Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Rave

Today I'll give equal time to the other side:

Top Ten Things I Love About Riding the Subway:

1. The haunting music of the Aztec flutes as I ride the escalator up from the 7 Train.

2. People who give up their seats to the elderly or young mothers with children.

3. Getting there in half the time of a bus or taxi.

4. The magic of perfect timing when I'm changing trains.

5. The neverending diversity of performers, hustlers, panhandlers.

6. Watching the rats scurry along the tracks.

7. Helping a stranger find their way to the right train.

8. The mosaics, tilework and other decoration.

9. Churros.

10. Grand Central Station.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thursday Rant

Every Thursday I ride the Subway over to St. Bart's to do my community ministry. Most days it's a really efficient and inexpensive way to get clear across town, with only a minimum of rudeness and inconvenience. I must just be in a bad mood today, because today's ride prompted the following:

Top Ten Things I Hate About Riding the Subway:

1. People who lean against the pole so there's nowhere to hold on, except way up high or crotch level. Neither option gives a good grip.

2. Men who sit with their knees spread wide open so their rear-end takes up one seat and each leg takes up half a seat on either side.

3. People who stand smack dab in the middle of the spot that says "Step Aside". What do thy think that means, anyway?

4. Spitters.

5. People who insist on blocking the doorway; won't move into the middle of the car so other people can fit in.

6. People who won't wait for those getting off before they try to shove their way in.

7. People who think the floor is their personal trash can.

8. Metrocard toll machines that say "swipe again" and again... and again...

9. Loudspeakers that squawk/distort the message into some foreign language.

10. People who cluelessly block traffic... i.e.: don't notice that the right side of the escalator is for standing and the left side is the fast lane for those who like to climb.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Belief-O-Matic™ knows

Even if YOU don't know what faith you are, Belief-O-Matic™ knows. Answer 20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Matic™ will tell you what religion (if any) you practice...or ought to consider practicing.

Okay, I'm always up for a quiz, especially if it's remotely related to spiritual topics. So I answered the twenty questions and came up with:

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%) What!?! Some of my worst memories are of a UU church we attended during my second marriage. (Apologies to all UU's, but this particular church pushed every one of my buttons.) First of all, as a Christian I was unwelcome. Granted, we were living in the Bible belt and there were Christian churches in abundance, but the point of us attending the UU church to begin with was to find a compromise for worship somewhere. I was told (laughingly), "We're a church for fallen Christians and saved Jews." Excuse me? that meant they slighted both religions equally. In addition, after each sermon, (address,) there was not a time of quiet contemplation before moving on to the next order of service, there was a "talk back session." Anyone who felt inclined to stand up and soapbox their own views was permitted to do so. This included critiquing the speaker's address, arguing his references... oh, just picture a general free-for-all. It drove me crazy. Yet apparently 100% of my answers fit the UU profile. Go figure.

2. Liberal Quakers (99%) Really? I know nothing of what Quakers believe, but I guess I believe most of it. Who knew?

3. Hinduism (98%) ???? Maybe. I like elephants and Gods with lots of arms.

4. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (96%) Okay, now we're talking.

5. Mahayana Buddhism (92%) I didn't know there were different kinds. Gotta look this one up.

6. Neo-Pagan (87%) No surprises there.

7. Orthodox Quaker (87%) As opposed to Liberal Quaker, that is.

8. Theravada Buddhism (80%) Now I really have to do some studying.

9. New Age (69%) Oh please. How passé.

10. New Thought (63%) What the devil is new thought?

And the list goes on... apparently I believe in 50% or more of the principles of Reform Judaism, Seventh Day Adventist, Jainism, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Sikhism, Taoism and the Bahá'í Faith. (I missed being a Scientologist by 2%)
So what does this all mean anyway? Aside from the fact that I'm not locked into any religion's dogmatic precepts, it essentially tells me that many faith disciplines subscribe to the same precepts. Maybe we should shift our focus to just how much we share in common rather than how much we disagree.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I miss the mountains...

