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*
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....
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!
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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. Rachelneeds your prayers!!!!!!! (ain't that the truth!)
Rachelneeds your prayers!!!!!!! (again! I guess I really do...)
Rachelneeds to have blush that is very bright and colorful. Rachelneeds to be responsible for her own behavior Rachelneeds help when she enters Manhattan's meat-packing district to help three transvestite hookers find out who murdered one of their friends.
Rachelneeds to buck-up.
Rachelneeds guidance and normal supervision.
She needs to work and prioritize more and worry less.
Rachelneeds 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.
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.
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 Together.
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.
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.