Sunday, April 29, 2007

Week Three

Here's my check in for the week.

1. Have I done my daily spiritual practice?

Yes. I am still praying twice daily. I have been doing Compline with the kids each night. (When I am home.)

2. What unexpected opportunities has God put in my path since I last checked in?

I had lunch with two friends this week, both of whom have been having a tough time lately. It was wonderful to connect with them.

3. Of the things I committed to doing, which have I done or not done since the last check in?

I did what I hoped to do.

4. What am I being called to do between now and the next time I check in?

This week I am being called to speak plainly about the gifts that God has given me. I am going to work on that.

Finally, I am very excited because my church has offered a full time, permanent position to Fr. Rich who had temporarily come over with the merger last Pentecost. I believe that the Holy Spirit was in the midst of this process and am grateful that we got out of His way.

Thanks, God.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Week two

I miss my blog, LOL!

Here goes for week two:

1. Have I done my daily spiritual practice?

Yes. I bought a pillow at Marshalls last week to kneel on, and keep it on my bed, so it reminds me in the morning and in the evening to get down on the floor. It has helped a lot.

2. What unexpected opportunities has God put in my path since I last checked in?

This week the kids were on vacation and I took them to the movies with one of Noah's friends. Just spending time hanging out with them was good.

3. Of the things I committed to doing, which have I done or not done since the last check in?

I did what I hoped to do... spent time with the kids, prayed, read a book. It was a nice week.

4. What am I being called to do between now and the next time I check in?

Obedience seems to be an ongoing theme for me this week. I am called to look for ways to be obedient to God's will, especially as it concerns my daily practice.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Good Post Alert

Go read this.

It's good.

Week One

1. Have I done my daily spiritual practice?


2. What unexpected opportunities has God put in my path since I last checked in?

A couple of things. First, a woman I was scheduled to meet with for childbirth classes was rushed to the hospital with severe pre-eclampsia. Instead of normal classes, I went to the hospital and talked to her about the cesarean she was going to undergo. I finished with a meditation, which left us both grateful and calm. Jesus figured prominently. I think the Holy Spirit knows a thing or two about birth. Her baby was born this morning and both are doing well.

The second was that I decided to call a friend of mine who has been battling a chronic heart condition to check in. Not only have we scheduled lunch, but he told me that a mutual friend of ours lost her son last week. I missed the memorial yesterday, but called her today to express my sadness at her loss. We are going to get together in a week or so. I think God was at work in both cases.

3. Of the things I committed to doing, which have I done or not done since the last check in?

I have done everything I promised I would do. I made a prayer list. I prayed it everyday. I called my friend.

4. What am I being called to do between now and the next time I check in?

This is vacation week for my children. I believe God is asking me to be present to them this week. Have fun. Enjoy them. Love them. Also, I think I am being asked to say prayers with them at night before they go to bed. I also think that when I feel fear about our economic situation, or anything else, I am to get down on my knees and pray.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

On retreat

Dear friends in Christ,

Now that Holy Week is over I am going to take a retreat from my normal blog programming and try something new. For a month, I will check in regularly (weekly perhaps?) and answer the following questions:

1. Have I done my daily spiritual practice?

2. What unexpected opportunities has God put in my path since I last checked in?

3. Of the things I committed to doing, which have I done or not done since the last check in?

4. What am I being called to do between now and the next time I check in?

Think of it as an ongoing meme, if you will.

I'll see you back here in a few days.



Did you know you can take a class for writing icons? I found this out while surfing the 'net one day. Apparently you can fly to Kentucky or some place and spend a week with a Russian woman who will teach you how to create your own paints with powdered pigments and egg yolks and attach linen to wood with hide glue. Then you learn the basics of making an icon.

I want to do it. I am not particularly artistic, but I am so drawn to the images I can imagine it must be wonderful to make them.

What would I make?

At first, maybe a single image, like John the Baptist, or Christ the Pantocrator. Or Mary.

But then, if I got good at it, I would like to paint Jesus' baptism.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mountains and valleys

My former UU minister, Steve, once told me a story about his friend. He went to the top of a mountain in the Himalayas and had a life-changing spiritual experience. His head and heart opened up and he recognized, for the first time, the one-ness of all creation.

As he was descending the mountain, a beggar came up and started asking for money. Steve's friend, in a fit of anger, pushed him away.

I laughed when I heard that story because it is so true. Often our mountain top experiences end with a thump.

And so it was with Easter. I willingly dove into the abyss of the Triduum, scaled the heights of Easter and then landed with a bump on the ass yesterday. It was as close to actual depression as I have come in years. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, I was ready to shove the first person that happened to cross my path.

A friend recommended reading Job and Ecclesiastes. I read the passion in John instead. And it helped, by God. It did.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

3 hours and a confession

After the three hour service yesterday, I went into the robing room with Fr. Rich and knelt on the floor (on a pillow) and made my confession.