A friend gave me some tickets to the Broadway Cabaret Festival last night. I haven't had tickets to really good live entertainment in years, and the whole experience was amazing. I used to work in a profession where tickets were available on a pretty regular basis, and I got spoiled. Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Broadway... I saw some wonderful Broadway shows, plays, classic operas, all the important symphonies. I was spoiled in that I came to appreciate what New York really has to offer in the way of excellence. I used to dress up for these free events. I once bought an evening gown (at Filene's Basement) for a New York Philharmonic opening night. Those were the days...

Last night's performance featured two amazing singers, each with her own style, reunited for the first time since a Tony award nominated duo in Sideshow. They sang together and separately, each with her own unique presence and style. One of the songs: I Miss the Mountains was rendered in such an understated and heart-breaking manner that it made me cry. (I cry at the drop of a hat, but that's beside the point.) I don't remember the source, but apparently it was from a musical about a mother who had suffered bipolar disorder and had been successfully medicated. The medicine exacts a heavy price to abort the cycle of manic to depressive to manic again. Life is evened out, pleasant perhaps, but no longer very exciting. I can relate, in more ways than one. My oldest child is medicated for this disorder, his teenage son was recently diagnosed. Both of them have traded their destructive emotional roller coasters for a flat ride.

Where did this chromosome for soaring highs and plummeting lows come from? While I have never exhibited symptoms requiring me to be medicated, I have consistently and instinctively chosen the opposite ends of the pendulum to swing toward. My emotions range from deliriously joyful to sorrowfully depressed, and I seem to shun the intermediate states of pleasant, peaceful, even tempered. A lot of those wild swings have mellowed with age, but I do understand the longing for the mountains.

And on another level, I look at my current life. Friends, who knew me before, say I appear more peaceful, grounded. Yes, that's true. And there are moments...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

I have to be moving.

When I was younger I used to think I was not a normal human being. It began in junior high when I thought I could not possibly have been my mother's child, so I must have been adopted. My mother was not amused. Later in college, I thought I might be some kind of fallen angel, with too much wisdom and too little experience to cope in the human world of emotions. My shoulder blades stuck out when I was a kid. I would reach around and feel them... was I sprouting something or were these nubs left over from some hack job? Over time the possibilities widened... alien? Someone who had been abducted by aliens?

Of course in the end I had to face the fact that I am as human (and normal) as everyone else. Bummer. You mean I have no excuses? No mysterious and incredible story to explain the pain, the talent, the insight, the turmoil? It would seem not. And yet...

I have an affinity for things angelic. I'm drawn to pictures of them, to stories about their hierarchy, to the notion of six wings. I have spent hours drawing possible configurations of where all six of those wings might attach, how they would flap to achieve liftoff. I personally like the standard two wings coming out of the shoulder blades routine, but they look terribly heavy. (As a young woman, I longed for large breasts too, but couldn't possibly carry that weight on the front of my body, no matter how much guys were attracted to them.) Would that much weight on the back of your body be a problem?

In my dreams I fly without wings. I really just soar, actually. I take a bounding leap and magically stay aloft. Sometimes I sail off a cliff, sometimes just get up speed on a long stretch of beach. I have to be moving though, it's key. Wonder what that's about?

Friday, October 20, 2006

Oh get a grip!

My mind is racing a million miles an hour. There is no peace, only a hectic, frenetic chaos of thoughts... What brings this on is beyond me. I try to listen for the still and the small, but everything is large and noisy and demands equal attention.

This too shall pass. I know that. But buzzing is not necessarily unpleasant. It can be a diversion from decision making, from obligations, from responsibility to (and for) my life.

I'm not feeling especially responsible today. I want to goof off, sleep, drink a glass of wine. I've been working hard and although it's not all done, it's winding down, and that's the worst time for me. It's close enough to burnout that I start blowing things off, but I'm not so fried that I can't rally when I have to.

Three deliveries at the church yesterday... lots of groceries. Lift that barge, tote that bale... it occurred to me that I do the same work on Thursdays that my first husband does full time. He's a "Grocery Manager", which he informed me was a glorified title for "stock boy." He's not happy with this job. I thought about that too. I love stocking shelves. I love the whole space management challenge, the attention to detail of rotating what came in last week to the front. I love that this is a service to my colleagues who serve the poor. And I only do it on Thursdays. How would it be doing this kind of manual labor six days a week? (Probably not so joyful.) I volunteer my time; he does it to put food on the table. So, even though we essentially do the same tasks, it's not the same. Yesterday I came home late, so tired I went straight to bed. No supper, no Compline, just hit the pillow. Wonder if it's like that for him?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Did Jesus have a bipolar disorder?

