Wednesday, April 23, 2008

leavin' on a jet plane

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go... NOT!!!

But I'm getting there. I have a to-do list to keep me focused and on track. It took longer to write some of the things than to actually do them, but that's okay. I have little piles laid out next to the suitcase: copies of our brochure, AweWakenings, the Service for the Reception of an Associate. This is, afterall, a working trip.

I've posted my itinerary and contact numbers on our travel board; the sisters can reach me if they need to. It's a bittersweet experience to be leaving... we have sisters in their eighties. Every time I leave, I worry.

I have a friend who keeps a "Things to Pack" list in her suitcase. It's a great idea, even if I don't have need for most of the things she commonly forgets: cel phone charger, laptop cords. I'm not sure about my own laptop this time. Usually it's a standard item when I travel, but mine is getting old and ricketty and crashes a lot, so I'd rather leave it behind than risk its total demise.

The camera is another story. I can't decide. When I take it I don't use it, when I don't take it, I wish I had it. (The batteries are charging just in case.) Clothes for work, clothes for play... because the final days will be rest time with my son and his wife. Books, papers, granola, sweet n low, deodorant… I'm almost there.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Easter V: Show us the Father

"Show us the father and we shall be satisfied." This time it's Phillip who chimes in with Thomas.

Poor Jesus... once again confronted with the fact that his disciples, as much as they loved, respected, and trusted him, were absolutely clueless. These men lived with Jesus. They were privy to all his intimate/personal teachings. Unlike you or me who must do with a handful of stories and a smattering of sayings that are still being argued over and twisted in their original meaning... yet they still weren't quite sure of Who he was or what he was really talking about.

I've listened to people (who distinguish themselves as "Believers") speak with contempt and pity about the people who actually met Jesus in his lifetime and couldn't recognize the Son of God. Personally I bet it's easier to imagine the Divine Countenance than to be faced with someone who looks just like everyone else.

Our preacher this morning pointed out one of the Divine Mysteries that we are always faced with... division vs. unity. In the Book of Acts, Stephen announces that he sees the heavens opened and the Risen Christ "standing at the right hand of the Father". This proclamation gets him stoned to death. So in Stephen's vision Christ was standing. That's not what we proclaim in our creed. We say he's sitting. (Maybe he got tired by the time Constantine called the Bishops together in Nicaea.) Either way, we express a division. God has not received His Son back into His Eternal Glory... they are still somehow separate.

We humans understand separateness only too well. I have always thought this sense of separateness (otherness) to be a condition of the physical matter that makes up our created world. The sub-atomic levels of our existence may blip in and out of being, but we are trapped within the physical form. A chair is a chair, not a table, and I am me, not my sister or my child. Neither am I God, although a certain longing tells me I once was part of God.

"The purpose of our human pilgrimage" said our celebrant this morning, "is to bring us into the presence of God." I don't doubt that, but neither do I understand it. Just like Phillip saying: "Show us!" I also want to "see". He went on to expand on this thought by saying that the way of Christianity is not just a way of life. It's not just another way of life, but the way to life. We also hear that the way to life is through death. (Another Divine Mystery.)

If I were to preach on the story of Stephen's stoning, I would no doubt gloss over the part about him seeing the heavens opened, and focus instead on his last words before his own death: Do not hold this sin against them. That tells me more about his understanding of Jesus than any vision of heaven. This was real. His last breath closed the divisions between heaven and hell, between matter and spirit. That was when the heavens truly opened.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Time is Your Friend

A week from today I'll be in the air. A week... it seems so short; it seems like an eternity. I love time. I love that it slips right by, that it stretches like a rubber band. I love that it structures my days, yet is forgiving when I seem to run out. In our Night Prayers we say "what has been done has been done. Let it be." A good thing to say ( and believe) at the end of a long day.

Yesterday was one of those very long days. We've lost our part-time cook. She graduated from the culinary institute last week, and while we are sad to see her go (for more reasons than her cooking) she is moving on to new adventures. She's interviewing for jobs on a private yacht or in a fancy executive retreat near Yellowstone. Either job will give her a chance to explore her gourmet skills... something the nuns could never fully appreciate. So those of us who like to cook have been doubling up. Yesterday was my turn. Plus I was doorbell queen, plus everyone else who can be considered "responsible" was gone off for one reason or another. It was a very long day.

I couldn't decide what I wanted to cook. I had a lot of ideas that were each fine on their own, (some even worked together) but the final plan never quite gelled. Plus I had decided to make lunch as well, since there was nothing much in the fridge and I'd been promising to use up some of our large supply of bulgar wheat. The morning time slipped away with the preparations for tabouli (or tabbouleh). I was constructing camel riders for lunch and tabouli is a prime ingredient. That worked out and then it was time to decide on supper. I still had no concrete plan.

