Sunday, July 30, 2006
This weekend, we began the somewhat daunting task of building a new picket fence from scratch and our closest neighbor decided to come by to help. We have a good relationship with all our neigbors, more or less. We never speak ill of them. We help out when we can. We lend tools and borrow them. We keep an eye on each other's homes when someone goes out of town. It is a real neighborhood. This neighbor in particular has been a blessing to our family. He son mowed our lawn for years. His daughter watched our children when they were small. He and his wife have always been exactly the kind of neighbors you dream about: quiet, friendly, curteous, helpful. We hang over the fence, such as it is, and chat. We sometimes share the occasional beer.
Neighbor and I were assigned fence post painting duty. We were using rollers to coat the posts with cream colored latex stain. We fell into a kind of rhythm, each of us leapfrogging the other to the next post... 24 posts in all, some in shade, most in sun(which seemed less of an issue for Neighbor, who is African American). I turned an alarming shade of red, even with sunscreen plastered on my face. But we kept at it, sweating and chatting pleasantly. And then, out of nowhere, with no warning at all, Neighbor turned the conversation to Jesus. He confided that he has been experiencing the dark night. He confessed that he hasn't been going to church lately.
I know that he is born again, so I was stunned to hear he was struggling. (Why that should be a shock, I don't know, having gone through it myself as recently as last Fall.) It just suprised me, I guess, that my neighbor and I would be comparing notes about our walks with the Lord. That we would have this thing in common. We talked for awhile as we painted. I listened to his story. I shared my own dark night experience. I allowed as to how I have come to feel that being a Christian isn't for sissies, and that putting your faith in God in the midst of the darkness is probably one of the hardest things we ever have to do. But I told him that I believe God is a faithful companion and that I suspected that he wasn't as alone on this journey as he felt he was. He concurred. I asked him to promise me that he would go to church today. I suggested that he might just need to hear what the preacher had to say. He promised to go. I said I would pray for him.
Which I did. All during the service at my own church this morning, I was praying for my friend and neighbor that he would feel God's love this day. And everyday.
Neighbor is off to Miami for a week, so I won't know how his Sunday morning at church was until he gets back. But God, in the mean time, keep him close.
And thank you, Beloved, for our falling down mess of a fence.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Low 90's with about 100% humidity and a dew point higher than my IQ. Actually, today is better than yesterday, which ended in torrential downpours and crazed lightening storms and left us with even more humidity.
2. Favorite way(s) to beat the heat.
Swimming. Ice cream. Air conditioning. And a fun book about the tropics. Right now I am reading 'Sex Lives of Cannibals' by J. Maarten Troost. It is GREAT heatwave reading because it reminds me that no matter how hot it may be here, it is still a far sight cooler than, say, the equator. And we don't have people shitting on the beach on a regular basis.
3. "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." Evaluate this statement.
My zits would all concur.
4. Discuss one or more of the following: sauna, hot tub, sweat lodge, warm-stone massage.
5. Hottest you've ever been in your life:
On my 30th birthday, I looked fabulous! A red headed babe with a tequila in one hand and a lime in the other.
Other hot experience:
We lived in Kansas City for a summer, in a house without air conditioning. It was the hottest and most depressing time of my life. No ocean. No breeze. No relief. By the end of July the house was sold and we were hightailing it back to New England.
Non-temperature related bonus: In your opinion... who's hot?
John of the Cross
And Dave Matthews.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Christian formation for them, a few hours off for me. What (as my dear Jewish friend from New York would say) could be bad?
Three hours is enough time for a pedicure. For a bible study. For a morning of coffee on the front porch. With a friend.
Three hours is a potent amount of time.
As any good kabbalist knows, numbers have meaning.
I remember, even before becoming a Christian, when I was just beginning to get Jesus-envy in a big way, I met an online friend at a conference and when I discovered he was 33, my heart skipped a beat. Jesus was 33, I thought to myself. Jesus was exactly that age when his earthly ministry came to an end. 33, for me, will never be the same.
3 hours is the amount of time I sit in church on Good Friday.
3 hours might be enough time to collect my thoughts.
Do the laundry.
Weed the garden.
Change the world.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The kids are constructing major thoroughfares on the Turkish rug in the living room. They are putting their 'Ben Ten' action figure monsters in the handmade miniature rowboats my dad made for them for Christmas a couple of years ago and are sailing them under railroad bridges and around the monster bunny who threatens to eat all the wooden tracks.
It is hot out.
