Sunday, December 31, 2006

Moose Breath

Sadie misses her hometown.

She lives 30 minutes away from Tickle Cove on a fairly busy road in Charleston. There are kids in the neighborhood, and some parents, but none she is as close to as her family.

In Newfoundland, even a half hour seems strangely far away. I think it might be a relic of outport life, when people were completely isolated from all but the nearest towns and villages and were accessible only when it was safe to sail because there were not any roads. As recently as 50 years ago, Sadie's hometown would have been the end of the world in winter. It sits on a peninsula, straddling a finger shaped inlet of water (called a tickle in Newfoundland dialect). On either side of the inlet, rugged cliffs rise towards the sky. Most of the town is snuggled between these two cliffs, which protect the houses from the full force of the wind.

For Sadie, marrying an Anglican and moving to his hometown a half hour away must have felt like leaving ones homeland for another country.

I sat in her kitchen and tried to carry on a conversation with constant interruption from her youngest daughter. We spoke of her aspirations to go back to college for a few courses, and her dream of getting a job once Anna starts school. We talked about how much she misses living in the rugged landscape of Tickle Cove, and how she doesn't get over there as often as she'd like.

When I first walked in the kitchen it smelled more like a Sunday dinner than a quick lunch with a friend. She made chicken fingers and smiley fries for the kids, but for us, she had made pot roasted moose and homemade mashed potatoes. These she served with pickled beets and a cup of hot tea. I had seconds.

I stayed for a couple of hours, realizing that I MUST be getting used to Newfoundland because I didn't try and clear my own plate and I could understand Sadie's accent much better than the first time I met her, 5 years ago.

In Newfoundland, it doesn't take long to become lifelong friends. This might very well be another artifact of outport life.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Letters from Newfoundland

Though we have only been here three times before, it is clear that we are part of the community. On Christmas Eve we went to church in Sweetbay and knew at least 4 or 5 folks in the congregation and were warmly welcomed by several more. Even the old priest seemed to recognize me from the mass for the dead held in the cemetary a year and a half ago.

So, when I heard that our friends, Kathy and Sam, had lost their 25 year old son unexpectedly in October, we sent a condolance card and our prayers. By return mail we received a mass card with his picture and a beautiful poem printed on the back. We stopped by Kathy and Sam's little store today when we were in Tickle Cove. After chatting in the store for a few minutes, Kathy invited us over to her house for tea. She pulled out cookies and cakes and candy for the children. From the refrigerator she retrieved a tray of sliced ham. She opened the oven door to reveal a shelf full of tinfoil wrapped parcels, one of which contained sliced turkey which she placed on the table with the ham. Meanwhile she heated up a brown sugar sauce into which we were to dip our ham.

She told us about her son's last day. She talked about the funeral. She laughed when she described the church at his mass. It was October 31st, and since one of his favorite days was Halloween, the priest let them give out their Halloween candy after the mass and decorate the church with pumpkins. Gregory was buried in the Catholic churchyard overlooking the bay on All Saints day. There is a decorated Christmas tree on his grave right now, as Christmas was his VERY favorite time of year.

Kathy and Sam have spent the last 25 years of their life caring for Gregory because he had autism and in Newfoundland, the nearest program for him was 3 1/2 hours away. They are having a hard time figuring out what to do with their time these days.

When I excused myself to use the bathroom, I noticed that there was no mirror on the wall.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

On the bedside table: Prayer: Living with God

I have been reading a book that Fr. P gave me:

Prayer: Living with God, by Simon Tugwell.

Actually, when he handed it to me, Fr. P said

"If you like it, I am giving it to you. If you don't like it, I am lending it."

I hate to tell you, Fr. P, but I hope you have another copy kicking around somewhere, because I am loving it.

Since I was still in the midst of the Imitation of Christ, I didnt' start it until last week, but now that I am into it, I am having a hard time putting it down. I am finding it rich enough that I need to put it down, though, so I can digest what I am reading.

Tugwell's book is about building a relationship with God. It is not a how-to manual, as the title implies, but more of a description of the action of God in our lives and the ways that we can open ourselves to that action. He talks about the pitfalls we sometimes experience when we 'Live with God', as well as ways to help avoid them.

He also talks quite a bit about God's nature as it is revealed in scripture, especially as it relates to man's spiritual development. For example, in talking about God's mercy with regard to our fallen state, Tugwell believes that God's act of kicking Adam and Eve out of the Garden was an act of mercy and love. What would be worse than eating of the tree of eternal life after they had already experienced spiritual death? By sending them out, God offers the possibility of redemption. It was an act of mercy. This particular passage caught my attention because I had come to that very conclusion a couple of years ago when reading Genesis with my bible study group. (This, of course, convinces me that Tugwell is a genius! LOL)

I haven't finished the book yet, but can say that it is one that I will go back to again and again. It is great Advent reading.

Thanks, Fr. P!

What's on your bedside table these days?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It sneaks up on you

Early Advent is such a bleak, empty, place. Even with a confession and a wreath on the table, church activities and general cheer and goodwill, there is a distinct sense of darkness in the time before the light.

For me, it seems that Rose Sunday is the turning point. I begin to hear the lyrics of the Messiah differently. I begin to understand the daily psalms more clearly. I find connections in the books I read and the sermons I hear. Where before was blank, now my soul is beginning to feel filled with love.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In praise of mangers

I often hear about what a mean place our Lord was born in. People emphasize his humble beginnings by talking about the stink and cold of a manger in the middle of winter.

It wasn't the Taj Mahal, to be sure, but I can tell you from personal experience that a barn is a lovely place to be at any time of year. And having had two children in a hospital, I can say with all honesty that I wouldn't have minded birthing in a barn at all.

Barns are warm. The animals keep them that way. In fact, if there are a few sheep around, you can lie among them and they don't seem to mind a bit. And contrary to most reports, I have found that barns smell wonderful. They are earthy and sweet with hay and sweat and animal shit, which, unless you are dealing with pigs, doesn't tend to smell bad at all. (I am pretty sure the 1st century Jews were not keeping pigs.) As a child I grew up on a farm and spent quite a lot of time hanging out in the barns with the sheep and goats and cows and grew to love the sounds and smells of the animals. The cozy feel of the hay when I would lie down in it. The warmth of a sheep's breath in my face as she investigated this strange interloper. It is a peaceful place. A quiet place.

The perfect place.


Here's the game: A friend assigns a letter and you have to come up with ten things you are grateful for that begin with that letter. If you would like to play, let me know and I'll send you a letter! This game has a faintly Kabbalistic element to it. The ancient Hebrews believed that God imbued each letter with a nature of it's own... and that words that began or contained that letter were, by nature, connected.

Antony assigned me the letter "D" for Dunk, of course!

In doing this exercise, I found D a difficult and demanding letter. It can be somewhat dour by nature, but also disciplined and dedicated. Things I can use more of in my spiritual life. I am delighted to bring you: The letter D.

1. The Dunk. This was obvious, but truly I haven't been more grateful for anything in my life. The day I walked into that pond and got submerged was the day that God entered my heart and set up shop. So much has happened since then, I almost can't remember what life was like before. The biggest gift God gave me that day was to introduce me to his son, Jesus.

2. Dancing. I just love to feel music in my body. A couple months ago we went to a French Farmer's Market, complete with an Acadian band from Maine. They were singing in French and playing fiddles and concertinas and tapping shoes and I was all alone in front of their little stage, dancing away.

When Noah was younger, he used to dance all the time. Even now he moves so beautifully to music.

And today, Emmett went to see The Nutcracker Ballet and couldn't stop dancing this afternoon.

3. Daybreak. I am not normally an early riser, but dawn is a time of extraordinary beauty. When I lived in Hawaii, I woke up very early one morning and watched the purple clouds over the mountain, turn pink, then orange, then finally, white, as the sun rose. I'll never forget it.

4. Dwelling- I am grateful for my little, 1920's Dutch Colonial Revival with the terrible plumbing and abused wood floors, leaky French doors and decrepit cedar shingles. It is the home we have lived in for 12 years now. We were a young, childless couple here. We had babies here. Now we are raising two beautiful boys and a naughty rabbit here. My only regret is that we can't have a chicken (zoning laws) but that is a small thing compared to the delight I feel living in this great neighborhood with my lovely family.

5. Daily Office- I don't do the whole thing, but every day I read the evening psalms from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and follow it with a sort of a prayer meme: Sins I have committed or things I must apologize for, Praise and Thanks to God, Intercessions for others (this is where many of you wind up!) and finally, prayers for myself, which often revolve around not repeating what was in the first part....

