Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Slogging through...

...the GRE prep. I thought my hatred of all things numerical was at its peak when I was 14 and taking Geometry from the evil Sr. Domenica (well, not evil, just a tad sadistic).

I was wrong. I hate it worse now. But just like dieting, I'm slogging through. I ust don't want to really embarrass myself.

On the other hand, I'm loving my computer Koine Greek lessons. Still can't seem to memorize all the various cases of the prepositions, but it will come. I guess the difference is that the math is just to get through the GREs, but the Greek will last me forever. Our rector (a Classics scholar) is going to start a Greek class Monday nights at church; maybe I can really get a head start on my seminary work. At the very least, it will put me in good shape for seminary and free me to focus on Hebrew, which will not come as naturally as Greek, which mirrors the four years of Latin I took in High School (in medieval times). All those cognomes help, too.

Has anyone heard from St. Casserole? I'm worried about her and her family with Hurricane Katrina.

Please say a prayer for my father-in-law, who should be heading back this week from a medical mission trip to Africa (he served there for over 30 years). Ethiopea Air doesn't fill me with confidence.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Clerical Shirts - a mini-rant

I had a long conversation with our wonderful associate rector, another midlife career-changer priest. Topic? The awful clerical shirts available to women priests. So here's my question: why no darts? The good Lord gave us bosoms (of all shapes and sizes) but Almy et al insist that we are chestless wonders. For those of us who are (ahem!) well-endowed, we have to buy a size from Omar the TentMaker. The positive note is that the clerical shirt makers now offer them in somewhat better colors (even pink) but they are essentially shapeless blocky things, all in polyester.

So here's my plan: I'll find one that fits reasonably well, then take it with me to Qatar when PH and I go there in November. I'll bring some nice fabric lengths with me (oxford cloth, good broadcloth, etc.) and have the tailor in the souq make me several shirts that FIT. He can model it on the one I bring, but tailor it a teensy bit so it looks like a girl shirt. And I understand these will cost me about $15 apiece, instead of the $45-80 that the good ones cost here. I'm going to do the same for our assistant...could be a new cottage industry.

(BTW, what would we all do if there weren't sales at Talbot's? And if there weren't Marshall's and TJ Maxx? Heaven forfend if we had to pay RETAIL! My mom, who had a black belt in power-shopping, would spin in her grave.)

Between that, toenail polish, and my bright shoes, I may scandalize the congregation, but I'll feel good!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Out of the Discernment Closet

PH threw me a belated birthday party last night. It was delightful (even if I did have to clean the house), with a bunch of dear friends from different parts of my life, but mostly from church. I told them about my journey towards the priesthood. My rector was there, looking nervous that I had spoken aloud about it (!). My Commission on Ministry representative (who will help shepherd me throught he process) had said it was ok to tell people now, and I figure I can use all the folks praying for me as is possible, so I took the plunge.

I was a bit surprised at the reaction - several said they weren't surprised, that it made perfect sense to them. I guess others could see it before I could myself.

Anyway, a couple of those who were there love to share good news with the rest of the world, so the the talking drums will be beating today.

Very gratifying to feel the love and support of my friends, some churched, some unchurched. One professor even offered to coach me on my math for the GRE's, which is the ultimate gift given my utter hopelessness on things geometrical.

Thanks, God, for being patient with me while I was figuring this stuff out. Thanks, God, for being faithful and knowing that it will take me a while to figure the rest of this out. Thanks, God, for family and friends, who are helping me. I thought I was alone for so long. No more. Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Steps on the Journey

I bit the bullet and registered for GREs today. I had hoped I'd avoid that, since I've already got one Master's degree, but only those with terminal degrees get a break at the seminary. Ah well, I hope they don't care about my math scores, which will be abysmal. I used my Amazon gift certificate from my sisters in law for GRE prep books. Seems unfair to use a gift for something like that, but I was grateful to save the 50 bucks.

I finished rereading "Listening Hearts", the recommended priest discernment book. It's good on process ( an extension of the discernment process used in Quaker Meeting) but the quotes make my head spin. In essence, one quote - which says to trust what you feel in your heart - is followed with another one which says that you shouldn't be fooled by false messages from your heart. All I know is that this feels more right than anything in my life, and I hope that the Parish Discernment Committee, who will also use the book in part as a guide, will agree.

I had lunch with an old friend - let's call her "Ms. Bling" in honor of her love of expensive goodies - and told her of my plans. She was a bit shocked, mostly that I hadn't told her sooner. She was reasonably supportive and had some good ideas about selling the house, since she's a realtor. I love her dearly, but I realized how different our lives had become when she started telling me that she was having a facelift and laser skin resurfacing in January. Oy! I guess we all react to middle age differently. I just buy pants with a higher spandex content.

