Monday, March 31, 2008

Another of my favorite new highs

Ok, in order of importance, the things that get me high:

a. God
b. Playing my djembe
c. Working out at the gym?!?!?!

The first two make sense, right? I mean, of course I get euphoric when God whacks me upside the head. Of course I feel like I am on a happy pill when I am playing drums with my peeps.

But working out? I can't imagine why it is so wonderful. There I am, slogging away on the eliptical trainer, listening to Salif Keita on my Ipod and I just can't stop grinning. While I am working out, I am usually thinking about a. and b. it's true. But sometimes I just want to close my eyes and sing along with the music. (Dangerous and irritating, I think...)

Yeah Planet Fitness.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

I am not sure what the problem is, but I seem to be crying an awful lot lately. Tears of sorrow. Tears of joy. Tears of awe. Tears of grief. Tears of gratitude. I need to keep a big bunch of tissues handy at all times because I swear I never know when I am going to start snuffling. And this isn't just a couple of moist eyes. This isn't the discreet glassy look that happens to some folks. This is great big salty tears rolling down my cheeks and ending up splattered all over the continental shelf that is my chest.

Today in Lectio Divina, it happened yet again. I joked as it started, telling my fellow contemplatives that I am going to start bringing Puffs Plus with Aloe because the chinzy toilet paper I was using to sop up the waterworks is making my nose raw.

Is it Holy week? The death of my sister in law? The trip to Vietnam? God whacking me upside the head with the Holy two by four of Christ? I don't know. I just know I am very raw and right at the surface and when I start to get a sense of God's presence I just can't hold 'em back.

Lectio Divina was incredible today. We had a new friend join us. The gospel was Jesus showing up and letting Thomas feel his wounds. This gospel says TWICE that Jesus showed up even though the door was closed and locked for fear. What a miracle that is. Even when we slam the door shut, he is there. He did that for me. He has done it for others in the Lectio group. I wonder if he has done that with you, too? As I sat and thought about the fact that for decades, I was in the desert of my own life, with the door to Jesus firmly closed, and yet he was still there, I just could not hold back the tears.

Thank you, God. Thank you. What wondrous love is this? Oh my soul.

And thank you, too, Lord,for my fellow travelers. When we gather, you are there.

My Hero

Here's what I am talking about. Check this guy out, my friends.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Not quite centering prayer

While driving home from the vigil of the Altar of Repose the other night, it occurred to me that I don't spend enough time just loving Jesus.

So lately I have been spending at least a bit of my prayer time sitting in silence at his feet, so to speak.

A few years ago I had a Centering Prayer practice. I would sit a couple of times a day, in silent worship. I used a kitchen timer to keep me on track.

This feels different. I have no expectation at all, including a time frame. I just sit (or kneel, or lie down) and, well, think of how much I love him.

Friday Five Millionaire edition

Singing Owl at Revgalblogpals asks what I'd do with a million bucks.

Here's my answer:

1. Tithe, baby. And on the gross, not the piddling net that I'd get after Uncle Sam gets their share. So, Grace Church would be a hundred grand richer.

2. Set up some kind of foundation to help kids in Vietnam go to school. In Vietnam, kids have to pay, even for public school... so the poorest don't get to go. The fee is $20 per year, so I could send a LOT of children to school. I'd buy a little shack in Dalat, too, so my husband and kids could fish in the pond all summer.

3. Pay off the mortgages. Mine, my brother's, my in-law's. All of them.

4. Put some cash away for the kid's education.

5. Buy an African strap for my drum and spend a couple of months in Mali to study drumming. Every year. In fact, maybe I'd set up a drumming school for my teacher and give scholarships to kids who can't afford lessons.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Great Vigil


The church was pitch black, even as the last of the daylight was fading outside. Because there had been a near miss with the new fire at some point in the past, Steve, our sexton, was outside on the church steps kindling an inferno in a flower pot. He had big barbeque gloves on and smoke billowed into the narthex, even through the closed glass doors. The whole scene was so funny I chuckled out loud and got 'shushed' by a woman I didn't know. Maybe her Easter hadn't come yet.

I love the Great Vigil. It is another long service. On Saturday it was almost two hours. There is a lot going on, between the Old Testament readings, the candles, the first Eucharist and the Hallelujah Chorus. But the part I love best of all is the Baptisms.

