Friday, December 30, 2005

Thin skinned

I have noticed that I am very thin skinned lately. I am taking things way too personally. I am getting all freaked out if someone gets mad at me about something. (A semi-regular occurance!)

Over Christmas, of course, I was feeling particularly sensitive. I was feeling bad about pretty much everything. And there were people in my family who really were mad at me for various reasons. But, where I would normally just let it go... I found myself obsessing about it. My pride, my ego, my feelings, were hurt.


Is it my sinful nature that causes me to react this way? Give me the grace and compassion to forgive those who hurt me. Give me the strength and peace to be calm in the face of anger. Remind me, Lord, that sometimes I am bound to screw up. Remind me, Lord, that you love me anyway.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Christmas Metaphor

Christmas is disruptive... especially in our little house. Our house, which is small enough that we have to really work to keep it tidy and uncluttered, can become overwhelmed very quickly. The christmas tree, even when we choose the smallest, Charlie Brownest one, still takes up half the living room. The wreath over the mantle... the garland snaking amoung the candles. The gifts. The gifts, even when we have requested none for ourselves and begged for restraint for the children, end up spilling into the dining room, the sleeping porch, into what is left of the sitting area. Before Christmas, it is controlled chaos. But, the morning of Christmas, any semblance of order has vanished. The house looks, literally, as if a bomb went off. Even an concerted effort to manage the trash leaves piles of it everywhere. Toys willy nilly. My brother's dog beds for his two geriatric goldens. To heck with the savior.... I have no place to lay MY head.

My husband and I felt edgy yesterday. Finally, we couldn't stand it any more and took down the tree and stripped the christmas decorations. We vaccuumed and packed all the toys back in boxes and bags and brought them up to the kid's room. We wanted, desperately, to have our space back to normal.

Which is precisely when it struck me that the chaos of the Christmas holiday is the exact right metaphor for the real deal. In my life, becoming a Christian was the same kind of out of control, somewhat uncomfortable, turning my life upside down event. What was cozy and familiar was suddenly strange and overwhelming. What had been calm was suddenly full of emotional intensity. What was safe was suddenly, forever, edgy and elusive.

Jesus has disrupted my life just a surely as an HO scale train set running through the living room. I used to be able to walk through my house, and my life, in the dark. But now, I trip on obstacles. Find treasures. Stumble on gifts in all kinds of unlikely and unexpected places.

Christmas is disruptive. And while sometimes I have to fight the desire to return it all back to 'normal', I am learning, gradually, to sit in the mystery of Jesus' disruption. To let him wreak havoc on the status quo of my life. To give him room in my heart to make a mess.

And to be grateful.

So very grateful.

Thank God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Black Wednesday

Shock and Awe.

The perfidy. The treachery. It can't be true. But. it. is.

Johnny Damon has signed with the Yankees.

Dogs and Cats living together. Tsunamis. Hurricanes. And now this?!?! I suddenly believe all that 'End Times' hysteria. It is, truly, the end of the world as we know it. At least for New Englanders.

Why, Johnny? Why? Couldn't you have chosen ANY other team? Did it have to be the arch enemy? Our most loathed rivals for the last 100 years? The Hatfields to our McCoys?

Stunned. I am stunned.

I knew when I read the news that I had to call my poor, unsuspecting father, safely tucked away in the wilds of Newfoundland. Even though the Toronto paper proclaimed "Idiot on the move: Damon's a Yank" Dad won't see the headlines for several more hours at least. He sounded so innocent when he answered the phone. So, vulnerable, really.

"Dad, Damon's a Yankee."

"What? Who is this?!?!"

"Dad, it's me. Johnny Damon just signed with the Yankees."


Innocence shattered. Not to mention the start of what was promising to be a lovely day. Thank God my step mother had already left for the morning. It gives Dad time to pull himself together before facing her grief and outrage.

Damon has gone over to the dark side.

No telling what God has in store for us now.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A bit more Grace

I am not sure why I did it... but I sent in the membership form to Grace church today. Before I mailed it, I spoke to the Rector by phone. It was a brief chat, and truly didn't really impact my decision to join. But I wanted to tell him I was going to mail it and also clue him in on Nguyen's situation, which is that he is an atheist and is finding the Christian church experience uncomfortable, but also senses that there may be a place for him at Grace, we just aren't sure what that place looks like just yet. Whew. Bob was very kind and said that while Grace is unapologetically a Christian church, part of it's character is that it is theologically 'roomy'. He suggested that a poll of the congregants would probably reveal a very diverse group. And he promised that Nguyen need not agree to any creed in order to be welcome. I appreciated that.

Nevertheless, it has been mostly a slow process to feel anything like at home there. I truly don't yet. So why did I send in the papers? Because I believe God is nudging me to be there and I am trying to put my trust and faith in Him and let things unfold as He wills. Every time I felt like looking for another church, the kids would beg me to take them to Grace just one more Sunday. I would bump into a congregant somewhere. I would hear a story about the heroic compassion of the Rector. I would be reminded that I have so much to learn and that maybe humility and patience and trust is part of it. And maybe I can be of service there.

So I sent in the paper. I offered a pledge. I agreed to be included in the membership directory and have begun, ever so subtly, to feel like the search is over. For the time being, anyway.

I am a member of Grace.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

An Open Door

Before church, I decided to pull another Hebrew letter. I got Dalet. Dalet is a door. It is the doorway through which we enter God. It is the same door through which God can enter us. Dalet is bent over, weighed down. It is a time when we might feel burdened by all that we carry. We may feel poor in spirit, or in our physical selves. It may be a reminder that others feel poor, too, and that we can help ourselves by helping them. Mostly, for me, Dalet reminded me that I need to stay open for the workings of the Holy Spirit.

So, I went off to church today feeling like something has shifted within me. I am emerging from the darkness. I am seeing the glimmer of light.

I dropped the kids off for Sunday school. Nguyen and I found a pew on the side where the children could join us later in the service. Almost from the opening notes of the prelude, I began to weep. I was listening for you, Beloved! The church was dark this morning. It was a grey day, and the light was muted and dim. I liked it.

For the first time, I felt at home in the liturgy... singing the parts that are supposed to be sung without having to look at the book. Remembering the tune for the psalm. Singing the "Amen".

And the Sermon was great. It was given by one of the new Associate Priests.... a woman who spoke beautifully about what it meant for a 15 year old girl to encounter Gabriel. What it means for US to be open to God. Dalet.


During coffee hour, the Rector asked me when I was going to fill out a membership form.

Maybe soon.


The time approaches.

I pray that I am an open door when you appear on my doorstep. I pray that I welcome you warmly and with love.

I am waiting...

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Friday Five mistletoe edition

Every Friday the good folks at RevGalBlogPals offer up 5 questions for fun and amusement.

Here are this week's:

1) Have you ever gotten a really good kiss under the mistletoe? Tell the truth. Spare no details. Was the mistletoe real, because kisses under the fake stuff do. not. count.

I have hung real mistletoe... but I'll be hornswaggled if I can actually remember a kiss under it. Prolly too drunk to remember! LOL. (See question 4, below) I do remember when I was 15 trying to navigate my friend Simon under the mistletoe in my parent's house. I think I managed to snag a kiss... taking full advantage of his complete shock. (My not so secret crush was full on at that point!)

2) Do you know anyone who makes real eggnog, not the stuff from the carton? And if so, do you actually like it?

I don't think I have ever tasted the real stuff. For me, the carton works just fine, especially loaded up with nutmeg and rum. (Brandy?)

3) What's your favorite Christmas party album/CD ever?

I love the Big Band Christmas albums you can get for a buck in the bargain bins at stores near you. Especially Vaughn Munroe singing "Let it Snow".

4) Does your office/workplace have a party? Do the people there ever behave the way people in movies behave at office parties, which is to say, badly?

No more office parties for me, now that I am a stay at home mom... but back in my corporate days, I definately attended a few Christmas parties that deteriorated into drunken revelry. At one, a very drunk co-worker found a sign on a chain and hung it around his waist: Do Not Enter.

5) If you have to bring something to a party, what is it likely to be? Do people like it?

I make the best salads in the world. And for the Yankee Swap this year, I made Scotty Dog plaid scarves out of polar fleece. Fashionable AND practical!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Gimmel front and center

After writing the post below, I decided to pull a letter for myself and ask God to comment on all the Advent unrest I have been feeling. Is it any surprise that it was Gimmel?

Gimmel, in tarot, is associated with the High Priestess. She is a card of inner wisdom. On modern decks, she is often depicted sitting in front of a screen covered with pomegranates, holding a half hidden Torah in her lap. She knows the law because she has internalized it. It has become an inner truth.

In Hebrew, evidently, the word Gimmel has the same root as gammal (camel) so is often associated with camels. My little guide to the Hebrew letters suggests that I am a camel, traveling the desert, looking for an oasis. Forgetting, all the while, that the nourishment I seek is already within me. I have the strength to get across this desert. I don't need to look outside myself right now. Because God is with me, even in the emptyness of the desert.


