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.