This year, we had one. It was someone I knew. An adult who has been coming to Grace for quite some time. He has been coordinating the soup kitchen on Saturdays and is a sweet and gentle young man. At first I didn't realize it was he who was getting the dunk. I thought perhaps it was a member of his family. But when no baby appeared in the front pew, I began to put it together.

In our church, we sing the litany of the saints during the procession to and from the Baptismal font. The choir sings the names of the saints and the congregation sings back "stand by us now".

Saint John the Baptist.... stand by us now.
Saint Mary Magdalen.....stand by us now.

D.was walking with his sponsors back towards the font.

I love adult baptisms best of all, because I know what it is like to get socked by the Holy Spirit as an adult. I relive my own baptism and feel great joy at theirs. And I feel privileged to be a witness to the beginning of their transformation.

The next morning, at the Easter service, I approached D.

"Did you get any sleep last night?" I asked.

"No," he laughed.

"The Holy Spirit is going to kick your butt..."

We laughed and hugged.

Because we both knew it was true.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Struck dumb

Good Friday:

Three hour service at Grace. I sit in a pew, alone for most of it, clutching my rosary beads. I can't bear the idea of sitting through those three hours without the Mother with me. Every now and then I pray a decade. I have no idea what mysteries I am praying, except that they are sorrowful.



I am beaming.

I can't stop thinking about the night before. The Vigil at the Altar of Repose. The first time I felt a sense of absolute adoration of our Lord in the consecrated host.


I have a confession scheduled after the service, but I can't think of what I am going to say.

Last year, I was flooded with things to confess during the Good Friday service. I kept looking at my priest, while he was kneeling during the prayers, and thinking of all the things I was going to say to him. By the time the actual confession came, I was beside myself with grief.

But not this time.

This time, I feel light and free and joyful. I have a few things to say, sure. Grave things, even. But I can't help feeling that during the night, while sitting at the feet of my Lord, they were all forgiven.

"It is finished."

The preacher on Good Friday is Bishop Steven Charleston. He's amazing. He walks down the aisle and looks you in the eye. And holds your gaze while what he is saying sinks in. He is talking about the conversion of life. About leaving your pain at the base of the cross. About inviting Jesus, TODAY, to heal you. If there had been an altar call, I swear you'd have seen a church full of Episcopalians step forward.

I praise God during the meditations. But they don't resonate for me. My Easter has already come. It came last night.

The service comes to a close. I kneel as the bells are tolled. It goes on for a long time. People are weeping around me. I weep too, but realize that I am full of


I wait for my priest outside the sacristy. He comes out of the robing room and tells me that the Bishop will hear my confession.

I go into the robing room. There are no confessionals at Grace. The Bishop stands to greet me. There is a chair for me. I sit.

"I feel unprepared, Bishop" I say.

"How so?" he asks.

"I feel like my sins were all forgiven last night. I am not sure I can make a thorough and accurate confession today." I explain about the Altar of Repose.

"Do you wish to continue?" He asks."You don't have to."

I tell him, yes, I want to. I am not sure why.

So we begin. I kneel on a cushion next to the chair and I try to be as searching and as thorough as I can. I mumble a few things. I feel remorseful as I say them, but it is like a retroactive confession. Jesus has already washed me clean.

Finally, I just fall silent. I am praying: Lord, if there is more that you want me to say, please help me remember.


I can't speak for a long time. I wonder if the Bishop is uncomfortable in the silence. Or impatient to get home. Or bored. Or as dumbstruck as I am.

I finally manage to finish.

It is finished.

I am absolved.

I am asked to pray for the Bishop, a sinner, like me.

A man forgiven. Like me.

A man of God.

Like me.

We embrace, say goodbye, go on our way.

For me, Easter came early this year.

Sweet Jesus at the altar

Maundy Thursday:

Only one person signed up for the overnight vigil at the Altar of Repose and she didn't show.

A few emails back and forth between me and my fellow 'altar' coordinator. I agreed to sit the vigil between 10:30pm and 1am. He would sit until 10:30. We'd see if we could find some other folks to sign up at the Maundy Thursday service. I made a few calls and left messages. We agreed that we might have to close the church early if no one came.