6. Divina, Lectio- (snuck that one in!) A small group of us meet each week at Grace, for about 50 minutes, and read the gospel lesson and meditate on what God is saying to us through the reading. It is an ancient practice made fresh every week by the real engagement of everyone who attends. I am so grateful for this addition to my spiritual life. We are learning about each other and praying for each other and God is at the center of it all. How often does that happen on a regular basis in real life, I ask?

7. Depth- In water, prayer, relationships, self awareness, relationship with God. I am grateful for the ability to swim at the deep end of the spiritual pool and be fearless even when I am in over my head. God buoys me up when I am feeling afraid. He urges me back to the shallow end when I need comforting.

8. Doing- It is my nature to know things. I read books about stuff. I join online lists about things as varied as electric kitchen mixers and (in a past life) the history of tarot cards. I become an expert. But it is all too easy to be an egghead and never actually do anything. I am at a stage in my life, both with my family and with God, where the doing is everything. I can't be an expert at parenting. I can't be the smartest, most well read Christian. What I can do is do it, imperfectly, everyday. I can play with my kids. I can walk up to the altar and take communion. I can lay hands on a sick person and let the spirit of God rush through me. And I can cook and do dishes and grocery shop and make a comfortable and loving place for friends and family to gather.

9. Death- Not necessarily the physical kind. I am human enough to feel great pain at the death of a friend or relative. But spiritual death has been a blessing for me. A relationship with God invites us to die to our old selves. We let go of what we used to believe and think and do. We see everything in terms of our relationship with him. It becomes the compass point by which we navigate our lives. 'He shall break you like a potter's vessel' used to be such a terrifying concept. Now I joyfully offer myself to be broken, so that God can put me back together again as he sees fit.

10. Disciple- Oh God, For this I can never thank you enough. You have graciously accepted me as your disciple. You are my teacher and friend. You are my Beloved. You are my God. Grant that I may be a worthy disciple to you, always.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Grist for the mill

I am still a member of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship email list. Admittedly, I'm mostly a lurker these days, but I stay on because I have met many of these people in person and am interested in their faith journeys.

Last week, there was a discussion about prayer and worship in UU churches... and how those things tend to be de-emphasized, or renamed, so that people who have been wounded by their past religious experiences will have a safe haven.

As I read the discussion, I found myself getting upset about the whole idea of tossing out prayer and worship because it might make someone uncomfortable. I believe a religious life is meant to challenge and make us uncomfortable. That is part of what stretches us. Religion is not a club. It isn't just about coffee hour and social outreach. It is a process of transformation (or even sanctification). How can transformation happen when there is no challenge to your current status quo?

The fact is, no church can be everything to everyone. But I honestly believe that spiritual growth requires personal growth. We must be stretched... sometimes far beyond what we think we can handle... in order to grow closer to God. I also believe that God must be at the center of any church in order for it to flourish. When God goes missing, the church is in deep trouble. Nothing man made can hold it together.

'If it wasn't screwed on' department...

For the past two months we have been planning to go to Newfoundland for Christmas.

When are you leaving? Folks would ask.

We are heading out the Thursday before Christmas and coming back the Thursday after Christmas, I'd reply.

Except we aren't.

I finally printed down our itinerary this morning and realized that we are, in fact, scheduled to fly out on Friday. In a minor panic, I called my step mother to let her know that I was off by a day.

I knew that, she said.

So how did I mess it up, I wonder? I joke about early onset dementia, but really, I have found that I am much more flaky lately than I used to be. Is it age? Or am I just in la la land all the time? I have a calendar, and actually write things in it. But somehow that doesn't seem to help me to register that I have committed to be somewhere or do something.

Luckily for me, I caught this in time and we had a great chuckle about it. But I can tell you right now, if we had showed up at Logan Airport a day early... well, let's just say I don't think Nguyen and the kids would have found the humor in it.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Five

For this mid-December Friday Five, let's explore some Yuletide favorites.

1) It's a Wonderful Life--Is it? Do you remember seeing it for the first time?

Here's the thing: I don't believe I have ever watched the thing all the way through. Even though I am a vintage movie fan, and LOVE Jimmy Stewart, I have never warmed up to this movie. Sacrilege, I know. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, by the way, is another thing entirely.

2) Miracle on 34th Street--old version or new? Haven't seen the new, liked the old.

3) Do you have a favorite incarnation of Mr. Scrooge? My former step father played him at Trinity Rep here in RI. I loved his version because, well, I recognized it, LOL!

4) Why should it be a problem for an elf to be a dentist? I've been watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for years now, and I still don't get it.

Because Santa is a fascist?

5) Who's the scariest character in Christmas specials/movies?

I love the Bumble. But my favorite scary character happens to be in my favorite Christmas movie, which, oddly, wasn't mentioned in this Friday Five:

Scut Farcus in "A Christmas Story" is the scariest of all characters.

Confession v 2.0

No one said I had to. Not my spiritual director, or my parish priest. Not my mother or father or friends. Not my UU minister or my husband.

But God did. God planted the idea of confession inside me and let it sit in the dry soil of my heart until baptism must have watered it enough to grow.

This time it wasn't as scary. I had my list scratched out in a little notebook (an oddly whimsical one I bought for the first confession last summer.) My biggest fear was that I didn't have enough stuff to confess. I was concerned about whether I was diligent enough in my preparation.

The smell of old incense hung in the air of the Lady Chapel. The chairs squeaked as I knelt to pray.

"Open my heart, oh Lord. Let me be fearless and humble. Let me be truthful and complete. Create in me a clean heart, oh Lord."

We used the Anglican version of the prayerbook, which is unabashedly traditional in it's language. "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned." I hadn't noticed before that the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer leaves 'Father' out. With apologies to all the women priests out there, I must confess that I like saying that line. "Father" in this case, means both my confessor, and God. If I ever confess to a woman, I might have to say "Forgive me, mother and Father..."

I had a harder time identifying sins this time around. It is a subtle thing, teasing apart what is sin versus temptation. And when does temptation give way to sin? There were a few things I was certain of, mostly because I got a sick little feeling inside when I thought of them. But some were subtle, so at the end of the confession, Fr. P spoke about how to understand what a sin actually is. The questions he asked while I confessed also offered clues for next time.

It is not surprising, I suppose, that the motherload of my sins have to do with the way I treat my husband and children. In the future, whenever I commit the sin of spiritual pride, I need only reflect on breakfast this morning, or getting ready for church last week, to be quickly brought back to my senses. Now that I have gone to confession a couple of times, my husband jokes when I act badly: "Better write that one down for the next confession!" Brat.

We used a different confessional box than last time, but the step was just as hard on my knees. I could barely walk afterwards. This time there was a crucifix attached right to the screen separating me from Fr. P. As my pain geared up, I leaned my head against the wood and reached up to touch the figure of Christ. It is like that in life, too, isn't it? That in the midst of pain, we reach for him who holds all of our pain within Himself.

So it was that a couple of days before the beginning of Advent, I spoke my sins. I felt safe. And was relieved when Fr. P pronounced it a humble offering. In the years or decades to come, he said, you may come to understand the nature of sin more clearly.

After absolution, I went back to the pews to say a psalm of thanksgiving. Then I left the church and walked down the street towards my car a few blocks away, weeping for joy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Where did this kid come from?

Emmett might be the only kid in the world who is actually disappointed when he has to stay home from school. This morning, as we were about to leave, I felt his head and he definitely had a fever, so instead of walking them, I dropped off Noah and buzzed straight to the pharmacy for some cough medicine and children's chewable tylenol. Emmett was crushed to miss pizza lunch day and his wonderful first grade class.

Emmett takes after Nguyen in terms of coping with discomfort. He almost never complains. It isn't a matter of stoicism. More that he is just too busy with other things to be bothered with a little cough or headache.

Noah is more like me: a complete whinypants. I feel outraged when I am sick. I tell everyone. I mope and pout. I even cry sometimes. That is basically how Noah handles illness too.

I can relate to Noah. I aspire to act like Emmett.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Howling Wilderness

We are going to Newfoundland for Christmas. I admit I am a little intimidated about the traveling. I don't think I have ever traveled for Christmas before, and it seems unnatural to be worrying about packing gifts in a suitcase. Suddenly weight and volume and breakability seem important.

Plus, we are woefully unprepared for real cold. Our fall has been so very warm we have yet to get the boys new boots or gloves or hats or snow pants. So I made a big trip to Walmart today for all those things, plus boots for Nguyen and gloves and hats for both of us. It is going to take a whole suitcase just to pack all THAT stuff.

