Friday, February 27, 2009

This is for Josh....


This is the Lenten Kitty. He gave up perfectionism--but decided he could keep the Cokes and desserts. ;-)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Intentions

Today is my favorite day of the liturgical year. Yes, I know I'm strange.

Once upon a time, I celebrated Lent all by myself. I wasn't part of any faith community--I just liked the idea of giving up something and using that voluntary fast as a way of focusing on my relationship with God. (I somehow kept that relationship, even when I jettisoned church.)

Every year, I gave up Cokes and dessert. In some ways, I guess that seems kind of silly--but since I ingested both on a daily basis, giving them up made me think about God a LOT. And I fasted for the entire season of Lent, because no one told me that Sundays were feast days. Since I only went to church once a year on Ash Wednesday, and I didn't grow up in a catholic tradition, I didn't know.

I regret to report that my Lenten fasts were much more effective when I did them outside the church than they have been in the 13 years I've been an Episcopalian. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe because I was fasting in isolation. I didn't have a community of people with whom I could joke and moan about my minor deprivations. Fasting was not expected of me, either. In the tradition in which I grew up, I never even heard of Lent or fasting (except what I read in the Bible)--they would have been considered Catholic (picture that being said in a whisper with lips pursed and eyebrows raised), which, of course, meant "very, very bad" and not at all Christian.

In recent years, I have had difficulty deciding what to do as a Lenten discipline--and often I have failed at my intentions. Some years I took on additional spiritual practices. Others, I gave up something that felt more "weighty" than Cokes or dessert. Rarely did I succeed in practicing my discipline all the way through Lent (even with feast days!) without throwing my hands up in defeat.

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Now before I start getting lectures about the purpose of Lent, let me say this--I KNOW the purpose of Lent. I totally agree with our friend Margaret--Lent is about living a Resurrection Life. And I am still working on finding ways to support myself in doing that.

That is why I love Lent--even the penitential aspects of it. Lent supports me on my walk with God because it makes me mindful--not just of my sins, which are many...but of my longing for God. As far as I have fallen short of my intentions in the past, they mean something. Even my failures mark me as someone who loves God so much that I can't quite seem to give Her up.

So I have been thinking about what things might strengthen my love for God--and how people in my life might actually know that I love God.

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My first intention was born last weekend, when I made a shocking discovery.

I hardly ever read anymore.

By that, I mean I hardly ever read BOOKS anymore. I spend a good portion of my days reading things on the intertubes, but I--who used to be a voracious reader of books--have only read a few in the last couple of months. And those have been re-reads of some of my old childhood favorites.

I made this discovery while I was rearranging my bookshelves. When I moved into this house last January, I had a rollicking case of pneumonia, and I remember very little about the move itself. The books were among the very few things I unpacked, and in my feverish state, I simply threw them up on the shelves, without rhyme or reason. And so, for the past year, I have been heard cursing loudly every time I tried to find some reference I needed for my Education for Ministry class.

Last weekend, I decided to fix that. I started categorizing books, which meant I had to pull most of them off the shelf. And I was dismayed to realize that I have a fine collection of books--especially theology books--that I've never read.

Some of my most intense moments of spiritual connection or insight have come from reading. I get a lot of really wonderful insights and inspiration from the things I read on the Web--but tearing through all the blog entries in my Google Reader doesn't really count as thoughtful spiritual practice for me.

So today is the day I take a deep breath, slow down, and start reading books again--books that I've been wanting to read because I think they will add something to my relationship with God. Today is the day that I start once again to exercise the mental muscles I need to wrestle intelligently with my faith, and to inform that faith as I pass it along to others.

To be honest, I really started on Sunday. I finished a book of essays by Alan Lightman, A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit. (If you haven't read his book, Einstein's Dreams, I highly recommend it. This one was good too.) I am a science geek, and I actually find much that is spiritual in the science reading that I do. Astronomy and physics both speak strongly of God to me--a notion I'm sure would appall some of the scientists I read!

Now I'm starting on Kathleen Norris' new book, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. Norris' work has always resonated for me, and this book promises to do so as well. I have had my own experiences with acedia and I'll probably be blogging on that in the future.

