Saturday, June 30, 2007
But on such a beautiful day, how can I be? My kitchen tools hostess called me this morning to cancel our show today. She has been up all night barfing and thought it might be bad for sales. Um. Yeah.
Here's the rub: Darling husband thought I was working today, so about an hour ago he packed up the kids and headed down to Newport to see the Tall Ships. It makes no sense at all for me to drive a separate car into the tourist hell that is Newport, so I sweetly suggested that today might be a boys day out.
I am free!
Truth be told, I would love to be wrangling out-of-towners and craning my neck towards impossibly huge sailing ships, but the fact is, it isn't going to happen. So the next best thing is shoe shopping for my trip to Chicago in a week and a half. Or sitting in my nightgown and blogging while sipping coffee.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
I suppose it is a simple fact of life that if you show up at a church regularly, you are going to be approached to join something.
For my first year at Grace, I steadfastly refused to sign up for anything. I had significantly overcommitted at Bell Street, so I wanted time to just sit in the pews.
Then, when I considered joining something, I thought I would pick something sexy like the ministry committee or adult religious education. I mean, who actually picks stewardship?
But for the last year, I have been tithing, and it has been a big deal. It is inviting me into a new kind of relationship with God and with money and the material world. And I am learning lessons from it that I could learn no other way. Not the least of which is that when I share my widow's mite with my church, I am contributing to the kingdom in my own little corner of the world. And opening a door to God that I had previously bolted closed. Money was one of the last major bunkers of my will and ego. One of the last places of darkness that I shielded from God's light. Can you picture me holding onto this dark place in my heart and mind? It was fear.
And where you find fear, you need to open it up to God. Crack open the box and let the fear out and let God in.
So last September, with great trepidation, I decided to start tithing. I set up and automatic deduction at the bank and every week money is taken from our household account and transferred to Grace church. Plus, when I get checks from my kitchen tools gig, I write additional checks to the church.
I would love to say that tithing has solved all our financial problems. So far that has not been the case. I am still sick with money. I still spend too much and fret too much and worry. My husband's business is still doing poorly. But at the end of the day, the discipline of giving away part of our income has brought subtle and significant gifts. I feel deeply invested in the body of Christ. Not just my church, but the whole body. I feel a sense of stewardship towards my own money, because I realize, on some level, it doesn't really belong to me in the first place. I am giving back to God what has been so freely given to me.
And I realized that I am called to help others make this leap of faith, to draw them into deeper relationship with God.
So I joined the stewardship committee.
I'll keep you posted.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
A couple of times a week, the moderator sends out a quote from John of the Cross. Usually is it without comment. It is a lovely little message in my inbox, usually inviting me to spend a moment or two thinking about what Juan de la Cruz has to say.
Today, he is talking about spiritual dryness:
God values in you the inclination to dryness and suffering for love of
him more than all the consolations, spiritual visions, and meditations
you could possibly have.
John of the Cross
"Sayings of Light and Love"
When I first converted, I was all about the consolations. God had used them to draw me to himself for years before I finally stopped resisting and became a Christian. It was the Holy Spirit who first got my attention, giving me mystical experiences which beckoned me to walk towards him. After my baptism, I experienced consolations intensely for months.
I would have a physical reaction during these experiences. I would feel slightly queasy, like I was going to faint. My head would swim. My extremities felt tingly. It wasn't as scary as it sounds. It was the sweetest high you can imagine.
Over the last year or so, these experiences have dropped off. And while I miss them, surely, I also feel that it might just indicate that my relationship with God is maturing. I am gradually letting go of the idea that mystical experiences=spiritual maturity. In fact, it might be just the opposite for me.
How about you? Have you found your relationship with God changes over the years?
What has your experience been?
Monday, June 25, 2007
1. Favorite summer food(s) and beverage(s)
I love ice cream. Since I don't indulge in sugar much, these days, I drive to the nearest Brickley's (a family owned place). They have the best no-sugar added ice cream I have ever had. Maple Walnut.
I also love grilled lamb. Sometimes we shish kabob it. Sometimes just throw a marinated, butterflied leg on to barbeque and sometimes we eat it ground, like burgers, with yogurt and mint. I swear I must have been middle eastern in another life. If I had another life. Which I didn't. Because I don't believe in such things. ;-)
2. Song that "says" summer to you. (Need not be about summer explicitly.)
It's a Beautiful Day, by U2.