In the midst of all this, I wonder about Christmas services. Will we find an Anglican church nearby? Will they have a midnight mass? (Or even a 10pm one, LOL!) Will my parents join us? (I suspect not...)

I am so grateful for Thomas a Kempis right now. Reading the Imitation is the one thing that is keeping me grounded in the Holiness of this season.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Morning pillow talk...

'The thing about having God in my life is that I have come to face the fact that I am a screw up. I have come to accept that I am not the person I dreamed of being. But I have such a sense that God loves me anyway, unconditionally, that I can forgive myself and accept myself and even love myself and stop judging myself. It is a joyful way to live. What is ironic is that when I stop pretending to be something I am not, I come closer to being the something I dream of being.'

Monday, December 11, 2006

A quiet afternoon

I had planned to go to the grocery store today. Really.

But at noon I decided to lay down for a little while. It has been a pretty hectic couple of weeks and this is the first day I have actually had some quiet time.

By the time I woke up, it was almost 2. No time to get to the store before picking the kids up at school.

So in the gloom of the winter afternoon, I lay in bed and drifted in and out, thinking of God and the people I love.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Second Sunday in Advent

Part 1.

I am not sure whether our visitor was on drugs, or if he was mentally ill, but something wasn't quite right with the young man who found his way to our Lectio Divina group this morning. He looked a lot like my friends from high school did. He was dressed in a kind of artsy way, with black leather pants, a pair of combat boots held together with duct tape, a purple plaid skirt and a green baseball shirt. And black knit hat with the top cut off. It wasn't the clothes that led me to believe that something was off with him. It was that he would laugh at totally inappropriate moments, almost continuously, like it was a tick, or like something was going on inside his head that the rest of us weren't privy to.

We were reading about John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord. (A passage I can never read without hearing the score to the Messiah in my head.) Our guest laughed while we read, one after another, and while we shared our feelings about the passage and what we thought God was telling us through it. He laughed when he read, when he shared, and when he listened. His prayer for his neighbor was so disjointed I found myself praying silently for her, because I know she needs it.

Later, in the nave, he was asleep in the last pew during the service.

He is in my prayers this week.

Part 2.

Behind the altar, on the East wall, there is a huge stained glass window of the crucifixion. It is divided into many panels, some with angels, some with onlookers gazing up at Christ on the cross. Above the scene, God hovers above, looking down at all that is happening.

This morning was a spectacularly clear day. In the winter light the sun is at a different angle than it is at any other time of the year, so the window was in deep shadow, save for a brilliant ray of light illuminating the panel of God. Christ was in darkness, along with all mourners and soldiers and townspeople and angels.

But as the service wore on, the sun was rising, and little by little, the images on the window came to life. First Christ. Then the Angels. And finally, the people below.

In that order.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Holy Spirit has entered the building

For the second time in a week, an atheist loved one of mine has mentioned the possibility of God's existence.

This time it was my husband, who late last night followed me upstairs and sat outside the bathroom as I was doing my, uh, business.

"You know" he said, "I don't believe in the Holy Trinity or anything, but maybe there IS something bigger than us out there..."

I asked if we could discuss this after I got out of the bathroom.

Now, I must admit that one of the most painful things about being a Christian is the fact that people you love in the world sometimes aren't. It is very very difficult to see the people you love suffering. And life without God, in my mind, is the worst kind of suffering. So even at midnight last night, as my husband spoke these words, my reaction was to want to gush all over him and jump up and down and shout 'alleluia' and 'amen' loud enough for my neighbors to hear.

But I am learning to keep my mouth shut and just ask a couple of questions to allow for further discussion. Tell me more... I said. What does God mean to you? If you think you might be ready to turn stuff over to God, what does that look like? Etc. etc.

He certainly wasn't ready to fall to his knees and recite the sinner's prayer. But he acknowledged, again, his realization that the people in the world he most admires have all been people of great faith.


I pray for all those who have not yet come to know you. I pray that they learn to trust you. I pray that they open their hearts so that you may fill them with love. I pray that they will find the joy that is only truly possible through you.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


My life feels chaotic these days. I am overextended in all kinds of ways. Work has been slamming. Church is in high gear. My brother is in the midst of a big move. The kids are busy. Nguyen is busy at work. (Thanks God.)

It's all hustle and bustle and very little time for quiet contemplation.

So, in the middle of all this madness, I decided I needed to take a moment and acknowledge that Christ really is at the center of it all. That I adore him. And that I am grateful that he came into the world to bring light to the darkness and healing to the broken.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Advent Gifts

Today I am grateful for my brother's life.

My brother just bought a house last week and I am spending a lot of time helping him with the move. We are having a lovely time together, packing and cleaning. On Sunday I spent the afternoon alone in the new place, washing and scrubbing and polishing and mopping. I bought a ton of cleaning stuff, including a string mop, two buckets, yellow latex gloves and a big bottle of Mister Clean. The old owners had an unfortunate potpourri addiction, so part of my mission was to try and get some of the lingering smell out of the air.

Yesterday, I spent the day in Jake's old apartment helping him pack. We blasted the music (From Carly Simon to AC/DC) and got a TON done. I have the packing mojo... so Jake was barely able to keep up with the box manufacturing as I was filling them so fast.

The moving truck came today, but I was busy with other stuff so I couldn't help with that part.

I called Jake this afternoon to check in on his moving progress and he told me that he had a narrow escape this morning. He was moving some tall shelves, which he thought were empty, when suddenly he realized that something was falling past him. It was a pair of very heavy, metal speakers that had been at the back of the top shelf. They fell so close to his head he could feel them going by.

Jake said to me

"I am beginning to believe that God of yours actually might exist. Tell him thanks. Even if I had lived, I would have ended up in the hospital, which would have sucked."

Tell him yourself, I laughed.

But I'll add my gratitude too:

Thank you, Beloved, for sparing my brother's life today.

And thank you for all the gifts of grace in the midst of our busy lives.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Five: Advent

We are talkin' Advent at RevGalBlogPals this week... so here we go!

1) Do you observe Advent in your church?
Yes, we are doing Advent Lessons and Carols this Sunday evening... and have a HUGE Advent wreath that sits down center all throughout December. Tomorrow we are all meeting at a farm in the area to collect balsam greens to adorn the church with. This will be our first time participating in that.

2) How about at home?
I have been doing the Advent wreath for three years now. The first year, it was just 4 candles grouped in the center of the dining room table. This year, I bought one of those 'brasslike' candle holder doohickies that goes with a wreath. And an official set of candles from the Religious Supplies place. (My new favorite store, by the way...)

I also do bible readings at the dinner table, which usually just confuses the kids. But that in itself can be funny.

3) Do you have a favorite Advent text or hymn?
I love O Come O Come Emmanuel. Last year I tried to learn to play it on the piano in time for Christmas, but was using a 1930s hymnal and it was really hard, LOL. I am also a big fan of 'In the Bleak Midwinter'. Which of course makes no sense at all because I don't think there is usually snow in the Middle East, but heck, I am a sap for these things.

4) Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.)
Actually, they were all pink until Tinky Winky got hold of them....

5) What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen?
Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be available here in the US... but Lego makes an Advent Calendar. Who knew?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I was like a deer in the headlights

Standing in the Lego aisle at Toys R Us, trying to figure out if it is actually reasonable to spend $100 on a Lego set.

And then there were the stuffed rabbits. Do I buy one for each of them?

What about bikes? Emmett has grown out of his. For the same $100, I could buy two new bikes for the boys.

It is all insanity.

I got overwhelmed, so I grabbed a couple of small Lego Bionicle figures and headed for the checkout.

How do people manage this Christmas shopping thing?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


This is my third Advent.

The first one was an amazingly sacred time. A friend had unexpectedly lost her husband, so I spent the whole month sitting in my living room listening to Handel's Messiah and knitting a blue mohair prayer shawl. I lit frankincense and would watch the smoke curl towards the ceiling in the gray gloom of the afternoon. I lit fires in the fireplace and would make pots of tea and be silent and prayerful as I knit. At the time, I still worked in the bookstore doing tarot readings. I remember it was almost painful to go there. I felt torn open, sometimes. Torn away from my sacred space. I quit reading there just before the following Holy Week.

Last year was an altogether different experience. I was unceremoniously dumped in the desert. I felt cut off from my spiritual community, lonely and alone. I felt no sense of God's presence at all. Instead, it was a harried, painful, empty place. No amount of fires or incense or Messiah sings could infuse Advent with a sense of expectation. It was just the emptiness. I couldn't even pray anymore.