I decided on my topic for the merit scholarship application : Conflict Resolution in Politics: Lessons Learned and Their Application to Congregational Conflict. I've spent the past umpty-ump years of my life negotiating as a lobbyist - that experience should have some applicability. Since I want to pursue a subspecialty in congregational conflict resolution, it's a logical choice.

So I started to outline the paper (or the original version of it, which was broader in scope) and realized if I covered all I wanted to, it would be a dissertation. I'd rather not spend the whole year writing this thing, so with PH's help I cranked it back to its present scope. Now all I have to do is start writing the case study that I'm going to lead off with, then research the points I want to make.

Strong Opinions decided she needed to replace her lost driver's license (always a good thing) and needed me to go with her. We made plans for her to be back from a sleepover by 8 so we could get to the DMV, the third circle of Hell, before the lines got out of control. True to form, she didn't get home in time, so I went downtown to work. She called at 10 am, and we had to negotiate when she would go: a) after picked up her friends from the sleepover at the left end of nowhere, b) after swapping cars with her other friend, c) after taking Useless Boyfriend to work, since his car was nonfunctional, d) after picking up our pregnant houseguest to go to work. I explained I was meeting Ms. Bling at 12:30. She met me at DMV at 12:28. I got her set up and left her there to finish the transaction herself, which took another 45 minutes. (The sound you heard at that point of the day was me taking EXTREMELY deep cleansing breaths.) I knew I'd get to use the Lamaze breathing again in my life.

Sort of made the GREs seem easy by comparison.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Too Cute for Words...

..but when granddughter K gets to be 16, she'll hate us for this picture. Her Nibs and grandpuppy Maya taking a nap together:


PH officiated at his cousin's marriage yesterday evening. A lovely thing - he gives good wedding. He preached on Phil 4:8-9, not a standard wedding text, but an apt one, particularly for two strong-minded people marrying in middle-age.

It was a unique cultural experience: a Swedish/Puerto Rican wedding. The dancing was a hoot - you have not lived until you've seen conservative Norsk types attempt the merengue! I think it will take my left hip a week to recover. Another unique moment: all of us Baby Boomers on the dance floor to "Play that Funky Music, White Boy." Singing along madly. The teens were just HORRIFIED at us. And when we started to do the disco thing a la John Travolta to "Staying Alive," the self-abasement was complete. Ah, it's a good thing for the teens to know we can occasionally be ridiculous too!

Some of PH's relatives from far away were there, and wanted the lowdown on my discernment process. Fun to share and explain why our process takes 18 months to two years before one goes to seminary.

There's a family brunch this morning-sort of an after-party - but I'm singing a solo at church this morning, so I'll dodge the carbohydrate fest.

I've noticed that several of my RevGal blog pals have unique names for their kids, rather than the format I'm used to (for example, DD17 indicates Dear Daughter aged 17). I think I'll dub DD17 "Strong Opinions", probably her most notable trait. DS19 will be "Stonemason" in honor of his work and his quiet demeanor, and DS21 will be "Litigator" for his skills at argumentation - evident from when he was just a sprout.

What think ye?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Harry Potter

The truth will out: I am as much a Harry Potter addict as most 12 year olds. Last weekend, when I got my reserved copy from the library (I was #371 in the queue), I was in ecstasy. I took it with me on my road trip to Houston. Yes, Houston in August. There are not enough hair products in the world to make one look good in Houston in August. No matter.

Anyway, I read a couple hundred pages on the way down, and finished it off on the way home. I think I have eyestrain. That said, I loved it, although it is definitely a much darker book than its predecessors.

And this is yet another key concept that explains why I am changing careers: instead of spending the last three days communing with golfers, slightly inebriated bankers and government officials, I snuck back to my hotel room periodically to read "Harry Potter," and to memorize poetry by Paul Verlaine.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Icon Pt. II

Irena says the way I painted this indicates that I am soft on the outside but strong on the inside. I'm not sure how she gets to that, but I'll own it...

Icon Writing

On most Saturdays, I spend noon until two with several other women writing icons. No, not painting, although it looks like that is what we're doing. It's writing, much as medieval monks who transcribed copies of the Bible wrote those beautifully illuminated Scriptures.

Our teacher is Russian. She is a noted writer of icons and restorer of them, whose work is in churches here in the Washington area as well as in Russia. She is very tall and very thin and smells of cigarettes. We love her and fear her a bit.

