Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Spokane, Washington: Living Stones Conference

It has been a long time since I've stayed In a hotel room. There was a double-wide full length mirror right outside the bathroom. (It's been a long time since I've seen myself in a full length mirror too.) My roommate was gone to a coordinators' meeting and I was alone for the morning. I puttered around, made coffee, sampled the hotel's shower gel, meditated on the conference ahead of us. When I'm alone I forget to close the bathroom door... it's a carryover from my life outside community, when the only person I ever worried about walking in on me was the cat.

So there I sat, attending to nature's call... I looked up and saw myself in the mirror. Flashback!! It was fifty-seven years ago. I was in kindergarten. Or primary school, or whatever they called it back then, and by accident, I had just walked in on another little girl sitting on the toilet.

The encounter couldn't have lasted longer than two or three seconds... I apologized and shut the door and waited my turn. But when she was gone, I tried what I had seen... she had been sitting sideways on the toilet seat. I had no idea why she did it. Maybe her little behind felt safer with less of a gap, but she was also lovely and popular and I desperately wanted to be that. If sitting sideways meant I could have it, then I would sit sideways too.

I copied that one action so that I could mirror her beauty, her personality and her popularity. It doesn't exactly work that way, I know. But I was four years old. Why then, almost sixty years later was I sitting sideways on a toilet seat in a hotel in Spokane? It made me chuckle, but it reminded me of how we do, in fact, mirror each other all the time.

We mirror each other's beauty, flaws, idiocyncracies. If we do that, is it so far-fetched to wonder if we are not also mirrors for God? We want what God has... union, peace, understanding... and wasn't it nice God gave us a human example we could try to copy?

Monday, February 26, 2007


Trying to understand God... now that's a foolish endeavor... a little like trying to capture quicksilver between your fingers. I remember when I was small, the dentist would pour a drop of mercury into my palm and I would watch it roll around in a little ball. If I tried to pick it up, it would disintegrate into a smear of nothingness. I was never content to just let it roll, I had to keep trying to pick it up. And so it is with this continual desire to pick God up and see exactly what He/She's made of.

It's probably one of the cosmic jokes... that we (as a species) keep trying to apply intellect to a puzzle that only requires heart to solve. A puzzle that requires centering and stillness and an openness to let all the illusions of the physical plane just disappear. How many times have I been shown that letting something go is the only way to go? A zillion? Probably. Still... I'll try to pick this up just one more time...

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Not over til the fat lady sings...

Luke 4: 1-13
Today's Gospel from Luke describes Satan's defeat in the desert... all three of his temptations coming down to the question of power and when to use it. It was not that Jesus never used his power to create bread out of nothing, He did it quite willingly and easily when five thousand hungry people were stranded with him in a deserted area. It was the when and how of power that the devil (and many of his disciples) did not understand.

In this passage, the devil and Jesus both quote scripture to each other, (a point that should not be lost on those of us looking for Bible-based reinforcement for our own fears and preferences.) But the crux of our celebrant's sermon this morning was from the ending of Luke's narrative: When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

This particular battle may have been over, but the war still raged. Satan had lost a skirmish, but he was not defeated. Three years later, he was able to use Judas to achieve his purposes, able to sway Peter in a night of weakness. He was not defeated by a long shot.

Our celebrant also made an interesting point that when Jesus warned Peter that "Satan has asked to sift you like wheat" that the pronoun you was not stated in the singular in the Greek, but in the plural, implying a greater you than just Peter himself... implying anyone who would follow Jesus, then or centuries later. That would be us. "The adversary prowls like a roaring lion" but I think more often, the adversary quietly uses fear, personal preference, greed, and our insufferable pride to trip us up and knock us down.

The war is not over, the fat lady has not sung: God Bless America. What we do with the current temptations of power, as individuals and as a nation, remain to be seen. Scripture tells us: "but Christ is on our side." The best temptation the devil can use is to dupe us into thinking that means we are right, or invincible. We are neither.

Friday, February 23, 2007

In the wilderness

"The wilderness" is an expression we toss around a lot during Lent. We think we must go there (like Jesus did). For some, that means giving up the comforts of home, because in the wilderness you only have what you took with you, and because it was heavy to carry, you didn't take all that much. But I've known people to go into the wilderness well-prepared, like girl scouts, with a camper-trailer-full of amenities they didn't wish to leave behind... food, books, extra clothing in case it got cold at night. I've done it myself, and my wilderness experience, while adequate, did not transform me all that much.

Scripture tells us Jesus was driven into the wilderness. He probably was not prepared, and he may not have wanted to go. That is the wilderness we find ourselves in most unexpectedly sometimes. If he went, high on God's beautiful and powerful words about him, then those words probably did not sustain him for long. Forty days is a long time to be without food or water... in fact, it's physically impossible for humans to survive that long with nothing to eat or drink. So given the metaphor of forty meaning: a long damn time, what we know is that he was certainly ready for it to be over.

That is where I find myself when I am there... ready for it to be over. I am lost. The usual landmarks of my life, my faith... no longer point in any direction that have meaning. I am tired of being hungry, tired of being tired. I want it to be over. That transformation even occurs at all in these times, seems a miracle to me. And yet something happens. Always.