Luke 10: 17-24
Okay, okay... I realize for some those will be fighting words. Burn-me-at-the-stake words in a past life, but then the term bipolar hadn't been coined when women who ask spiritual questions were being burned. I would have been toasted for some other reason, equally valid (or ridiculous) depending upon your point of view.

Today's Gospel got me to thinking along those lines, so if you're not offended yet, bear with me. The seventy (two) have just returned triumphant. They have successfully ousted demons and cured illnesses in the name of Jesus and are flying high. Jesus, himself, is unusually exuberant. "I watched Satan fall like a lightning bolt." and he goes on to say some very uncharacteristic things about himself: "I have given you authority to tread on scorpions and snakes and over all the power of the enemy and nothing will hurt you... All things have been handed over to me by my Father and... the only ones who know the Father besides me, are the ones I choose." (my paraphrase) Pretty darn sure of himself at this point. And sure enough to tell his disciples they can't be hurt. Uh oh.

Jesus has not yet begun to talk in terms of the suffering Messiah. That comes later. (Later... when he spirals down?) But if Scripture doesn't lie, and I never said it did, then there's a huge shift about to happen in this same man who in this passage is boisterously confident in a way I've only witnessed as a manic state, either from cocaine or illness. (And I know of no reference to Jesus and coke in the Bible.) It was just a thought.

Monday, October 16, 2006


When we do what's called "African Bible Study" we read the appointed passage from three translations. After each reading, there's a different response. The first go-round, you simply repeat a word or short phrase that pinged for you during the reading. (If nothing pinged, you make up something.) The second time is more of a current events question: How does this passage relate to you in the world today? Then lastly: What are you called to do (or think about) based on the passage and discussion? Easy enough. Except the things that pop into my head at the time, are almost never the things I wind up with at the end of the day. I've only begun to notice that. Life at Melrose was often so busy that once Bible study was done, I was done, and on to the next activity. Here it carries with me throughout the day. My life is more solitary in the city. I have larger chunks of time alone in my cell, to work on design projects, my Lincoln Center file conversions, my own blog. All that quiet is conducive to deeper (if erratic) thought.

My spiritual director asked about my prayer life, my meditation... how was that going? She wanted to know if I counted my blog as meditation. Well, no. Not exactly. I would, she said. Really? Cool.

Well of course it's a form of meditation. I think, I write what I think, I revise what I write, and in the process think of something else. And I do write for an audience, so I can't just blather on, naming names and asking God to "fix it" like I might do in a private journal. (Like I always did in my private journal.) No this seems much more adult to me. I have to redeem my own situations a lot of the time. Isn't that also what co-creating with God is about? I think so.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Easier for a camel...

Mark 10: 17-27

Today's Gospel is the one preachers like to avoid, especially if they have lots of wealthy parishioners. The rich will have a hard time getting into heaven. Ouch. Our celebrant this morning seemed relieved to be preaching to the choir on this one... after all, most monastic communities have the vow of poverty as a mainstay of their rule. Each woman I know who has entered here has given up a lot in the way of earthly possessions to arrive on the doorstep. Not all of it has been sold and/or given to the poor, though, as Jesus instructs the young man in today's parable.

I chose my recipients for the things I gave away. Some friends got clothes, others furniture, my daughters-in-law got jewelry. Some items went to the Goodwill or Salvation Army... but nothing was sold, or the proceeds given to the poor. Even in giving away, I was in control of who got what.

Nor is it all gone. I still have ten boxes stored in a friend's attic in Queens. They contain items I might need if I discern I'm not called to (or fit for) this life. Things like: a couple of towels, a blanket, some mugs, a pot to boil water. Lots of the boxes contain books... art reference books mostly, things I couldn't bring here but wasn't ready to part with if I had to start over. If and when I make this a life profession, those things must be disposed of, either assimilated into the community's store or given away. Most of what's left will be easy to unload (I think.) I was saving it for a rainy day, and once you make your life profession you figure you'll just cope with the rain.

