Monday, May 28, 2007

Happy Birthday to me

I am one year in to being a confirmed member of the Body of Christ and it has been a wild and wonderful ride.

Pentecost is my anniversary. And while my conditional baptism and confirmation weren't quite as life-upside-down-ish as my original Big Dunk, it has been a year of feeling more and more knitted into the fabric of our Lord's cloak.

My Catholic friends and relatives keep telling me that 'yeah, that's great, but you need to come all the way home.' (Direct quote from my brother in law who was visiting this weekend.)

I have come to understand that my faith, to the rest of the world, is never going to be 'right'. For my atheist family, it is too much. For my Catholic relatives, it is not enough. For my liberal friends I am too traditional, for my conservative brothers and sisters, I am way too liberal. And my Pentecostal friends are pretty sure that my interest in things liturgical must be a delusion, or worse.

But this morning, when, in my pajamas, I went over to the fence to talk to my neighbor whose mom just had surgery for pancreatic cancer... my faith was just exactly right. I'll pray for her, I said. And you.

'She is going to be a testimony,' he said. 'We all believe she can beat this.'

And suddenly, I too, believed that she could beat it. Even though I know it is the worst cancer there is. Even though my brother in law and grandfather both died of it. The strength of his conviction was so powerful I suddenly believed that Jesus could and would kick some cancer ass for this woman.

Today, my faith is exactly the right size.


Beloved Jesus,

Heal your servant, Edna. Give her strength and courage. Be with her family as they support her through this. Heal your servant, Lord, that she may continue to do your good works.

Amen.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Habit forming

It has been a long time since I have played the RevGalBlogPal's Friday Five.... but here we are.

This week we are talking about habits:

1. Have you ever successfully quit a bad habit, or gotten a good habit established? Tell us about how you did it.

17 years ago this August I quit a pack-and-a-half-a-day Camel Filters habit. How I did it: For about 3 months before the quit date, I told myself that as of that date I was going to be a non-smoker. I repeated this to myself all day long. I told everyone who would listen. I chose a symbolic date and pictured it in my head. This was long before internet support, so I bought a little book by the American Lung Association that had a step by step daily program for the first three weeks. It was brutal, but I did it. And have been smoke free since. (Well, except for the very occasional cigar... but I have even given those up now. I promised my kids I would never smoke again if they would promise never to start.)


2. "If only there were a 12-step program for _________________!"

Hello, my name is Rachel and I am a nap addict....

3. Share one of your healthy "obsessions" with us.

This one is so obvious. God.

4. Share the habit of a spouse, friend or loved one that drives you C-R-A-Z-Y.

My husband, because he has an underbite, chews funny, especially if his food is hot. Blow on the food, honey. It really works.

5. "I'd love to get into the habit of ___________________."

Exercising? Nah.

Praying daily? Been doing it pretty regularly since Easter.

Doing laundry once in awhile? Yup. And actually putting it away. That would be a GREAT habit to form.

Bonus: What is one small action you might take immediately to make #5 a reality?

Stick the current load into the dryer before it mildews and has to be washed a second time. As in, today. Like, right now.

Bonus 2: Try it, and let us know how it goes in a future post!

Really want to know? OK!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Playing

It has been almost a year since my last piano lesson, and I haven't played much at all in the interim. My piano is out of tune. The bench is covered with work papers and the top of the piano has a pencil sharpener where the metronome used to be.

But the other day, I sat down and played the Sinfonia from Handel's Messiah from memory.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Salad Dressing

I don't know if I have mentioned here that I am completely obsessed with Paul Newman's Olive Oil and Vinegar dressing. I mean, I could probably chug the stuff. We have eaten it every day for, oh, I don't know, 10 years or so. And it isn't just me that joneses for it. My kids, my husband... all of us.

About a month ago I wrote a letter to Paul Newman's company, demanding that they send me the recipe. I can't keep on buying this stuff, I huffed. It is $3.50 a pint and we eat it every stinkin' day and I am going broke. My kids college fund? Ate it with kalamata olives and feta cheese. That trip to Vietnam we keep talking about? Doused it on romaine lettuce and hearts of palm. The new kitchen cabinets? Poured over chopped tomatoes and cukes.