I left immediately after the service on Thursday and drove to Cumberland for the monthly drum circle. I know it was weird, book-ending two of the most solemn events of the Triduum with some raucous djembe playing, but I decided, by golly, that if I was going to sit the vigil for hours on end, I might need to blow off a little steam first.

Drumming ended at 10. I raced back to church and entered through the side door. There were two people sitting in the Messiah Chapel. My friend, James, and a man I didn't know.

The big stone altar under the carved image of Jesus was covered with twinkling votive lights and tall glass vases, each with a single stem of some kind of pure white flower. In front of the chalice that contained the consecrated host, there was a red votive light. The church was chilly and quiet. The two men were sitting quietly, in silence.

My new cell phone died, so I had no idea of the time as I sat in the pew. I think hours creeped by.

I wanted to get closer to the consecrated host, so I grabbed a needlepoint kneeling cushion from the rail of the little chapel and moved it to the base of the stone altar on which the chalice was resting. I sat at the base of the altar, my back leaning against it. I closed my eyes and felt like I was in Gethsemane. But strangely, I didn't feel anguish or sadness like I usually do while sitting the Vigil. Instead, I felt a sense of calm, love, forgiveness. Love. I felt like I should be praying, but I kept saying to myself

'Lord, I ask you for nothing. I just want to love you. I just want to love you.'

There was a knock at the side door. My friend Vera arrived. It was midnight.

I went back to my seat at the base of the altar. I was in shadow, so I don't think I was distracting to the others. Eventually James and the other man left.

I sat at his feet. I leaned against the stone.

Just let me love you, Lord.

I wanted to kiss the chalice that held the host, but I was afraid I'd knock it over or get lipstick on the beautiful white embroidered cover.

So I just sat at his feet. Just let me love you, Lord. Nothing else. Just love you.

I felt a great sense of joy that I could sit like this. I knew that if I was anywhere other than my own Grace church, I'd have to sit in a pew... which is ok, too. But truly, I wanted to be as close to the Host as I could. I wanted to be right there.

Just let me love you Lord. Nothing else.

I got up. Some of the candles had gone out. I gently pulled replacements from the glass bowl they were held in. I gingerly moved the little vases aside and brought the glass votives to the front of the altar, so as not to knock over a vase or disturb the chalice. I replaced the white wax disks and carefully lit them, sliding them back into position.

Just let me love you, Lord. Nothing else.

I sat back down and lay my cheek against the cold stone of the altar. I had been weeping the whole time.

Finally, I heard Vera moving about and opened my eyes. She was standing, looking at the altar, at the carved image of Jesus, at the chalice. I stood up and walked over to her. Gave her a hug. Held her for a moment.

Then the two of us sat on the steps that lead up to the altar and started talking about what Jesus has done for us in our lives. We witnessed to the power of his love. Shared our doubts and fears. Smiled at Jesus' patience with us.

There was a knock at the side door. My friend Paul was standing there, waiting.

It was 3am.

He came in and said that he would stay until dawn.

Vera and I walked out into the cold night, empty streets, full moon. I got in my car and drove home.

Just let me love you, Lord.

Nothing else.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A new Friend

My friend, John, has become a real Friend. This week he joined the Religious Society of Friends.

We have been corresponding for a few years now...and this is a huge shift for him. But lucky for us, he is starting to blog about it, so you can follow the story yourself.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Palm Sunday was a busy day for me. I was playing drums for the procession around the church and I was reading the part of Jesus in the Passion narrative. I was distracted and a little nervous.

Then, I walked into the church and saw all the crosses shrouded in red fabric and truly, I choked. I wanted to just crawl down the aisles on my knees and beg him to forgive us.

I have asked my parish priest to hear my confession on Good Friday and I am almost sick at the thought of sitting for three hours listening to the last words and THEN having to go in there and tell my priest all the crap that I do, day in day out, that holds me back from God.

Oh, Jesus. Your mercy is great.

Holy Week is here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ashes to ashes

It has been a tough week around here. My husband's 46 year old sister died, unexpectedly, on Friday, from complications after a mastectomy.

I was out of town at a conference and didn't have my cell phone charged. On Saturday evening I came back and heard the bad news. We are pretty shattered.

This week has been a kind of slow motion process of getting ready for a wake and funeral, and then actually going through it. On Monday night we went to the funeral home and saw her laid out.