3. A childhood summer memory
Summer was bad for me after about the age of 11. I think I suffered terribly, from boredom, loneliness. Heat stroke. In fact, it has taken me YEARS to find any charm in summer at all. Part of it was that I was always chubby, which makes the heat unbearable. Part was that my parents got divorced and I could get away with sitting in front of the TV for months on end because everyone was off at work.
One bright spot: When I was 18 I worked in downtown Newport trying to sell long distance telephone service to tourists. I loved my coworkers and we had a blast. We even talked our way into the Newport Jazz festival with a tank of helium and our MCI uniforms on.
4. An adult summer memory:
I am learning to cherish tiny moments. So for me, sitting on my bench, talking long distance to my dad and looking up to notice a squirrel passed out on the mulberry tree after having over indulged in overripe berries. (Think tanked squirrel).
Or lying in my hammock and gazing at the sky through the branches of the old silver maple.
Or watching thunderheads roll in from the west. Grabbing the kids and sitting on our front porch watching the storm.
5. Describe a wonderful summer day you'd like to have in the near future. (weather, location, activities)
Cool weather. Walking on a deserted beach. At twilight.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
The weather was stunning today, too. After church we piled all the bikes in the back of Nguyen's truck and drove to Bristol so we could ride the bike path. It was packed! We rode from Colt State park to the Audubon sanctuary and back again. Stopped for hot dogs at the town beach. Visited my mom in her new apartment. Had a nice dinner at a restaurant in Newport and topped off the evening by borrowing a fishing rod from a complete stranger and catching 4 blue fish off the Goat Island bridge. At sunset. In Newport.
The kids collapsed when we got home. Nguyen cleaned the fish. We are going to try smoking them in the gas grill tomorrow.
Thank you, Beloved, for the many gifts of this day.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
She knows I am a Jesus freak, and in fact, has been going back to church since I started talking with her about it. I know that it isn't an instant fix, but I also know that if she invites him to, God will help her through this painful time.
She is a Roman Catholic.
I told her: Your church does a particularly good job of helping to understand the role of suffering in our lives. John Paul II wrote an amazing encyclical about how suffering can be the doorway to salvation. Humans suffer. It is a common thing we all share. All of us at some point or another experience it. But because God knew that, he used his own suffering on the cross as the vehicle for redemption. Suffering will never be meaningless now. It always has the power to be redeemed through Jesus. People will fail you, but God never will let you suffer alone. And in fact, it is in your suffering that you reach out to him.
I think this helped her.
I have another friend who has been suffering from tremendous health problems for the last few years. One thing keeps leading to another and his health gets worse and worse. I keep thinking of Job.
But when I mentioned Job to him, recently, he laughed and said he was ready to move on to the psalms.
Of course! The psalms are much more of a complete picture of our engagement with God. We whine at him. We sing joyful praises. We thank him. Ask him to help us. Bow before him when he does. The suffering in the psalms is probably closer to what most of us actually experience because it is not unrelenting. We have moments or days or years of joy mingled in with anger or grief or loss. What the psalms teach us, more than anything, is that we must always turn to God.
I never really learned much about Buddhism. I read a few books, but at the end of the day, the idea of detachment just didn't work for me. I am a mom, after all. It seemed all too easy to detach if you were a monk or nun. But as a mom, detaching from my children seemed not only impossible, but undesirable. Unnatural. In the Buddhist scheme of things, my attachment to them will likely cause me to suffer at some point.
But what Jesus promises is that our Love, although we may suffer for it, will ultimately be the very thing that redeems us from suffering forever.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
I have forgotten how much fun it is to ride a bike. Around here, we don't have great biking areas since our neighborhood is surrounded on all sides by highway, river, huge 4 lane roads. But we cruise around in our little neighborhood and wave to folks who are working in their yards or buckling up toddlers on the way to preschool. The dogs are mostly confined and the squirrels know to get out of the road ahead of us. I know I am supposed to follow all the traffic laws, but in this small neighborhood, I get a little thrill when I fly through a stop sign on my bike. (Never when the kids are with me, of course!) I love the speed of being on a bike.
So, the bikes are dusted and oiled. The pool is open. We are heading to the library tomorrow for summer reading lists and packing our beach bag with sunscreen and hats.
Summer is here.
And I am feeling appropriately lazy.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
As I knew I would. Not only do I not have natural rhythm, but it turns out that the physical act of drumming requires a kind of coordination that I apparently don't have. It's not even hand/eye. It's just hand. But you have to make your muscles do things that they simply do NOT want to. Like hit a bass note and then a slap all in one movement. I just want to pound the middle of the drum in 4/4 time and call it a day.