Sigh.

I got an almost sympathetic note back telling me that, NO, they wouldn't give me the recipe. But if I wanted, they'd send a couple of coupons. That isn't going to buy us plane tickets, but ok. I got an envelope with $2 bucks worth of coupons in the mail.

Now, before you think I am completely insane, (too late, you say...) I have spent the last 10 years trying to reproduce the recipe. I have the list of ingredients from the bottle. I have done some online sleuthing and discovered that Paul marinates his garlic and onions in vinegar before mixing it with the oils so that he doesn't have to use preservatives. I have tested and mixed and chopped and whisked, to no avail.

And it's not that I can't make a perfectly delicious homemade dressing. From a French uncle I learned about lemon, garlic and olive oil with kosher salt, all crushed with a wooden spoon in the bottom of a wooden bowl. It is fantastic.

But for some reason, whatever the addictive quality of the NOOO&V (Newman's Own Olive Oil and Vinegar) is, I couldn't replicate it.

Last night though, the Holy Spirit, friend of fermented grapes everywhere, came to me and I whisked this together:

1 clove crushed garlic
2 T finely minced red onion
1/8 c red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 t prepared dijon mustard
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. (For us, lots!)
1/2 cup pure olive oil (not extra virgin) (or to taste)


Add everything except the oil together and whip with a whisk. Taste! If you like the flavors, add the oil and whisk to emulsify. Today I quadrupled the recipe and made it a big Ball jar.

It's good. Really good. And my family said it kicked Newman's ass.


Ya hear that Paul?!?!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Family photo op


I opened the Grace Church email newsletter yesterday to find this photo. It's a picture of Bishop Wolf pouring the baptismal waters in preparation for the Pentecost baptisms last year. My kids and I were among those who were baptized. You can see my sponsor, Adrienne, on the left, my sister in law, husband and me on the other side. My brother in law is poking his head out from behind me and the Canon to the Ordinary. Today I asked Fr. Rich if he has a high resolution copy of this image so I can print it up and frame it.

As I was driving home from a wonderful meeting at Grace today, I flashed on this photo and for some bizarre reason, burst into tears.

I think it was gratitude.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Did I make this up?

In an email to a friend, I said that when we sit at the communion rail and accept the body and blood of Christ into ourselves, we are connected, through Him, to all other Christians for all of eternity.

I said it again to my dear former UU minister, Steve, at lunch today. In that case, I was talking about the fact that the potential schism in the Episcopal church was not the whole story. There is much to hope for. I suggested that ultimately, when we take communion together, we are in communion with each other through Christ. Christ, who heals all wounds.

Did I make this up? Or did something I read somewhere sink in? I don't know. Someone quote some scripture at me!

More and more I am experiencing a sense of Christ's ability to transcend time and location, especially in the Eucharist.

Speaking of Steve:

He is off to a new church in Eugene, OR this summer. I admitted that I was sad he was going because even though I have left my UU church, there is a part of me that doesn't want it to change in my absence. I want it to be just as I left it, nearly two years ago. Isn't that funny?

Steve has been an important part of my spiritual journey. It was he who baptized me 4 years ago. I feel grateful to him.

Beloved,

Go with your servant, Steve. Help him be a good minister to his new church. Let him continue to be a light in the lives of those he encounters.... as he has been in mine.




Thursday, May 17, 2007

Praise to you, Lord Christ


It is Ascension day!

I agreed to go to the Cathedral and sing with the choirs of Grace Church and St. John's for the evening mass. It was sort of funny, actually. My two kids sat in a very tall sided colonial pew where I could only just see the tops of their heads. There was a huge bunch of people singing in the choirs. The Dean of the Cathedral and the Deacon were decked out in their golden finest.

And about 8 people sat in the pews.

But you know what? It ain't about singing for the people in the pews, is it? No. I sang my heart out to my Beloved. Thanking Him. Praising Him. Having a great time, even when I missed a note or closed my eyes in rapture and screwed up the words.