I grew up in a culture where death was never faced head on. We didn't do wakes or funerals in my family. At best, we would do some sort of an informal memorial gathering, using weeks or even months after the actual death. Everyone was quietly cremated. We never saw the body. We never went to church. We never did any of that.

I have come to feel that it is better to just come face to face with it. There was something beautiful and extraordinary about touching my sister in law's body. Holding her hand. Runny my hands over her hair. Kissing her forehead. Smoothing her dress. Her flesh was cold. There was no life there. But those were the exact things we would have done in life and it was comforting, even as we knew that she was already in the arms of God.

Chau was loved deeply. At 9 months old, she had slipped from death's fingers when she survived a terrible illness. She didn't escape unscathed, however. Her brain was permanently and profoundly damaged from the fever. She had epilepsy. She was paralyzed on one side of her body. She was mute. She probably understood at about a 3 year old's level. In a family that is uncomfortable with physical affection, she was always doted on and adored. She loved kids and they loved her. My niece, from the time she was an infant, was incredibly attached to her. Chau would even share her dolls with Emma. It was a sweet relationship.

At Swan Point Cemetery, in Providence, they let you go to the cremation. So after the wake and the mass yesterday, this morning found us on a rainy, cold day, saying a last goodbye. We arrived at the chapel early and sat waiting. She arrived in a big cardboard box, which made me smile a little. The funeral home guys wheeled the box in on a cart and stood back to let us have some time with her. We took off the lid to have a last moment. Then we followed her into the room, watched as they loaded her into the furnace and my brother in law pressed the button to start the process.

Later, as I sat with my boys, I asked if they were scared about it. No, they said. I reminded them about what we heard on Ash Wednesday, that God makes us from dust and to dust we return.

Chau is not dust. She is in Heaven with God.

Thank you, Jesus, for the 46 years. We know they were a gift.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Banh Xiao


Nguyen took this picture last time he was in Vietnam. It of a girl making the pancakes I keep talking about.
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Monday, March 03, 2008

Crash landing

My parents said that they got very depressed when they got back to Newfoundland after the trip to Vietnam.

I was too busy to be depressed, but today, finally, it hit. I just feel... ugh.

Luckily, my drumming class is tonight and I hope it will pick up my spirits.

In the mean time, a couple of stories from the trip:

An afternoon in.

We wanted to stay in the hotel, one lunchtime, because we were all tired and going into the streets in Nha Trang was, in itself, exhausting sometimes. Nguyen went to the lady that made banh xiao, the little rice flour pancakes stuffed with seafood and dipped into fish sauce. A few minutes later he came back with enough for each of us to have 4 of them. And 6 china bowls for the fish sauce. And 6 china plates for the banh xiao. And 6 pairs of chopsticks. And a plastic bag with the liquid sauce in it. And another with the lettuce and cilantro and hot peppers. The lady must have thought he was a little crazy to ask for 24 banh xiao to go, but by this point he was a regular, so she entrusted him with all the gear on his word he would bring it all back, clean. Which he did, of course. (We washed it all in the sink of our hotel room!)

The total cost was less than $5.


I never felt comfortable photographing the locals because it felt a little intrusive. But Nguyen had no such hesitation.

One morning he went to the market near our hotel in Saigon and started taking photos of the ladies in the food stalls. They must have thought he was Japanese because of his big camera! So they started joking about him in Vietnamese, saying he should pay them 5000 dong each to take their pictures. He laughed and said, "how about 10,000?" (about 65 cents) They were a little embarrassed he understood them, but told him that tourists often take pictures in the market, but never come back with the photos.

Nguyen came back to hotel and found a photo processor across the street. While we mosied around the neighborhood, the store was making prints from our digital card. A couple of hours later, the kids, Nguyen and I returned to the market and started handing out the pictures. The ladies laughed their heads off! And were so thrilled, too. They fussed over the kids and asked me lots of questions that I didn't understand. Some of the ladies who didn't get pictures were disappointed, so we promised to come back some day and take their pictures, too.

Today's lunch.

I miss the food in Vietnam, so today for lunch I made a little stir fried beef with Chinese broccoli and noodles. It took me about 10 minutes, cost less than a McDonald's lunch and tasted almost as good as the street stall noodles I ate in Nha Trang. Plus, I used less than 3 ounces of beef, so I have plenty for dinner tonight, too.

Screw the South Beach diet.