It turns out that in western Africa, the songs ARE the rhythms. There are rhythms for weddings and for funerals. Rhythms for celebrations and circumcisions. Rhythms for conjuring and for giving thanks. And people know them like we would know the wedding march or Pomp and Circumstance. It is the musical accompaniment of their lives.
In class we were learning 5 wedding rhythms. They seemed very complicated to me, especially when the teacher started playing the melody lines on the dun dun. I instantly lost track of what I was doing and started banging in all the wrong moments. Dear Teacher would then smile and stop the melody and get me back on track, patiently repeating the rhythm over and over until I could feebly follow along.
The other guys were generous about not rolling their eyes.
I regret to inform them that I am going to be back next week.
Monday, June 18, 2007
We were greeted with many smiles and hugs. I recognized nearly everyone there. Knew everyone by name, as though I had never left. There only about 10 or 15 new faces. Everyone commented on how big and handsome the boys have gotten. They asked me how I was. Was I happy at my new church? Was it good to be back? I instantly felt the warmth that I loved so much about the place. It was like seeing family after a long trip away.
I was a bit surprised at how few people were in attendance. I didn't count, but it looked like there were only about 45 people in the pews. This on a day that was a significant milestone in the life of the church. Bell Street has lost a lot of it's members over the last year or so. I knew this, but was still, somehow, stunned.
I sat in a pew with my friends and started to notice how different the interior of the space is from my new church. Bell Street Chapel was built over a hundred years ago by a wealthy man named James Eddy. He lived on the adjoining property, and envisioned this as a place for the Providence Religious Society, a humanist organization, to hold meetings. The architecture, therefore, is decidedly humanist. The main room is on the second floor. People walk up a huge set of stairs to the second floor, where they are elevated above the world outside. There is no focal point in the chancel, except the wooden pulpit itself. Hense, the preacher becomes the sole object of attention. By contrast, most Christian churches I have been in have the altar in the center. Or a cross or image of Christ. The priest or preacher is relegated off to the side, which reinforces that they are NOT the main focal point.
Steve's sermon was a sweet farewell. It seemed to follow a pattern of prayer, beginning with what he was thankful for, followed by an apology for what he did or did not do (confession!) and winding down with his gentle suggestions for the future. (Intercessions?)
But somewhere in the middle of the service, I began to realize that I felt disconnected from what was going on. It wasn't that I was uninterested... it's just that it seemed so aimless for me without a clear focus on God. I became more deeply aware of the fact that, by design, the object of worship in a UU church is the church itself. The community. The covenants. The relationships. A few years ago, Steve, in a moment of bravery, described the UU church as one in which people milled around at the base of the mountain, congratulating themselves that they could choose any path to the top and all would be valid. But sometimes they never actually started up the mountain.
People drift from UUism. The average UU is only a member for 7 years. After those 7 years are up, they either move on to other churches or religious organizations or just stop attending altogether. The vast majority of the folks I have talked to who have left Bell Street in the last year have simply stopped going anywhere.
I have my suspicions about why this is so.
Going to church every week requires more than just will power. In the beginning, you go because you like it, or you want to be with people, you feel at home, or you get something out of it. But there inevitably comes a point when you get tired or cranky. Things don't seem to be 'working' for you. You might be burned out or tired of the same old sermons. A relationship goes sour. Same old same old. So, one Sunday, you lie in bed and read the paper and drink coffee, instead.
It happens in Christian churches, too, I imagine. But in a Christian church, the focus of the experience is not just feeling good or hearing a great sermon or seeing friends or doing good works. It is about worshiping God. God who deserves, in all times and in all places, to be worshiped. It is that drive to worship that pulls me out of bed at the unholy hour of 7:30 every Sunday morning. If left to my will power alone, I too, would be drinking coffee and reading the latest home and garden section.
It is laying aside our own desires so we can focus on what is pleasing to God. Letting go, just for that morning, of the focus on ourselves and what we would normally want.
My whole experience of God while at Bell Street was one of a deep longing. Finding God in a UU church is a little like playing cat and mouse. He is there, of course. But you don't get to talk about him or drop to your knees to worship, or sing his name or taste him. You sneak him in, now and then, but he is always just beyond your reach. I grew to long for him so powerfully. I would sit in the sanctuary during a service and lose track of what was going on, gazing out the window at the trees and the sky, catching glimpses of my beloved in the clouds and leaves and birds. Longing. Painfully longing.