My first Lent

I went to S. Stephen's, in Providence, for my first Ash Wednesday two years ago. It was a cold night. I was there with a friend who was Catholic. She wanted me to go to her church... a very cool Portuguese church on the East Side, but I wanted to take communion, so she came with me instead.

I remember how it felt to go up to the rail for communion that night. How the priest's thumb felt on my forehead. I walked out into the Providence night with the mark on my head, proclaiming to the world, to strangers, to Brown students and East Siders the truth of my life: I am a Christian.

I had an online friend who had done a birthday reading for me a month before. He decided to choose Hebrew letters for me. (He had a little deck of cards that just showed images of the letters. Since they are so packed with meaning, they can be used as a sort of oracle.) He wrote and told me that the letters appeared in his head before he drew the cards. He wasn't surprised that they were a match. Even now, two years later, I remember the reading vividly.

Gimel- a journey, discovering my path.

Kaph- He said I was in the process of making a decision... and that the decision was in my hands. He could see me holding water in my cupped hands, and my choice was whether to let it slip through my fingers or hold on to it. (This reading took place only a few months after my baptism!)

And finally, Tav- The mark of God. Since Ted didn't know at the time of the reading that I had 'gone Jesus' he was a little hesitant to comment about Tav. (He is Jewish, so it probably was strange to him that he 'saw' a cross when he pulled the letter.) He finally just came out and suggested that I was being called by God... I wrote back and shared that I had just been baptised and his reading suddenly made sense.

So, on the night of Ash Wednesday, I walked into the world with the mark of God on my forehead.

Tav, indeed.

That night, I rubbed my forehead on one of my journal pages so I could save the smudge of ashes that meant so much to me. And joked in my journal about seeing doves falling from the sky.

A few weeks later, as I was driving to my mother's house, I decided to take a different route than normal. As I pulled around a corner, a big peregrin falcon swooped in front of my car and dropped something on the street in front of my. I pulled to a stop. It was a dove.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Messiah and Little Chopsticks.

Last night I went to the annual "Messiah Sing" at Providence College. It was the second time I have gone. When I went last year, I had never heard the score before, except, of course, for the Hallelujia Chorus. I remember being blown away by some of the music. The Pastoral Symphony, in particular, was amazingly moving. The next day I went online and ordered the score from Amazon so I could practice for this year. I also bought a cd of Leonard Bernstein's version, which unfortunately is pretty seriously cropped. But it is still an amazingly powerful rendition, I think.

All year long, I have been listening to the Messiah in my car. The kids are sick of it! But now, I know the Bernstein version by heart, so I felt that I would be able to sing along without getting lost.

It was cold last night. My friend Carmen, who was supposed to come with me, ended up unable to come. Fr. P couldn't make it. I had a couple of hours between an appointment and the sing, so I took myself out to dinner at an old haunt on Smith street... Little Chopsticks. The place used to be packed every night, with lines for a table. Last night, it was literally empty. The owner was behind the counter. There were dead plants in the foyer. A waitress and the cook sat at a booth in the back and played with a cell phone. The owner asked after the children and Nguyen and was glad to see me. Not a soul in the place. I wondered if the food would be bad. (It used to be great.)

Since it was just me, I wanted to order a combination plate, even though it wasn't on the menu. No problem. I got Hunan chicken and rice. It was delicious! I really don't understand how this restaurant has fallen on such hard times. I was very sad for them. 20 years ago, they built the building... decorated it tastefully in a kind of Chinese, 1980's fusion of red, black and pink. Today, it just looks shabby and unkempt. The wall paper is pealing and the carpet stained. Mr. Linn, too, looked much older and frailer.

I payed the check and headed to PC. Because I was so early, I was able to get a seat right in the front row. I decided to sit in the Tenor section, since my voice is so low. I have to say, the whole thing was pretty tepid. The solo pieces were performed by music students and were lackluster. Lots of missed notes and poor pitch. I know it is an incredibly difficult score to sing, but what was worse was the complete lack of energy, both on the stage and in the audience. It was strange... subdued. Unenthusiastic. Even the organist missed some notes. The worst part, for me, was the Pastoral Symphony. This the piece that is the absolute crux of Handel's view of Jesus. Last year, when I bought the cd, it was the piece that I listened to over and over again... (I have talked about it in a previous post, ad nauseam at this p0int! LOL) But last night it sounded rushed. Emotionless. Like the organist really didn't 'get' it. I was disappointed.

So, on the way home, I cranked Bernstein in the car and sang at the top of my lungs.

Such a strange Advent this year. Maybe it's not just me....

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

I get the staff part. Shephards use staffs to gently guide their animals along. They might corral a bunch of sheep with the staff... or hook one that is about to go hurtling off a cliff.

But a rod? A rod is a stick that you'd use to hit something. I am intrigued that getting bopped by God's stick would be a comfort.

And yet, perhaps it is true, that even the tough lessons... the hard parts, are comforts. I shake my fist at God, and am, at the same time, infinately grateful to him. I feel lost without him, but know deeply that I am never without him.

In the desert, the Israelites bitched and whined their way through 40 years of wandering. I have been at it for only a couple months and I am already tired and cranky. And can't help wondering if there is a way to find comfort in this bopping. Somehow.

When I was a kid, I went to a school that was run by an Anglo-Catholic priest named Fr. Cranston. He believed in corporal punishment. If we misbehaved, we had to lean over a desk and get 'swatted' with a wooden stick. It genuinely hurt... but somehow, the swatting would become a kind of badge of honor. Getting a whack from Fr. Cranston brought us quickly back to the straight and narrow. Some parents were so horrified by this practice they ended up taking their children out of the school. But we kids, for the most part, respected that swatting was a part of the deal if we were in error. And we simply adored Fr. Cranston because under his strangely Dickens-like personna, we knew he simply adored us. Was the swatting a comfort? No. But Fr. Cranston was, many many times, a comfort at a time when I needed it pretty badly. (Adolescence and divorcing parents, all at the same time. Yeesh.)

Fr. Cranston died last summer. I never did get to tell him I had gone Jesus. If you guys read blogs in Heaven, Fr. Cranston, I want you to know how grateful I am for everything. You were one of the best Christians I ever knew.

Beloved, help me remember that both the rod and the staff are part of the package.

Non Sequitor:

I found out a couple of days ago that one of my essays is going to be published in a book coming out this Spring. The book is called 'Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism'. Sounds like an instant best seller, doesn't it? LOL. I mean, who in the world is their audience? The 123 UU Christians in the world?

I almost feel like a fraud, though, because I am no longer a UU. So true disclosure would require that the reader be told that I have bailed out. I guess I can take comfort in knowing that only about 7 people will ever read it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

O Little Town of Bethlehem.... in Latin

Last night I met Fr. P for the annual Latin Carol sing at Brown University. It is a tradition that apparently dates back several decades and has now gotten so big they hold it in the First Baptist Church on North Main Street. This austere old colonial church was packed to the rafters last night! As it was my first time, I was a little worried about how I'd do, but two semesters of Latin in college and a very well laid out music score was enough to get me through. Not to mention the fact that I knew all the tunes, LOL!

I believe that the only carol actually written in Latin was Adeste Fideles. All the others were translated, sometimes to hilarious effect.

Between the songs, an MC introduced (in Latin, of course) various speakers who read poems and scriptures. Truly, some were awful, but some were absolutely beautiful. The English translations were provided, of course, which meant that we could follow along if we wanted to. But for the scripture readings, especially, I liked to just sit and listen to the language roll over me. One piece that a choir group sang was especially moving. It reminded me of Hildegard Von Bingen a little.

After the sing-along, I had a lovely chat with another friend of Fr. P's. He is a member of the church where Fr. P was interim Rector last year. He shared his own experiences with church shopping, and gave me some advice about approaches to take. His suggestion was to find a Rector who teaches and believes the same things I do. I am too new a christian to be able to do that effectively, I think. I mean, after all, if that was the litmus test for a successful relationship, I wouldn't have ended up with Fr. P as my Director.... we are very different on some crucial issues. BUT, I wouldn't give up our friendship for the world and have learned so much from him. Thus, I don't think I need a Rector I agree with. More, I think I need one that is just absolutely crazy about Jesus and can share that enthusiasm with me. And one that's been around the block with newbies is a plus, too.

Today, I am listening to Canticles of Ecstasy by Hildegard. Full blast. It is drawing me ever so slightly out of my funk.

I love you, Beloved.

The dawn draws closer.

From the Latin Sing last night:

Ecce mundi gaudium
Ecce salus gentium
Virgo parit filium
Sine violentia
Ave, virgo regia
Dei plena gracia

Behold the joy of the world
Behold humanity's salvation
A virgin has borne a son
Without violence.
Hail, Royal Virgin
full of grace!

Monday, December 05, 2005

A dose of psalm 22

So, last night, after the pity party rant on my blog, I went upstairs and pulled out my old psalter to read the evening prayers. Uh. How about a little psalm 22 to drag you out of your self indulgent mire, kid?