For a couple of weeks I have tried to come up with a list of things to confess. I felt stymied by it. Ok. First the 10 commandments. A few measly sins rose to the surface. How about the 7 deadly sins? A couple of more things, but boy it felt like I was really stretching to come up with something. Am I really that pious, or have I just gone into denial overload?

And then, sitting in the dark church on Good Friday, the floodgates opened. I read the confession in the prayerbook. We are sorry for what we have done and for what we have left undone....

Suddenly it all came pouring out. I grabbed a pen and my little notebook and started writing furiously. I felt such despair staring at it in black and white. All this since my last confession, which was only a few months ago. All this. All this.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

Confessing to Fr. Rich was a very different experience in some ways. The room, of course. The ringing telephone and occasional near interruption when someone accidentally tried to come in. At one point we agreed that Grace needs a confessional.

But even with the distractions and interruptions and vulnerability of feeling exposed, it was still a grace-filled experience. For a few moments, I felt myself sink into the despair of it... but then, began to feel pulled back up to the surface. It was similar, in a way, to baptism. After absolution (in Latin!) he asked if I wanted to sit on the little sofa for a few minutes to meditate. No, I said, I am going into the pews to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.

The morning's psalm was, remarkably, the same one I read after my first confession. In the darkened church, at 3:45 in the afternoon, I read it out loud.

Last night I felt so alive I couldn't sleep.

You turned my wailing into dancing;

you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Psalm 30:11-12

Friday, April 06, 2007

A brief conversation with God on the way to church today...

Beloved, why is it called Good Friday?
It doesn't seem like anything good happened on that day.

Because on that day,

you were saved.

The Waiting Journal

In my purse I carry a little black notebook that I call the waiting journal. I call it that because I usually only write in it when I am waiting for something. Lots of entries while waiting to pick up my children at the end of the school day. A few from the registry of motor vehicles. Dentist's office. Airport. Train station. Mechanics.

The entries always begin:


because the whole book is a series of letters to God.

I have kept this journal for the last 3 years or so, and am getting down to the last few pages of the notebook. So it seemed appropriate to get it out a write a little last night, as I watched and waited with Jesus at the Vigil of the Altar of Repose.

But then, I started reading it from the beginning. I only made it about a third of the way through it, but even that was kind of a revelation. Themes emerged in my relationship with God. The little cat and mouse that we seem to play is a regular theme. Consolations one week, dry desert the next. I bemoan it throughout the book, even as I know that it is part of the deal. My laziness at spiritual practice gets mentioned a lot. This week I forgot to pray the psalms, or centering prayer, or the daily office or whatever I happen to be doing at the time. I comment on it a lot.

The heady love affair with God is a constant theme, too. Anyone who didn't know who Beloved was might think I was writing to a lover. It is just as gooshy. And twice as embarrassing to reread. But I am made breathless by the intensity that comes across the pages. This relic of my relationship with God is a powerful testament not only to the miracle of my conversion, but also the the seasoning, the gentle aging of the relationship. I am less breathless, now. I am not given the same kinds of spiritual consolations I experienced early on. And yet, like a good marriage, the relationship is maturing.

Finally, there are many many entries about my spiritual teachers. Fr. P in particular crops up constantly. But others, too. People who have guided me on this journey. People who have walked with me on this path. I am humbled by the generosity that people have shown with their time and love.

The Vigil

The Holy Spirit and I make a pretty good tag team. I organized the all night vigil at the Altar of Repose and the HS got people to sign up. So we had people sitting in the dark church in the middle of downtown Providence from 8pm until 6am.

The altar was so beautiful. One of our parishioners, Christopher, decorated it with twinkling votive candles and white freesias in tall glass vases. During the Maundy Thursday service, we snuck over to light all the candles. I knocked over a vase and dropped a whole box of wooden matches on the floor. (I am guessing Christopher will not let me help again next year, LOL.) But still, we finished in time for the priests to carry the hosts and chalice and a small cruet of wine over from the main altar.

A word about the Eucharist: I know I have said it before, but I believe, beyond any doubt, that these elements contain the substance of Jesus. It could be my imagination, but how would I have even known to imagine that when I went to my first altar vigil? I didn't know about real presence then. And yet, sitting in the dark with them, I was overwhelmed with a sense of the presence of Jesus.

Last night, I sat for awhile in the pews, but then I walked up to the altar itself and sat at the feet of Jesus.

I was there for three hours. At first I was afraid of that much time. Would I get bored? Would I fall asleep? At one point the candles needed to be replaced, so I gingerly approached and one by one dropped little white disks of wax on top of the spent ones. Then, carefully, used a long lighter to light each one. Carefully, carefully, lest I accidentally disturb the precious chalice. A cruet of wine was sitting in front of the chalice. I leaned over to smell it. I knocked over another little vase, so I went out to get a paper towel and knelt on the floor before the altar, wiping it up.