The first time I went to a Christian church after leaving Bell Street, I just sat and wept through the whole service. Here am I, Lord. Finally. Finally I can bow down and worship you, my Beloved.
If that longing for worship and connection to God isn't present, what keeps people coming? What draws people out of bed and into the complicated world of group relationships?
I don't know.
I am tremendously grateful for having discovered my longing for God at Bell Street. But I realized yesterday that I will never truly feel at home there, again.
I pray for all the souls who long for you and have not yet found you.
1. Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love.
2. Here I raise my Ebenezer; here by Thy great help I've come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.
3. O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
At Grace, we have done a little drumming lately.
Last week, before the service, we sat out on the front steps and played African and Caribbean drums, much to the surprise of the passers by. We were quite a spectacle, three almost middle aged women and a young man. The young man in question was, unquestionably, the most serious of the four of us. He might have felt a little pressure to be good since he just got back from a trip to Africa. The rest of us were free to stink. People in cars slowed down and rolled down their windows to get a better look. People walked up and talked to us. One man, an older guy, who lives at the shelter I think, said that he used to be a percussionist in a jazz band. (Maybe he can join us next time.)
So, today, I bought a Djembe from the Guitar Center. It is an inexpensive one with a goatskin head and a wooden body. It is African style, although it seems to have been made in Indonesia. I brought it home and played it for awhile before lunch, realizing that my neighbors get to hear every misstep... every bad strike.... every off bang.
I was shy with the kid in the music store. I suddenly felt very middle aged and dorky. I mean, what was I going to say? "I am buying a drum so I can play with my friends at church?" How totally lame. So instead I asked a few technical questions and pulled out my Visa card. "I'll take it."
Friday, June 08, 2007
But the truth is, I get nervous in immaculate houses. My kitchen tools gig brings me into them once in awhile. Places that are not only fastidiously clean, but look like no one lives there. I have been in homes where there were no personal effects. All the stuff was purchased, new, from Pier One or some design store. No mementos or artwork. No books or papers or stuff handed down from family members. Sterile. It makes me nervous. It seems unreal to me.
And while it is true that my house could be cleaner, it is also true that unless you are an anal retentive neat freak, you will probably feel at home in it. You will know who we are by the stuff you see on the mantle. You will read the story of our family from the artifacts on the china cabinet that my dad built when he had his first home. It is painted cranberry and stained, now, with thirty years of smoke and grime from our various wood stoves and fireplaces.
My kitchen floor is like an archeology dig: Maybe not pot shards and middens. But the corner of a leaf of yesterday's lettuce or the remnants of a lemonade spill.
Dig in my sink drainer: Green onion, garlic skins, some acrylic paint or a pencil nub.
Our walls are painted earthy colors like cowslip yellow and ochre orange. hanging on it we have an antique Ames shovel, a photo of my dour great grandmother, paintings from friends and kids.
A collection of small animal skulls sits on a shelf.
There are a couple of crosses, too. A ceramic one from the dollar store in the kitchen. A barbed wire one from Arizona in the dining room. And on the mantle, a slate circle with a chi rho symbol carved into it. My dad made it for me.
4 heads of lettuce, for starters. I can't afford that at the regular store, and we go through so much of it because of the rabbit. So I pack my cart with romaine at $1.09 a head.
The meat aisle wasn't a big success. I found boneless chicken breasts for $1.99 a lb. But alas, no ground lamb. Or any lamb, for that matter. And the beef didn't look good.
As I was standing at the meat case wondering what to make for dinner, an employee pulling a big cart was backing out of the double doors to the back room.
"You guys f#$%ing suck..." he laughed. Then he realized that I had heard him.
"Sorry," he apologized. "I didn't realize I was already on the floor"
I smiled at him.
"That's a fine way to say good morning" he joked.
"Let's try it again: Good morning!" he said.
"Good morning!" I laughed.
And it is.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I have been debating about what to do with these for awhile now.
Do I dramatically burn them in my driveway?
Give them to friends?
Give them to my rabbit?
I have really struggled. But in the end, I decided to sell them to the used bookstore for a tiny fraction of what they were worth.
I packed the box up a week ago, combing through my bookshelf for all the books that didn't resonate for my anymore. One by one I pulled them out, blew the dust off and packed them carefully into a big cardboard box. These are the remnants of who I used to be. The decks, especially, were ones that I loved. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a twinge of wistfulness as I packed them up.