Yesterday, we got a package in the mail from Newfoundland. It contained 3 skulls: A fox, an otter and a snowshoe hare. And a letter from my father, in his beautiful hand, describing the difference between the teeth and jaw articulation of a carnivore and that of an herbivore. The kids examined the teeth, the jaws, the brain cases of the skulls. They listened as I read the letter and declared that it was good enough to be in a book. We wondered, given our own tooth structure and jaw formation, whether humans are carnivores or herbivores. Or maybe nut and seed eaters.
Which was what I had for breakfast today:
plain yoghurt, a nectarine and a handful of trail mix. Just the right start to this little adventure called life.
Monday, July 24, 2006
I have to admit,
it was tough coming back to a week's worth of stuff left undone. I was so grateful to everyone for taking care of the children while I was gone. But, uh, it was a bit tough coming back to unpaid bills, unwashed dishes, weeds choking my garden, etc. Not that I expected Nguyen to do all that stuff. It just makes you realize how much you do on a daily basis, I guess.
So I landed with a bit of a bump.
Church yesterday helped a lot. (As always!)
Our Rector and Associate Rector were both out of town, so our resident retired married couple priests were in charge and it was quite lovely. Bill gave the homily and Hope served the mass.
Here's a secret: For weeks now, I have been thinking that I would like to have a chunk of the big host that the priest uses in the very begining of the mass when she is consecrating the bread and wine. She lifts this big cream colored disk over her head and says (or sings) "By Him and with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever..." It is then broken into pieces and given as part of communion.
I have been obsessed with that big host, and every week had this little hope that I would get a chunk of it at the rail. I don't know why. Maybe it is bordering on idol worship, lol. But somehow I think I wanted to be connected to that moment, the moment when a pasty cracker of flour and water is transformed into the substance of God. Having a broken triangle instead of a complete circle, a small piece of a larger whole instead of something that is discrete and separate. I had this little spark of yearning that was finally satisfied yesterday, when Hope placed, in my right hand, a small chunk of the host. The edges of it were ragged, rather than smooth. The texture more airy. It dissolved in my mouth more readily, mingling with the wine as I savored the flavor.
It reminds me that God, as he manifests in the world, can be found in the imperfect, the rough, the broken.
Friday, July 21, 2006
It was a spectacular week.
God showed up on the first morning, when I discovered that one of my party was going to skip breakfast and head over to Holy Name Cathedral for mass. Before leaving for Chicago, my friend Kathy had told me to try and go there, so I immediately said I would like to join her. Yes I felt sadness that I couldn't take communion... but it was amazing to see this huge cathedral filled to the brim with people on a sunday morning. And the homily wasn't bad, either.
I felt God when I went and sat by myself on the riverwalk near our hotel. I felt his presence when looking into the leaves of a tree I couldn't identify. When I discovered a level of calm and peace within me I didn't know I had. I knew God was present when, after 4 days of rooming with two other women, it occured to me that I still felt serene.
I met God's presence on the plane ride back, when I got bumped to a new seat, wedged between two men, neither of whom was thrilled to lose the precious empty middle seat. But I struck up a conversation with the man on the window and it turned out he runs a charity to help build a school in his hometown in Haiti. He and his wife live in Brockton. I wrote him a small check on the spot and we spent the rest of the flight talking about ways that each one of us can help in a world gone mad. There were several points in the conversation when I was moved to tears by the grace of God. I am sure we will be in touch again, especially when Nguyen and I think about doing something similar in Vietnam.
The biggest thing, for me, was that I felt utterly unselfconcious for the whole time. I felt good in my skin. I didn't worry about what people thought of me. I offered to say grace at meal times. I realized that the confession has really shifted something in me. I feel like a different person. I feel, for the first time, humble and confident and totally at ease with myself, which of course means that I am at ease with everyone else. I felt, for the first time, fearless about who I am. It was an amazing week.
And the convention was cool, too! On the first day I won a drawing and ended up with hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars worth of Pampered Chef products. I won't know until it all gets delivered! LOL. (Why God thinks I need all these pots and pans, I don't know, but I am sure I will figure out what to do with it all!)
All week, I remembered that your Grace is enough.
It is enough.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
(Pre-dawn, actually) and will be away until Thursday night.
I'll be bringing my Book of Common Prayer, along with a copy of The Red Tent, which I just bought yesterday at Borders.
I am packed. (Bag) Shaved. (Legs) Polished (Toenails). And ready to go.
Here's my prayer: In the midst of the rah rah sales stuff, in the midst of the late night girl fest, (we are sharing rooms) I pray that I will remember that Jesus is the center of my universe.
I pray I'll find moments to remember that.
Have a great week you guys.