The young man in today's story had many possessions. And Jesus essentially said: blow it all way... and then come follow me. So the man went away grieving. Grieving. What was he grieving? That he couldn't follow Jesus? That the test was too difficult and he wasn't ready (or able) to even attempt it? We don't know. All we know is he went away grieving. It doesn't say he went away mad. It doesn't say that.

Grief is something that washes over us in stages. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book on death and dying, outlining the five stages of grief. The final stage was acceptance. Maybe this young man reached that stage, did what Jesus required and came back later. We know that Jesus loved him... asked him to follow him. We don't know what went through Jesus' mind either as the young man walked off, except that he immediately told his disciples just how hard it is to find the kingdom of God if you're wealthy.

Our celebrant shed some light on why that is: for one, money gives us a sense of security, even when we know (intellectually) that it can't buy love or good health. We feel more in control of our options when there's money at hand to throw at a problem. But when you're poor, the only option you have is to trust in God. Nothing is secure, nothing is safe. Only God can help you then. Exactly. Who else would be in control in God's kingdom except God?

Saturday, October 14, 2006


A sower went out to sow... (Luke 8: 1-18)

Thus began yesterday's Bible study. We talked about all the familiar interpretations we've heard concerning this parable: finding the different kinds of soil within each one of us... that it's not just about those people, but about each of us on any given day. That some of the words of God are harder to hear than others, so we receive those words with a different attitude. We talked about thorns and gravel and the incredible waste involved in sowing seeds all over the place. What responsible farmer does that? Don't they plow, carefully prepare the beds, and then carefully plant each seed within the beds?

Apparently not God. God seems to have an abundance of seeds to scatter, and if some fall on the road for the birds to eat, well they just do. Extravagant. (My first husband once called me extravagant because I'd spent nearly half his paycheck on baby pictures of our six month old son. He didn't mean it in a nice way. I took it badly.)

ex‧trav‧a‧gant [ik-strav-uh-guhnt]

1. spending much more than is necessary or wise; wasteful: an extravagant shopper. (that would be me)
2. exceeding the bounds of reason, as actions, demands, opinions, or passions. (that would be God... on the cross)
3. going beyond what is deserved or justifiable: extravagant praise. (God again)
4. Obsolete. wandering beyond bounds. (maybe that's God too)

One through three are familiar enough, but I've never come across the definition from number four before. Wandering beyond bounds? What does that mean? Our God certainly wanders beyond the boundaries of time and space, of physical matter. The laws of physics are defined and suspended at His command. How does that fit with obsolete? Oh I get it.
A sower went out to sow... no farmer sows like that anymore. But maybe they once did. Once, when both non-genetically modified seed and the word of God were abundant enough to scatter.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The need for sacrifice

My mother had a martyr-complex. It became her identity. I was saying this to my spiritual director last week, as she helped me probe into why I need to rescue the underdog in many situations... why I am attracted to the notion of loving someone in a sacrificial manner (in theory anyway).

I did not describe my mother with the venom I once had for this martyrdom notion. (It's been a long time since I was the object of her sacrificial love.) However, that the same action which repelled me in her, would be evident in me, is not lost on me. I am my mother afterall.

"Your mother was endangered." she said. I hadn't thought of it that way. I always perceived her as a fighter, resilient— damaged, yes, but still... a tough old bird when it came right down to it. She was endangered. Fragile. Like we all are in God's eyes. There is an innate desire in most of us to protect the fragile, to rescue them from harm's way. I once poured my mother's whiskey down the sink. It may have been a pathetic attempt to remove what I thought was harmful, but it didn't stop her from buying another bottle. Neither has God's sacrifice stopped the human race from its hell-bent path of destruction.

Or has it? Sacrifice may not be just for the recipients. There may be something even more basic in the need for it that we are missing. What is it you haven't told us, God?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


cru‧ci‧ble  [kroo-suh-buhl]

1. a container of refractory material used for heating substances to high temperatures.
2. Metallurgy. a hollow area at the bottom of a furnace in which the metal collects.
3. a severe, searching test or trial.