Living inside a wilderness experience when your friends and loved ones are still present is the most difficult I think. Because they want it to be over as well. It is not easy to sit by while someone you care for is going through crisis. They cannot bring you water even though they sense that you are parched. You must find the water for yourself.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Such stuff are dreams made of...

Yesterday was my first day back from living on Pacific time for the previous five days. Coming home in the middle of the night before Ash Wednesday had its challenges. For one, I wasn't sure I could wake up in Eastern time, especially since I didn't seem to be falling asleep in anybody's time. (I love to travel... but it both wires me up and wipes me out.)

I did get up and was able to function through Morning Prayer and mass, but around 10:00 AM I was fading fast. I napped and had a vivid, disturbing dream that narrowed my focus to one of my biggest obstacles to grace... anger.

In my dream it was Ash Wednesday and no matter where I went, people were talking. In the convent we try to keep strict silence on Ash Wednesday, but in my dream everyone was talking. They weren't just whispering either. They were laughing and telling jokes and using their loudest voices, and my one-ness on the Enneagram was screaming for them to shut-the *%#-up. I was the collation cook (for real, as well as in my dream) and I couldn't find a quiet place to prepare the simple dish of rice and cheese sauce. And boy, was I angry.

I was angry because nobody seemed to think the agreement we had made at conference to work on our silence had fallen down on the very first day. Angry because I wanted and needed the silence and nobody cared what I wanted and needed. I was angry because I was cooking THEM their food and couldn't find a peaceful place to do it. Angry... because I couldn't control them. I tried reason, guilt, bullying, whining, and finally, the ultimate cop-out... I refused to cook. I threw up my hands and huffed out of the kitchen, making a beeline to my mentor's office, to not only tattle, but to announce that I would not be able to provide the afternoon collation. Let them eat bread!

I woke up with a start, the angry tears still stinging my eyes, and realized it wasn't real. It was my worst nightmare. And yet on a deeper level it was very real. Anger is the key emotion for Enneagram Ones who can't get their way. For some numbers the emotion is fear, or doubt, or something else, but for us, it is anger. Fully awake, I went over the dream and realized that the biggest case for being angry was that I couldn't control my own anger.

When I arrived (awake) in the kitchen to start the rice, our housekeeper and maintenance man were talking. I did my best to tune them out and smiled. They had no clue why I was smiling.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ashes Wednesday

Some unexpected friends (of friends) from Germany dropped by the convent a couple of weeks ago. They were visiting New York City and came bearing a gift... chocolates from Switzerland. As they presented them, they explained: "We were told that you keep something called Ashes Wednesday, and we must bring these right away, so that you consume them before that day."

When I repeated what he had said, we chuckled, but he was absolutely correct, of course. On this day we impose ashes on each other's foreheads... we do not impose one ash. We say: remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Dust is the comglomeration of a myriad of tiny particles, not just one. I naturally love to focus on my self, my own uniqueness and individuality. The idea that I can be lumped together with a million others diminishes my importance, at least in my own eyes. Yet God does not see as I see. God will not be contained in my limited selfish concept of who He/She is. I diminish myself by insisting on my own viewpoint, my own importance. For me, that is the message of Lent.

He was also correct that one of the things we give up corporately (as a group) is chocolates, or more specifically sweets... candy, cookies, desserts in general. Lent for us is a time of fasting. Our meals become simpler, our house moves into a deeper silence. We fast, not just from rich foods and pleasures, but from noise and meaningless chatter. There is no TV, the normal diversions are stripped away. It is not an easy time for many of us, because we chafe at the arbitrary way in which these things can be decided. "Because we've always done it that way" takes on a holy reference, and as irritating or amusing as it sounds at other times, it makes perfect sense during Lent.

Lent is not about me, it is about us. And it is about us in the broadest and deepest sense... Us as insignificant and indistinguishable as dust... yet as necessary to God as God is to us.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

No, I did not die...

Just in case some of you thought I died and went to hell... uh, heaven, no such luck. I'm in Spokane, on the other side of the universe, attending a "Living Stones" annual conference. Be back sometime in the middle of the night Tuesday, just in time for Ash Wednesday.

Will catch up with you all then.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Luke 6: 17-26

I knew a guy in college who had a wonderful way with people. He fit in anywhere. He was an amazing musician, a singer... who could belt out a Puccini aria and turn around and sing with gentle sensitivity the Shaker hymn "It's a Gift to be Simple." Everyone who heard him thought he was destined to be one of the great tenors of our time. Never arrogant about his talent, he had a big heart that he shared, both in his music and in his dealings with others. I watched him work the room in a bar once. He knew exactly what to shout out to the bartender, the harried waitress, the bouncer at the door.

Jesus' words to the rif-raf on the plain shows that same kind of intuitive sensitivity. He knew what would make them feel honored, special, of value... and he shouted those words to them in front of everybody else. Shouted to them, in front of everybody else.