We say a prayer to St. Luke, patron saint of iconographers, before we work.

The work is an act of meditation, not of creativity. It's more like paint-by-numbers for spiritual folk. We choose an icon we want to copy (those monks again), trace the basic bones of the picture, shade the back of our tracing with the side of a pencil, and scribe over the lines to tranfer it onto a gesso-prepared board. We paint black lines over our paler transfer lines. We paint shadows, using a dilute version of the black paint. The paint, by the way, is gouache, thinned with an egg mixture (equal parts raw egg yolk, distilled water, and red wine vinegar).

We gild the halos, using varnish and 24-carat gold leaf.

We begin to paint, layer on layer, going from the dark, flat, base layers of color through more and more translucent, lighter colors. The picture goes from a two-dimensional cartoon to an extraordinary portrait with dimension and depth and richness. We add touches of white (knuckles, the bulge of a forehead, finger- and toenails). We write the name of the icon in Russian or Greek as the original had (Maria, or Christos, or Paulos, or whatever) rather than its title (Virgin of Hodegetria, or the Rublev Trinity, for example).

Everything in the form has a meaning. The Virgin, in the icon I just finished, elegantly gestures to the infant Jesus. The Virgin of Hodegetria, she who points the way, is pointing to the infant, who looks slightly perturbed. Foreheads have three bumps. Feet have beautful, delicate sandals. All form has meaning. I may not understand all the meaning, but its subtext informs the icon.

I am still clumsy in the work, having just finished my first icon. Irena corrects much of what I do, making it look better, not because she wants me to look good, but because it is a prayer, or a means to prayer, and she wants to help me perfect it. A visual spiritual director of sorts. She sits next to me ("No, no...what you doing? Stop! Stop!) taking the brush - red sable 00 - from me, and with a steady, sure hand, fixes my mistakes ("See form? Once again, follow form.") She is impatient with those she has to correct over and over. She is infinitely patient with the little 6 year old girl one of the women has adopted from Russia, who speaks a blend of Russian and English, and is heartbreakingly sweet as she plays and we paint.

Yesterday, Irena returned my first icon, the Virgin of Hodegetria, having done some final touch-ups and varnished it. It is beautiful, but I find I don't feel pride at my accomplishment. I feel grateful, as for the opportunity for prayer. I began it in January. Icons don't go quickly. My friends Mimi and Karen are doing copies of the Moscow School Christ Pantokrator, a challenge, since the original is in a different medium (encaustic, which uses wax) rather than our familiar gouache egg tempera. There are almost a year in to the large icons, and are close to being finished.

I am already deeply engrossed in my next icon, John baptizing Jesus. John looks appropriately wild, with dreadlocks in his hair and beard. Jesus stands in the rushing water, perched on books stacked cruciform, with little fish and sea snakes swimming around him, and four angels looking on from the right. Doing the lines for transfer has taken me two full two-hour sessions ("No, no...just bones of form, not every line.") It's slow going, because the icon is so very detailed, and the forms are small.

The drawing of this new one has gone better than the last one. I realized as I did more painting where my errors in making the transfer copy were - things didn't line up properly, the drape of fabric was wrong, the infant's fingers were awkward. I'm starting to understand the underlying rules of form. Now I am surer of the lines, how a form is always complete, not stopped midway across a figure. I will shade and transfer the picture to the board next Saturday, I hope. We may get the gilding done (very exciting) as well.

This act of meditation, this act of prayer, sitting in a church basement every Saturday with eight women who range in age from 35 to 85, has been a gift. We sit, we gossip gently, we talk theology, and we sigh. Sighing is an essential part of iconography, because we have to concentrate so hard sometimes and we're never completely happy with what we've done - it's hard to see the finished product when there are so many steps to get there. Sighing is the davenning of the iconographer - a physical adjunct or enhancement to the prayer itself.

Some elements of the Reformation spoke to the avoidance of worship of physical forms of the divine - a response to the beautiful but perhaps overblown art and statuary of the Catholic Church. At first, this icon work seemed too focused on the thing, and I was troubled by it. But more and more, I see it as the ancient Church did. We pray through the icon, not to it. It is a means to conversation with God, like walking a labyrinth. And the act of writing one is a means as well.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Noise-Cancelling Headphones

I'm on airplanes a lot, often cross-country, and PH gave me the gift of a pair of those fancy Bose headphones. It seems the noise level on airplanes is one of the most exhausting elements of travel (particularly if you've got a crying baby or someone on a chatting jag nearby). The headphones stop that.