I love the idea of Jesus up there praying for us. Today and every day, He sits at the right hand of the Father and keeps us in his prayers.

Thank you, my Beloved.

You are always in my prayers, too. Prayers of thanks and joy. Praise and gratitude. LOVE.

And speaking of prayers: A special prayer for a friend who has experienced a lot of deaths in the last week. Be gentle with him Lord. He is tender right now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I got tagged!

Rachel at Swandive tagged me! I am so excited!!!


The rules are: People who are tagged start by thinking about 7 random facts/habits about themselves. Each player then must write about those seven things on their blog, as well as include these rules. Players then need to choose 7 people to tag and list their names. Don’t forget to leave each person a comment telling them they’ve been tagged.

1. I have a secret office supply fetish. Manila folders in bright colors make me swoon. I love reams of paper. A freshly sharpened wooden pencil is just. so. enticing. I once met a guy who had the same fetish. His mother had been a school teacher and he had a whole closet in his house filled with construction paper, glue and staplers. I was jealous.

The irony is that my office space is a disaster area. I yearn for organization because it doesn't come to my naturally.

2. I suck the last bit of ketchup out of the little plastic packet when I think noone is looking. It is habit that goes back as far as I can remember. And frankly it is disgusting when you consider that some stranger handled the packet on it's way to your takeout bag. Which I don't. Consider that, I mean, when I am in the act.

3. I am a little phobic about the summer. As a kid and teen I would get deeply depressed in the summertime, spending days and months in a dark room watching tv or listening to a radio. I still face summers with a certain amount of unease. Perhaps it is that I am a redhead and the sun is my sworn enemy. Beaches, for me, aren't fun, even though I love the water. Plus, as I have been overweight all my life, heat is not my friend. But my kids are teaching me to enjoy it more. At the beginning of the season we pack the car with a beach chair and an umbrella and spf 10,000 sunblock and head to little beaches and the ocean all summer long. I find I sometimes actually enjoy it.

4. I love kissing my rabbit. He has a soft nose and funny buck teeth and I have discovered that he loves it when I rub my nose on his and give him little kisses. I am a little allergic to him, but it is so worth the itchy eyes to get a little bunny love.

5. My favorite style of shoes is clogs. At the beach house last weekend, I walked around in a pair of lime green crocs for 3 days. My parents were very amused.

6. I read the bible in 90 days last year and am pretty sure that I retained about 3% of it. Although maybe, at this point, I could build a pretty good approximation of a temple. It sure gets described often enough.

7. John the Baptist is one of my favorite saints.

OK:

Here are the next 7 to be tagged:

Antony, Adam, Natalia, Emily, Mary Beth, Nancy, Widening Circles

Friday, May 11, 2007

Off to the beach

My parents rented a little cottage at the beach for the weekend and we are heading down this afternoon. My dear husband will meet us (much) later tonight. He is driving to New Hampshire tonight to attend the wake of his former boss, who, with his son, died in a canoing accident last weekend. (Prayers for them and their family are appreciated. David Sr and Jr.)

So I will be incommunicado until Monday, but I pray that I will be full of patience and love this weekend. I ask God to watch over Nguyen as he journeys to say goodbye to his old friend. I pray for good weather.

And today, as always, I am grateful that everything is in the hands of the Beloved.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Weekday Mass

It has been quite awhile since I have made it to Providence in time to go to afternoon mass at St. Stephens.

The hassle factor is high: I have to try and convince my husband to come home early from work, then fight traffic on Rt. 10 and downtown Providence for a half an hour. Meander around the block a few times looking for parking. Avoid hitting dazed Brown students who never, it seems, were taught to look both ways before crossing a street.

Then, on a beautiful, warm, sunny day, enter into a dark church that smells of old incense and waxed floors. Sit in creaky wooden chairs. Kneel on hard vinyl cushions. Say words from an old Anglican prayerbook. (Thees and thous and holpen. Meet and right so to do.) Listen to a brief homily about a Saint I never heard of.

And yet.

And yet.