I get bored so easily. It's one of my faults. I don't know how to undo a fault like boredom, except to make sure I keep myself busy, try new things, vary my schedule as much as possible.

Keep myself busy. No problem today. I'm supper cook, afternoon doorbell girl, I have a 1:00 appointment. I'm in the process of printing and cutting over a thousand pet medal tags for a giftshop I do occasional work for... I've just sent off today's braille and large print files to Lincoln Center... are you tired? Not me, I'm energized.

My printer was on the blink for several days and has just been repaired. (Thank heaven for service contracts.) I have a stack of printing projects on the back burner too. I ask myself... what is it about all this work that makes me happy? Because it does. Aside from the boredom issues, I must have work/worthiness issues. If I can work, I can feel good about myself. Until of course, I work too long and hard and experience burnout. Then I don't feel so good about anyone.

Balance. It's a tight rope you must struggle to stay on in community. It's very easy to fall off on either side. But my balance point is not the same as yours; we are unique. And understanding that one sister may need more rest on any given day than another is part of the mix. Realizing that I need more rest in any given day is even harder. This place is a crucible for sure, and I am blessed to be swimming in the heated soup of our various personalities. If you can't stand the heat you'd better not join a convent.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

an unpaid political announcement from the ostrich

The National Council of Churches, an ecumenical organization made up of all kinds of Christian churches and communities (from Orthodox to Baptist, Methodist to Quakers... Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, Anglican, African-American——you name it) has published a pamphlet called "Christian Principals in an Election Year." (Who knew?)

Since I've had my head in the sand for a lifetime, I had (have) a lot of catching up to do. I consider myself a middle-of-the-road Christian. I know that may sound strange coming from a nun, but I am not the evangelical sort, who feels the whole world needs to know and believe in Jesus. Nor am I the sort who believes every word in the Bible came from the mouth of God. I believe in Jesus, but I read the Bible with a skeptical eye. I read the Universe Story, the Gnosticc gospels, The Tao of Pooh... I listen to the birds. And a little birdie told me about this pamphlet (thank you, Daniel).

It lists ten points to consider when you choose your candidate come November. It gives you the websites for voters' registration, and a study guide if you want to form a group to discuss all this stuff. If you want more information, the site is here.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

and now a word from our sponsor...

I have always hated politics... in all its forms, from office politics (for which I was never any good) to national politics, where I must choose somebody to represent me from an array of names that mean nothing to me. For most of my life I have left politics to the politicians, better equipped to deal with the issues. I have refused to vote on so many occasions, claiming that my right to not choose was just as valid as any peer-imposed responsibility to choose. Besides, everyone I ever voted for in a national election lost... believe me, if you're running, you don't want my vote.

The fact that this is a lame excuse is beside the point. The truth is, I was an artist, too busy being creative to give a damn. So... why now a sudden interest in who's running the world? Because they seem to be going to hell in a handbasket? More probably because they're going to take me with them. One straw that broke this nun's back was the recent Senate vote that anybody not a citizen of the United States can be declared an "enemy combatant." A what?

An enemy combatant is anybody that the president says is an enemy combatant. We are talking George Bush here, not some statesman with a record for fairness and sound decision making. But that's beside the point. The fact that our country deliberately instituted checks and balances (no matter how imperfectly they function in reality) was because absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hitler gained that kind of power at a time when the German people were their most vulnerable. He preyed on their need for something (a scapegoat) to make sense of the losses in their lives. He used the Jews. "It's all their fault. If we get rid of them, our troubles will be over. Besides, they crucified our Lord."

Are we any different? We are using Muslims, Arabs, anybody who looks remotely like Osama bin Laden. Our president is preying on our fears of terrorist attack, picking names out of the wind. He's as crazy as Hitler. And for anyone who's checking, the Jews did not crucify Jesus, the Romans did.

An enemy combatant can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any rights. They can stand naked in cold rooms and be beaten by interrogators. They have no right to see the evidence against them, no right to a lawyer to examine this documentation, and there is no appeal. This law does not sound like The United States of America, yet it was passed by sixty-five United States senators.