I mean really, it's not like the bulls of Bashan are circling me. It's not like I have been stripped of my clothes and hung up to dry. My bones are all intact.

Advent is about waiting in the darkness, isn't it? And darkness, for me, means a sense of separation from you, God. So in a way, maybe it makes sense that I am feeling so far from you at the moment.

And maybe that is what this season of longing is suposed to be. A time of emptyness before the fulfillment. If that is the case, Beloved, it certainly seems to be working on me. I feel pretty damned empty at the moment.

And finally, after 2 years of centering prayer, is it possible that I am coming up against the dark night? Could it be that I am hitting the spiritual wall? I don't have an appointment with Fr. P until after the new year, but I think it might be time to give him a call about all of this.

Beloved, help me to trust that even when I am far from you, you are never far from me.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dark Advent

2nd week of Advent and I am feeling as distant and lost as I think I ever have. The darkness is there, surrounding me. I feel so far away from you, Beloved. And I am a little pissed off. You asked me to leave my church, which I did. I left my spiritual home, the people I love, the Minister I love. I walked out into the desert, trusting you to walk along with me. Trusting you to show me the Way. The Truth. The Life. So where are you? I am not finding you in the churches I visit. I am not feeling you in my heart. I am not feeling you in my home. I am not feeling you in the psalms I am ignoring or the centering prayer I am not doing.

Where, O God? How long?

Is it enough that my children are learning about Jesse's stump? Is it enough that I hear the words of Isaiah spoken in church? Is it enough that I have a place to go and read Paul of Tarsus? Or that I take your body and blood into my mouth every week. Every week.

(Rachel, Rachel, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved?)

Where, O God. How long?

I talked to a friend from Bell Street tonight and she suggested I stick with Grace until Easter. Perhaps.

But God, could you throw me a bone? Offer me a tiny hint of what I am supposed to be doing here? Lift the veil just a little bit?

Jesus, it is dark.

I miss you so terribly.

I miss you so terribly, Beloved.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Shameless plug

*Warning, commercial message*

I know this is shameless, but I am a soon-to-be member of the board of directors of the RiverzEdge Arts Project here in RI, so here goes: We have these very very cool calendars for sale on Ebay and I would like to invite you to check them out. RiverzEdge is an amazing program that helps inner city teens discover their inner artists. These calendars feature the paintings the kids have done. The young woman that designed the calendar is 16. And they are pretty cheap.

So mosey on over to ebay, or check out the RiverzEdge site directly. Either way, it is a GREAT product and a wonderful organization.

*End of commercial message. Back to regular programming*

Friday, November 25, 2005

Turkey and Pho

25 people came for Thanksgiving dinner last night. My husband is one of 12 kids, so we had a huge bunch of Nguyens over, along with my brother. I had been planning the dinner for weeks. Not only was I feeding the whole gang, but we also were going to have a 2nd, Vietnamese dinner. The in-laws were bringing that, but it meant figuring out how to fit it all in our small, 1927 Dutch Colonial Revival kitchen.

A week ago I cleaned out the refrigerator, throwing away every questionable condiment and lost left-over. I took all the shelves out and washed them down. The fridge was basically empty leading up to the big day, so I had plenty of room to brine my turkey in it.

By Monday, I had done all the shopping: 21.5 lb fresh turkey, 10 lbs of potatoes. 4 lbs of corn. 5 lbs of asparagas, 2 turnips, 2 lbs of carrots, leeks, fresh thyme, cranberries. All week long I slowly and methodically prepared dishes. Cranberry sauce first, then mashed turnips, then squaw corn. My biggest priority was to enjoy the process and not get frazzled.

Because I was ahead of schedule, I was able to get to an interfaith service at my former UU church on Tuesday evening. It was a strange and wonderful thing. Not only was Steve there, but so were Fr. Ray and Fr. Rich, from two of the churches I had recently visited. As I walked in, I gave Steve a hug. Then Fr. Ray. By the time I got to Fr. Rich, he said "boy, you know everyone, don't you!" I guess I HAVE made the rounds, in Olneyville, at least.

The service itself was fine. I was pretty emotional though, since it was the first time I had sat in the Sanctuary since I left in September. I cried through the whole thing, especially when Fr. Ray passed bread out to the congregation to share. Imagine, a kind of communion!

Then, on Wednesday night, I went to S. Stephens for the Rosary, Evening Prayer and Evening Mass. I was delighted to run into my Director, Fr. P. We sat in the same row and said the rosary together... took communion side by side. It was just lovely.

And finally, yesterday, the big turkey day. We placed an extra table in the living room and had seating for around 18 or so, plus extra seats scattered around. The tradition of this family is to serve ourselves, and sometimes eat in shifts when necessary. We had the traditional American meal first, complete with a prayer of Thanks to God for all our blessings. Then, a few hours later, the pots of Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho) and spring rolls and barbecued ribs came out.

At the end of the night, my husband showed pictures of his trip to Vietnam last August.

So much to be grateful for. In-laws I love. Amazing food. Our health. Our wonderful family. Our cozy little house. God. It's all that....

Monday, November 21, 2005


They are beautiful and delicious... Vietnamese spring rolls. Around here they're called nimh chow, which is a Cambodian made-up name for them, I think.

Last night, I was eating one at the local Cambodian/Vietnamese/Thai place and realized at one point that I was choking. The stringy noodles inside the rice wrapper were stuck in my throat, and my wind pipe just kind of closed. I had a moment of simultaneous panic and curiosity. Is this what it feels like to die, I wondered. Am I going to die, right here in front of my kids, my husband, my dad who was visiting from Canada?

I didn't do the universal choking sign. I pulled on my husband's sleeve, which he basically ignored. I just sat there, trying to decide whether I should start spitting things out onto the table. I think if it had gone on any longer, I would have done that... but for that brief time I was in a strange state of otherworldliness. My vision got narrow. I felt like I was going to pass out.

And then, thankfully, I got the noodles down and could breathe. The whole thing was just a matter of seconds.

Several years ago, I read a book called 'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying'. It is a whole book dedicated to the idea that death is a 'teachable' moment in our experience. That if we let it, death can be a powerful and wonderful transition. Since reading that book, I have been concious of trying to prepare myself to be fearless at my death. I've tried to feel peaceful when I feel threatened on the highway for example. It is not always successful... there are definately moments when my breathing gets shallow and the adrenaline starts pumping and I break out into a sweat. But on some level, too, I know that things have shifted for me. Death means something different to me, now that I am a Christian. It is less scary. It is a promise of returning to God.

So last night, there WAS the adrenaline and fear. But there was also calm. Not quite peace, but a strange kind of curiosity.

I am glad I didn't die in front of my kids, though. I definately have something to be thankful for this week!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Friday Five

This edition is all about children's literature.

1) Earliest book you remember (read to you or by you)- First book read to me was Wee Gillis. It was so sweet. The first I remember reading myself was "Farmer Boy" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read it over the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade.

2) Picture Book you would like to climb into- My encyclopedia of Mythology.

3) Favorite series of books (then or now)- Grown-up- Yukio Mishima's Tetrology. Then- Laura Ingalls Wilder.

4) Character you would most like to meet- Ferdinand the bull.

5) Last childhood book you re-read (for yourself or to someone) Stewart Little, for my son.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jesus' feet

I admit it's weird, but I am obsessed with Jesus' feet.

I think about them when I pray, sometimes. I think about Mary, sister of Martha, sitting at them, then, later, scandalously, washing his feet with her nard...drying them with her hair. I think of John, who said he wasn't worthy to tie the thong of Jesus' sandal. And all the healed and saved, falling at his feet to worship him.

In real life, I am not such a huge foot fan. Not that I don't like them, but I have never been that interested. But something about feet and Jesus. I love, for example, that on Maundy Thursday, the priests in the Anglican church line up a bunch of congregants and have them take off their shoes and socks and take a basin and wash, dry and kiss their feet. At one time, evidently, they would find homeless or very poor people for the footwashing ritual. That would be much more impressive than a bunch of upper middle class white people, who, I am sure, carefully washed their own feet before coming to church that evening.

When I facilitated a discussion of Marcus Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" at my former UU church, I had this crazy idea to end the series with a foot washing. I wanted people to think about what it would be like to wash Jesus' feet. I wanted people to imagine that as they knelt at the feet of their friend, he or she was actually kneeling at Jesus' feet. And later, as a friend was washing their feet, imagine it was Jesus doing it.

That, actually, is the part of the Thursday story that blows my mind the most. Jesus, washing the stinky, hot, dirty feet of his disciples. Jesus kneeling at their feet. Washing, drying, kissing them.

I never had the guts to propose the foot-washing to my discussion group. But someday, Jesus, when we finally meet face to face, I am going to fall to my knees and wash your feet with my tears of joy and dry them with my hair.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Is it possible that I haven't written about my latest church adventure because I don't want to jinx it?

Or perhaps I felt like I was getting boring, talking about the same thing for weeks on end!