There am I, approaching the rail. Getting on my knees in front of a priest I don't know that well. Taking the wafer into my hands and lifting it to my mouth. Feeling the cold rim of a silver cup on my lips. The warmth of the red wine making it's way down. The rest of the service is almost a blur. Driving home. More traffic. More wayward students.

But also sunset. Quiet when I get home. The kids are at soccer. I sit under a huge spruce tree and watch the sun begin to set behind the bank of newly leafed silver maples. Listen to the riot of birds

and realize that I have never,

in my life

been happier.

Monday, May 07, 2007

O Lord, open thou my lips

and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

I sang in the pick-up choir at Grace church yesterday and it was a great experience!

On the first Sunday of the month, our normal choir gets the day off and the rest of us can have a chance to sing unto the Lord in an informal gathering that rehearses for the hour before the service.

Yesterday I got to church early with my fabulous homemade rum cake and was collared by Mark, our choir director, as I was helping set-up breakfast. Are you going to sing today? He asked.

Uh, Ok. Sure. I replied. I'm game for anything that gets me closer to the altar.

It was the first time I have joined in, and I found it surprising.

Who knew that our very serious and a little intimidating choir director was so wonderful to work with? Not only does he have a sly sense of humor, but he is very good at leading. Clearly he understands that this is worship. I was worried that I would miss notes or go off key, but he shepherded us wonderfully. I felt very supported throughout the whole service, which allowed me to get my focus off my fear of screwing up and keep it on singing to God with joy. Which I did... in my raspy, nodes on the vocal chords, tenor.

We sang the psalm and played hand bells. We did a Taize chant. We sang an exuberant march at the end. We sang hymns from Pakistan and Tanzania and ancient Israel and France. And best of all, we got to sit in the choir seats, up in the chancel, right next to the pulpit and the altar.

I think I might just do it again next month.

This rabbit has lucky feet for sure

Rabbits have fur on the bottom of their feet. I suppose that is good for running on grass, but not so great for hardwoods, where they get no traction and tend to slide around a lot.

Thankfully, Theo managed to get moving yesterday.

My parents were over for my father's birthday dinner. Since they have been in town, we have been putting a baby gate at the bottom of the stairs to keep their dog, Hank, away from our rabbit, Theo. Theo normally lives in the living room, but for the duration of my parent's stay (1 month) we have him up in the boys' room.

I was in the kitchen with Dad and my step mother, Adele, when suddenly we heard a big scuffle and barking and claws on a wood floor coming from upstairs. For a split second, we didn't register what was happening, then, simultaneously, we realized, in horror, that we had forgotten to put the baby gate up. Hank had found Theo.

The three of us sprinted towards the stairs, yelling "HANK, NO!" at the top of our lungs. Suddenly, Theo came careening down the stairs, through my legs and into the dining room. Hank was tearing after him. I grabbed a handful of butt fur, while my dad managed to catch him by the collar.

I ran into the dining room to find Theo hiding under the shoe rack, trembling. Gently, gently, I picked him up. Dad kept Hank out of sight in the kitchen while I carried my very shaken bunny upstairs. Once I had him in the boys' room, I shut the door and put him on the bed to check him out. No cuts. No punctures. A tiny tuft of fur missing from his haunch, but no raw skin. The only visible sign of the encounter was a big bump on his nose, which I kissed to make better. We calmed him as best we could, plying him with raisins and bananas. He ate his dinner that night, which reassured us that he was going to be ok.

And this morning he pushed open the door of my bedroom and proceeded to eat my new leather sandal.

Good bunny.

At dinner last night we all said a special prayer of thanks.

Thank you, Beloved, for keeping our friend safe, yesterday.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Prayers for Vietnamese Christians

The Catholic Church in Dalat, Vietnam. My husband's home town.


Christians have been persecuted in Vietnam since the communists took control of the country in the 1950s. Slowly, over the last decade or so, they have been allowed more and more freedom of worship. Churches are open and services are being held.

However, an article in Christian Today reminds us that there is still much suffering.