This year, yet again, feels different. I now have a full liturgical church year under my belt and am experiencing the approach of Advent with a sense of awe and joy. I have grown to love the rhythms of the church year, with it's ebbs and flows. Times of ripening, and harvest, and fallow emptiness. Now as I face the empty rows of my spiritual field, I know that they are at rest. That they are waiting for God's seed to be planted, fertilized, watered and tended. That they will bear fruit, soon enough. But for now, in the cold, gray afternoon, the rows of my heart are turned over. Open. Waiting.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

From "The Imitation of Christ"

The Ninth Chapter

We Should Offer Ourselves and All That We Have to God, Praying for All

The Disciple

ALL things in heaven and on earth, O Lord, are Yours. I long to give myself to You as a voluntary offering to remain forever Yours. With a sincere heart I offer myself this day to You, O Lord, to Your eternal service, to Your homage, and as a sacrifice of everlasting praise. Receive me with this holy offering of Your precious Body which also I make to You this day, in the presence of angels invisibly attending, for my salvation and that of all Your people.

O Lord, upon Your altar of expiation, I offer You all the sins and offenses I have committed in Your presence and in the presence of Your holy angels, from the day when I first could sin until this hour, that You may burn and consume them all in the fire of Your love, that You may wipe away their every stain, cleanse my conscience of every fault, and restore to me Your grace which I lost in sin by granting full pardon for all and receiving me mercifully with the kiss of peace.

What can I do for all my sins but humbly confess and lament them, and implore Your mercy without ceasing? In Your mercy, I implore You, hear me when I stand before You, my God. All my sins are most displeasing to me. I wish never to commit them again. I am sorry for them and will be sorry as long as I live. I am ready to do penance and make satisfaction to the utmost of my power.

Forgive me, O God, forgive me my sins for Your Holy Name. Save my soul which You have redeemed by Your most precious Blood. See, I place myself at Your mercy. I commit myself to Your hands. Deal with me according to Your goodness, not according to my malicious and evil ways.

I offer to You also all the good I have, small and imperfect though it be, that You may make it more pure and more holy, that You may be pleased with it, render it acceptable to Yourself, and perfect it more and more, and finally that You may lead me, an indolent and worthless creature, to a good and happy end.

I offer You also all the holy desires of Your devoted servants, the needs of my parents, friends, brothers, sisters, and all who are dear to me; of all who for Your sake have been kind to me or to others; of all who have wished and asked my prayers and Masses for them and theirs, whether they yet live in the flesh or are now departed from this world, that they may all experience the help of Your grace, the strength of Your consolation, protection from dangers, deliverance from punishment to come, and that, free from all evils, they may gladly give abundant thanks to You.

I offer You also these prayers and the Sacrifice of Propitiation for those especially who have in any way injured, saddened, or slandered me, inflicted loss or pain upon me, and also for all those whom I have at any time saddened, disturbed, offended, and abused by word or deed, willfully or in ignorance. May it please You to forgive us all alike our sins and offenses against one another.

Take away from our hearts, O Lord, all suspicion, anger, wrath, contention, and whatever may injure charity and lessen brotherly love. Have mercy, O Lord, have mercy on those who ask Your mercy, give grace to those who need it, and make us such that we may be worthy to enjoy Your favor and gain eternal life.

Monday, November 27, 2006

It's 4:32 am..... do you know where your Savior is?

I have mentioned before that there are times when I inexplicably wake up in the pre-dawn darkness and can't get back to sleep. When this happens, I am usually wide awake. I don't toss and turn. It is not anxiety ridden insomnia, but rather an insistent, gentle, wakefulness that reminds me that the robber of Jesus' parable comes in the middle of the night.

If Nguyen weren't sleeping next to me, I might turn on the light and finish Thomas a Kempis, or get a head start on the morning psalms. Or read the book on prayer that Fr. P gave me. But as it is, I don't want to disturb my tired husband, so I lie awake and think over the week, and my upcoming confession, and repeat the name of my Beloved in my head and in my heart.

I pray.


I pray that N and J will come to know you. I pray that P will find a new confessor and that S will know your grace and love during this time of trial. I pray for my church and my denomination. I pray for the strength to avoid sin and the willingness to be your obedient servant.


I pray that when you come like a thief in the night, I will be awake
and waiting for you.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

God speaks

through the people in my lectio divina group.

Every Sunday we gather in a little storage room and sit in a circle and read the gospel lesson for the day. We pray together and meditate on the message that Jesus is sending us through the reading. We share about what action Jesus is asking us to take. We are amazed by the synchronicities in our stories. And the Lord uses our little foibles to great effect. Today for example, the woman who read through the gospel first, went a little too far and we got to the part where Pilate asks the crowd whether they want Jesus or Barabbas to be set free. We used three different translations for the readings, today. One identified Barabbas as a robber, another as a rabble rouser and the third as a freedom fighter.

"My kingdom is not of this earth" Christ says in the preceding passages. We discussed the fact that we, ourselves, must choose between Jesus and Barabbas every day. Do we choose what makes sense in this world, ie Barabbas, who will fight to overthrow the Romans? Or do we choose the option that makes absolutely no sense in the worldly realm.... Jesus? Every day we are faced with that decision.

For Advent, I am making my second confession on Tuesday. As time draws close, I must examine, with humility and honesty, the times when I have chosen Barabbas. I must face the fact that I choose Barabbas over Jesus on a regular basis. And if we take this gospel lesson to it's logical conclusion, I must acknowledge that when I choose the worldly choice, I consign Jesus to the tree.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

Today is Friday, November 24th, and I have things I am grateful for:

Thanksgiving with the Nguyens was a more subdued gathering than usual. There were a few family members absent because they had to work. But oh. my. God. the food was amazing. My caucasian sister-in-law said it best when she said "this is the best western meal I have had in a long time."

We had two turkeys... both brined. One (mine) was brined in leeks and onions and celery and parsley, salt and sugar and tons of peppercorns. The other (sister-in-law's) was brined in a soy sauce brine which left the turkey with a delicious Asian flavor.

But then, the piece de resistance, was a 13 lb. boneless prime rib roast from my brother-in-law's dad. My younger SIL, Chi, salted and peppered it copiously, threw it into a 475 degree oven for 30 minutes and then dropped the temp to 300 for several hours. It was the moistest, tenderest, most flavorful roast beef I have EVER had. We just sat there with plates of beef and eschewed the side orders. It was so tender we could cut it with plastic utensils with no fear of breakage.

Then there were the 'cook-offs'. We had the dueling turkeys, of course, but also a pair of pumpkin cheesecakes going head to head. Mine had a maple syrup and pecan glaze and homemade crust, which I think gave it the edge. Andy, my BIL, had a cream cheese frosting, which was delicious. He also had a higher concentration of pumpkin flavor. My brother made a pair of his famous apple pies in direct competition with two of Emilys. Hers were courtland apples... Jakes were with Granny Smith's, so his was a much tarter pie.

Finally, SIL Trang brought out barbecued pork with rice noodles and dried shrimp. But by then I was so painfully full that I ate nary a bite. It was the only Vietnamese offering of the day.

In the midst of all the food, we had such funny conversations. I had time to chat with my nephew and his girlfriend. I got hugs from the small fry. Me and a bunch of the menfolk watched the last 5 minutes of 'Babe' and I am pretty sure I wasn't the only one with a few tears in my eyes.

So, today, I am thankful for my family, my friends, my cosy home. God.

And high fiber cereal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I am packing my bags

In Japanese flower arranging (ikebana) it is said that the artist is arranging, not the stems or blossoms, but the space between the flowers. The emptiness is defined by the boundary of the blooms. And the flowers are, in turn, defined by the space between them.

Advent is like that for me. It is a time of emptiness that is defined by the rest of the church year. And it, in turn, is the empty space that defines all that is not Advent.

We, as Christians, are going into exile this week. We may light candles and go to "Messiah" sings in this season leading up to Christmas, but in reality, we wait in darkness. Emptiness. The emptiness that delineates our faith.

Last year, Advent was a painful time of feeling profoundly without. This year I believe things are different. This year I am packing my bags for the journey, knowing it takes me deep into the darkness of my own soul. But I know now that the darkness is not a place to fear. And I am coming to recognize, more and more, that living in exile is a necessary element of being a Christian.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ao Dai

I feel the rumblings of a caption contest coming on.... anyone want to play?

(The image, by the way, is of the painfully embarrassed presidents modeling this years runway hit: Ao Dai. )

Courtesy of Anglo-Catholic Ruminations.