In any case, there has been a new development in the church search process and it looks like I have found a place to go on Sundays. And yeah, the fickle finger of God may have had a little something to do with it. (Doesn't He always?)

Last week, I decided to bring the kids to visit a church I had tried weeks ago. It had come highly recommended by a friend from my UU church. Her good friend is a member there, and loves it. I spoke to the Rector, and yes, indeed, he seemed soulful and enthusiastic. The church is lovely. But their sunday school is only available at the 8:30 service, and since I am a half hour away, it seemed like an issue, especially as the kids get older. But I am willing to do whatever it takes, right? So I haul the kids out of bed at the crack of dawn and get them dressed and rush to leave the house so we can get there on time. And when we show up, the place is MOBBED. Not a seat available in the whole church. It turned out to be a baptism day and every relative in the world was crammed into the pews. When I realized it was going to be standing room only, I turned around and left.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had thought about visiting a church in Providence called Grace. It is an Episcopal parish with a huge, beautiful, 19th century church. I used to have a friend that lived in the tiny apartment on the top level of the parish hall. I had been there for a party once.

So, we went to the 10:00 mass at Grace. The kids sat in the pews for the service and wiggled a lot, but there where a couple of baptisms, which made me weepy and joyful, remembering my own. The Rector called me a couple of days later and invited me to check out the Sunday school.

Which we did, yesterday. Should I be surprised that it turned out I knew the Sunday School teacher? Or that one of Noah's classmates is a member there. (In a church in a different city than where we live!)

I didn't immediately get a feeling of 'Home'... whatever that means. But my time in the desert for the last few weeks has, perhaps, invited me to shift my perspective a bit. I realize that all the things I was looking for in a church were about MY happiness and satisfaction. Maybe I need to think more about finding a place where I can go on Sundays to worship my Beloved. Maybe the priest doesn't have to be the most compelling speaker in the world. Maybe the congregation doesn't have to be the holiest bunch I ever knew. Maybe it is enough to be in the pews, praying to be open and available to do God's work. Take communion. Worship with others. Staff the food pantry. Go to bible study. Teach my kids to know what it means to love God with all one's heart and soul and mind. Maybe that is what being at home in a church really is. When I left Bell Street, my biggest goal was to find a place where I can worship God with others.

While I was meditating last night, I had an image of thousands of years of church history, unfolding like a flash before my eyes. I saw dark monasteries and beautiful, candle-lit cathedrals. I saw peasants gathering in houses and golden reliquaries. I heard hymns and latin psalms. I saw brocade vestments and straw floors. I felt like I was standing on the edge of the stream of tradition and time and history, and if I take just one little step, I will join the thousands of years, the millions of others. All pouring from Peter, upon whom the church was built. Peter who died upside down. Peter, the goofball who argued with Jesus every step of the way. Peter who denied Him. Who loved him. Who fell asleep. Who reminds me to love Him even when I do it imperfectly.

Last night, Noah asked "Mom, can we go back to Grace next week?"

Yes, Noah. We can.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Five Pies

This is my first Friday roundup. Hee Hee.

Here are my thoughts on these five kinds of pie.

1) Apple Pie- My brother makes the best apple pies. His are firm and full of cinnamon. He is always assigned pie duty for Thanksgiving.

2) Cherry Pie-We aren't big cherry pie people around here. For me, this evokes those weird little Table Talk pies that the cool kids brought in their lunches. We never had them. Sniff. (And was I the only one that noticed that the initials TT look alot like pi? Hmmmm.)

3) Pumpkin Pie- The other pie at Thanksgiving. I usually make this one from a can of pumpkin and a ready to unroll crust. No one in my family really likes pumpkin pie, but by golly, I do, and I make 'em because Thanksgiving just isn't complete without one.

4) Chocolate Cream Pie- The thing that gets hurled at hapless women in Three Stooges movies.

5) Pecan Pie-what can you say about this one? Pour me a glass of bourbon and bring me a fork.

Bonus Question: Do you have a favorite kind of pie not on this admittedly short list?

My all time favorite pie is plum pie. My mom makes a fierce one. Here is a recipe to try. Second best is apple with cranberries. Actually, to me, apple pie is just, well, missing something without a handful of cranberries thrown in.

Friday, November 11, 2005

What Rachel Needs

Here is a game I found on my friend Jay's new blog:

You go to google and enter the words "(your name) needs" and then list the top ten results.

Rachel needs NetFlix friends.

Rachel needs your prayers!!!!!!! (ain't that the truth!)

Rachel needs your prayers!!!!!!! (again! I guess I really do...)

Rachel needs to have blush that is very bright and colorful. Rachel needs to be
responsible for her own behavior

Rachel needs help when she enters Manhattan's meat-packing district to help
three transvestite hookers find out who murdered one of their friends.

Rachel needs £5000.

Rachel needs to buck-up.

Rachel needs guidance and normal supervision.

She needs to work and prioritize more and worry less.

Rachel needs to clearly reflect that view.

All good advice.

But right now, Rachel needs to get her ass off the computer and go play with my kids.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Take me to the river....

So what is the Big Dunk, you ask?

It was my baptism. And it really was a big dunk. My UU (Unitarian Universalist) minister walked into a spring-fed pond with me 2 years ago and dunked me in backwards. It was the day that changed my life.

Steve, my dear minister, had never done a baptism before. He was new to the ministry game in general, since ours was his first church. So I am quite sure he had no idea what to make of my request when I first asked him to baptize me. In fact, I now know that his first concern was to wonder whether he would get in trouble with the governing board of our church. (New minister goes off into the woods with a female congregant to do what?!?!)

But we talked about it for several months. And I think he realized that I wasn't kidding around. So in the end, he agreed. Even to do it in a pond.

As Steve had never done a baptism, we prepared by doing a variation of his premarital counciling. Over the course of 6 months or so, we met regularly to discuss the 'wedding'. I had journal and homework assignments to do between times. I had to write vows. I had to reflect on what to do when I got mad at the in-laws. I had to decide who the in-laws even were. (Everyone else in the world...)

On the days I was to meet with Steve, I would usually get really nervous and scared. The whole process was so vulnerable for me. I was especially scared when I had to share drafts of my vows. It has always been slightly scary for me to talk about my feelings about God... but for some reason, I felt even more exposed during this process. Once, I was so freaked out I just sat in the car in the parking lot behind the church and couldn't get out. Finally, I had this funny sense of Jesus sitting next to me. "Don't be scared, don't be scared." He said. I relaxed a little. In my head, I asked why he always appeared in robes. Instantly, I had the image of a clean shaven guy in a business suit. I actually laughed out loud. "Go back to the robes, they suit you better." I thought...

The night before the baptism, I randomly opened the bible and sure enough, landed on Jesus' baptism by John. (Matthew 3:16-17)

The day at the pond was an extraordinary clear and crisp September day. My mom and husband came with us for the baptism. They stood on the beach while Steve and I walked into the water. It felt so warm and inviting. When we got about waist high, I read my vows and Steve lowered me, backwards, into the water. I felt like I could just float there forever. In fact, when Steve brought me up too soon, I went back down for a few more moments of this bliss.

What is so ridiculous is that I never even considered that the baptism would make me a Christian. I truly never even thought about it. At the pond, Jesus' name was never mentioned. I read the prayer of St. Francis, and some Merton. I said my vows to God. But as a Unitarian, I suppose the idea of a separate Jesus never even occured to me. It wasn't until days later that it became clear that Jesus was part of the deal. I had a sense that He would never leave me alone until I finally surrendered to him. I had given my life to God and I understood that God was asking me to make Jesus the center of that life. I was mildly horrified... afraid of what my atheist parents would say... afraid of other christians. But the pull towards Jesus was inexorable. When fear overtook me, his message was so clear and distinct. 'Follow me. Don't be afraid. Follow me."

Before I got baptized, I was plagued with all kinds of theological questions. I didn't understand the Trinity. I didn't believe in original sin. I certainly didn't buy the concept of Jesus as a Savior.

Strangely, after the baptism, all those issues just resolved themselves. I suddenly seemed to understand all of it. Later, I read a book that described 'baptism by the Spirit' and recognized the signs. I believe that is what happened to me in the pond that day. What else could explain a lifelong Unitarian suddenly becoming a Trinitarian? A Jesus freak? A born again, washed in the blood of the lamb, Christian? It's either Holy Spirit or some kind of psychotic episode.

"Don't be afraid. Follow me."

And it has led me to the greatest joy of my life. A peace that I have never known before. A lightness of being. A deep sense of gratitude. Love. And loss, sometimes, too. The narrow path ain't for sissies, that is for sure. Leaving my Unitarian Universalist congregation, and Steve, who baptized me, has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But in the end, I am grateful to be on the road with Jesus.

Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Psalms and more psalms

I love the psalms.

Can I just say that? I love their humaness. I love their adoration and crankytude and even their spiteful calls for revenge. I love their poetry. I love that when I read them I relate to them so well. I, too, feel full of awe for God. Yeah, I feel invinceable sometimes. Other times I, too, feel like he has abandoned me, hidden himself from me. I feel showered with love and beat up on. It's all there. And advice... cryptic, dig, look- deeply- between-the-lines-and-you-will-figure-out-how-to-relate-to-God advice. I love that.