I was both Mary and Martha last night.

In the past I have been afraid that if I was Martha, I would lose Mary. I was afraid that I couldn't be both. And I know the better part. But last night, I found Mary by being Martha... organizing the vigil, making a sign up sheet, putting signs on the door. Then watching in wonder as the Holy Spirit inspired people, strangers and friends, to come out on a cold spring night and sit in a dark church watching over a cup of wine and a few crackers for hours at a time. Including my husband, who was there from 1am to 3. And my friend Michelle who went from 12 to 2. Miracles.

One last thing-

All night, as I felt moved to weep, I was asking myself, Rachel, why weepest thou? Is it grief over his death and betrayal? Or is it joy for having been saved? And maybe I grew to understand that as a Christian, grief and joy are fused together by grace.

Stay with me
Remain here with me
Watch and pray
Watch and pray

Monday, April 02, 2007

Funeral #1

This morning was Bruno's, at a very 1970's-ish Catholic church in Riverside RI. I was struck by the front of the church, behind the sanctuary. There was a huge series of square, grey granite columns reaching up towards a crinolated white ceiling. But here was the weird part: between the columns was an unabashedly modern stained glass of Christ on the cross. The image was broken by these many stone columns. I sat in the quiet and tried to figure out what in the world the architect was trying to convey by this. Was this supposed to show the intersection of the earth with God? Is that what this space was supposed to be?

I am not sure.

The service was ok.

I have come to realize that I can now respond appropriately when the priest says something because there is really not much difference between an Episcopal mass and a Catholic one. My friend Michelle, who sat next to me, might have been surprised when I knew all the words by heart to the various songs and prayers.

One thing is different though. During communion, instead of going to the rail, I knelt in the pew and prayed for unity in the Church.

We went with the family to the cemetery, and to a lunch after. It was a cold, rainy day.

Beloved God,

Comfort Bruno's wife, Isabel, in her loss. Be with the family as they struggle to understand his suffering.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A week off?

My friend Antony is taking a week off for Holy Week. For a moment I considered joining him, then thought, in horror, of what I would do with all these Holy Week feelings I have. I could write them in my diary, I suppose. I could tell them to Nguyen. Or God. But I feel them bubbling up to the surface and they get bigger as they come closer to the skin. Like my friend in the previous post. (Could I be having sympathy bustin' out I wonder?)

I feel like my deepest self is gurgling up towards the surface and it is a little exciting and a little scary because it can be so big and I imagine the only possible way to cope would be to throw myself on the floor of my church and weep. Or write about it.

And then there are the funerals. Two of them this week.

This morning my childhood dentist died. He was an old friend of my parents. He has been battling cancer for 10 years. Al leaves his wife, Jane, who is one of my mother's dear friends. My mom has asked if I will bring her to he funeral.

And tomorrow I am going to the funeral of another friend. He was a regular at my friend Michelle's several-times-a-year potluck parties. We have known Bruno for probably 15 years or so, celebrating all the important moments with him and his dear wife Isabel.

They are all in my prayers tonight.

Palm Sunday

I came home from church today feeling overwhelmed. I had difficulty talking when Nguyen asked how things went at an after-church meeting.

It felt like too much had gone on in too short a time.

First, before the service, an intense conversation with one of the Sunday School teachers. It was one of those "lets find a private place" kind of conversations which sometimes leave me feeling drained.

Then the service itself.

I still cannot look at a shrouded cross without feeling, I don't know, sick in my heart. Like I want to get on my knees, or lie flat out on the floor and just be in the joy and pain of what is coming. Holy Week is such an intense time.

The parade with palms around the Nave was amazing. 225 people carrying palms, waving and singing, playing drums and other percussion instruments, countered by the choir who was singing an ancient Gregorian sounding hymn that has probably been sung on Palm Sunday for centuries. The crazy, joyful exuberance before the truth of it: Those same people who waved their palms and shouted 'hosanna' were calling for Jesus' execution just a few days later.

And it is us.

Later, having a conversation with a friend, he seemed deeply agitated. But it was that good kind of agitated. The Holy Spirit kicking your ass, making you feel like you can't contain yourself within your own skin, busting loose and don't know what to do with it kind of feeling. It is glorious and scary and amazing all at once because you know, don't you, that it is so unbelievably true and anyone who says it is just endorphins is full of shit. It is, in fact, the truest truth there is.

There, I said it.

I recognize that feeling. Maybe feel a little wistful, even, because it has been awhile since I felt like that. Good God Almighty it is amazing to be stuffed full of the Holy Spirit. And even when you catch a little of the overflow from someone else's busting open, it can leave you a little tired.

So I am tired.

Like I want to lay down in my Beloved's arms
and rest for awhile.