It occurs to me that this is a modern-day version of sitting on a pole, like St Simon Stylites, or going off to a hermit's cave, to find quiet to meditate.

I find myself listening to a very odd and interesting mix of music, books on tape, lectures from The Teaching Company, or Yoga Nidra.

On the music front:
The new Bryn Terfel (Welsh baritone) collection of English songs: "Silent Noon"
Susan Graham (lyric mezzosoprano) singing songs of Reynaldo Hahn "La Belle Epoque"- prep for me for a recital I'm doing next week
Chanticleer (men's a capella group) singing spirituals: "Where the Sun Will Never Go Down"
John Legend
Andrae Crouch

The title cut of the Terfel CD just takes me completely out of myself, like the prose of Ian MacEwen or Walker Percy. Susan graham has singing chops I envy;her very breathing informs my own singing.

I wonder if moments of solitude are a universal need, just as moments of community are equally necessary. Getting the balance right is tricky. Too much of one or the other and I get twitchy. An occasional Sunday afternoon doing nothing but sitting on the couch reading a book is blissful. An entire weekend attempting to do this usually fails. Going to a cocktail party (as we will this evening) with a bunch of friends will be great for a while, then suddenly I've had enough and want to be with PH and my daughter.

The headphones don't completely cut out all outside noise. I suspect this would be unsafe, so they let a little of the outside world in. Part of the balance between solitude and communion, perhaps?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Back Home Again

PH and I were up north this weekend visiting his brother and his family, who are home for the summer from the Middle East.

I got to spend some quality time at the Talbot's outlet with my sister in law. Didn't buy much, but had a great time looking! We also went to a small, charming town with a GREAT knitting store. I restrained myself and only bought wool for two pairs of socks.

While we women went off for our second power-shopping trip of the day, the guys went bike riding (PH is a serious cyclist) and one of them took an awful fall, conking his head, and had to be helicoptered to the nearest trauma center. He was fine, except for some scratches and scrapes and middle-aged soreness. Poor PH thought his aggressive leading of the threesome was the cause of the mishap; his brother reassured him that the victim is notorious as an aggressive skier, runner, etc. etc. and loves speed, so the quick pace PH set wasn't the cause. We got the call and rushed over in time to see how the victim was doing. Very "Rescue 911", the whole thing with the copter landing in a field and getting the victim strapped in and all. Every volunteer fireman in the county showed up to watch the excitement, and the professional paramedics did a great job.

An interesting phenomenon: I found myself looking for the local Episcopal church, checking it out as a possible place to work at some later time. This parallels my newfound tendency to save good ideas or quotes that might be worked into a sermon at some later time. Me overenthusiastic? You think maybe?

PH served as supply clergy for a nearby church of his denomination this morning. I love going to hear him preach - he's so thoughtful and goes to such interesting places. Today was Peter walking on the water, and he preached on fear and anxiety and working outside the box (or outside the boat as in the miracle story) and relying on faith to get us through.

The regular church musicians were away, so we had a teen praise band playing. I love their energy, though as a classically trained musician, the music sometimes doesn't really do it for me. On the other hand, there were two adorable little Eritrean girls sitting down the row from me who were singing along with great enthusiasm. Whatever floats your boat or gives you a hand to get back into it. So much for musical snobbery.

My birthday coming up in a few days. How did I get to be MIDDLE-AGED? I have noticed a number of women referring to their saggy middle-aged bellies as a pooch (I always thought of it as a sort of pouch, like a kangaroo's). It got me thinking of what kind of a pooch. I think I've got Shar-pei belly. My thighs, on the other hand, are overweight dachsunds sitting up on end...

It's good to be back amongst you!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Not a great picture, but here are the grandbabies. Not quite as cute as puppies, but they'll do!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Another Step on the Journey

As you may recall, I'm in the midst of the discernment process for the Episcopal priesthood. It's a long, muli-step process, and most of the time I'm patient with it and see the value of it.

I made it past another threshold today, so I'm doing the happy dance. I had completed the psych and marital evaluations, and the physical, and had written my spiritual/personal autobiography. This was my first meeting with my representative from the Commission on Ministry. This was two hours and challenging but loving questions. At the end of it, she aprroved the move to the next step, which is for my rector to form a parish discernment committee to meet with me and further discuss my call to help me find out if this is real. Once they give me the seal of approval, it will go to our vestry, then I get to meet with the full Commission on Ministry (gulp) and the Bishop. Funny, I'm more nervous about the COM than I am about the Bishop.

Anyway, I'm glad to have survived this mid-way step in the process. Thanks, Lord.