An online friend reccomended that I pray the psalms since I have been feeling so adrift. It was good advice. My priest/advisor/friend gave me a great plainsong psalter a couple of months ago. It is a vintage book with a gorgeous blue cloth cover. It smells slightly musty, as it was in a basement for awhile, but the language and the paper and the musical notes for each psalm are so beautiful. And it is a book unto itself, which I like, too. It follows the Anglican prayer cycle, which is a twice daily prayer. You get through the entire book of psalms in 30 days. (A more drawn out schedule than praying the hours, which takes you through in 7 days. I am going to try that during Lent this year, I think...)

So every morning and every night, I read a few pages of the psalms. I don't sing them, but I do read them out loud, as a kind of chant. I try and pause where the book says to pause. I try and listen to the words as I am saying them. I look for clues that God might be offering to me. I chant in love and adoration. Sometimes I actually laugh out loud because a passage seems like a wink and a nod from the Big Guy. Or a gentle slap on the wrist. Or God pointing at something that I missed before.

Beloved, I find you in these wonderful songs!

I sing them in the morning and at night and think of them in between times. I sing them to you, Oh Lord. As they have been sung to you, morning, noon and night, for thousands of years.

Next, I might have to buy a Hebrew psalter. And Latin.

My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.
O praise the Lord with me
And let us magnify his name

Psalm 34:2-3

The Daily Office
Litrugy of the hours
St. Dunstan's Plainsong Psalter

Friday, November 04, 2005

One of these things is not like the other....

Ok, so I have two earth sign kids. (A Capricorn and, gasp, a Virgo) For them, the highlight of Halloween is organizing their candy. They arrange and rearrange. Sort by size, type, color. The object is to create order from the chaos of their pillow case bags. They dump it out on the floor and pile it up carefully in stacks before placing it into big blue plastic bins. This little activity goes on for days. As the candy supply is depleted, new arrangements are required.

This morning, a new twist. I came downstairs and found that every single piece of candy had been taken out of it's wrapper and was now re-wrapped in bowls and cups and containers. Chocolate with chocolate, regardless of type. Kit kats mingling willy nilly with peanut butter cups, Butterfingers cheek by jowl with snickers bars. M & Ms got their own container. Those funny little peanut butter flavored things are in a mug with some other miscelaneous stuff, including, oddly, an Almond Joy. The whole collection is laid out on my piano bench. (Which might become an issue when I sit down to practice later...)

These kids are obvious lightweights when it comes to eating the candy. In my day, by Friday the chocolate would have been long gone. But here is a huge bowl, even with Nguyen picking at it all week. So, they don't win points for eating it, but they sure are good at organizing.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Looking ahead to Advent

Last year, my Advent season was a mostly solitary pursuit. It involved listening to Handel and knitting a prayer shawl, lighting candles and reading from the lectionary every night.

This year, things are different. I am still unaffiliated with a particular church, but when I go to a church, it is a church that worships Jesus. I wonder if Advent will be different when shared with others who are waiting with me? S. Stephens, the Anglo Catholic church that I visit, is having a series of Advent services on Sunday evenings. I am planning to go to some of them.

Last year, I wrote a piece for the Advent service at my UU church. Can you imagine? A 1-year- old Christian actually standing in the pulpit and sharing my thoughts on Advent? This year, I am probably going to end up joining a church where any involvement I might have with the worship would be reading God's words, not my own.

Last year, I went to my first 'Messiah Sing'. It was a wonderful experience, but as I didn't know the music at all, I spent the whole night feeling a little lost. It was my good luck to be standing right next to the choir, so even as I wandered around on the pages of music, I was lifted up and embraced by their beautiful voices. The next day I ordered the score and bought a copy of the CD and have listened to it pretty much continuously since. I know, now, that I belong in the Tenor section, even though I am a woman. I have a low singing voice. I won't be standing next to the choir this year.

There is one piece in the Messiah that completely captures the essence of Advent and Christmas for me. It is the Pastoral Symphony. It is the piece that musically represents the actual birth of Jesus. At first, tender and sweet, slightly melancholy, speeding up and slowing down, mostly high notes. But then, there is this bass counterpoint that begins to loom just under the horizon. In an orchestra it is played by the double bass, I think. Or maybe just the low range of a cello. But oh, it moves, just under the surface of the sweet melody, a terrible forshadowing of what is to come. I remember the first time I heard the piece, it was played on the organ at the Messiah Sing. I was mesmerized by the melody. And then, as the bass began to move and shift, as it began to slide towards the melody line, I began to understand the truth of Advent. The truth of Christmas: It is everything. The waiting, the birth, the death and the ressurection, all rolled into one. Handel has captured that truth in a short little interlude in the middle of his huge spectacle.

If I were going to be in the pulpit for an Advent service this year, maybe I would just have the organist play the Pastoral Symphony and call it a day.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Granny's Cheese Biscuits

My mom's friend invited us to a Day of the Dead party tomorrow. We are supposed to bring a photo of a loved one, and some of their favorite food. Nguyen is bringing a picture of his mom and some of her famous spring rolls. I am bringing a picture of my grandmother. I had a hard time thinking of her favorite food. Truth be told, it would be the pope's nose (the tail) from a roasted chicken. But by golly, that is a tough thing to bring for a potluck. (Same with lamb shanks!) My grandmother had very funny taste in food. She was Canadian, and of Scottish decent, so there was a lot of meat at the table. But she also was a housewife in the 50's and had a certain appreciation for the foods of that era. (Toad in the hole, for example, which was basically hot dogs in a dough wrapper.)

She cooked a few things consistently well. Short bread cookies, rhubarb pie, and cheese biscuits. I have decided to bring the cheese biscuits. They are easy and delicious, especially when served with a stiff cocktail, which is how Granny enjoyed them.

Granny's biscuits:

1 cup flour
1 stick butter (slightly softened)
1 tub sharp chedder cheese spread. (She used Old English... I am guessing a 5 or 8 oz tub.)

I mixed these in a cuisinart and it took about 3 seconds. You could do it by hand though. Her recipe says to start with a whisk and then graduate to your bare hands.

Roll the dough into a snake and chill till stiff. Then cut into 1/4 inch slices. Place on an ungreased baking sheet, dust with cayenne pepper and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes until golden.

I'll be tilting a glass of wine with these tomorrow, Gran. I know they will bring back all kinds of memories of parties long past. I sure do miss you sometimes.


PS: isn't this photo amazing? My aunt Betsy took it a couple years after Grandpa died. I think it shows just how complex my grandmother was. The first time I saw this photo was at Granny's memorial party. I was in her bedroom with Betsy and she showed it to me. I took one look at it and burst into tears.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Sad Goodbye

The last time I saw Alex was in the spring, at the little show my son's preschool puts on each year. He was the younger brother of one of Emmett's friends. Alex was wheelchair bound, and couldn't speak, but I remember smiling to myself watching him watch the show. He had a HUGE grin on his face and kind of sang along with all the songs, gesticulating madly with the music. After the concert, his brother Kevin, ran over to him. They clearly adored each other.

It was a large wake on Monday. There was a line snaking out the door of the funeral home... we stood in the rain for at least 45 minutes, waiting to hug Alex's parents. We didn't really know them. I think that day last spring was the first time I had actually met them because Kevin was usually dropped off by his caregiver, Adriana. But Nguyen and I wanted to pay our respects and say goodbye to that sweet, sunny little boy. He looked so serious in the coffin... not at all like the charming 4 year old we knew.

I just kept thinking about his older brother Kevin. And his parents. And Adriana.

It made me want to go home and hug my boys.

The Obit

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A stranger amoung friends

Another church today. This one is promising.

First, I should say that I conciously tried to change my heart with regard to this process. My mother gave me an excellent suggestion that I should enter these churches, not with the intention of discerning whether they are the 'right' church, but with the intention to worship. So, I felt much less judging and much more open to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

Church of the Epiphany, in Providence, is only a few blocks from my house, but in many ways, it felt worlds away. It is in an economically depressed part of the city that is, not coincidentally, one of the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, with immigrants from all over the world living in close community. The church itself has clearly fallen on hard times. The buildings are in disrepair. The main church building is, from the outside, a falling down, vinyl clad orphan in the midst of urban blight. There is a little paper sign on one door announcing the mass schedule, but other than that, no signage that I could see.

Once inside, though, I realized immediately that I was in a consecrated and holy space. It had an almost monastic quality to it... dark, but light, empty, but full of life and spirit. The pews had been rearranged from their former positions into a kind of round, with a lecturn in the midst of them. A couple of chairs sat at one end and the alter at the other. The former Sanctuary at the East end of the church was in darkness. I was initially confused about where to sit (As the choir pews were still in the chancel) but the priest came up to me immediately and welcomed me and indicated where I could sit.