When I was growing up, a girl's reputation was one of her biggest assets. A nice girl did not associate with rif-raf. She did not hang out on the corner with boys or go to the bowling alley. She snubbed anyone who whistled or made cat calls when she walked by. She definitely did not ride in cars with boys. Reputation was everything, and I missed out on relationships that might have been friendships, had I not been such a goody-two-shoes.

College changed some of that. I was no bohemian, still bound by the conditioning of my youth, but I was able to experiment a little. Watching my friend in the bar was one of those epiphanies. He was not concerned with appropriate protocol or with making friends in high places. He shared himself with who was there. I knew in that moment I wanted to be like that.

I still want to be like that.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Human Nature

Discussing today's Gospel at Bible study, we talked about James and John's bold-faced request to "be seated at the right hand of Jesus in his glory." Someone mentioned it was just one more example of human nature. I attribute (blame) a lot of things on human nature, myself... and I got to thinking (again) about just how difficult it is to live up to, (let alone maintain) the standards Jesus sets for life in Him.

How radically opposed to human nature his teachings seem, how radical his example was.

The word radical is overused these days; it barely raises an eyebrow.
rad·i·cal [rad-i-kuhl]

To some of us, the word implies: extremist, uncompromising, drastic... generally in the negative sense. To others the word describes fundamental reforms, whether political, economic, or social, and compromising methods be damned. Some see radicalness as an evil, others as the highest good. (Taking the "right" side and pummelling anyone on the "wrong' side also seems to be very much in our human nature.)

And yet the word radical (like Jesus) has meaning beyond all our own labels: for it comes from both the Middle English and Latin words for radish or root. "Going to the root of origin" is the very first definition listed in the unabridged dictionary. So... if his radical example was really at the core of who we are, of who God is... then why is it always so hard to do what he says? Maybe that's a rhetorical question, for the obvious answer is "sin".

But then that only proves the point of those theologians who point to mankind's "sinful" nature as being the reason (and excuse) for things being the way they are. There has to be more to it than that.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

In light of all that...

Luke 5: 1-11

Since we are now firmly ensconced in the season of Epiphany, our celebrant this morning asked us to hear the Gospel reading with epiphany light. Luke's version of Simon's call to be an apostle is much more detailed than the stories of the other Gospelers, and she went on to elaborate on the theme of his epiphany in this well-known story.

She talked about the unspoken questions in this encounter... questions Jesus will eventually ask out loud... Who do you say I am? Who are you in relationship with me? How will the answer affect your life? All excellent questions for anyone who professes Jesus as Lord, but especially in this case for Simon, his brother and their friends.

We can read Simon-(soon-to-be)-Peter's answers: He recognizes Jesus, not just as his rabbi, but as Lord. He recognizes himself as "a sinful man", unworthy of the relationship. And he accepts the offer to leave everything and follow the relationship. It may have been the huge catch of fish that captured his attention, but as our celebrant explained, Jesus was the one fishing that day, not Simon.

After possibly the largest haul of fish in his career, Simon dropped his nets. He quit while he was ahead, some might say. But whether he himself understood it fully at the time, he certainly came to realize that material success was worth next to nothing in the new light of other possibilities. What other possibilities will be open to us, once we drop the ways of this world that confine us? Where will our own epiphanies shed new light?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Feast of the Presentation

Another time snafu in our liturgical calendar, the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the temple, occurs on the second of February, marking the official end of Christmastide. (If your outside Christmas lights are still burning, it's really time to take them down, never mind how pretty they look.)

As we near the end of another "creativity week", today's service was a Morning Prayer/Mass combination at the very civilized hour of 8:00 am. Another priest, who often celebrates for us on Friday, rang the doorbell at 7:00, then realized he wasn't celebrating today because he had a meeting to go to.

I was asleep when the doorbell rang (I shut my alarm off at 5:00 and rolled back over into dreamland.)

In my dream I had just narrowly escaped being crushed by an overpass. (New York was having landslides and I was beneath the Westside Highway.) Before that I was part of a work crew cleaning up the Holland Tunnel from flooding. When the doorbell jolted me awake, I swore... thinking I had overslept. But it was only 7:00. An hour to go before mass. What luxury!

I was exhausted from the dream. I'd been working hard bailing out the tunnel and was covered in mud from the landslide. My fellow sister had lost her granddaughter's baby bonnet and had gone back to some hotel to look for it. She was covered in mud too. Don't go, I thought. Forget the baby bonnet. Stay here, where it's safe.

Where do these crazy dreams come from? I was relieved that I was not covered in mud afterall, and that my sister was right next door in her room. Relieved that I had plenty of time to make my bed, drink a cup of coffee, prepare for the day in leisure. How was Mary's day? ...the day they took the Christ child up from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to be presented?

Had she overslept? Was her new baby fussy or placid? Did he howl when he was circumcised? In my own internal chronology, the wisemen are still in transit when all this is happening. They have not yet visited Herod, and their questions have not yet placed all Bethlehem infants in danger.

Yet Simeon's prophetic words: and a sword will shall pierce your own soul foreshadow the life she faces as the mother of God. She may narrowly escape the sword of Herod's soldiers, but there will be many more to come.