Friday, July 14, 2006
2. Household pet peeve- Kids leaving snail trails of jelly and other sundry sticky things on every horizontal surface.
3. Arts & Entertainment pet peeve (movie theaters, restaurants, concerts)- Cell phones.
4. Liturgical pet peeve- This is an interesting one! I would have to say I can't stand the 'too polished' homily. You know the one. It sounds like the preacher practiced in front of the mirror for hours to get just the right tone of voice. Ends up sounding empty to me.
5. Wild card--pet peeve that doesn't fit any of the above categories- Today my pet peeve was the lady that gave me the hand under the chin sign when she was mad that I didn't see her trying to pull into the street.
Uh. Sorry Lady. I think next time someone flips me off I might just cross myself, LOL.
Bonus: Because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: What do YOU do that others might consider a pet peeve?
Oh, don't even get me started. I am all too aware of my own faults, having just confessed them all last week! LOL. But I guess the number one thing that drives my beloved husband crazy is that I sometimes throw cans in the regular trash. Just to be rebellious.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
My other neighbor's vinyl fence is a picket style... less glare, to be sure, but still a weird, unnatural, white.
We are in the process of replacing our fence this year. When we bought the house it had a 4 foot stockade fence in terrible shape around all 12000 feet of our yard. Because it was such a huge amount of fencing, we spent years replacing posts, repairing the uprights, picking up sections when the wind blew it down. The previous owners had failed to use pressure treated posts or creosote, so the posts would rot and were replaced by more junky posts. We eventually started replacing them with galvanized posts, but it was a haphazard job.
Then one day, we took the whole thing down.
At first, we weren't sure we were going to replace it at all. But after a summer of living on a corner lot with no visual barrier between us and the street, we relented and are going to install a 4 foot, wood, picket fence which we are going to stain to match the trim on our house. (Off white)
Here's the thing. I love pickets. And more, I love pickets that are flaking paint. Maybe it is a Wabi Sabi kind of thing, but to me, an old picket fence with flaking paint is a thing of immense beauty.
In Newfoundland, they don't have a lot of vinyl fences yet. When my parents were looking to put up a fence near their little guest cottage, they scored a whole bunch of old fence sections from the Anglican church down the road. The fence is just simple boards, cut at an angle on the top, painted white... now flaking badly. My parents installed them just as they were and they are beautiful in the middle of a green meadow.
There was another fence behind the house when they bought it. It is probably my favorite fence of all time... a kind of a waddle made of spruce sticks, stuck upright in the ground and then secured by some cross bars. By the time my parents aquired the house, the boughs were bleached a stunning gray by the years of wind and weather. The whole structure leaned precariously to one side. It had long since lost its ability to prevent a moose from getting into the kitchen garden.
So, this summer we are building a picket fence around the yard. I'll put a coat of cream colored stain.
And wait patiently for it to start to flake off.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Clothing stores for curvy chicks.
What is it about clothing manufacturers that assume that curvy women are either 13 years old or 93?
I am going away to a kitchen tools convention in Chicago this week and needed to pick up a few things to pack. So off I went to Lane Bryant for bras and a set of pajamas. First, why DO pajamas cost 50 bucks at LB? That is just sick. And I am not talking some frilly fancy neglige type of thing. Just a basic tee shirt and bottom. (I am sharing a bed with a friend to save hotel fees, so I decided that pjs were a better bet than my usual sleeping attire, which involves a night gown that winds up hiked up around my shoulders by morning....) Pass on the pjs at LB, though. I am NOT ponying up that much cash.
And whoever thought low rise pants on a fat girl was a good idea was probably smoking crack.
Second stop: Catherines. This place actually had a cute set of pajamas for half the price, plus a pair of rayon pants that saved the day. I can wear the pants for two days with different tops and save on suitcase room in a big way. Plus, they are pre-wrinkly, so I don't have to iron them when I get there. But OMG, what a bunch of fugly crap that store had. Hideous red, white and blue pseudo cruisewear. Horrifying polyester stuff I thought went out in the 70s. (Tell me that isn't back, please.) And mostly stuff that might look passable on a woman twice my age. (82 in dog years.)
Final destination: Marshalls. This is always the worst of the worst of the plus sized stores. All the hideous stuff that didn't sell at deep discount in the retail stores ends up in the racks. But miracles of miracles, I found the perfect tank to go with the aforementioned rayon pants... and a foundation garment that no one else seemed to have: a split slip. (Chicago is hot in the summer, my friends. Curvy women need a split slip to keep their legs from getting stuck together when wearing a skirt.)
After all that... the goofy fashions, the insane prices, the fitting room mirror (the horror)...