I believe that every Christian is in a constant process of discernment. We seek to hear with our ears and see with our eyes and open our hearts to that which God is asking us to do.

This has been my challenge since my baptism 3 years ago. When I was baptized, I was a member of a Unitarian Universalist church. I was very active there... a member of the Committee on Ministry, chair person of the Membership committee, lay worship leader, worship assistant, etc. etc. I knew, within a week of converting, that I had to open myself to God to know when (and if) it was time to leave my church. I prayed. I read scripture. I listened for God's voice in my heart. At first I fretted about it. I would go around in circles in my head and try and decide what the right course of action was. But then, one day, I came to trust that God would guide me in this, as he has in everything else. I stayed for 2 years.

On the 2nd anniversary of my baptism, I was on a leadership retreat with the rest of the leaders of the church. It was a stunning September day. The water in Duxbury bay was crystal clear. The sky was deep blue. The sand was warm and the breeze cool. I walked down to the beach and sat, alone, facing the ocean. "This is the day that the Lord hath made" I thought to myself. "Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

As I sat there meditating, I heard God's voice in my heart:

You are a Christian.

That is the truest thing about you.

At that moment, I knew I had to leave Bell Street and find a Christian Church. I cried all the way back to Rhode Island that afternoon. And cried for three days after that. But I knew, without any doubt, that God was asking me to leave there.

Now I am at Grace Episcopal church and am, once again, finding myself in the discernment process. I am at a church I like, but in a denomination with which I have serious disagreements. I am finding myself longing for Roman Catholicism, which in itself must be the movement of the Holy Spirit. And part of me feels it is the obvious choice to leave Grace and find a local RC parish and get the kids into catechism with their friends and once and for all be where I am instead of looking to the next thing.

And yet,

And yet.

God has made it very clear that I am to stay where I am. I do not know the plans he has for me. I do not understand why I am where I am. I can only hope and pray that as he speaks, I have ears to hear and eyes to see and an open and obedient heart. I can only pray that I learn to sit in God's presence with patience and joy and be where I am, even if it isn't where I think I belong.

Give me the grace, Beloved, to listen with my whole heart. Give me the strength to do as you ask. Give me patience, Beloved, to trust you. Unstop my ears. Open my eyes. Help me discern your will.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Priest envy

So there I was, checking lipstick colors in the makeup aisle at CVS, when suddenly I sense a dark presence next to me. I look up and there is a very frail looking priest in full black clericals (including a top coat) holding out a bottle of fingernail polish.

"Excuse me," He said.

"Is this clear?"

He handed me the polish. Express Nail with mega hardener.

"It looks clear", I replied. "I mean, if you put it on your nails it would make them shine, but wouldn't leave a color."

We stood there for a moment. I was quickly calculating how likely it was that a priest would be doing manicures for himself. I glanced at his nails. They were tidy, but not particularly fastidiously groomed. It isn't completely unheard of for a man to wear clear polish, of course. Apparently my grandfather, who was a traveling salesman, used to get his nails buffed and shined and shaped.

The priest caught me looking at his hands.

"I want to use it to coat the wire frames of my glasses." he said.

"I am allergic to the metal."

"Oh," I laughed.

"Let me get you the right kind for that. You don't want a quick drying kind... just a cheap regular one will do."

I grabbed a bottle of NY Nails off the shelf and handed it to him. He said thank you and walked away.

Here's the crazy thing. I was just dying to start asking him all kinds of questions about what kind of priest is he, and why did he become a priest and is it hard sometimes, to go out in public in your clericals, knowing that you are bound to be a magnet for nut cases like me who have priest envy and want to grill you all day about your vocation.

But I restrained myself and just mumbled a quick goodbye when I saw him again in the checkout line.

Me with my two shades of lipstick (on sale) and my mega jar of earplugs (Nguyen snores) and him with his nail polish. In clear.

Friday Five

Five things for which I am grateful, in no particular order:

1. My sweet, funny, silly boys. I am growing more and more grateful for their kindness, compassion, humor and charm as they grow into young men. I also happen to think they are about the handsomest boys I know.

2. My good natured spouse. He is incredibly patient and is always willing to put up with me, which is a tall order indeed.

3. I am very grateful, too, for the rest of my family. My mom, brother, in-laws, dad and step-mother. I thank God for them.

4. Fr. Peter. For three years now we have been meeting monthly for spiritual direction and I am constantly amazed by his insights, his guidance and his patience.

5. God. I was lost and now am found. I was enslaved and now am free. I was a wretch, and now am saved. I praise you, I thank you, I worship you.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

It's no secret

Lots of the people who read this blog know who I am. They know where I live. They know my town, my husband, my kids. I write knowing that the luxury of anonymity has long been forsaken. And yes, because I know many of my readers, I do tend to edit a bit. Not that I would be hurling insults or revealing deep dark secrets if it was completely anonymous. But I might be more inclined to write about the people in my life if I didn't have to worry about their anonymity.

As it is, this is an open blog.

But here's the thing: I am shy about sharing it with people. I sometimes feel like I lead a dual existence. There is certainly the division between my professional self and the personal. I never, for example, shared this blog with members of the board of directors I was on. Or with my kitchen tools clients. Or even, for the most part, people I know through the kids' school.

So today, when I sent an email and realized that I had accidentally left my blog address on the signature line, I had a moment of panic.

But what is it that I am afraid of people knowing? That I love God? That becoming a Christian is the greatest gift I have ever received? That the longer I am a Christian, the more I realize that a relationship with God is a process of sanctification... and that my life will change as a result? Those are all good things. I don't have to be shy about sharing that, do I?

To all of you who may have happened by here because I forgot to delete my site address from the email you got: Welcome. I am happy to have you. Let me pour you a cup of coffee and we can chat about the things we are grateful for.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Day of rest

What a wonderful day, yesterday!

It started at Grace, with 5 of us in the Lectio Divina group. (A record, LOL) It is nourishing to sit with people and open our hearts to God, together.

Later, after a fantastic stewardship sermon by Hope, I finally decided to write down my pledge to Grace... but wasn't sure what to write, as we will be tithing. I approached Fr. Rich and told him the situation, and that I didn't want to pledge the whole amount because Nguyen hasn't really agreed yet. And frankly, there is some fear there, for me, too. What if our business goes belly up? What if we find we can't get by on what we have left after the tithe? Fr. Rich looked at me and said "We are Christians, Rachel. If something happened, we wouldn't hunt you down for the money. We would talk about it." I also told him that it felt like a big leap of faith to actually commit to an amount, rather than just drop the money in the plate each week. He acknowledged that it was a leap of faith on the church's part, too, to simply believe that the money needed will be there. It was a very good talk.

So I filled out the pledge card for about half of what I expect to actually give. If Nguyen firms up his commitment, I'll call and correct the amount, because I don't want to feel like I am hedging my bets with God. In the mean time, Grace has a ballpark figure to work with.

Later, a nap, in the warm dark gray afternoon of a too-warm New England fall.

Then, dinner at my mom's with our dear friends, Tom and Donna. During dinner, my mom was very talkative: interrupting, monopolizing the conversation, generally being the center of attention. This used to drive me nuts, but last night, I realized that I must have turned some kind of corner because I didn't get angry at all. At one point I did ask if she was going to let me finish a sentence, which she did, and for the rest of the time I just sat in the midst of it and enjoyed myself. Maybe I am letting go of the need for me to be the center of attention. Or maybe, just maybe, I am learning to be grateful for the people in my life.

Plus: baked ham, homemade ziti with 5 cheeses, fresh string beans with tomatoes and shallots, salad with champagne vinaigrette and a homemade apple pie. What, I ask you, could be bad?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Speaking of Tithing:

Watch the video...

Get out the vote

On the way home from Bible Study this morning, I dropped off Barbara, the Liberian lady who had a stroke and uses a cane, and Jean, a blind woman who also uses a cane. We drove through South Providence (a multicultural, lower income area, for those of you outside of RI) and talked about the election. Barbara is still a citizen of Liberia, so she can't vote. Jean can, though, although I imagine she must need help, since she is blind.

We are all tired of the pre-election attacks on our phones. I have begun to resent the invasions of my time. I get call after call from polsters, and it is always obvious that they have a particular perspective. In one case I started to answer the questions and it became clear to me that the people paying for the poll were the people who are trying desperately to get RI to change our constitution to allow a Harrah's Casino to be built here. I unceremoniously hung up the phone.