Like the St. Francis mass at St. Teresa's, this felt very warm and informal, yet very reverent. There were probably only 10 or 12 people in the congregation today, most of whom seemed to be African or perhaps Carribean. (I recognized one name as being Nigerian...) The priest was a beautiful, soulful woman in her mid or late 50's, I'd guess. I felt a complete sense of calm in her presence. It was remarkable, really.

The entire service, save for the readings and the homily, were sung or chanted. There were several influences, from plainsong psalmody to Zimbabean allelujiahs. The opening music was a sweet tune played by a lovely young woman on an alto recorder. That was, other than a drum, the only instrument at the service.

Throughout the service, I felt more and more at home. I joined in, missing notes and singing off key at some points, but feeling unembarrassed, as I was singing to my Beloved, and never lost sight of that.

During the Eucharist, the cup and bread (and it was real bread) were passed, person to person, each in turn calling the next by name. It was very powerful. Finally, in the end, a parting song and then, from the kitchen, snacks and drinks appeared and joined the consecrated bread on the alter.

What a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning. More than anything, the experience felt like I imagine a house church would be like. I was in God's house, today. And I felt right at home.

Thank you, Beloved, for bringing me to this peace-filled, joyful place today.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Lunch with Fr. P.

Once a month or so, I meet with my spiritual director for lunch. Early on in the relationship, we determined that a homemade lunch in exchange for spiritual direction felt like a fair deal for both of us.

I love our lunches. I usually plan what I am going to make a couple of days ahead. It always involves a big salad, as he loves them. And then, the main course can be as fancy as left-over paella with artichoke hearts and linguica (today's menu) or as plain as a tuna salad sandwich. I know that it is part of his spiritual practice to eat whatever is placed before him, so I really don't know if he has dietary restrictions or preferences, except that he has admitted that he doesn't eat meat on Fridays. Since we usually meet on Tuesdays or Thursdays, this is rarely an issue.

In the morning before he comes, I clean the house up a little. Not for him, mind you, because I am pretty sure that he wouldn't care if my house was a wreck, but because I have come to feel that our time is sacred, and want to spend it in a place that feels, well, loved. So the vaccuum comes out and I brush most of the crumbs off the counters. Do the dishes. Wipe the table.

We have been meeting this way for 2 years now. Once a month, a standing date to sit and talk about life and religion and church and mostly about God and Jesus.

Over the last couple of years, I have started to recognize that God is at work in this relationship. So many times we come together and talk about stuff that has gone on in our lives, only to discover that shifts have been happening for both of us... in a kind of parallel experience. In talking about our struggles, joys, fears, we start to see patterns. It is true that we are mostly talking about my stuff. That is the unspoken understanding of the relationship, at least at our lunches... but often Fr. P notices that he has experienced something relevant to my situation and is willing to share it with me.

And so often, I mull over our conversations for days or weeks, mining new insights as I meditate on what we discussed.

Or didn't. Some of the most poignant times are when we fall silent and just sit in the knowledge that God came to earth, took on human form, died and was resurrected... for us. For the world. It is enough to bring us to tears.

This last 6 weeks have been so wrenching in some ways... since I left my church and am a perpetual stranger on Sunday mornings. It reminds me that Jesus, too, said " the son of man has no place to lay his head."

But today, I didn't feel like a stranger. Today I felt peaceful and loved and calm in the presence of God. My Beloved. My Savior.

Thanks, God, for bringing Fr. P into my life.

Monday, October 17, 2005

So what's with the Tarot stuff?


I know. How can you be a Born-again Jesus Freak AND a tarot junkie??! I ask myself the same question all the time.

Tarot came first, of course. I started reading when I was about 12. I had a cheesy 1970-ish Rider Waite knock-off and a book by Eden Gray.

Later, I got more serious, buying a reproduction of a 15th century Italian deck and some scholarly tarot books.

And then, I had this completely Holy Spirit experience that turned my life around, but since I wasn't a Christian, I started to explore the tarot on a much deeper level. I discovered, really, that tarot and astrology and kabbalah and all those other occult "sciences" were really just ways for people to try and understand the great creation of God. They were all ways of putting a system onto the chaos that is the universe. Once I realized that, I started getting interested in the source, rather than trying to organize the creation. That is when I began to take a deeper interest in God. Tarot got me interested in kabbalah, which got me interested in the Hebrew alefbet, which got me interested in psalm 119, which brought me to the Torah... which ultimately drew me straight to that crazy Nazorean. See how this works?

And here's another thing: The tarot, having been invented in the 15th century in Italy was almost certainly invented by Catholics. It started as a parlor game for the bored rich ladies in the Visconti-Sforza court. It makes sense, then, that the imagery on the cards is taken from Christian and Catholic symbolism. The trumps, especially, represent the death/rebirth salvation cycle. I honestly feel that 15 years of working with these images finally started to sink in. In large part, I have the tarot to thank for my conversion.

I suppose, ultimately, everything would have brought me back to God. But for me, it was the tarot.

Yes, Virginia, a born-again Jesus freak CAN be a tarot junkie.

So, the card for the day is: The House of God (aka The Tower)

Ha. Funny one, God! Like I didn't already know that you are in complete control!

PS: The gorgeous card image is from a reproduction by Jean-Claude Flornoy of the Jean Noblet deck from the 1650s. Check out his site.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Sunday double header

Because they were celebrating the feast day of their patron saint, my first stop this morning was at the 9:15 mass at St. Teresa of Avila church. Fr. Ray was his usual quiet and low key self. It was actually a short mass because there was going to be a coffee hour afterwards, so there was no lectio divina or conversation during the service. There was, however, incense, which for this high-church junky is a great way to start the day!

I love St. Teresa. She was a whacky, out-there, mystical, Jesus freak. Something that I can definately relate to. It seems like every time I open a book of hers, she manages to comment on exactly what is going on for me at that moment. I also love that she was basically a mediocre nun for the first 20 years of her career. It gives me hope that I won't always be such a half-assed Christian. If I ever do become a Catholic, I am going to take her as my patron saint. (Can I do that?)

Here is one of her prayers. We read this during the mass:

Let nothing disturb you, let nothing afright you, all things are passing; God does not change. With patiences, all things are obtained. Who has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices, God alone suffices.

You said it, sister!

I also decided to visit an Episcopal church this morning because I haven't had communion in a couple of weeks and was missing it. So I stopped by the Church of the Savior (not it's real name), which has a 10:30 mass. I chose it because it had a rainbow flag hanging outside, which made me feel right at home, since I am coming from the UU church.

The church itself was lovely... cream colored walls with dark wood trim. Very tasteful alter. Oak pews.

The service had all the same readings, since both the Anglicans and the Catholics use the Revised Common Lectionary. It was kind of fun to compare the two sermons. The priests said very different things about the same story. (Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's). But both homilies were thought provoking. At this mass, though, there was a homeless man sitting in the front pew and he more or less continuously talked to the priest throughout the service. I thought the priest handled the situation very gracefully. He made the best of what could have been very disruptive.

What was more disruptive, and for me, disturbing, was that there were a couple of women sitting in the pew in front of me who talked throughout the Eucharist. They were obviously lay leaders in the church and were talking loudly about committee work and things. They were even complaining about a particular committee at one point. Oh, Martha, Martha... even if you don't believe in the Real Presence (which I do) isn't there space in your life for silence? Isn't coffee hour a better place to talk shop? I was pretty put off, I'll admit.

It is true that after the service those same two women turned around immediately and introduced themselves and welcomed me to the church. They were very kind.

But still.

During coffee hour, the priest introduced himself and asked if I were visiting the area. (Standard ice breaker, I have discovered.) When I told him that I was church shopping after leaving the UUs, and that I was still in a discernment process about which denomination, he volunteered that "The Episcopal Church is like Catholicism Lite. All the ritual without all the rules."

Today, it felt like it was missing more than just the rules.

How long, my Beloved, will I wander in the desert? This church-shopping business is turning out to be harder than I expected.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Abraham, Hagar and Sarah

They are interesting spokespeople for the great religions of the world because they are just so, well, flawed.

In my bible study we recently read Genesis, and boy is it full of wild and weird characters! Abraham, for example, not once but twice offers up his lovely bride Sarah to various pharoahs because he wants to save his own sorry ass. And Sarah tells him to have baby with Hagar because she (Sarah) just can't believe that God's promise of a son is true. Then, when Hagar actually has the baby (Ismael... a wild ass of a man, according to the scriptures) Sarah beats her up and abuses her so badly she runs off to the desert.

And let's not even get started about Abraham's willingness to slaughter his son...

Here is the common thread: They all doubt God's promises. They all do despicable things. They all are, in other words, profoundly human. And while I sometimes find the stories to be disturbing, I also find them oddly comforting. It reminds me that God can do amazing things with the most flawed people. It makes me feel a little less judgemental about myself... and others. We don't have to be perfect in order to serve God. He'll take us just as we are.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

God's Surprise

Today Ramadan and Yom Kippur intersect. It is a day of fasting, repentance, surrender.