Today, I ask that you include the people of Vietnam in your prayers.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

God's Grace

Here's the thing:

When I was drawn to join Grace church a year and a half ago, I didn't know why. I didn't understand what my role was going to be at the church, or why God was calling me to become a member. In fact, I kept putting off sending in the membership card. I was a little surprised at the casual attitude Grace had towards membership. There were no classes. No prerequisite meeting with the priest. No discussion group or new member orientation. All we had to do was sign our name to a card and put it in the offering plate on Sunday.

And still, I held back. I didn't think Grace was really my church. Yes, I suppose I believed that God had brought me there, but in the back of my mind, it was just a stopover on the way to my real church (whatever that was).

But one day, a couple of months after I started to attend, my rector, Bob, happened to ask if I had sent in the card. (Why won't he stop asking me?!?!)

I'll do it, I thought. And I did. But not before meeting with Bob and telling him all the things I didn't like about his church. I am only agreeing to stay, I said, out of obedience to God.

Nice.

A few weeks later, I heard that we were in negotiations with another downtown church to discuss a merger and it was then that I began to get a glimpse of the edge of Christ's garment. I caught a little hint of the big picture.

I caught a glimpse of Grace.

In my heart, I was convinced that God was calling the members of Church of the Messiah, just like he had called me. I knew they didn't really understand why, any more than I did. But somehow, I just believed that they were being drawn to this behemoth of a church for a reason.

And as I got to know their rector, I began to believe that he, too, played some significant part in God's plan for Grace church.

There was grief for the Messiah folks. Loss. Sadness. Frustration. But little by little, just as there had been for me, I saw them beginning to get little glimpses of God's plans for them. I saw them begin to understand what they were doing in this strange land. And more and more, I felt that their priest was part of it too. He complimented our own rector so well. Their skills meshed together like two pieces of a bigger puzzle. It was clear that together, they could do so much more than either could as individuals. They were an amazing team.

But the agreement was that Fr. Rich would only stay a year. So a few months ago, he started looking for another gig. He went on interviews. He traveled around the country meeting with vestries. He collared deployment officers at conferences.

And all the while, I prayed. I prayed that he would be called to stay at Grace. That somehow we would work out the logistics, the financials, the details. With every trip, as he came that much closer to leaving, I became more and more convinced that he had to stay. We were his home. He is one of our priests. Please God, if it is your will that he stay, let him stay.

Last Sunday, Bob came to the Lectio Divina group. It was just three of us. We had a nice meeting, and as he was leaving, he turned to me and said,

"Rachel, I think your prayers have been answered."

I about wept for joy.

Which is what I always do when I catch a glimpse of the hem of Christ's garment... and see that in all the complexity of our lives, we are really just warps and wefts in his beautiful fabric.

At the service that morning, Bob announced to the congregation that Fr. Rich had agreed to stay on as a full time member of our clergy and he got a standing ovation.

Thank you, my Beloved.

I don't think we know what you have in mind for us, but I feel very sure that you have drawn us together for some reason. Guide us, O Lord, in the direction you would have us take. Teach us to be your ears and eyes and hands. Let us build the kingdom of your glory in our own back yard.

Help us bring Grace to Providence.

Quietly slip back into the conversation...

I took time off because I have been struggling with spiritual pride and wondered if the blog was contributing to it.

I am still not sure of the answer to that, but I do know that a month without blogging has resulted in much more attention to my personal journal and prayer time. And I have been more aware of my prayers being answered, which leaves me feeling humble and grateful indeed.

So, I am back, having fasted from blogging during Eastertide. Next year maybe I'll give it up for Lent instead, LOL.

(A lovely side effect of the blogfast is that I have been hanging out at your places. What luxury!)

One last time:

1. Have I done my daily spiritual practice?

Yes. I seem to be making a habit of getting on my knees a few times a day and it is wonderful. I think my knees are even getting used to it.

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

A friend in crisis reached out to me and I spoke plainly to her about how God could (and would) help her cope with her situation. It was an amazing conversation.

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

I did what I committed to doing.

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

I probably won't do this list again on the Big Dunk, but I think God is continuing to ask me to speak about him with people. Not complicate things too much, but just express as simply as possible:

Without God- Misery
With God- Joy