That's a little how I'm feeling about the retreat next week. I have a lot of ideas, there's a thin thread of continuity that connects them, but as with supper last night, I was (am) still experimenting with the final outcome. As of four o'clock yesterday, I had only just decided what we were going to eat.

It worked out. Supper was pretty and tasted good (my two requisites for success) but I cook more often than I give retreats, and even with my expertise, I was worried all afternoon. What's with that? Old age? Maybe. But... (as Martha Stewart would say) time "is a good thing."

And I still have a week.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


"Some of us have been reading your blog... to get to know you better."
(Oh dear)
"Well, I haven't been writing much lately because I've been focusing on the retreat."

Those words were said in the context of a conversation I was having with one of the Oregon conveners. Since I'll be leading an Associates' retreat there in just under two weeks, there were aspects of the schedule (and my responsibilities) that needed to be discussed. That's the easy part. What do I do? When do I do it? Where do I stand?

My own internal response to the fact that this is a huge responsibility and that time is ticking away, has been less manageable. I vacillate between humility and arrogance, fear and excitement, trusting completely that the Holy Spirit will give me the right words at the right time, and thinking that if I don't plan every single talk in specific detail I'll fall flat on my face and fail them. I have reason to be concerned. The Oregon associates are used to Sr. Lucia (one of their own) and more recently, Sr. Leslie, the Sister-in-charge of associates. They don't know me. I'm new. And not just new to them, new to the life. Is there anything I could say of any importance or interest to them?

My friend and mentor Barbara Crafton sits down, looks around at her audience, and starts talking. Or so it seems. She makes such things as meditations and homilies and retreat addresses look like child's play. She's done it a long time and can draw on a vast store of wisdom that I never feel I have.

Our celebrant this morning is another one who speaks without notes and just rattles it off, always astounding me with her deep understanding of the Gospel stories, always able to relate her message to something in my life, to this 21st century world. Amazing.

She spoke today about "another Shepherding Sunday, another comforting Sunday" and she asked the rhetorical question "Why do we need to be comforted? It's Easter!" I always rise to the bait and start answering the question for myself, when her words stop me midstream as she gives yet a deeper, more profound answer to her own question.

She also gave an interpretation of this specific Gospel lesson (John 10:1-10) that I can own and run with. These particular words of scripture have been used so many times to exclude people... those of other faiths, those who, though they profess Jesus Christ, aren't the right kind of Christian... words that can turn me off and leave me wondering which historical agenda was being hammered with them? Yet historical agendas aside, one of the profound beauties of the Word of God is that it lives.

So today's living and life-giving message was essentially this: Jesus says in today's Gospel: "I am the gate." Not the barrier gate that we immediately imagine, but the open gate, the pathway gate, the all-inclusive gate that makes crystal clear that the power of resurrection lies in the fact that everything is restored. And... the shepherd also had a shepherd. He was not alone.

Many, if not most of us, recite the 23rd Psalm in the old King James language. It's the way we learned it as children, and even though the actual words themselves may have made little or no sense at the time, it's still the most comforting version when we are in distress. It's said at funerals, and in our prayer book the burial rite uses the old language. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. David, the shepherd-king is attributed with these words. He had been a shepherd as a boy, but then he was anointed King. Not the kind of king who was set up to rule, but the kind who was enthroned to protect and defend his people. Huge difference. And yet we say... the Lord is our shepherd. It is He who defends us, protects us, looks after our best interests, whether we can know it or appreciate it or not. Serendipity? One of my retreat themes deals with this very thing... We have nothing to fear.

Monday, April 07, 2008

six weeks and more

Yesterday's Gospel reading was the story of the road to Emmaus, one more of the miraculous accounts of disciples seeing Jesus after his death. I heard a lecture a few years ago (I'm thinking it was James Robinson). He mentioned that there's no clear evidence that Emmaus was an actual place... that in fact it was a word that may have derived from the expression "no place left to go." That would probably have described those disciples pretty well. It doesn't matter. People saw Jesus. Not exactly (nor necessarily) with their eyes, but with the eyes of faith. I think that's important for us today.

Our celebrant said that she was so glad that Eastertide was six weeks long. She explained that clergy often are so wiped out by the end of Holy Week, that they move through Easter in a daze. She appreciated the time to catch up. I echo those sentiments in my own heart. I'm just beginning to feel "Eastery". It is in hearing these resurrection stories again and again that Easter becomes more real for me. It also helps to sing the Easter hymns for six weeks. One of yesterday's was #182 from the Hymnal: Christ is Alive! Often with hymns, some of the verses are optional, either because they fit a certain liturgical calendar or because the theology might be controversial. Verse 3 was one of the optional ones. I loved it:

Christ is alive! Not throned above,
Remotely high, untouched, unmoved by human pains,
But daily in the midst of life our Savior reigns.