There is an ecumenical organization who is calling on all people to fast today. The Tent of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah is asking for us to fast in honor of world peace and religious tolerance. I have fasted today. I hope you have, too. If not, maybe you can say a little prayer for peace.

Here is mine:


I join thousands of people in sacrifice today. I thank you for your love. I thank you for your guidance and grace. I ask that you give us the will and the strength to be peaceful ourselves that we may better be peaceful with each other. On this day of fasting, prayer and remembrance, I thank you, dear Beloved, for the pangs which remind me that my deepest hunger is for you.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Dancing with Mozart

One of the things I have done to keep myself humble is take piano lessons. I am 40 years old and this is the first time I have taken an instrument. A friend gave us a funky 1960's vinyl trimmed Wurlitzer piano last year, and in January I started taking lessons.

I suck.


But what is cool is that I started the lessons with the very intention of sucking. I am, in most areas of my life, sort of an overachiever. I was never satisfied with adequate. (Except for my housekeeping, which is generally less than adequate!) So, when I decided to take lessons, I did so with the full intention that I would be mediocre at best and it would be a practice in humility.

Part of my willingness to suck at piano is that it reminds me that even in my deep imperfection, I am wonderful in the eyes of God. He, who knitted my in my mother's womb (psalm 139:13), knows every last fault, every sin, every humiliation and shortcoming. And yet, and yet, he loves me so deeply, so unconditionally, so completely, it just boggles my mind.

Anyway, for the last, oh, I don't know, 3 months maybe, I have been working on a simplified minuet by Mozart. It is a dance piece, with all kinds of beautiful rhythms and harmonic contrast. He builds you up and drops you off... he creates tension and then releases it. It is kind of sexy, really, thinking about couples dancing to the disonance and release. I can picture it.

And this week, I finally started to get the piece. I got into the groove of it. I began to feel the music in me as I danced across the keys with Wolfgang.

I feel like that with centering prayer, sometimes. Like I don't get it, don't get it, don't get it. And I keep on trying, praying, sitting in silence, praying some more. And then, for a moment, I can see clearly what it is all about and there is such grace and joy and humility. I feel that immense connection with God and know that even in my lazy mediocrity, he loves that I pray every day.

Love Letters to God

In my normal journal, the black leather one that matches my bible, I write all my entries as love letters to God. Well, OK, some of them aren't really love letters. Sometimes they are sent to the Complaint Department. Sometimes they are whine letters. Sometimes just boring news bulletins about my life.

But all of them begin:


That is my name for God.

What I am noticing about these posts is that they feel far less intimate. They are much more about reporting what is happening rather than engaging with God. My other journal is all about reflecting on what is going on from a spiritual perspective... always with the idea that God and I are at least discussing it, if not collaborating on it.

I sort of miss that with this online version. I realize that it would get mighty irritating if I started every post with "Dear Beloved," so I am going to just imagine that in my head. I will intend these to be suppliments to my real journal... and write them that way.

Because, really, everything in life is about getting closer to You, God, isn't it?


Monday, October 10, 2005

It's all about the Tofu....

What is it about the soothing power of Tofu? Or maybe it was the company?

I went St. Stephens for the plainchant evensong with my spiritual director, Fr. P, and a mutual friend of ours I hadn't seen in ages. Then later, we went out for dinner at a very good, authentic Chinese restaurant. (I think it was called the Lucky Garden, on Smith Street in Providence. If you are in the neighborhood, you should definately check it out. It serves a lot of very interesting food. (And some typical Chinese-American fare if you are timid about, say, crispy eel....)

The plainchant evening prayer was beautiful. It was a drizzly night... the chapel was lit only by candles when we first got there. Fr. P and Adrienne and I sang the psalms together. Fr. P sang the male parts, while Adrienne and I sang alto and soprano on the female parts. It was really lovely. I especially like the Magnificat, which is song together, male and female. And there is some latin thrown in for good measure!

After the service, we drove separately to the restaurant. It was a still raining. I listened to George Winston on my stereo and thought about how much it sounded like a movie score. I realized, too, that it was dark at 6pm, which means that Fall is definately advancing, even if the weather isn't cooperating.

Dinner was great. Fr. P was in his clerical garb, so when he suggested grace, I thought we should go the whole way and hold hands. We were quite a spectacle, I am sure, especially since he said grace in Chinese. (He has studied in Taiwan for several years...)

What became clear during dinner was that we all three are facing major shifts in our lives these days. We are all in places of transition. It was nice to talk with each other about our various life journeys. And share tofu and steamed rice and ginger beef and pea leaves. And plenty of cha. All in all, it was great. We are going to do it again in a couple of weeks.

Spicy Tofu in pork sauce: It's what's for dinner.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Zen of Chicken Soup

I went back to St. Teresa's this morning, for the third time in a week. This time, Nguyen and the kids came with me. The boys were wiggly during the service. I found myself remembering why Sunday school was amoung the priorities at our new church.

I didn't cry as much this time. Just teared up a tiny bit.

The Gospel was very challenging... the one about the man who throws a wedding feast and no one shows up. They are all too busy. So he sends his servants out to grab whoever they can find. The servants manage to fill the place, but one of the guests isn't wearing wedding clothes. He is promptly bound up and thrown into the street.

Fr. Ray didn't discuss this particular passage during his homily, focusing instead on the much easier to manage Isaiah.

All the way home, the kids kept asking why we couldn't go to Bell Street anymore. They miss it. I do too, actually. Especially today. I found myself wondering why I left. Why I am forcing us to go through all this uncertainty and discombubulation. All this time as strangers in strange churches... never feeling at home. Missing our home. I know this is the desert experience. I know I long for what is familiar, even though it wasn't the right place for us. (That I am sure of.)

So, I made chicken soup. I stood at the counter and chopped onions and carrots and celery. (The Trinity of French cooking!) I pulled cooked chicken off the carcasses and cut it into bite sized pieces. I simmered the bones with water and salt and pepper and thyme and bay. I added the broth to the meat and the vegetables and some pasta. I listened to the Messiah.

I did laundry.

I wrote this post.

I am going to take a nap.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The feast of St. Francis

October 4th is the feast day for the humble and loving St. Francis. To celebrate, I decided to go to the mass in his honor at St. Teresa's in Providence.

When I first got there, about 15 minutes before the mass was to begin, all the doors to the sanctuary were locked. There was a car in the driveway, and a man waiting outside a side door. Eventually, we figured out that the door to the basement was open, and it turned out that the mass was going to be held in a tiny chapel in the lower level. Fr. Ray was already in there.

Over the course of the next few minutes, several people filed in. They were mostly spanish speaking, so Fr. Ray did the mass bilingually. We sang a simple hymn. We listened to the readings from Galatians and John. We sat in a circle and shared, as the spirit moved us, on what we found inspirational in the person of this holy, simple, servant of God.

I am not sure why, but I started bawling again. It is almost embarassing, really. I get a little kick of the Holy Spirit and the waterworks just start.

Emmett was with me this morning. We brought some markers and paper for him to draw with. I was worried he would be distracting to the folks there, since the room was so small. But no. He was quiet and sweet and drew a very detailed picture of the church, complete with the parking lot and Fr. Ray's car. He even included the community garden across the street.

After the service I showed it to Fr. Ray.

We were very welcomed, even though we didn't speak spanish. During the peace, which I normally find very uncomfortable, we all felt like old friends. I even got a few hugs.

It was a beautiful morning. And it felt fitting to be celebrating St. Francis is St. Teresa's, which is, apparently, the poorest parish in RI.

It sure felt rich today.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Solemn High Evensong

Last night I went to the Solemn High Evensong at St. Stephens, the aforementioned Anglo Catholic church I have been visiting for the last couple of years. The service was full of pagentry and singing. It was in stark contrast to the simple exhuberance of St. Teresa's. In fact, at some point, I began to wonder if it was all too choreographed for it's own good. I didn't like it nearly as much as I did the plainchant evensong that I participated in a couple of weeks ago. They were totally different, in fact. Whereas the plainchant version was relatively informal, begining with the rector telling us about the service and inviting us to relax and join in when we felt like it, this solemn version last night was extremely formal. It began with the incense and a procession of the huge choir, followed by the priests in gold and green vestments. The church is very gloomy, even during the day, but in the evening, not one tiny bit of light managed to sneak in through the dark stained glass windows.

As it was an Evensong celebrating the feast of St. Michael and All Angels, I guess it is customary to do a sort of procession to symbolize one's spiritual journey. That should have been fairly meaningful for me, given that I am in the midst of discerning my own journey. But as it was, I was right behind the rector for the walk around the sanctuary and was much more concerned with keeping the pace and staying on key. I have heard that at the Anglo Catholic church in Boston, they actually take the procession out into the streets. I was sort of hoping that that would be the case here, too. Why do the Roman Catholics get to have all the fun of crazy street processions? Alas, we circumnavigated the sanctuary once and sat back down in the pews.