When I finally got to the polling place, I had to run a gauntlet through a bunch of dour looking men in black suits and white dress shirts. They looked like gangsters, frankly. Not one of them smiled or said hello. They just stood there, talking among themselves, holding signs.

I think, really, we are all a little sick of this election.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The wages of sin

I know there are liberals around the country who are snickering at the crash and burn of Ted Haggard. Heck, I would have been snickering right there with them a few years ago. It is a special kind of comeuppance when it comes to light that a holier than thou kind of guy isn't.

But even as my knee jerk reaction might be to join the feeding frenzy, the Christian in me says that I must respond only one way: Prayer. I must pray for this tormented man. I must pray for his congregation, who is clearly in pain. I must pray for the prostitute, the wife, the family, friends, the Christian community and the gay community, too.

And I do have to wonder how this kind of thing happens. How can your personal faith be at such odds with your actual walk? How is it possible to have such a terrible schism in your life?

I think there are schisms in all our lives, though. We all talk one way and act another. I may not be out there betraying my spouse by consorting with prostitutes and taking meth, but in some ways, I too am guilty of hypocrisy. For example, I will just as likely watch murder and mayhem as entertainment on tv as I am to read a good book or spend time in prayer. I yell at my kids. I resent my husband. I gossip about a friend. I betray a confidence. I have spiritual pride. All of those things are sins, in one way or another. None of them bring me closer to God.

Haggard created a colossal wedge between himself and God. And over the years, that wedge hurt him and the people around him. I can't help but wonder if he would have been more able to handle this wedge if there was a tradition of formal confession in his denomination. I know, for me, confession can bring the light of God into the wedges in my own heart. I know people will still sin, but maybe the ball of wax doesn't get quite so big if they are able to speak it out loud to someone and receive absolution. Forgiveness. God's love. What strikes me most of all is the self loathing Haggard must have felt all these years. It makes me sad to think of it. Confession, at it's best, can help pull us out of that sin and show us that God cherishes us, even in our weakness. Haggard says that he has been battling this demon within him for years. Perhaps his mistake was trying to battle it alone.


You are the great healer. When we are broken, let us turn to you. Give us the courage to speak of our sins, repent, and let the light of your love cleanse our hearts.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Cemetery

Bright cold Saturday morning finds Nguyen and the boys and I wearing gloves, raking leaves in the Grace Church Cemetery. There were college students earning their community action credits. There were many folks from Grace. I don't think any locals were on hand, but I don't think we advertised it, either.

The Grace cemetery is surprisingly bucolic in the inner city of Providence. It is a triangle of 8 acres, bordered by Elmwood Avenue on one side and Broad Street on the other. This is a part of Providence that doesn't have much green space, so keeping the cemetery in good repair is an important thing for the neighborhood.

I grew up going to cemeteries. My father is a stone cutter. He made gravestones (among other things) for a living. Some of my earliest memories were of walking through the Common Burial Ground in Newport, looking at the headstones of the colonials who were buried there. There was a slave section in the southwest corner. Whole families were buried together after outbreaks of disease. We were always fascinated, as kids, by the crypts that had grass growing on top. We would climb up and around them and crane to see through the little slits in the granite front in case we might catch a glimpse of a coffin, or better, a corpse. For about a year we owned a house which was surrounded on two sides by the cemetery, so our back yard was, in effect, acres and acres of tombstones.

On the whole, the Grace cemetery is in surprisingly nice condition. Yes, many of the headstones have been toppled. But I saw no graffiti at all, and very little garbage. Just a lot of leaves and an insane amount of acorns. (Where are the squirrels, I wonder? They seem to be shirking their duties)

It felt appropriate to be taking care of the final resting place of all those folks just after All Souls day. It is a peaceful place.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All Saints Day

I was going to let this day come and go, especially since so many folks have already written beautifully on the subject. But then I got to thinking about how enriched I have been by the saints and wanted to acknowledge that on the Dunk.

Thank you to all the saints who have been whispering to me across the centuries.


I like Halloween. My husband and I take turns walking the neighborhood with the boys and handing out candy at home. This year, I was on candy-handing-out duty. I love to talk to all the kids that come by. I always compliment them on their costumes, pretend to be scared of the scary ones and fawn all over the cute ones. The kids love it!

We were late getting started this year. We didn't even start carving pumpkins until 4 pm yesterday... and never even got to the faces... so for decoration we had two, huge, faceless, hollowed out pumpkins with lids. Maybe they were scarier that way, LOL.

Today I told the kids they are allowed 5 pieces of candy each day... and that they could eat it whenever they wanted to... but aren't allowed to keep asking for more. So far, Emmett ate 3 pieces for breakfast and Noah took 2 in his lunch. I am not going to be the arbiter of candy anymore. They have a little paper with hash marks to indicate how many they've eaten.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Spell Check is my friend

I have never been able to get the spell checker on blogger to work, and have lamented my poor spelling skills, often returning to posts after the fact to fix my mistakes. But bad spellers of the blogesphere UNTIE!

Mozilla Firefox 2.0 has a built in spell checker that actually works on any online input, including the blogger post composer.

My readers thank you.

Can't get that song out of my head

You know when you get an ear worm? That's when a song just keeps playing over and over in your head, tormenting you.

Well, the whole communion/chalice thing has been like that for the last couple of days. I am starting to see it as a great metaphor for all kinds of things, and keep coming across situations that remind me of it. It's not that I feel guilt, either. It is more like God is using this experience to open my eyes to other things.

Today, during bible study, we were talking about all the ways that we, as Christians, are asked to straddle the two worlds. This world in which we live, and God's world. Jesus spent much of his ministry showing that the laws of our world don't always apply to his world. He paid a heavy price for that teaching, as do we, sometimes, when we choose to follow him.

It struck me that the sharing of the chalice is an example of us having to eschew the normal rules and do something outrageous because Jesus asks us to. We share a cup with dozens or hundreds of strangers and friends each Sunday. How nuts is that? Can you imagine? In my past life, I wouldn't have shared a coffee with some of these people, but now I am asked to drink from the same cup. It is an act of faith and thanksgiving to step up to that rail, kneel down and take into my mouth the blood of our lord, who happens to have been touched by the lips of all who came before me. It is, on the face of it, in these times of germ terrorism, a ridiculous and breathtakingly otherworldly thing to do.

As I was talking about this at the Bible study, I could see a look of recognition dawn on the face of Fr. Rich. He suddenly realized that at the Eucharist he is drinking the dregs of a cup that more than a hundred people have sipped from. I don't think he had ever thought of it in those terms before. For the first time, he acknowledged the immense power and faith inherent in that act.

Perhaps that is part of the role of priests. By taking what is left behind and carrying it inside of themselves, they connect all of us, together, in Christ. In a very physical way, they straddle the two worlds and offer themselves as a bridge for the rest of us.

When is the next ember day? I am going to fast in thanksgiving for all those new priests. And today I give thanks for all the ones who are already out there.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Great Vietnamese Engagement Shebang of 2006

Getting engaged is a big deal in Vietnamese culture. It is not just the coming together of a couple in love, but indeed, the joining of two families, presumably for the rest of eternity.

In our family, we have had several engagements over the last few years, but it wasn't until my oldest sister-in-law's children got engaged that we saw the full traditional ceremony in action. It helped that her children were involved with other vietnamese. (A rarity, in this family, I have to say. The last person to marry a vietnamese before Nien's children was my younger brother-in-law... about 12 years ago or so. Everyone else has ended up with non-vietnamese spouses.)

Yesterday, on a very blustery, chilly New England fall day, my nephew Dan officially got engaged to his lovely girlfriend, Tu Anh. We were all there to celebrate.

The clan met in a parking lot of a local McDonalds to gather our forces. We all showed up dressed to the nines. Men is suits, vietnamese women in ao dai (pronounce ow yai) and western women in dresses and heels. My sister-in-law, Nien, told us that we would drive to Tu Anh's and park a block or so away so we could get everything together for the formal procession.

In the traditional culture, the bride marries into the groom's family. She leaves her home and goes to live with the groom and his folks. In the old days, this usually meant that she became a servant to her mother-in-law. She would work her fingers to the bone caring for her in-laws until they died. By then, hopefully, she had a son of her own, who would bring home a bride for her to boss around. Because of this, the bride's family needed to be 'compensated' for the loss of their daughter. Hence, the groom's family would show up to the engagement party with very special gifts for the bride's parents.

Red is an auspicious color in Vietnamese culture, so all the gifts are wrapped in red cellophane and then placed in huge red tin containers which are draped with red velvet cloths embroidered with dragons. The dragons must be facing the front of the container when handed to the recipient.