The collect for the Third Sunday in Easter asks God to "open the eyes of our faith" to Christ's redeeming work in the world. Why? Because we aren't going to recognize him. We'll be like Mary in the garden, like the Cleopas on his way to Emmaus, we'll see somebody else... a gardener, a stranger with no grasp of current events. We'll miss the risen Christ in our midst because of our own blind expectations.

Eastertide is six weeks long. But for Resurrection Christians, it has to extend into the rest of the year. Only through the eyes of faith can we see Jesus in the stranger and in ourselves.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Forty years ago I gave birth to my first son... How could that be? In my imagination I'm only a little over forty myself. (This birthday might be more traumatic for me than for him.)

He was born back in the dark ages in a small hospital in New Hampshire, where they tied the laboring woman to the bed rails and left her alone in a state called "twilight" sleep... which meant you weren't exactly asleep, but were dozing... until the next contraction hit like a train wreck. Then you were wide awake in a bewildering state of unexpected agony. Lovely way to enter the world... with your mommy screaming for somebody to do something! So they gassed me out. Last thing I remember was that mask and heavy hands holding me down. Fast forward a few hours later and I'm all alone in a strange bed, tucked in so tight I can barely move; there's a strip of bandage across my abdomen and I hurt all over. "Oh my God! I had a cesarean!" I thought. But no, it was just their way of doing things.

Finally a nurse walked by, and when I asked, she assured me I had, in fact, had a baby... a baby boy!

He turned out to be a screamer, a dreamer, a brilliant little smart guy who is, (along with his little brother) the love of my life. His wife says he doesn't want a fuss over his fortieth birthday. What!?! Could it be they switched my child in the nursery? No fuss?

But dear child, you are FORTY. It's a landmark year... you are officially over the hill. Now you can finally complain about your aches and pains for real. Bring out the black balloons, the black arm bands, the cop-turned-stripper, the surprise party and the cake with so many candles, that by the time you've lit the last one, the first has burned down to the frosting. And don't forget the fire extinguisher!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

truth and consequences and balance

The longer I live, the more I understand there is no such thing as The Truth and there is no such thing as balance.

My post Monday was no doubt ill-advised.

Suffice it to say it was not well-received. I was specifically admonished because I am a nun, and folks expect better behavior from someone in my position. I get that. We are always righteously outraged when civic and spiritual leaders don't measure up. We expect a higher standard from them.

Unfortunately those expectations have rarely been met... all the way back to the very first disciples. I'd like to point out that the only truly holy One had his own bad days. (Consider the poor fig tree who was blasted for nothing less than doing its job.) But that's another story.

When I say there's no such thing as balance, I mean that both inside and out. Inside myself there exists a fragile tipping point, and, as I'm learning, (and have just learned on a much deeper level) it's easily upset by the energies that swirl around me. This past weekend provided an unexpected learning curve. It wasn't especially pleasant, and it's more unpleasant still, to examine the events, personalities, and myself in the context of all that occurred.

There was more than one disgruntled person on the weekend. One of them (like me) posted about her experience, naming names and giving vent to her own specific displeasure, just as I did. Her experience was her truth, and while some may feel she hurt the Cursillo movement by her anger, I still think she was entitled to express her thoughts.

I was called to task on my public comments (as I'm guessing she was) and my first reaction was defensive. Hey! I didn't mention anyone by name. I tried to be balanced in my assessment... blah, blah, blah.

But of course I was not balanced. I was tired and still annoyed about a lot of things. Any criticism is hard to hear, especially if it's taken personally. My comments were vague. The first reaction could easily be "Who is she talking about? I'm not needy. I'm certainly not inconsiderate. I put a lot of thought and hard work into this weekend. What did she do? Move a few candles around the altar?"

And that would be the truth. One truth. another truth.

So I did not have a "Mountain top" experience. Is that anybody's fault? No, it just is. I don't believe it detracts from other experiences which may have been magnificent. One of the favorable comments about the weekend was that it "ran like a well-oiled machine." Well-oiled machines do run well, but they are messy and greasy. When I examine my own motivations, I admit I was probably just slinging grease. (One of the side effects of working behind the scenes is that nobody knows you're working. I didn't need applause. I just needed some rest.

As I recover, my memory will soften and any annoyance will subside. As I also said in that post, (maybe not loudly enough) if I chunk it down, the weekend contained moments of grace, good information, inspiration and joy.