There was a guest preacher last night. The vicar from the Episcopal Cathedral across town. He had apparently spent a lot of time in Williamsburg VA and still wore the floppy colonial style collar. (Or maybe that has to do with being a vicar... I don't know.) I saw the same collar on the minister at King's Chapel in Boston. The Vicar, whose name I don't remember, gave a perfectly fine sermon... but it was so clean and tidy compared to Fr. Ray. It was bleached white and nicely pressed, but seemed lifeless, somehow.

Next week, St. Stephens goes back to the plainchant evensong on Sunday and I am going with my friend Fr. P and another friend. I am happy it is going to be the more relaxed version.

Grapple alert: I understand why the Anglicans and Catholics want to take the focus off the sermon and keep it on the Eucarist. It definately makes sense to me that the emphasis of the mass should be on worshipping God rather than talking about worshipping God. But somehow, I wonder if in the midst of all the ritual is it possible to lose sight of that?


Sunday, October 02, 2005

God hangs out at St. Teresa's

Part of my church shopping assignment from Fr. P is to check out churches of other denominations. Specifically, he suggested I visit at least one Catholic church and one other protestant one. Today was the Catholic church. I went to the 9:15 Mass at St. Teresa's in Olneyville.

Olneyville is a section in Providence that at one time housed a lot of mills and factories. These days it is a fairly poor section of the city... and one of the more diverse neighborhoods, with Spanish, African Americans, Southeast Asians and other minorities living together. My husband's shop is located in Olneyville. My old church was right on the border, in West Broadway.

I chose St. Teresa's for two reasons. First, I have friends that go to the 11:00 Spanish mass. They were actually former baby class students of mine, and when we got to talking about churches, they said that they love St. Teresa's. Also, the priest there, Fr. Ray, has done a lot of ecumenical work with my former minister. Steve has always spoken very highly of him.

So, on this beautiful October morning, I drove to Providence and pulled into the tiny parking lot behind the church. Just as I was getting out of the car, I pulled a muscle in my back. Bad. I could barely move. But I was already there, so I creaked out of the car and stiffly managed to get up the front steps.

I kept thinking that this church was dedicated to St. Teresa, who spent a lot of her life in physical pain, as I recall. I tried to keep that in mind as I was sitting awkwardly in the pew.

Luckily, Catholic services are similar enough to Anglican ones that I didn't feel completely out of place. They have a little Missalette that you use to follow along. St. Teresa's is a low key place. There is no organ, or choir. The priest would hum or sing the tune of the hymn and then the congregation would join in. The altar boys and girls were probably in their early teens, and there were only two of them. The whole service felt scaled back... no incense, very little formality. And yet, almost from the beginning of the service, I felt very emotionally involved. Before the first reading, Fr. Ray suggested that we listen very carefully to the words, to see if any spring out at us. Then, after the reading, he asked the congregation to share which words had had particular meaning for them. I was floored. He was doing Lectio Divina in the middle of the mass.

Which was about when I started crying.

The rest of the mass was just that kind of amazing combination of informality and prayerfulness. There was lots of interaction between the priest and the congregation. Lots of exhuberant love of God. Fr. Ray pointed out, for example, that in the spanish, the passage from Isaiah that we first read started "My Beloved" which is so much more intimate than the "My Friend"that our english version used. He went on to say that God loves us, is our lover, wants to be our lover. It was really remarkable because he spoke so simply, and yet you could feel the depth of HIS love and faith coming through. I was really moved.

And then, after, as I was trying to drive home with my pinched nerve, I felt sure that God was talking loud and clear today. And I realized that Nguyen would probably actually like St. Teresa's.

Lectio Divina

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Spiritual equilibrium with 5 kids running around...

I usually have only two: Noah and Emmett, my 8 1/2 and 5 year old boys. But today we had the cousins over, plus an extra friend. Something about the gorgeous sunny day and the fact that I am still feeling punky made for conflicts all around. (Note: the Murphey's law of parenting is that when you feel sick, the kids bounce off the wall.)

I was deep into conflict resolution all afternoon. And at no point did I remember to be patient about it.

I think about the saints, sometimes, and am not surprised that very few of them had kids. I mean, really, how hard is it to lead a Godly life when you are sequested in some beautiful convent somewhere? They had it easy, as far as I am concerned. They didn't have fighting kids or spilled lemonade or mountains of laundry or a phone ringing off the hook. Thank God for Centering Prayer, that is all I can say.

Centering Prayer

Friday, September 30, 2005

Shoe Shopping with Jesus

Well, not really. I do get into this weird shopping head when I am in a store, though. It is almost meditative... but not really. Jesus does come along for the ride, though. I have Handel's Messiah blaring in the car these days. Leonard Bernstein apparently horrified the music world back in the '50s when he decided to arrange the Messiah into two sections: a Christmas and an Easter. He even moved the Hallelujah chorus. Can you imagine that? It kind of makes sense to me.

Last year, during Advent, I listened the Christmas piece over and over again while knitting a prayer shawl for a friend. She had just lost her husband and I wanted to let her know that people were thinking of her. The prayer shawl is a cool ministry. You knit a three stitch sequence over and over (a nod to the Trinity, obviously) while praying for the recipient. Eventually, the movement of your hands becomes automatic, but the stitch design is just complicated enough that you have to keep paying attention. I knit my friend's out of blue mohair, which reminded me of my grandmother. Granny always had mohair shawls around her house. When she died, I got two of them. Advent with the Messiah and the prayer shawl was one of the most sacred times I have ever experienced.

Now, for some reason, I am listening to Easter... over and over again. So even as I am doing stupid chores, like shopping for shoes, I am brought back, again and again, to the miracle of His love and sacrifice. I am two years into this and still can't believe that God walked among us. Thank you, God.

Prayer Shawl Ministry

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Confession is good for the soul

I finally fessed up to Fr. P, my spiritual director, about the baptism situation with the Anglicans. I told him my problem- that it wasn't a trinitarian baptism at the time, but that it WAS the right baptism. That I was worried that I couldn't, legitimately, take communion at an Anglican church. And that I was afraid that someone was going to suggest I get rebaptised, which doesn't seem appropriate at all. I admit, through the whole conversation, I was on the verge of tears. For some reason this whole thing is bringing up all kinds of weird fears, especially since I am in the midst of trying to find a new church home. Which means I already feel plenty isolated and in left field. Well, desert-ish, I suppose. I feel like I am in the desert, and even though God is sending me plenty of Manna, I am still in that whiney-ass place of feeling so very sorry for myself.

And I feel a cold coming on, which just blows, since I am even more whiney-ass when I am sick.

So, sniffling through my conversation with Fr. P, he says there is this wonderful little escape hatch called a 'conditional' baptism. In other words, as the priest is doing the baptism, he actually says out loud words like "If you, Rachel, are not already baptised, then I baptise you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." An 'If-Then' arguement for God. I wonder what the Venn diagram of that looks like?

I feel much relieved. Off the hook. Like I can actually, at some point, walk into the Episcopal church of my choice and kneel down at the rail and take the body and blood and not worry that the priest would be upset if he knew that I am really some kind of spiritual fraud. Which, God knows, I am not.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A legal baptism?

Yesterday was the feast of St. Vincent de Paul. I bought a book a couple of weeks ago at the Catholic store which discusses the lives of the Saints. Right inside the front cover, it says that if you say the little prayer for the saint on their day, you earn a partial indulgence. I wonder how many partial indulgences make up a whole one?

Church shopping has been kind of interesting. I went to S. Stephens in Providence on Sunday. I frankly had no idea what to expect. I have been to the Triduum twice there... and both times sat in the church for, oh, I don't know, 9 or 10 hours over the course of three days. And no one ever really talked to me. Now, I realize that Holy week is a pretty intense time. Folks just aren't that chatty on Good Friday. But I was very pleasantly surprised on Sunday when 3 or 4 people came over to talk to me at coffee hour. (The coffee was good, too!)

People kept asking if I was visiting from out of town. Which brought up the fact that I was leaving Unitarian Universalism and was looking for a christian church. Like a goofball, I mentioned my baptism and the inevitable question was: Was it a trinitarian baptism? Choke. This is an issue because I have been taking communion at S. Stephens for 2 years and the mass booklet definately mentions that you are welcome to do so if you have been baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At my baptism, we never said anything about that. In fact, Steve didn't really say anything at all. I read the prayer of St. Francis and said my vows, but Jesus and the Holy Ghost weren't mentioned. And yet, a couple of days later, I felt so strongly that I was not only a christian, but a trinitarian, that I am sure that the baptism worked the way it was supposed to. So, since I am a baptised trinitarian, I have been taking communion right along, even though technically, I guess, I am not qualified to sit at His table... at least at an Anglo-Catholic church. Lord, what do you think? Is it time to come clean to the Rector over there?

I haven't even mentioned this to Fr. P because I was afraid that he would reconsider and say no and I can't imagine not taking communion at this point. It is one of the big reasons why I am leaving my UU church. And, by the same token, I wouldn't want to be rebaptised because I am so sure that the one that I had was the only one I need. It has had such a profound effect on my life it seems impossible that it wasn't all it was supposed to be.