How could this happen? I must have been asleep at the wheel. Lots of Germans disagreed with Hitler, suspected he was mad, but were afraid to do anything, to say anything, with good reason. The Gestapo was right around the corner. If you listen carefully, you can hear the siren down the street. It could be coming for your neighbor.

God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love, and of a sound mind.— II Timothy 1:7

Monday, October 02, 2006

Beware Musicians

Have I mentioned that I flunked out of college? Flunked out... do they still use that term? I've done so many stupid things in my life (usually over men), that this one seems miniscule. My first year was such a wild combination of lonely, scary, exciting, new... that from this distance it seems to have passed in a heartbeat. (Maybe time is like that for God. I'm sixty solar years old. God is a gazillion solar system years old. He/she blinks and another thousand species have gone extinct.) But I digress...

In my second semester of college I met a guy who asked me out. He was a musician, who, on the first date asked if I was a virgin. Excuse me? Of course. (Hey, this was the early sixties, and up until then my only boyfriend had been a total prude.) Well that opening conversation led to my requesting a written description of me in twenty-five words or less. He complied with a thoughtful (hand-written) note in twenty-three words, that ended with "even though you are a virgin."

Many hand-written notes followed. We dated and corresponded this way throughout the spring. (First class postage was five cents then.) I was in heaven... finally, mail in my mailbox. My abandonment issues with the older boyfriend were forgotten, as I diverted all my energy to this new crush.

His talent was obvious... He played both piano and organ and sang in the choir. Often, on Sunday afternoons, he would take me to choral evensong at the Episcopal boys school across the river where he had a part-time job as organist and choir master. I met his musician friends, his priest friends. We were an item.

But my virginity was such an issue. (In retrospect, it may have been a dark hobby of his, seducing young women. I can't speak to his motivations, only to the fact that I wasn't the first, nor would I be the last, to finally comply, only to be dumped.)

But I'm jumping to the end of the story. That's another chapter...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Need for Prophesy

Our church's hymnal lays out the various songs in categories. There's service music for the Daily Offices and celebration of the Eucharist, seasonal music, (Christmas, Easter, etc.) music for specific times of day, (morning, noon, evening). Holy days, Saints' days, special Communion music... you get the picture.

The music at the end of the book is much more general. Classifications like Christian Life, Jesus Christ, The Church's Mission abound, and musicians can choose from close to four hundred hymns from these selections. Our final hymn today was from the group called Christian Responsibility. I'd never noticed that one before.

A Jewish proverb warns: if you hear something three times, take heed. No kidding.

We were reminded today that now is the time of the holiest of Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur, that in our Christian calendar we have very little that echoes their annual focus on deep repentance and reconciliation. We have Lent. Lent, which sometimes turns into forty days of self-absorbed fasting, culminating with Jesus death and resurrection, which saves us from all those sins we've been brooding over. But the focus for Yom Kippur is action. Not Jesus' action, but our own. Make the call, repay the debt, apologize, forgive, let go.

Ah yes, Let go. In the Old Testament lesson, Moses was heartsick and exhausted from all the whimpering of the people under his care. They wanted something to eat besides manna. Meat, garlic, leeks... a little variety in their diet. All they could remember was: they ate those things in Egypt. Not the slavery, just the garlic. So God spread the wealth of the spirit he had given Moses to the Elders of the tribes... and they prophesied. That's it. Nothing else. They just prophesied. Apparently the people quieted down. Why was that? What prophetic words shut them up?

Our celebrant suggested that prophesy is a truth that people need to hear. Prophesy is not necessarily about changing the circumstances within which we live, but about making a truth known so that we who hear it will change. Just one of the responsibilities we have as Christians is to speak and listen to prophesy. To be changed by it.

Our final hymn spoke to our times, to our country's self-absorption with protection, to our decision to wage war with anyone who is not "for us" rather than, as Jesus said, checking out who is actually "against us."

... Races and peoples, lo we stand divided...
by wars and tumults love is mocked, derided...

Lust of possession worketh desolations;
There is no meekness in the powers of earth,
Led by no star, the rulers of the nations
still fail to bring us to the blissful birth:
thy kingdom come, O Lord, thy will be done.