Other books in the pile for Lent include our own Jane's When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life (that one I've already made a dent in, but I got sidetracked for some reason), Verna Dozier's The Dream of God, and John Spong's Jesus for the Non-Religious. If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

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This entry is already too long as it is, so I'll talk about my other intentions later. For now, I am headed out to church, where Dear Friend will mark my forehead with ashes and we will enter this holy season together. "Dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return."

It is hard to feel penitential when I feel so much joy in my life these days--but I am reminded that the dust of which we are made is stardust. Each of us, in our best moments, reflects the dazzling brilliance of the stars from which we come--and the love of the One who made us all.

This Lent, may you discover that stardust within yourself. May you shine like the star you are. Radiant. Joyful. Beloved.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Color of Relief

Relief is blue...a shimmery, silvery blue that captures the light and makes you catch your breath in pleasure.

You'll see me wearing it on my wedding day.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Running on the Knife-Edge of Fear

I got a phone call last week. It was the kind of phone call you really hope you never get...

"The radiologist has reviewed your mammogram, and there are some dense spots in your breasts that we would like to investigate further. Can you come in for further tests next Tuesday?"

I am 45 years old. I have two young children. I'm supposed to get married in 95 days.

I have held the fear at bay since the phone call--mostly because the day it came, I was up to my eyeballs in work and didn't have time to process. Since then, I have been away on a Valentine's Day holiday with Dear Friend, and being with him tends to send my serotonin levels into the stratosphere. He is with me, no matter what, he says...and I believe that.

But today, I am back at my other home without him...and the wait to have further tests and get the results seems like a marathon for which I have not trained. Today, I am running full-tilt on the knife-edge of fear.

As I run, however, I am mindful of Mark Twain's comment about worry:

I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

I am trying to keep this all in perspective, but it is difficult not to "borrow trouble." I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of what a diagnosis of cancer would do to the carefully constructed house of cards that is my life. Can I take care of my children if I am ill? Can I be with Dear Friend, when our relationship depends on my being able to travel? However will I manage? Should I continue to make wedding plans?

So many questions. So few answers, here on the knife-edge.

I suspect that is the way it always is. No one is really prepared for the possibility of disaster. We spend our lives pretending that nothing bad will ever happen to us or those we love--and then we all just react to bad news as best we can.

Today, I am praying for peace of mind, because I really believe that's all God has the ability to give in situations like this. Because I tend to rush headlong into an imagined future of pain and loss, I am praying for the gift of presence in this moment--in which I am loved and supported by many.

Just this morning, dear Fran wrote me this, in answer to my worries about whether I should continue with wedding plans:

Your beautiful future is really in the present and awaits you with such enormous grace and love, it needs you to participate without reserve.

I am fortunate to have such friends...such love...such faith in my life. May I have the ability to listen and to live a life that reflects so many blessings. May I have the grace to continue to "participate without reserve."

Monday, February 09, 2009

You cannot make this stuff up...

For some inexplicable (and probably twisted) reason, I decided to see if the bully who made my life a living hell in 5th and 6th grades was on Facebook. Sure enough, she was...so I googled her married name to see if she showed up on the intertubes.

Not only did she show up--she has a flashy website. And get this: She makes her living as a "motivational speaker," speaking at schools and talking with kids about how to deal with...bullies.

Wonder if she ever tells them that she knows whereof she speaks?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Same as it ever was....

I keep reading all these wonderful sermons drawn from today's Gospel reading:
Mark 1:29-31
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
But I confess that my reaction to this story is largely negative. I mean...honestly! Couldn't Jesus have given the woman a day off?! She's just had a near-death experience, been healed by the Lord of Creation, and the first thing she does is...do what women always do. Cook. Clean. Wait on people.

I guess we are supposed to believe that she was thrilled beyond belief to be made well, and was happy to return to her life of servitude. Feh, I say. Sometimes REAL service is giving a break to those who do it daily.

Apparently Jesus got that message by the time he told Martha that listening to the word of God was more important than cooking. (Luke 10:38-42) But (if my lectionary calculations are correct), we won't get that story until Sunday, July 20, 2010. In this case, the Good News is a long way off...

UPDATE: And, of course, Elizabeth Kaeton moves beyond the obvious (after I hit "Publish Post"). But I still feel grumpy about the whole thing...