I went to the 5 pm mass at S. Stephens:
A great homily.
And the clothes are better, too.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
“From this it follows that every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body the Church, is a sacred action, surpassing all others” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 7. St. Benedict).
When I was searching for a church, it became apparent to me, early on, that I was being drawn to an apostolic, catholic and liturgical tradition. Apostolic in the sense that the teachings and traditions of the church had been handed down, Bishop to Bishop, since the beginning. Catholic in the sense that it was a universal, global body, and liturgical because it somehow made sense to me that the emphasis of the service had to be the Eucharist and the prayers to God... not the homily. This is about as radical a departure from Unitarian Universalism as you can get!
I do sometimes wish that my church was more charismatic. It wouldn't hurt us to have a few 'Amens' shouted out now and then. We tried dancing in the aisles once... when we had a U2 Eucharist. It was pretty obvious that most folks were pretty uncomfortable being out of the neat pews with the doors on them. But if I have to choose between singing a plainchant psalm or getting fired up by a preacher, I am going for the psalm every time.
Something happens in the process of the mass. Something shifts. The host becomes God. The wine is his blood. For me, there is no question that the real presence of God is there. How it happens, I don't know. Theologians have been fussing over that since the reformation. But however it works, I honestly believe it does.
I am not a theologian. I know nothing about the mechanics of any of this. What I know, is that every time I go to mass and take the body and blood of my Lord into myself, I am sanctified by it. I am transformed. Made whole.
Sunday, July 09, 2006
Anyway, I called Fr. P because it became ridiculously important for me to talk with someone who knew what this process is all about. I felt an almost immediate sense of relief when he called me back. Like, ok, I am not going insane. (Sometimes a close encounter with God creates such a sense of melancholy and longing I think I am just going nuts.) As always, he had simple, understandable and infinately wise comments, which I put into practice as soon as I hung up. (Pray. Tell your family you love them. Let Christ's love move through you, to them.)
Today, church was wonderful. I am growing to really love it at Grace. Communion was amazing, too, like a God-seed being planted in fertile ground.
And yes, I had a big, goofy, grin all morning long.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
Yesterday I felt a little like a caged cat, so full of feelings that I didn't know what to do with them. I found myself weeping with joy.... wanting to talk about it with someone, wanting to share what had happened. It WAS like the Big Dunk in that way, I think.
In my life, there have been a handful of experiences that were truly transformative. My baptism, my first encounter with the Holy Spirit, the birth of my kids, the first time I met my husband. And now, the muggy afternoon in July when I felt, for the first time, maybe, the pure Love of God infusing me to the very core of my being.
And like any good 'mountain top' experience, I expect to crash land with a bump on the ass. But so far, I am still gliding. I am high with it. It was like something in that box opened a doorway, so I could look at the width and breadth of my life and see, really see, for the first time, the whole image... not just the part that was visible to me at the time. I can look at my life with the same love and compassion that I believe God looks at it with. I can see it from a broader, more gentle, perspective.
Maybe that is the true gift of penitence. Maybe in inviting God to forgive our sins, we also find a way to forgive ourselves. We see ourselves, for that moment at least, through the eyes of the one who built us, knitted us together in our mother's womb, who knew us before we were born. Maybe the miracle of this is that we can catch a glimpse of what it is like to see ourselves in all our frailty, and love, truly love, what we see.
Friday, July 07, 2006
Fear coiled up in my belly like a snake, constricting my guts every time I thought about what I was about to do. It was a mild day, not too hot. Muggy and overcast. My fear wasn’t about admitting my sins to God. I was already well aware that he knew each and every one intimately… and probably some that I didn’t even recognize. Nor was my fear about facing Fr. P with my sins. I trust him to be compassionate and non-judging. Instead, my fear was that I would somehow do it wrong. I began to panic that I had made some mistake. That I wouldn’t say enough. Or too much. That I would dwell on insignificant things or gloss over important ones. The day before I even considered calling the whole thing off because I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what a sin was. Or what the point of confession was. Or why I had felt moved to ask for one.
I arrived at the church early, expecting to spend a few moments alone, but Fr. P came driving up behind me, so we got right down to business. We said very little to each other. I wonder if he was nervous too?
While he got dressed, I sat in the Lady Chapel and prayed. “Open my heart, Lord. Let me be honest. Let me offer these sins to you fearlessly.”
Fr. P came into the chapel wearing a black cassock, a long surplice, a stole and a black, square, hat. He knelt at the rail to say his own prayers and then got up and motioned for me to follow him into the nave, where the confessional box was.