Some of the gifts include special teas, delicious sweet rice with coconut milk, bottles of cognac (a vestige of the French colonizers) sweets, fruits, betel leaves and a whole, roasted, 40 lb. pig.

Tu Anh's family lives in a run-down, working class neighborhood north of Boston. We met about a block from her house on the front lawn of a business that was closed for the day. This became our staging area. Nien arranged everyone in order of how they were going to present the gifts. There were 8 huge metal trays, with lids, each weighing several pounds, plus the pig, which was also wrapped in red celophane. Nien and her husband were first in line, then the two men carrying the pig, then 3 sets of unmarried men and women, each carrying a tray, then the rest of us. The gifts are presented in a particular order, so it was important that everyone know who they were supposed to follow.

Meanwhile, at the bride's house, the family had set up an arch at the gate, and a big red sign for good luck. They decorated their front porch and built an altar in the tiny dining room. They had a bench on which to lay out the pig, plus a table with red cloth to receive all the trays.

We began to process down the street. Even for me, who was in the line, this was an amazing spectacle. All the vietnamese women's ao dai were flapping in the wind, their white pants billowing underneath. The colors were spectacular in this grey neighborhood: tangerine and crimson and lime green and pinks. All the men were in dark suits, with bright white shirts and colorful ties. And the gifts, in their brilliant red containers, being marched down the block towards Tu Anh's waiting parents.

The neighbors gawked.

Upon arrival, Nien and her husband,Mo, offered their gifts to the parent's of the bride, who graciously accepted them. The pig was carried into the tiny house and placed on it's bench. The trays were lined up on the low table, and my very soft spoken older brother-in-law inquired as to whether Tu Anh's parents would accept these gifts. The answer was a warm yes.

There were a few speeches, none of which could I understand. A set of red candles with dragons engraved on them were lit and placed on the altar. Photos taken.

And then, in this tiny house, 5 or 6 folding tables were set up cheek by jowl and the entire Nguyen clan sat down to be served lunch. Tu Anh and her parents and siblings sat at the head table with Nien, Mo and my older in laws. The rest of our family took up all the other tables. The rest of her family and friends stayed in the kitchen and waited on us.

Food started coming out. First, crab soup with egg and some strange textured something that I thought, at first, might be jellyfish. Then plates of huge oysters that had been steamed with black bean sauce. A tray of lobster, stirfried with green onion and ginger. A whole, deep fried, crispy flounder. Beef with chinese broccoli. A tray of pork, beef, abalone and jellyfish. Fried rice. Sweet coconut rice. Fried taro root baskets filled with squid and shrimp. None of this was traditional Vietnamese food. It had been catered by a Chinese firm from Boston, so it was foreign even to my husband's family.

We toasted the couple with champagne and chatted and laughed. We tried some of the more exotic delicacies and drank beer and soda.

At one point, I had a chance to speak with Dan and ask him more about Tu Anh's family. They are much more recent immigrants, having come over in 1995 when the government of Vietnam was allowing former dissidents (and political prisoners)to leave the country. As Dan was describing their history, I was suddenly struck by what a mature young man he has become. He is soft spoken, like his dad... but like his dad is confident and sure of himself. I was amazed to think that at my own wedding, Dan was around the same age as Noah.

As the afternoon wound down, the bride's family packed half of the gifts, including half the pig, into the trays and presented them back to Nien and Mo. This is part of the tradition. The two families share the bounty of this engagement with each other.

We drove back to Nien's house, where she cut up the roasted pig with a cleaver and sent each of us home with a chunk. We were given tea and some pasteries and little meat pies, which we shared with my brother later, while watching a movie on tv.

As I sat in that cramped house during the lunch, it struck me that this was the exact opposite of the wedding itself. At the wedding, there will be hundreds of people I don't know. There will be guests that are invited as part of a complex social obligation system from both sides of the family... and most of them will be strangers, not only to me, but to the bride and groom as well. This event, though, was just for family. This is the moment when the two families come together and acknowledge that they are to become one. We are invited into their home. We bring gifts. We are given gifts in return.


Bless this union. Bless this sweet couple with a lifetime of love and happiness. Let us, as their family, support them and offer them our gifts of love and wisdom, humor and joy. Let us open our hearts to receive the gifts that they, in return, offer us.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Who is that Pharisee in the mirror?

Since we had a family event today, I went to the 8 am mass at Grace church for the first time. It is a quiet service... no music or hymns. We met in the little side chapel. The service was kind of nice, I thought. We had a guest preacher who was very animated. (Maybe too much so for an early service, LOL.) He was talking about the genocide in Rwanda and the war in Darfur. He was encouraging us, as the body of Christ, to take healing the world seriously as a personal mission, whether in the third world or on the streets of Providence.

I took communion, and even with a nasty cold, took the chalice. As I walked back to my pew, I told myself I should have done it by intinction (dipping the host in the chalice) so I didn't get everyone sick.

When I sat in the pew, I noticed a homeless man coming back from the rail and actually thought to myself

I am glad I went before him.

For a fleeting moment, I was relieved that I didn't have to share a cup with the homeless guy.

That is appalling on so many levels. I, who had a virus that I was more than willing to share with everyone. I, who believe the chalice contains the blood of Christ.

Who is this person, I wonder, who is suddenly overtaken by fear? What exactly am I afraid of, anyway? Cooties? Am I in kindergarten?

Every now and then God shines a light into the darkness of my soul. I am so grateful when he does it. It is an act of love, I think, for him to bring me face to face with my weakness. It reminds me how much I need his redeeming love.

I think this will be going on my list for confession.


I ask for your mercy. I thank you for your Love.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Old friends, new blogs

I have a bunch of new blogs on my list these days. Some are new friends I have just happened upon in the blogesphere... others are old friends who I have known for years.

Why not take a peek?

Here's a list:

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam- This is Natalia's blog... she is a catholic woman getting a masters of divinity.
Along the Way- Nancy has found her way to the Episcopal church from an evangelical background.
Another unfinished symphony... Deb has been on the RevGalBlogPals list for sometime, but somehow I missed her.
BitterSweetLife Ariel is a hoops playing theology student with a lot of interesting things to say.
Bryan Sherwood- Bryan lives near Gethsemani monastery... these are his thoughts on life and monasticism.
Catholic Convert .... Ukok is an old blog friend I have rediscovered. She is a Catholic convert living in England and blogging about same...
CatholicGeek-I haven't really explored Phil's site yet, but I loved the name... so here it is.
Catholicism, holiness and spirituality- Another brand new addition to the blogroll... but so far so good!
Coming to the Quiet a Benedictine Oblate's thoughts on monasticism and everyday life. (Are you sensing a pattern here, people? You think I might have monk envy?)
From Under the Laundry Pile Evangelical mom with 6 kids trying to keep up with the laundry. I LOVE this blog, LOL!
J-Walking- David Kuo's blog on BeliefNet. This is the guy who blew apart the myth that the Bush Administration actually cared about the Jesus freaks.
One foot in the boat ...New Episcopalian, former RC. New Friend.
The Urban Mermaid My friend Emily's new blog. This is becoming a daily addiction.
We Are All Apes-Emily's squeeze and my piano tuner. I have known Bill since high school.

Spending diet

Over at The Ice Floe PeripateticPolarBear has been on a spending diet. I am not sure of the details, but I think it was something like no frivolous spending for a month. No books. No shoes. No magazines.

I commented that since I started tithing, I, too, would need to address my spending habits. There are a few things that need to change.

First, I have been buying everything with a check card. I almost never use cash. How easy it is to hand over the card and let the imaginary elves do their work in the cash register. (Why is it even called that anymore?) At the end of the month I look at my statement and it is a financial mine field. None of the individual purchases ever seem like much... $22.73 at CVS, $16.58 at Borders, etc. etc. But together, they add up to a LOT of money every month. I either need to start paying with cash or I need to start writing down the transactions when I make them. A spending diary of sorts, perhaps.

Second, we have a bunch of monthly expenses that are unnecessarily high. Our cable bill, for example, recently ballooned to something like $75 a month. $40 of that was high speed internet. Another $13 was HBO. AND we were paying $18 a month for Netflix, which frankly was a complete waste of money because most of the time I would forget to return the dvds so we would be spending the money every month for the same two movies, which were sitting in our tv cabinet.

So yesterday I downgraded the internet access to the lowest, slowest level, got rid of Netflix and am going to get rid of the HBO. Almost $50 bucks a month just like that.

