile of Crush and Mountain Dew cans...).

3. Two women evaluating color choices for brides-maid dresses. They were deciding whether it would it be peacock blue or orange.

4. And my favorite line... "With all of today's technology, there's still nothing better than cracking yourself up."

I do so love New York...

A Real Stretch...

From the Pals at Rev Gals...It's the Friday Morning Stretch!

So how about you and your beautiful temple of the Holy Spirit?

1. What was your favorite sport or outdoor activity as a child?

I enjoyed playing catch with baseball and mitt as well as with the frisbee. Favorite though...which plays into my responses for 4+5...well, does "going on a wander" count as an outdoor activity? Give me a bag, a length of rope for lassoing or climbing or knot tying or whathaveyou, and I could be perfectly happy for hours.

2. P.E. class--heaven or the other place?

Oh mercy. Need I say more?

3. What is your favorite form of exercise now?

I'd have to say that going on wanders is still my favorite. Heading out into the City with a backpack of necessaries and hitting the pavement for a good long walk.

4. Do you like to work out solo or with a partner?

Solo. But, I've also taken multi-hour walks with friends that have been terrific gifts.

5. Inside or outside?

Outside! It's a way to unify things, for me. Meaning, okay, I am doing something for my body by exercising, let me also offer my senses a feast too and let my mind either take an amble itself or have freedom to find the necessary place to work out whatever I have asked of it. Paper, reflection, essay, poem, situation...

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I am a convert to the Roman Catholic Church. When I entered, a friend who attended the liturgy approached me afterward and said, “I have no idea why anyone would want to do what you just did, but welcome.” Ironically, this is the same friend who later provided me with both the phone number of her friend, a Religious of the Sacred Heart with whom I now live, and the name of Xavier.

I think she had an idea. But, I do wish she was around to ask me again about my reasons. Marian is one of many people over the years who have known me, tilted their heads in curiosity, and wondered aloud “How does this work for you?”

I wish they would ask me again because while I do have a longer, and I’d like to think thoughtful, answer, I now have something pleasingly concise. How does this work for me—being fully me, made simply and complexly in the image and likeness of God, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, a member of a religious congregation?

“Et-et.” Both-and. Yep, that would do it.

This was Peter’s abridged version of Catholic theology that he offered in the 10:30 homily this past Sunday. As I considered its deep resonance in my being, however, I realized that somehow I recognized in four letters and a punctuation mark one of the best (and most pleasingly alliterative) ways to explain the richness of my thirty nine years worth of living.

For me, life has always been both-and. It was how it was explained to me as a child, it is how I have experienced it inside and out. Thunder scares, rain makes crops grow. You’ll get new sneakers… in the color they have in your size. I have tasted hate in my own mouth and I’ve feasted on love. I have known illness and health, wisdom and foolishness. I have moved many times and have friends in many places. I have created, I have wounded. I have been wounded, I have been healed.


This musing took me back a month or so to the Feast of the Sacred Heart. We had nearly eighty people through our house. At one point I was in the kitchen alone, sitting on the stool in the corner by the stove with my head leaning back against the wall and my eyes closed. If anyone had come in then and asked me what I was doing, I’m not sure my response would have satisfied…though I myself was quite content. My answer? Listening—simply listening…finding great joy and satisfaction and gratitude for being able to “lift away” enough to listen-wide, to get to the larger sound of the whole event and know, based on that sound, that people were happy and having a good time. That is one of my favorite things to do sometimes at events like that—shifting back and forth from macro to micro to macro… for me, it is a matter of “letting go” enough yet still remaining tethered to here and now. Macro-micro.


God loves me and challenges me; God frees me and holds me bound; God calls and answers, speaks and listens, gives and receives. God Is, God became human, God gave us the Spirit. Intensely et-et.

It is my utter faith in this reality, the et-et of life and of my being and of God, that makes it all work for me. There is a roominess there that allows for uncertainty and understanding, good days and bad, frustration and joy, and all of the multitudes that Walt Whitman claimed when he asked and proclaimed, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large and I contain multitudes.”

So does the cosmos, so do ecosystems, so does God. All from an unshakeable foundation of love. We are all from and bound for love. That, for me, is the constant. The hyphen that connects.

Et - Et.

It certainly keeps it all interesting, that much is for sure.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Clothes Encounter


1. Are you a hoarder, or are you good at sorting and clearing?

Depends on what we're talking, I'm good at clearing. Pens/paper, not so much! I've been clearing out lately too--feels good to lighten the load on all fronts!

2. What is the oddest garment you possess and why?

I'd have to go with the five paneled velvet jester hat with grosgrain ribbon bows and bells on each tip. The panels are black, deep purple, dark green, purple paisley on black, and little blue flowers on purple. As to why...saw the company at an art fair while in grad school and couldn't pass it up. Seemed like a "writerly" sort of hat! I've actually had more than a couple of chances to wear it! The students love it. They claim it suits me.

3. Do you have a favourite look/ colour?

Favorite look? For work, I'll call it practical comfort. I don't want to wear something I need to worry about...worry about what I am exposing, worry about getting it tangled or caught, worry about blooping something and not being able to wash it out. At the same time, it is practical for the occasion of need. If a skirt or dress is called for, so be it. Otherwise, I'm a khakis/tee/cardigan/hit the pavement and move kind of dresser.

Colors? Royal blue, orange, black, coral, rose...things that allow for a little contrast with whatever is on the bottom half.

4. Thrift/ Charity shops, love them or hate them?

Love the idea but usually find them way too overwhelming...too much chaos.

5. Money is no object, what one item would you buy?

Hmmm. A membership to khakis of the month club? Don't know on this one.