It was hot in that back corner of the church. An amber lightbulb illuminated the inside of the box. There was a kneeler and a tiny shelf on which to balance the prayerbook. A crucifix hung on the wall next to the screen that connected to the adjoining box. We began the sacrament reading from the Book of Common Prayer. It was just like in the movies: “ Forgive me, for I have sinned”. The sacrament begins with a general confession and then there is an innocent looking line in the text that indicates for you to fill in the blank with your own details. As this was my first confession, I had a lot of ground to cover, spanning a lifetime of moments or actions where I willfully turned from God.
All was silent save for the whisper of my own voice speaking my sins in the order that God reminded me of them. I read from a little notebook, skipping things and going back to them as it seemed appropriate. Explaining things. Opening my heart in the heat of that box and laying it on the shelf to be teased apart by the Holy Spirit.
The snake loosed its grip and slithered away, leaving in it’s wake another emotion: Grief. Grief at the person I was. Grief at the cruel, heartless, selfish, sinful things I have done. Tears and sweat rolled down my face. Every now and then I would glance through the screen at Fr. P and he sat, staring straight ahead, listening with his whole heart. Listening for grace in the pile of shit I was laying at his feet. He was mostly silent, save for a few questions of clarification. Twice he mentioned that I might wish to discuss something during spiritual direction, but quietly emphasized that it would be up to me to bring it up.
My knees hurt. I was acutely aware that I might be doing damage to my injured one, kneeling on a hard step covered with coarse carpeting. I tried, at one point, to stand up to ‘shake it off’ but it was awkward and uncomfortable to be standing. I knelt back down and tried to shift position, but no matter where I moved, the pain followed. Then, I remembered Jesus, and invited the pain to become a sacrifice, a part of the penance. I carried it with me like a cross. I accepted it and in fact, became grateful for it.
Sweat rolled down my back.
Almost imperceptibly, another feeling began to emerge. It was so subtle I didn’t recognize it at first. Joy. Grace. Love. I felt deeply, unconditionally loved. By God. By my friend on the other side of the screen. By Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The sense of love suffused that dark, hot box and I could feel it profoundly. The world felt as light as my heart. As we neared the end, I found myself saying “That’s it. That is all.” We read through the rest of the prayer book and ended with Fr. P suggesting I read psalm 30 aloud as an act of thanksgiving and asking me to pray for him, a sinner.
Part of me wanted to hold this experience close to my heart, sharing it with no one, save God and Fr. P.
But then there is this stupid grin, heart-too-big-for-my-chest-and-feeling
-like-it-is-going-to-burst-forth-like-the-sun-behind-a-cloud, giddy kind of feeling that suggests this might be a good thing to share with others. Share the fact that I couldn’t stop smiling. That I woke this morning with joy in my heart. The joy of resurrection. Of redemption. Of reconciliation with Him whom I most adore.
And the joy of having shared this with my friend, my director, who has been on this journey with me from before it even began.
The joy of being a penitent.
Gracious, Beloved, God,
By you and with you and in you
is my salvation.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
I was also the lector for the second reading this morning... about the generosity of the Macedonian churches. It was a pretty involved reading and I managed to get through it without choking. I love when that happens.
Because I was reading, I sat up front, which I never do. I like quiet before the service and find the front of the Nave to be way too social. But today, I just went with the flow and actually enjoyed being front and center.
After church, the kids and I got home and found that Nguyen had prepared a fantastic picnic lunch. My brother showed up and we drove down to Jamestown, to Fort Weatherill State Park, for a picnic by the ocean. It was cool and windy, and still very damp. We bumped into old friends from Bell Street and were sad to discover that they, too, have left our old church. But it was great to see them and catch up.
Then, we drove around to Beavertail lighthouse and hung out down by the tidal pools in the rocks. The tide was out, so we saw all kinds of wonderful creatures, from tiny crabs to sea anemones (in a shocking green color that the aquarium staff said they had never seen before!)
The kids were like little goats, darting around on the rocks, causing their mother to catch her breath in alarm. But they had a blast and didn't get swept out to sea. All in all, a good thing.
Last stop: Ice Cream in the village of Jamestown. It was a little soft for my liking, and melted all over us before we had a chance to finish it, but I will say it was delicious! As I have recently forayed into homemade ice cream, I was very appreciative of the fine quality. (I had death by chocolate.... It was divine!)
Finally, over the bridge and back to our side of the bay. The temperature and humidity climbed as we approached home. We all just crashed when we got back... Nguyen and Emmett on the sofa, me in bed upstairs and Noah, the sole hold-out, relishing that he had control of the remote and could watch Animal Planet with no argument from anyone.
What a delicious day.