Next- eating out. We usually eat dinner out at least twice a week. I figure if we eat one of those meals at home, we can save about $30 or $40. I have been doing amazing things with leftovers, lately, LOL! One night I roasted a pair of chickens. The next night we had homemade chicken pot pie and the night after that kale, white bean and linguica soup with homemade chicken broth. This does not feel like poverty, people.

All of this is to say that there are plenty of areas where we have been wasting money. Areas where the belt tightening is going to be a matter of adjusting our behavior, but won't, as far as I can see, be much of a hardship. (The new internet speed, for example, is a barely noticeable difference... and yet I am saving $15 per month.)

The biggest change for me, since starting tithing last week, is that I am really aware of the fact that all the money I have is all a gift from God. I feel more like a steward than an owner. I am more willing to spend it carefully because it has been entrusted to me to do so. This shift is astounding to me. I have struggled with finances for my entire adult life. And while I don't think this is going to be a magic bullet, I do believe that something is changing here. I am so grateful to God for showing me the way out of my financial insanity. Who knew it would be something as simple as giving all my money to him? Ha!

Beloved, in this and in all things I put my trust in you. Let me walk in faith. Let me seek to know your will. Let me share the bounty of your love with others.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I got a flu shot on Saturday and yup, you guessed it, came down with a majorly nasty cold yesterday. Flu-like symptoms. Maybe the flu. Whatever.

Could it be related to all the stress lately? Ya think?

Today I woke up and my Darling Husband graciously invited me to stay in bed for the morning while he got the kids ready for school. I have no kitchen tools gig tonight, so I had the luxury of doing nothing. But first I had call my friend (of the Board of Directors fame) and clean up my side of the street about issues we have been wrangling with. The conversation went really well. I think she was worried that our 25 year friendship was in jeopardy because of the board stuff. I was certainly NOT intending to let that happen. So we had a great talk this morning and now that I am back to being a civilian, I felt much freer to be honest.

And can I just say, again, that The Imitiation of Christ is one of the most profoundly helpful books I have EVER read? Thank you God for putting this book in my path. It is available for free to download on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Noah had planned to invite a friend over today, and I was just about to tell him, no, I need to rest, when I remember that his parents have been having major problems lately and he probably could use an afternoon with the boys and bunny... so yeah, come on over, it's nice to have you. (That run-on sentence curtesy of the "We're Swiss" but really probably German somewhere in our history part of my heritage.)

Ok. Tea. Honey. More Imitation.

My spiritual flu shot.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

bread and wine

Our bible study at Grace is really quite diverse and wonderful. In it's original incarnation at Church of the Messiah, it has been the same group of older ladies for the last 15 years or so. Then, Fr. Rich came on board over at Messiah and he started to run it. The Liberian ladies joined in at some point. (Or perhaps they have been going all along.) When it moved to Grace, an older man, another woman and I joined in... and then, because we meet downtown and happen to serve coffee to the homeless every morning, we have started to get homeless men and women at our bible study.

This week our homework was to share what we felt the Eucharist is. One by one we spoke of our feelings about it. For some it is symbolic. For others it is a way of getting through the week. Some of us believe it is the actual body and blood of Christ, while others feel it is the real presence. The details were different, but the effect the same- we join our Lord at the table every week and leave feeling refreshed and renewed.

When I first got to the church, I snuck up to the high altar and knelt on the cold stone steps. I prayed to my Beloved and asked him to help me navigate this difficult situation with the Board of Directors.

Then, sitting at the table with this wonderful, soulful, and in some cases, hurting fellow travelers, I felt grateful and humbled.

Grace happens.

Thanks God.

PS: I sent my resignation letter to the Board today. It is finished, LOL.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sublime to ridiculous and back again.

Sublime: I picked my son up at his friend's house this afternoon and spent a half hour talking with friend's mom about what miracles Jesus has wrought in our lives. I love being able to talk about that stuff with people.

Ridiculous: If a friend ever invites you to be on a board of directors RUN AWAY. Run as if your life depends on it.

I just (10 pm) got back from a very difficult board meeting that started at 6. I am exhausted and upset. And felt that way before the meeting even got going.

So, I came crawling back into the house feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me and sat down to catch my breath and catch up on my bloggy friends and remember, Thank God, that tomorrow is bible study day and I get to sit at another kind of table and wrestle with issues that are, for me, the truly important and relevant ones.

And tonight, before bed, I get to read my psalms, which always manage to put my life issues into perspective. I get to spend time in prayer, which leaves me feeling renewed and at peace and connected to the One I love.

And that, my friend, is sublime.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sunday roundup

I started my day by going berzerk trying to get the kids out the door for church. Noah had no clean pants. The ones he had on were covered with grass stains and mud. I started yelling and madly flinging clean laundry everywhere trying to come up with something for him to put on. I vowed that from now on I will put out clothes for them on Saturday nights so that Sunday morning doesn't get so ugly.

I was grateful that we had confession as part of the mass today. Yes, Father, I have sinned and am heartily sorry. I told Fr. Rich about it before the service started and he kindly suggested I not to be too hard on myself, and allowed as how he had been pretty messy as a boy, too, and that is just the nature of being a kid. Later, at the communion rail, as Fr. Rich placed the host in Noah's hand, I noticed, with a combination of horror and amusement, that Noah's palms were filthy and covered with blood from a scab he had picked. Fr. Rich looked up at me and caught my eye and we just about laughed out loud right there at the rail. (Note to self: have kids wash their hands on Sunday mornings...)

I know Jesus probably couldn't care less what my kids are wearing, but for me, being in church, especially with the Eucharist, is the equivalent of being in the presence of God in the flesh, so I feel it appropriate to show my respect by dressing a little more formally than I would for, say, a soccer game. But it is hard to explain that to my kids.

Other than my meltdown in the laundry basket, the morning was lovely... and in fact, the rest of the day was too. We had dinner at my mom's, with some friends, and the meal was just equisite: stuffed pork loin chops with mashed potatoes and sweet and sour red cabbage, a lovely bordeaux and apple rhubarb crisp for dessert. And the joy of an easy evening with people I love.

Thank you, Beloved, for the abundance of your love, the gifts of your spirit and redemption of our souls. Your generosity knows no bounds.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Notes from the field

I took the leap and signed up to have my bank direct deposit money to my church every week. I decided to go with 10% of the gross. I figured we should give it a try and see how it goes. It's God's money anyway, right? So this is my opportunity to be a better steward of it.

Then I decided to call my oil company and see how my balance was doing. Last year I went on an automatic payment program because I didn't want to face $400 oil bills. The guy checked my account, took a breath and told me a I have a balance of $1400.

A credit of $1400.

You might want to skip a few months, he said. I nearly burst out laughing. And crying.


You are a gracious and generous God. You comfort me in my fear. You remind me that your love is boundless. You teach me to live in faith, even when my heart feels small. I praise you and thank you for your love.

Nothing else matters.

Nothing else matters.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Another post on tithing

I had dinner with a friend last night. K is one of the few civilians I can really talk religion with. She is a lifelong Roman Catholic who has recently begun to experience a kind of rennaisance in her relationship with Jesus.

Over pork loin with maple syrup and gorganzola sauce, we discussed how Jesus has been whacking us upside the head of late.

For her, it has been tithing. She runs her own business, and has been tithing ten percent of the gross since the beginning. Lately, though, she has felt called to tithe her husband's income too. 10% of his gross pay. God is a faithful friend, to be sure. Within a day of her first huge check to the church, she got a call from her husband saying that he would be getting some extra money in his paycheck that week. Almost the exact amount she gave the church.

For some reason, the idea of tithing the gross rather than the net is scaring the crap out of me. It just seems like such a huge chunk of our budget. I feel fearful of our ability to do things like pay the mortgage. But yet, I have been tithing my own money since I started doing the kitchen tools gig and I haven't missed the 10% at all. And in fact, the amount I am donating keeps getting bigger and bigger as my business grows. So what, dear reader, am I so afraid of?

I talked it over with Nguyen when I got home and he was surpisingly open to the idea. He feels that we don't give enough to charity as it is, so he likes the idea of giving part of our income. And it happens that our church has enough social ministries that even his non-religious self can get behind the idea of donating to Grace to support the soup kitchen, homeless shelter, low income housing, etc. etc.

So. Gross or net.

And does it really make sense to do this with outstanding debt looming over our heads?

Lord, I promised, on the day of my dunk, to do whatever you ask of me, no matter how difficult. I am asking you now to show me what you will have me do.

We are willing.

Share with me, dear readers, your experience with tithing.