So why get rid of them? Because I know that I don't need them anymore. My joy is found in God. My bible is all I the 'oracle' I need. If I am troubled, I take my troubles to Jesus. I don't need to know what is coming around the bend anymore. All I need to know is that when I get there, I will be in God's presence.
I don't want to talk about your future, either. Now, if you are hurting, rather than try and give you answers, I will pray with you and for you. I will point you to the one who has healed me. I will give thanks to him for saving me and ask him to comfort you.
So why sell them? Why NOT get rid of them?
Because they were stepping stones on my journey towards God.
Monday, June 04, 2007
I believe it.
For a couple of years I had a centering prayer practice. I did it very badly. While I was supposed to be emptying my head so I could invite God in, I would often dwell on other things. Some days it was mundane stuff like the groceries or bills. But once in awhile I would meditate on things from my past, with an eye to understanding a situation with more love or compassion or religious clarity.
And every once in awhile, I would experience such a thunderbolt of clarity it would feel like God was holding my head and turning it in the direction he wanted me to look. It felt like he was in the room with me, comforting me when I had to face some truth that had been plaguing me for years.
At those moments, I would feel physically compelled to drop out of the chair I was sitting in and kneel on the floor, face down, the warp and weft of the rug I was on, pressing it's impression into my bare knees, the marks of the wool knots on my forehead.
I would want to lay there for hours, sometimes. But I never did because I would grow impatient with the pain and get up, too soon.
The passage from Revelations yesterday described the elders of Heaven doing the very same thing: Falling on their faces before the Lord. They cast their crowns in front of Him.
What would that mean for me? What crown can I cast before him, I wonder? My biggest crown might very well be my own self. It is the most precious thing I have. Perhaps it is to be tossed in front of God, as a gesture of awe and thanks.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
In the middle of the reading, a huge thunderclap boomed overhead. The church practically shook. So I paused and waited for the sound to die down before continuing:
Reve 4:5 Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6 and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7 the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
"Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come."
9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created."
Saturday, June 02, 2007
I almost cried when I saw their son, who is now 16 and towers over me. I spent a wonderful couple of days with him and the rest of the teens just before leaving Bell Street. We went on retreat, the minister, youth leader and I. We walked the labyrinth and journaled and cooked together and played poker, hung out at the beach at night and recognized in one another the deep longing for spiritual connectedness. Dear Boy was 14 at the time, and interested in Buddhism. I had just inherited a small Thai Buddha statue from my grandmother, which for some reason I chose to bring along on the retreat. And then, for some other reason, chose to give to Dear Boy. He was a little blown away, I think. I had other gifts for the other participants, including the young Christian woman I was mentoring through the coming of age program.
I asked Dear Boy's parents about his spiritual life. Is he meditating? No, they said. He is too into girls and sports right now. They haven't been going to church lately.
Sometimes I forget I am getting old. But I am reminded of it when I see kids growing into adulthood.
I pray, oh Lord, that Dear Boy doesn't bury his longing for you for too long.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Here it is!
1. Think back to the time you left High School, what were your hopes visions and dreams for your life/ for the world?
I wanted to move to Japan and teach English to the children of rich business men. I also wanted to be a filmmaker.
2. Have those hopes visions and dreams changed a lot, or are some of them still alive and kicking? (share one if you can)
LOL, none of those dreams panned out, and really, none of them have survived. My interest in things Japanese faded after a disastrous semester studying the language at the University of Hawaii. And filmmaking, by necessity, took a back seat to earning money. I never really did understand the eyeline match, anyway. I would have ended up making weird western Ozu-like films that no one would have wanted to see.
3. Hebrews 11:1 " Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. " Comforting, challenging or frustrating?
I really have no clue what the first part of that quote means. How does something that is hoped for have substance? The second part is pretty challenging, too, as it is very difficult to find evidence for that which isn't seen.
4. If resources were unlimited, and you had free reign to pursue a vision what would it be?
My answer to this has changed dramatically over the years! Today, I believe it would be to organize some kind of worldwide program for kids of all faiths to get together and build relationships. I think that might just be the hope of the world. In a small way, my church is already doing this and I think that it is kind of a miracle.
5. Finally with summer upon us- and not to make this too heavy- share your dream holiday....where, when and who with...
I dream of going to the Holy Lands.
Really, I have to say, though, that the biggest of my lifelong dreams was to find joy. And that has been achieved, in spades.
Thanks be to God.