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.